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Vento's LMS VI Pinboard



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Mon Feb 27, 2023 2:21 am
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Ventomology says...



Wednesday, October 1, Late-Afternoon

Francesca couldn’t find Tim’s thesis.
She’d tried the UCBF Wizardry department website. She’d poked and prodded at Jstor and the US Wizardry Journal. She’d even emailed the professor she was pretty sure had been Tim’s advisor, only to get an automatic response that he was on sabbatical in Italy and wouldn’t lift a finger for anything less than an emergency.
Finally, in a fit of desperation, Francesca tapped on the aether conduits in her glasses. She clicked on the link on the department website again, expecting the same old four-o-four error to pop up. And it did; her screen lit up with the glaring white background and Times New Roman error text. But in the corner of her eye, she noticed a thin trail of aether particles go dark around her internet modem.
She knew what that sort of trail came from. Somewhere, on a server in a datacenter faraway, there was an aether circle that redirected every query to this particular URL to another, nonexistent URL. It was the same principle that operated her phone tree redirection.
Francesca didn’t like this. She didn’t want to think about it. There was a logical conclusion to be drawn from the fact that Tim’s thesis was hidden behind the exact tactic it described, and Francesca wasn’t going to make it. Instead, she stood up and stalked to her kitchen. She ignored the pile of dirty mugs growing in her sink and yanked open the fridge door, only to find it empty of anything worth eating.
She prodded some takeout from Monday and wrinkled her nose. It wasn’t even a good time for food. She just needed something to think about.
Eventually, she gave up on the fridge. She stood in front of it, staring blankly at the aborted grocery list hanging off the freezer door with a health insurance magnet. Francesca couldn’t even remember when she’d written the darn thing, so with a long, heaving sigh, she took it down and crumpled it. Then, after she tossed it in her box-filled trash can, she found herself staring at the trash.
Okay, clearly she was going to have the thought. She might as well get it over with.
If Tim’s thesis outlined the process by which someone might create a remotely triggered aether conduit, and it had been hidden by precisely that method, then someone was trying to keep the information on the down-low. In fact, whoever had done it must have hidden the thesis early; Francesca was surprised that in the two-and-a-half years since Tim graduated, that remotely triggered aether conduits weren’t rapidly proliferating through the Wizardry profession.
The only people Francesca knew of who had ever used remote-trigger aether conduits were herself, Tim, and Melvin Grace. Obviously Francesca hadn’t hidden the thing. Melvin’s insistence that she read it implied he hadn’t hidden it either. Which left…
Francesca gulped, blinking herself out of her stupor. She gripped the back of a dining chair and peered up at her ceiling, beyond which Tim was probably at his computer, doing his usual work..
Anyone who read and understood Tim’s thesis could have done this. But, Francesca thought, they would have needed to somehow get into the university’s servers. And Francesca figured that if Tim was brave enough to go poking around XYZ’s data web infrastructure, then he could probably have made it to the UCBF servers.
She laughed, the sound desperate and breathy. This was stupid. Tim was smart, but there were plenty of people out there just as smart. It could absolutely be someone else. If only she could get in touch with his advisor.
Francesca was the only person she knew of, other than Tim himself, who understood the work in that thesis. And while she hadn’t felt community in wizardry in a long time, this stark realization that she knew no one who could assuage her fears about Tim’s work left her shaking. Goosebumps rose along her arms, and she trembled as she guided herself into the chair. The moment she sat, she slumped all the way over, thumping her head against the dining table and its barely-there tablecloth.
She stayed there for too long. Somehow, the sunlight filtering in from the window turned from yellow to orange, from the indirect bounce of light from overhead into a direct beam from the setting sun that cast long shadows into the apartment. She felt every blink and every breath as though they were a herculean labor.
She hadn’t even seen anyone aside from Tim or Melvin in the last week. Not since the last Wednesday Night Wine and Twine.
As if the thought alone had summoned them, her phone buzzed in her pocket, and Francesca saw distantly that she had a text from Persy.
Oh god. What time was it now? She rushed to the bathroom, stumbling out of the chair and stubbing her toe on a doorframe before she made it to the vanity. Her post-work nap had left her hair tangled, and a dusty, white trail of evaporated drool still streaked down her chin.
She texted Persy back. Yes, she was absolutely going to Wine and Twine today. And yes, she needed a ride again. Then she fumbled for her hairbrush and tried to make herself at least somewhat presentable.
When Persy texted again ten minutes later, Francesca had given up on the hair and just plaited it into a long, wispy braid that hung limply over one shoulder. She scrounged up various things to shove in her sewing case on her way out the door, and then remembered she was still in sweatpants halfway down the stairs.
It was probably fine.
She met Persy at the older woman’s car, right in front of Francesca’s building, a smirk pulling deep smile lines into her face. Francesca was never going to live this down.
“Finally relaxing, are we?”
“My shift started at midnight,” Francesca groused. “Sue me if I wanted to take a nap before this.”
“Haha! Don’t test me!” Persy leaned over the console and patted the passenger seat, her grin widening in mischief. “Now get in. I want to hear all about your exciting magic plans for today.”
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Mon Mar 06, 2023 4:08 am
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Ventomology says...



continued


Francesca choked. “Magic plans?” She shot Persy a dubious grimace through the front windshield as she rounded the car. Yanking open the back seat door, she leaned in to gently place her sewing bag on the floor, snug among the odd collection of sergers, fabrics, and boxes of notions and embellishments. “I don’t have magic plans. Last week was a total anomaly.”
Persy merely waved a hand in dismissal. “Oh please. We did something unprecedented last week! I want to do it again.”
“Well I don’t,” Francesca mumbled, sliding into the passenger seat. Before she could even fumble around for the seatbelt, Persy hit the gas, and her tiny, high-spec sedan revved to life. They sped down the block, and Francesca hung on for dear life.
“Oh, come on,” Persy said a few blocks later, right after a harrowingly fast stop at a red light that left Francesca gasping and shaking and pressing one foot on the floor as if she could brake the car herself. “We basically discovered a new way of doing magic! We should explore it as much as possible.” She took a hand off the wheel and placed it dreamily on one cheek. “And I want to be a part of it. Excitement is good for old people.”
Sometimes, Francesca thought, Persy was more of an ageless and unknowable entity than an old person. But she just gripped the grab handle until her fingernails dug crescents into her palms and stared bleakly at the buildings as they whizzed by.
“So?” Persy prompted, nudging Francesca’s shoulder. “What are you going to do today?”
“Nothing!”
“Oh, don’t give me that.” Persy whipped the car around a corner and then cut someone off merging into the left lane. Her GPS blinked sadly in the center console, the tiny speed limit symbol in the bottom outlined in a pitifully thin red line. “We fixed part of the scrambling last week. Let’s try another part! Maybe you can make all the hospitals stable.”
Francesca was about to object, but then she remembered the hours and hours of phone calls she’d had to make with the hospitals to help them coordinate their generator fuel deliveries. Those back-up systems probably weren’t meant to run forever like they had been lately. And if she fixed their locations, then it would save everyone at work a lot of time.
Sighing, she bumped her head against the passenger window and conceded. “Fine. We can try hospitals today.”
“I knew you’d come through,” Persy said, and from somewhere in her wealth of emotional experience, she pulled out a smile so smug and saintly it erased the wrinkles from her cheeks and gave her enough prescience to brake gently at the next red light–even though she wasn’t looking at the road.
Francesca just slumped into her seat.
Persy drove a nice car–nicer even than Tim’s. It was probably easy to get a nice car though, when the older woman owned her own Victorian house in a good neighborhood and was probably drawing on at least four different sources of late-life passive income. The seats were upholstered in shiny, well-waxed leather and had enough foam that Francesca sank into them like she was pushing her whole body into jello.
She fingered the tiny, white piping detail at the seams of the seat and tried to remember how she’d made the circle for the Arthurs last week. The whole evening was hazy, but she was pretty sure she’d started out trying to arrange pieces for a postage stamp quilt. And then she’d drank her way through half of a bottle of wine and somehow turned a horrible mishmash of fabric and stitching into an aether conduit.
Or… maybe it wasn’t an aether conduit she’d made. Persy, after all, had been the one to put aether into it. Was it a conduit circle enhanced by the machinations of the aether-loved, or was it something else entirely? Francesca would have to look at it again, assuming the Arthurs brought it to Wine and Twine.
She hadn’t even realized she could do magic drunk, or in any way affected by substances. In school, she’d had a difficult time making conduits work when she was too tired, or on those particularly bad days when she doubted the veracity of things her professors said. Then again, drunk Francesca was probably more honest than sober Francesca, and knowing what she knew, that probably made all the difference.
Biting her lip, Francesca tugged off her glasses. She held the frames sideways so she could see the tiny little aether conduits carved into the plastic, the ones Melvin Grace had been so fascinated by last week.
Melvin Grace, of course, would never be able to use them. The strict rules of modern Wizardry prescribed complex geometric equations and ratios to write out the formulas that carried aether into the physical world and caused it to manifest as an effect. Every mark had its purpose, and every line was measured to the millimeter. No doubt he had thought, looking at the tiny little eye shapes carved there, that she had calculated the exact difference in radii needed to inscribe the eyelids and irises and pupils inside the circle. Maybe he thought there was some minute shift in the position of the pupil that shifted it from the plane of reality to the invisible field of aether that floated just sideways of everything else.
Francesca had drawn these circles three years ago, the day before she withdrew from the Wizardry department. She had been angry out of her mind about a test from WIZ-201, and she’d had at least seven cups of coffee, and she’d made a promise to a friend in the architecture program to help them with their physics homework.
So she had been in the studio, the architecture students’ knives in easy reach, their silver, triangular blades sparkling in the light of an early autumn sunset. And she had believed that the entire history of modern, Western Wizardry was a complete load of horseshit. Head pounding with caffeine, heart pounding with tension, and hands pounding with the intense, constant rhythm of a tattoo artist tapping tiny holes into something, she had defied millennia of theory and attempts to explain the inexplicable, and she had made new magic.
In magic, belief was everything. Wizards believed in the rigorous order of their practice, and thus, their rules begot rules, which begot more rules. Aether-loved willed the aether to listen to them. Francesca believed that a circle with a little eye in the middle would let her see what no one else could, and so she saw.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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557 Reviews


Gender: Female
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Mon Mar 13, 2023 12:35 am
Ventomology says...



cont.


