The Wyrm’s Lair
by Fahim Farook
Part 2 appears|
in this issue.
|part 1 of 4|
“SpeedDemon! Been a long time. What’s up?”
“Nothing much, unless LILAC stock counts.” He waited a moment for a chuckle but, receiving none, hurried on. “Just checking to see if you’ve got a spell to record finger-pass entries.”
“Been there, tried it!”
“So you got a spell?”
“Nope! Nothing that works with finger-pass entries. Keep me posted if you come up with something, will ya?”
“Sure thing. See ya!”
Duh-Li, SpeedDemon to his acquaintances on the astralNet, made a pass in the air with his hand, cutting off the audience with Jack. He turned away from his workbench, shaking his head in disgust. Another dead-end! He’d tried all his aNet contacts but nobody had been able to help him.
What in UNIVAC was he to do? He had only a couple of hours to go before the meeting with Ro! There might not be another chance like this again, ever. His brain scuttled around like a mad rabbit — a frantic one that is, not the crazy kind.
Rabbits. With so little time left, he really was going to have to pull a hat out of the rabbit this time, which was a far better trick than pulling a mere rabbit out of a hat.
He remembered the time that his Dad had taken them to see the magician. In this age of digital wizardry, the old-school prestidigitation artists were so rare. He recalled how they’d even had the holovid camera crews over that time to record one of the last great magicians at work — at almost a hundred years in age, the trick had been in getting him to perform at all!.
Cameras? Wait a minute! That was it! He’d been trying to find a spell to grab finger passes when the solution was so much simpler! He’d fallen in to the same old trap again — always looking for a software solution when all he had to do was think out of the box!
Of course, sometimes thinking out of the box just got you a nice cell, warned that little impish corner of his mind which just wouldn’t stay quiet. He shushed his mental-imp, which could get really “mental” at times, into silence. This was no time to get cautious.
The problem with recording finger-pass entries was that the passes were unique to each person. Anybody could come up with a set of finger wiggles, snaps or waves coupled with a little hand waggle here and a twist of a pinky there. How was one supposed to record all of that using a spell? Software could only go so far, right? But if you were to record all of this with a holocam...
Duh-Li would have whooped with joy if he wasn’t afraid that this would wake his grandmother up and she would come yell at him. Now let Ro come and he’d be within LILAC’s portals within seconds after the guy left. This was the life of a true dark wizard, yeah! If the room had not been so tiny and cramped, and he so totally out of shape, he might have tried to turn a cartwheel. But then again, he’d never been the physical type — “mental” was more the word that popped into people’s minds when they thought of him.
* * *
“Yeah, Demon? What’s up? Found the spell you wanted?”
Duh-Li smiled in triumph at the flickering miniature 3D figure of CrackerJack hovering in the air. Boy, it felt good when you managed to solve a problem on your own! “Nope, but I figured out a solution!”
The tiny CrackerJack leaned forward as if to hear what Duh-Li had to say better. “So, how’d you crack this one? But first, wanna share what this is all about?”
Duh-Li paused as if uncertain, and then nodded. “Well, now that I’m practically in, I guess I can tell you. There’s this friend of mine who works for LILAC and...”
“LILAC?” interrupted Jack. “The LILAC? The aNet people?” He was looking around furtively, as if afraid that the LILAC scriers might be spying on them even now.
Duh-Li grinned reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I’ve put a triple ward on this audience. Not even the LILAC scriers are going to be able to snoop on this conversation!”
Jack’s relief was almost palpable. “You can never be sure of anything when LILAC is involved. Those guys play rough. But now I’m more curious than ever...” Comprehension dawned across Jack’s face as the sun of reasoning rose. “You don’t mean to tell me...”
“Well, I’d only be able to tell ya anything if you’d let me get a word in edgewise!” Duh-Li grumbled, but there was no real heat to his words. He was too exuberant to be annoyed by Jack’s interruptions and was grinning from ear to ear, like the kid who’d climbed that tree in the backyard and was finally master of all he surveyed — at least, till the next door kid cut the tree down just so he could say, “I can tell no lie, I did it!”
“So?” Jack prompted.
“Yes, I’m planning to invade aNet’s domain...”
“Are you crazy? You steal a finger-pass from a LILAC employee and now you think you can just prance in there and take over their domain?”
“It’s not like that!” said Duh-Li with some heat, instantly on the defensive — CrackerJack was one of the more adept dark wizards around and he’d wanted Jack to appreciate his finesse. “What’s one of the first strategies of the dark arts?” He didn’t wait for Jack to respond. “Social craftsmanship, right? Well, I engaged in some fine social craftsmanship with this guy! He’s one of my sister’s friends. I think he kinda likes her but is scared to tell her. I started talking to him and told him that I was interested in wizardry and was in awe of the fact that he worked for LILAC...”
A grudging smile spread across Jack’s face. “So he fell for that one, did he? Why do all these wanna-be wizards think that impressing the younger brother will get them the girl? If I had a micro-credit for each time that one worked...”
