Friday, June 29, 2012

Breaking paradox news: mandate paradox

        Mandate Paradox

          I interrupt this blogging of “Toothseeker” to bring this breaking paradox news:

          On July 28, 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on the health-care mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

          Four of the Supreme Court justices ruled:
* that the mandate is not a tax
* that the mandate must be a tax to be constitutional
* and that the mandate is unconstitutional.

          Four of the Supreme Court justices ruled:
* that the mandate is not a tax
* that the mandate need not be a tax to be constitutional
* and that the mandate is constitutional.

           The Chief Justice ruled:
* that the mandate is a tax
* that the mandate must be a tax to be constitutional
* and that the mandate is constitutional.

          So majorities on the Supreme Court ruled:
* that the mandate is not a tax
* that the mandate must be a tax to be constitutional
* and that the mandate is constitutional.

          A Voter's Paradox!

          Regular blogging now resumes.

Toothseeker 5: Magical Battle

5. Magical Battle

Inside the tent, the place was hung with bead-string curtains.  The beads were all tiny human teeth.  What a décor!
I swooped to the roof, grabbed a fold of cloth, hung out, and pinged.  An old woman was sitting at a table.  A crystal ball glowed in front of her.  She said, “I see a small dark stranger.”
I said, “I see a weird old witch.”
She looked at me and cackled, “Hee, he-he-he heee!  You got that all right!”
“You the Tooth Fairy?”
“The same.” She scried her crystal ball.  “And you are Mischief, private ear.”
“Fast hacking,” I said.  “That ball got internet?”
“The Tooth Fairy sees all, knows all, tells all,” the Tooth Fairy intoned.
“Good, because I’m here to ask you a few questions.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Just two things.  How.  And why.”
The Tooth Fairy smiled.  Her teeth were small, yellow and crooked.  “I’ll tell you… but first you must catch me!”
She turned into a firefly and flew out of the tent.
I yelled, “Magic?  That’s cheating!”  Then I launched myself after her.
I followed her out of the tent, into the yard, through entrance 17, and into a twisty corridor.  It split in two, and I took the left-hand fork.  The corridor made a dizzy twist kata, into the fourth dimension.  Then the corridor turned upwards and curled into a left-handed corkscrew.  Next it opened into the air.
I pinged.  I was flying up Church Way in a left-handed corkscrew.  Traffic was light: a small dragon, a bevy of witches, a Yeti and some robots.  Someone was flying next to me, corkscrewing right-hand.  He looked like me, but was he a mirror image?  Or my previous self?  Or maybe the shape-shifting Tooth Fairy, pretending to be me?
I said, “Are you her or are you me?”
He wavered, startled.  He said, “Who? What?”
That sounded familiar.  “Oh, brother!  You’re me, all right.  Here we go again.”
“Again?  You mean… this is a time-loop?”
I sighed.  “I knew you’d say that.  Look, I’m busy.  I gotta go, now.
“Wait!  Info?”
“All right.  Tooth mouse.” 
He wailed, “Tooth raat?
“Not rat: mouse.  Tooth mouse,” I said, and then flapped off into hyperspace.
I flicked ana, into the fourth dimension, to wing my way through time back to where-and-when I was.  Time loops. I hate those things.
Blip it, the magic lady had me flying in a circle!  Well, at least I’d closed off the time loop.  You mustn’t leave them hanging open.
But enough with talking to myself!  Back to the chase!
Back to the fork in the corridor.  I took the other branch this time.
She was waiting for me there, blip it!  She gave out that creepy cackle.  Hee, he-he-he heee!  I am a robin, and I shall fly, far far away!”
And once again, she used magic.  She turned into a robin, and flew away.
Now I don’t know that much about magic, but I do know some, and the first rule of magic is: Two Can Play That Game.  So I said, “Then I am an eagle, and I shall overtake you!” And I turned into an eagle, and the transformation chase was on.
Just before I caught her, she said, “I am the Sun, high in the sky!” and she became the Sun;  but I said, “Then I am the Moon, and I shall eclipse you!”
And I became the Moon, and I began to eclipse her, but just before totality she said, “I am an electron, flying on the solar wind!”  She became an electron, and she rode the solar wind;  but I said, “Then I am a photon, flying at light speed!”
I flew at light-speed, but just before I caught her she said, “I am a squid, hidden in the dark deep ocean!” and she became a squid; but I said, “Then I am a whale, sounding for squid!”
I pinged for her, and echolocated her, and swam towards her, but she said, “I am a marlin, and I shall outswim you!”  She became a marlin, and she swam away, faster than me;  but I said, “Then I am a fisherman, and I shall catch you!”
I stood at the end of a pier and cast my net for her, but she said, “I am a cat, and I shall slip away from you!”  She became a cat, and she slipped away from me, off the pier and into town.  But I said, “Then I am a dog, and I shall chase you down!”
I chased her through the town, down a street, and into an alley.  It dead-ended, and I had her cornered.  “Talk!” I barked. “Talk! Talk! Talk!”
She arched her back, bristled her fur and spat, “I’ll talk!
I sat down and said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah?”
She yowled, “I useta be a Goddess!”
There was a flash of light and a blat of noise.  When my ears and eyes cleared, I saw that we were back in the tent.  I was hanging out by a fold of ceiling-cloth, and she was seated at a crystal ball.  It was like we hadn’t moved at all.