She wet her lips and slowly brought herself back to the present. The strange discombobulation of buildings from disparate neighborhoods passed in a blur outside her window, and Persy hummed quietly along with a song on the radio. The GPS in the center console zoomed into the little arrow representing the car, and a thin voice spoke over the music to direct them to the next right turn.
“Ah, finally back with us?” Persy said. Francesca wished the older woman would spend more time looking at the road while she drove.
Taking a deep breath, Francesca ran her fingers through her hair and grimaced. “Yeah. Yeah. Just, thinking about how to make the hospitals stay in place.”
“Hmm, well. You are the expert in this.” Persy took the turn, and Francesca felt her whole stomach turn three-hundred-sixty degrees. Then Persy smirked, her smile lines deep in the evening light, and leaned over to nudge Francesca in the shoulder. “But don’t be too hard on yourself, hmm? If it doesn’t work, no one will know but us. And this is new stuff, anyway.”
Francesca felt her shoulders relax, and she let out a huff of a laugh. “Yeah, I guess.” And then her mind caught on something. “You know, I wonder if it really is new magic at all.”
The car whipped into the parking lot, popping up on the curb just a tiny bit, as Persy whipped around to look at Francesca again. “Not new? Girl, I’ve been around a while, and I’ve never seen anything like last week.”
“Sure. But you’ve also only been alive during an era of globalization.” Francesca slid a finger along her seatbelt as Persy pulled into a parking spot and killed the engine. “Modern Wizardry as we know it comes from Greece, approximately when the mathematical study of geometry started to become more formalized.”
“Wow, that sounds straight out of a textbook.”
It was straight out of a textbook. Shrugging, Francesca popped open the passenger door and stepped out. “But there were aether-loved for as long as we have record of human history,” she continued, as she rummaged through the backseat for her things. “Probably even as far back as the ice-age. And there’s no record of it, but some archeologists think that all proto-human groups had some capacity for producing aether-loved individuals. Tool-using animal species like corvids even produce them on occasion.”
“Okay, college girl, slow down. What’s the connection between aether-loved and wizardry and whatever we did last week?”
“I was getting there,” Francesca mumbled. She slung her bag over her shoulder and checked the door handle before they crossed the parking lot. “People wonder why aether-loved now perform magic on such a small scale compared to the massive miracles you see in the Bible and Quran and Jatakas. I mean, no one’s parting the Red Sea these days.”
Persy stopped in the middle of a row of cars, blinking openly. Then her gaze narrowed. She caught up to Francesca, leaning in to whisper, “Francesca, I thought the magic last week just fixed the Arthurs’ house. What happened actually?”
Well. A lot. “We fixed every single brownfield site in the San Angelo Metropolitan in place for a week, at least. All of them were returned to their original places at midnight after Wine and Twine, and they haven’t moved since.”
Francesca had thought Persy old enough to never be surprised, but the older woman immediately choked. She reached out a hand to steady herself on Francesca’s arm, and Francesca was surprised by the boniness of her joints and the quiver of her grip. They stood there a few moments while Persy caught her breath, the long shadow of the library building stretching out over them from between two even longer skyscraper shadows.
“I did magic that big?” Persy murmured. “I was joking about the hospitals, but… we could really do that, couldn’t we.”
“Probably,” Francesca said. “Yeah.”
Persy looked up, her eyes sparkling. The orange light of sunset was like fire in her silvery hair. “I can’t wait.”
---
Obstacle number one, unfortunately, hit Francesca like a spinning wheel to the head. She and Persy had just finished setting up the Wine and Twine space when Arthurs Jr. and Sr. walked in, looms and wheels on their little carts in front of them, and Arthur Jr. beelined straight for her.
“Hey!” he shouted. Almost. Arthur Jr. at least had the presence of mind to not shout at full volume in a library. “Can you fix this?” And then he shoved the frayed, fragmented remains of Francesca’s work from last week into her face.
Her little quilting block was in tatters. The top-stitched circle had missing pieces where the thread had broken and torn front he fabric, and the fabric itself had turned thin as paper and so threadbare Francesca could see through some of it. The seams that held the squares together had torn almost completely, so that the pieces were strung together like a crumpled line of magician’s flags.
Gingerly, Francesca took the piece from Arthur Jr.’s hands. “How did this happen?” Fabric didn’t just fray like this, not in a week. The stitching could, if drunk Francesca had done a particularly poor job, but not the fabric itself.
“I don’t know,” Arthur Jr. said, shrugging his lanky, teenage shoulders in that sheepish kid way of his. “It just happened. Every day I’d wake up and it would be more worn out than the day before.”
Holding the block up for closer examination, Francesca tapped her glasses. The background ambience of glowing aether flashed across the lenses, and she traced the threads with one finger, careful not to tear the quilted square apart further.
Only the faintest shimmer of aether remained. She didn’t have a good picture in her mind of how bright exactly the original piece had been, but if Francesca had to hazard a guess, she’d give this one night more at most before it gave out and the region’s brownfield sites started shifting around again. Evidently, this was not a long-term solution to the problem.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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557 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 33593
Reviews: 557
Mon Mar 20, 2023 3:49 am
Ventomology says...



Cont.


It occurred to her though, that even if these individual quilted blocks could not stack together over time to solve the entire scrambling of San Angelo’s city blocks, then a full quilt might keep the region stable long enough to draw out whoever had started the mess in the first place.
Or, she thought, maybe just the hospitals would draw out the perpetrator. No one payed attention to brownfield sites until they were smelling things in their basement and losing their children to poison. Everyone would notice the hospitals.
She spread the ruined fabric out on her workspace and gave Arthur Jr. a shrug. “Well, I’ll try to remake it. Hopefully I have enough time.”
Last week, when Persy had imbued this original square with aether, she had used up most of the background levels in the area. It would take a while for aether concentration to return to normal–maybe two or three hours–and they had this space in the library for only four.
It would be close. Francesca scrubbed a hand down her face, already tired from just thinking about it all.
She did her best to get settled quickly. While the Arthurs took their time setting up their wheels and looms, and Persy ambled back and forth between her car and the library to slowly accumulate boxes of fabric, rolls of patterning paper, and even two different dress forms, Francesca rushed to set out her sewing machine. She dumped all of her scrap fabric unceremoniously on her table, flicked on her machine, and dug into the scraps, all before half the Wine and Twine attendees were even in the room.
Francesca had picked out her nine little squares to remake the Arthurs’ magic circle–potholder? Artifact?–when she finally remembered to look up and take stock of who was here.
No Nadia this week. That was probably for the best, since the other girl would be insufferably nosy, and then she’d probably start a conspiracy somewhere. Francesca recognized a woman who had shown up one time, several months ago, and then never came back. Maybe her house was nearby today. When the woman sat, she plopped a hot pink bag down at her side full of equally pink yarn in the heaviest weight Francesca had ever seen. The crochet hook sticking out of the tangle looked big enough to bash someone over the head with.
Olivia was here though, which Francesca wasn’t sure was good or bad. She took a seat next to the crocheter, and her shock of purple hair and her black, hardcore punk clothing made her stand out in immediate, glaring contrast. The crochet woman might have had a bludger of a hook, but every inch of Olivia’s torso was covered in sharp, chrome spikes. They were a dangerous combination.
The last two attendees were a set of identical twins. Francesca had never been able to determine how old they were–the pair of women wore their hair in identical high ponytails and wore complementary athletic leggings with the exact same mesh cutouts criss-crossing up their calves. Their faces had just enough lines that she knew they were older than herself, but whether they were in their late twenties or early forties was anyone’s guess.
She didn’t even know which one was which. Some days Francesca couldn’t remember their names. She was pretty sure one of them was Tori.
The murmur of voices, people saying their hellos and catching up after a missed week or two, swelled in the background, and Francesca almost fell into it. Her feet found purchase on the ground, angled in Olivia’s direction. She hadn’t seen her friend in two weeks, hadn’t even thought of her, with all the nonsense going on. She wanted to catch up.
And then Francesca’s eyes caught on the analog clock on the wall. She had a schedule today. Gulping, she sat back down and looked down at her fabric squares.
And… just looked at them.
She bit her lips. Where had her head even been last week? She’d been drunk. She’d been confident, and single-minded. Her head had been clear, somewhere deep in that flowing place where time stopped and things happened, and problems were matched perfectly, like pieces of well-designed pipe, into their solutions.
How was she going to get there again? Francesca heard the pop of a cork and the quiet click of glass on the plastic library tables, and she considered downing a glass or two. But who knew where her brain would be then?
She pushed the squares around, as if changing the order they were in would somehow kick her brain into drive. She tapped her foot on the ground. She tapped a finger on the table. She tapped fervently at the side of her sewing machine. Somewhere to her left, she heard the tapping and clicking of Arthur Jr. at his loom.
She glanced over at the two Arthurs, side-by-side. She had no idea how Arthur Sr. had known their house had been transplanted onto a brownfield site. Francesca hadn’t know the location of any of those places until she spent hour upon hour staring at the aerial shots of San Angelo. She saw the similarities in the Arthurs’ faces, the square shapes of their jawlines, and stern angle of their eyebrows, and she wanted, suddenly, to make sure that Arthur Jr. one day lived as long as his grandfather, if not longer.
Her fingers touched the fabric, and she fed the squares through her sewing machine, and before she realized it, she was carrying her little sewn bits over to the ironing board by Persy’s table.
She ironed the seams flat, hardly noticing the poofs of steam that fogged her glasses or the stares of the other Wine and Twine members around her. She kept sewing. She ironed again. She sandwiched a piece of heat-proof batting between the quilt block and a square of backing fabric, and her fingers pushed everything through in the same little circle and stick-figure pattern. Her mind wandered then. She forgot to change out her thread and bobbins, and as Francesca stitched a little figure in a green dress, with curly black hair into the center of the block, she wondered how many children out there had been living near brownfield sites before the scrambling.
However unstable life might be like this, maybe there was some benefit to it.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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557 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 33593
Reviews: 557
Sun Mar 26, 2023 10:21 pm
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Ventomology says...



cont.


