Monday, October 26, 2009

Blenz Pt 2

“Oh there be the wee Twilight laddie,” a cranky voice says.

I am not turning around. We will just go find another coffee shop. This is Robson. There are many.

“Look, I don’t know what you two are on,” Barista says, “but we’ve got other customers and you can’t be bothering them, ok?”

I glance toward the only other customer. He’s lifted his gaze from whatever had his attention and gives me one of those O RLY? looks. Then his violet gaze moves from me to the counter. He raises an eyebrow. Reaches for his hood.

“Don’t be ignoring me, laddie.” The scone rattles on its plate. I’m slightly disturbed by the fact that it doesn’t even have a mouth. It’s got a voice that comes from somewhere inside. Food shouldn’t have talky faces, but food definitely shouldn’t talk without a face.

“Stop that,” the barista says.

“He’s not doing it,” Maria says. “I mean, I don’t think he is.”

Her faith in me is so comforting.

A chair pushes back softly, as the only other customer stands. “Ventriloquism isn’t one of Ethan’s skills.”

Maria looks at him. Interested. Maybe even trusting. Until her eyes land on those black facial markings. She doesn’t even know what they mean. She can’t. Doesn’t matter. There’s some lizard-monkey-bird-deep-old part of her brain that has some inkling of what he is. I know, because her frozen oh of surprise is the same expression she gave when Dante took off his goggles.

There are things you see without your eyes. Longer you spend in the Twilight Lands, the more obvious those things become.

Avalon is a perfect example. He disarms people. He has less Hope in him than Dante does, but more than enough to be dangerous. Avalon smiles not like you can trust him, not like you should trust him, but like you’d be stupid not to trust him. You do trust him. You just can’t shake the feeling that doing so is going to get you in trouble.

If you’ve heard of my friend Valentine, this all probably sounds familiar. But it’s not Val in the coffee shop. He’s the namesake. This is the original. The first. Valentine Avalon.

I’d like a moment of privacy with Avalon to express our mutual delight in seeing each other again in a manly fashion. Fist-bumps and appropriate exchanges of dude and maybe a one-armed hug. Like brothers who aren’t really brothers greet each other. You know. But you were probably thinking something else. Something naughty.

Howev, there will be no reunion ritual of not-really-brothers-brotherhood. Maria and the barista and an angry-sounding scone are sort of in the way. So I’ll just tell you: I am glad to see Avalon. Mostly because I’ve gotten to see him first. Before Dante did. Ha.

I start smiling. Forming the words of hey long time no see when the scone throws itself against my head. Let me tell you something about scones. They are dense. The kind of dense that hurts. I’m not proud of it, but I wobbled a little after it hit me.

The barista reacted in a very professional manner by screaming “Ahh! What the fu—” as he dived behind the counter. Maria just stared. Apparently self-animated bread products aren’t as worrying as rolling changes. Or she thinks I’m not as fragile as Dante. Maybe. Maybe not. What I am is wobbling away from the counter, clutching my head and trying not to tell the scone just what I think of being hit by a loudmouth Scottish not-cake.

Avalon handles it. He’s very good at handling things. The scone does another lunge and Avalon seizes it. Just grabs it like everyone should know how to grab baked goods in mid-flight. Swiping a fork from a bin on the counter, he jabs the scone.

The scone screams a yeast-less shriek of pain and says something extremely unkind and very presupposing about Avalon’s mother. Avalon doesn’t so much as flinch. The dude’s hunted werewolves and vampires and all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to exist. A foul-mouthed scone doesn’t even register on his threat-o-meter. Trust me.

He just gives the barista a very calm look. “I don’t suppose you have any jam?”

The scone goes very still. “You wouldn’t.”

“Aye, I would.”

“He totally would,” I add. “Wouldn’t he, Maria?”

“Probably. I don’t know.” She shakes her head then looks at the barista. “Can I get that mocha?”

“Obviously it wants to be eaten.” Avalon smiles. “Why else would it be throwing itself at us?”

“I’m so hungry I would eat it without any jam,” I say. My stomach growls. I’m not sure it’s in agreement.

“No, you cannae eat me!” The scone shakes in Avalon’s grip. “We can make a deal.”

“I’m not in the habit of bargaining with baked goods.” Avalon glances at me. “If it’s going to be so rude, we ought to just throw it in the bin.”

“I will tell ye who sent me!” The scone says.

“That would be rather helpful.”

“If I tell ye, will ye only eat half o’ me?”

“We’ll consider it,” I say.

The scone shudders again. “Ye drive a hard bargain, laddie.”

