Lettie's alive. That's the one important thing.
I have a chestful of cracked ribs, a shiner as black as boot polish (actually, it might be boot polish), and three of my teeth feel like they'll fall out if I eat anything more solid than a cappuccino.
You should see the other guy's knuckles.
Everything happened at thrash speed last night, so I should probably slow events down and strum through them chord by chord.
After work, I went a'wandering. Down to the Strip (lights out), up by Milamont Parade (nobody home) and then headed back to mine - along Holl Lane, past Ascendancy Point. I saw Kurt and the non-girlfriend hustling down the stairs into AP station, and I yelled after them, but they didn't hear me, so I followed.
I tried hailing them on their keys as well, but while I was still dialing, Kurt rushed over and stopped me.
"No keys," he said, and grabbed it out of my hand and gave it to some huge dude in a suit. That's when I noticed half a dozen of these guys with ear-pieces, standing around and looking conspicuously casual. I wondered what kind of employer Kurt had found himself since he got suspended. Anyway, as you now know, it was the police hit squad assault unit tactical task force people.
They dragged me through some doorway and told me to shut up, which I did. I gathered it was a rescue attempt. The non-girlfriend didn't say a word, just stared at me and stayed close to Kurt. The others seemed to be growling, but I might have imagined that.
Most of the story you heard. We split into two groups, and the chief growler decided he wanted to keep an eye on me, so I tagged along with him and Kurt. Everything went smoothly until we bumped into a pair of guards who needed distracting. I felt like a bit of a spare clue, so I thought I'd make myself useful. All those nights sitting at home, waiting to do something. Clearly they'd addled my brain.
I make a convincing drunk. I've had practice. I landed a couple of good punches - good enough to be annoying - and they dragged me away in cuffs. I thought they were just going to chuck me out the front door, but instead they got on their keys and took me upstairs (in the lift, fortunately - I wasn't in a fit state to take the stairwell).
We got off at the 110th floor. They dumped me outside a door, which was opened by a sleazy looking fella with bad skin. He was wiping his hands with a rag.
He pulled me inside. The guards walked away. Nobody was saying much. I thought I'd join in.
"Caine Johansson. What are you doing here...?"
He threw in a couple of unnecessary kicks. He wasn't going to make me talk by winding me. I didn't think he'd appreciate the advice, so I stayed stumm.
"Are you alone? Are you alone?"
Another kick, another rib gone.
There were other people in the next room. I could hear them.
He sighed, grabbed me by the hair and hauled me into a store room.
Scarlett was tied to a chair, gagged, and barely conscious. Her fingers were bleeding. She didn't react when I was flung down behind her. But I was glad to see her. Glad, upset, nauseous. All these things.
The door slammed. It didn't sound like he locked it. They must have assumed that I was no threat and, having seen my fighting prowess downstairs, they had good reason.
I crawled to the other side of the room and tried talking to Scarlett. She came round slowly... very slowly, half-starved and maybe drugged. She tried to say my name. We sat and cried at each other for a while. I told her it would all be okay. I didn't want to say any more in that room.
And then the lights went out. We heard gunfire. I wriggled on the floor and stood up, still cuffed, and tried the door handle. It opened. My sleazy friend was backed up against the wall, gun drawn, facing away from me and staying out of the firing line.
What I did next was... troubling. I still think it was the right move. He would have done worse to me. I think he'd already done worse to Lettie.
I kicked him. A hard, shoving kick that pushed him away from the wall and into the open. A shot ripped through him before he could recover, and he span round to face me before he dropped.
I'm trying not to dwell on that image.
Then I turned back towards Lettie and helped her to spit out the gag, and before I could do anything else, the police stormed in and it was over. The gunshots stopped. There was some shouting. I heard a guy screaming, wounded. But there was another yell, full of pain and fear, a desperate wail from a voice I knew, searching, picking through the bodies, and Scarlett tried to stand, still tied to the chair, answering the call, murmuring a name in return, drawing strength from the word: "Violet... Violet. Violet!"
I don't have any family to speak of. My parents both died a while back, and I've got no brothers or sisters. It's never really bothered me. I've never really felt like I missed out or anything. Until yesterday.
