Most people like to know where they are when they wake up. It's a basic enough request, and as long as they are careful then the world usually grants them this simple favour. Go home to your own house and you will wake up knowing with a reasonable amount of certainty that nobody even considered trying to kill you in your sleep. Better still, you know what the odds are that there is breakfast and where to go to assemble this incredible meal. It's a good compromise. However, Mouse was not most people. Mouse actually liked waking up without knowing where he was and he was certainly very well practiced at it. When waking in an unfamiliar room Mouse would be overwhelmed by guesses and memories forming a moving collage of all feasible possibilities. Dancing girls, laughing men playing poker, loud parties fuelled by vodka, an odd woman reading poetry, video games, sex, secret art classes and more would tumble and writhe together as each incorrect guess was eliminated one by one. All of this took place in as little as five or ten seconds, but those slow moments were still Mouse's favourite thing about the morning. And, after those ten seconds, he always knew exactly where he was and exactly what had happened. Until one day he didn't know at all.
The silence woke Mouse sharply from his sleep and he realised that he did not know where he was. His hand shot out to his side but, rather than finding anyone next to him, he found that he was in a single bed and quite alone. He waited, but no possibilities came to him and the lack of light prevented the room from revealing any clues. All he could see was the glowing outline of the doorway. Mouse walked towards this door with a deliberate slowness, his feet tentatively feeling for any possible debris on the floor before each step. As he reached it he dragged his hand across the wall until he found a switch. The light flooded the room with sudden colour and it took Mouse only seconds to remember where he was and, perhaps more importantly, why.
“She was real.” Mouse stated in a tone that was not quite a question.
With this idea in his head his unwillingness to accept or believe last night suddenly made much more sense.
“I did meet her” he whispered to the empty room with awe. And indeed he had.
An augur. An impossible creature in human form and Mouse had met her in a cheap and greasy cafe. He wasn't quite sure what exactly about the room had made him remember. Perhaps the overwhelming normalcy. The room was precise and impersonal, like many rooms, and with a slight hint of imperfection. Everything about the room seemed average, but average to such an extent that it seemed purposeful and somewhat unnerving. None of the books on the small shelf were obscure, but only a couple were classics and none were undergoing any current surge in popularity. The desk below the shelf had a desk lamp which Mouse was sure he had seen before, but could not place where. Like everything else in the room it seemed neither expensive nor particularly cheap, neither ugly nor pretty. There was nothing in the room which anyone could feasibly object to or even dislike, but at the same time there was nothing likeable either. It was a perfect example of neutrality, just as it had been calculated to be. Finding his socks but not his shoes, Mouse quietly left the room.
The corridor outside the door was surrounded by closed doors. Mouse strained to hear any sound at all behind them, but as he heard nothing he instead opted to walk slowly past them until he reached a spiral staircase. He stood patiently next to this until he heard quiet footsteps coming first from the floor above him, then down the stairs themselves. The girl creating these footsteps stood in front of him wearing a short blue dress and an expression of slight amusement.
“You're still here” Elle said.
“It would have been rude to leave without saying goodbye.”
“Indeed,” She paused only slightly. “Though that isn't the reason you stayed.”
He couldn't argue but couldn't think of anything else to say either. He stood in silence and stared at Elle without even being aware that he was doing so. Her dress was perfectly straight without a single crease and, unlike his own, her hair was perfectly tidy. Quite like the room nothing about her looked out of place. However unlike the room she somehow still managed to carry a general aura of untidiness around her. More than that, even. Something about her made Mouse certain she was chaos personified and yet even with his expert attention to detail he couldn't place what this was. Her amusement at the situation had clearly increased and she was smiling at him.
“I wasn't staring.”
She didn't believe him and didn't try to hide this.
"Do I interest you, Mouse?"
Elle's question seemed sincere but Mouse was unsure how to answer. Simply saying 'yes' would be accurate but at the same time insufficient. Elle fascinated Mouse more than anything else he ever had or ever would come across. He would never be as interested in anything or anyone else; she captivated him more than hate or love would ever be able to and yet 'yes' would have almost been a lie.
