Chapter V: Focusing On The Wrong Thing
Monday, February 14th, 2157 CE.
7:21pm Pacific Time (GMT - 8:00)
Victoria, British Columbia Province,
Dominion of Canada, Earth
"The truth is the cry of all, but the game of the few."
-- Bishop George Berkeley, in Siris (1744), par. 368
Scene 1: Unreadable
A lively man with spiked brown hair and a flashy pair of unnecessary sunglasses walked in from the pouring rain outside of Jolly George's Eatery & Bar. He focused his gaze on the girl behind the counter, and saw a translucent imagery around her of numbers, drink names and menu items.
Immediately, the secuscan blared its alarm, "Foreign object, potential weapon!" It shot a blinding field of lasers up to frame his upper face. "Foreign object, potential weapon!" A translucent force-field wall hummed to life, blocking the man's entrance.
Cindy looked up suddenly from the counter she was wiping, and stopped just short of pushing the red panic button on the underside of the counter. In recognition, she exclaimed, "Paul!?"
"Cindy, it's me! Call off the alarm!" he yelled, muffled by the wall. And now the images around her displayed him, in a dozen recollections of their previous encounters.
"Have you got any weapons on you?" she asked. Why can't I read his mind? It's like nobody's even there!
"No, just a new pair of shades. Damn it, I told Dad to upgrade the system." He saw the images around her transition through various potentially concealed weapons, and then his glasses.
"Budget won't cover it," she told him, pursing her lips, as she hit a green button beside the red one. Sam, when he's trying his hardest, can avoid my mind-reading, and probably Preeti's as well. But Paul's not like us, he's not special!
Instantly, the barrier vanished and the alarm shut off. So too, did the force-field floodgate, as it was wired to the same circuit. And so, as Paul walked into his father's restaurant, he slipped and fell. As he did, his sunglasses slipped off his face and hung from the string around his neck. He lost sight, entirely, of the faces dancing around Cindy's head, which weren't actually there.
"I'm sorry!" Cindy squealed. "I didn't know that would happen." She hit the button again, since he was out of the secuscan's range. There, I can sense him! But nothing discernible. What's going on?
Across from her, Biff was laughing uproariously and slamming his glass against the counter so she'd pour him another drink.
Paul brought himself to his feet, and made his way carefully to the stool beside Biff. Then, he placed six credits on the counter, in twos. "The usual."
"What's the usual?" she asked.
"Synthetic gin, on the rocks, please," Paul told her. He was dripping onto the counter and floor. His entire back was soaked from landing on the floor.
"Gimme what he's havin'," said Biff.
"I think I'd have to get out the breathalyzer before I could serve you," she told Biff as she took Paul's credits. "And for the record, George is the one serving."
"Aww, c'mon, don't be a bitch," Biff whined.
"Cindy, my Dad needs all the business he can get," Paul pointed out. "Just charge him double if he really wants to get drunk."
"Have you seen the ring?" Cindy asked, trying to change the subject.
"What ring? Oh, that ring. So she said yes?" Paul asked, sounding hopeful.
"Of course she said yes, you dolt!" Cindy said, ignoring Biff's constant clinking of his glass against the counter.
"C'mon..." he whined, running a meaty hand through his dazzling red hair.
"Fine," she said. "How about I charge you for the drink you poured yourself while you thought nobody was watching the bar?"
Biff grimaced, and then got out his money reluctantly.
"So her divorce proceedings went well?" Paul asked.
"Woah, now... you're gonna have to ask your father. That's none of my business. I didn't need to know she was married." Though it's been in George's thoughts too often. Cindy poured both drinks, as the old man at the opposite end of the bar flagged her down.
Making sure it wasn't her abilities at fault, she learned, before he told her, that the old man usually never drank, but was there because it was Valentine's Day and he wanted to toast his widow. Her hand was under the counter, on the second glass which was to remain empty, before the geriatric man could ask for it. And he never got the chance, as she took his credits, poured his drink and walked away, leaving the second glass there as a symbol.
Meanwhile, Paul put his glasses and watched Cindy from afar. He saw a big red heart, an old lady, an empty glass and an unmarked, generic gravestone. Then, there was a piece of toasted bread. The images didn't make much sense to Paul, as she walked back towards them but stopped half-way to perch herself on the bartender's chair. What remained of the other images faded, and he saw a book. It was the only image the glasses were bothering to induce into his ocular nerves. Open, with large print. However, the words were made up of symbols he'd never seen before. Paul felt like a young child again, staring at it with what seemed like complete illiteracy. It was an unreadable book.
Scene 2: Toxic
Paul turned to look at Biff, in case he might offer more sensible imagery so that he could discern what use the glasses were. Biff, who was staring down at his drink in a brooding way, had crude images around him. They were blurry, though. Paul recognized himself, or a semblance there of, naked. It was as if Biff were the viewer, holding him in an aggressive embrace and thrusting at him. The implication of sodomy was palpable. With an odd thrill, Paul realized, This guy's having a sexual fantasy! About me!
Biff downed the first third of his gin.
"Hey. What are you thinking about?" Paul ventured.
"Sex," said Biff, "to be honest."
"Most do," Paul simmered, "but they aren't as honest about it." He watched his own mouth move, repeating his every word, in the translucent pictures around Biff.
