Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I sometimes think that, if I put my entire to-do list on one day on my calendar, I’d get it all done on that day.

For example, here’s what I wanted to accomplish today: Make about seven phone calls, go to the grocery store, make a fish dinner, do a load of laundry, proof more of that novel, bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies that I can munch on at work instead of buying snacks from the machine, fill out the tax forms for Otherspace Productions, write at least two hundred words of the VR story, and practice Japanese.

I’ve done it all. Partly because it was all on my to-do list, and partly because it’s all in support of my goals and desires in life. I want to eat well, and bake, and write, and keep Otherspace Productions going. When my to-do lists support those goals, I want to do ’em.

One of those phone calls was to Verizon to find out why my DSL hardware hasn’t arrived. Surprise! My service was cancelled. Not by me: they cancelled it for me, when they found out that my house was so far away from the nearest switch that I didn’t qualify for their normal rates. Of course, they didn’t bother to tell me this.

According to the Verizon rep I talked to, my house is so far from the switch that I might just barely be able to squeeze some bandwidth down that pipe, but it’d be miniscule. I’m literally a few hundred feet from the maximum distance to get any sort of signal.

So I ordered DSL from Earthlink, which appears to support my location well. Judging from some of the forums I’ve checked, Earthlink’s a decent high-speed internet provider; at least, these third-party forums aren’t filled with enraged customers. Most of the posts are normal troubleshooting or information requests.

I should get my hardware by the weekend, and my line should be active by the beginning of next week. I hope to be online at home by the end of next week, an event to which I’m greatly looking forward. And hey, Earthlink explicitly supports Mac OS, which is a relief to me.

And now, as promised, a big VR story update:

That night, a shadow swam through the streets and alleys of the city, a figure so fast and so quiet and so stealthy that it was barely noticed by the drunks and the homeless. It slithered up a fire escape and slipped through the shadows of ventilation tubes, barely whispering across the gravel on the roof. It stopped above a skylight.

If anyone had been there to see it, they would have seen the outline of a man, dressed in Japanese clothes in various dark shades of dark and navy blue. His black hair was pulled back in a small knot, and his intense face peered down through the window, like a hawk studying prey.

He turned and glided to a nearby ventilation shaft, then folded himself into it and descended into the bowels of the building, with only the occasional slight sigh of shifting metal to advertise his passage. He found an appropriate grate, silently opened it from the inside, and climbed out into a small storage closet. A few moments later, he was in the hallway, turning the knob on a door and silently pushing it open with his left hand.

Before him was a large, empty room, lit only by the moonlight streaming down from the skylight in the center of the ceiling. Motes of dust hung suspended in the light like stars. And, in the exact center of that light sat Doodlehopper, her legs crossed, wearing her black jacket, shirt, pants, and boots. Her hands lay open on her legs, and as the intruder entered the room, her eyes opened and looked straight at him.

He held his place, inwardly surprised at this turn of events. He had not expected the girl to be so prepared. He knew better than to underestimate a prepared enemy, so he waited, gauging her. She did not move, simply watching him, for several moments.

Then she moved her hands to either side of her body and stood as smooth as a cat, the scabbard strapped to her side dangling heavily. His eyes fastened themselves on that scabbard, noting its every motion as it swayed next to her hips. Slowly, but not leisurely, she put her right hand on the hilt and tugged. Ah! It was not a scabbard; it was a bokken, a practice sword, probably made of some lightweight metal. It detached easily from the clip on her belt and she swung it forward, grasping it with her left hand to hold it upright in front of her, her eyes still staring straight at her opponent.

He put his feet together and stood straight, pulling himself up to his full six feet in height, then announced, “Please put that down.”

She snorted. “Like hell.”

“That bokken will stop my blade no better than a blade of grass. I do not wish to see a good instrument wasted. Please put it down.”

She shook her head, slowly, keeping her eyes on him. “I have the right to defend myself with whatever I have. You’re just gonna have to deal.”

He sighed, like a parent confronting a petulant child. “Since I have been unable to kill you immediately, I must ask you this: Do you still protect Thomas Aznable?”

One of Doodlehopper’s eyelids twitched slightly; whether from irritation or exertion, he could not tell. “Why d’you wanna know that?” she asked. “Gotta write it down in your Killing Diary?” His face clouded. She allowed herself a small, vicious smile, and continued: “‘Tuesday: Bought bread, went out with Cindy, killed a guy in his sleep.'”

