Not a part of the Wasteland Saga, but taking place in the same universe years later, in the modern era. This is a fragment from another series entitled Fixing a Hole which is best described as a contemporary dystopian fantasy satire, in which magic returns to Earth--as well as all the creatures of myth and legend. Less than one percent of humanity acquires the ability to work magic, which can take the form of everything from casting spells to lycanthropy, vampirism, minor magical talents or even superhero powers. But be careful what you wish for...
Reality has been canceled until further notice.
At CalTech University in Pasadena, two graduate students in theoretical physics are attempting to unlock the secrets of magic.
Locked in a converted bomb shelter beneath the university, they have covered the walls with two meters of sandbags and are currently crouching behind another wall of sandbags twice that thickness. On the other side of the wall is a scratched, dented and much-abused steel laboratory table upon which rests a most curious device: a laptop computer that looks like an artifact of the Victorian Age.
The outer case is crafted from polished steel with brass fittings and covered with fine quality red leather, and decorated with elaborate scrollwork; faint clicking and whirring sounds like intricate clockwork come from within, and these make the graduate students even more nervous, as though the device were a ticking time bomb rather than a calculating device.
"It's a shame we can't use the robot," Jillian whispered, taking a nervous breath from her inhaler. Slim and pretty, Jillian Summers was a neurotic genius who suffered from bronchitis and was fascinated by the unknown.
With CalTech University establishing a Metaphysics Department sometime within the next few years, Jillian wanted to become one of the first professors at this new school and was hoping to unlock the secrets of magic and metaphysics. Who knows? Maybe there was even a Nobel Prize in her future!
"You know as well as I that the moment we booted the OS, the robot's own computer would crash." In contrast, her partner was a gifted physicist and engineer from Sri Lanka by the name of Sanjay Gupta. Although Sanjay lacked her sheer brilliance, he was a genius with a keen analytical mind who could extrapolate from her theories and as an engineer develop practical applications for them. For example, Sanjay was one of the first physicists to deduce that the reason why technology failed in the presence of magic was that it interfered with electromagnetic fields; since computers used magnetic storage media, magic prevented them from accessing or storing information, causing them to crash. To make matters worse, at higher concentrations, magic interfered with electronic devices, disrupting them much like an electromagnetic pulse effect but without permanent harm to the device. At intense levels of magic, electricity wouldn't even flow through wires!
Curiously enough, the Mine Goblins--the Dwarves, Kobolds, Knockers, Gnomes, and Goblins of legend--studied modern computers and decided to build their own. Of course, these devices resembled the calculating engines of the Victorian Age: gear-driven machines which were fantastic amalgamations of clockwork parts as big as a barn. But what was even more amazing was that these calculating devices were somehow being made into laptop computers, although they only worked for those with magical talent.
"Looks like I'm going to be the guinea pig, then," Jillian sighed.
About six months ago, Jillian discovered a minor talent for magic: she apparently had a talent for alchemy, although how she could combine this talent with theoretical physics, no one was really sure. With this talent, she had the ability to operate magical devices; however, Jillian wasn't going to operate a magical computer.
She was going to take one apart and figure out what made it work.
Unfortunately, no human has ever successfully taken one apart. The results have ranged from the comical--the computer burst apart with a collection of noises appropriate to a Warner Brothers cartoon along with enough springs, gears, and clockwork to fill a good-sized warehouse--to the tragic--the computer exploded like a claymore mine, producing enough shrapnel to reduce the scientific team to chunky salsa--and those who survived the experience ended up completely insane. No one knows why; those who could communicate what they saw simply drew page after page of complex clockwork.
Walking over to the table, Jillian pulled up a folding chair and sat down. She opened the computer, revealing a computer screen fashioned from what appeared to be polished obsidian and a standard style keyboard with brass keys.
Magic Eight Ball, what does the future hold for me?
Crossing her fingers, Jillian punched the ON button. Immediately the whirring sounds from within the computer increased in both tempo and pitch, as though a disc drive were powering up while a myriad of gears and clockwork were spinning somewhere within the depths of the machine. What was disturbing was that the sounds appeared to come from a great distance, and Jillian was beginning to formulate a theory of how the computer actually worked; if so, the Goblin Folk were capable of miracles unlike anything humanity could accomplish...
At that moment, ghostly green letters with a Menu appeared on the screen. Ignoring the options, Jillian chose shut down and switched off the computer.
"Did it work?" Sanjay asked.
"Like a charm," Jillian replied. "I'm going to open her up. I've got an idea how their technology works."
"Be careful. Last I heard, they won't allow Professor Chen to draw with anything but crayons."
With a grim smile, Jillian used her jeweler's screwdriver to carefully remove the small brass screws holding the keyboard in place. A few minutes later, she slowly and cautiously removed the keyboard and stared into the inner workings of the computer...
The next thing she knew, Jillian was in a hospital room, strapped to a bed. A very worried Sanjay was seated next to her, shaking his head with an "I told you so" expression on his face while a nurse was checking her blood pressure.
"What did you see?" Sanjay asked, his eyes filled with fear and wonder.
"My God. It's full of gears."
"I know why people went insane from looking inside it. Maybe I survived because I'm a magician, and I've studied non-Euclidean geometry..."
"What are you talking about? What did you see?"
"Do you want to know how the Goblin Folk could take a calculating engine as big as a warehouse and make it fit into a laptop? They didn't."
Jillian laughed, and for a moment Sanjay wondered about her sanity. "They folded space back upon itself, again and again until it was small enough to fit inside the carrying case, then accelerated the internal time frame until the machine was running as fast as a modern computer. That's how they did it!"
"But that's insane!"
"We're dealing with Faerie Folk. From what we know of their universe, time and space are almost abstract concepts to them. Who knows what else they might know? For all we know, the Goblin Folk could provide us with new sources of limitless energy, teleportation, perpetual motion, faster-than-light travel, even anti-gravity!"
At that moment, Sanjay whispered something to the nurse. She gave an injection to Jillian and the hospital room spun around, and everything faded to black...
I am an independent screenwriter specializing in horror and dark fantasy.|
My current project is a novel best described as a dark fantasy western taking place in the Realm of Faerie. Wish me luck!