As Francesca passed the next round of pieces through her sewing machine, her brain whirred. The presser foot clicked and clacked, and Francesca thought about the layout of parks across San Angelo. Thread whispered off the spool, and she recalled the last several grocery store building permit locations. With every tiny poke and stitch, Francesca’s brain pulled up ideas from university about refurbishing the city’s water system.
Eventually, she made it back to the ironing board. She flattened out the seams, methodically sliding the iron left-to-right and up-to-down, totally divorced from the bustle of other people around her. She held up the large square when she was done and frowned at it.
Instead of a three-by-three, she’d sewn up a four-by-four pattern. And somehow, she’d slipped a blue and mucky green and white square in along with the central brown one from the previous piece. She hadn’t even been thinking.
Grimacing, Francesca carried the square back to her table. She plopped down in her chair, almost falling when her butt missed the seat, and propped her elbows on the table. Whatever effect this magical quilt block had, it wasn’t going to be the same as last week’s. Halfway through, she’d stopped thinking just about brownfield sites and started thinking about all the myriad ways that the urban landscape affected its inhabitants, and now she wasn’t sure what would come out of it.
Well. If she was going to get two different blocks made, it was too late to restart. Francesca changed out the threads in her sewing machine, stewing in her thoughts as she pushed a dark green thread through the eye of the needle. As long as she kept her brain in the right place for the actual circle part of the sewing, everything would probably turn out fine.
She glanced over at the Arthurs as she plucked a handful of other thread colors out of her bag and told herself to think about brownfield sites. Brownfields, brownfields, brownfields. She kept the word on repeat as she stitched sandwiched a piece of batting between the block and a backing fabric, and forced herself to imagine the horrors of poison and cancers as she quilted down the circles and figures on top of the squares. This block was going to fix things, if only for a little bit, and she had to believe it.
Francesca finished the edges up with a neat, white border with perfect forty-five-degree turns at the corners, and then gathered the whole thing up and brought it to Persy.
Immediately, she wished she hadn’t been so absorbed in her own stuff today. The older woman moved and pinned and repinned a luxurious purple velvet over one of her dress forms. Despite the sunset being mostly over, despite the harshness of the artificial white light from the library’s flourescents, the fabric shimmered. The fabric turned every drape and curve into a soft, haloed gesture over the body. Francesca couldn’t think of an appropriate time to wear a velvet cape like this, but it sure left an impression.
Noticing her presence, Persy pulled her pins from her mouth and turned around. “What do you think?” she asked, excitement gleaming in her eyes. “Silver or gold fastenings?”
Francesca blinked. “Um. Depends on the fastenings, I guess.” She took in the standing collar and the implication of epaulettes at the shoulders. “Probably gold though.”
“I was thinking,” Persy said, without segue, as she turned back to the dress form and adjusted the way the fabric fell over the shoulders, “what if it were possible to store aether in an object to use later?”
Not sure what to do with her quilt block, Francesca laid it on the table and examined the cape more closely. Persy was fidgeting with some kind of arm hole, shifting fabric around to see if she wanted any overlap in the pieces, or if the arm hole should just exist in the seam.
“I mean, sure? That’s probably possible. What would you even do with all that aether though?”
The quilt block’s aether stores had counteracted the shift of the city for a week. A full garment like this would have more than ten times the fabric, and five times the length of seams. If Persy added in embroidery, then there would be even more places for the aether to attach. Glancing again at the Arthurs, and then at Olivia, Francesca wondered what would happen if an entire team of people came together with magical intent to create an object of power. Could the fabric itself be imbued with more aether if someone knit or wove it for the sole purpose of sewing magic into it?
“Hmm, I don’t know,” Persy mused. She adjusted the cape again, moving the the whole thing around so it sat asymmetrically. “Maybe I could make an island?”
Magic rearranged the city every night. Maybe the right magic could permanently remediate a gasoline-contaminated plot of land or upgrade the city’s storm system. Now that Francesca thought about it, why hadn’t any real wizards tried that?
Her disapproval must have shown on her face, because Persy backpedalled as soon as she noticed. “I wouldn’t do that,” the older woman said, waving a hand. Her smile widened as she placed one wizened finger at the corner of her mouth in thought. “I’m sure you have good ideas though.”
“Not really, no.” Francesca didn’t think things other people hadn’t thought a thousand times. There probably was already some wizard over in Belle-Ferre who made tons of money creating magic to make municipal projects less obstructive to daily life.
Her fingers reached out, brushing the quilt block, and Persy’s eyes followed the movement. She brightened then, abandoning her cape to make grabby hands for the quilt block. “Ooh! Is that the hospital one? Give it here. I’m so excited for this.”
“Uh”-
Francesca could barely get a word out before Persy had taken the fabric from her hands. She barely even had time to tap the sides of her glasses to watch as the older woman did her magic.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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557 Reviews


Gender: Female
Points: 33593
Reviews: 557
Mon Apr 03, 2023 1:50 am
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Ventomology says...



Cont.