“A Goddess!” she continued, as if nothing had happened.  “I had temples and priests, and best of all – believers!”
“So what happened?”
“What else?  They stopped believing!  Nowadays, all I’ve got to live on is kiddy faith!  No more nutritious delicious grown-up belief for me to eat!”
“You eat belief?”
“Oh, didn’t you know?  Faith is the food of the gods.”
“But now you only get kiddy-faith?”
“And it’s not a balanced diet!  Excuse me,” the Tooth Fairy said.  She reached into her mouth and took out her teeth.  She gummed a toothless smile and snapped her dentures at me.  She put that set on the table, next to the crystal ball, picked up another set and put them in.  The Tooth Fairy smacked in her new dentures and said, “Like I said, kiddy faith’s an unbalanced diet: too sweet, too light, no heavy elements.  So I lost my old teeth.  But, I make do.  After all, I’m the Tooth Fairy.”
“Hey, are those kid’s teeth?”
The Tooth Fairy smiled at me.  Her teeth were small, yellow and crooked.
I said, “Eeew! 
She cackled: “Hee, he-he-he heee!  Kids will believe anything, no matter how gross or weird!  And that’s how I survive.”
“But without their belief… you’d starve?”
“Yes!  So please, please, won’t you believe in me?”
“Why should I?”
“So you’re a doubter, eh?” she said.  “Then watch this, you skeptic!”
She waved her hands over the crystal ball, and it lit up.  I flew down to the table for a closer look;  my eyes aren’t as sharp as my ears, and sonar doesn’t work on crystal ball displays.
Within was my client and her father.  She had just lost a tooth.  “See?” said the Tooth Fairy.  “He’s got a film canister!  And he puts the tooth in!”  We watched him put the film canister under my client’s pillow.  The Tooth Fairy said, “Oh, look, he removes his hand.  But wait!  Has he palmed the film canister?  Yes!  And has he put it away?  Yes!  And was there another film canister, same size, same shape, same color, with the money in it, already under the pillow?”
I said, “Then your big magic trick is just sleight of hand?”
She said, “Yes.  But look!  He bungled the swap!  Badly!  The tooth is rattling around in his pocket!  She can hear it!  She isn’t fooled at all!
Inside the crystal ball, my client and her father walked out the door, waited a moment, then walked back in.  The second canister was there under the pillow, with the money in it, but you could see in my client’s eyes that she wasn’t buying it.
The Tooth Fairy wailed, “The illusion of me is shattered!  I can’t bear to watch any more!”  She waved her hands over the crystal ball.  It went dark, and she said, “Sheer incompetence!  You just can’t get good help nowadays!”
I said, “Was he even trying to fool her?”
“Not very hard!” The Tooth Fairy smiled.  “But you see, dearie, that’s the point.”
“How so?”
“Your client’s father is deliberately raising your client to be an unbeliever!  And he’s using me to do it!”
“Because of you, the gods can’t feed off of her?”
The Tooth Fairy said, “She’s worthless to them now!  Every time she’s tempted to believe in them, she’ll remember what happened with me!
“She used to believe in you, but now no longer?”
“Exactly!  And as for your client’s father – he doesn’t believe in me at all, but he propagated me anyhow! And he did it just to disillusion her!
“So that’s your scam?  Then you are just like your friend Vaccinia!”
“You got it, dearie.”
“You’re a failed myth!  You throw the fight, just like Vaccinia!”
The Tooth Fairy shrugged. “A myth gotta do what a myth gotta do.”
I said, “Your failure confers immunity to other myths!  And the humans are exploiting this effect!”
Hee, he-he-he heee!
“You’re a meme-vaccine!  You’re a ritual initiation into skepticism!
The Tooth Fairy declared, “I am a turncoat to the gods!  I’m a parody of divinity!  All those high-falutin’ gods and states and corporations… they want humans to believe in them forever.  But the kiddies are expected to outgrow me!  One disillusionment, one personal mini-Enlightenment, signed yours truly!  Hee, he-he-he, heee!
I blurted, “You’re weird!”
“I get ’em young!  Baby teeth, baby mind; they lose ’em both at once!”
I blurted, “So have you!  You’re cracked!
“Who are you to talk?” she sneered.  “You’re as bogus as I am!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You followed me through a transformation chase!  I went from a firefly to a robin to the Sun to an electron to a squid to a marlin to a cat!  And you went from an eagle to the Moon to a photon to a whale to a fisherman to a dog!”
“So what?”
Nothing real can do that!” the Tooth Fairy screeched.  “But I did, and so did you, dearie!  Hee, he-he-he heee!
“You’re crazy!”
“But it isn’t just me.  And it isn’t just you.  It’s this whole wacky burg!”
The Tooth Fairy said, “Hellen!  Sky-city halfway to anywhere!  It’s Hell, it’s Heaven, it’s the Hub of the Opposite Sky, it’s overhead yet underfoot!  Hee, he-he-he heee!  Hellen!  Pantopian paradox!  Impossible cosmopolis!  Hellen: city of dreams!
“Wait!  You mean the entire city – ”
“Illusions!  Delusions!  Deceptions!”  she cried.  “I denounce Hellen!  It’s a fiction!
“You’re crazy!
The Tooth Fairy ranted, “I denounce the spirits!  I denounce the superheroes!  I denounce the angels and the aliens!  I denounce the demons and the corporations!  I denounce the gods, and I denounce the ’Toons!  They’re fictions, all fictions!  I denounce you, and I denounce myself!  I DO NOT EXIST!”
“You are crazy!”
I had to get away.  I flew off the table and out of the tent.  The Tooth Fairy ran out of the tent and shook her fist at me as I flapped away.
“Lies!  Lies!” the Tooth Fairy cried.  “Lies for children!  LIES!”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Toothseeker 4: A Friend Indeed

