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Spidrift
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Fanfic

Post by Spidrift » Tue Jan 03, 2017 4:20 pm

(Having been catching up on my essential movie watching over Christmas, I was suddenly struck by… something, which gave me an irresistible urge to commit fanfic. Oh well.)

"I Am Becoming" Song

Zii and Amber somehow didn’t get many chances to hang out together these days, so they took the chance when one arose, even in the middle of a Saturday afternoon when the apartment might be full of people coming and going. This time around, though, they were alone, and Amber was asking Zii how her band was coming along.

“Pretty well, really,” said Zii, “especially considering how I’m not sure that the three of us even exactly like each other these days.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad, is it?” Amber asked. “I got the impression from what you said that you three are really into each other.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Zii said.

“It isn’t?” Amber looked puzzled.

“Not exactly, no.” Oh dear, Zii added, but only inside her own head, I love you dearly, Amber darling, but you really aren’t terribly good at understanding how people work sometimes. Then she paused for thought; she reckoned she was better at people than Amber was, but it struck her that she might sometimes make mistakes herself.

“Is it that difficult with the band?” Amber asked.

“What?”

“You were frowning, Zii love.”

“Was I? Oh, well, anyway, no. Once we start playing, we mesh fine. Which reminds me – you used to have a pretty good singing voice yourself, from what I remember. Did you ever think of trying that more seriously?”

“Me? God no. Anyway, the audience would turn up for all the wrong reasons nowadays, wouldn’t they?” Amber pulled a face. “And I wasn’t that great a singer. I just used to sing along with Disney movies. All little girls do that, don’t they?”

“Well, if that’s how it goes…” Zii grinned mischievously. “Some of those things work as rock, y’know. I’ve been practising one lately myself.” She’d had her guitar with her when she dropped by, and now she pulled that and a practise amp out and set them up. As Amber watched, she tuned the guitar and pulled out a series of minor chords. Amber frowned, beginning to guess at the melody that Zii was implying.

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,” Zii half-sang, half-spoke, “Not a footprint to be seen…”

“Oh, that one!” Amber cried out in recognition. “I love that song!”

“You and every five-year-old on the planet. Hang on.” Zii pulled out her phone and prodded at the screen for a few moments. Then she handed it to Amber, who looked at the lyrics on the screen and grinned.

“Just as well I’m blonde these days,” Amber said. “I don’t suppose that a brunette is allowed to sing this.”

Zii shrugged, went back to her guitar, and began the chords again, this time with Amber singing along, only a little awkwardly.

“The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside,” Amber sang, “Couldn't keep it in, heaven knows I tried!” They had to pause as Zii coached her through the vocal acrobatics required for the next few lines, but then Zii picked up the guitar again

“Don't let them in, don't let them see, Be the good girl you always have to be” – Amber grinned her own sort of mischief at those lines and the next. “Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know – Well, now they know!”

Zii thought that she heard a door open and close downstairs, but Amber, preoccupied with the song, didn’t notice. Appropriate, I guess, Zii thought as she switched from minor to major chords and Amber reached the line “…Turn away and slam the door!”

Whoever had come in must have reached the apartment door as Amber sang on, but it didn’t open and there was no knock. “And the fears that once controlled me, Can't get to me at all!” Amber sang. Then she hit the next few lines a little louder. “It's time to see what I can do, To test the limits and break through – No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free!”

Despite the music, Zii was sure that she heard footsteps going back down the stairs outside the apartment – in double time, she decided. But she kept playing, through “…The past is in the past…” and right on to “That perfect girl is gone!”

Then, though, something made her stop playing and step over to the window. Amber gave a puzzled frown, but finished the song unaccompanied to the defiant last line.

“The cold never bothered me anyway!”

Zii was barely listening. Instead, she was watching a figure crossing the street below, not quite running – a figure with a neat auburn bob, in a well-chosen coat and designer jeans, heading Zii didn’t know where just now. But she’d be back later; she had a meeting with Zii, and she never missed meetings. “That perfect girl is gone,” Zii muttered.

“Uh - the cold never bothered me anyway,” Amber replied.

“Must’ve been useful for you,” Zii said.

“Pardon?”

“In your old job, I mean,” Zii said, forcing a smirk. “Not feeling the cold.” Amber replied by sticking her tongue out.

“I wasn’t singing about me,” Amber pointed out. “It’s about a character in a story.”

“Yes,” said Zii, “Yes, it is. Someone who kept a secret for years.” She ripped three fast power chords out of her guitar. “So maybe we should stick to rock and roll.”
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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Fanfic: "Inside Ruby (and Out)"

Post by Spidrift » Thu Jan 19, 2017 8:03 pm

Having started on a fanfic kick, I suddenly thought of an actual crossover story. Well, sort of...

Inside Ruby (and Out)

Ruby-Disgust did not like the current situation. She couldn’t exactly be angry or sad, because those jobs belonged to Ruby-Anger and Ruby-Sadness, but she … did not believe that events on the Outside were being handled correctly. After all, if Ruby failed to respond to disgusting things correctly, she would be in grave danger.

Right now, Ruby-Joy was in control, standing at the console, calling up skills. Through the big picture windows, Ruby-Disgust could see Business Island pulsing with power, still visibly expanding; Education Island, once a neat, closed, tidy place, had become an open box, spilling energy into the system. Ruby-Joy was smiling dreamily as she worked; worse, Ruby-Anger and Ruby-Fear both seemed to be cool with this, standing on either side of Ruby-Joy at the console. Occasionally, Ruby-Fear would speak up to restrain Ruby-Joy from pursuing an over-ambitious scheme, or Ruby-Anger would growl as Ruby was obliged to wade through some boring heap of business regulations, but really, they were… They were enabling this nonsense!

Ruby Disgust stepped forward, peering over Ruby-Joy’s shoulder at the viewscreen. What she saw made her wince. “So this is what it’s come to,” she said. “Ruby is making money from pornography! She should be ashamed of herself. I can see to that, if you like.”

“Oh, don’t be a prude.” Ruby-Joy barely spared Ruby-Disgust a glance. “It’s not pornography, it’s erotica. We’ve talked about this.”

“Yes. It’s all quite … quite respectable, really.” Ruby-Fear interjected. She sounded nervous, and Ruby-Disgust wondered if she might be persuaded to change sides. But Ruby-Fear had always been about uncertainty. That had made her strong, once, but now it made her a poor ally.

Ruby-Disgust glared at Ruby-Joy. You think you’ve won,” she thought, you with the designer jeans and iPad business apps. But I remember you when you were a skinny thing who knew her place and only spoke when we let you.

But Ruby-Disgust gave up for the moment, and turned away to watch Ruby-Sadness at work, sorting through old memories, even adding a touch of colour to one or two of them. You used to be strong! Ruby-Disgust raged silently. I used to respect you!

In fact, Ruby-Sadness had once seemed like the really dangerous member of the team. There had been a period of a few weeks, seven years ago, when she had run the show. Ruby’s world had nearly collapsed, and Ruby-Sadness had taken charge – and Ruby-Disgust had played a part in setting that up. But it had become obvious to everyone on the team that the arrangement wasn’t working. Ruby could have been destroyed entirely if her Sadness tried to run everything. The Manual actually had warnings about that, if you checked. Sadness could be strong, but she couldn’t motivate Ruby to do anything useful.

So the big three had stepped up and taken over. They’d made Ruby’s life work perfectly. Ruby’s Train of Thought had always run on time, Education Island had become a huge, strong, crystalline structure, and Family Island … well, most of that had been fine, with the Swamp of Amber mostly walled off in one corner and left to rot.

And it wasn’t like the big three had been unfair, or left anyone out! Ruby-Disgust and Ruby-Anger had managed Ruby’s relationships with most other people just fine, and Ruby-Fear had kept Ruby on the straight and narrow, giving her plenty of time for what was important and not disgusting. But the other two had been given their own jobs. Ruby-Sadness had been allowed to tend to her full share of memories, and even to run the console for a few minutes now and then, while Ruby-Joy, thin and pale and quiet, sometimes took charge for hours at a time, when Ruby was in the library, or receiving top marks for an essay, or just at home around her parents. Just so long as she didn’t get ideas above her station…

Ruby-Disgust crouched next to Ruby-Sadness. “Hi,” she said.

“Oh – hi,” Ruby-Sadness said, glancing up at her through her triple-size, triple-thickness glasses. The team all looked a lot like Ruby – it was something about Ruby’s high Honesty parameter, apparently – but Ruby-Sadness was a short, flabby, dumpy version, in shades of blue, and the glasses covered most of her face.

“Could you help me a moment?” Ruby-Disgust asked. “I want to pull up a set of memories.”

“Which ones?”

“Some stuff about Dillon. The early interactions.”

“Oh, sure. That’s easy. Though I haven’t done much with those myself.” Ruby-Sadness waved at a control, and within seconds, a whole set of memory orbs came rattling down the chute. Ruby-Disgust contemplated the oldest of all. She’d been so strong then! She and the other two of the big three had managed this horrible, stupid move to Montreal perfectly, she thought! And those ghastly men had given her a perfect opportunity to take charge – hadn’t they?

