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Deal 131: An Interview

“Yes, I can make time for a short interview. But it must be short, the exhibition hall is packed, with a line around the block still waiting to get in. That is either a really good sign, or a sign of trouble. Either way, it puts me on the spot and will require that we rush the first audience and seat a second.”

“No matter, the show must go on, even if the audience isn’t quite sure what sort of show it is. As far as they know, I am a gentleman adventurer here to tell them about my recent trip. What am I really? I am a gentleman adventurer here to tell everyone about my recent trip, of course.”

“Yes, I have been accused of that and more. I have been accused of believing any number of silly and strange things. Claims I think I’m omniscient are common because I do, in fact, tend to know a lot. The current fad for claiming I think I’m omnipotent is likely just an extension of that, and contains its own proof that I am not. After all, if I were, I would be able to squelch that and all the silly rumors through being, well, omnipotent. But the rumors clearly persist, as you are here asking about them…”

“I do, in fact, believe a number of things that may surprise your readers: the world is round, the sky is often blue, manned flight is possible, one day a man will walk on the Moon, Mars, Venus, and possibly even Mercury.”

“In point of fact, my new project is the creation of the much needed “Rocket” technology which I expect will replace the best ballistic techniques as the likely way to reach the Moon by the end of the century. Yes, I do mean by the end of the nineteenth century. Any notion that the world’s best industrialists and technologists cannot reach the moon before the second half of the twentieth (or once reached, stay there beyond the twenty first) is patently absurd. And you can print that in bold…”

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Deal 130: An apple a day

Once upon a time, the Princess known far and wide as Snow White happily lived in her palace, attended by birds and small animals at every turn.

The palace majordomo sported a magnificent moustache, and aspired to rise beyond his station. Not to be too blunt, but he groomed his moustache with the particular goal of catching the eye of the Princess, and claiming her for himself. He suspected that her father the King had other plans for his favorite (only, really) daughter’s hand, but that didn’t prevent him from dreaming.

He took every opportunity to accidentally cross paths with the Princess, and waggle his moustache enticingly.

Snow White wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be feeling at those encounters, but was pretty sure that revulsion was not what the majordomo actually intended. Finally, she could take no more of the suggestive wiggling of the facial hair, and sought out her stepmother for advice. Together they hatched a plot. They didn’t want to go to the King, because that would run the risk of forcing the King to punish his majordomo more harshly than was clearly deserved.

The next day, the Queen disguised herself as an old woman and appeared in the public court with a basket of apples. The caught the eye of the majordomo fairly easily because he could tell that she was up to something even if he didn’t actually recognize his queen.

“Stop,” he accosted her. “What is your business in the palace today?”

“Why young man, I am here to make a gift of these fine apples to the Princess Snow White.”

“The Princess is not at court today, but I will see that she receives your gift,” he said, seizing the basket.

He turned away from the queen rather abruptly, but she remembered her disguise just in time before she broke character and berated him for his rudeness to his Queen. Instead, she chuckled to herself and made her way out of the public court to a spot where she could safely drop her disguise.

As she and the princess had expected, the majordomo decided that he couldn’t take the basket to the Princess without first sampling the apples. Naturally, the apples were enchanted, and when he bit into the one he took from the basket, every single hair on his body immediately stood up stiff as nails and after a small delay, exploded off his body in all directions. Every single hair. This left him bald, bare faced, and bare as a baby everywhere else, although naturally the only hint of the latter condition were the few stiff hairs caught in his pants and shirt.

The majordomo was mortified. He had jealously groomed, waxed, and grown that moustache his entire life. Without it, he didn’t even feel like himself. He slunk off to his rooms, disposing of the basket along the way, and hid.

Snow White had observed his humiliation from a vantage point behind a tapestry, and felt a twinge of guilt for what she had intended to be a harmless prank to remind him of his station. So later that day, she found his rooms and sought to comfort him. To their mutual surprise, she found she rather liked his new hairstyle, and more importantly with the moustache out of the way she found that she rather liked the majordomo himself. Even more surprising, the King raised no objections and happily announced their engagement to the court and kingdom.

In time, his hair did grow back in, but from that day forward he was careful to shave so that the moustache would never again come between him and his Princess.

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Deal 129: Music turns

The day started normally, with the sun rising in the east, birds getting annoying outside the window, and the smell of breakfast cooking somewhere in the neighborhood. Not here, of course, since I wasn’t up yet. With a quick raid of the pantry, breakfast was ready quickly enough and the day could begin in earnest.

I spent the morning practicing, as usual. Without a few scales under the fingers, nothing else was going to go right so it is best to get them out of the way early on. Scales. Chord progressions. And then some runs through the passages that had been causing me trouble. And finally, a complete run through the piece at tempo and without stopping. And finally, just for fun, a run through some of the rest of my favorites.

Then, I packed my bag for the afternoon, and made my way down to the pub where I expected to find an open mic for the afternoon.

My first set went smoothly, but I skipped a verse by accident. After a light lunch, it was back on the horse.

My second set went much better. Part way through, I felt a murmur from the audience, but I kept going. I took a break and let a new guy have a set, which wasn’t bad but not quite my thing. By my third set, everything felt like it was hitting on all cylinders. I didn’t miss a word or a note. The audience was paying attention. And the tip jar was overflowing.

As I finished up my last set, the manager caught my eye and pointed at the table in the corner. A two-top, but one patron so this wasn’t a reminder of a missed birthday or anniversary request. Slightly puzzled but too high from the smooth evening’s performances to care, I finished up then made my way over.

The patron didn’t even look up, he just slid his card over clipped to a c-note, stood up, and left the pub.