4. A Friend Indeed

I flew up Church Way in a right-handed corkscrew.  Traffic was light: some robots, a Yeti, a bevy of witches, and a small dragon.  I saw someone flying next to me, corkscrewing left-hand, and I thought it was my mirror image.
Then my mirror image said, “Are you her or are you me?”
Confused, I said, “Who? What?”  He wasn’t my mirror image!
“Oh, brother!  You’re me all right,” not-my-mirror-image said.  “Here we go again.”
“Again?”  I thought fast.  “You mean… this is a time-loop?”
He sighed.  “I knew you’d say that.  Look, I’m busy.  I gotta go, now.
“Wait!” I cried.  He was my future self!  “Info?”
“All right.  Tooth mouse.” 
I wailed, “Tooth whaat?
“Not rat: mouse.  Tooth mouse,” he said, then flapped off into hyperspace.
He flicked ana, into the fourth dimension, to wing his way back to when-and-where he started.  And since he’s my future self, I’ll eventually have to travel back in time, and say what he said, and hear what I said.
How weird, but that’s a time-loop for you.  Time travel has strange logic.  I try to avoid time-loops, but I keep on getting caught in them anyhow.
Still, though, a clue’s a clue – even if I got it from me.  So there’s a tooth mouse.  And a mouse is cousin to a rat.  And Rickie-the-Rat mentioned his little cousin Perez.
I stopped at the next road-sign and hung out.  I was at the intersection of Church Way, Pico Street and Alvarado Avenue.  I evoked a phone.
The phone blossomed from a spark to a glowing disk.  It went beep, then it said, “Thank you for using Hellen Wireless.  To whom may I direct your call?”
I said, “Tooth Mouse Perez.”
The phone chirped once, twice, and then a mouse picked up.
He said, “’Allo, señor?” Through the phone, I saw him twitch his whiskers.
I said, “My name’s Mischief, I’m a private ear. You Tooth Mouse Perez?”
He said, “That’s me.” He squinted at me. “Why are you calling?”
“My client wants some information about the Tooth Fairy. You know her?”
“Of course I know her, we’re in the same business! What do you want to know?”
“The basics. Motive. Method.”
Tooth Mouse Perez said. “Ahh! So you want the truth about the Tooth?”
“You can put it that way.”
“Are you sure you want the truth, señor?  Can you handle it? ’Cause you know what they say: ‘The truth will set you free–’”
“ ‘–but first it’ll hurt’,” I replied.  It’s an old folk saying, here in Hellen.  “Well, I already got ten hurts from your big cousin, and six – no, seven – from Bugsy.”
Perez said, “You got them both mad at you?” He had half a laugh in his voice.
“It was a misunderstanding.  They said I was comparing them to the Tooth Fairy.  I wasn’t, but they didn’t like it.”
“I bet they didn’t!”
“I just want the truth.  And you’re in the same business as she is.”
“I could tell you all about it, but would you believe me?”
“I’d rather hear it from the Tooth Fairy herself.”
“Suit yourself, señor.  Now I don’t know exactly where she is, but I know where you can find someone who does know.”
Tooth Mouse Perez then gave me a place, an address, and a name.  “Vaccinia,” he said.  “Health worker.  Works part-time as a receptionist.  Also happens to be good buddies with the Tooth Fairy.”
“How come?”
“They have the same job, sort of.  Tell him I sent you, OK?”
“OK,” I said.
“And good luck, señor!”
“OK,” I said, and signed off.  The phone shrank to a point and vanished.  I thought, nice guy.