Ruby-Disgust looked at the memory orb, hoping to discover what had gone wrong. But… No, that wasn’t right. She’d coloured that whole experience; the orb should have positively glowed green. Instead…

“Joy!” Ruby-Disgust yelled, “Come here!”

Ruby-Joy glanced around, saw that Ruby-Disgust was beckoning furiously, and locked Ruby onto autopilot. Then she came scurrying across the control room, beaming her aggravating smile. “What is it?” she asked politely.

“This orb!” Ruby-Disgust held the offending memory up. “Have you been viewing it?”

“Oh, Dillon and Jerzy – The First Time? Uh, yes.” Ruby-Joy at least had the grace to blush. “I took a look at it the other day while Ruby was daydreaming on the bus. What about it?”

“What about it? You left your sticky fingerprints all over it!” Ruby-Disgust held the orb resting on her fingertips, glaring at the smudges of bright yellow all over its surface.

“Oh. Sorry.” Ruby-Joy gave a more conciliatory smile this time. “But you have to admit, thinking back, they do have rather cute…”

“They’re not cute!” Ruby-Disgust yelled.

“Gluteus maximus!” Ruby-Fear squawked on reflex at almost the same moment.

“Gluteus maximus,” Ruby-Joy agreed, her smile becoming dreamy.

“That’s disgusting,” Ruby-Disgust snapped. “You’re disgusting.”

“You really must learn to prioritise,” said Ruby-Joy cheerfully, turning back to the console. “It’s something we’re well set up for here, after all. It’s one of Ruby’s skills. Talking of which…” She touched a switch on the console, and Ruby dropped out of her spreadsheet fugue and began shutting her laptop down. “…That’s enough work for the day. Ruby has a date in…”

“Half an hour!” squawked Ruby-Fear. “She’ll be late! Andy will be annoyed!”

“Especially with the evening traffic,” Ruby-Anger snarled.

“That’s another thing,” said Ruby-Disgust. “Since when did we care what Andy thought?”

“Ruby mustn’t upset people,” said Ruby-Fear in a flat monotone.

“They won’t like her,” agreed Ruby-Sadness in the same tone. It was an old routine, going back to Ruby’s childhood, but Ruby-Disgust had never found it annoying before – not before Montreal, anyway.

***

Actually, Andy wasn’t annoyed, or at least he didn’t show it, even though Ruby was almost a full five minutes late to the restaurant, and Ruby-Joy had to spend several minutes talking Ruby-Fear out of a blind panic. This gave Ruby-Disgust a chance to step in and take charge of ordering Ruby’s food, so she went for the blandest and most economical thing she could find on the menu – but then Ruby-Joy came back, changed the order, asked for a glass of quite expensive wine, and snapped Ruby back onto autopilot while Andy talked about his job. The team weren’t sure if that was rude, but they’d agreed that it was safer than trying to run things actively until they’d got the hang of small talk between them. It wasn’t a skill that Ruby had ever had to learn before.

Ruby-Joy took control again when Andy asked about her work, though, and kept Ruby talking about her yaoi club for fifteen minutes solidly, despite Ruby-Fear telling her that she was boring him and Ruby-Disgust alleging that he was looking at Ruby’s breasts. Then Ruby-Joy became momentarily distracted by Ruby-Fear slumping to the floor at her feet, whimpering, and Ruby-Disgust and Ruby-Anger leapt in and took over the controls.

***

“Wow,” said Andy, “it sounds like your work is going really well.”

“The club is going fine,” Ruby replied. “But that’s not really my job, I’m afraid. At least, it’s not making money yet. My job is being PA to Dillon and … and Amber.”

“That must be really interesting,” Andy said.

“Dillon’s fine. But Amber… Oh, she’s hopeless!”

“What’s the problem?” Andy asked.

Ruby took a deep breath and a sip of wine. “She’s hopeless!” she repeated. “I know that looking after her is my job – well, half my job – but I don’t know how she ever managed without me. I have to micromanage her diary!”

“More than Dillon’s?” Andy asked artlessly.

“Uh… Yes! It’s not just her work and her hair appointments! I have to keep track of her dates with… With Ray. Bad enough that she spends all her free time with him – oh, the racket they make, too! – but I have to run her diary, which means keeping track of his too, and he… he…”

Andy frowned. “You don’t think he’s right for her?” he ventured.

“What? No, that’s not what I mean! He’s okay, really. He could certainly do better than Amber. I know for a fact that he could!”

***

The team were all clustered around the console now, watching Andy on the viewscreen. “I don’t think he understands,” said Ruby-Sadness. “He looks sad.”

“No, he never understands,” Ruby-Anger agreed.

“No judgement,” sneered Ruby-Disgust. “He’s clueless. Remind me again why we bother with him?”

The team all looked at each other, frowning. “At the start, it would have been embarrassing to turn him down,” said Ruby-Fear, crossing her arms and shivering. “People don’t like people who are rude.”

“But why do we still bother with him?” Ruby-Disgust asked. “We could have talked Ruby’s way out of this by now.”

The other four all stared at Ruby-Joy, who grinned nervously. “Well,” she said, “he is sort of cute…”

“Oh, good grief,” Ruby-Disgust said, throwing her hands up. “Just because he has a nice gluteus maximus, we not only have to put up with all this nonsense – we have a whole new island growing out there!” She waved at the picture windows. “Romance Island!” she sneered. “It’ll soon be bigger than Family Island at this rate! And after we spent years keeping that nonsense under control.”

“And I’m not sure it’s actually Romance Island,” said Ruby-Fear. “It looks kind of wild and, and primitive. And it’s right next to Yaoi Island…”

“Which was bad enough!” interjected Ruby-Disgust. “The way it suddenly… sprang up! Disgusting! I can’t bear to look at it!”

“I think there may even be a bridge forming between them,” Ruby-Fear said. “We didn’t think that Ruby could be very interested in romance, did we? So what’s changed?”

“Actually, Ruby had some dreams about romance once,” Ruby-Sadness offered. “I used to watch them. The studios did a good job.”

“Yes, but they weren’t like that place,” said Ruby-Fear. “I think Ruby is changing.” Suddenly she choked and her next words came in a rush. “I think that things may get scary soon!”

Ruby-Joy put an arm round her shoulder. Suddenly, Ruby-Disgust realised that Ruby-Joy had grown recently. At one time, she’d been noticeably shorter than Ruby-Fear; now, they were more or less equal. “It’s okay,” said Ruby-Joy gently, “we knew that the move to Montreal meant changes. Most of them have been good, haven’t they?”

“No,” muttered Ruby-Disgust – but Ruby-Sadness and Ruby-Anger had started talking to each other about the other changes and what they meant.

Then Ruby-Joy suddenly looked at the viewscreen. “Andy’s talking again!” she cried, and jumped for the controls before anyone could stop her. Ruby-Anger was just behind her, but not close enough to intervene.

***

“…tried talking to her?” said Andy.

“Oh, I’m sure that I can do something if I have to,” Ruby said with a sudden nervous smile. “But let’s not talk about this. It’s just my job – I can handle it. I shouldn’t go complaining to you about it.” She shrugged. “Let’s change the subject. Isn’t this pilaf delicious?”

And so their conversation meandered through cookery – on which, neither of them were experts, but they agreed that it might be good to learn more – and books and TV shows, which gave Ruby an opportunity to talk about the details of the film business which she had learned while working for Dillon and Amber. There were a number of silent moments, but neither of them seemed to mind, and at the end of the evening, Andy courteously escorted Ruby home, briefly kissed her goodnight on her doorstep, and went on his way.

***

“Well, that went well enough,” Ruby-Joy commented.

“Huh,” said Ruby-Disgust. She had previously tried grumbling about Andy’s kisses, but somehow that never got anywhere.

“I hope that he’s warm enough walking home,” said Ruby-Sadness. “It’s a cold evening.”

The other four looked at her. “What?” she said. “It is!”

Ruby had made her way up to her room, and was soon getting ready for bed. “You know,” Ruby-Joy said as Ruby combed her hair methodically, “we might even think about doing more with Andy. Perhaps it’s even time to create a new core memory.”

The other four stared at her. “Ohhhh….” Ruby-Fear moaned.

“You’re being disgusting!” said Ruby-Disgust. “You know what that would mean, don’t you? Getting naked! With another person!”

“Naked Andy…” Ruby-Joy murmured abstractedly.

There was a clank as a memory orb popped out of the recall chute unprompted. Ruby-Sadness glanced at it and stepped back briskly. “The swimming pool,” she muttered, “Andy in swimming trunks…”

“Disgusting!” Ruby-Disgust repeated. “We’d become as bad as Amber!”

That was usually an argument-stopping line. The team stood staring at each other for a moment, and then suddenly Ruby-Anger broke the silence. “That’s not right!” she barked, her redder-than-Ruby’s hair suddenly swirling and shedding sparks.