31 Jan 2007
So I think I know how Scarlett felt. Sitting around in the apartment, I just feel useless. I have all this pent up energy and nowhere to direct it, so I've found myself wandering a circuit after work (and all weekend) between my place, Scarlett's and her sister's, looking for signs of life. Signs of someone to help, something to do.
I've given up on calling them. They've both got enough messages from me to know I'm around.
On Saturday, after the session, I drank my way round our old haunts near the Strip, keeping an eye out for either of the girls. Pointless, I know. But given a choice between futile faffing and sitting still, I choose the faff. Especially if there's liquid anaesthetic involved.
29 Jan 2007
I got recognised today. I was walking down the Old Coast Road when some guy came up to me and asked if I was that dude from The Gunge. This must be what fame is like.
The reason I was over that side of town is I was trying to track down the non-girlfriend. She's not answering her key and I've tried her apartment a couple of times - no luck. I'm starting to wonder if she's gone after Scarlett, wherever she is. That's assuming she's gone voluntarily and hasn't been grabbed by evil henchmen.
I don't mean to sound flippant. It's just tough to feel close to a girl who keeps you at arm's length all the time.
Scarlett, though, isn't as strong. She says she can look after herself, but I've spent enough of the past few months looking after her to know that she's not like her sister. I'd be looking for her now if I knew where to start.
It's been days now.
I walked from the Strip and past Milamont Parade, looking in at the windows to see if a light might be on, but nobody's home. I had a copy of The Sentinel under my arm. I was going to share it with the girls and make jokes about the review and being famous and being fought over. I had all these jokes.
26 Jan 2007
With the old man in prison, Von doing his homework, Kurt gone AWOL, Anna sadly departed, Aiko sculpting some monolithic monstrosity and Tippy filing her nails, there's only me and Garnet left to do the work around here. And Garnet's delegating.
He's had me checking through all those printing irregularities, working with MC on how to 'accelerate the retrieval process', coming up with new puzzles and auditing all the previous answers from you Cube Hunters on Earth, trying to see if there's any kind of pattern or if the Third Power might have infiltrated you all. Knowing how you've had problems with moles before, I suppose I can understand why - but there are around 52,000 of you registered online, and who knows how many hundreds of thousands watching from the sidelines... he'll have me sifting Alchemy Beach for sugar next.
Then there was the gig, which was hectic but good. For the first time in months, I've come off stage with the lads and we've all had a real buzz going. There was even a group hug at one point. Mo said it was the best set we've ever played, and we stayed out until a reprehensible hour on a school night. I paid for it in the morning.
Incidentally, to those of you that asked: no, there are no images of my coded tattoos. I prefer to retain them for private viewings at my discretion.
Scarlett's still away on her info hunt, and yeah, I am getting worried. With plenty to keep me busy, I've not been as frantic as Krazy Kurt and and his Anxious Assistant, but it's true, she should have been in touch by now. She might be on her way up to Anjsbourg for all we know. In fact, that would be all right. She's done that before. Anjsbourg, Schmanjsbourg. But she must be in pretty deep if she can't even key us a line. It looks like everybody's done a disappearing act except me, and I could really, really do with a break.
24 Jan 2007
Lettie's gone rogue. Since the break-in, she's been kind of unable to sit still - which, compared to how she'd been over the previous month or two, was something of an improvement. She was cooped up here too long and, finally, she decided to get out and do something. I wasn't about to stand in her way.
I don't know what she plans on finding out or really where she's gone to look. But I'm glad she's back on her feet again, back to being her old self. As she keeps telling me, she's not a little girl anymore.
Her sister disagrees, of course. Maybe that's a sister thing. And if Lettie gets in trouble, no doubt it will be my fault. But I'm not worried. Everybody gets the urge to escape every once in a while - I can identify with that. She'll turn up when she's found something.
I have plenty to keep me occupied anyway. The guys have been hassling me for extra sessions over the weekend. We've got a gig next week and some press people are turning up - not that I'm all that fond of hacks right now. I'll be sure to lock my door on the way out.
19 Jan 2007
I'm not normally the one preaching discipline, but somebody round here needs to work. I mention this because the big sister has been giving it to me in the neck for not being there when I'm needed. Where 'there' is - or when 'when' is - I don't know. But apparently, the vital moment clashed with me going into work at the CRT, just when the link has re-opened and we're totally short-staffed and Sente has left the whole Academy rudderless and it looks like the Cube could be found by anyone at any moment, which could plunge the city into even deeper political turmoil.