Avalon smiles like it’s just like before. It kind of is. Except we never fought pastries before. The vicious food items is definitely a now thing.

“Is this—it is—” The barista peeks up from behind the counter at Avalon. “You know. One of those things I’m supposed to report to the guardians.”

“No need,” Avalon says. “We’ve got this.”

The barista swallows. Studies Avalon. Draws some sort of conclusion. Nods.

“They had drinks.” Avalon smiles at the barista. “A very large mocha and a maple latte macchiato, I believe.”

Having been to Vancouver with Avalon before, I know this is going to go one of two ways. Way One: Mr. Barista decides we’re with the city guardians and he should be business as if a scone didn’t just attack one of us. Way Two: Mr. Barista decides we’re exactly the kind of things he needs to report to the guardians.

I’m hoping it’s Way One. I need the caffeine.

“Right.” The barista gets to his feet. “Any chance those could be to go, sir?”

Here’s some more advice for if you ever find yourself in the Twilight Lands: Don’t address Avalon as sir. There are people who you can. Dante’s dad, for example. You call him sir. He might insist that you do. Not Avalon. Sir makes him feel old.

“No.” Avalon doesn’t lose his smile. “We’ll be staying.”

I think the barista swears. Not out loud. Not under his breath. With his inside voice. Avalon ignores him. Keeps the scone tight in one fist. Goes over to the window and knocks the knuckles of his free hand against the glass.

It must be to get Dante’s attention. Avalon waves a little. Gestures for Dante to join us inside.

“I’ve got a table.” Avalon nods his head to where he’d been sitting.

The scone has been strangely silent. I’d like to think it’s scared into behaving like a normal breakfast item. I’m not so sure. Because hungry as I am—and my head really hurts—I’m not sure how I feel about eating any portion of something that’s talking. Jam or no jam.

Maria’s watching me rub my head.

“You ok?” she asks.

“Yeah. Sorry,” I mumble. Make my way to Avalon’s table. “This is a stranger than usual Thursday.”

Maria shrugs and follows. “I sort of gave up on things being normal.”

“Probably for the best, that,” Avalon says.

“This is your friend.” Maria lowers her voice. “The one who’s supposed to be able to help.”

I nod.

“Is he related to Andy?” she asks. “There’s sort of a resemblance.”

I nod again.

She gives me a frustrated look. “Does he have a name?”

“Avalon,” I say.

“Avalon?” She looks like she might laugh. “What kind of name is that?”

I don’t tell her: The kind that makes even the most valiant of my people lower their voices and look over their shoulders. I just shrug. Let her assign meaning to it.

Cool air moves through the coffee shop as Dante opens the door and joins us. He pockets the compass as the barista places our drinks on the hand off. The disturbance with the scone distracted from the fact that I didn’t pay for anything. Hopefully Dante doesn’t remind anyone.

We sit at the table. Dante delivers our drinks with a smile to Maria and a nod to his auburn-haired uncle. Avalon returns the nod. Then Dante’s gone again—probably to fetch Maria’s forgotten muffin and get his own cup of coffee.

Avalon carefully places the scone on the table before us. He removes the fork but keeps it close at hand.

“All right,” he says. “Let’s have us that wee chat, yeah?”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blenz Pt 1

Decisions. Decisions. We fight throughout childhood to assert we’re adults and that means we get to make our own. When you’re the last child of a dying people, you fight that much harder for that much longer. Because once I’m widely accepted as an adult then it really is all over for us.

Dante hasn’t noticed Maria’s gone. Compass has him enthralled. His people are very big on how things work. Especially him. He’s got a need to fix things. Loves to take them apart and try to put them back together better. Gets it from his Dad. Yeah. The accountant. That Dante’s so thrilled by a new tool is a good sign. He might be balancing. Fading out the Hope. If he’s resyncing…

I slide my headphones on. Listen. I know. Maria doesn’t sound right. Finding her would be hard even if I was back to how I should be—and I’m not. Nope. But Vancouver is a city of songs. A city filled with people who do sound like they should. Finding discord among all that harmony is so much easier than finding it among the wilds of the dream fields. Just like it should be easier to find Avalon’s familiar rhythm of silence.

Oh. So that’s what Dante was getting at. Sometimes I wonder where his insights come from. One of these times I’ll ask him. Just not this one.

Maria’s incomplete scales are lost among all the complete ones. I think I hear her echoes, but it’s too faint and… Well, it’s sort of unnecessary. I can see her distinctly green dress through a window behind us. She may not have fled. Or maybe she did and she’s just really bad at it.

