A cricket bat!
Twelve years, and four psychiatrists!
Four?
I kept biting them!
Why?
They said you weren't real.

Sunday, August 19

Art

Cold Comfort

Ah!  So that's how the second story begins!



It was a beautiful clear winter’s day. The sky was the aching pale blue of a flawless topaz, with a ring of pearlescent clouds at the horizon framing the dome of the heavens like those plaster molding things that hide the gap between the walls and the ceiling.

Sorry. If I couldn’t steal it, I never paid much attention. A character flaw I’m paying for to this day.

My name’s Lyra, thief turned thieftaker, disgraced child of a distant soil, student of magic, scribe and amanuensis to Joshua the Magnificent. This morning I was engaged with drawing pictures with my finger in the frost on the window panes.

A thump from behind me indicated that another book had failed to yield up answers. I stared out at the snow-covered rooves, the snow-covered trees, the snow-covered everything else.

"I thought you told me that weather magic was impossible.” I tilted my head to admire my handiwork.

"And what else did I tell you?”

"You told me that a single example outweighs a thousand dusty treatises.”

"Did I?” I turned around. Joshua was beaming at me. "That’s rather fine, don’t you think? Have you -”

I patted the thick journal on the bench beside me. "All safe.”

"Good, good.” He paused for a moment, uncertain again. "You must admit that we do have rather a striking example here.”

We did indeed.

I said I studied magic, and so I do, but the truth is that magic is drawn to me in rather the same way that large rocks are drawn to the moons. In other words, in no perceptible way whatsoever. What I could do, what I could do apparently rather well even by magician standards, was see magic.

This is something of a trick, a skill young magicians need to learn and master over the course of years. They say that if you stare out to the horizon, and then extend your gaze again, out to the horizon beyond the merely physical borders of the world, there, faint and flickering, are the living threads of magic.

For me, though, it’s just there. It’s not so much that I don’t have to make an effort, as that I can’t unsee it even if I try. It’s been that way as long as I can remember.

And three days ago, someone had doodled a lace doily on the sky.

I turned back to the window, tracing the lines and whirls again.

"My mother also told me that weather magic was impossible.”

"How is your mother, by the way?”

I’d recently received a letter, wrapped in oilcloth, stamped with the Ducal seal. It seems that being the disgraced sister of the Duke carries benefits that don’t extend further down the family tree.

"She’s well. She thinks she’s an elf.”

"Really? What kind?” I didn’t bother to answer, continued tracing the pattern in the sky onto the glass. Joshua coughed. "In any case - your mother may be something of an expert on the subject, but still…”

But still.

It was, as I said, a beautiful winter’s day. With its coating of snow, the city looked like a particularly fanciful wedding cake, and I knew that from the far end of the loft I could look out and see the ice shining in the harbour like a million tons of uncut diamonds.

But still…

It was the middle of summer.


Weather is something I thought I’d left behind with my old life. Here in the south they think they have weather, when what they really have is climate. This time of the year it rains, this time of the year it is sunny and warm, this time of the year it is sunny and a little less warm. (I’ve been to the far north. Southerners have no conception of cold.) The winds blow steadily from the north-east, then they shift about and blow from the south-east instead. (Handy to know, when your empire is built on trade.)

Where I came from, what I’d left behind, was a region with weather so obstreperous that they’d named the entire country after it.

My mother, disgraced sister to the Duke of the Stormcoast, was a weather witch. Which is not to say that she could shape the weather, rather that she could predict it, and with uncommon accuracy. That had lead to a certain amount of fame, and that had lead to her catching the eye of the old duke’s son, and that had lead to marriage and a certain amount of household tension revolving around my sudden appearance, for though I was too young to know it at the time, my conception must have preceded my mother and her husband’s first encounter by some months.

And that, somehow, had lead to my mother killing the old duke with a soup ladle. Neither my mother nor my uncle, who had survived the debacle, nor my step-father, who had not, had ever bothered to fill me in with the precise details.

That’s not how my mother disgraced herself, in case you were wondering. Indeed, the populace and surviving family alike rather thought the old monster had had it coming. That - but no, that story can wait for another time.


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Thursday, August 16

Art

Blue Forgotten Monday*


Sydney
2022
Monday
Corner of Oxford and Newland Streets

At twenty to eight I gave up waiting for the tram and started the long slog down towards the office. In the civil service, it is always better to be definitively late than uncertainly on time, and my spex showed three amber dots doing an impression of Brownian motion amid the maze of city streets. Which meant, with roughly equal likelihood, that the transponders were down, the feed was down, the trams were genuinely stuck in traffic, or all of the above.

My spex were up, at least, and I chirped in with a revised ETA.

It was Monday, one of those increasingly rare summer days when the temperature and the humidity dropped into double digits simultaneously, and I could use the exercise. My transfer last year from field work to an analyst’s desk had failed to induce any reduction in my pastry habit, and the unending overtime left me with no energy to stop at the gym on the way home of an evening. So I took my jacket off, slung it over my shoulder, and I walked.

The office is part of the sprawling sandstone edifice of Central Station. If you enter from Eddy Avenue through the colonnade, turn right into the first service corridor, go past the bathrooms and the authorised personnel only signs, enter the baggage elevator and take it down to P3 and then back up to P1, you will find yourself in a narrow pedestrian tunnel with an arched ceiling, pale green walls, and fitful fluorescent lighting installed around the time a young Marconi was first toying with spark-gap transmitters.

And if you follow that tunnel far enough, you will come to a closet door labelled DR JBB BELL.

I opened the door and went in, because that is me, and this is my story.



Don’t try to follow those instructions, by the way. Not only will you be surreptitiously fingerprinted and retina-scanned, and then very politely but very firmly arrested, but I lied about at least three critical details, and in any case, it’s not there any more.

My name is Jocelyn Barrett Beresford Bell, known as B.B. to my more irritating friends and Baby to people I refuse to talk to. My father is an astrophysicist, and my mother is a fruitcake. I have an MSc in statistics, a PhD in abnormal psychology, I turn thirty in June, and I work as a transit cop. Which partly explains why my office is a renovated broom closet in a service tunnel deep below Central Station.

But only partly.

Sydney’s Underground system is the most complex in the world, a last gift of King and Country in the decades before independence. Bored Scots engineers, run short of London silt to burrow through, had been shipped off en masse and run riot in the rich southern soil. Or so the story goes, and indeed the city had inherited an Edwardian knotwork masterpiece of brick and cast iron, weaving a spell of rapid transportation from the beaches to the mountains for over a century.

Being unique in scale brings with it unique problems, so unique – if you will forgive my phrasing – so unique that the sociological actuaries are required to carry backup weapons.

[To be continued, maybe.]

* The title I mentioned previously.

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