“Mr. Aznable is currently sleeping in a motel room twenty-two blocks from this building,” the man said, his voice betraying a thin edge of annoyance. “If you are still pledged as his protector, you seem to be doing an odd job of protecting him.”

Her vicious smile turned positively nasty. “You think I care what you think of me? You, a petty assassin who slaughters the innocent for a quick buc—”

And he was ten feet in front of her, his sword already out of its sheath, the thin blade glowing in the moonlight and arcing towards her right side like the grin of Death’s Cheshire Cat. She shifted her weight and shoved her weapon towards his, knocking his sword out of the way with a clang as she turned back inwards and swung the blade with all her might towards his stomach and chest….

But it was no longer there; he glided out of the way and pulled himself back a few feet. How did he do that? she thought. He reversed his momentum in mid-strike!

She regained her balance and paused, studying him. His face betrayed him; he was watching her with greater intensity now. She gave herself a mental high-five for that.

“Do you protect Thomas Aznable?” he asked again, his voice as unperturbed as when he’d first asked it.

She grunted. “Persistent little bugger, aren’t you? Okay. Yeah, I guess I do.”

She saw him as he accelerated forward this time, giving her a larger window of opportunity to respond. But he didn’t slow down, and angled past her to her left. She was puzzled for half an instant, then with all her strength she pushed her legs off the floor and slid to her right. He raised his blade almost languidly, and it flew through the air where her kidneys had been. She fancied she could feel its breath whisper along her side. He spun to face her but did not move further; she risked a glance down and saw the fabric of her jacket gaping down where his sword had cut clean through it.

She pushed down the panicked fears of a blade and a man that could cut through leather like a finger slicing through air and returned her attention to her opponent, but as she did he rocketed forward, bringing his steel around in a devastating arc that she knew could cut clean through her neck.

So she raised her blade to block. His mouth twisted slightly in amusement, knowing she didn’t have the strength and the position to fully block his blow. At the final instant she twisted her hands slightly.

His steel met hers and an explosion threw his sword away, electricity arcing in sinuous waves between her bokken and his blade until he drew back to a comfortable distance. His eyes were wide and his nostrils flared in indignant surprise. She smirked.

“Wait a sec,” she said. “I thought you wanted to fight?” She shifted her weight onto her back foot and yelled, “Let’s fight,” launching herself at him with every pound of weight and strength she could muster.

She attempted a kote, the end of her bokken reaching for her opponent’s wrist. He pulled back yet further — though he was only a few feet from the wall now — and with inhuman speed spun his wrist around her thrust. A quarter-second later he was lunging at her towards his left, pulling his sword with him so as to slice into her left side. She ducked to her right, plowing into his chest and pulling the bokken towards her, hoping to trap him between its pulsing electricity and her body. But this meant grabbing his sword arm, leaving the deadly steel on its end to strike her back. Sure enough, she felt the muscles in his arm constrict, so she planted her feet and spun him away. He came to a rest nearly in the corner, and as he did she realized that he had allowed her to break their dangerous embrace, probably knowing that neither would leave it unscathed.

“You have great skill,” he said, watching her carefully as he raised his sword into a ready position.

Chudan kamae,” she murmured, and his eyes widened a fraction of an inch as she leapt forward in a men uchi or blow to the head, her bokken whistling through the air ahead of her in a neon shimmer of electricity. He feinted to the right and brought his sword around in a deadly arc towards her exposed left side. She just caught his movement in enough time to swing her bokken towards his blade, making contact. Light exploded from the steel of his sword where it made contact with the crackling lightning of her bokken, then she was surprised to realize that he was holding his sword in place, pushing against her. She shifted her weight enough to let both weapons slide to the hilt, still locked, and she heaved forward with all her strength.

He held her at nearly arm’s length, adjusting his stance every so often to keep her bokken from coming near him. Energy cascaded off the connected metal, sparking and flashing like fireworks. She glared grimly into his eyes, which were as calm as that of a professor studying a specimen.

She couldn’t help frowning. She was just barely keeping him at bay, and he showed no sign of running out of tricks. She remembered a pitched battle against her sensei once, and his strikes and slashes were just like this. Well, not quite as deadly, but just as calm and focused as this man’s.

Fear rushed into her mind, flooding her with a cold, clammy feeling of dread. She saw her death standing just beyond this man. He waited.

Now that you’re done reading it, note the new poll; what do you think of this new entry?

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