Simply put, she did not interest him as a human. He suspected that one day she might, but at that moment she did not interest himas anything more than a concept and a heap of theories and beliefs. He kept silent and eventually Elle's expression changed into something more serious.
"It doesn't matter. I don't have to interest you, that wasn't the deal. All you said is that you wanted to meet me. And in return...”
"I'll look out for something."
Elle's eyebrow arched slightly and her face acquired a childlike expression of disappointment.
“All I remember you asking is to look out for something big. Something awful.” Mouse clarified, worrying that he really had forgotten. Suddenly Elle smiled a little too brightly for the subject matter and nodded vigorously.
“That's all! I'm sorry to ask but it's too vague for me and you know so much. Whatever it is I know that you can find it for me, can't you?”
Elle then lowered her voice and looked to a door on her right.
“I'd ask Silver but it doesn't seem right.”
Mouse's mood fell like a dead raven.
“Why won't you ask Silver?”
Elle didn't answer and showed no intention of doing so.
“She's easily more powerful than you; she might be able to find this all by herself. More chance of error with me, surely.”
“She's only twelve. Like I said before, it's something awful. Why would I expose her to it?”
“She's as telepathic as you, right? She must know some pretty awful things. Why really?”
“Just because she knows a couple of nasty thoughts doesn't mean I have to show her this. Why the hell are you trying to make me tell her? I don't know what it is but I do not want her to have to find out about it.”
Elle folded her arms and glared at Mouse resolutely. Mouse stared at her glumly.
“For fuck's sake, why does it matter that I don't want to tell her anyway?” Elle hissed.
“Silver's dead. She has been for a year now.”
Elle glared at him angrily and opened the door she had stared at earlier. Confronted with the emptiness inside she breathed in deeply and smiled.
“Yes. Of course she is. Sorry about that.”
Elle walked towards the end of the corridor and opened the door. A small porch was revealed containing only a doormat and two pairs of shoes. Mouse took his own pair and balanced carefully as he laced them. He attempted to maintain a sympathetic gaze at Elle during this task but didn’t quite accomplish such a feat. With his shoes attached his eyes shifted left to the front door. The exit - the way out. Elle stood to one side and though nothing about her seemed sad it still upset Mouse to look at her.
“I'll find what you're looking for.” Mouse whispered.
He walked to the door and paused before leaving, kissing her lightly on the cheek. He left.
After Elle had watched the front door to her home closing behind Mouse, she walked back to the door of her dead sister's room. She stroked the wooden panel gently and with a sad fondness that Mouse would have thought looked quite alien on her. Elle's hand then pushed softly against the cold wood of the door. Still not properly closed due to her earlier inspection of the room, the door gave in to this pressure and moved gently inwards. Elle breathed in deeply, surprised at the grief that each individual object still had the power to inflict. Their mother had never changed a thing. Elle entered the room without even realising that she was doing so, and finally the memory of how her wonderful little sister had died came back to her.
Silver had been lying on her bed quietly and apparently asleep. She had spent the last four days screaming that she was turning into the bed. Their mother thought she was psychotic. Elle knew she had transformed into a wardrobe once to prove it was possible and so was worried that Silver might be telling the truth. When she had been sane Silver had been able to turn into any number of creatures and items, from the deadly to the ridiculous. Even though Silver had twice tried to attack Elle since losing her sanity, Elle was not afraid of the increased strength a transformation could give her little sister. Elle's only fear was that Silver might not come back.
“You read upside down.”
Surprised that Silver was both awake and lucid Elle put her book on the floor and shuffled closer to the bed.
“Yes, I do.”
“I think that's why I could teach you. You don't accept that there is only one way of interpreting things even...”
Silver laughed hysterically.
“You never read upside down when mum's looking.”
She giggled a little more before turning to face Elle. Only weeks ago Silver had looked so sweet, but now her face was covered in bruising and there was an open wound above her left temple. The smears of blood which had left this wound only accentuated the new curves that the swelling had created. Despite the new topography, Elle found Silver's face quite beautiful for the simple reason that for the first time in days it was not contorted in agony. The only expression on Silver's face was calm and when she spoke her voice was level and serious.
