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Deal 1051: Answers lead to more questions.

Yes dragons do dream, no I don’t have a cat, and yes I’m terrified by what happened the other day. Something caught us, entrapped us, and then left us to wonder what it might have done to us. That is hardly something I should allow to happen to me or to my pupil. I have my ways of knowing that nothing happened directly to either my or Sydney during those missing hours, except for the fact that the hours are missing. And of course, I am reasonably sure that what did happen in that interval is not something I would want to have happened.

I detest alarms, necessary though they are, and that may have been a weakness that was exploitable. My habits are reasonably well known, and in the past have not proved to be a problem.

That sword of Syd’s bothers me some too. I’ve asked him about it. “Where did that sword come from?”

He simply said “I made it.”

Which puzzles me greatly because I can tell that he is telling the truth as he knows it to be true, and without any hints or colors of subterfuge. And yet, that sword is much more powerful than any magic he overtly knows how to wield. It positively reeks of magic.

“We have to explore what your sword can do. I don’t understand what happened, and you don’t understand its full power. Tell me again about how it came to be in your possession?”

He studied me for a minute, then spoke at some length. “I said before that I made it. That is true. But I didn’t make it here, I made it before. I put a lot of effort into its making, but almost none of that effort was devoted to making it good at the things a sword is supposed to actually do. In most senses it is not a real sword, but rather a prop or a toy. I formed all of it from lightweight materials that I could work in my apartment, at my kitchen table. The handle is the most real, as it needed to hold up to actual handling. I made it from a carved block of wood, into which I cut channels to inset buttons and wires to control its showier functions. The buttons form a kind of keyboard concealed under the leather wrapping that can be actuated while the sword is in a natural grip. The pommel conceals a power switch for the whole thing, and a battery compartment.”

This was more than he’d said previously, and hinted at powers he hadn’t acknowledged before. But I let him continue before asking about some of the words that had no meaning here, or meanings that did not fit his usage. One wouldn’t expect to fit a ship’s battery into a “compartment” in the handle of a sword, so “battery” had to mean something different to him.

He continued “The blade was the most work. It is made mostly from plastic that I cut to shape, bent with a torch, and formed into the shape of a blade. I concealed lights and wiring along its length, and a processor to control the lights, a haptic feedback motor, some other sensors, and similar features. When requested by my fingering on the grip, it runs several pre-programmed sequences of lights and sounds. One of the programs paints images in the air when the sword is waved. Flashy effects that in my home would have no real or lasting effect. One thing I did not do was make the blade sharp. I suppose it could leave a bruise if deliberately struck, but it cannot cut.”

Now I had to ask. “If it isn’t useful, what was it for?”

“I play games where we dress up and act out fantasy. That is what I expected to go do when I fell into this world, which is why I had the sword and my other toys with me that morning.”

“You put a lot of effort into making a toy.”

“Well, yes, I suppose I did. Many a bottle of fine beer was consumed while I formed it and designed its flashier effects. But that is what I do as a hobby. I make things like this, and use them in the games. I am notorious for making things that look like they could be magical, without magic wield. We don’t have magic where I come from. But we do have technology, and that is what I used.”

“What other bits of your technology came with you?”

“A communications device that is mostly useless here, as nearly everything it does requires other things that are commonplace at home, but entirely missing here. Even its basic ability to carry my voice a great distance and hold a conversation with someone far away cannot work without a network of supporting equipment. About the only functions that could work here are its camera and media players, but then only if I can restore its battery’s charge. At home, I would just plug it into an electric outlet. I haven’t seen anything like that here.”

ALmost none of that made sense to me. “I don’t understand most of those words, I’m hearing that you have a difficult to build shiny block, but not that it is useful.”

“That seems fair. Without electricity, it is just a poor quality mirror. Of course…”

“What?”

“Well, the sword shouldn’t be able to do much here without electricity. And yet, it still flashes lights, emits smoke, makes noises, and more. I should have needed to charge it or replace the batteries by now.”