A cup with little wavy lines to indicate its contents are hot is in a circular emblem on the doors of the shop. I was wrong. Not everything is closed. Maria’s just found one of the few things that would have a reason to be open when it’s early.

“You want a coffee?” I ask Dante. Maria slips behind the part of the shop’s exterior that’s stacked blocks of grey something.

“Depends.” He takes a step toward crossing Bute. “Is it really coffee? Or is it one of those mostly milk and flavor things you drink?”

“I’m hungry. I need caffeine.” I jerk my thumb at the shop. “I’ll be inside.”

“Ethan.” He looks up from the compass. “Do you have any money?”

He has to be resyncing. Only Normal Dante would think to ask if I had a way to pay for coffee and not notice that Maria isn’t beside me.

“Find Avalon.” I roll my shoulders. My headphones knock against my collarbones. “Don’t worry about me.”

He nods. Goes back to frowning over the compass. Avalon shouldn’t be this hard to find. There must be a guardian nearby. They’d be the only thing that might throw Dante off. Confuse the signals. Or whatever it is he picks up on. Unless he’s having as much trouble as I am.

I hope Avalon knows how to get us back to normal. He is, after all, a wealth of obscure information. Sometimes obscure useless information.

I shove against the door. Pointlessly. Did Maria secure it behind her? Oh no. Wait. It just pulls open. Like it says on that little sign there. Stupid non-intuitive door.

Inside the shop smells of coffee. Warmth presses against my neck and face. Tries to seep in between my sleeves and gloves. I didn’t think it was “cold” outside, but interior temperatures must be how Vancouver tracks seasons.

Someone in a black polo shirt starts to call hello, but the word cuts off halfway. Brown eyes widened a little, as the blood drains from his face. Still, even faded he has more color than me. Leaving me to wonder if I’ve been to this coffee place before. Avalon has warned me that I make quite the impression. Apparently.

I pretend to study the menu as I scan the place. A guy in a hooded sweatshirt, his hood up, is bent over something at a table at the far end of the shop. Something sits in a cup beside him. A blazer-style jacket hangs off the back of his chair.

Maria is nowhere to be seen. But I hear the sound of flushing from the direction of the bathrooms. Ok. So she may not have been making an escape. She might have just had to pee.

“I’d like a Maple Latte Macchiato,” I tell the barista with Wide Brown Eyes. “Please.”

Avalon has expressed it’s important to say please and thank you. Like my being polite somehow makes me easier for people to handle. Oh noes, don’t let the purple hair worry you—I’m really gosh darn nice if you get to know me.

You know better. I’ve been honest with you. I’m rarely nice. It’s not a dominant trait of my genetics.

The barista nods and rings this up, as the door to the bathroom opens. Maria steps cautiously out.

“Is that everything?” The barista asks.

“No.” I point to the pastry case. “I’d like one of those scone thingies, too, and whatever she’s having.”

Maria freezes at the she. Like she thought I hadn’t noticed her and she could just slip out the door behind me. The barista looks at her then at me. Shrugs. Normally people with me get more of a WTF no really why? kind of look, but Maria is dressed like the kind of individual who belongs with someone like me.

“What are you doing, Ethan?” she hisses.

“Breakfast,” I reply. “Andy wasn’t hungry, remember?”

She gives me a suspicious look then glances at the menu. “A mocha. A big one. And one of those muffins.”

I disapprove of muffins. They’re tricksters. Make you think you’re going to get a cake, but you get something that isn’t cake instead. Mean mean muffins. No point telling Maria this. She obviously disagrees.

The barista puts my scone on a plate. Goes to get a muffin for Maria. To her credit, she hasn’t asked how I intend to pay for this. Doubt it’s faith in me holding her tongue. She probably hasn’t considered that I wouldn’t have money. Your people rarely go anywhere without it.

“Thanks,” she mumbles to me.

“You’re welcome,” I say. “We can talk shoes after I get caffeine in me.”

Creation is not a simple wiggle your nose, snap your fingers kind of task. It takes concentration. Focus. Visualization. Caffeine helps the process. Really. Matt swears by it. He also tends to swear at people before he’s gotten it. I completely understand why now. Creation is a total bitch.

Maria’s eyes widen. “Did you see that?”

No. I was looking at her. “See what?”

She points to the counter. “Your cake thingie moved.”

I sigh. Breakfast has been cursed. Again. Fan-freakin-tastic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cotton and China

Dear Agent M,

Like half of most couples, I forgot our anniversary. Sorry, I didn't write it down. I did send you that outline for the steampunk manuscript, which you may or may not have received. Mercury Retrograde and all that. (This also explains why I spent the majority of last week thinking that there was some significant milestone that I was forgetting.)