“I'm going to kill myself now.” Silver stated.
Elle was not taken aback by this conclusion. Both of them knew what had happened to the five previous augurs and had no reason to believe that the same pattern would not reoccur with Silver. With both of them, for that matter.
“You aren't going to do that.”
“Yes I am, I've thought it through. I can feel myself tearing apart. I can see the world in dots, I see every tiny part of it. I can hear everyone and I'm losing control. Elle, I could really hurt someone.”
Silver scanned the room for a way to illustrate this point and her eyes settled on the desk. Before their eyes it was torn to pieces by nothing at all. The shards drifted across the room as though suspended underwater, swaying gently in an invisible current. Elle smiled and let the desk remain as wood chips for several silent minutes before using her own power to put it back together again.
“You wouldn't hurt anyone.”
Even as she said this she knew it wasn't true. Silver was getting worse and not in any sort of predictable way. But maybe Elle could find a way protect her from herself. Silver spoke, breaking Elle away from her thoughts.
“They'll look to see why I died. I think they'll find I died because of internal bleeding from the left parietal lobe of my brain. I probably hit my head when I was flailing about worried about being a bed, didn’t I? Nothing anyone could do.”
Elle glared at her through her tears.
“I could stop you.”
“Maybe. But you won't.”
Silver closed her eyes and Elle lay on the bed next to her. She told Silver stories as she had when they were younger and when Elle was cleverer than Silver. Before Silver had become so very powerful. She told her things she hadn't told anyone else. Elle told her sister how she had felt guiltier when she'd destroyed her favourite book out in the rain than when she'd stood on their pet hamster. She told her that their mother had planned to have Silver and that she had always loved her the most. She told Silver that when they were younger and they had played hide and seek, every time that Silver hadn't been able to find Elle it was because she'd hid in the attic. Hidden anyway somewhere only she could get to. As the sun set Elle stroked her dead sister's hair.
She cried for an hour and then screamed until someone came running.
The door to Ms Freeman’s office swung open with such force that Susan looked up from her magazine in surprise and mild alarm. The sight that greeted her was incredibly unfamiliar. For the first time in the two years that Ms Freeman had worked in the offices that Susan served as a receptionist to, Susan did not think that the woman looked like a lawyer. Some would have been surprised only that it was the first occasion. Many people rejected Alicia Freeman as a lawyer on the first sighting. The tattoos creeping up her neck and the seven small silver hoops that decorated her earlobes suggested a lack of responsibility, one gentleman had told Susan conspiratorially. Others had cited her youth, her dramatic make up or her short, pillar box red hair as the indicator that Alicia was unfit for her role. Susan had liked Alicia instantly though. The moment Alicia had first greeted Susan she had seen what many people hadn’t bothered to look at: Alicia’s eyes. Brown and flecked with gold, these eyes could easily have appeared warm and friendly, but on Alicia they showed a clear, calm and rational determination. When Alicia had finally moved into her office the surroundings also portrayed this. Mostly the room was filled with books, more law books than many of the other lawyers in the building, but also with several seemingly random textbooks, covering everything from physics to psychology. The only other touches Alicia brought to the room was a clock, though Susan had never seen Alicia without a watch, and a kettle which was usually hidden away in one of the drawers along with at least two mugs. Aside from the makeup, hair dye, and body art, everything about Alicia was incredibly professional from her office to her suits.
Even as she exited her office Alicia would have looked as professional as usual to most people but as ever, Susan saw her eyes. The eyes that had been so full of purpose and logic on that first meeting now seemed manic and erratic.
“I’m just going out for a short while.” Alicia told Susan in her usual crisp and even tone.