I Googled directions: first west along Side Street, then up along Jasmine Way, and north on 9th Avenue.  Traffic was light;  I saw a flock of ghosts, a pair of hippogriffs, a centaur and a Nessie.  At the corner of 34th Street, Vine Way, and 9th Avenue, down by the northwest corner, was my destination: “Madame Ruth’s Mystic Emporium”.
I entered, flew to the front desk, and there was my contact: Vaccinia, the receptionist.  He was magnified to about my size: another free size-adjustment.
“Hi there,” I said. “I’m looking for the Tooth Fairy.”
The virus said, “Who’s looking for the Tooth Fairy? And why?
I said, “I’m a private ear.  I just want to ask her a few questions.”
Vaccinia said, “Hmph. I’m not talking to you.”
“Perez sent me. Perez the tooth mouse.”
“So what?
“He said that you and she have the same job. What did he mean by that?”
That did the trick. Vaccinia said, “Yes, we do have the same job, now that I think about it…  You really want the truth?  About her? About me?  You want the whole sordid story?
“I’m all ears,” I said.
“All right then!  The truth is… the truth is…”
Vaccinia wailed, “I’m a failure as a virus!
I said, “There, there, it can’t be that bad.”
“But it is, it is!  Tell me… would you call me a dangerous molecule?  No, no,” Vaccinia cried, “Don’t lie to me,  I’m not!  You see, I’m a cow virus, not a human virus, but I took on the human immune system, anyhow.”
“And you lost?”
Badly.  The human leucocytes… well, they cracked my code.
I said, “How embarrassing.”  
Vaccinia wailed, “Humiliating! I conferred immunity!  And not just to myself, but also to my brother Variola!”
“You might know him as Smallpox.
“Oh, him.  What did your brother think of your immunity mishap?”
“He made fun of me.  He said that my failure is more contagious than I am!”
Ouch!  “Sibling rivalry,” I said.  “I’ve heard it often before.”
Vaccinia said, in a low voice, “Then the human doctors came, and they offered me… a little deal.  They said, throw the fight.  They said, we will cultivate you.  They promised to breed me by the billions.  And all I have to do is lose.  Every single time.”
“Winning by losing?  Nice work if you can get it!”
“You don’t understand;  you can’t refuse an offer like that.  The human doctors… they…  they don’t take no for an answer.
“So you said yes.”
“My brother used to call me a turncoat, a collaborator, an informant!  He used to call me a traitor to viruskind!
 “He used to?  Has he stopped?”
“He’s stopped all right.  Smallpox is gone,” Vaccinia sniffled.  Extinct.
I said, “A virus extinct?  That doesn’t happen often.”
Vacinnia sobbed, “Yes, yes, the human doctors got rid of him.  Using me.”
I thought, sibling rivalry, but I said, “Wow. You are a dangerous molecule.”
“How kind of you to say that!”  
“A virus gotta do what a virus gotta do.”
“You do understand!  Call me Cowpox!”
“Call me Mischief.  You’ve got a good grift going there, Cowpox.”
Thank you, Mischief.  Now, my friend the Tooth Fairy, she’s running more or less the same scam.”
“How so?”
“See for yourself.  Go down the hall, go out exit 23.”
I went down the hall and I found exit 23, and I went out.  Outside was a small yard, with a big tent pitched in the middle.  Just beside the entrance was a sign:
Sees all, knows all, tells all!
I flew inside.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Toothseeker 3: Chapel Perilous