“I’m glad you agree…” Ruby-Disgust began.

“Why on Earth should the Witch decide how anyone else lives?” Ruby-Anger continued, her voice rising as her hair transformed into a flame. “Doing something in private, with one man, would be nobody else’s business! It wouldn’t mean turning into a porn actress!”

Ruby-Disgust was struck dumb. Even if Ruby-Anger had become a poor ally lately, this was a whole new level of betrayal.

“But – sex is scary!” Ruby-Fear said.

“Never doing anything seems a bit sad…” Ruby-Sadness muttered.

“What’s going wrong with you?” Ruby-Disgust spat, glaring alternately at each of the three who seemed to be turning against her.

The team fell silent for a moment. Then Ruby-Joy spoke up softly. “The lights are going down,” she said. “Ruby is tired. Let’s leave this for now. Maybe we should consider for a day or two.”

***

But the next day, none of them seemed to want to bring the subject up again. Indeed, they avoided it for several days, simply carrying on as before. Then, one afternoon, Andy surprised them all with a comment about taking things to “the next level”, and Ruby-Fear spent several hours hunched over the console, not letting any of the others even make suggestions – until Dillon and Ramona gave Ruby-Joy a chance to regain partial control.

“Let’s make a deal,” she said. “We’ll have joint control on Saturday. I think it’ll be fine, but if not – well, you can have your say. And you can call Anger in, too, if we need her.”

“And what about us?” Ruby-Disgust demanded, as Ruby-Sadness hid behind her.

“I’m sure that you’ll be providing a running commentary, Disgust dear,” Ruby-Joy said tartly. “And with any luck, the rest of us will have enough to think about… afterwards, so Sadness can take over then. Actually, the Manual says that’s traditional.”

“Wonderful,” Ruby-Disgust sighed. “Just don’t blame me when everything goes south.”

“Actually,” Ruby-Joy murmured, “if we trust Dillon and Ramona, going south is exactly what we should plan for…”

***

TO BE CONTINUED, ONE DAY?
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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Re: Fanfic

Post by Storm-forge mystique » Fri Feb 03, 2017 10:55 am

Well, this just makes me wish the three-headed goddess were still about.

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Spidrift
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[Fanfic] Ruby’s Wonderful Carol (Stave I)

Post by Spidrift » Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:16 pm

So I might as well make this exercise a trilogy. The third story will probably be the longest of the lot, and so will come in five parts; this is part 1.

Ruby’s Wonderful Carol

Stave I

Dillon was gay: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. Ruby had learned that fact before she had even been introduced to him, and while she was now considerably more comfortable with this than she had been at first, it did not change what she knew and had seen.

And so, when Dillon had invited her to accompany him on a girls’ night out, she had not been disconcerted. She might indeed have accepted the invitation, all other things being equal, if only for politeness. But then, Dillon had explained that the night wasn’t his idea, but Chanelle’s. Ruby didn’t really know Chanelle – she’d just seen her a few times when she dropped by – but she knew that Chanelle was, first and foremost, a friend of Amber’s. (Though Amber wasn’t coming on the night out, which would have made the decision very simple; she was going to be going out with Ray. Oh yes.) That didn’t make Chanelle a bad person – Dillon was a friend of Amber’s, for that matter – but it seemed that Chanelle was someone Amber knew from her old job, and that she was still working in that business.

Ruby might even have managed to live with that – Dillon teased her about working in the “erotica business” herself, when she mentioned the subject, and Ruby couldn’t truthfully dispute that (which was a problem and a question for another time, perhaps). But it made the idea of socialising with Chanelle seem very difficult, especially when Dillon mentioned that the other girls who were invited were friends of Chanelle’s with names like “Bambi”. Ruby didn’t want to feel like a snob, but she didn’t think that she’d have much in common with these people. And she really didn’t need to learn more about Amber’s old job.

Dillon made a token argument, saying that someone called Tracy was coming, and Ruby would like her, but Ruby was learning the difficult art of saying no to him. And so it was, on a Thursday night, that Ruby was left in peace in the apartment. Dillon had made some unsubtle comments about the location of his yaoi collection, but Rub had her own collection now, so she just smiled at that and ordered him to have fun but not get home too late, because a good PA wouldn’t want her employer to show up on set with bags under his eyes. Then she pushed him out of the door, ate a simple salad and a self-indulgent piece of cheesecake, and retired to bed with a herbal tea and three albums of yaoi.

But the tea, a brew she hadn’t tried before, described as “promoting good slumber”, turned out to work exactly as advertised, and Ruby soon found that her eyelids were growing heavy. So she pushed the books aside, curled up happily, and reached for the light switch.

“Woo! Woo! Woo!” said a voice from the foot of the bed.

Ruby sat up, blinking the sleep out of her eyes as best she could, and stared. To her own surprise, she didn’t feel frightened, possibly because the voice was so unthreatening, somehow, and the speaker didn’t look too murderous either.

“Who are you?” Ruby demanded. Then she gasped. “No, wait – I know who you are!” she added hastily.

“You do?” said her visitor, sounding at least as surprised as Ruby, and maybe more. She appeared to be a teenage girl, dressed in the sort of school uniform that Ruby had never seen in real life but had frequently encountered in manga aimed at teenage boys. She had two-tone hair, long and untidy, and dusky skin that looked like someone had applied fake tan a dozen layers deep.

“Yes,” Ruby said. “You’re a character in that Canadian pastiche harem manga that Zii reads. You’re a succubus, right? Pandora? The totally irresponsible one?”

“I prefer free-spirited” Pandora replied, in an irritated tone.

“Irresponsible,” Ruby repeated. “But anyway, what are you doing here?”

“Ruby Larose,” said Pandora, extending a pointing finger in a way that was presumably meant to be imperious, “You have been chosen to receive a warning…”

“Okay,” said Ruby, getting out of bed, planting her feet in her slippers, and reaching for a robe.

“Will you please let me finish delivering my message?” Pandora snapped. “This is supposed to be a terrifying experience for a mortal.”

“Oh, please,” Ruby said, fastening her robe. “This is obviously a dream. My subconscious is trying to tell me something. You’re a figment of my imagination, and I’m not going to let my own imagination terrify me.”

“How do you know that this isn’t a real message from the Great Beyond?” Pandora snapped. “Maybe you should pinch yourself.”

“Wouldn’t work. I’d just dream I’d hurt myself.” Ruby stood up. “Anyway, I don’t believe in any ‘Great Beyond’, but if I did, I think it could manage a better messenger than a teenage sex demon who I know perfectly well is a work of fiction.”

“I should just dematerialise and let you stew,” Pandora snarled.

“Go ahead. I was hoping for a quiet night,” Ruby said. “But I don’t think you will. My subconscious has gone to all this trouble, so why would it stop now?”

Pandora sighed. “Okay, so let’s get on with this,” she said. Then she made a complicated gesture with both hands, and a glowing doorway appeared in the air. “Pretty, huh?” she said smugly.

“Not bad,” Ruby allowed. “So, what is this, the Christmas Carol deal, or the Wonderful Life?”

“Pardon?”

“Do I get shown my past, present, and future, with all the stuff I mess up, or do I get shown the alternate universe where I don’t exist?” Ruby folded her arms.

“A bit of each.” Pandora managed an almost-demonic smirk.

"Hold on - you're doing the introduction and the Christmas Past scene?"

"Not exactly Christmas past, I gather," Pandora said, fluttering her hands to keep the portal open. "But yes, I do both.'

"Oh, good," said Ruby. "It seems like my subconscious is admirably economical."

"You're annoyingly smug, if you ask me," Pandora snapped.

"Am I? Thanks"

"Thanks?" Pandora seemed as confused as she was annoyed.

Ruby sighed. "You're a figment of my imagination," she explained. "Anything you say is me sending messages to myself. They could be important, so it's nice when they're clear." Then she suddenly frowned. "Oh bother," she said, "there's no way for me to take notes, is there?"

"No," Pandora snapped. “Now come on – we haven’t got all night.”

“Yes we ha– Oww!” Ruby was interrupted as Pandora grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her through the glowing portal with distinctly demonic strength. And indeed, her imagination was good enough to ensure that she dreamed the correct amount of pain for the experience.
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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Re: Fanfic

Post by Spidrift » Mon Jun 19, 2017 9:28 pm

Note: The above had some minor changes after the first posting.
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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[Fanfic] Ruby’s Wonderful Carol (Stave II)

Post by Spidrift » Fri Jun 30, 2017 6:47 pm

Stave II

“So this is the past,” Ruby said.

“Yes.” Pandora nodded.

“It looks kind of… cloudy,” Ruby observed, looking at the billowing moonlit cloudscape below them.

“There’s always a bit of altitude uncertainty in these things,” Pandora explained. “We’ll just have to fly down.”

“Fly?”

“Yes. You can imagine that, can’t you?”

“I’m beginning to think that I really should have insisted on an angel for this bit,” Ruby muttered.