No one in the world had ever observed the imbuing of aether into a magical item. Not in living memory, at least, and probably not for a few centuries beyond that as well. Francesca–ordinary, average, pedestrian Francesca–would be the first to see the millions of motes of light all around her blaze brighter and brighter, like a miniature universe of stars juxtaposed over this totally normal library resource room. She was the only one to see those lights converge, a flock of fireflies to a particularly sweet nectar, and align themselves in the seams between scraps of fabric and in the even, machine stitching over the top.
If she reached out, it was like she could feel the lights brush past her skin. They flowed around her limbs, around manufactured tables and chairs, in a starling dance.
And then the magc in Francesca’s glasses faded. Persy had soaked up just about everything in the area, so it wasn’t like there would be much aether to see anyway.
Beaming, Persy handed the square back to Francesca. She was giddy with pride, her face crinkling and her thin lips turning thinner as she smiled as wide as her cheeks would allow.
“Oh! I’m so excited,” Persy said, bustling back to her dress form. She wiggled her fingers in delight, like the energy just had to go somewhere before she got back to work, and sent Francesca sly look over her shoulder. “You’ll have to report back tomorrow. I expect a text as soon as you know how it worked!”
Francesca gulped. Hopefully anything at all would happen. “Yep. Will do,” she said, before fleeing back to her own table. Time to finish at least the square for the Arthurs.
---
Today, the office sat in the middle of Miguel-Carlos Parra Square, in place of what was usually a well-tended rose garden whose only building was an ornate cross between a belltower and fountain. Where the fountain was today, and whose water bill it would show up on, Francesca didn’t want to think about.
It had been a little weird sneaking across the empty, cobblestone-paved square at a hideous hour of the morning. The square itself was three blocks long on either side, and the streetlights stopped somewhere too close to the edges for comfort, so not only had Francesca felt like an intruder, crossing all that empty space by herself, but she’d also had to keep an extra-sharp eye out for icky things.
The benefit, of course, came after sunrise. Even from her second-story office, Francesca had the privilege of unfettered sunlight access from her window. She hoisted the blinds open as soon as she noticed the hint of red light peeking through at five, and had been graced with the warmth of a slowly moving square of cozy, satisfying sunlight. It caused an unfortunate glare on her computer screen, but Francesca had her priorities straight. Mostly.
At eight o’ clock, the email came in for today’s aerial photography, and Francesca jumped on it as soon as possible. She had to know what had come of yesterday’s experiment, and she needed to confirm that Take Two of her remake of the Arthurs’ brownfield stability aether conduit was still working.
Every minute spent loading the picture, Francesca spent fidgeting. She tapped her nails against her desk as the little buffering circle looped over and over. She wiggled her chair back and forth, biting her lips as one section of the image loaded, dark and green and blue against the white screen. When she saw the clock tick past two minutes of load time, she stood up and rustled through the paper bag she’d brought to work with her two quilt blocks inside and pulled them out, just to look at the damage.
The Arthurs’ square had taken less of a beating. The backing fabric felt a little thin, and a few threads had come loose in the edge binding. The colorful topstitching had a few straggling bits and ends hanging off the rest of the piece. But it was still together, and still functional, and when Francesca tapped her glasses to look, the pulsing, golden light of aether still coursed like veins through the seams.
Her mystery square, on the other hand, was mangled. Aether still lingered in parts of it–Francesca guessed she had one more day out of it before the thing fell apart, and she might not get the full effect tomorrow–but the glow was faint compared to the other block. The entire backside of the binding had come off, revealing the sandwich of pieces all quilted together and giving the unfinished seams places to start unravelling.
And unravel they did. One fabric square had frayed all the way to the first seam holding it to the binding and batting, and now left an open pocket where Francesca could stick three fingers in and touch the wool inside. Half of the topstitched circle had come out, and a long tail of white thread clung weakly to the rest of the fabric, held in place by friction and static and will alone.
Francesca held up the carcass of her work and whined at her computer to load faster. Since they were on a spot that usually just had a rose garden and non-electrified building, the whole office was on back-up power and cellphone hot-spots. Her phone service provider probably hated her right now.
And then, blessedly, the picture loaded up. Francesca opened up her local copy of the San Angelo Bay pre-magic and situated it on her second monitor, making sure she got the same area boundaries as the new photo. With the sun on her skin and the comfort of routine clicks, she lulled herself into expecting the expected–the brownfield sites would be where they were supposed to be, and something new would also look oddly familiar.
And then she took in the pictures.
Her heart stopped. She felt her lungs stop working, and her head suddenly pounded with a headache so strong she wasn’t even sure a nap would solve it.
Yes, the brownfields were in the right place. She’d spent all last week looking at them in great detail; she knew where they all belonged on pure instinct. But what struck her immediately was the massive swathes of city blocks–entire neighborhoods–transposed together across town. She could see right away that all of Whitby Island had moved as one, grouped up so its one park block sat square over one the remains of an old cement firing plant. Shoreview, in its sparkly, new entirety, had rotated and shifted to hug the coastline around an abandoned steel mill.
Everywhere Francesca looked, she saw her richest, wealthiest neighbors suddenly in throwing distance of the gnarliest, stinkiest, most poisonous parts of the San Angelo Bay.
Grimacing, she leaned in closer and found a hospital. Persy had definitely imbued magic with the intent to keep the hospitals in place, right? Francesca dragged her finger across her screens, her heart thudding in her chest and her face scrunching in ways she didn’t want anyone else to see.
Her pointer finger landed on San Paulo Mercy Hospital, right where it was supposed to be, and Francesca let out the longest sigh she’d ever made in her life.
At least she’d gotten something right.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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The rest of the day was surprisingly quiet. Without the hospitals constantly arranging their back-up water and sewage service, Francesca had very little to do. Construction permitting was on hold, so she didn’t even have that to fall back on. When George finally arrived to relieve her of her shift, her shoulders were stiff from the effort of doing nothing.
“It’s going to be a quiet day,” she told him, mind already wandering to the tantalizing prospects of a mostly in-tact Chinatown. Francesca’s apartment, unfortunately, had not been kitty-corner to the bakery as it should have been, but she’d seen the storefront a block off her route to the office, and now that it was normal-person hours, she intended to drop in.
But before she could high-tail it out of the building, George caught her. She grimaced. Francesca should have expected this; he was the sort to ask follow-up questions.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “Did something happen?”
Francesca scratched at her neck, feigning ignorance. “I don’t know how it happened,” she lied, “but the hospitals are all back in their original locations today. So, you know, that’s one less emergency service to worry about.”
She expected him to catch her out somehow. Francesca could feel her heart thudding like a flat tire on the highway, and she knew she was looking away from George’s face, which wasn’t her style at all. But thankfully, he just blinked in surprise.
“Huh. Maybe whoever’s behind all this has had a change of heart?”
“Uh-huh,” Francesca said. She could already feel the fluffy, buttery texture of puff pastry on her tongue, and her brain was feeding her a delectable combination of ube, pineapple, and cream fillings. They probably wouldn’t all taste good together, but hey, imagination was a powerful thing. “Hopefully they have.”
“Well, uh. I’ll see you tomorrow. Thanks for the heads up.”
Francesca waved. If she stuck around a moment longer, she was going to give herself away; she knew it. Before the conversation could continue, she power-walked out of the office, and then full-out sprinted across the open square around the building. A handful of tasty-looking food trucks had set up shop on the cobblestones, and they teased her nose with cinnamon and frying oil and the yeasty smell of conchas. Were she not committed to her Chinese bakery, Francesca would have been tempted.
Her walk today took an entire hour. Francesca could have taken a bus, but she’d taken it this morning to avoid walking too far in the dark, and she’d worked from home yesterday, so she needed the exercise. And exercise it was.
Though Chinatown had always sat on a hill, it was usually only a single climb to get home from work, and after two weeks of scrambling city blocks, Francesca had gotten used to often having no incline at all. Today, she climbed three. And descended twice, which was honestly just as bad. On the hills of San Angelo, the streets could be so steep the cars had to park perpendicular or they’d roll down. Specially poured blocks of concrete sat at the joint between the sidewalks and the driveways and the little paths up to the doors of all the pretty row houses that navigated the complicated seam between sloped and flat paving. Here, every basement unit saw sunlight on its downhill side, and every first floor had steps up to the door.
Even the public sidewalk was stepped, or, in places where the budget hadn’t allowed for steps, there were deep grooves cut into the concrete to give traction.
By the time Francesca stumbled up to the door to A-ma’s bakery, her thighs hurt like she’d just done a hundred squats in highschool P.E. Actually, the stairclimbing was probably more than equal to a hundred squats.
She fell more than walked into the store, gasping as the bell at the top of the door jingled to notify the staff of her arrival. She’d briefly caught her reflection in the window of a nearby building, and she looked awful compared to her usual state when she came here. Instead of neat, perfectly straight hair in an equally perfect updo, she had flyaways from the humidity of her own sweat. Instead of prim, pressed slacks and a clean blouse, she had a rumpled neckline and unspeakable damp spots. Her glasses were askew, and her face shone with the oils of an absurd morning shift.
When A-ma, the old lady who ran the bakery, looked at her, wizened face wobbling as she turned, the woman curled a lip in disgust. “Fang Chun-hua! Ni zen-me liao?”
Francesca was too tired for Mandarin. “A-ma please. I just got off work.”
“No reason to look sloppy! Ni de nan peng-you lai-le.”
“What? He’s not”- she cut off and whipped her head around to see who was inside the bakery. This wasn’t the kind of store people just hung out in. What the heck was he doing here? “Tim? Why are you here?”
He beamed at her, somehow perfectly at home in this dumpy little Chinese bakery, a metal teapot and steaming cup of tea on the itty-bitty table beside him. And since Tim got to be perfect today, he was the one with the perfectly straight mop of black hair and the perfectly pressed button-up shirt and slacks. Life wasn’t fair.
“I figured you’d stop by on your way home today,” he said, standing to join Francesca in the doorway. He took her gently by the forearm and led her to the display case. “I thought since we’re back in Chinatown for the day, we could grab food together.”
Francesca had been of a mind to get a pastry, but if she and Tim were going for lunch, maybe the plans would need to change. She squinted at him, unsure what to make of the unfailing smile on his face, and then gave up and browsed the desserts. She felt A-ma’s silent, judging gaze and tried not to look too long at the cream-filled jelly rolls and crepe cakes.
“Let me get us dessert,” she told Tim, already narrowing her options down–they could get flan, or an egg tart with fruit on top.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Those were mostly egg, so they totally counted as protein. After a few seconds, she waved A-ma over and pointed at a row of cups filled with pastel yellow custard. “Wo-men yao liang-ge bu-ding.” The egg tarts honestly looked better, but Francesca couldn’t remember the word for it, and the delicately written placards weren’t much help either–she only recognized the character for egg. Flan was easy; Mandarin-speakers had just stolen an English word.
A-ma clucked her tongue as she swept the cups into a bag and passed them over the counter, and Francesca tried not to meet the woman’s eyes as she forked over a couple of bills. She hadn’t had a real dessert in at least a week, okay? She deserved this.
She waved A-ma goodbye as she and Tim walked out, feeling self-conscious about both A-ma’s pursed lips and then about the way Tim placed his hand at her back. She’d always noticed when he did that, but today it was different. When she normally humored him, now she wanted to step away. When she normally nodded along with his ideas, now she wanted to debate.
She gripped the handle of the bakery bag and smiled up at him, feeling her eyebrows twitch. “We’d better put these in the fridge before we get lunch,” she said, and Tim beamed at her, sunny and confident and pleased as punch.
--
They ate lunch at a Taiwanese beef noodle soup place, and Francesca spent as much of it as she could looking straight down into her bowl. The rims were decorated with intricate little blue square-squiggles, and as she slurped down the chewy wheat noodles, and gulped down the savory broth she eventually revealed a painted bottom with a tiny scene of a garden in blue.
Tim’s smile never wavered. She was used to him being generally upbeat, sure, but today felt different. Instead of charming, he seemed like a man one didn’t turn down. Instead of confident, he seemed deadly certain. The upward tilt of his lips was a smirk, not an innocent grin, and the corners of his eyes were dark and mean.
And he seemed preoccupied, too, his gaze flitting from Francesca to the street outside their window, eyes sparkling with that knowing spark.
Francesca chewed on a chunk of beef, slowly letting it dissolve in her mouth, and watched him watch the world.
Eventually, she swallowed. There was a thin layer of broth left in her bowl, and she couldn’t hold it in any longer. “You’re uh… really happy today. Something good happen?”
Tim’s whole face curled into a sly, fox’s grin. He shrugged, obviously playing it cool, and slid his gaze back outside with a look so satisfied Francesca couldn’t help but remember her research from last week, after her meeting with Melvin Grace.
“My latest project has been going really well,” Tim said. “I thought it might take a little longer to get what I wanted, but I just had a really good result last night.”
Francesca realized, in a fit of heart-stopping panic, that she had the mangled fabric square still in her purse. She stiffened, both hands on her soup bowl, and peered up at Tim through her eyelashes. God, she was not an actress. “What kind of project?” she asked. She couldn’t breathe.
Her hands shook as she picked up her bowl to drain out the very last mouthfuls of broth, and it sat heavy and fatty on her tongue as she listened for Tim’s answer. She didn’t like this. She didn’t like suspecting him of anything.
“Oh, Cheska, you know I can’t talk about most of my work” Tim said, eyes closed.
That didn’t mean he couldn’t talk about this particular project. Francesca put her bowl down, and it hit the table so loudly she jumped in her seat. She offered a sheepish, self-exasperated smile across the table. “XYZ stuff, huh?”
Something flickered across Tim’s face. Francesca couldn’t decipher it, but she didn’t like it.
“Yeah, one of those big guys.”
The bottom of Francesca’s bowl gleamed up at her with its little garden picture, and her mouth was dry with the salt of the soy sauce in the broth. She moved her hands to her glass of water and wished it had ice, just so she would have condensation to run her fingers through. What was she supposed to say now? She honestly just wanted this conversation to end. She wanted to go home and eat both servings of flan by herself and then sleep until midnight.
And then at midnight, she would wake up and tap her magic glasses and disprove her theories about Tim once and for all.
He waved down their cheque and reached across the table, sliding the glass out of Francesca’s hands, and she had no choice but to meet his eyes and take note of the quizzical quirk of his eyebrows.
“Penny for your thoughts? You keep asking about me, but it’s like you’re a hundred miles away.”
There wasn’t even a trail of water on the table where Tim had dragged her glass away. Frowning, Francesca picked up her spoon and placed it gently inside the bowl, milking the silence for all its worth. Then finally: “I couldn’t find your thesis. The link is broken.” She picked up her chopsticks and laid them horizontally over the rim of the bowl. She couldn’t look at Tim, but she could sense his eyebrows raising, feel the straightening of his back as he moved away from her.
She looked out the window this time. Her face was hot. She couldn’t think. “It wasn’t just broken, either,” she said, and Francesca felt like she wasn’t even in her own body. Her voice sounded different, airy, like it wasn’t resonating in her own skull anymore. “I- I looked into it a little. There’s magic keeping people from reading it.”