We've both been busy. It's true. In the past year:

• We've gone out on submission with THE TALE OF ARIAKE, my first adult manuscript.
• We've revised and gone on submission with FRAGMENTS, my first young adult manuscript.
• We're revising SHARDS, the second of that YA series.
• We've talked about a third project—and you didn't treat me like I was crazy when I pitched it, despite that it is a somewhat crazy proposal.
• We've seen the release of the title from our first negotiated contract The Tarot Cafe Novel: The Wild Hunt.

That's just what you've been doing with me. Your other clients have been working hard, too.

Of course, these aren't the only reasons that I adore working with you, Dear M. There are all those little things, like how you can translate the dialect of English I write into things other people can understand. Or how you can sound optimistic when I can't. How when I answer how I'm doing with "Neil Gaiman signed my book!" you understand it means "I'm fan-freakin-tastic." How you just laugh when I nick things from am inspired by Doctor Who. Oh, and you recommended Cory Doctorow's Little Brother to me, which resulted in some serious book love. (Did I tell you I met him at WorldCon? He is so cool.)

Plus, you've been doing this for free for the past year. It hasn't been easy on me, and I appreciate that you've stuck it out through the passes and the silence. It means so much to have someone else consenting to my reality.

So here's to another year and everything that it'll bring to us.
xo xo
Chandra

PS Is it Barbara who always seems to answer the agency's phone? I should really send her a holiday card, too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Robson and Bute

Robson is shops, neon, steel and glass. Cuts through the visible heart of Vancouver. A Known street, a street that burns brightest in the fading memories of the people here. Like Stanley Park. Which isn't a street, but you know what I mean. If you don't, just smile and nod. We've got places to go. Avalons to find.

Before the city vanished, before it was dream field property, film crews and location scouts dressed Vancouver up as other places. Had it play a game of make-believe. Stay still and be Kansas. Boston. An undisclosed American future. Beneath it all, Vancouver remained Vancouver. We have a lot in common, this city and I. We're both gamers.

When you get gamers together, you get a game. I don't know yet which one Vancouver is playing with me.

Downtown is soaring modern among solid stone history. Reminds me of the Lost District in Emerald. Maybe Maria's thinking the same thing. Maybe not. She doesn't seem the type to spend time there. Have spent.

Dante's right: I think about her like she's a temporary visitor.

Didn't have that problem with Avalon. Soon as he went silent, I knew he wasn't going anywhere. Except Over There. Which he did. For a while. Until he came back to us. When he did, we made him sleep. He's not sleeping anymore. He's here. Well, not with me. Not yet. But he is somewhere in the city. Dante's sure of it, and Dante's someone you can trust. He doesn't game. Doesn't frame his words to suit what he wants you to see. Or he just doesn't do it as deliberately as I do.

So he leads. We follow.

I can't see the glass cage of the shopping center anymore. I can't even see the grey stone building of columns and steps that obscured the way we came. It was some kind of art museum. We're blocks past it and the other illusions of open space. Shops crowd us. They line the street expectantly. Waiting. Like they know something we don't.

I can guess they know we shouldn't be here. Not now in the slumbering quiet. The kind not so easily broken. This isn't your world’s city quiet. Not fragile like snowflake and spun glass. This silence dreams. Shapeless ones that press against me as they pass. I itch. The part of me that's Creation longs to form things. Give substance to thought. Ideas. Nightmares.

Creation is restless. It paces. It doesn't like being caged. Wants to run. So do I. Instead I play follow the leader. Ignore the urge to provide a reason for Dante to move his feet faster.

"We're close." He searches the street. "Anything, Ethan?"

I shake my head. It's pointless trying. The music's almost gone—smothered by my Creation side. Headphones hanging around my neck, I'm hearing all sorts of other things I don't usually. Our shoes against the sidewalk. Maria sucking air in through her teeth. The restless pounding of my pulse.

I always wondered what I'd be like without the music. No harmonies or auditory cues. If I'd learn humility and kindness and all those things your people sing the praises of. I don't think so. With the music quiet, with Creation in control, I'm just as self-absorbed. Maybe the likes of me isn't meant for kindness.

All I know is if I don't get the music back soon, I'll lose my mind to this silence. I'd ask you how you function surrounded by it, but you probably wonder how I function exposed to constant sound. It's easy: I read lips. When I can't see mouths, I just listen for what is most probable response.

Another street called Bute slices across Robson. Everything is divided into neat little blocks. Bites for easy consumption.