“Think yourself lucky. Angels are idiots,” Pandora said with a smirk.

“I can believe that,” Ruby replied.

“Really? I thought that you were supposed to be a good person,” Pandora said.

“I try to be good,” Ruby explained, “but I don’t believe in capital-G Good. Like I said, no Great Beyond.”

“Why not?”

Ruby sighed. “Have you ever heard of the Problem of Evil?”

I’ve never had a problem with it.”

“How about the Problem of Pain?”

Pandora frowned. “I think that’s one of the advanced classes that Sergeant Slash-Stab teaches,” she said. “Strictly one-on-one tuition.”

Ruby sighed again. “Let’s just get on with this,” she said.

“Okay. Strictly observation, by the way. The locals can’t see or hear us.” Pandora flapped her hands, and they both plummeted through the clouds and then stopped perhaps a hundred feet above a smart suburban neighbourhood. The house below and in front of them had light flooding out of every window, and the sound of raucous music was faintly audible.

Damn,” Ruby muttered. “I should have guessed that we’d be coming here.”

“Is that a party going on there?” Pandora asked.

“A teenage party,” Ruby replied.

“Okay. A good one?”

“One where a bunch of boys got hold of the video recorder and played a porn movie,” Ruby replied.

“Sounds fun.”

The house’s back door was suddenly flung open, and a single small figure emerged to stumble down the garden path and sit, breathing deeply, on a child’s swing in the garden.

“And that’s how I got to see my big sister naked and being screwed by three men in quick succession,” Ruby added.

“Yowzah. I didn’t think you got parties that good outside of Hell.”

“Why, this is hell,” said Ruby, “nor am I out of it.”

“Except I’m not Doc Faustus,” Pandora replied, “and you’re certainly not the Big Meph.”

Ruby gave her a startled glance, and Padora shrugged. “What?” she said, “You think that we don’t get drama and lit classes? Though they are a bit specialised, sure.”

Ruby looked back at her younger self, who now took a deep breath, wiped away a couple of tears, and then began rummaging in a pocket. Producing a mobile phone, she stared at the keyboard for two more breaths, and then began to dial.

“Hello, Mommy?” the teenage Ruby said, “Yes, I’m at the party. But… Look, could Daddy come give me a lift home right away?”

“No!” her older self said. “That’s not what happened. I called Amber. I had to make sure it was really her…”

“This is a what-might-have-been now,” Pandora said. “We’re here to find out how your life might’ve gone differently. But I don’t think that much happens for a few minutes, so let’s fast-forward a bit.” She made a complicated gesture, and the two watchers saw a big family saloon hurtle up to the front of the house and Ruby seemingly rush into it. Then they followed it half a mile through the suburbs to another large house. The younger Ruby and her father emerged and went into the house, and the two observers followed them and watched as the younger Ruby sat down at the kitchen table and accepted a hot cocoa from her mother. Then she just sat, staring silently at the tabletop.

“Oh… Oh, dear.” her mother said at length, “What happened, Ruby dear?” Meanwhile, Ruby’s father stood by the doorway, scowling like thunder.

“I… I saw something tonight,” the teenage Ruby replied. “There were some boys at the party…”

“Stop!” the older Ruby barked at Pandora, who made a quick gesture and froze the scene. “I don’t need to watch through the next bit. Yes, this nearly happened. I was going to tell Mom and Dad everything, but Amber persuaded me not to. Well, I can guess just fine how the conversation would have gone if I had.”

“Can’t blame your sister,” Pandora said. “It seems that your parents are Good people, right? If Amber wants to keep coming home for visits and free meals and stuff, she won’t want them to know that she’s not Good.” The way that she spoke the word somehow made it clear that she had no time for the idea.

“Oh, I’m sure that’s Amber’s reason,” Ruby said, “but that’s not how she put it to me. It wouldn’t have worked if she had. No, she told me that Mom and Dad would be terribly upset if they found out. That it’d hurt them. And she was right, don’t you see? It’d be horrible for them. And I don’t need to watch that happen. I bet it’d take me hours to convince them, too, and I really, really don’t need to watch that.”

“So you understood that not hurting people sometimes means lying to them?” Pandora shrugged again. “Just common sense, that. Though angels never quite get it. Idiots.”

“Oh, yes,” Ruby agreed. “In the real world, this is where I started lying, so as not to hurt people.”

“Well, anyway,” Pandora said, “if you don’t want to watch, you don’t have to. C’mon.” She grabbed Ruby’s wrist and pulled her, ghost-like, though the ceiling. Once the pair of them were floating in the sky again, she twirled her fingers and the moon and then the sun began rushing across the sky, days passing in seconds. Meanwhile, Pandora was consulting what looked like a tablet computer that she had pulled from thin air.

“So what happens next?” Ruby asked.

“I’m just looking that up,” Pandora replied. “So far as I can see, not very much, to you. Your sister stops coming home to visit…”

“Is stopped, I imagine.”

“If you say so. And, oh yes – your socialisation rating goes down.”

“My what?”

“The amount of time that you spend talking to friends, or that they spend talking to you, mostly. Not that it was exactly high to begin with.”

“I suppose that would be inevitable,” Ruby said thoughtfully. “Mom and Dad wouldn’t be happy to hear about that porn video. They would’ve kicked up a fuss, and got those boys in trouble for it. And some of them were quite popular at school.”

“So you’d be an outcast at school? Yeah, I guess that’s tough,” Pandora commented.

“That’s life.” Ruby shrugged.

“I guess it is. Though if mortal schools are like the one I’m supposed to go to, they’re full of idiots – right?”

“Pretty much.”

“Still, I thought most people worried about… Oh well. Anyway, it looks like there’s nothing much scheduled for you to see until – oops, just a couple of months ago.” Pandora snapped her fingers and time slowed back down to its normal rate, then waved her hands to fly the pair of them back down to the Larose family home. There, they found Ruby and her parents once again, sharing breakfast at the kitchen table.

“Hmm,” Pandora commented, “not a very big change, is it? Still, you don’t look quite so good in this version of time. Judging by your weight and your complexion, you’re not eating right.”

“I suppose, if I was talking to people even… I mean, less, I might not look after myself so carefully,” Ruby admitted. “Still, at least I dress better here.”

“Really?” Pandora blinked. “You look a total frump to me.”

“Of course I do. I’m dressed sensibly. But in reality, I was wearing some really stupid skirts around this time. I suppose that nobody tried to talk me into that, in this timeline.”

“Okay, but…” Pandora began, but Ruby wasn’t listening. She had stepped over to the calendar hanging on the kitchen wall, and was scowling at it.

“That’s a change,” she said. “By this date, Mom had pushed me to move to Montreal, in our world.”

“Where in Montreal?”

“Amber’s place… Oh. Yeah. That’s logical. Still… Could you turn the sound up a moment?”

Pandora obliged with a wordless gesture, and for a few moments, the observers listened to trivial chatter over breakfast. Then, after a pause, the alternate Ruby looked up from her toast.

“Mom,” she said, “I’m wondering if – you know, with all the trouble about finding a job and stuff – should I maybe think about moving to the city? Take a room for a few months, do some serious searching there. It’d make looking easier.”

“Well, you could if you wanted,” her mother replied, suddenly looking unhappy. “But you know that you’re always welcome here. We don’t want you to feel obliged… And it’s always so nice to have you around the place.”

“Ugh!” the real Ruby said, and Pandora hastily silenced the scene again. “I’d probably have gone for that, back then, you know? But, well, honestly – it’d have been a mistake. I’m getting on here because I get out. But now I feel guilty for leaving Mom and Dad…”

“But they didn’t ask you to stay?” Pandora enquired.

“Stay? Mom pushed me to go!” Ruby took a deep breath. “Okay, I get it. They lost their precious Amber in this version of time, so they’re desperate to hang onto me, because I’m the best they’ve still got. Whereas if they didn’t know what Amber got up to in the big city, they could feel okay about throwing me out.”

“And once you were out, they could get back to bangin’ each other all over the house,” Pandora observed.

“I did NOT need to think about that!” Ruby snapped.

“Whatevs. But you don’t reckon they actually love you enough to want you ’round in real life? They didn’t send you here because you needed to get out an’ they thought you’d be safe with Amber?”

“Who knows?” Ruby shrugged. “Anyway, I suppose we need to find out how this version of reality worked out today, right?”

“You guessed how the rules work.” Pandora snatched her tablet out of thin air. “Hmm. Not actually much change for you. Well, you’ve gained three pounds. Mom’s home cooking, right?”

“Probably. So what’s happening here? In this apartment, in Montreal?”

“Let’s take a look.” Pandora clapped her hands, and the scene changed to the room where Ruby was sleeping. It looked very similar, but neither of the observers really noticed that; both were transfixed by the scene on the bed, where a half-dressed middle-aged man was having vigorous gay sex with a younger partner.

“Cool!” said Pandora. “Well, okay, it’s not really much to watch. But the guy who’s bottoming is really cute.”