In the silence between Francesca and Tim, she heard the clinking of silverware and the scrape of chairs on the floor. This shop had a squeaky door, and the lunch crowd outside chattered and honked and rumbled incessantly. She moved her hands to her lap and waited for the other shoe to drop.
“Cheska,” Tim sighed, before collapsing into a disbelieving chuckle. “What are you saying?”
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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She swallowed hard. “I’m not- Tim, it wasn’t just any magic. It was our magic blocking off access to that URL. And it had to be someone in the wizardry department with access to the host server. I don’t- I don’t know when it happened, but there can’t be that many people out there with that access who could actually replicate the automated aether circle.”
Tim scoffed. “Any of the professors”-
“It’s been two years since you wrote that thesis. No professor has built on your work in that time. No one in the whole world has. Even Grace hasn’t.”
“Wait.” Tim frowned like he’d gotten something stuck in his teeth, mildly inconvenienced. “You talked to Melvin?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Okay, but Melvin is such a”-
“Timothy,” Francesca hissed. She worked her mouth like a cow chewing cud, trying to figure out what to say to him. “Look. I’m not saying it’s you, but I’m asking because if it was you, then I wish you would tell me.”
He made this face, one that Francesca had seen only once or twice, back at UCBF, where the muscles in his jaw tightened so hard the tendons in his neck popped out, but his eyes turned dead, and his eyebrows smoothed into two perfect, horizontal lines. Then he relaxed, hands going up placatingly as he rolled his eyes and swept himself out of the booth. “Whatever. I’m telling you, I’m not involved in anything.”
Well, yeah, Francesca hoped he wasn’t involved. She wanted to tell him that, even, but before she could, he legged his way to the counter and paid for their food. He swung through the door before she could leave her own tip for the waitstaff, and he was on the street, striding down the sidewalk with his long legs before she had made it out the door after him.
And then she lost him.
His head of smooth, black hair popped up here and there from the crowds of lunchgoers walking the streets, but he had the advantage of long legs, and Francesca was in her work clothes, and at this point, she might as well just go home.
She needed to nap anyway.
---
Francesca’s alarm went off at eleven. It blared like the screams of the living at the raising of hell, and she wheezed out something that could have been a groan, but was probably just a squeaky breath. Her computers–both personal and work–hummed at her desk, hard drives already working overtime for her, and their screens cast a pale, blue glow over her dark bedroom.
A drunk man caterwauled in Mandarin outside, his southern accent so strong it turned the vowels flat and the consonants short. Or maybe that was just the drunk part, though Francesca’s parents never sounded quite so rural when they were inebriated.
She hauled herself out of bed, leaving the covers strewn about, half on the floor, and shot off a quick text to Jon that she intended to work from home today. It didn’t matter where she ended up; she had a lead on the scrambling situation.
Kind of. That’s what she told her boss. Francesca mostly hoped she was horribly off-base.
She double-checked her computers and phone to make sure all her different hypothetical conditions were set-up for midnight and dug out her camera. She’d never had much interest in photography, but she’d snagged her Ba-ba’s old DSLR on her way to university and never given it back. And she needed the detachable lens in particular tonight.
While it was possible to inscribe her aether-sight conduit onto the camera body itself, Francesca knew enough about cameras, and was unfortunately superstitious enough, that the effect worked better on the lens than the rest of all the bits and pieces. Tracing the inscription in the plastic lens body, she activated the magic and peered through the viewfinder.
Just as expected, the white glow of aether particles floated through the darkness of her apartment.
She took a few shots, testing out the settings to see if the intelligent-automatic thingamajig would work, only to find the aether horribly over-exposed compared to the rest of the room, turning to massive globules instead of dainty floaty things. It was like trying to take pictures of light through a window. Frowning, she rubbed the inscription. Maybe if she got the timing right, she could take a few in a row to get a decent mix.
Francesca practiced. She aimed outside her window, at the facsimile of Chinatown outside her window, and tried various means of changing exposure and activating her conduit circle. She checked her watch incessantly. She could not miss midnight. The drunk man on the street below wandered off down the street, still wailing in barely-comprehensible Mandarin, and the street was left quiet.
A city like San Angelo wasn’t supposed to be quiet. Francesca might cuss out the rabble-rousers in the privacy of her own mind on normal nights when she couldn’t sleep, but now she felt hollow in its silence.
Whatever. She had things to do. Her watch read eleven-fifty now, so she only had to wait for midnight, and then she could take her pictures and go back to bed to do the rest at a reasonable hour.
She set herself up in front of her desk, sitting backwards in the ratty old office chair she’d had since freshman year at UCBF. It was a poorly made thing to begin with, but now in its fifth year of use, it wobbled on its one adjustable leg, and the worn fabric scraped at Francesca’s thighs. Camera on the back of the chair, she watched as the clock by her bed ticked slowly toward midnight.
At eleven fifty-nine, Francesca positioned herself, eye to the viewfinder, left hand on the conduit circle. In the square of her vision, she could see the screens of her computers and phone, bright against the dark of her desk lamp. A framed set of photographs from her college graduation sat accordion-folded behind the whole set-up, faces unreadable and probably very smiley.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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The screen of her camera blinked, warning her that she was about to shoot at several different shutter speeds. She tapped her glasses. She couldn’t miss the flare of aether when it happened because her bedside alarm clock was a few seconds off her laptop.
She took a deep breath, steadied her shoulders and fingers, and trained her eyes on the screens.
And then, midnight.
Francesca almost missed it. She snapped the shutter, tapped blindly at her conduit circle, and then immediately had to shut her eyes against the onslaught of light that burned through her glasses. It hurt. She heard herself gasp in the sudden quiet of the magic, and then blinked to clear the angry red flashes from her retinas. A ruckus erupted outside.
Her eyes still hurt when she glanced down at her camera screen. They ached when she looked at her computers.
“Okay,” she mumbled, squeezing her eyes shut again. She could still see red spots. “We’re never looking at that much magic again.”
She gave herself a minute, flopped over on her bed, camera on the pillow in easy reach. When the spots faded, she propped herself up and took a peak at the pictures.
There were three: the first had been taken at the fastest shutter speed, and in it, Francesca could see only the motion blur of the floating aether as it gathered at her devices. The third was clearly her bedroom, but she had tapped the circle off by then, and so it showed only her desk and devices, glowing, just slightly over-exposed, in the long-shutter shot.
But the second- oh, Francesca had hit the jackpot with that one.
A faint touch of color washed over the dark background of her room. Her computer screens were bright, but the aether shone even brighter. It gathered on the LCD screens in tidy circles filled with geometric shapes and lines, perfectly placed to invoke magic.
She breathed a sigh of relief.
And then immediately stopped herself. She’d gotten ahead of herself. She was just supposed to prove that Tim had stopped other people from looking at his thesis. And now she had photographic evidence of conduit circles that… probably caused the scrambling of San Angelo Bay.
Okay, well, all she had to do now was pull up Tim’s thesis. She vaulted back into her chair, camera in hand, and navigated to the right webpage. Holding the camera up as she clicked the link, she snapped a few pictures and watched as the error page loaded.
Only it didn’t load. She got Tim’s thesis, all forty-three pages of the densely-packed pdf of theoretical wizardry jargon. Of course! Francesca was so stupid. There was no free aether left right now, not after the scrambling. So it stood to reason that the magic blocking off the thesis wouldn’t work.
She downloaded it. Then she texted Marvin Grace. He didn’t really need to be informed, and Francesca wasn’t sure she liked him yet, but she needed someone to share ideas with who wasn’t basically the prime suspect. And doing this alone, in the dead of night, made her feel like some crazy conspiracy theorist at a yarn-covered pinboard.
As she waited for the ambient aether to recover, Francesca read through Tim’s thesis. It was a lot of baloney–as all wizardry was–but it was fascinating to see Tim’s persuasive skill in writing as he explained his way into tricking the reader into understanding the components for the automatic aether conduit.
The important bit, he claimed, was the bisecting line, which ended with a much, much smaller circle on either end–the diameter of which was flexible, but Tim advised one twentieth of the major circle. This, he justified with some bull about being divisible by two. Francesca had originally used it because it looked nice with the incredible amount of other stuff that she’d included in the very first iteration of this kind of conduit circle.
In both halves of the automatic conduit base, the wizard was to inscribe the circle with the actual effect desired.
Feeling very sci-fi and ridiculous with her two computers both shining white-blue light on her face, Francesca finished the paper. Then she rubbed her face, still sweaty from sleep, and closed it. She tapped her glasses and picked her camera back up, and tried the thesis link again.
There, she got what she was looking for. Aether, much dimmer than before, flashed across her computer screen, its pattern eerily similar to her phone tree circle. Then, the error page lit up her computer.
Francesca checked the camera, decided the pictures were good enough, and promptly ventured to her bookshelf.
She turned on her lights, finally, because a) she needed it to see the titles, and b) she tripped over a sweater on the ground on her way across the room. As she knelt to look at the titles, she ran her fingers over the spines. Mandarin reference book, French reference book, old crochet guide she’d never read–her fingers danced over the covers until she hit her collection of wizardry textbooks. She pulled a few out and took them over to the desk.
This would be the horrible part. Once Francesca figured out that wizardry was a total con, and that she could really do anything with enough aether and unshakeable faith in herself (honestly, easier said than done), she’d stopped memorizing wizard theory altogether. But if she wanted to get into Tim’s head, she’d need to revisit all the rules the wizards made up for themselves.
She downloaded the pictures onto her personal laptop, and then pulled up as many examples of Tim’s work from college as she could scrounge up. There were a few examples in his thesis, and she had a few miscellaneous scraps of paper tucked into her engineering notes from the times she’d spent studying with him. That said, all this was now at least two years old, and if Francesca wanted irrefutable proof of Tim’s signature on his conduit circles, then she’d need something from his apartment.
Okay, now she kind of wanted a corkboard.
She filled her laptop screen with pictures of conduit circles, labelled with their use, and poured over her books until the red light of dawn trickled in through her window.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Somehow, she even did it without coffee.
And then, once the sun had risen fully over the horizon, Francesca finally stood up for a break. Her face was oily, and her butt sweaty from sitting in shorts for six hours. Her eyes hurt. When the pulse of work faded, she found herself standing in front of her window, watching the haze of the San Angelo fog roll in, listening to the slow rise and fall of streetlife beneath her, and trying with very little success to ignore the pounding headache behind her eyebrows.
Wizardry was so stupid. Two wizards could disagree on the precise percentage of the radius necessary for a line inside of a conduit circle, and it would work the same for both of them. They could disagree on the radii of circles inscribed in other circles! So half the work of analyzing a conduit circle came down to measuring all the itty-bitty lines and where they intersected to determine the creators’ preferences.
Francesca’s bluebeam software had taken over the entirety of her computer’s processing power. She’d never be able to look at a dimension measurement again.
But, on the other hand, she’d found a handful of Tim’s personal choices, which held stable from midway through college to the picture she’d taken of the circle blocking access to his thesis. She hadn’t bothered yet with the scrambling one. Truth be told, she dreaded what might happen if she did bother with it.
The problem with the aether photographs was that no wizard of academic standing would believe they were real. Francesca couldn’t even come forward with the circle she used to view them, because it looked so faraway from classical wizard formulae that they wouldn’t believe it worked, and so it wouldn’t work for them.
She unwound the window crank and popped the glass open, and the city soundscape ballooned in volume. The oily fragrance of a fast food restaurant meandered in, and Francesca’s stomach rumbled like thunder.
Her eyes slid to her laptop, still humming under the weight of her collection of Tim’s work. She could show it to him over breakfast, maybe?
Or she could just not. Remembering the way Tim had walked out on her made her lips pinch down and her appetite wane. She crossed her arms over her stomach and stared out over the street-du-jour in front of her, trying to think of anything she could do that would feel like another step of progress.
She walked to her desk and sat down. She moved the mouse around, clicking through the tabs of bluebeam documents. She flipped through her handwritten work. She unlocked her phone a few times.
Eventually, Francesca gave up. If she loitered for much longer, she would lose all her waking hours to nothing. With a sigh, she kicked her chair out from under her desk and stood. She was still sweaty, and still oily, and very gross, and if she was going to get breakfast, she probably should clean up.
But just to check, she sniffed her shirt collar.
And, yeah, she needed a shower.
Her phone buzzed in her hand as she pushed her chair back in, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. Immediately, she looked to see who’d contacted her. Maybe this was Tim offering the proverbial olive branch? She needed it to be him. If he reached out first, then it would be so much easier to get past the weirdness yesterday.
But it was George, actually. Francesca’s shoulder’s fell.
‘Hey,’ he wrote, ‘just got word the city’s going to allow building permits to go through again. We might have to switch shifts sometimes so you can call your applicants during office hours.’
If only she could still forward all her calls to him. Biting her lips, she sent him a quick ‘ok’ and tossed the phone on her bed so she’d have two hands free to rifle through her dresser. And then it occured to her: had her own automatic conduit circle really been so secret? George, or Jon, could have conceivably realized she didn’t get many calls, or that George had a noticeably higher call volume.
She picked out a casual outfit and opened the phone again, pulling up Jon’s message history.
No, this would be better as a call. Embarrassing though. With a gulp, Francesca hovered her thumb over the call button. She waffled. If she texted, this wouldn’t be as scary. But she didn’t know if she could accurately convey what she wanted with a text.
She tapped it. Squeezing her eyes shut, Francesca held the phone up and waited for Jon to pick up. Every drone of the dial tone grated in her ear.
“Hello? Francesca?”
“Um, hi. Jon. Uh, I thought I would check in about… the wizardry research. Before I go off grid.” Francesca tapped a finger along her arm. She sat on her unmade bed, and then stood up to fix the sheets.
On the other end of the line, Jon coughed in surprise. “Oh! Did you find anything?”
Oh boy. Here it came. “You um, wouldn’t happen to have ever heard of, I don’t know… a conduit circle that could um–gee, uh. Redirect calls?”
“Francesca, you know I don’t know anything about wizardry. Though, to my knowledge, it’s not really possible to do anything without the wizard specifically activating it?”
She pursed her lips, then popped them open with a loud, hollow noise. “Okay, so. I had this classmate in university? He created what’s called the automatic aether conduit. The link on the university archive is broken, but I can send it to you. Anyway. I knew him, so I borrowed the circle? And I might… have… hexed the phone tree, so to speak?”
“Like, today?”
“No! No, uh.” Francesca decided her bedsheets were properly fixed. They weren’t neat, per say, but at least they no longer looked like a cross betwee a bird’s nest and a grey blob. “I took it out when we had to go on call. Um. I had it up before that.”
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Mon May 15, 2023 1:08 am
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Ventomology says...



