All tagged the gray city

Single-use paths through the city are produced in the following manner: a map of its streets, ideally eleven inches across by seventeen inches tall, is laid out on a level surface. Next, a single shell is loaded into the cartographic apparatus, filled with a mixture of cuttlefish ink, magnetic gel, and iron shavings. Finally, the trigger is pulled, allowing the electrically-charged cocktail to splatter across the entire breadth of the page.

I worked on the sixty-first floor of the tower, a height from which the streets could not be seen, but we were all gathered at the window that day, looking out at the rainbow spectacle. A flock of sky anemones was migrating through the city, slowly floating from west to east, back towards their home vortex over the open ocean. The jet stream had tossed them further north than usual this year, paralyzing the city below. Their elastic bodies bounced and rolled against the windows as they wandered, leaving venomous smears behind.

By the time the photographers arrived, all that was left of her was a chalk outline. Her corpse had been removed from the scene, leaving the otherwise empty alleyway to a handful of spectators and journalists. Their voices filled the air with speculation: “From fifteen stories? Nobody could survive that.” “Nah, no foul play is suspected. People who knew her, they knew she’d eventually pull something like this.” “Her husband doesn’t want to talk. Just wants a lawyer. Go figure.”

The noise didn’t last. One by one, the reporters disappeared, back to the newspapers from which they emerged.

Then, as moonlight filled the city, she rose from the pavement once more.

“The ASCII standard begins with a set of control characters,” she explained. “If you type the last of these on a modern computer, an invisible character is added, one that usually doesn’t do anything. It’s a relic from another time called the ‘delete’ character, number 127. These days, programmers sometimes use it as a placeholder, but for the most part, it’s obsolete.”

“I’m looking to get my nephew something special for his birthday.”

The witch nodded. “So you are. I take it you’ve heard about the arts that I practice?”

“I have. I was wondering if you could make an alligator for him. It’s his favorite animal.”

“Sure, that’s easy enough. I can make just about any animal that you can imagine."

“Trust me. You don’t want to be awake for the procedure.”

“Oh, believe me, I do.”

“No, you really don’t. You don’t want to know what it feels like to have a katydid crawling down your throat. That, and without the proper anesthetic, it would almost certainly trigger your gag reflex.”

“What is this?” The old man asked. “I’ve never seen a piece like it before.”

“It’s called ‘the Prophet,’” his opponent replied. “In this chess variant, there are no bishops. You place your Prophet kingside, and your Spy queenside.”

“This thing’s a search engine?”

“That’s right.” The device looked like something of a pipe organ, with tall, brass pipes protruding from a central chassis, yet it featured a typewriter’s keyboard instead of ivory keys. An array of thirty-some enigma-like rotors could be seen churning within its glass case. “A search engine, and an entirely mechanical one at that. Type anything you want here, and it will search the world for relevant content, no wires attached.”