“Well, yes,” said Ruby. “That’s Dillon.”

“Right, I see why you like hangin’ with him. But who’s the other dude?”

“That’s Nathan,” Ruby replied with a curl of the lip. “The producer on a lot of Dillon’s projects. He’s a bit of a creep. Well, a lot of a creep, actually.”

“Gotcha. Casting couch deal.”

“I’m afraid so,” Ruby admitted.

“Well, looks like they’re done for now. Let’s hear what they’re sayin’, now it’s more than Bang me harder big guy.

The two men had indeed finished, and Nathan slumped casually on the bed while Dillon began to get dressed. “My,” Nathan commented, “you’re as appealing and good to know as ever.”

“Thanks,” Dillon said. “That was… That was great,” he declared with obvious insincerity that nonetheless seemed to convince Nathan. “By the way…”

“Yes?”

“Any news yet on those parts we were talking about?”

“Oh, those… I’m afraid not just yet. I’m afraid that the director of the first one is being quite boring. He says he sees that lead as more macho.

“I can do macho!”

“Of course you can, Dillon. But, well, he said something about chest hair. Don’t ask me why!”

Dillon scowled. “Well…” he began.

“Now, don’t go thinking about not waxing,” Nathan interrupted. “It would spoil your particular appeal.”

“My appeal to you!”

“Now, don’t be petulant, Dillon,” Nathan smiled. “Anyway, I’ll keep pushing you for the other parts.”

“Okay,” Dillon said. “Same time next Tuesday?”

“Of course. I look forward to it.” Nathan sat on the edge of the bed and picked up his tie as Dillon made his way out of the front door.

“Hold on!” Pandora froze the scene. “I thought that this was Dillon and Amber’s place. Why’s this Nathan type acting like he owns it?”

“Well,” Ruby frowned, “Dillon said something about him and Amber having got this apartment off Nathan,” Ruby admitted. “I’ve never been clear on the details. They made some kind of deal…”

She was interrupted by a loud derisive snort from Pandora. “No prizes for workin’ out the terms of that contract,” she said. “Full marks to them, though – they made a pretty sweet bargain. An apartment and some lead parts for a bit of nookie? The legal department back home would be impressed!”

“I suppose,” Ruby allowed. “I’d not thought about it before now.”

“But they didn’t swing the same deal in this history,” Pandora pointed out. “I wonder why not? Let’s go see what your big sis is up to here.”

She snapped her fingers, and the scene changed instantly to what was obviously a movie shoot – a large bedroom with tech crew dismounting lights and cameras. It took Ruby just one glance to see that this was clearly a cut-price operation, though, with just a couple of small cameras and a few small lights, while the room was cheaply furnished. Three burly, spray-tanned men were in the process of getting dressed, while a blonde woman lay on the bed, naked except for a negligee pulled loosely across one breast.

“Your sis?” Pandora asked.

“Mmm-hmm.” Ruby nodded.

“She doesn’t look especially happy for someone who’s just been banged by three slabs of beef.”

“She’s a mortal,” Ruby replied. “We have our physical limits.”

“Oh yeah,” Pandora grinned. “There was this human guy I found one time…”

But her story was interrupted by a new arrival on the set – an attractive woman with her black hair in a neat bob, wearing a loose blouse and jeans. “Hi, Amber,” she said. “Thought you might want a lift home.”

“Oh, hi Chanelle,” Amber said, sitting up and pulling the negligee over herself a little more. “Yes, thanks. I’ll take you up on that.”

“Tough day?” Chanelle asked sympathetically.

“Oh, you know.” Amber smiled half-heartedly. “A whole bunch of three-on-one shooting…”

“You don’t have to accept those, you know.”

“Well, you know how it is,” Amber replied. “It pays well enough. And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?”

“Is it?” Chanelle shrugged. “Yeah, it’s a living. Anyway, you want to come out for a drink tonight? A girls’ night out? Got to be more fun than moping around that poky little apartment of yours.”

“Yes,” said Amber. “Yes, I will. I could use a drink.”

Pandora froze the scene with a wave and contemplated her tablet once more. “More than one drink, by the looks of her liver status,” she commented.

“Uh huh.” Ruby was staring at her sister. “You know, in reality, Amber has quit porn. She’s trying to be a serious actress. I wonder what’s stopping her from doing that here.”

“You mortals are really hung up on family,” Pandora replied. “I mean, demons have family too, but we aren’t expected to love each other. We’re realists. Your sis has been cut off from her family. That’s a bad thing for a lot of mortals. It looks to me like it made a dent in her ambition and motivation scores. She’s coasting instead of makin’ plans.”

“Uh huh.” Ruby nodded.

“So, there you are.” Pandora nodded and folded her tablet away into unreality. “If you’d made a different decision all those years ago, everyone would be a lot less happy today. You did the right thing.”

“I suppose…”

“You did, and now you know it. Not blowing your sister’s cover to your parents saved everyone from a lot of pain. Congratulations.” With a wave of her hand, Pandora started the scene around them gradually fading. “C’mon, I have to hand you off…”

“There’s just one more thing,” Ruby said, not moving from the spot and barely glancing at Pandora.

“Uh-huh?” Pandora was looking at her bright pink watch.

“You’re a demon, right?”

“Yeppers.”

“And you enjoy being a nuisance, right?”

“I prefer to say that I’m a whimsical trickster,” said Pandora, with a slight edge to her voice.

“Demon. Annoying.” Ruby said firmly. “Don’t worry, I understand; that’s your job. And your plot function, for that matter. But anyway, if you’re going to do that job, you have to lie quite a lot. And misdirect even more.”

“I prefer…”

“Demon. Deceiver.” Ruby snapped. “I’m not saying you’ve lied to me tonight; my subconscious wouldn’t be that stupid. But I think that I’m supposed to expect you to misdirect me, and of course you’d approve of lies and deception. Professional etiquette.”

“I showed you! Everyone’s better off!” Pandora’s voice now had a slight whine to it.

Yes. But is that a good thing?” Ruby pointed at the hazy image of her sister. “That’s Amber if the truth is told. That’s the real woman, without the lies. Actions have consequences, but because I lied to Mom and Dad, Amber has never had to face hers! She offloaded all the stress onto me! That’s what Amber should be!”

“Wow,” Pandora said. “You must really hate your sister.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Sheesh,” said Pandora. “I thought that us demons had sister problems.”

“This isn’t about sibling rivalry. This is about justice.

“Pitchforks! You sound like an angel now! Truth, consequences, justice – are you sure this isn’t just revenge? Or priggishness?”

“It’s right. You probably aren’t wired to understand that.”

“But… What about you? You didn’t look better here, even without the stress. And what about your friend Dillon?”

“From what I saw, I’m still on good terms with Mom and Dad,” Amber said slowly. “Maybe I’m being a bit… A bit slower to get started. But I’m still me. I’ve still got my brain. I’ll get somewhere, in my own time. And I’ll have the support of parents who appreciate me. That’ll help.”

“And Dillon?”

“Dillon’s a good person at heart. I wish he could be trusted to look after himself better.” Ruby sighed deeply. “But there’s a saying I heard somewhere about fate protecting fools and small children. That could have been made for Dillon. Other people feel compelled to look after him – I guess because he’s cute and good and a bit of an idiot. It worked on me and on Amber, so it’d work on anyone. He’ll be okay in the end.”

“You’d want to take those risks?”

“If I had the choice – yes.” Ruby sighed again. “But I don’t, do I? I just have to make the best of what I’ve got, and dream about what might have been.”

Talking of which,” Pandora said heavily, “I don’t have to put up with any more of this. Somebody else gets you for the next part, the poor girl. But at least it isn’t me.” Somehow, she crumpled up a part of the scene around them in each hand, and crushed the lumps of reality into a ball. Then she threw it hard at Ruby’s face. “Have fun in the here and now,” she taunted.

The scenery span around Ruby, and then she felt herself falling. Landing awkwardly on a sloping surface, she somehow kept her feet. Then she looked around her at the roof of the apartment block she currently had to call home.

“Oh,” said a voice from behind her, “hello there.”
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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Ruby’s Wonderful Carol, pt.2

Post by Spidrift » Sat Aug 12, 2017 7:24 pm

(Sorry that this took a while to come together. I've been busy.)

Stave III

Ruby span around, still keeping her feet despite the slippery slope on which she was now standing. “Ah,” she said, “it’s you.”

“Umm, yes?” the newcomer replied. She appeared to be a busty teenager – ridiculously busty, in Ruby’s opinion – simply dressed in blouse and skirt, with a heavy scattering of freckles and a pair of small horns poking through her blonde hair.

“That’s logical, I suppose,” Ruby commented.

“Is it?” The demon teenager had the look of someone who somehow hadn’t heard the starting gun, and who wasn’t sure if it was even possible to catch up with the race now.

“Yes. I assume that this is about Andy.”

