Sunday, September 8, 2013

Story G: Blips, by Cislyn Smith

“Picking anything up yet?”

“Nothing human. Coupla cats.”

“How do you know they’re cats?”

“How do you know they’re cats? If it looks like a cat and meows like a cat, it’s a cat. These guys think like cats.”

“And different from dogs, yeah?”

“Just like the difference between red and blue. Besides, they’re both normally like, uh, I dunno, a soft glow ... until something lights ’em up. But it takes different things to do it. Cats light up when they see some kind of small critter they can chase, but dogs only do it for people. In f.... Oh, wait! What’s that now?”

Patrick turned a dial and the scanner focused in on a bright green light in the upper quadrant. "That's no cat. See the size of it? And the color's all wrong too."

Felicity glanced down at the laminated blip guide in her lap. "So, a human then? The color's right for that."

Her instructor shook his head. "Noooo... I don't think so. The color is right, but there wasn't anything there a second ago. We were sweeping this neighborhood specifically because there's been no human activity here in years. And it just shows up out of nowhere? Suspicious."

He tapped the screen as the green dot winked out and then reappeared three centimeters to the left. "Look at that! Yeah, this is definitely fey activity." He turned and smiled wryly at Felicity. "I don't know about you, but I can't teleport, even for short distances."

"Are you sure it wasn't just scanner error? I mean, just yesterday you were telling me the equipment does that sometimes - picks up and then loses the mental signatures, especially if they're not neuro-typical."

"Oh, I'm sure all right. We sometimes drop animal signals, but that's no cat. This one's been consistently bright, and the same shape the whole time. Color's off, but I'm calling it." He leaned over, jotted something on a clipboard, and then passed it to Felicity. "You start the paperwork, and I'll call in the containment team. We'll have it bagged, sterilized, and magic drained within an hour."

Ten minutes later, though, and Patrick was in a heated argument with the containment team. "What do you mean there's only cats down there? There were plenty of cat signals, and this one definitely wasn't a cat. You sure your guys have got their glamour protection gear on? We gave you exact coordinates! I'm looking at it... well, no. But I'm telling you, it was there! Size, shape, motility, everything!"

Felicity shifted awkwardly in the stiff plastic chair as the call went on and on, watching the blips light up the screen. She squinted to make a fuzzy, colorful constellation of the minds moving in and out of the area. She didn't envy the containment team - it was pretty desolate down there. The Fey wars hadn't been kind to the suburbs, and just making their way in past the walls of thorns and quicksand driveways would have been very difficult, especially in the anti-magic protective gear.

When he finally turned his attention back to work, Patrick was more deflated than angry. "Well, so much for that. False alarm. Somehow." He scowled. "Anyway, let's go over to the mall. We've got a good chance of finding a nest over there, and I really want to bag a few today." He started steering the hovership to the north.

She looked up, surprised. "You don't want to get the gear checked and recalibrated? Besides, I thought Jacobs was already sweeping the mall today."

"Is she? I thought we were leaving that for Thursday..."

"And if I recall last week's training, getting ahead of schedule is not generally a good idea. Especially if the containment team is... well, busy. They're going to be a while getting out of that mess, yeah?"

Patrick sighed. "Yeah, you're right. You, uh, passed the test. Or something. Fine. Let's get back to base and grab a bite to eat while the techs check out our gear. We'll talk with dispatch about sweeping a different area today, since this one was obviously a bust. Sorry 'bout this. I really thought we'd bag your first fairy today!"

She smiled. "Hey, don't worry about it. We'll get them all eventually, right?"

"That's the plan" he said, as he turned the ship back to the south again.

Felicity turned her attention back to fixing their daily paperwork. It was a tedious, but necessary part of her cover. Diligent, a stickler for the rules, a bit green (so to speak, both on the scanner and off), this 'trainee' persona had proven most useful for infiltration. She was in a perfect position to learn about the enemy, warn her people, and do the kind of detail work at which she excelled.

It had only taken a sufficiently odd Fey mind to slip past their security screenings. Really, the humans relied far too much on outdated research and some very basic misconceptions. Not everyone thinks alike, and minds can change their colors. And of course, the cats were working for her side.