This was leading only to more questions. “So you brought toys not weapons, and the knowledge to make more like them. But although here they appear to be magical, you insist they are only technology. And not even dangerous aside from their flash and distraction.”

“That about sums it up, yes.”

“Show me something the sword does. We have a practice dummy. Do something to it.”

“All right, let’s see what I can do.”

He stretched then drew the sword and made a few flourishes. The blade flashed, then left a trail of lights in the air behind it as he brought it down in a sharp motion pointing at the dummy across the field.

The dummy exploded.

Sydney stood, dumbfounded.

“Well, my pupil, you have indeed brought a tool of power with you.”

“But it can’t do anything remotely like that at home!”

“What did you expect to happen?”

“Just a projected light. If the dummy had been wearing the usual game equipment, it would have felt a shock, and known I had scored a hit. It would have reacted appropriately to that, perhaps no longer using one arm, or if hit as strongly as I did today, falling over as if dead. But it is only a game, nothing about it could have blown the other player to bits.”

“This is not your home.” He had said that, of course. But it had never been so obviously true. “Things may work differently here. You need to try everything you built the sword to do and find out how it acts here. But safely, please.”

“No, I am not in Kansas anymore. I was pretty sure of that when I first heard a cat muttering at me.”

In the bushes, I failed to notice the annoying cat watching and thinking.

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Deal 1016: A Surreal Visit

“We begin our tour today in the postmodern surrealist collection with a study of frogs. The pedestal here supports nothing, but is held together by a series of fancy knotted closures up the face. The artist notes that the emptiness atop the pedestal reflect the immediate departure of the frog. If you look closely, you can see its froggy footprints in the dust. Of course, there is no dust because the museum is kept scrupulously clean.”

The class dutifully takes turns to peer at the empty pedestal. I doubt that many of them recognize the significance of the knots. It is probably just as well.

“A favorite pieces is La Grenouille par l’Avion, a frog that has been flattened into a postcard and was delivered to the museum as you see it here today. Note the stamp features a fancy game hen, a breed well known for hunting and eating this particular variety of frog. Both predator and prey, flattened, and glued together. Now hanging as inseparable companions.”

The class looks slightly disturbed, but then curiosity wins out. They have to stare at the very flat frog, addressed in ink on its pale green belly skin.

In the distance, a phone rings. I take a moment to verify that it isn’t my group that has committed this sin. The ringing cuts off abruptly, as if a heavy weight has enforced the purity of the museum experience by removing the offender. Exactly as you would imagine that to sound, as that is exactly what has happened. Visitors are warned at the door, and second chances are given, but only after they survive the first removal.

There is a sudden bout of covert rustling as my group swiftly checks to make sure all of their phones really are turned off.

I keep my face set firmly in the proper museum docent’s mask. It wouldn’t do to start chortling and give the game up. But the sign on the door combined with that clever device which projects sounds right into the visitor’s head has become a most effective tool. Sure, the effect wears off in a while, but a skilled docent can run the tour all the way through before they realize that if we were actually killing our visitors, there might be some repercussions. Even a news story or two.

“As we continue, this alcove provides an opportunity to observe a rare example of a hobo caught napping. You will note first that he is, well, a he. The few examples we know of women riding the rails all assumed male identities. It could be a product of their time. It may also have been that rail cars were not hospitable places at the best of times, and the long skirts and petticoats that were obligatory for women would have been far too dangerous to wear. You will note also that there is a frog perched on the brim of his hat. If asked about it, he would invariably have denied it. If you asked the frog its opinion, you would likely be accepted by the other hobos. A prime tenet among those riding the rails was to never question another man’s sanity.”

About this point in the tour is when visitors usually notice that there are no exit doors. The really observant have also noticed that the door through which they entered is missing. This is a gallery of the surreal, after all. We wouldn’t want them to get too complacent. This group is reasonably observant, so the quiet muttering and peering around has begun. Finally, someone catches sight of the teddy bear on a plinth in another shallow alcove holding a sign that says “Exit”. The muttering continues, with occasional glances my way. But I’m once again frozen behind my mask, waiting for the right words to proceed.

It might be a long wait.