In fact, it’s strange how this kind of common fallacy always got you in trouble. Another in the same family was that flouting authority somehow got you respect. It got you respect alright — from your cellmates.
“Yeah, but it gets better,” chuckled Duh-Li. “He’s actually been showing me around LILAC’s domain. Last time, I told him that my sister had been asking about him and his work. So today, he logs in through the LILAC portal to show me their trouble ticket system. He’s apparently their top trouble-shooter...”
“Well, he’s soon gonnna be in so much trouble that he won’t know what to shoot first!” Jack was grinning so much that his face was all teeth. “So that’s why you needed a way to record the finger-pass?”
“Yeah, I might not have had another chance like this for a long time!”
“That’s for sure,” agreed Jack. “How’d you grab his finger-pass? Nobody’s got a spell for that as far as I know. You didn’t write a new spell, now did you?”
“Well, that’s just it. Why write a spell when you don’t need one? Besides, you know I suck at code. I can’t code my way out of a revolving apporter.” Duh-Li paused, wanting the other to ask the question. He’d discovered the way, after all, and he wanted to savour his moment of triumph.
“So, what?” replied Duh-Li, enjoying himself.
“How’d you do it?”
“You really wanna know?”
“Of course, I do! I’m asking you, aren’t I?” irritation flared in Jack’s voice. Duh-Li decided to give in.
“It was rather simple. I just set up my Dad’s holocam to record the guy’s every move...”
Jack nodded his head like a marionette caught in a gale. “Hey, that’s a neat idea! I should have thought of that myself. All you’d have to do would be to play the recording back in slow motion...”
“... till I mastered his finger-pass,” completed Duh-Li. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
“But you’re forgetting something,” Jack replied, raising a cautionary forefinger.
“What’s that?” asked Duh-Li, nettled. He’d wanted some form of approbation, recognition that he was indeed becoming adept in the dark arts. But no, Jack had to keep treating him as if he was a novice!
“There’s a secondary pass that you’ve got to make once you’re at their portal and you can’t record that with a holocam...”
“Oh, that one was easy!” Duh-Li waved an airy hand. “You forget that I’ve been to the LILAC domain a couple of times before. So I knew about the secondary pass. I simply set up a shadow wraith on my portal to track our eidolons once we’d entered the aNet. The wraith recorded our movements through the aNet, up to and including his secondary pass.”
“But I hear LILAC’s got a wall of ifrits around their portal to destroy any simulacra or digitoids that get too close to their portal?” asked Jack, cocking an inquiring eyebrow.
“Boy, those ifrits are something to see!” agreed Duh-Li, the vision still fresh in his mind. “If I’d used only one wraith to record and transmit, it probably would’ve been toast as soon as it got too close. The trick was to use them in relays. I also sent in a horde of decoy wraiths to confuse the ifrits. They got a few of my wraiths that got too close but there were enough left to record what was going on and to transmit in relays to the other wraiths which hung back.”
“Now that, I like!” Jack chuckled. “The ifrits only destroyed the ones that got too close and since they were still transmitting while they were being destroyed, you got a composite image from all the relayed info!” Jack nodded in what Duh-Li took to be an approving manner. “Good trick, line hopper, you’ll make a good dark wizard yet!”
“Thanks!” smiled Duh-Li, finally able to bask in the praise that he’d craved so badly.
“So now you go in solo?”
Duh-Li nodded, savouring the moment.
“Man, this is gonna be great! Should I tell the other guys about this one?”
“I’d rather you didn’t yet. Once I’ve invaded LILAC’s domain, then you can tell them. This’ll be the greatest dark wizard coup ever!”
Famous last words, right up there with “It’s not that high... aaargh!” or “See? The floor’s not wet....thud!” sneered Duh-Li’s inner imp, but he steadfastly ignored it.
“Yeah, this one’s going to be good,” nodded Jack. “But since this is LILAC we’re talking about, there’s no point in risking a leak. I’ll keep my mouth shut.”
“Thanks!” Duh-Li smiled. “See ya later, got stuff to do!”
“Good luck, bro! You’re gonna need it!”
Duh-Li terminated the audience with a gesture and turned back to his work bench. It was time to see if all his hard work was going to bear fruit. He put on the control gauntlets and the virtual reality helmet which he needed to navigate the astralNet.
The familiar, but crowded, surroundings of his room disappeared and he was in the confines of an equally familiar, but much more spacious, place — his portal. He looked up at the towering gates supported by ornate pillars reaching up to the sky.
“How come everybody likes towering gates, tall mountains and vast open plains? Do people feel better about themselves when they feel small?” It was his mental imp again. That one sure was becoming a talker!
It was such a familiar site, one he’d seen more of each day than his own room. And yet, it felt so unfamiliar today. He took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down.
“Oh, come on! Your eidolon, which is all the presence you have in this reality, has neither a heart nor lungs! What do you mean, ‘take a deep breath’?” The imp was back to jeer.
Copyright © 2007 by Fahim Farook