Selfish of me really.
Anyway, in what spare time I have, I've been doing my best to offer some TLC and stuff. My version of TLC usually involves tequila and lime, but everyone's been feeling a bit fragile lately. Scarlett's been freaking out today because the cops or some journo has turned over her house... nothing taken, by the looks of it, but freakworthy none the less. Fortunately, she was at my place at the time - I was sleeping on the couch, before you ask - so any real trauma was avoided. Her sister was more wracked off about the break-in than anyone, but since their dad got taken downtown, she's been hyper-twitchy about everything. Joy.
Right now, Garnet's scowl is a blessed relief from all the hassle at home. I can see myself becoming a model workaholic for the next few days.
18 Jan 2007
Alcohol. A blessing and a curse. A relaxant and a depressant. I've had so many great times after a drink or two, only to forget them by the morning. Hate that. And last night, I saw again the positive and negative sides of drunkenness with glaring clarity, as well as the pros and cons of sobering up.
I managed to pressgang Scarlett and Kurt into coming out with us to the Ball. Deep down, I told them, they'd regret it afterwards if they hadn't gone. So the four of us turned up at the Academy in our glad-rags, mostly with faces like wet fish, and made our way straight to the bar.
All started well. We took the edge off our thirst and Kurt began to relax - even if relaxation meant him 'finally saying what he thought' about certain members of the CRT. I played along. Scarlett downed her first two pretty fast, but halfway through her third, I heard her laugh for the first time in forever.
That was the moment, the peak. When Scarlett laughed, I really felt like I'd done a good thing. Kurt and her sister knew it too, seeing her smile and knowing that this could all get better, that everything could be overcome, forgotten, consigned to the past. Just one laugh, and we all felt stronger.
Then the cops arrived. There was no way to be discreet, but they didn't need to stage the whole arrest so publicly. Every journalist in town was there, along with every dignitary and everyone who has ever respected Sente - including his family. Scarlett dissolved. She put her hand to her mouth and let out this silent scream, this gasp that sucked the air right out of her. It looked like she was suffocating, and she grabbed my arm and slid down it as her knees went, and the tears started, and her father was marched away.
Her sister yelled them all the way out of the hall. She messaged me later from the station. Some poor duty officer must have been wishing he'd switched shifts.
Kurt stood back and watched it happen, a bit glazed already, and I think that's the point at which his intake accelerated.
I didn't hang around for long. The party atmosphere had kind of dissolved when the host was led away in cuffs, and Scarlett was a mess, so the pair of us left Kurt to it and headed back to mine, to wait for more word from the station.
Scarlett... she's a sweet kid. She poured herself another drink (a large one), which she hiccupped down, and we crashed on the couch for a while, talking and mumbling and then not talking at all. She looked up into my face, close, and I could taste her breath. Sweet, but sweet with liquor. She stayed there, craning up at me. I was maybe just a drink short of leaning down.
I stroked her hair and she went to sleep after a while.
Like I said: a blessing and a curse.
16 Jan 2007
...Aaaand we're back.
It's been a while. Happy Solstice. Welcome to 270. Hope you've been keeping well.
I've just been looking back over my last post and, well, it feels like a long time ago. Maybe because it was. So what have you missed...?
Previously on Perplex City: Scarlett has been kind of a wreck since she got back from Lancewood. Killing that guy - even if it was an accident - has freaked her out in some semi-permanent way, though we've been trying to talk her through it.
Her sister remains an enigma - I may or may not be single, depending on the futures, biorhythms, solar flares or the previous night's poker - but the lack of adventuring has made things a bit easier between us. Relationships run so much more smoothly when you're not being asked to risk your life.
As I suspected (and even I'm impressed with my foresight here), the comms lockdown has only hindered the hunt for the Cube and given the Third Power more of an advantage. Apparently. I mean, that's what I've been told, while trying to keep my distance from the whole life-risking thing. The CRT has been doing a lot of not very much and Garnet has continued to be all kinds of intrusive. The place has felt pretty empty since Von got sent back to school.