Susan nodded with feigned disinterest and Alicia left swiftly. Susan tried to transform her feigned disinterest into actual disinterest but with no success. There was no reason for Susan to be concerned. Alicia was not due to see another client for another hour and a half due to a cancellation made earlier in the day, so she had plenty of time to leave the office for a while. Susan had no reason to believe that Alicia wouldn’t be perfectly capable by then. She hadn’t seemed ill and she hadn’t seemed upset as such, but there had been something close to desperation in those eyes. Susan wasn’t exactly Alicia’s friend and she wasn’t even worried about her, not really, but nonetheless there was nothing else she could think about. Every time the front door opened she found her gaze instantly shot up to see if it was Alicia. Eventually, after nearly half an hour, it was.
“I just needed this book.” Alicia said and then walked back to her office.
She looked almost normal again with slight tones of relief threaded into her speech. The book was titled ‘Advanced Cognitive Neuroscience’ and although it looked completely new there was a bookmark shoved into it near the beginning. Susan wondered what about this book had managed to provoke such a change in Alicia for several minutes, before the ringing phone snapped her sharply back to the present moment. She answered in her usual unknowingly cold manner, and by the end of the mundane and routine phone call the intrigue which had previously been so impossible to shake away had simply gone. Susan would never even briefly wonder about Alicia’s odd behaviour ever again.
Several rooms away, Alicia read page after page of the textbook with an almost fervent need, until an hour later Susan rang to inform her that her next client had arrived. She placed the book on her shelf, shifting others in order to assign it to the correct location.
“Send him right in.” Alicia told Susan.
Mouse had an interesting job. Basically, his job was to know things that other people didn't, or at the very least to be able to find them out. People wrote questions for him on a shockingly simple website, and during the five years it had been running Mouse had helped to create science projects, start successful businesses, form friendships, put criminals in jail, brighten numerous rainy days, save lives, and overthrow a government. The fees ranged from nothing at all to enough money to retire himself and probably his entire village forever - the latter expenses had been largely used to flee the country and stay hidden.
He had been asked weirder and more difficult questions than “What very big, awful thing is going to happen?” and answered them just fine, so he didn't expect to be too challenged by his most recently acquired task. He sat down in his room and wondered where to start. Money. To do something really big it was a fair guess that money would be involved. The music in his room grew progressively louder at his command as he searched online through news stories, stock market trends and anything else he could think of. Looking for anyone he thought would back something as big as Elle felt that the awful thing was going to be.
Ms Alicia Freeman had spent the thirty minutes since her appointments had ended for the day reading stories that interested her in the newspaper, utterly engrossed. When she was finished, she folded the paper up and took the long, black coat from the hook screwed into the wall next to the door. She buttoned it carefully and slowly with the paper now tucked underneath her arm. The rain sounded quite beautiful. Picking up her umbrella and briefcase, she left her office and passed the newspaper to the receptionist on her way out.
“Thanks,” Susan said with a smile that would instantly intimidate anyone who didn't know her.
Alicia stepped out into the downpour and scurried down the glistening pavement. She paused at the corner to check her watch and remove a scarf from her bag. She was going to be very late home.
Ellehmenno says: Mouse? Are you there?
MouseMatt says: Always.
Ellehmenno says: Have you found it?
MouseMatt says: Not yet.
Ellehmenno says: How long have you been searching?
MouseMatt says: A few hours. I have a couple of leads. At the moment it appears to either be a mysterious new piece of technology involving several of the original members of Brightlight, a company who made some population simulation software a few years ago, or a plot to kill some nameless assassin.
Ellehmenno says: How exactly would killing an assassin be a really big, really awful thing?
MouseMatt says: He's a vigilante. He kills murderers who have avoided jail through legal loopholes or bribery. Also, he doesn't kill them normally. He electrocutes them. I think it's possible that since he goes after criminals and the interest in ending him has shot up that something is being planned, something they're very scared to do with this guy about.
Ellehmenno says: Why would they be so scared?
MouseMatt says: I was getting to that. You see, the other thing is that of the people he hasn't killed, because he sometimes merely temporarily paralyses people, only one claims to have seen him. Now he attacked this guy at night so there's no reference to any physical characteristics, which would be useful. However, apparently this mysterious assassin shoots lightning from his hand. I think he could be like you. In which case he could cause all kinds of destruction, if that's what he wanted. Depending on how stable he is, he might be tempted to do that if someone tried to kill him. Or he could be using his power for some kind of good currently - or in the future.