That gave the newcomer a chance to respond constructively. She produced a tablet computer out of nowhere and glanced at it. “Yes,” she said, “that’s the name…”

“Logical,” Ruby repeated, pulling a face. “The last part was about lies and betrayal, so I had to deal with that horrible Pandora creature…”

“Pandora is a friend of mine!” the newcomer snapped.

“If you honestly believe that, you’ve got bigger problems than I have,” Ruby said. “I’ve read your comic, remember? I can sympathise with desperation, but…” She caught herself with a frown. “No, this is about me, not you. Anyway, you’re Chloe, right? The title character?”

“Yeah...”

“And your current big problem is that you have to lose your virginity soon – but there are complications, right? Well, my problem with Andy is about loss of virginity too.”

“But you’re human,” Chloe pointed out. “You can lose your virginity without, well, complications.”

“That’s what you think.” Ruby scowled and shivered. “And anyway, apart from that – Andy is my single big worry of the moment. What other present-time problem would my subconscious want to tell me about?”

“Pandora was right about you. You are annoying,” Chloe said.

“That doesn’t worry… Hey, when did Pandora get to tell you that?”

“Outside time,” Chloe said. “We demons can do that.”

“Ah, a wizard did it.

“If you say so.” Chloe sighed and looked at her tablet computer again. “Anyway, it says here that you met Andy at the swimming pool...” She waved her hand and the scene changed around them, leaving them floating near the ceiling of a public pool building, looking down at another version of Ruby who lay seemingly unconscious on the poolside, with two attractive men looking at her with obvious concern. As they watched, however, the earlier Ruby coughed up water, shook herself awake, and launched into some kind of conversation with the two men, in which a smartphone was waved around with clear significance.

“That’s right.” Ruby nodded. “So I suppose I need to know how my life would have been if I hadn’t gone to the pool, or if I’d just told Dillon and Andy to forget it when they bounced me into a date?”

“Actually, no.” Chloe squinted at her tablet. “I mean, I can pull up some stuff on that if you want, but the Akashic Record gets very fuzzy there. Too much uncertainty. Anyway, it looks as though the most likely outcome is much the same sort of things happening to you, but a bit later and with a different boy.”

“In other words,” Ruby said thoughtfully, “my subconscious doesn’t have enough information to say what would have happened, but I know Dillon well enough to realise that he’d just have bullied me into something similar if he hadn’t managed with Andy.”

“The Akashic Record also says that you’re a smart-ass who over-analyses everything” Chloe announced.

“Does it? Gosh.” Ruby replied, smiling sweetly.

Anyway, what I’m supposed to show you is how things might have gone differently with this Andy boy.” Chloe peered down at the poolside tableau. “That’s him, right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“He’s cute.”

“Oh God, yes.”

Chloe blinked. “If you’re a human virgin, and you’re not sure about him, and you’re good and respectable and all that human stuff, how come you were so quick there?”

“Don’t be stupid.” Ruby moved closer to the poolside scene, gazing at it analytically. “Just because I’m careful and modest and respectable, doesn’t mean I don’t know my own mind. Or my own body, damn it. If Andy wasn’t cute, I wouldn’t have a problem.”

“So you’re only willing to sleep with him because you’re physically attracted to him?” Chloe asked in a puzzled tone.

“Of course I’d refuse point blank if I wasn’t,” Ruby snapped. “I do have some standards. I’m not like you, or Amber. It’s not my job.

“It’s not a job for me, it’s a function,” Chloe muttered.

“Ah, right, yes. It would really be horrible to be made that way. Sorry.”

“And you don’t think that Amber – that’s your sister, right? – is made that way?” Chloe asked.

“She’s a real human being. She has free will.” Ruby replied. “Nobody made her, in any sense of the word.” She frowned a moment and then shook her head. “Anyway, we’re getting off the point, aren’t we? This is supposed to be about me.”

“Okay.” Chloe shrugged.

“So, anyway, yes. Frankly, I’m only prepared to put up with Andy at all because I’m attracted to him.” Ruby sighed. “Honestly, Andy is nice enough, and sweet, and he puts up with me when I snap at him – but he’s really not the sharpest knife in the box. I don’t have many friends, but I like to think that’s because I’m picky – and I’m fully aware that I like Andy because he’s decorative, not for the conversation.”

“No, you don’t have many friends,” Chloe said, squinting at her tablet again. “So, are you sure that isn’t why you stuck with Andy?” She snapped her fingers, and the scene changed again, to a restaurant where Ruby and Andy were having lunch.

“I got a job, Andy. And I… felt like celebrating with… a friend.” the earlier Ruby was saying. “And since I have very few friends… If any…”

“You paid more attention to your briefing than Pandora did, I gather,” said the later Ruby with a scowl. “I suppose that’s good. I like to do the reading myself.”

“Pandora, umm, improvises a lot,” Chloe said. “But anyhow, that’s not what I’m supposed to talk about here. You told Andy himself that you kept him around because you’re short of friends.”

“That was an excuse!” Ruby yelped. “I have friends!” She took a breath. “Okay, not… lots. I’m an introvert. I’ve done the tests, I’m supposed to know this stuff. But I’ve got some. Dillon, for a start, despite my best efforts. And I’d met Zii by then, and she said she was my friend, the first time we met.”

“So you’d rather tell someone you don’t have any friends than admit that you’re attracted to him?”

Ruby took a deep breath. “Habit” she muttered. “I’ve not had many friends for years. I’m proud of it, sort of. I can look after myself. But sexual attraction – that’s new, and it’s not very respectable. And I didn’t want Andy thinking he could take me for granted, or that he could get into my pants.”

“Poor you…” Chloe said.

Don’t pity me!” Ruby yelled. “You’re a figment of my imagination! So it’d really be self-pity. And I despise self-pity.”

“So you replace it with anger?”

“Ha ha ha. Honestly? I don’t like to admit this, but sure, I like anger. There’s so many people who deserve it.”

Chloe sighed. “Anyway,” she said. “I gather that Andy does think he can get into your pants. Despite what you told him.”

“I got careless. I let him take me out on, well, sort of dates. And I let him do me favours. I couldn’t stop him calling himself my boyfriend.”

“What sort of favours?”

Ruby blushed. “I got him to pose for some photographs,” she admitted.

“Photographs?”

Perfectly respectable photographs! He was wearing swimming trunks!”

Chloe frowned and snapped her fingers again, and the scene changed to an improvised photographic studio, where Ruby was photographing a lightly-clad Andy as he stood holding a similarly lightly-clad Dillon. “That’s impressive,” she said. “You got both of them to do this without payment? No cash, and no sex? That’s Advanced Seduction, grade 3. Quite a tricky exercise.”

“You’re a sex demon,” Ruby replied. “You’d do it with sex, wouldn’t you? Well, I’m a BBA. It’s just basic negotiation skills.”

“But now Andy is getting you into bed anyway.”

“I got sloppy,” Ruby muttered, as Chloe snapped her fingers yet again, and the scene changed to a movie studio, where Ruby was watching Dillon act a sex scene with another man. Chloe frowned slightly, and moved through the next few minutes on fast forward with one gesture, watching Andy arrive and interrupt Ruby, then paused the scene with another.

“I see what you mean about Andy putting up with you snapping at him,” Chloe remarked. “You really snarled at him there.”

“He made me jump,” Ruby muttered. “Anyhow, he keeps saying that he likes me for myself, and that’s how I am. It doesn’t entitle him to sex with me.”

“Oh, yes, about that, I guess.” Chloe restarted the scene with a gesture, and they watched the next few moments unfold, until Andy and the earlier Ruby parted with Andy’s “We can take things to the next level for dessert.

Love dessert!” said the earlier Ruby.

“Damn dessert” said the later Ruby.

“Hold on,” said Chloe, pausing the scene again. “That’s it? ‘Taking things to the next level’?”

“Yes,” muttered Ruby. “I was distracted by the thought of baklava. Which I won’t even get if I insist we use my bed…”

“But – are you sure he meant that?” Chloe asked.

“What?”

“He seems a very sweet mortal boy,” Chloe explained. “And we get all sorts of warning in my school about avoiding comic misunderstandings, you know? So is that really all he said – the next level? Are you really sure he meant sex?”

“Well, honestly – what else could he mean?” Ruby crossed her arms and scowled.

“I don’t know. Does the restaurant have two floors? Or perhaps he wants to take you home to meet his parents?”

“Don’t be… Don’t be ridiculous.” Ruby took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. “He’s a man. Of course he’s only after one thing.”

“And you aren’t? Even with a boy you admit is cute?”

“No! I’m not you, or Amber. I don’t need sex.”

“Okay.” Chloe shrugged. “Still, what he said doesn’t sound very definite to me.”

Ruby drew her breath to reply, but then paused, and exhaled. “Fine,” she said quietly. “Maybe you’re right, in principle. That was an ambiguous line, really. But I’ll bet he meant sex. And I can’t afford to assume he didn’t. So I’m prepared for the… for sex now. I’ve done the reading. And the talking to my friends.

“So you’re going ahead with it?”

“What else can I do?”