I made the cash vanish without even registering the size of the bill ’cause an artist’s gotta eat, and picked up the card to find that he’d written “consider this incentive to call, the contract is yours.”

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Deal 128: The deck remembers

As a tree, I have to say we hate this part. Our lifetime as a tree is limited by all sorts of things. But turn us into furniture, and we can be useful for a very long time.

It is just the part between tree and table that is not always easy to bear. The hardest step is the felling. Sundering us from our roots, dropping us on our brethren, dragging us away from our spot in the sun. Everything after that is easier.

In the hands of a real craftsman, we transform from a simple felled log into works of art. After the axe, even the sawmill is easy, and the sanding tickles.

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Deal 127: Puzzled

The pile of bronze pieces sits before me, mocking, whispering in my mind. It is obvious from just a few minutes of play that the pieces were cast individually, so the tangle they sit in now is the result of some adversary’s clever fingers.

Three pieces. Each piece encircles a part of one other, and is encircled by the third. They are completely tangled.

After some play, rules of their possible motions emerge, and can be learned. The slot slides over the plate easily, but only in certain orientations. Some pieces pass over others in slightly unexpected ways. The three shapes are free-form curves in two dimensions, and aside from enough bulk to create structure, do not individually use the third dimension. However, their interlocked form exists in three dimensions. If a fourth spatial dimension were accessible, then the solution to this puzzle would become trivial.

Unfortunately, the only available fourth dimension is time-like, and that arrow moves one way only.

The puzzle is mocking me, and a full understanding of how to work it eludes me.

It has a brother puzzle, four pieces that look like two when assembled, but fall into four when the secret is understood. That puzzle’s secret is a single twisting motion that is possible only when the true shapes of the pieces if fully understood. Once learned, the needed motion is so simple that the puzzle is no longer challenging. But it is pretty, and catches the eye of visitors.

The bronze enigma, however, is only pretty in it’s clever design. It remains a tangled mass, and may so remain for some time to come.

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Deal 126: Voodoo King misplaced

On the longest night of the year, my training became complete.

I spent the night alone in the depths of the swamp without fire or light, seeking a Loa, a spirit guide to aid my practice of the great arts. Naturally I hoped to find the nurturing embrace of Grand Bois. I chose a copse of standing trees for my vigil to tempt him. I would be happy to find Maitre Carrefour (Master Crossroads) as he would be able to always set me on the right path. I still harbored a little fear that I would instead find Baron Cimetière (Baron Cemetery) which would certainly be my undoing.

The night started out calm. A little cold and damp, but even the near tropical mangroves cool off in the winter. I was here by my own choice. I had to affirm that several times over the past year, as I worked to get to this point. Nothing about this could be forced, of the whole exercise would loose all its value. I had to choose to be here freely, and if a guide came to me, it would be at the guide’s own free choice as well.

If a guide found me.

There were no guarantees in this game.

And rumor had it that most supplicants failed. None of us aspirants knew what happened to the failures. Or really, what happened to the successes either, aside from the handful that had retired from successful careers to teach the hopeful.

Still, a few of us without fear (and possibly a little short of common sense as well) would complete our training and end up in the swamp on the longest night, seeking our futures. Seeking a friendly Loa. And trying to avoid the fear of finding Baron Cimetière, Baron Samedi, Baron Kriminel, or any of the several other Loa with decidedly dark pasts and darker futures.

In the dark of the night. In a dark swamp. Full of shallow dark waters, where glints of not completely dark be as likely to be glints off the teeth of the gators as to be glints of moonlight off the water.

I cannot speak at all of what actually passed that night.

In the morning, I walked out of the swamp with the power and blessing of at least one Loa, walked out changed almost beyond recognition, into a land that I could hardly recognize.

Discrete inquiry at the nearest bar revealed that the single night I spent at vigil might have lasted just a little longer than I planned. Just a little time had passed since I entered the swamp.

Two hundred years, and one day to be precise.

Leaving me as a very rare individual in these parts: a Voodoo King with the power and blessing of all three of the Triad of Grand, Maitre, and Baron in a time when Voodoo is a rumor, something people’s grandparents knew of, but not a current practice.

On the longest night of the year, my training became complete. I am the only remaining Voodoo King and the spirit world is clamoring for my attention.

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Deal 125: Badly timed

“I know why you’re here.”

I startled. I expected the old man to be sound asleep, and finding him awake wasn’t going to make my job any easier.

“I expect they’ve paid you well.”

I knew better than to respond. After all, he could have been talking to himself, and not actually aware I was in the room. I am a fully trained agent, and I knew how to enter a fourth story bedroom silently even if this was my first solo.

I looked around without moving. As I expected, I was in the right room. Violin tossed casually in the corner. Pipe on the stand, bag of tobacco close by. Zipped case containing the legendary 7% solution and related tools. That case was my target, but I was no longer sure if I was better off moving forward with the plan or making a quick retreat. Finding him awake and chatty was not part of any of the contingencies we had discussed before I began this mission.

“Although, something is a bit off. You aren’t who I expected to see tonight, and I’m pretty sure I never heard either the stuck window or the loose floorboards.”

A light flared, and it was now too late for me to take any action but bluff, so I stood my ground, but remained silent rather than feed him any additional information by my accent.

“Hmm. Dressed in almost black, tight clothes. Female. I don’t recognize that footwear. Or that headgear, for that matter. I know you didn’t enter by any possible path, so you must have taken an impossible path. You are from the future, and possibly not a future in which I was a real person. And now you seem more than a little surprised. Assuming you are here for me specifically, then surely you knew that I would work out your origin the moment I laid eyes on you?”

Damn. He had me dead to rights.

At least we now had some confirmation that we could reach the right timeline, even if we would have to come back better prepared next time.

I pushed my panic button and everything went black.