3. Chapel Perilous

            The pocket monster dropped me, still tangled in the butterfly net, onto a table.  He flew away and I was alone.
I pinged.  The echo came back.  It was Chapel Perilous, all right.
Two entered the chapel and approached.  ’Toons.  Anthropomorphic.  Human size, dwarfing me.  One of them had long ears and a short tail.  He was smoking a cigar.  The other had big ears and a long tail.  He was holding a flyswatter.
They stepped closer, and I pinged them.  The echo came back and I saw who they were.  I’d know those faces anywhere.  The long-eared one was Bugsy.  The long-tailed one was Rickie-the-Rat.
Those two.  Together.  In Chapel Perilous.  With me.  This couldn’t be good.
“The mayor and the crime lord?” I squeaked.
Rickie-the-Rat hit me with the fly-swatter:
It hurt.  I said, “Hey, cut it out, I—”
“What are you doing, I—”
Bugsy said, “Hey!  Stoppit  widda vi-linss!”  Rickie-the-Rat stopped hitting me.  Bugsy said, “Gimme a toin.”  He took the flyswatter from Rickie-the-Rat.
Bugsy stood over me, flyswatter held high.  I watched him, wary.
Bugsy said, “Ya know, da  funny ting ’bout Rickie-da-Rat is, he’s a noyce goy.”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “Yes, I am!”
Bugsy said, “He’s a foin an’ upstandin’ memba of sa-sigh-itty!”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “That’s right!”
Bugsy said, “An’ if ya woiks widdim, den he ain’t gonna give ya no trubble.”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “None at all!”
Bugsy said, “But if ya upsets him, see, den he moit lose his tempa.”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “That’s true, I might!”
Bugsy said, “An’ den he moit do sumpin notty. Like dis.”
“Or dis.”
“Or even dis.”
“Ya see, lil boidie?”
“I get it, I get it!” I squeaked.  Bugsy handed the flyswatter to Rickie-the-Rat, and I said, “But don’t call me a bird!  I am not a bird!”
Bugsy said, “Heey, but aincha wun spunky lil mousie?”
 “I am not a mouse!”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “Well, if you don’t like being called a mouse – ”
“ – or a bird – ”
“–then guess how we feel about being compared to–”
Bugsy roared, “DA BLEEPIN TOOT FERRY!”
Suddenly I was glad that Bugsy wasn’t the one with the flyswatter.  Rickie-the-Rat said, “You see, it’s just not nice to say we’re like… her.
“It ain’t respekful!
Reputations are involved.”
“An’ moolah, too,” said Bugsy.  Alla da moolah!”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “So what’s your game?”
“Are you a troublemaker?
“An anarchist?
“Stop it!” I shouted.
Bugsy said, “Aww, ya gottim awl roiled up agin!”
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” I wailed.  “This is all a misunderstanding!
Rickie-the-Rat stopped hitting me.  He and Bugsy leaned close.  Rickie-the-Rat said, “A misunderstanding?  About what?”
“I didn’t say anything about you two.  Not a thing!”
Bugsy said, “Ya dint?
“What my client wants– it’s not about you!”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “So what does your client want?”
“My client just wants the dirt on the Tooth Fairy!”
Bugsy said, “Da doit?
“Yeah, the dirt!  What’s the real story?”
Rickie-the-Rat squeaked, “The real story?”
“Yeah, the real story!  Like, where do the teeth go?  Where the money’s coming from?  And what’s in it for her?
They looked at each other.  They stood up straight.
Bugsy said, “He dunno!”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “So innocent.  So pure.”
They rolled their eyes.
Bugsy said, “Oh, brudda!
Rickie-the-Rat went to a window and opened it.  Bugsy picked up the butterfly net and shook me out.  I flopped face-down onto the table-top.  Ouch!
Bugsy said, “Hey, kiddo, sorry ’bout alla da trubble, huh?  But we can’t help ya nun.  We dunno ’bout no Toot Ferry.”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “What do you mean?  My little cousin Perez–”
Shaddap!  We ain’t met ’er, we ain’t seen ’er, we ain’t got nuttin’ to do wid ’er, no way, no how!  Dere ain’t no k’nek-shun, ya see?”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “Oh! I see!  You’re right, Bugsy.”
Bugsy said, “So we dunno nuttin’ ’bout ’er.”
Rickie-the-Rat said, “Nothing at all!”
Bugsy said, “Sorry, kiddo.  Yer on yer own.”
Rickie-the-Rat brandished his fly-swatter, and I left by the window.
I flapped away, wondering about what I just heard.  I don’t have these big ears for nothing, and I could hear that those two were lying.
They knew.  I could tell, from their tone of voice.  The mayor and the crime lord were in on the scam somehow.  They were covering up something big.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Toothseeker 2: Welcome to Hellen

