Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chapter 97: Whatever This Is

"I saw the cat again," Acheron says. His posture is tense, standoffish. Maybe he doesn't like this place, or isn't happy with the person he's speaking with.

The reading man glances at him, then pins his gaze back on the pages of his book. "I'm not Eris. I don't chase the cat."

Acheron sighs melodramatically. "And why not? You were conspirators in the past, clearly."

"You shouldn't have to ask," a woman cuts in, "why we don't look for the enemy."

The reading man flicks his wrist dismissively. "Chet. Shh."

"I don't trust this man. I never have," she growls, jabbing a finger in Acheron's direction.

He studies her for a moment. The way she has carefully arranged her hair over the vampire's mark on her neck. The tight clench of her fist. The curl of her lip above her fangs is a threat display, yet he feels no fear. It's an empty threat. Acheron smiles a thin, fake smile. "Shouldn't two precogs be working together, instead of... whatever this is?"

Chirp. The sensations of the dream fades away, replaced by darkness and new noises. Instead of the vampire's voice, Acheron hears the piercing feeeee-bee call of a chickadee outside his window. Feeee-bee. Fee-bee. Feeee-bee. "Why," he mutters to himself. He'll never be able to get back to sleep now. Not with that noise...

Acheron climbs out of bed, pulls on fresh clothes and slowly wanders into the hall, waiting for the fog to clear from his mind. What day is it? Where are the others? Is he a man dreaming he is a boy, or has he only ever been a boy dreaming he is a man?

When he was younger, the difference between nightmare and reality seemed concrete, once he woke up. As he ages, the sensations and emotions in the visions become less alien, and the lines are blurring.

Click. The doors open and close as Orazia goes through them.

The presence of other people makes it easier to adapt. The overwhelming instinct to conform snaps Acheron out of the mental paralysis. It's only when he feels alone and unwatched that his perception of reality becomes... so questionable.

Orazia pays him no mind until he follows her. "You don't have to be up so early," she says. "No school today."

"Why are you doing that?"

"Doing... what?"

"Cleaning. Instead of letting the adults do it."

"I just want to be useful I guess." Orazia picks up the pace, mopping the floor more aggressively. She's not good at hiding her insecurities.

Acheron shadows Orazia like the cliche lost puppy.

She's just happy there is one person she can beat at gnubb.

Ceth is startled to find some clunky high tech sitting in their kitchen. "A food replicator? Like Star Trek?"

Carlos nods. "Yeah, like they have in the really big cities. Technically it's called a food synthesizer. Heh. I can get access to all kinds of weird tech. You wouldn't believe what's just laying around in the observatory building."

Ceth narrows her eyes. "Did you steal it?"

"What?! No!" Carlos's thefts have never gone beyond what his wife requires to survive. He feels insulted anyone would think otherwise. "Food from this unit tastes awful. I'm seeing what I can do about that."

Skilling advanced technology is a job requirement for Carlos.

Another glorious day as a PI!

This dude thinks the fish are "just not biting like they used to", and has hired Lela to investigate.

Lela investigates!

She brings her niece along for company, so it's not a total waste of a whole afternoon.

Lela also figured she should bring someone who actually knows how to fish.

Being the older, more responsible child in the house can get old. "Acheron... stop following me. You need protective gear to be around these chemicals, and we only have one set of it."

"But I want to learn how," he says, after an uncomfortably long silence.

"How to do what?"

"Craft magic potions. I know that's what you're doing."

"You're... not supposed to know."

Acheron smiles nervously. "The lady you get letters from wants you to teach me when I'm older. I don't see why we can't start now."

Orazia glares at him. "How did you know that? Have you been reading my letters?"



"I just know things."

"Acheron..." her voice takes on a warning tone.

"Alright, I may have accidentally read your letters," he lies.

While the kids work that out between themselves, the narrator has a quick look around the house and-... WTF is happening in this fishtank?