“Tell him no? He’s a nice mortal. Says so here.” Chloe was consulting her tablet again.

Ruby shook her head. “It’s all too late for second thoughts now,” she said.

Chloe shrugged and returned her tablet to its extradimensional space. “It’s your virginity,” she said.

“So you aren’t going to tell me about alternatives?” Ruby said.

“Why should I? You’ve clearly made your mind up that this is what you want. Or what you should do, which you seem to think is the same thing.” The scenery around them turned to white mist, and Chloe spread her bat wings, leapt upwards, and kept going. “Anyway, good luck with it, and try not to kill Andy. He does seem like a nice boy.”

“Damn,” Ruby muttered as Chloe flapped away, “out-sassed by an idiot monster from my own subconscious. How can things get any worse?”

“People are always saying that just before I show up,” said a voice behind her, “and then they see me and say they want to kick themselves. It’s very embarrassing.”

Ruby collected herself and did her best to turn round with dignity. “Oh,” she said, “what’s your interest in all this?”
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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Spidrift
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Joined: Fri Jan 27, 2012 6:11 pm

[Fanfic] Ruby’s Wonderful Carol (Stave IV)

Post by Spidrift » Mon Oct 02, 2017 3:50 pm

(Deciding how to finish this took a while, I'm afraid, but here we are.)

Stave IV

“I’m what’s in your future, I gather,” said the newcomer.

“Ah. Right. Am I supposed to be frightened?” Ruby replied.

“Well, it is sort of traditional when I show up.”

“Yes, well, here’s a hint,” said Ruby, “presentation matters – all of it. The cowl is good, sure, and that scythe looks quite sharp. But the leopard-print miniskirt lets you down badly, and the platform shoes don’t help either. Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way – flashing that much thigh just doesn’t get you taken seriously.”

“Doesn’t change what I am,” the feminine death muttered.

“Maybe not. But I’ve been eating properly and getting some exercise, I’ve had check-ups, Mum’s a doctor and she says I’m fine, and I feel well. So I very much doubt that I’m dying just now.”

“I can happen to anyone,” the death said.

“I’m sure you can. But that’d make all the rest of this dream pointless, wouldn’t it? Well, I suppose it may all just be a dying hallucination caused by oxygen deprivation – but I’ll be very annoyed at myself in that case. I’d have better things to do with my last breaths.”

“Okay,” the newcomer admitted, “let’s say that you’re not dying just yet.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Ruby admitted. “So what are you doing here? I hope that this isn’t just some boring remember-that-you-are-mortal thing. I’ve known that since Mr. Fred.”

“Mr. Fred?”

“My hamster. When I was five.” Ruby did look sadly pensive for a moment then. “My parents didn’t believe in sugar-coating things. Though Amber tried to be nice…” She shook her head abruptly. “So what are you doing here?”

“Don’t you know who I am? My name, I mean?”

“Oh, yes. Alchemy…” Suddenly, Ruby caught herself. “Oh. Wow. I missed that before. That’s stupid of me. Alchemy is supposed to be the science of transformations, isn’t it? And you’re sort of gender fluid, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh.” Alchemy rested her scythe on shoulder and looked around her.

“So this is like the Tarot, right?” Ruby asked. “Death doesn’t mean death, it means a great transformation…”

“…And I’m supposed to tell you about your possible futures,” Alchemy agreed, “which are in flux, because free will and all that.”

“But I need to be warned about where my choices might lead?”

“Yeppers.”

Yeppers? What kind of mythological archetype says yeppers?

“One who isn’t trying too hard to be old before her time?”

Ruby started to snap back at that, but then caught herself and drew breath. “Okay,” she muttered, “maybe I deserved that. I know what people say about me, you know. I can guess what Dillon says about me.”

“Or your sister?” Alchemy had produced what looked like a smart phone from somewhere, and was consulting it.

“I don’t know and I don’t care. Anyway…” Ruby pulled her robe closer around herself, “where first?”

Alchemy grinned, took her scythe in both hands, and made a broad swing at thin air. The white mist parted like slashed silk, then billowed away, leaving Ruby and Alchemy standing in a carpeted hallway that was lined with doors and lit by fluorescent tubes behind glazed ceiling panels.

“Success,” murmured Alchemy.

“I should hope so,” said Ruby. “I don’t want an incompetent hallucination…”

“No,” said Alchemy. “Your success. This is it.”

A door swept open just down the corridor from the pair, and a woman swept out of it at a fast walk, followed by a trio of men in suits. It took Ruby just a second to recognise herself, older, immaculately dressed, and wearing expensive-looking rimless glasses.

“Is the Tokyo report in yet?” the older Ruby snapped back over her shoulder.

“Not yet,” one of the men replied nervously, glancing at a hand-held device.

“Chase it. How are the financials on the new video release?”

“Good,” a second man replied. “And AI analysis of the fan response in 93% positive…”

“Huh,” muttered the older Ruby, “I predicted 85. Maybe not innovative enough? Hold on…” She slammed to a halt with one hand raised, and her younger self realised that coloured images were chasing across the lenses of her glasses. She brought the raised hand closer to her mouth, and spoke to what looked like an elegant feminine wristwatch. “Sorry, Dillon,” she said quietly, “I’m just heading to a meeting... Yes, I known it’s seven o’clock. No rest for the wicked, you know? What? No, you can definitely tell her that I’m not interested in a drink… Because it was supposed to be a clean break, that’s why… No, that’s not how it works. You can remind her what I said at the funeral. But you’re welcome to come over for dinner tomorrow night… Sure, bring Matt. I’ll tell the door to admit the two of you. But just the two of you,” she added with a sudden sharp edge. “See you then. Bye.” She tapped the wristwatch with a fingertip. “Sorry about that,” she said to the world in general.

“He’s one of our key assets,” the third man commented.

“He’s also a friend,” the older Ruby replied with a glare. She stepped through another doorway, followed by the three men and then by her younger self and Alchemy. By the time the door closed, she was sitting at a steel-and-Perspex desk, which was completely clear except for a huge flat-panel screen and a wireless keyboard and mouse. The screen sprang into life seemingly of its own accord, but the older Ruby ignored it and stared at the three men. “Right,” she said, “what’s the status of the new club branches?”

“Chicago and Buffalo have the rentals sorted, and launch packages are on their way,” said one of the men, “St. Louis is still having trouble finding suitable premises, but we’re negotiating for our second option, and we have two fallbacks in review.”

“That’s good,” said older-Ruby, and suddenly flashed the three men a cheerful smile. “And stop looking so nervous,” she added, “I know you three can handle this. So go get onto that for the next hour. I have some schedules to finalise.”

The three men obediently filed out, closing the door behind them and leaving only the two unseen observers. Older-Ruby leant back in her black leather office chair, and stared wordlessly at her screen for some seconds. Then she took a breath. “Get me Thierry,” she said quietly.

The monitor flickered as software windows rearranged themselves automatically, and then one opened to full screen and went black. CALLING flashed up in the centre in crimson letters for a few moments, and then the image changed to show the interior of a living room, with a handsome, smartly-dressed man relaxing on a sofa.

“Ruby, sweetheart!” the man said, “how are you doing?”

“Hold on.” Alchemy snapped her fingers and the scene froze as she stared at her personal device. “According to this, your boyfriend is called Andy, right?”

“Today, yes.” The younger Ruby shrugged. “But it’s not a serious relationship, really…”

“Aren’t you thinking of having sex with him?”

“I’m a modern woman!” Ruby snapped. “I’m allowed to… I can… Look, this is about ten years into the future, right? Nothing lasts forever. And this is my fantasy, really, if you’re honest, and I’m not sure that Andy would fit in it.”

“He doesn’t suit this vision of your future? Not successful enough?”

“Stop putting words in my mouth. Anyway, this is just a possibility, right?”

“I s’pose.” Alchemy shrugged and snapped her fingers again.

“I’m doing fine,” the older Ruby replied. “We’ve got all the launches moving forward, and the new release went better than expected… Oh, stop looking bored, lover.”

“Sorry,” the man replied. Then he grinned. “I shouldn’t. I know this stuff turns you on.”

“And that’s what matters to you?”

“Shouldn’t it?” The man actually pouted.

The older Ruby scowled. “Anyway,” she said, “I thought I ought to warn you – Dillon and Matt will be dropping by for dinner tomorrow night. Could you keep them entertained if I’m running late? You know how things are just now…”

“What about if I’m running late?”

“You work from home, Thierry love,” the older Ruby pointed out.

Thierry frowned. “Okay. But you know those two get on my nerves. I’d swear that they take it in turns to leer at me.”

“Take it as a compliment. Anyway, just do this for me, right? And I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll be ready for you,” Thierry said with a smirk. The older Ruby scowled again while a faint blush tinged her cheeks; then she tapped a key, and the screen went blank. Then she leaned back in her chair.

“You can stop this,” her invisible younger self said, and Alchemy shrugged and snapped her fingers again, freezing the vision. “I get the message…”

“You don’t like what you’re seeing?” Alchemy asked.