2. Welcome to Hellen

To work, then. First a call. So I evoked a phone.
The phone blossomed from a spark to a glowing disk. It went beep, then it said, “Thank you for using Hellen Wireless. To whom may I direct your call?”
I said, “The Tooth Fairy.”
The phone droned, “Sor-ree, that is not a list-ed num-ber.”
I signed off. The phone shrank to a point and vanished. I thought, oh well, now I gotta do some wing-work.
I flew out of my office, into the street.  Story Avenue, tonight mostly closed.  I flapped through the fog.  It was too foggy to see with eyes, but my sonar worked fine.
The traffic was light, mostly fellow sonar-users: a pod of dolphins, three orcas, and a humpback.  (The humpback was minified down to human size.  Size-adjustment is a free public utility, here in Hellen.)
I passed a flock of Greys, flying on radar.  Their personal radar, that is: not city radar.  Show-offs.  And phew, they stink!  Then I pinged a gaggle of giddy ’Toons cruising on Google.
I saw a Vegan, hesitating at a corner, and I stopped to render assistance.  The visitor from Vega was lost.  It had been sent to “23rd street and 17th avenue”.
“I see,” I said.  “Well, I’m sorry to say, stranger, that was a joke at your expense.”
“Don’t those roads meet?” said the energy crystal from the blue star.
“Those roads are skew,” I explained.  “Non-co-planar.  Look, in this town you got to think 3-D!  Streets run east-west, avenues go north-south, ways head up-down!”
The Vegan said, “And you name the roads, not the cubes or the planes?”
“It just turned out that way.  I admit it’s kind of stupid that we name the roads but not the cubes or the planes;  but as is the system is almost efficient, and it does add character, and that’s how we do things here in Hellen.”
“But how do you find your way?  I need to get to the recharge station!”
“Use your Google,” I said.
The Vegan flickered. “My what?”
“Your Google.  Evoke it, in your mind’s eye.  Go ahead.”
The Vegan spun and blazed blue, then it said, “Ah. I see it now.  ‘From here east on this street;  up at Star Way, then north two blocks to Night Street and Light Avenue’.”
“There you go,” I said.  “Just evoke your Google.  Don’t worry about paying;  it’s a free public utility.  Same as radar, radio, web and phone.  And flight too, of course.”
The Vegan thanked me.  I said, “Welcome to Hellen!” and flapped away.
Traffic was light: two demigods, a school of trilobites and a snail riding a flying saucer.  I flew a cube north on Story Avenue.  At the Registry of Deeds I turned down on Fortuna Way, then three cubes down I turned west on Market Street.  Seven cubes west and I was at the police station, at the corner of State, Market and Church, catty-corner to the Pyramid.
I flew in and flapped over to the break-room.  There I found my contact on the force, Officer Beelzy.  He was reading this month’s issue of “Bad Cop Gazette”.  I greeted him, and asked where his partner White Mike was.
Beelzy rumbled, “The featherhead’s testifying.  A break-and-enter case.”
“What a coincidence.  I’m here on a break-and-enter case too.”  I laid out my client’s case to him, then asked what he and Mike know about the Tooth Fairy.
Officer Beelzy put down the “Bad Cop Gazette”.  He picked up his pitchfork and rose to his full three meters of height.  His eyes glowed red, his pointy tale twitched, and his big black leather wings flapped, wide and slow.
Officer Beelzy has leather wings, like me – but his wings, unlike mine, are impractical for flight.  They’re too small for his body size.  Really, his wings – like White Mike’s feather wings – are for signaling.  Just then, by flapping them wide and slow like that, he was signaling: I’m real mad so pay close attention.
I paid close attention.
Officer Beelzy rumbled, “Kid, I will tell you just this once.  Drop the case.”