This used to be a High Street, as Avalon would call it. Lots of shopping for tourists. Vancouver doesn't get many tourists anymore. There are still shops. Some of them cater to the designated wealthy. Some are specialty. All of them are currently closed. It must be early.

Odd that we haven't seen a chronograph yet. From what I can remember, this place was strangled by them. You couldn't get more than a few blocks without seeing one. They were like those green coffee places. You know. Where the people were always wearing green. The coffee wasn’t.

"Do we know where we're going?" Maria asks.

This knowing is a very big deal for her. It's how I know she doesn't know anything at all. I'm not being fair to her. Not being kind. Not even attempting to make it sound like she's someone who deserves kindness. I'm not good at sympathy. Better at empathy. Usually. Dante is more the sympathetic one. I guess he's suffered more of the little sufferings that make pity an easier reaction.

"Yeah." He runs a hand through his hair. "We're close."

"So you said." She picks at the ribbons around her ankles. "But that doesn't answer my question."

He doesn't scowl at her like he'd scowl at me if I'd said it. He just looks apologetic.

"Wherever we need to go is close," he says.

She shakes her head.

"You don't have any shoes." I point to her feet. "That doesn't seem hygienic at all."

If you want to stop people from arguing when they're arguing to avoid admitting they want to make kissy faces with one another, you should change the subject. Say something that makes them think about something else. Like that one of them doesn't have any shoes.

"One of you finally noticed." Maria sticks her hands on her hips. "That's right, Ethan, I don't have shoes. Are you offering to carry me?"

"No, I'm offering an observation. Maybe if you were a little nicer to me I'd offer a solution."

Maybe you think saying that makes me sound like my brother. You'd be wrong. Matt would have vocalized his disdain for her as soon as they met.

"If I was nicer to you?" Her voice rises. Those city dreams scatter. Dispersed by the pitch.

"One of us has to be the adult." I shrug. "Thought girls matured faster than boys."

Her eyes go wide then narrow. Her lips press together. I can't hear her anger, but I know her expression's striking those chords.

"Enough." Dante says it in that perfectly crisp way Avalon would. It means Dante's annoyed. To the point where he's forgetting to hide his accent.

Maria and I aren't enough to push him into that territory. He must be having trouble finding Avalon. I guess asking me if I could sense anything wasn't just for conversation's sake.

"You are so self-involved, Ethan," Maria says. "We're lost in some forgotten utopia and you're just noticing that I don't have any shoes."

Nowhere in the Twilight Lands is a utopia. It's all just places. Good. Bad. Missing. I don't tell her this. Just like I don't tell her that her telling me I'm self-involved wasn't necessary. Instead, I dig in my pocket. Pull out the compass. Offer it to Dante. It's not doing me any good.

"Ta." He takes it. Lowers his voice. "Do you reckon it can pinpoint Avalon?"

"Figure out how to make it find him," I reply. "I'll be working on shoes for her."

"That'd be rather kind of you." He swings the compass this way and that. Watches the needle respond. "Oh, I see. It moves."

With that taken care of, it's my turn to mollify Maria. Only she isn't there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All I need to know about Writing...

...I learned from watching Gurren Lagann. This is for Susan Adrian and Rinda Elliott.

Keep digging. Every day. Through it all, Simon keeps doing what he’s good at. And you know what? He saves the whole freakin’ universe because of it. Who knows what you could do if you’d just keep writing.

Have a mentor*. We all know Simon wouldn’t have ever gotten above ground if it hadn’t been for the insanity insistence of his big bro Kamina. Same thing in writing. You need someone who’s gone before to help guide the way. (Someone who is going to drag your ass along for the ride kicking and screaming if they have to.)

Emulate those you admire. It’s totally ok. We all do it. Try on their writing styles and habits. See what fits.

Find out who you are & be true to yourself. We all have our own ways of doing things. You know/learn what works for you. Use it. Eventually you'll have to step out from the shadow of those who came before and make a stand for what you believe.

Each generation wants to revolutionize their world. You are not your parents’ fiction, but at some point you become someone else’s parents’ fiction.

We all need a reminder to kick our logic to the curb. The line between stupidity and pure genius gets blurry. Especially if you're writing speculative. A lot of the time you really won’t know if an idea’s a good one until you write it. Sometimes it only becomes a good idea because you wrote it.

You will need to be punched in the face. Accept this as part of your hero’s journey.

You will need to punch other people in the face
. Just remember: There are various ways to do this that don’t involve actual physical violence.

Love makes the universe work. Write what you love. Passionately. Love the people you work with. Just don’t, y’know, love love them. It's probably considered inappropriate.