Cont.

She was in so much trouble. But since the department of public utilities would be shortstaffed without her at this moment, maybe she had some grace before any potential termination. Maybe she would solve the whole wizard problem and become an unfireable hero.
“I always kind of figured something was up,” Jon said, choosing his words carefully. Francesca could practically see him, face sagging with disappointment, one leg crossed over the other. “I just thought it was some agreement between you and George.”
Francesca bit her lip. She didn’t need to incriminate herself by saying anything more.
“I, well. I’m a little disappointed in you,” Jon continued, after a long silence. “But it isn’t unusual for people to direct themselves toward some kind of niche in the workplace. I just didn’t think you would do it so underhandedly.”
Well, Francesca hadn’t meant to put herself into a niche. That wasn’t the intent. She just didn’t like talking on the phone when an email would do, and George was kind of a pushover and didn’t seem to question the extra phone calls. But now her own boss thought that she was trying to pigeonhole herself into the head-down-permit-stamper type of government employee that she didn’t want to be, not when there were design opportunities to be had.
She took a long breath. “Uh. Is that- that’s really what you thought I was doing?”
Now Jon gave her a long pause. “Was that not what you wanted?”
Francesca didn’t know what to say. She pursed her lips. “Is this why George got put on that urban planning project? And I’m not… going to be involved? Because I made it seem like I didn’t like talking to people?”
“Well,” Jon said, clearly thinking through his words. “Yes, actually. You like to put your head down and just sort of, you know, go, and that’s fine, you know. We had this big diversity training a little bit before you started, about how sometimes Asians show that they’re working hard a little differently, especially first and second generation, and, I mean, this wasn’t ever going to stop you moving up the ranks, just”-
“That’s fine,” Francesca interrupted. Ugh. Diversity training. It was nice, but it would never stop being weird. “Um. I mean, I do like to just, uh, put my head down and go. And I wish people would email me instead of calling. So, you’re my boss. What do I do to get on the next big project?”
“The current one hasn’t really even started yet, because of all this wizard business,” Jon said.
Francesca sat up in her chair, suddenly at attention.
“So we’ll just split it between you and George.”
She leapt out of her seat. Francesca got to be on a planning team! This was going to be awesome.
“I feel like I should be disciplining you,” Jon continued, which immediately put a damper on Francesca’s mood. “But you’ve shown some real initiative with this wizardry work. I think if you keep this up and don’t do anything like that phone tree redirection in the future, we’ll let this slide.”
Francesca wanted to squeal. She wasn’t one for making high-pitched noises in general, but this might be an exception.
“Oh! But you had something else, right? Related to this wizard research your friend did?”
“Right, yeah.” Okay, time to get back on track. Tapping a finger on her desk, Francesca looked at the images she’d taken at midnight. She really wasn’t ready to reveal her ability to view aether, but maybe offering Jon the opportunity to test a reasonable hypothesis would lead to the same result. “So, I was thinking, people haven’t been able to figure this out because it seems like one really really big work of magic, right? And no one has been recorded doing magic at this scale in centuries.”
Jon made a noise somewhere between confirmation and confusion. She’d have to avoid getting technical.
“But, an automatic circle could theoretically go off anywhere, based on any criteria, right? So, what if this whole situation is being caused by a ton of smaller aether conduits all over the region?”
“I mean, when you put it that way, it does seem plausible.”
“Right, yeah. Uh.” Francesca had explained herself. But now what? How much support could she ask for to run experiments? “I guess the only thing left would be to somehow find the circles and get rid of them. I was thinking”-
Jon cleared his throat, cutting her off. “Actually, before you get too far into that, why don’t we have you meet with the wizards that the city hired? And the mayor and stuff. Then they can handle the rest of it.”
Oh, of course. Francesca had almost let herself get excited about this. But Jon, without explicitly pointing it out, was right to put this back into the hands of the professionals. It wasn’t Francesca’s place to solve wizardry problems.
“Oh, yeah, of course,” she replied. There was nothing else to say. “Uh, thanks for hearing me out though, and for letting the phone tree hex slide.”
“No problem. Thanks for being such a star about the magic research. I’ll talk to you later about the shift rotations.”
“Yep,” Francesca said, suddenly tired. She’d only been awake for nine hours and she was tired. What a boring adult she’d become. “Bye then.”
“Bye.”
Francesca almost said ‘bye’ again, but she managed to stop herself. She huffed and tapped the little red symbol on her phone to hang up, and then dropped the thing right onto her desk, where it clattered with a thickly hollow, plastic thud. She dropped her elbows next, which hit the hard surface of her desk and immediately smarted. Francesca’s stomach whined at her, low and growly, but for some reason, she really didn’t want to eat. Her head hurt. She wanted to go right back to sleep, or maybe curl up on her couch with a movie and milk tea. If only she could find milk tea today.
Staring up at the ceiling, Francesca decided on sleep, on stopping everything, at least for the day. She was a sewer engineer, not a wizard, and that was all she’d set out to be. She’d done what she could. It was over now.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Mon May 22, 2023 2:56 am
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Ventomology says...