I said, “But Beelzy!”
“Bub,” he rumbled, “I’m warning you because I almost like you.  Some cases are nothing but trouble.  This is one of them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I won’t tell on you, but I’ve got to tell my partner.  And Mike’s a featherhead.  A good cop.  So he’ll follow the rules.  He’ll tell the higher-ups.”
“Wait!  You’re saying this case goes up?
“I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no.  I’m saying, lay off.”
“I’ll track this thing, even if it goes all the way up to the Mayor!”
Officer Beelzy’s eyes dimmed from red to dark.  He folded his wings. “Intemperate words,” he rumbled.  “You will regret them.”
I left then, disgusted.  Down the corridor, I passed a marble wall.  To me all hard flat surfaces are sonar mirrors, so I pinged myself.  I was me, all right.  Fur, claws, fangs, leather wings, and big gnarly ears.  Handsome fellow.
Out the door and into the street.  I spiraled down Church Way.  Traffic was light.  I passed three wizards, a school of opabinia and a gremlin, spiraling up.
Down and down and down, and the further down, the worse the neighborhood got.  Church Way used to be entirely a nice neighborhood, but that was before the conmen, crooks and thugs moved in.
Down, down, down.  Finally I reached my destination: The Wizard’s Git.  It’s a bar, or so its neon sign says.  Really it’s a front for the Thieves’ Guild.  I figured, if I couldn’t get a straight answer from one side of the law, then I should ask the other side.
I found the capo of the Thieves’ Guild, holding forth at the bar as usual.  I settled on the bar next to him.  After a few pleasantries, I got down to business.  But when I mentioned the Tooth Fairy, Tricky Dick got defensive.
“I deny everything,” he said.  The capo sweated.  He glanced from side to side.
“Aw, come on, Tricky Dick,” I wheedled.  “I’m sure your gang would know about a caper as crooked as this – ”
“We are not crooks!  We’re the Thieves’ Guild.”
“And pillage is your privilege!  So either she’s muscling in on your official franchise, or she’s working for you.  Which is it?”
Tricky Dick said, “Unask the question!”
“Don’t go all Zen on me!  Tell me the truth!”
“I am not a liar!”
“Meaning that you are!  I’ve had it with this cover-up!”
“I am not keeping any secrets!”
“That settles it, you are!  I’ll track this thing, even if it goes all the way down to your boss!” And again, I left in disgust.  Looking back, I can see that those too were intemperate words.  I didn’t know that at the time.
Out the door and into the street.  I flew up Church Way a couple of cubes when I noticed something odd.  There was no traffic at all.  I was alone on the street.
No, not quite alone.  A pocket monster was there.  It trilled “Cheekapoo! Cheekapoo!” and attacked.
I had no time to evade.  The pocket monster swooped at me, waved something—
I was caught! In a butterfly net! Sonar-invisible!  I hadn’t seen it!
My captor trilled, “Cheekapoo! Cheekapoo!” and dove into a downward spiral, with me in tow.  Down and down Church Way.  I struggled against my bonds, in vain.
Down and down.  My captor trilled “Cheekapoo! Cheekapoo!”
“Where are you taking me?”
“How far down are we going?  To the Bottom Gate?  Are you taking me—”
“—to Chapel Perilous?!
Down and down and down we twisted.  There, ahead, below, was the Bottom Gate.  We swooped aside at the last moment, and entered Chapel Perilous.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Toothseeker 1: Name that Scam


           This week I shall blog "Toothseeker", a six-chapter short story starring Mischief, one of my daughter's long-ago dolls. (With a couple of cameos by Sogwa, my daughter's long-ago favorite cat doll.) This story is a noir detective tale, revealing the shocking Truth behind the Tooth.