Anti-spirals just want to ruin your day. Fear/doubt plagues us all, no matter what our experience level is. There are people who will prey on your fears and feed your doubts. You can either listen to these people or you can do the smart thing: Throw galaxies at them!

Every leader needs a team. Keep those who support you near. Remember they are vital to your success so treat them well. They depend on you, too.

Who the hell do you think we are? Confidence. Become a force to be reckoned with. God help the idiot who gets between you and your goals.

Things are better when you combine them. Your writing gets better when you combine your efforts with the efforts of those around you. From your beta readers/critique partners to your editor and copy-editor. Feedback is there for your manuscript’s benefit. Use it.

Someone will think your cooking is delicious, Nia-chan. We all have different tastes. You will not suit everyone’s palate, and that’s ok as long as you suit someone’s.

You serve the story. What you want is secondary to what it needs.

Give it all you've got! Why "save" things for a future book? Hold nothing back. Free up the space in your head for more ideas. Better ones. You want that future book to ever see the light of day? Then write the hell out of your present manuscript.

Keep going up. Constantly work at improving your craft. Challenge yourself. Never settle. Be good, but keep aiming for better. Remember what Liz says: Yours is the pen that will pierce the heavens.

*A mentor is different, btw, than a role model. A role model is someone you admire and emulate but may never have any kind of acquaintanceship with. A mentor is an accessible professional who you feel comfortable asking for advice (with a relative certainty that you’ll get a response.)

I have no doubt forgotten other essential lessons that Gurren Lagann teaches us, so I appeal to the Webmind. Got a suggestion? Put it in the comments and we shall do some manly combining to create a list that no beastman can defeat.
Rachel Vincent has announced a deal with her publisher to add two more Soul Screamers titles to her young adult series about bean sidhe and two books in a new adult venture. While Vincent isn't discussing what those adults books will be about, beyond not being Shifters novels, I do recall a mysterious Book On Spec and Book On Spec Sequel that she had written previously...

Uh oh. Look at me starting rumors. ;P

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I was going to do a post about my trip. What I've been up to recently. The brilliant ideas that come to me when I'm in airports.

However, I read in Wired that if we're happy, it makes people around us happy and by having happy friends we're happy. Happiness is contagious. They have validated this with SCIENCE!, so instead of doing any of those other things I'm going to post a photo of my adorable plotbunny Topher. He makes me happy and therefore he makes my friends happy, too.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Hope speaks or Hope CONT PT 2 & ETC

Hope is one of those powers that everyone instinctively likes. Beauty shines but Hope glows. Lights up a room. Hope is like Inspiration that can only be directed to good. If you meet someone who has charisma but doesn't seem to realize it, someone who leaves you feeling like anything is possible and it's just out there waiting for you, then you probably met one of the Hopes. They're the few of Dante's people who make an effort to spend time among your people.

Gandhi. Bradbury. Obama. Ok, I'm kidding about Obama. He knew he was damn charming.

Spot Hope and you want to chill and follow at a leisurely pace. Let them lead, because you believe wherever they're going is a better place than where you are. Even if you're in a pretty good place, Hope seems to know the way to your ideal local.

Neither Maria nor I have doubted for a moment that Dante should lead. We don't have any reason to believe he knows where he is or where he's going, but we're following all the same. Lots of problems with this, but my focus is how he isn't aware it's happening. Makes for dangerous traveling conditions. Good is when we're people directing powers. Bad is when we're powers wearing people suits. Even if it's a well-tailored Hope suit.

"You know," Maria is saying, "I always thought the vanished cities would be…I don't know. Exotic. You know? This place doesn't really look any different from Emerald."

"Vancouver was west coast," I say.

"Back in the days of Seattle," Dante adds.

She examines the glass dome before us. Glass and steel cleverly constructed. Gleaming like a mirror behind it, a tower rises into the sky. A smaller glass dome on steel columns waits like a dish over turned on straws by a soft white stone building. Golden tree emblem and words announce it to be some sort of hotel. Flags for countries that no longer exist sleep against their poles.

Ignoring them, Maria approaches the large glass dome. Wires of sleeping lights are twined in a tree beside it. Through the glass, I see another world. Not your world. Just the one created within the glass cage. Seats. Banners. Tiles. Trash bins. Tables. Maybe a coffee shop. If I squint and hold my head just so, I can see the hint of a corridor vanishing somewhere.

"Ohhhh." Maria's eyes widen. Her reflected smile shows all her teeth. "It's a mall!"

Before we can say anything else, she races around the edge of the glass. Dante looks at me. I shrug. We follow.

