Thursday, May 3, 2018

A celebratory snippet

The paperback edition of A Pocketful of Stars is live and linked to the Kindle edition! And I'm celebrating by posting another snippet demonstrating that the rest of the Mathematical Mafia isn't any easier to deal with than Thalia....


“You can do teleportation.” His blue eyes pinned me like a bug in his collection. “Telekinesis.” Ingrid got the treatment. “Invisibility.” Back to Ben. “You people can be very useful to me. You’re just trying to wriggle out of it.”
“Ingrid,” I said wearily, “would you bring something over from the coffee cabinet?”
She closed her eyes and moved her lips soundlessly. There was a furious jiggling in the condiments rack; then a plastic stir stick dropped on the table in front of her.
“Thank you. Now how about a sugar packet?”
This took longer. Eventually a pinch of brown sugar fell onto the table.
“Ingrid can’t move an entire sugar packet,” I explained to Lensky. “It’s too heavy. The best she could do was to move a little sugar out of the packet.”
“Without tearing it!” The man was determined to be impressed. I soldiered on.
“If you’d like, I can go to my office and get the plastic pieces I use for set selections, and you can verify that they too aren’t very heavy.” I wasn’t eager to demonstrate the measly six to twenty-four inches that constituted my current teleportation range, so I tried to focus his attention on the accidental telekinesis that started this whole thing.
“Poker chips,” Lensky said, “and Darth Vader. And other action figurines.”
I was surprised. He flashed a tight smile. “What, you think I’m totally unobservant? Noticing things like that is in my job description. And even granting you have some limitations, you people can make yourselves useful. I want a look inside one of our suspects’ computers. A man called Raven Crowson. I don’t have enough for a warrant. But you should be able to get access by changing bits inside the computer. Little, light things moving very tiny distances. Piece of cake, right?”
What did he think we were, computer nerds? “Wrong! To do that, we’d have to have a detailed image of how a computer works.”
“You’re math majors, don’t you already know all that stuff?”
“We’re pure mathematicians,” I tried to explain. Naturally, that meant nothing to him.
“So that means what? I need to find some slightly sullied math majors? Some who’ve already lost their virginity? Or do I need to sully you… personally?” He gave me a slow once-over, obviously trying to embarrass me. I did not blush. Well, not very much.
“Clean up your act!” Ingrid snapped. “She just meant, you’d have to talk to applied mathematicians for this.”
“Actually, I don’t think that’s going low enough.” Ben joined the argument. “He might need a computer science major.”
“These days, they’ve gone all theoretical. He really needs an… engineer.” Ingrid looked as if she wanted to wash her mouth out with bleach after using the E-word.
“And there’s no way anybody in engineering could visualize abstractions well enough to do applied topology,” I finished. “So you see, it’s not possible to make this work.”
“Sure it is. I’ll get somebody who understands computer architecture and they can explain it to you, then you guys can do the voodoo part. Or are you just giving me the runaround because you actually can’t do anything at all with your so-called magic?”
“We do not,” Ingrid said icily, “call it magic. Boris.”
“And you were just arguing that we could do more than we were admitting! Can’t you even stay on the same side of your own arguments?” I’d begun a slow burn when he tried to embarrass me, and this contradiction turned up the flame. “You ignorant, intellectually challenged imbecile, can’t you even follow a simple logical argument without holding onto the rope with both hands? It’s not our job to educate a dysfunctional kindergartener.”
I had more to say along those lines, but “Boris” had tilted his chair back and was laughing. “Go on,” he urged. “How many more polysyllabic insults can you come up with?”
“For you,” I said, “I’d better stick with insults of one syllable. Try this: If you want a big bang, you don’t need us, you need a gun!”
He pushed his coat lapels back. “That, I’ve got.”

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