Maybe the biggest intrusion was Garnet suspending Kurt this afternoon. Seems pretty harsh to me - I mean, the link only got hijacked once, and they spotted that straight away. But it looks like Kurt's taking the fall for it. I'm betting they'll bring him back again in a month or two when the papers have got bored of the story. If they really wanted rid of him, they'd have fired him.
In other news... The Ooze are jamming again, and I've written a few new tracks which have gone down well with the crowds ('Faberling' could be a single, and I'm pretty pleased with 'Boolean Night'). The guys are letting me do a couple of acoustic numbers, though Crowley is demanding an a cappella solo now... swings and roundabouts.
You missed a kick-ass PCAG final. Champaign sneaked it, the little brat. More evidence that she is indeed a baby cyborg.
And I'm going to make sure Kurt, Scarlett and that sister of hers all come along to the Ball tonight. I've always found that, when you least feel like a party, that's when you most need one. Apart from anything else, I think the Academy owes us all a drink.
So how about you? What have you guys been up to? I gather the Cube hunt is gathering pace, but just how close are you? I've missed getting your messages - let me know what's going on.
15 Jan 2007
I'm not really a political animal - I leave that stuff to the middle management and megalomaniacs - but right now, I feel like a placard-wielding activist. This lockdown is insane. Blaming Earth for all our problems is so wrong-headed I'm tempted to unscrew Earlywine's cranium and check the contents for damage.
Still, I'm pretty sure this is just a knee-jerk thing and we'll get back to normal eventually. Garnet's calling it a 'period of stability and consolidation'. You don't want to know what I'm calling it. Or him. He's got us working on admin tasks and process checks with the MC guys - small-print things, the kind of stock-taking jobs Garnet adores.
None of this is getting us any closer to the Cube. In fact, I reckon this whole lockdown is probably getting us further away from it. But who listens to me? I'm just an Academy scribe...
I'll try and keep in touch if I can. Hopefully, this embargo won't last long. You'd better hurry up and find that Cube soon, though, just in case.
20 Oct 2006
Those girls should really learn to look after themselves. Broken bones, radiation poisoning, post-traumatic shock... Still, some of the pain went away after I prescribed a few of Chaz's cocktails down at the Fox. I don't want to get too involved, but there's no harm in offering some support. Even Kurt joined us for a few jars.
As ever, alcohol cured all ills (even if the Zombie Droppers caused a few headaches) and diplomatic relations have been restored. I'm not going along on their next crazy trip, but I'll be keeping an eye on them as much as I can. I just thought you'd like to know.
3 Oct 2006
I'm not usually good at taking advice. If someone tells me to do something, I tend to do the opposite. This is why I've never tried parachute training.
But once in a while, a few wise words make it through my defences, whether I want them to or not.
A few days ago, one of you guys sent me a message. (Hi Rose.) I read it and ignored it, but it wouldn't leave me alone. It suggested that Anna might have been killed because of me. Instead of me. So I'm responsible for Anna's death.
That stayed with me. There's also, of course, the sense that I was the intended target and I had a narrow escape, which is unsettling. It occurred to me that I could be dead right now and not writing this, that my hands could be cold and still, not tapping away at this keypad.
I made the mistake of saying all this out loud when we were out for a drink the other night. She took it the wrong way and called me, in her own roundabout manner, a coward. After some consideration, I was forced to agree with her. I've had enough. I want out. I've nearly been killed and Death has trailed behind me. I'm a menace.
She's hardly playing safe herself, but at least she seems to have some clear ideal she's aiming towards, something to have faith in, something to make it seem worthwhile. I never had that. I just had her.
Rose's message also suggested that we were set up: "It seems possible to me that, due to the number of people who knew you were involved in tracing the parts, the attack and murder of Anna was planned. I think that your whole mission had been betrayed by someone. I think you guys were expected and watched." That's the most worrying thing. I can't read anyone in this game, so I'm folding.
Keep in touch. I'll be around.
6 Sep 2006
Another reason why I've been quiet is I'm not sure who's listening. Garnet has started some kind of military coup in the CRT, pulling rank as the most senior member and 'taking matters in hand.'