Maria's found the doors. It is indeed a shopping center. Metal letters affixed to mesh over a large pane confirms it.

I think she might squeal. Or make some other kind of excited high-pitched noise.

Girls, I've learned from my time among your kind, love clothes even more than they love Val. There was a time when I didn't think guys paid attention to that kind of thing unless they were like my brother. Then I met Avalon.

"It seems small," Dante says. "And sort of empty."

"This is just the entrance." Maria points. "There's probably another level underground."

He peers. Like he could possibly see under the cement. "Ohh. Right. That'd be clever."

I blink. Maria doesn't notice the slip, but she's probably too busy thinking of how to break into the mall.

Me, I'm not going near that much glass. It may not do the same damage it does in your world, but my people who spend time among your people learn to be wary of glass anyway. Dante doesn’t have the same survival conditioning. Like I told you, he doesn't get out much.

"This is good." He steps back from the glass. Nods.

Yeah, I bet he thinks it's made of wonderful. He can look for a new parka.

"I know where we are. Glass dome." He walks toward the intersection. "On Georgia. Avalon's told me about this place."

Something loud and petty crashes through my rhythm. Badly timed cymbals. Avalon hasn't told me about this place. I don't know where we are. I don't like being reminded there's a playlist for Avalon that I've never heard. It comes after we first met and before we met again. Dante knows it. Probably helped choose the tracks on it. All of them hits from Over There.

Friends are something I don't have a lot of. Makes me possessive of the ones I've got.

Dante announces the name of the shopping center. It's less impressive of a magic trick when we can see the words hanging over the entrance.

Maria tries the doors. They won't open.

"It opens at ten," she reads. "Any idea what time it is now?"

"We don't even know what day it is," I mutter.

Dante hears me on his way back from checking the street signs. Stops. Frowns.

"Go on then, Andy." I can feel the smile forming. It has a cruel angle. "Tell me that's not helpful."

"Shopping is something normal for her, Ethan. She's trying to pretend—would you take those off for a moment?" He gestures to his eyes. Guess he means the goggles.

I pull them off. "You were lamely saying?"

"I was lamely saying that she's in denial, and neither of us should be offering counseling. We aren't equipped—"

"To do what?" A headache tries to find room among the music to stay a while. "Talk about life-changing screw-ups? Help her adjust to permanent twilight?"

I can. I’ve had practice.

"Ethanael." His voice is low, cautious. Restraint mixing with concern. "You're acting like your brother."

"No, I'm not."

He doesn't sigh. Doesn't smirk. Doesn't exhibit any of those annoying tells people do when they want to call your bluff.

Instead, he asks: "Can you hear Avalon?"

I want to tell him not to be stupid, but I know what he's really wondering. Avalon's quiet like all of the people from Over There—but I've known him long enough to find his specific silence by listening to how it appears in other songs. His pattern of pauses isn’t where it should be.

"No." I frown. "I can't."

Dante and I don't spend a lot of time together. We really only started after he helped keep the Oliver stuff on the down-low. Val's been busy with his girlfriend and Avalon hasn't been around. It wasn’t like Chio and I would get along. Dante fills a quota. He’s mostly a mystery. A mystery who has been around long enough to get a read on me. Observant without obviously observing.

"He's here," Dante tells me. "In Vancouver. I can feel it."

The implied question hangs in the air between us, flashing like Royaltea's malfunctioning sign: why can't I hear it? I know why I'm so cranky, so resentful of everything he's done. Dante isn't the only one the change affected. Fortune isn't on lead vocals for me anymore. Creation stole the mic and the spotlight. Few powers are bigger divas.

Dante and I are magnetic opposites now—the same power, different polarity. We're lucky we haven't gotten violent. Younger people, ones with less experience and training would have. I struggle with family pride and the sense of entitlement partnered with it before I get the words out.

"You're right. I'm sorry."

It's a boon rarely offered by my family. Laying down all weapons and exposing my neck. We don't bow to others. Not even other monarchs.

"It's all right." He's benevolence and grace. What a prince should be. Only one of us is royalty and it's not him.

Judging by the look on his face, he wants to hug me. Like a brother or a cousin. The reassuring affection that's cool between family. I'm more of a mess than I realized. Instead, he punches me lightly in the shoulder. Manly affection. Maria's watching, after all, and she's already questioned our virility.

Yes, she has. If you missed it, it's because you don't understand girls.

"It'll pass," he tells me. "The important question is if we should involve Avalon."