Monday, October 14, Late-Morning


So, maybe Francesca got a little lost. She didn’t get lost in the literal sense–though with the city layout changing every day, she was surprised by how well she managed to get around–but more, well, in the mind sense.
The backlog of building permits that had built up since the city decided to allow construction projects to continue sat in her to-do list like an unkillable beast. A beast that was also her friend, because the repetitive task of flipping through drawings and leaving big, red comments on them satisfied her incredible need to do mindless things and also be right all the time. So instead of following up with Jon about meeting the city’s third-party wizardry advisors, or following up with Tim to try and get hold of his more recent conduit circle designs, she plugged away at her building permits and let herself be nothing.
Until Jon led Marvin Grace and one Ms. Sridhar into her office one Monday morning.
Francesca looked up from her permits, jolted by the noise of the doorknob turning, and widened her eyes. Jon looked different. She hadn’t seen her boss in… she couldn’t even remember. He’d gone off to europe with his wife at the very end of summer and come back when the rampant magic in town cut his vacation short, and then he’d been on a different shift, and so she hadn’t seen his beard grow in, or the rapidly greying patches at his temples. The past few weeks must have been rough for him.
Marvin looked like someone had given him decaf coffee with curdled creamer. His blond hair was wild where he’d run his fingers through it, and his eyebrows lifted in thinly-disguised ire. He pursed his lips when he met Francesca’s gaze. She wished Jon had given her some warning! It would have been nice to know she was about to talk to Tim’s academic rival.
And then there was Ms. Sridhar, the stranger. She looked bookish, with a thick computer bag hanging at her side and enormous circular glasses. Her dress shirt was the wrong size–the front panels cut too small for her bust and the shoulders too wide for her frame. Not all wizards could dress like Tim, Francesca supposed. But she couldn’t underestimate an unfashionable wizard; half her classmates at UCBF had been sloppy dressers, and they made twice what she did.
Marvin jumped in before Jon could speak. “Francesca Fang, good to see you.”
“Marvin,” she said back. She moved her hands to the armrests on her chair, unsure if she should stand or not.
“Oh,” Jon said, looking between them both. “You two know each other?”
“We’re acquainted,” Marvin grumbled.
“He knows my wizard friend,” Francesca mumbled back.
Ms. Sridhar rolled her eyes. “UCBF. They all know each other.”
At that, Marvin’s jaw clenched. “Francesca, this is Ravali Sridhar. Mayor LaFleur brought her on to lead the wizardry team for this investigation, and she scouted me out after the department of public utilities submitted your report.”
“Oh, uh, it’s nice to meet you.” Francesca stood. She shook Ravali’s hand. “Not a Belle-Ferre fan, huh?”
“I’m from Massachusetts. All these little state schools are the same to me.”
Francesca thanked her lucky stars she had enough wherewithal to keep her face straight, even if she was an overall poor liar. She really wanted to send Marvin a look. Of course there were state schools all over the place; this was one of the biggest states in the country. At least it wasn’t full of tiny bullcrap private schools. Ravali clearly had opinions about UCBF. And she could have just laughed.
Also? UCBF was not small. To call it such would be the same as calling San Angelo a town.
“So uh, I wrote pretty much everything in my report to Jon?” Francesca pursed her lips and fidgeted with the bow on her blouse. “Did you need clarification on any of it?”
Marvin and Ravali shared a glance, and Francesca felt her pulse pick up. Jon scratched at his salt-and-pepper beard, offering her a reassuring, but ultimately clueless smile. Francesca missed the days of thinking her mentors and superiors knew everything; Jon might have offered good advice on her career advancement, but he wasn’t a wizard.
Ravali stepped forward, her sheer, cool presence pressing Francesca back into her chair. “Your report was very complete, Miss Fang. I have no questions on it. What I’m really interested in is your connection to Timothy Huang, the mastermind behind the automated aether conduit.”
“He, ah, doesn’t talk to me about wizardry.” Not since she’d accused him of being the brains behind the scrambling of the city.
“Well that’s too bad,” Marvin said. He, too, stepped further into the office. “He won’t pick up our calls either.”
Francesca’s office held two people comfortably. With these two wizards closing in on her, the place felt like a broom closet. She pushed herself deeper into her chair, shoulders coming up to her ears, and picked at her blouse again. She scratched at the fabric of the armrests. Ravali wasn’t too tall, but Marvin towered over her like a blond Roman statue.
“Look, uh, I’m really not going to be that helpful,” Francseca tried. “I dropped out of my wizardry minor. Couldn’t really hack it, you know?”
“Your supervisor’s comments when he sent over your write-up imply that you’re capable, with or without the degree,” Ravali said. “Regardless, is there really nothing you can do to help us enlist Timothy Huang’s help?”
Francesca’s gaze immediately shot to Jon, but he was busy adjusting the cuffs of his shirt. She supposed she couldn’t expect his help when she was still hiding things. With a gulp, she knocked her head back into the chair. “I can try, I guess.”
“By the way,” Ravali said, eyes narrowed, “what are those conduit circles on your glasses?”
Marvin’s face pulled into a pleasantly surprised smirk down at his colleague. How did every wizard except Tim spot those things?
“They’re decorative,” Francesca lied.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Fri May 26, 2023 7:40 pm
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Ventomology says...



