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Deal 1002: Bears, Armed, Right.

The army was on the march again, kicking up clouds of dust as they moved. They made a flowing brown and black river across the landscape, with occasional glints of copper seen in the bright sun. And, of course, occasional flashes of tooth and claw as well. The eerie thing was that they were very nearly silent as they moved. The did not march in step, or engage in fancy pageantry. And yet, it was clear to any observer that they were highly disciplined and efficient.

Efficient killers too, when it came to that.

But no one who saw the army wanted it to come to that.

They were fully armed and armored, of course. But even if your stripped them of their armor, their natural weapons would overmatch many foes. Add to that layered copper and leather scale vests to protect their just barely more vulnerable areas, and there were few weapons in the five countries that could put a bear in danger.

Count their spear throwers, and there were few armies that would dare face them across a battlefield. Their skilled casters, standing on their hind legs for freedom of motion and using a thrower for leverage could accurately place a spear in a gourd at nearly a half mile’s distance, or with less accuracy but more terror, drop spears indiscriminately well over a mile away. A spear falling silently out of a clear blue sky doesn’t have to be aimed to cause terror, after all.

Their new trick is the work of alchemists. Some of their spears would explode beyond all reason when struck against a hard surface. Only rumors of this had been heard so far, no one outside of their secretive research clan had seen one in action. The rumors themselves could have been the work of a propaganda team, certainly. But true or not, their effect was the same.

Oddly, the Armed Bears did not seem inclined to conquer territory as they moved. And they weren’t foraging as widely as some other armies had either, so the local villagers were swift to recover from their shock and simply watch the wave after wave of bears move by. When they did camp, advance scouts arranged for the use of fallow fields and haybarns, paying in generously in copper, silver, and a little gold as warranted.

But even those who dealt with the scouts were unable to learn where the bears marched towards.

The easy assumption was that they were heading straight to their target, but beyond this land lay a vast desert, and then, or so it was said, the very edge of the world. Surely they weren’t marching off the edge. It was also said that at the far side of the desert was an endless sea, but that reaching it would involve dealing with creatures of dark magic and formidable will. The tales get more strange from there, with most claiming that the sea itself is inhabited by beautiful mermaids who lure any adventurers to their deaths, and by fish larger than any known to exist. But surely those are just stories.

The truth may not be heard until the bears reach their goal, unless their leaders choose to speak.

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Deal 1001: The other side

It is safe here. It is safe here. It is safe here.

I keep telling myself that. It is safe here.

I don’t like it here. It is safe here.

I don’t like it here. The tea isn’t good. No room. I need space. It is safe here.

But I am strong. I will try to stay and be safe.

I go outside. It is safe here. But I don’t like it. And then, the mirror. The mirror frightens me. I run back inside, frantic. It is safe here. I don’t like it here.

Food is plentiful. I am warm. I avoid the mirror. It is safe here.

But I must go. I don’t like it here.

I imagine I can be safe somewhere else. It is safe here.

I sneak away. I don’t look at the mirror. It is very quiet as I sneak away.

Too quiet. Nervous in the quiet. I rustle. Quiet. It was safe there.

I am stuck on the verge. It was safe there. I don’t like it there.

This is the edge. This is the choice. I am safe there but I don’t like it there.

So I can cross the edge. Cross it. Cross it now. Fast. Fast. Cross it fast. The possibilities are limitless.

I was safe there. But I was captive. I’m not safe here.

Why did I go?

I am free.

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Deal 1000: Matchups

The “greatest contest of all time!!!!!” they billed it. With enough exclamation marks to fill the page, to boot. Enough to fill the arena in any case. Poor typography aside, people from all walks of life had realized that something unusual was up, and rationally or not decided to attend.

The warm up bouts were clearly designed to disguise the true purpose. Sure, they were amusing, but that was all they were.

Moose vs. Squirrel could only end one way, and the bout was indeed predictably short. Squirrel won it decisively and swiftly, flying in all directions at once, and leaving Moose in a confused heap at the center changing quietly “this time for sure…”

The Stooges needed no help at all to tie themselves in knots, and then end the bout in a draw. At least that one was fun. Nosed got painted. Sticks were used vigorously on everything except heads. At one point they were moving so fast and rhythmically it was almost a Morris dance of silliness.

Finally they could put it off no longer.

The main bout was all that was left, and the crowd was wild with anticipation.

After the spectacle so far, what could possibly be waiting in the wings for the top billing?

It was announced as Mac vs. PC.

The crowd was stunned. Even more so when the two beige boxes rolled into their corners. Sure the Mac had its following, and its crisp style spoke of decades of efforts to make its design fresh and appealing. And the PC, no amount of voodoo in the world could make its lumpy beige box become interesting. Then the transformation happened before our eyes, and it became clear that this was all a proxy war between Jobs and Gates, seeking to resolve some kind of personal vendetta. The crowd was on the edge of its seats. Not just with excitement, but also with some sort of let-down feelings. After the long build-up, there was no possible match that would have satisfied their blood lust.

Possibly save for Coyote vs. the Acme Company’s R&D department.

Oh, who one the big bout you ask?

Well I’m certainly not telling. You’ll have to buy the pay per view and watch it yourself to see the answer!

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Deal 997: Veterans

The dog was nearly as jumpy as the human it was escorting. Like peas in a pod, they were. Both going slightly grey about their muzzles, both lean and wiry.

He was clearly a veteran, and the dog may well have been too. You can’t always disguise the nervous tics of someone freshly home from combat. The strangest things would alarm both man and dog, sometimes causing them to practically levitate in surprise.

Then the moment would pass and they’d realize together that whatever the shared moment was about, it wasn’t real, wasn’t happening here and now.

So I sit here and watch people go by, and they sit over there and relive their shared pasts. I briefly consider telling them who I am and what I am doing, but then that never works out well. I can invent a better story for them from here than whatever it is that they share.

So I collect my cane, my hat, and my notes and make my way towards the parking lot to find my car, leaving them in their moment. Together.