"No, really," Liam said. "Reading minds is easy."
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They were sitting around the table in the back room of the Nine Points, four of them again, now that Linus had reappeared. They had found him there, already deep in his cups, upon returning from the Professor's house. He seemed quite cheerful- and quite drunk- but something about the tone of his voice put Isaac on edge. The man was entirely too glib, at times.
"Of course," Linus said. "Everyone does it. It's practically a sport." He was slumped down in his chair, head tilted to one side.
"You have to be a show-off," Sandra said. "It's not really mind-reading, you know."
"Well, no, it's not, really. Not the way most people think. It's more like bibliomancy. Except without the bibli."
"That would be 'mancy'." Isaac said. "Or 'omancy', I guess. Doesn't that just mean 'divination'?"
Liam waved a hand at him. "Quit being literal. I meant it's like bibliomancy, but without a book, like. Without a physical book."
"Which kind of makes it not bibliomancy," Sandra said.
"I didn't say it was bibliomancy."
"Then what did you say?"
"I said it was like-" Liam made a helpless, grasping gesture with the hand not holding his pint. "Woman. You'll give me the hinks, you will."
"She's got a point," Isaac said. "Bibliomancy is divination with books. You kind of need books for it."
"I'm being bloody mixaphorical," Liam said. "Just bear with me. I know your brain's gone sodden with alcohol, but either you're just making trouble, or I'm making less sense than I think I am, and either way you'll have to listen to me carry on like this, so just say 'yes, Liam, we understand,' and I can pretend to make a point here."
"Yes, Liam, we understand." Sandra and Isaac chorused.
"Bloody cheek," Liam muttered. "All right. What it is, reading minds is like bibliomancy- remember when we were talking about that? You take a book, right, and you ask a question, and you open the book at random, read a passage at random. If you've got a good book, and not too bad of a brain, it works every time. The Bible's good for this. Or even the Stolen History. Do not- and I mean this- not use the Logon. You'll tear a bloody hole in reality."
"Sounds like fun," Linus said, from halfway down his chair.
"Shut up. Point is, any idiot can read minds, but you won't know what you get until you get it." He blinked. "I'm bloody drunk, did that make any sense?"
About as much sense as asking drunk people whether drunk talk makes sense. While drunk." Sandra grinned. "I just wanted to say 'drunk' again. Rule of threes."
"I thought it was the rule of fives," Isaac said.
"Who said I'm using your rulebook?"
"Why was I even talking about reading minds?" Liam said. He was looking intently at the ceiling.
"Because..." Isaac trailed off. "There was a reason. It was a good reason."
"Good enough for me," Liam said. "See? I have good reasons for doing things."
"So are you going to do it, and show off, or what?" Sandra said.
"What. Is it?"
"No, you do one at a time."
"Read mind, then."
"Was that read mine, or read mind?" Liam said.
"Read mine," Isaac said. "Um. My mind, I mean."
"Sure, if you like," Liam said. "But don't expect anything important, because-"
"Yes," Sandra said. "You fucking told us already. Do it. Do-it-do-it-do-it."
"Yeesh. Bet you're an Aries," Liam said.
"With Aries rising. Do it, or I'll open up your skull so we can read your mind the old-fashioned way."
"Yes, mum." He turned to Isaac. "Awright. Just need to let the interior rolodex spin up here, hold up..." He turned his eyes upward, as if trying to remember something. "Right, then. The water's up to his elbows...get the dog..." He turned his eyes up again. "Couldn't you name him something I can shout over the hills." He looked at Isaac. "Mean anything?"
"That's fucking creepy, man."
"Lovely. Wossit mean?"
"I almost drowned when I was ten. There was a flash flood. They grabbed me, but we couldn't get the dog. I think the last part was about the dog, too."
"What was his name?"
"Jellybean. You can't really holler that across the countryside and feel noble, you know what I mean?"
Liam laughed. "Brilliant. But not relevant, see?"
"It's still neat."
"Could be. But it's not really 'reading minds', and like that."
"Can people..." Isaac gestured vaguely. "Shield themselves from it?"
"Sure. Any information that can be accessed can be protected. But it's like putting a bolt on a door. The door might not be strong enough, or the bloke on the other side might be able to kick it in."
"What about real mind reading?" Isaac said.
"Real mind reading?"
"You know what I mean. Like, look through your mind and find anything they want, mind reading."
"I don't know about that," Liam said. "I know a few people who are downright spooky about it, but no one who can just grep your brainfiles. Still, anything's possible. Except maybe skiing through a revolving door."
Isaac groaned. "That's it. I..am going to bed." He got up from his chair and staggered, grabbing the chairback for support.
Liam got behind him and helped him up. "You all right?"
"Yeah. Sorry. Little dizzy." He put a hand to his head. "Weird drugs plus Lux plus too much beer. You know?"
"Right. Think you can make it upstairs?"
"Yeah. I'll be okay." Isaac steadied himself and made for the door. "I just need a toothbrush and a bed. In that order. Um." He turned back. "Where are our rooms?"
"You've got 104, just across the hall from mine," Sandra said.
"What about Liam?"
"I'll get it sorted," Liam said. "Don't worry."
Isaac looked from Liam to Sandra. He looked at Linus, who was asleep with his head on the table. "All right. Sure. Goodnight, then."
When he was gone, Liam looked across the table at Sandra. She looked back at him. They both looked at Linus, who had begun to snore gently.
"Well," Liam said.
"Well." Sandra crossed her arms.
"Here we are."
"Here we are."
"I really am sorry."
"I know. I'm sorry, too. I just...I don't know. I feel so tired sometimes."
"You sleeping all right?"
"I guess. I don't know." She seemed to be thinking, her chin tucked against her chest. "You know that phrase you use? 'I am a verb'?"
"I seem to be a verb."
"Right. That's what I feel like." She lay her head against his chest and sang softly: "Love, love, is a verb. Love is a 'do' word." She looked up at him. "That's what I feel like. And sometimes I feel like I'm almost done."
"I doubt it."
She was silent for a long time. Then: "You know what I thought about first when I saw you in that alley?"
"I thought about walking away. Just...walking away."
"Maybe you should have done." He tilted his head down and met her eyes. "I fuck people over, love."
"You fuck people over because you're scared to get close to them. It's a protection response. It's not quantum physics." She sighed. "Sometimes I think that's why you kill people."
"Mm. Maybe that's why I came back, too. We're both headed for the bottom."
"Well, then. We'll head for the bottom together."
"Only difference is," she said. "You're sinking. I'm falling."
They were quiet for a long time. Liam listened to the wind soughing through the trees outside. He thought of nothing in particular.
"Are you ever going to show Isaac your eyes?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"You should invite him in." She snuggled back against him, spooning with him.
"What, in bed with us?"
He smiled a little. "That sounds more like the Sandra I used to know."
He felt her shoulders shrug. "More warm bodies is more warm bodies. I feel cold." She tilted her head back to look at him. "Liam? Hold me for a little while?"
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.