“I like it more than I’m supposed to, I suspect.” Ruby looked at her with arms crossed. “This is supposed to be a warning, isn’t it? The price of success? I turn all cold and hard, using people for profit? How terrible.” She stared fiercely at Alchemy. “So I cut myself off from Amber – dreadful of me – and treat lovers as pets? I bet if I carried on watching, even Dillon would be unhappy with how I’ve turned out.”

“Doesn’t that worry you?” Alchemy asked, sounding more curious than hostile.

“Sample size,” Ruby snapped back. “I bet if you showed me at another time, I’d be doing the right thing with that money I make. And even if I don’t, it looks like I’ve got a business which is making life fun for thousands of people. I’m not killing anyone. Though I’m sorry if you find that professionally offensive.”

“Oh no.I’m not a workaholic.” Alchemy grinned back. “So you’d be happy with this?”

“It’s an option,” Ruby said quietly. “If you wanted to put me off, you should have shown me the effort I’d need to get there. Funnily enough, these days, I might actually worry about that. It’s not that I mind hard work, but I have other stuff I’d like to be doing.”

“Funny you should say that,” Alchemy said, consulting her handheld device. “I’ve actually got an alternative future lined up for you.”

“Less successful?” Ruby asked.

Differently successful, it says here. Apparently, you don’t do unsuccessful.”

“Bother. I must be getting overconfident if my subconscious believes that. I need to be careful.”

“Sounds like it. Motivated, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Oh well. Let’s go see.” Alchemy twirled her scythe two-handed, and the vision of a future reality split apart and fluttered away in fragments, revealing a different scene.

As the new invisibly arrivals looked around, it became clear that this was a film studio, with a scene being filmed – a scene featuring two young male actors…

“Nice,” Alchemy observed.

“Derivative,” Ruby commented, “but somebody’s stealing from the best. If you’re going to do live-action yaoi…”

“It seems that you are,” said Alchemy, who had moved round the room for a view of what was going on behind the cameras. Ruby followed her, and immediately saw another older version of herself seated in the director’s chair, watching the shot thoughtfully.

“Nice beret,” Alchemy remarked.

“Thanks. Just a bit of image management, I imagine,” Ruby replied.

“And – cut,” her older self called. “Okay, I think we’ve nailed that scene. Let’s break for lunch now, and set up for the jealousy-confrontation scene at one-thirty.” The two actors were handed robes, and around them, vague figures, irrelevant to the vision, swirled and shifted equipment. The older Ruby stood up and stretched, then turned and gave a faint smile. “Hi Amber” she said.

A blonde woman, a little older than the older Ruby and wearing tight jeans and loose blouse, came drifting across the studio. “Hi kid,” she said, and gave the director a peck on the cheek.

“You all set for that scene?” the older Ruby asked.

“I know my lines. Are you sure that you’re happy with me for this part? The fan stuff about nepotism last time…”

“…Was a couple of idiots on Twitter,” the older Ruby interrupted. “You’re fine for the part. You fit the script, you can get further away from the old typecasting, we’ll get a few of your old fans watching despite themselves, and I’m sure that your performance will be…”

“…Adequate?” Amber offered, and the two women’s smiles became tight and nervous for a moment.

“Better than that,” the older Ruby broke the tension. “Anyhow, I’m sorry to rush out on you, but I’m supposed to be having lunch with Andy. I’ve hardly seen him since I got back from the location shoot.”

“I wasn’t sure if you were still seeing him,” Amber said as they walked side by side towards the exit.

“No reason why not.”

“And does he know about Thierry? Or Aaron, for that matter?” Amber asked quietly.

“He knows how things work,” the older Ruby said quietly. “Andy’s my rock, Amber sweetie – he’s the stable place I can always return to. But that’s the whole point with him. He doesn’t change, whereas I have to keep changing all the time.”

“And he’s okay with that? Being your toy-boy, and looking good on your arm at launch parties?”

“No complaints so far. Anyway…” The older Ruby stopped and turned to face her sister. “I’ll see you this afternoon… Oh, sorry…” A trio of new figures had approached with tablet computers in hand. “These are the rushes? Oh, that’s great… Damn, we’ll have to sharpen the lighting up on that one in post… No, tell him I need to hear some music by next week…”

“And, cut!” the unseen younger Ruby commanded. Alchemy waved a hand and the scene froze.

“Is that really it?” Ruby demanded. “My future as an artist, if I want one?”

“Well, I can give you a few more minutes if you want,” Alchemy offered, consulting her device.

“I doubt that it’d be much different,” Ruby said. “So this is what happens if I let me emotional side out, is it? I become more forgiving, but I lose the plot morally?”

“If that’s how you see it…”

Yeppers. I decide that I can understand how Amber saw things, and I end up acting like her. Okay. Thanks for the warning.”

“The warning? That was you being successful. And creative. A lot of my regular appointments wished that they’d done more like that.”

Ruby started to snap back, but then drew breath. “Okay,” she said slowly. “I have options, right? No reason why I shouldn’t mix and match. Business is creative, you know. And directing movies is a business. I guess I’ll just have to play it by ear, and be true to myself. See what works.”

“But will you forgive your sister, then? Or cut her off?”

“That’s up to her,” Ruby said primly. “She’s the one who doesn’t seem to understand what she did.”

“Okay. Have you tried telling her?”

She doesn’t listen!” Ruby yelled. “People are impossible!”

“Well, if that’s how you feel,” Alchemy said, “maybe we need to go a bit further ahead…”

“No,” said Ruby. “We’re done with this.”

“We are?”

“Yes we are! You could jump around and take us forward, and in the end, you could show me how I’d end up. Maybe I’ll turn into a crazy cat lady, maybe I’ll have a big family. Maybe you’ll show me my own funeral, despite what you said. Maybe I’ll be buried alone, maybe there’ll be crowds. There’s no way I can know just now, so there’s no way you can show me. And I just want to be me!”

“Okay, so…”

“So nothing. I’ll sort all that out for myself. What matters now is the changes that happen now.”

“But Chloe did your present. I’m here about your future.”

“No, you’re here about transformations. And like Chloe said, I’ve already made my mind up about those.”

“So you don’t think you need me?”

“Sorry. But… Okay, you can show me one more thing, if you like.”

“Uh-huh?”

“Yes. A bit of very near future. It’s supposed to be a transformation, but I don’t know about that…”

“Oh. Oh… Okay.” Alchemy twirled her scythe and the scene changed again, seemingly back to where it had started – Ruby’s bedroom, in darkness. In a moment, though, it became clear that there were two other people already present, in the bed – another version of Ruby, and Andy. As the invisible visitors watched, the couple broke a long kiss.

“I think that I’m ready now,” said that version of Ruby. “And, umm, I think… I think that you are too.”

“Are you sure?” Andy asked nervously.

“Just one thing.” That Ruby scrabbled something off the bedside table, and there was a brief tearing sound, followed by some rummaging under the bedclothes. “Sorry if I’m clumsy.”

“No, you’re fine. Should I…” Andy looked worried.

“Yes! Just get on with it, okay?”

Andy obeyed, and a moment later, there were two soft gasps.

“You don’t mind me being here?” Alchemy asked.

“You’re supposed to be here,” Ruby replied. “Soon.”

“I am?” Alchemy blinked theatrically.

“So I’m told,” Ruby threw her a small smile. “You’re quite a little Death, after all, if you don’t mind me saying so. La Petite Mort.

“Oh, ha ha. Hopeful, aren’t you? About how a first time will go?”

“I s’pose I have to be. Or it wouldn’t happen.”

“You might just be doing Andy a favour.”

“Me? Do anyone a favour without something in return?” The visiting Ruby looked away from the bed towards Alchemy. “That’d ruin my image.”

“Is that what you think?”

“It’s what I hope. Presentation is terribly important. And one thing Dillon’s taught me is how to manage mine.”

“Okay…” Alchemy was distracted by the scene on the bed, where Andy was looking stunned as that Ruby burst into a fit of quiet giggles.

“Yes. Well, anyway, I think I’ve given myself enough to think about,” the observing Ruby commented, “so shall we go now?”

“That’s up to you.”

“We’re leaving. I don’t want to embarrass myself. Come on.”

Alchemy stepped backwards, and the shadows deepened across the room, engulfing everyone else there, until what might have been the present and the future blended into one figure; a single version of Ruby, in bed but alone and asleep. Her pet cat, Minew, was curled up at the foot of the bed, and for a moment he lifted his head and stared into the shadows at something that wasn’t there, but then he shook his head and curled up once again. A moment later, Ruby shifted a little beneath the covers without waking up, but as she dreamed, a faint smile crossed her face, and she murmured very quietly.

“Oh, Andy,” she sighed. “Oh, yes.”
---------
Spidrift
"Brevior vita est quam pro futumentibus negotium agendo."
-- Motto of Hogshead Publishing of fond memory, and wise words to set your Foes List by.
Avatar misappropriated from the wonderful XKCD.

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