Monday, October 13th, Afternoon


Francesca stewed as she walked home. She shouldn’t have to do this. Surely Marvin Grace, called upon already by this uppity other wizard, and already familiar with Tim’s research, would be able to put two and two together and pin the blame on Tim. She didn’t even know where to start with Tim right now. He wouldn’t answer her texts, and he wouldn’t open the door when she knocked, and he’d even skipped brunch two weeks in a row! They hadn’t missed brunch together since the last time he went to Guangzhou with his family.
She stumbled over a tiny upheaval in the sidewalk and sighed.
If she was going to drag anything out of Tim, she needed a new approach. There was the sending-city-wizards-to-his-door approach, which might work to some extent. But if Francesca told Ravali that the only way to get to him would be to forcibly enter his home, that would cause a fair amount of trouble. And besides, the city didn’t suspect him of anything, so they had no reason to bust down his door and examine his research without him.
The city wasn’t even certain that the scrambling of city blocks was due to a massive number of automated conduits. Only Francesca was certain. And she wasn’t about to upend her life explaining why she was so sure.
So she needed another method. She came to the bottom of “Holy Hill,” a somewhat centrally located hill on the main peninsula of San Angelo City proper. Usually, it was full of churches and temples and mosques and all manner of religious buildings, with the wealthy neighborhoods to the north and west, and the less wealthy neighborhoods to the south and east. Today, it was the same jumble as everywhere else.
The Department of Public Utilities had been somewhere in the meatpacking district today, which put Francesca in what was usually a dirty and dangerous handful of blocks. There were a handful of buildings that had seen better days–a brick five-story that had probably been a factory and was now a dumpy apartment complex stood across the street. The block ahead of her held a collection of dilapidated Victorians with peeling paint and half-rotten ornaments. But Francesca also spotted a spotless new dinner joint with bland, corporate lettering that read ‘Bayside Tapas and Grill’ on one side. A glittering seaside apartment building with postage-perfect blue awnings over the balconies rose like a lighthouse from a street and sidewalk littered with trash and polluted storm runoff.
Francesca had a sudden flashback to the grating voice of some entitled woman on the phone, calling in to complain about how the neighborhood her house had been dropped into was not up to her standards. There had been a stench. The storm and sewage didn’t drain properly.
She crossed the street and stood over the pool of runoff. It didn’t really smell that bad–or if it did, Francesca was so used to the overwhelming mix of odors that she couldn’t register this one–but the water glimmered with a thin gilding of oil that just barely hid the trash and debris below. Well, until she looked closer and found a few little islands of solid human waste.
The wail of an ambulance siren rose and fell somewhere in the cacophony of the city. Francesca spotted a smattering of tents tucked away in the tiny triangle of open space left by a road that zigzagged up the side of Holy Hill, and a pile of garbage left by the residents.
The people in this sparkly tower probably hated looking down upon the less palatable aspects of city life. And maybe that was the point of this all. Maybe Tim’s whole goal was to force rich pricks to look at the reality of life in parts of the city they deemed unacceptable. And if that was the goal, he’d achieved it.
Francesca picked her way across the pool and began her hill climb. The problem was that even when the fortunate were made to see homeless people at their door, to smell stale water from their windows, and to step on unshaded sidewalks covered in gunk, they still had their ivory towers to escape into. And they could look down from up above and think how much better they were than all those people in line at the free pantry across the street, or in tents in the park.
Even the minor difference between Francesca and Tim’s employment situations turned out major in the end. Tim worked from home. Location change was barely on his radar. For Francesca, and for every other in-person employee in the city, it was a massive factor. As she followed the zizagging road up the hill, Francesca looked out over the patchwork of buildings that stretched before her, monotonous and regular, tall buildings regularly spaced between stretches of parking lot and five-over-twos and tidy Victorians, and the hustling dots of cars and people that crawled all over it.
She glanced at the tiny homeless encampment. She wasn’t any better, was she? Francesca lived her tiny life, keeping her head down, trying not to be seen, trying not to fall into whatever bad luck had caught up those less fortunate than herself. And she didn’t like what Tim was doing, but he’d done something.
Her calves pulsed with a pleasant ache as she crested Holy Hill and took one more look at her surroundings. The glittering bay and deep, dark ocean outlined the city in brilliant blue. From here, she could see all the way out to the San Angelo Bridge, which happened to be in the right place today, its massive suspension cables swinging off into the fog.
Francesca loved this place. She always knew she had. She just hadn’t thought too deeply about it. It had never occurred to her to look for work anywhere but in the San Angelo Bay Area. It had never occurred to her that she worked for the Department of Public Utilities for a reason other than her paycheck. It had never occurred to her that she took her time, going to Wine and Twine, attending coworkers’ soccer games, walking instead of driving, because she lived in a place she loved. She looked for connections with strangers in tacquerias and mourned her favorite bakery and sought new brunch places every Sunday because she was always looking for more to love, more roots to put down, more reason to stay despite the all the things she didn’t like.
She had a choice. She could do nothing, wait for this to ride out, and see where it left her. But the constant change was hard to love when it tore her from the people she knew over and over again.
So, she thought, staring out at the fog and the horizon and the tetris of buildings below, she would follow Tim’s lead and fix things. Her way.
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled




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Fri Jun 02, 2023 8:54 pm
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Ventomology says...



Wednesday, October 15, Evening


The problem, Francesca discovered, after two days of twiddling her thumbs and thinking and planning out a quilt, was that she had no clue what ‘her way’ of fixing San Angelo was. The idea came up, several times, that one might run for office, or submit a complaint to city council, or attend an actual city council meeting. Maybe the correct direction would be to get Jon and George on board with her and write some kind of official report.
But that sounded like so much work. And it required organizational skill–of people! Francesca could organize the hell out of her office and her apartment and her own little job, but people were so far outside her wheelhouse that all ideas regarding Other People were out the window.
Which basically just left quitting her job and making a quilt every single day for the rest of her life to try and counteract Tim. That was probably not a sustainable option.
She spun around in her desk chair, pencil between her teeth, staring at the old, plaster ceiling of her apartment. Her legs kept knocking the sides of her desk, but she didn’t really care. Francesca just kept spinning and thinking and biting down on the soft wood of the pencil, leaving tiny indents in the yellow paint.
Her phone buzzed on the desk, and she flopped out an arm to pick it up. Persy had texted.
“Send me a pin of your location!” she wrote, “I’ll come pick you up for Wine and Twine.”
Francesca sent the pin. She let the phone fall from her hand, and it landed with a thud on her desk. Her head hurt. She was tired. She had plowed through at least ten sets of permit drawings today, and her brain swam with drain sizes and stormwater vault dimensions and fluid dynamics.
She hadn’t even changed yet. Francesca still had on her nice slacks and a prim blouse with cascading from the neck, and the polyester fabric clung to her barely-sweaty skin. Her phone buzzed again, and she somehow pulled off the monumental task of picking the thing back up.
“Be there in ten! I hope you’re ready,” Persy wrote.
Well, there went all of Francesca’s wallowing time. She hauled herself up and decided she didn’t have it in her to change, but she probably needed to at least wash her face and give the hair a quick brushing. Ugh, and she had to gather up all the pieces of quilt and scrap fabric that she’d left lying around her living room.
So Francesca dragged herself into the bathroom, noting for a brief moment that she probably needed to dust, and freshened up.
Then she tackled the sewing supplies.
They lay around her apartment in strange, orderly piles–a stack of two-by-twos on the coffee table, various shape-matched blocks all over her couch, and a string of… things stitched together in a long chain of continuous thread coming off her sewing machine, which looked unfortunately like a magician’s string of flags. Francesca had thrifted the vast majority of her furniture, and the tornado of fabric spread out through the apartment made it look even more cobbled-together.
She gathered up all her curvy shapes and their corresponding matches first, carefully stacking them so she wouldn’t get them mixed up or lost. Then came the string of piecing, which she attacked with scissors to free all the bits and then stack them up. And then she dove into her closet for a shoebox (she had to empty it of shoes first) and poured all her unsewn square cuts in there.
Her phone buzzed once more on the table, probably a sign of Persy’s arrival, and Francesca gave up on organization and dumped everything in the bag for her sewing machine. She hefted the whole lot of things over her shoulders and barely remembered to nab her keys and phone before she was out the door and pattering down the stairwell to Persy’s car, footsteps echoing off the unembellished concrete.
Persy greeted her with a great flourish of arms and hands. The older woman’s sunglasses sat low on her nose as she peered over the rims at Francesca, mischief sparkling in her eyes. “Oh, excellent. I knew you’d be excited.”
Francesca grimaced. Persy was always up to something interesting, and it was a fifty-fifty split on whether that was good or not. “For what?” she asked, as she popped open the passenger door and slid inside.
Persy situated herself in the driver’s seat and primped. “You inspired me, you know?” she said, starting the car back up with a roar. “So I made myself a little cape to store magic in.”
Looking at her friend sideways, Francesca tried not to imagine all the trouble Persy could get up to with a little extra magic under her belt. Or cape, apparently. “You know it’ll wear out, right?”
“Oh, darling don’t be ridiculous. It’s a show piece. One and done, you know?” She whipped around a corner, looking very pleased with herself. “I’m going to wear it to someplace important and cause a stir.” She braked for a red light. Francesca hugged her arms close and tried to use her feet to keep from being flung forward in her seat. Less than a minute into this ride, and she was already feeling ill.
“Somewhere important?” Francesca asked.
“I don’t know where yet,” Persy said, and there was an audible thud as she stepped on the gas pedal, and the car whooshed forward. “But I intend to be very impressive.”
Francesca wasn’t sure she liked that. If Persy went out into the world and demonstrated that the incredible power of old-timey magic-users was back, there might be all kinds of chaos. It would be worse than the current situation.
No, Persy could not be allowed to go public with her “show piece” until the San Angelo problem was solved, just to keep the chaos to a minimum. Francesca could not handle more than one major problem at a time. She pursed her lips and peered over at the older woman, trying to decide if this “someplace important” would happen soon, or if it was still a ways out.
Unfortunately, Persy’s face gave no indication one way or the other.
“So, dear,” Persy said, when Francesca was silent for a second too long, “what are you working on this week?”
Francesca worried at her lips. “A quilt.”
At that, Persy somehow grew even more excited. “Oh! Going to show off a bit too? Lure the mysterious mastermind behind all this moving stuff out of hiding?”
Unless Tim knew what she was up to, Francesca had a hunch that ruining his magic would only make him angry, not lure him out. Besides, wizards weren’t a ‘luring out’ sort of enemy. They were at their best working behind desks, not out in the open talking to people. She was just making the quilt because she hadn’t figured out yet what her plan was for fixing things permanently, and she wanted a day or two in where her apartment was in Chinatown, with familiar restaurants and a familiar commute and normal things in her normal life.
But–maybe something would happen when she used the quilt. Maybe Tim, frustrated at being foiled, would talk to her again. After all, he wouldn’t know she’d stopped him.
So she shrugged at Persy, and then immediately regretted it when the movement distracted her from bracing herself against something for a horrible, asphalt-scraping turn.
Under the crescendo of the car engine, Francesca gathered herself. “I don’t know,” she told Persy. “I just have to do something I guess.”
"I've got dreams like you--no really!--just much less, touchy-feeley.
They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny
on an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone
surrounded by enormous piles of money." -Flynn Rider, Tangled







Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true.
— Robert Brault