Ellehmenno says: And the technology thing?
MouseMatt says: Almost every member of the British government has given money towards this project, either through investing in stocks or massive donations. The donations are only visible on the company website, not in any news articles, so it's something that the government does not want to be seen with. But it's either something the public wouldn't mind or they're genuinely stupid enough to think they can't get caught. It's a new company called Starise with no previous products. They have a website, but aside from some lists of donors and employees all it really says is that they will soon be pushing the world into a new era of technology.
Ellehmenno says: Robot uprising?
MouseMatt says: Don't get smart with me.
Ellehmenno says: Fine. Thanks for this. And by the way, you shouldn't really bother with the assassin thing.
MouseMatt says: Why not?
Ellehmenno says: Doesn't matter. Go eat something.
Ellehmenno has signed out.
The rain had masked the sounds of the footsteps approaching Anthony until it was far too late. He saw the light reflected in a window across the street, and in a final act of desperation, grabbed his gun and spun to shoot his attacker. He did not even manage to face the assassin before the lightning bolt hit him. His head hit the pavement with a disgustingly soft thud that even the harsh rain couldn't disguise. The lightning-wielding assassin placed a laminated card in his coat pocket. It told him and whoever would find his body that Anthony should not have come back. From a window five feet away from the fallen corpse, a pale face watched the assassin leave. They would never tell anyone.
Mouse stared at the screen for a moment, annoyed at Elle's sudden departure. She'd be back online soon. He stood up and the whole world seemed to shift. This was not an unfamiliar experience; he didn’t even feel annoyed at himself for the mistake. Mouse had accepted periods of dehydration and malnourishment as part of his way of life. Mouse had taken years to carefully cultivate his obsessive levels of concentration. In order to be able to process the amounts of information that his job sometimes required, in the levels of detail necessary for any and all of the possible connections to become clear to him, Mouse had learned how to block out absolutely everything but his current project. This was not a level of concentration that most people are able to attain willingly, or a level that many people would even want. Mouse could easily go for a day without eating or drinking, and was rarely able to judge time passing if he had a particularly important or interesting project. He had once been researching at his desk with his foot resting against the radiator for hours. The feeling of Mouse’s own skin burning did not distract him, but fortunately the wireless signal to his laptop was disrupted and he was forced to move in order to attempt to fix it. The scar resulting from that occasion was not permanent but did last for several months. Despite this, Mouse saw every scar, every dizzy spell, and every sleep deprived night as worthwhile, because the reason he had this drive was simple. Mouse adored knowledge. Every time that Mouse solved a problem, or found out a new fact or method, he felt as though another tiny square in the map of his universe was being filled in, and he knew no feeling better than that. So Mouse didn’t feel annoyed at himself for wearing himself down with his latest project. He did, however, retain the right to be annoyed at Elle for knowing him well enough to tell him off for this lifestyle and, perhaps more importantly, for being right.
On his way to get a glass of water and a piece of toast, he realised that one of the names on the list of employees at Starise seemed oddly familiar. Rebecca Evans. She was probably a lower level employee at Brightlight; nobody he'd ever seen or spoken to but somebody whose name he had seen. His curiosity wasn't satisfied so he quickly searched for the name. It was incredibly common, and to make it worse there was a porn actress and a murder victim with the same name, so most results centred on them. He couldn't find anything useful; only a girl who was in the newspaper for making her parrot compose original poetry, a psychiatrist based in New York, and a few personal web pages, so decided to search for the names of the other employees. Later he would realise that he had found the correct page after all. He began to search some of the names of the other employees. A few of the unfamiliar names were people who were also in the technology business, just not for Brightlight. But the rest consisted of neurologists, biologists, psychologists and doctors. It took far too long for it to click.
Ellehmenno has signed in.
MouseMatt says: I know what they're doing.
MouseMatt says: They're making a brain.