Ceth has no gigs today, so spends most of her time drinking.

She rolls wish after wish, all relating to practicing the mixology skill...

Carlos shows Acheron a pretty neat gadget from work.

"Cool story, Uncle Carlos."

"Oh, and, I know you were mucking around with the potions without protective goggles on."

Acheron is startled, not at all used to being the one asking this question: "Wha'? How did you kno-"

"I'm a werewolf, I smell treachery."

"No you don-"

"Ceth won't let me punish you directly, so-"

"Please don't punish Orazia," Acheron whines.

"Oh, I'mma cookin' up somethin'," Carlos says dryly.

Parenting trick: promise mysterious punishments are incoming, even if none are planned, and watch the children squirm.

Satisfied that Acheron and Orazia will be nervous for several days, Carlos turns his attention to Dysen, who has been waiting patiently in his crib to be noticed. "Now you... you're uncharacteristically well-behaved today."

Ceth swoops in, as if on delayed queue. She hugs Acheron in greeting. "How is my precious son who can do no wrong? Your uncle had better not be being an asshole."

Carlos notices the side eye she gives him, but pretends to ignore it.

Ceth isn't ready to drop the subject. "I can't believe a man of science is discouraging my child's interest in science."

"I can't believe you're ignoring basic safety when it comes to your precious son who can do no wrong."

"Shut the hell up, Carlos."

Acheron groans and covers his ears.

Not content to shower only Acheron with attention, Ceth spends some time with the girls.

"So the fish really weren't biting like they used to!" Fairuza tries to regale her with tales of helping Lela crack a case. "Turns out this weirdo journalist in a shark costume was scaring them away. He was trying to write a story about shark sightings, but there weren't any real sharks so he-"

"I always suspected Lela wasn't actually employed," Ceth snickers.

"No, it really happened!" Fairuza protests.

"GOAL!" Ceth yells, more interested in the video game than in the story.

Fairuza chews on her lower lip for a moment. Then she changes the subject, "There's a boy in my class I think I have a crush on. Rishi Best-Sagar. He's the cutest guy in class... I think."

Ceth grins, though doesn't take her eyes off the game. "Awwww. You're at that awkward stage where you're starting to feel like you should be growing into a woman, and you know women usually end up boning men, so you're trying to figure out what kind of guy turns you on, but you have no idea what you're doing."

"Ew," Orazia cannot contain her revulsion.

Ceth continues, "Trust me, no guy in your class is hot. Not a single one. Every guy in your class is a little boy and you have no business being attracted to them. You just have to wait until you're older, so you can have a crush on a grown man."

Then all of a sudden!... Milo shows up and drags Ceth out of the room by her left ear. "What did I tell you about being juiced around the girls?"

Ceth flails her arms uselessly. "Ow! Shit, Milo, let go!"

"What did I tell you?"

"I was giving her sage advice about forgetting about boys and focusing on her schoolwork!"

Night falls, and again, Acheron's body rests peacefully while his conscious thoughts become someone else's.

Etc.: A chickadee (scientific name alarmus clockus*) is a tiny puffball bird in the Poecile genus. The seven-ish chickadee species are all North American. Members of the Poecile genus outside North America are called tits.

*citation needed

Within Poecile, the birds look pretty much the damn same, but can be distinguished by listening to their songs.

Poecile joins more than ten other genera (all full of tits) to comprise the "tit family", Paridae. This includes the titmice in Baeolophus.

The chickadee's fee-bee song is used by the male to defend territory and attract a mate. The calls are adorable when encountered on a stroll through the woods, but less adorable when the tree outside one's bedroom window becomes a male chickadee's territory. ... Every year. ... Forever.

Edit: I can't believe I was so caught up looking at pictures of birds, I forgot to thank Owly again for the ear-pulling pose. It's so cute, I can't even. (Though I wouldn't want my ear pulled. Ouch!)