Important? Maybe. Unnecessary? Definitely. This is us. Of course we're going to involve Avalon. He's our default stand in for a real adult. Plus, if Dante can feel Avalon is here, Avalon knows we’re here, too.

That's when the fact pushes its way through the muted music and my threatening headache. Avalon is in Vancouver. That means he isn't in your world. Angry pancakes just became the least of my problems.

"He's already involved," I tell Dante.

He arches his eyebrow in a very accurate impression.

"He'll know who Maria was," I say. "He'll want to know what's happened to her."

"Who will?" Maria asks.

I jerk. Nearly stumble into Dante. Messed up? I’m deaf. She was behind me. Even Not Right as she is, I still sound have seen the probability of her waiting around for us to have our little "whisperfest" was minuscule.

"We think we've got a friend in town." I warn Dante with a look not to correct me. "Someone who can help out."

"I thought we were worried about people seeing you," she says. "You know, the whole genius reason we were looking for a hat."

I think she adds and a clue under her breath.

"The mall's closed." I stuff my hands in my pockets. "Besides, I only sparkle in the sun. Not really a problem here."

She doesn't get it. Dante, however, turns a chuckle into a cough.

"Come on." He smiles. "We'll get breakfast while we wait."

"Lunch, Andy."

"No, we can do breakfast over," I say. "On one condition."

Dante's smile grows. It's like your sun edging out from a cloud. Sparkle sparkle. Glow.

"Let me guess," he says. "No one orders pancakes?"

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hope

Dante's goggles narrow the world to two circles of visual input. No peripheral vision at all. No idea how he keeps from being surprised by everything. His calm demeanor doesn't match the hyper-focus the goggles induce.

I don't know what it's like for him. I know he doesn't hear possibilities, but I get that from my mother. So I know there's something Dante has. Some way of interacting—of knowing—more than humans do. More than even most of my people do. It has to do with why Dante's people exist.

Maybe the goggles are part of that. Maybe he needs to keep things narrowed down. Hyper-focused. Maybe it all gets overwhelming when he can see full field of vision.

From what I've seen, as he usually sees, he doesn't appear to be having a problem. Carrying on. Smiling like an idiot. Happy to play leader.

Good thing my hearing's fine. At least we'll get warning if residents come close. Dante will have to serve as our lookout for the guardians.

"How much further?" Maria asks.

Her voice is hushed, but still the first noisemaker blaring a Happy Something at a surprise party. Announcing we're here. Getting the party started.

We don't answer. I don’t know what to say. Doubt Dante does, either. It's that not having a real plan. Too hard to create one when so many factors are silent. I don't like feeling deaf. Like I can hear all the songs but the one that could actually help.

I haven't forgotten about the pancake. Someone still wishes me ill. Vanishing into the dream fields will throw them off my scent for a while, but I doubt it will be a long enough while. My song keeps remixing. Warning of unpredictability.

"We've been walking forever," Maria adds.

Forever. Like she can grasp what that means. Like any of you can. Even people like me or people like Dante have trouble comprehending something like forever.

What I can understand is time works oddly in Vancouver. Because of all the chronographs. They keep a rigid hold. Creating hours and days and weeks and months. Words to me. Actual measurements to those who dwell here.

As we cross the empty street, our footsteps against the pavement, I realize it may not even be Thursday according to the chronographs and calendars. Thursday to us. Not Thursday to those around us. This the problem: Arbitrary definitions of time only work if everyone agrees to use the same ones.

"Where is everyone?" Maria finally asks.

"Asleep?" Dante suggests.

Songs of power stir. Roll over. Resume their muted reveries. He's right, of course, we've managed to arrive in the middle of a Vancouver Maybe-Maybe-Not-Thursday night.

Great for keeping us unnoticed by residents. Really great for ensuring the guardians do notice.

Unbothered by this, Dante tries to continue the conversation with Maria. He says something mundane and benign. Not about the weather. There is no weather here. Unless he’s talking about the lack of weather.

He had better not be talking about the lack of weather. Maria is uncertain about him already. Discussing something so stupid is not going to win her over.

I am seventy-two percent certain I know what’s going on. I’ve seen this happen before. Not to Dante. But I can recognize it anyway. He's got two powers mingling in him like I do. Like Val does. With us, there's a dominant aspect. Fortune for me. Valor for Val. Sometimes our recessive power gets agitated. Almost like it becomes temporarily dominant. Makes us act slightly out of character until things rebalance.

Oh sure, you think he's acting this way because he likes Maria. Duh. Obvious. That's why I wasn’t going to mention it.

He does like her. But there's more to this than that. Infatuation makes Dante shy. Confident optimism is caused by something else.