Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Enchanted Toasting Fork - Episode 5

Petro stepped down from the tram and crossed to the pavement. He was just a couple of doors away from The Lucky-Happy Mini-Convenience-Mart - Discount Smokes, Dry Cleaning, Broadband Internet, Cheap Phonecards, Shoe Repairs Mondays to Fridays only. It was probably a better place to do his web search for housebreaking tips than his own computer at home. It would be faster and there would be no embarassing audit trail on his own PC or his ISP's server. He ducked in through the door, between the flags advertising cheapest ISD rates to places like El Dorado, Shangri-La, Brigadoon, Tir-Na-Nog and Y'ha-nthlei.

"Pack of Emphysema Gold," he said to the sallow proprietor, whose face had the low-browed batrachian look of a recent immigrant from Y'ha-nthlei, "and I'd like to get on the net for about an hour or so." The proprietor gave Petro his cigarettes, accepted payment and waved his hand at the back of the store, where there was a line of carrels against one wall, each with a PC in it. The rearmost carrel was already taken by a three-toed sloth. The sloth had a lonely air of sadness and frustration about it. It also seemed to be having a few difficulties with the mouse and keyboard.

There were only three carrels, so Petro took the one closest to the front of the shop, leaving one free between himself and the sloth. He brought up Google and typed in "Housebreaking OR Burglary". A little over a quarter of a second later, he was looking at results one to ten of about 5,220,000. He amended his search to "Housebreaking | Burglary -dog -puppy -cat". That knocked out about a million results. It occurred to him that this might take a little time. He was still refining and narrowing down his search when the sloth left. A few minutes later, its place was taken by a young mother with a sound-proofed baby stroller.

The reserve battery light on the dashboard started blinking. Ruby swore under her breath. Despite her mood the curse came out with a hint of the vibrancy and excitement that she could never quite shake off so she added a pox on fairy godmothers and their idiot blessings to the abuse she had tossed at her car. She scanned the road ahead for a Teslaco station. With luck, she'd find one before the battery warning light lit continuously and the annoying beeping started.

The Teslaco station, when she came to it, was on the other side of the road - of course. She threw a desperate U-turn into the station forecourt. Like all Teslaco stations it was brightly lit, even in the middle of a sunny afternoon. Under the Teslaco logo - a Jovian hand with a lightning stroke middle finger extended upwards - the prices blazed out in neon glory. Leaded 99.9c/amp Unleaded 89.9c/amp. Standard Teslaco weekend prices.

Inside the station, Titus looked up from the copy of The Goth he had "borrowed" from the newspaper rack. He watched Ruby's old Holden Hippo stop at service point 3. The Hippo might look good with respray and a new set of wheels. Not much you could do for the driver, he decided, when he saw her get out of the car. So much for the idea of closing up for an hour and nicking out the back with a bottle of baby oil and a pack of condoms from the counter display. Maybe next weekend would bring a change of luck. He went back to the paper:

Japanese Inventor Claims Positive Entropy Breakthrough

For centuries, great thinkers have dreamed of creating a machine that uses more energy than it produces. Now 70 year old Tonito Kimosabe claims to have achieved this dream with an engine that runs at only 90% efficiency. If Kimosabe's claims are true, this will mean a major upheaval in contemporary magic. According to mainstream magical opinion, the second law of manadynamics makes engines with less than 100% efficiency impossible ...

Outside, Ruby popped the lid of the battery compartment and unhooked the jumper leads from the service point. The ammeter reset itself to zero. She used the keypad beside the ammeter to preset it for $20.00 of curent - that ought to be enough to get her home. She slipped her hands into the one-size-fits-all-males rubber gauntlets over the spring clips and attached them to the electrodes; the ammeter soared as charge drained off the batteries. The Teslaco stations lights seemed to burn a little brighter. Once her twenty dollars was used up, she went inside to pay.

Titus glanced at Ruby as she came through the sliding glass door - she wasn't actually that bad looking close up. Those piercings looked weird though. She came straight to the counter, holding a twenty dollar note in her hand. "Number three," she said in a voice that touched Titus with a delicate thrill of hinted possibilities.

Titus took the twenty dollar note.

"You sure that's going to hold you?" he asked, "Those old Hippos can put away a lot of charge."

"I'm not going that far." Ruby answered, untouched by his solicitous attempt to wring another few dollars out of her. "I'll drain her right off tomorrow."

"Your business I guess," There was a hint of resentment in Titus' response. "That all?"

Ruby eyed the counter display of baby oil, goatweed pills and condoms. "That's all, thanks."

She walked back to her car and drove away. She's going to get herself into trouble one day, coming on like that Titus thought, dishing out insults with that come and get me tone. He turned to the opinion pages:

Flummery: Here are the Facts

When a respected mage like Tom Flummery buys into brownie hysteria, you know that you're in trouble. In his latest book on global electrification and "peak electricity" Flummery makes it clear that he's abandoned sense and reason in favour of brownie mysticism. Here are some of the myths Flummery purveys in this disgraceful book ...

The rest of Ruby's drive home went without incident. She parked the car and went inside then along the hallway to the back of the house where french windows opened onto a shaded courtyard. There were no messages on her answering machine. She took a folded paper note out o fher pocket and opened it up. As she read it, her hand touched the telephone handset.

Across town, Petro eyed his telephone apprehensively.

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