This seems to mean him calling a lot of meetings that start with, "It has come to my attention...". He sent written warnings to a bunch of girls who'd been using the CRR to copy shoe designs, and Von got shouted down for cloning Earth consoles on Academy time. And he wiped all of my OZ tracks off the servers, saying they were unprofessional and subversive. I've had reviews like that before. I liked those reviews.
As far as I know, he hasn't cracked this blog yet, but I'm leaning on the short odds. Our mutual friends aren't telling me much either, but that's nothing new. With Garnet's contacts, nobody can be sure if any comms channel is really secure. The less I know, the safer I am, apparently. I'm not sure I want to be safe while my buddies risk their necks, but I'm not getting much of a choice right now. Having said that, with all the secrets knocking about round here, who knows what they're really up to.
Henrik has been more stony-faced than ever. He won't meet anyone's eye. I don't know if Garnet's ordering him around or vice versa, but there's a humourless cloud hanging over the whole place now. As if we didn't have enough to mourn already.
22 Aug 2006
Sorry for going quiet. It doesn't seem like the right time to be loud. Just at the moment, it's kind of a relief not to have the band every weekend - Crowley is still wracked off about his car, so he hasn't been coming to the sessions. Geronimo has been trying to talk him round, but I honestly don't care if he comes back or not. I don't have the energy to deal with another diva right now. There was even a part of me that found the blackout oddly calming. A forced halt. A minute's silence.
Work went crazy then, of course. Crisis talks, all-nighters. The worst thing about it all was the empty desk at the end of the corridor. Despite myself, for a split second, there was this evil, heartless voice at the back of my head cursing Anna for leaving us short-handed. Maybe I shouldn't even admit that, but I thought it...
Aiko's put up a little memorial page for anyone who wants to pay their respects.
Since the data link came online again, people have been saying that things are back to normal. Try telling that to Otto and Pip.
18 Aug 2006
It's not been the best day. I could think of things I'd rather have been doing. Hanging out with Anna and her kids, for one. Or listening to Scorsese work on the E-flat diminished ninth. Or cleaning my flat with a toothbrush. Instead, I was at Fleming's house. With the children. Working out what I was going to say at Anna's memorial service.
She was just normal, that's the thing. She wasn't the wisecracker or the moody brilliant one or the one who turns up an hour late to meetings with an unexplained black eye. (Not all of those were me.) She was steady and reliable and, yeah, good. She was never a pushover - particularly not in the area of expense claims - but she'd bend over backwards to do you a favour if she could. She loved her family and her job and reminded everyone she knew just how rare it really is to meet someone normal.
I said all this at the memorial service. I'm not much on public speaking but Fleming asked. Sente spoke before me, about her career and her legacy. Her mother's brother spoke after me, about her family and home. I was blown away by the number of people at the service - everyone from a couple of Council members to the department's janitor. It occurred to me, as I listened to the speeches and the songs, that someone sitting on one of those chairs on the lawn must have known what happened to Anna and why.
It's all been a bit of a game up to now. Decrypt mysterious messages, follow disappearing delivery trucks, see if X marks the spot. But it's not a game. And if I needed that hammered into my head with red-hot nails well, spending today with Anna's sprogs has done the trick.
The girl who got me and Anna into all of this has promised we're going to have a talk. A real talk. Soon.
3 Aug 2006
I'm going to keep this short.
We found Anna this evening, me and the girl. Fleming's been going completely mental the past day or so - weird to see a calm bloke like him go totally crazy. He's the one who insisted we keep on searching the area Anna disappeared. Us, and the police, and all friends of the Heath family which, as far as I can tell, amounted to about half the population of the city, and the brighter half at that. It was the girl who demanded we go down into the tunnels.
The police have gone over them repeatedly but she, thinking as ever that she knows better than anyone else, insisted we go down again, starting from where Anna disappeared and working outwards in concentric circles. I'll give it to her - she knows her way round down there. I've been to a couple of "Raves in the Caves" in my time, but other than that I steer well clear: people get lost in that place and never come back. But she spent a lot of time there when she was a kid. She knew all the hidden tunnels, the ways through seemingly impassable blocks. And that's where we found Anna. She's dead. And by the look of her, she didn't go gentle into that good night.
We've informed all relevant authorities. But I have to go now. I need very urgently to be far more drunk than this.
28 Jul 2006