May 20, 2019 3:11 PM
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Isabella doesn't really want to own as many things as a human. She likes the simple wardrobe, the one glorious vehicle that carries her under the stars, the rental house. Hair can do without shampoo as long as it's not accustomed to the stuff; no one really needs to own a copy of Monopoly; she sleeps comfortably in a hammock instead of having to come up with the hundreds of dollars for a mattress (let alone a frame).

She sometimes wishes she had her own computer.

She has a phone, which Charlie insists she carry with her, so that's all right and no one's going to call her unwitchly for indulging a beloved mortal. It will do simple web browsing. When she wants to do less simple web browsing, she goes to the library.

So here she is, in the Rockland Public Library, looking up alethiometers.
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The library door opens, and in walks an enormous tiger.

Oh, there's a boy there, too. Isabella might find his coat familiar; likewise, when he pushes back his hood, his face.
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Isabella is very absorbed in what she's doing, but Pathalan's help isn't really needed. He swoops over and lands right on the tiger's back, taking care not to dig in with his talons. "Hullo again," he says.

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Petaal chuckles.

"Hi!" says Kas. "Whatcha up to?"
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"She's working on one of her side projects," says Path. "She's very absorbed in it."

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"I can tell," says Kas, amused. "Is it magic stuff?"

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"Not ritual magic," says Path. "Alethiometers. They're interesting."

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"What's an alethiometer?"

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"Truth-tellers. They answer questions."

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"...What kinds of questions?"

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"Any," says Path, and he flies back to Isabella to whisper to her.

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"Sounds fun," says Kas.

Petaal pads over to Isabella's computer and sits, tucking her tail around her paws, where she can see the screen.
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Isabella is seeking dictionaries of meanings for the alethiometer symbols. "Hi," she says distractedly, shifting between tabs to compare their organization, backwards lookup, and crossreferencing. She's already pruned the dictionaries for compatibility with her phone.

"There's no good reason for there to be so many, with only a handful of alethiometers in the world," Pathalan says. "People must download these as a novelty."

"Lucky me," says Isabella.

"How'd you know to look here?" Path asks Kas and Petaal.
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"We guessed," says Kas. "You seem like the library type."

"Looks like gibberish to me," Petaal remarks. "What's it all mean?"
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"Like the goddesses all have a lot of portfolio items, the thirty-six alethiometer symbols have layers of meanings," Isabella says. "Supposedly the hands of it spin a certain number of times to tell you which. And you use them to ask the questions, too. It can take ages to decipher an answer, even if it's short, and there's not much grammar to it, either," says Isabella. "I've memorized the first ten of each from that introductory fun-facts site I copied them from, and now I want something more comprehensive to study."

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"Why, do you have one of these?"

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She snorts. "No. There were only six made. Two are lost, nobody has a clue where they went, they may have been destroyed. One was definitely destroyed. The Louvre has one. Oxford University has one. And the U.N. has one."

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"And nobody's figured out how to make more?"

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"Nope," says Isabella, peering at the dictionary.

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He sits on the floor, hugging his daemon. She is very fluffy.

"Who made the first ones?"
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"Fellow named Pavel Khunrath." She settles on a dictionary. Her phone is already hooked up by USB to the computer to charge it; she downloads it thereto. "In Prague a long time ago."

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"Why d'you like 'em so much?"

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"People who have them could be doing anything. The alethiometers don't just do facts, you don't just get to ask them if this Picasso is authentic is or whether Iraq has nuclear weapons. You could ask one how to solve global poverty. You could ask it how to generate clean energy. You could ask it how to do anything. And they're not, because everyone who has one has pettier concerns to worry about that take up their whole concentration, and the readers they hire are - you know that none of the alethiometers in known location are even in use twenty-four hours a day? They don't hire enough readers to keep them in efficent use! Oxford have one guy with a Classics education and a copy of Khunrath's dictionary and one grad student to help him, there's a waiting list to get them to ask it questions, the philosophers ask it what is color and they get a vague answer and then instead of arguing about what color is they argue about what the answer means, or what truth means, so no progress is made. The physicists are barely better, they say is string theory true, and of course none of these symbols just means yes or no, the alethiometer answers in complete sentences that they can argue about forever. If they asked it how they could empirically test string theory that would at least make sense. It's idiotic."

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"So what, you're gonna steal one?" he asks, smiling.

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"Well, I was thinking I'd look for the lost ones," Isabella says. And then she twists around in her chair and looks at Kas assessingly. "To start," she adds.

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"You could steal one just long enough to ask it where the other two are and then put it back," he suggests. "If you wanna be nice about it."

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