1. Name that Scam

It was a dark and foggy night in Hellen, the sky-city halfway to anywhere.  I was hanging out in my office when the door creaked open, and in walked this dame.
Walked?  Nah.  She glided.  She crept in on feet as quiet as fog.
Ping, I said.  The echo came back, and I saw my guest.  The room was pitch-black dark – I like it that way – but I can see with my ears.
That’s my job.  I’m a private ear.
So I said ping.  And I said ping ping ping.  Then pingpingpingpingping…
By sonar, I watched her glide in.  I’d know that prowl anywhere.  I stopped pinging and I said, “Hi, Sogwa.”
She looked straight at me and meowed, “Hi, Mischief.”  She could see me fine in the pitch black.  Her big oval eyes, my big gnarly ears.
I chirped, “It’s good to see you, doll.  How you been?”
She purred, “I’m fine, boy-toy.”  We kid each other, she and I.  She stood up high on her hind legs;  I stretched down from the ceiling, where I’d been hanging out.  We rubbed noses.
A nose kiss.  We’re old friends.  We don’t lip-kiss like humans;  that’s an oddity in the animal kingdom – and besides, Sogwa and I have fangs.
So we rubbed noses – what a doll! – and we pulled back.  She sat on the floor, tail curled around her feet.  I clung to the ceiling, wrapped in my wings.  She looked up, I looked down.  I said, “So what brings you here?”
“Business,” she said.  “I have a job for you.  Detective work.”
“What do you need a private ear for?”
Sogwa slowly blinked her big oval eyes.  “I’m here for… the kid.”
“Hannah?  Up in the daytime?”
“The same.”
“How is she?”
Sogwa said, “She’s fine, but stuff happens.  She lost a tooth.”
“Don’t worry, a new one will grow in.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“It’s that old tooth,” said Sogwa.  “Somebody took it away.  It vanished, practically under her nose.  She didn’t see who got it, or how.”
“More like trade.  The tooth disappeared from under the pillow, and some cash was there in its place.”
“That’s weird,” I said.  “A forced trade?”
“The kid’s O.K. about that, but she’s wondering.  Just how does this Tooth Fairy character do that trick?”
“‘Tooth Fairy’?  Good, at least we have an I.D.  So the kid wants the M.O.?”
“Yes, technical details.  How the gimmick ticks.”
“Wait a minute.  Tooth Fairy.  Is this a magic-user?”
Sogwa said, “She’s a magical being.”
I said, “So how does magic work?”
“That’s what the kid wants to know.”
“And you traced this Tooth Fairy here to Hellen, my home town.”
“Like you’ve always said, the sky-city takes all kinds.”
“Is is Heaven or is it Hell?” I asked.
Sogwa answered, “It’s both, it’s neither, it’s halfway to anywhere.”  
“It’s Hellen,” I said.  “Pantopian cosmopolis.  Home of spirits, superheroes, angels, aliens, demons, corporations, gods and ’Toons.”
Sogwa grinned. “So I came here, seeking magic.”
“I don’t know that much about magic,” I said, “But I do know private-ear work, and its first rule is: Follow The Money.  You say this Tooth Fairy character leaves cash?”
“That’s right.  In exchange for teeth.”
“So where does the money come from?  Who pays the Tooth Fairy?  And for what?  The teeth?  But why would anyone pay for old teeth?”
Sogwa nodded.  “What does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth?”
“‘All’ those teeth?  You mean it’s not just our kid, but others?”
“All the others, near as she can tell.”
“This Tooth Fairy sure gets around.  Got any witnesses?”
“None.  She’s never been seen.”
“That’s typical for a magical being,” I said.  “They’re sneaky.”
“So what’s this one up to?” Sogwa puzzled.  “What kind of scam is she running? What’s in it for her?  The kid wants to know that, too.”
“She wants to know how, and she wants to know why.”
“That’s the assignment.”
“What’s the fee?”
“The Tooth Fairy money, of course.  Will you take the case?”
“You bet I will, doll.  I’ll report to you just before dawn.”
“See you then, boy-toy,” said Sogwa, and she crept away on feet as quiet as fog.  Just short of the door she stopped, turned her head, meowed, slowly winked her big oval eyes, and glided out.
What a doll!