Image

Deal 1041: Cat knows a way

Sydney’s frustration was mounting. The exercise was described as simple. All he really had to do was get from one side of the garden to the other. But the garden kept changing shape, and occasionally he’d turn a corner and find himself in another part entirely. Solving a maze without a view from the outside is hard enough. But solving it when the maze is constantly changing and is not simply connected is even harder. He knew that if he could only calm down and focus, his growing ability to draw on his sword’s powers would assist. But that is always easier to say than to do. And his score on the exercise will include the time spent as well, so he needed to hurry up and solve the maze. The more he stews about his dilemma, the worse it gets, of course.

He’s currently in a spot with a politely bubbling fountain at the center, and a continuous ring of hedge around the edge. There’s no sign of where he stepped in, and the dry flagstones are not showing any footprints. There are stone benches on four sides of the fountain, each offering a similar view of the fountain and the hedge beyond.

He drops onto one of the benches, and considers his next move. He forces himself to close his eyes and clear his mind, then draws the sword and lays it across his lap where he can see reflections in its blade.

The reflection of the fountain is subtly wrong. He shifts a little, and realizes that the reflection of the far wall is also wrong. Wrong in the sense that it differs from the reality he perceives with his eyes. Which may not be a surprise, lots of things he’s meeting now that Gwen is training him hide differences between perception and reality.

In the reflection he sees a cat walk nonchalantly into the fountain area, take a drink, and walk out again.

Image

Deal 1026: Sydney takes stock

After the encounter with the cockatrice, Sydney was a still a little nervous. This was not turning out to be his usual Saturday off. Accidentally falling into a swimming pool filled with burn gel was a lucky break, but he couldn’t help but wonder what else could go wrong.

He also wondered seriously what had already gone wrong. Had he been killed in that musty warehouse in Los Angeles this morning? His memory of his previous life was growing hazy as time passed here in this absurd place. It didn’t matter much however. He was here now, and had little choice but to press forwards. And wherever “here” is, it clearly is no longer in Los Angeles.

Since he clearly had a moment of calm, he took inventory to see what he had managed to carry away. His sword, of course. Despite his injuries in the encounter, his sword did feel more substantial, almost as if it had gone up a level as a result of the cockatrice. He too felt stronger than he had this morning, but the dip in the pool of balm might explain that. His belt bag still had his usual supplies, asthma inhaler, gaming dice, cell phone, notepad and pencil. It used to also have an emergency Snickers bar, but was already gone. But in its place was a leaf wrapping a bar of a similar size and shape. He unwrapped the leaf cautiously, and sniffed the bar it contained. It smelled faintly of sawdust, old socks, and desperation, so he wrapped it back up and put it back in his pouch.

Not for the first time, he wished his new place in life had come with an instruction booklet.

Or at least a hint about the rules.

The maze had let him out onto a grassy knoll, with a building nearby and a village in the distance down the road. Nothing Sydney could see in any direction looked the least bit like California.

He sat down on the grass to take think, and decide on a goal.

The town in the distance was the obvious choice. The road did go on as far as he could see in the other direction, but he couldn’t see anything to temp him.

So that settled his goal. He would walk to the town and hope he still had feet when he got there.

Image

Deal 1005: Stewed Birds and Open Fire

You always want to begin with a clean workspace and a stable source of heat. If burning wood, you will need a heavy cast iron pot to spread the heat from the fire to all sides, and hold it hot as the fire burns down. You won’t need to put the pot directly in the fire, balanced at one edge is often preferred because it can be turned occasionally, or moved closer and further as wood is added and consumed.

If potatoes are handy, tuck a few at the edge of the fire, in the ashes so they don’t burn. Turn occasionally and let them roast for a while before adding them to the pot near the end.

Butter and herbs will form the base. Other fats may be used, of course. Use what is at hand as long as it isn’t rancid. Rub the bird in salt and pepper too, and brown it in the hot fat before adding anything else. If the goal is a stew and time is not on your side, you can always break the bird down into pieces that will cook quicker and render more flavor into the broth.

Of course you can even spatchcock it if you’re feeling fancy. No one really enjoys picking around the backbone anyway.

Chop a few roots, rinse ashes off your potatoes and break them into chunks, and add to the pot along with more salt and pepper and some water. If some beer is at hand that won’t be missed immediately, add it in place of half the water or so. It will cook down and make a richer broth.

If you have time to simmer them until cooked, you can always drop chunks of biscuit dough into the top of the pot. Little fluffy bombs of bread will steam in the broth in no time at all.

To serve, all you need is enough large bowls and an appetite.

More of that beer you raided for the broth would probably go well too.

Image

Deal 898: Stain remover

The laundromat provided the best cover.

It gave Eugene a view into the steamy undergarments of a broad selection of society. The business did its part to clean up the community by providing the usual array of self service coin-operated machines, a small dry cleaning plant, and a full service laundry that was the germ of the original business. They could even send nearly anything out for mending, and usually had a shoe-shine on duty as well. Everyone in the metropolis needs a clean shirt, and the laundry was there to provide it.

Eugene appreciated the anonymity of the laundry counter. No one wants to discuss their stains with someone memorable, or to be remembered for their stains. That meant that he could people-watch with impunity.

And then, when the situation warranted it, step through the false-front of one of the industrial dryers into his lair where he had taps into the information flows through the whole city, and could often influence the increasingly automated infrastructure of the city to give critical assistance to those who deserved justice.

He could watch traffic ebb and flow in real time, and most of the traffic lights would respect his whistle. He could see security camera views of most public spaces, and far too many private spaces. License plates on cars were easy fodder for his systems to read and follow. Facial recognition would often let him spot individuals. And everyone carries a phone these days, which all chat continuously with their carriers, identifying themselves to the network so that calls can be routed.

All of this information came to Eugene’s lair and whispered in the background like a flock of gossiping pigeons.

But above all, Eugene kept his activities a secret. He helped the police far more often than they knew. Often it was as simple as nudging traffic signals and crossing gates to influence the paths of suspects to be more available to police. In extreme cases he had arranged for hints about the movement of a suspect to be anonymously emailed to a junior detective assisting the investigation.

Eugene simply did not want to become known, did not want the limelight, did not want the public recognition.

He merely wanted to remove the stains he found in his community.