Image

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.

Image

Deal 1037: Breakfasted

Six cups of strong coffee later, Sydney was feeling rather more able to face the day. Of course, the coffee was punctuated by refills of his plate. He felt like he hadn’t eaten in days, so a chance to sleep, eat, and enjoy some coffee was certainly welcome.

When he surfaced from the first plate, Gwen was sitting opposite him and smirking a little. As before, there was a hint of smoke about her, and a faint hint of scales to her complexion. Her eyes were not the least bit human despite all appearances. Sydney had the impression somehow that others would not see as much of the dragon showing through her current guise when they looked, but wasn’t sure why.

“I hear you met the rooster? He’s rather infamous in these parts.”

“He was kind enough to break a fugue. I was at least seven layers deep in dreams within dreams when I happened on him.”

“Infamous but not always welcome. He and I have not always seen the world the same way.”

“I can respect that. But your orchard is a powerful place of its own. It tried to own me, and I resisted using what I could find at hand. I did have to seek him out.”

“Like you sought me out?”

“I—”

Sydney suddenly realised that this conversation was built on a foundation of quicksand.

“I seek the wisdom to find my way home. I hope sincerely that my mission did not interrupt your business. I’m quite sure that you are not the one responsible for my inter-universe transference.”

“Well, I knew that. Next step, lake, and fish. Several fish, actually.”

They made their way to a little lake, and spent the rest of the day fishing, with exactly as much success as you would imagine.

Image

Deal 1030: Eight Lies

As he walked along the path, Sydney began to whistle as it seemed like that sort of path. It wound gently among the hills and through the darkest centers of several woodlots. But it never vanished, and Syd was content enough with that.

As he came around a hill, he found a stream draining from a boggy patch, and a familiar looking frog sitting on a log.

“See, I told you not to trust anything I said,” it croaked.

“Now what? Didn’t I just watch you get eaten?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Not everything you see is as it appears. Call that your third lesson.”

“I thought you said the third was going to be about my goal.”

“It is. Expect me to lie. But plan for the possibility that I’m being truthful. I tell you truly that I will tell you eight lies. You’ve already heard at least one.”

With that, the frog leapt into the stream and swam away. Oddly, the frog’s return calmed Sydney down a little. Perhaps it was because something he encountered had returned. Aside from the worrying repetition of the loop, he hadn’t seen anything else more than once. The frog had also offered advice. Bad advice, of course, but still. Advice.

He drew the calm around him like a cloak, and attempted to wear it like armor. He had a hunch that he was going to need armor to survive this place.

If he wasn’t careful, he was going to wish for something useless like an impulsive hobo.

Still, even a hobo would be some company.

Image

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!