"Eah... I ain't gonna be proper, nawt afta what I've been through t'day," he drawled.
Paul spotted the face of a dark-skinned teenager in Biff's images. Then a teardrop, on pale skin. Suddenly, they faded, and he saw a piece of paper upon which was written 'Biff and Lewis'. First it crumpled, and then it burned.
Cindy got up from where she was and went to check on some of the tables she was servicing.
"It's hard moving on," Paul said, "especially on a special day like this. Was he your first?" Oh, God, this is really putting my theory to the test.
"Yeah," said Biff. "Told me 'e was straight. Pffft."
"That's harsh," said Paul. "But you seem to have quite the stiff right now."
"Shit, man, you read me like a book," exclaimed Biff, as he drank more of his gin.
For a moment, Paul pictured the unreadable book, and turned to look at Cindy across the room. He saw it, still, amongst the visuals of the other patrons. Perhaps I can read Biff because his feelings are intense and clear? Or maybe he's a visual thinker? What makes him different from Cindy?
"Were you planning to do something about it?" Biff asked.
"If I have to," Paul said.
"Nice glasses," remarked Cindy, as she approached the counter from behind them. Fortunately, she had not heard them and was abstaining from reading Biff's mind unnecessarily due to its nature.
"Thanks," said Paul.
"They look pretty fly," Biff complimented. "Pretty expensive, eh? I wouldn't mind a pair of them myself, if they aren't unreasonably creditable. Where'd you buy 'em?"
"They were a gift, actually, from a friend in Ottawa," he lied.
"They must not know how much it rains here, then." Cindy giggled.
"No, I suppose not."
"Wha's the designer?" asked Biff.
Paul shrugged, "I dunno, there's nothing on them in writing. Just these two dials that adjust the tint and darkness."
"Woah, high-tech," said Biff.
"I'll say," said Cindy. "Definitely not for a waitress's salary... or a pizza boy's."
"He's a pizza boy?" Sexy.
"Not for much longer," said Paul.
"You quit!? Why, Paul?" Cindy was surprised.
"My grades," he lied.
Cindy looked away, sorry she'd asked, and her eyes fell on Biff's nearly empty glass. "I've got a headache. I'm gonna sit down and meditate for a minute, sorry."
"Try a drink of water," said Paul, as he drank some of his gin. "Most headaches are caused by dehydration."
Cindy, however, had shoved the bartender's chair closer to them and was on it once again, eyes closed in an inner focus. I might as well do this, considering how drunk he is. I'm gonna have to mop the floor anyways, with all that dirty water that came in."
"What's your name?" Paul asked Biff.
"William, but everyone calls me Biff." His stomach rumbled, then.
Within her reverie, Cindy was focused intimately on Biff, trying to sense his bloodflow from far away. Cautiously, she weaved a mental connection with the contaminant, urging it out of the system she held encompassed in her mind.
Paul grinned. "That's a violent nickname. How'd you get it?"
With surprising ease, Cindy managed to collect the most of it around one spot in his body. And all the while, she remained on the chair, sweat breaking out on her brow, a hand trembling against her temple.
"Mmm... I can imagine," Paul said thoughtfully, picturing Biff in a jersey, covered in sweat and mud. However, he found Biff's visuals much more interesting. They were gaining clarity, too, oddly enough.
A smile spread across Cindy's lips, as Biff's alcohol blood concentration finished plummeting from 0.156% to 0.013%.
His stomach rumbled once more. He knew he had to do something, but was too nervous to walk around in a public place with a full erection in his pants. "I think I need to go to the --" It was too late. Halfway off his stool, Biff vomited onto the floor, expelling the ethanol from his system.
"I'll get the mop," said Cindy, a little too eagerly. I'll be sure to tell the professor I've gotten better at detoxifying. Or maybe it was easier to clean his blood because he was aroused, sending a fair amount of it to one place. Hmmm... maybe Sam will be willing to let me test that hypothesis tonight, after work.
While she was distracted, Paul leaned over the counter and looked around for the breathalyzer. Shocked by the newfound clarity in Biff's images, he handed Biff the device.
"Just try it, please," urged Paul. "I'll make it worth your while."
When Biff was done breathing into it according to the instructions on the side, Paul snatched it from him so that he alone could look at the results. He was astonished. Surely, Biff had been nearly drunk earlier. And now it seemed as if the nearly empty glass in front of him was his very first glass.
I think I've found my first oddity, thought Paul. "Do you go to the University of Victoria, Biff?"
"Next fall. Got a full athletic scholarship," he boasted.
"So, they're drug-testing you, eh?"
"Yeah, of course. Why?"
"Nothing. Just curious. I'm a student there," said Paul. This guy might just be my first lead. Now, to earn his trust... "Got a whole room, a suite in fact, all to myself. King-sized bed."
Biff's eyes bulged, and then he downed the last of his drink.
Paul grinned, having gotten the reaction he wanted, as he returned the breathalyzer to its shelf. Carefully, he watched to make sure Cindy wasn't watching him.
The weathered, hard-cover book closed. The title read 'CINDY', in gold lettering. Then, it opened once more. And that was all that was readable. Her text remained infinitely cryptic.