21 Feb 2020

Digital Magic - Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Trish is waiting for me when I get step inside the apartment.  "Why didn't you call?"

"I didn't think I was going to be this late.  Besides, you could have called me.  I had my cell."

"I did call."

I fish my cell phone out of my backpack.  The phone shows that I missed seven calls tonight.  "I never-  Sorry, Trish, I didn't have my pack in with me."

"You better have a reason for making me worry, especially after last week with you freaking out over every bump in the night."

I hesitate to point out Trish's exaggerations.  It wouldn't help her mood.  "I was studying, sort of."

"Sort of?"  Trish puts her hands on her hips the way our teachers did when they scolded us.  "How do you sort of study?"  Her expression lightens.  "Who is he?"

"I'm impressed at your sudden leap to conclusions."

"Have I at least met him?"

I sigh.  "Trish, why do you think a guy is involved?"

"Because you've given me the same speech before and a guy has always been involved each time."

I shake my head in disbelief.  "I'm not you, Trish."

"Doesn't mean there wasn't a guy.  Have you eaten yet?"

"I have, yes.  Why?"

"Just wondering.  And there's sauce on your shirt."

I look down.  There is a spot of sauce on my blue shirt.  Damn.  "Thanks."

"What do you two have?"

"Trish, not now, please?"

"Jackie, you don't normally forget your cell phone and neglect to call me if you're going to be late.  In fact, you haven't been late since school started this semester.  That means something has changed and you're looking a lot more relaxed than you've been in a while."  Trish smirks.  "So, how was he?"

"Ugh, Trish, no."

"So much for relieving sexual frustration."

"I am not frustrated, Trish."  I wish I had better control over my tone.  Half-yelling my lack of frustration sounds like denial more than anything else.

"Fine, you're not frustrated."

"Right, I'm not."

"Still, you don't get involved in anything to the point of forgetting about me unless you're with a guy or you're playing a game on the computer.  Are you saying you were playing computer games all this time?"


Trish rolls her eyes.  "Were you with Steve?"

I slip past her to get into the kitchen.  "No, Trish, I wasn't with Steve."

"I'll find out.  I'm like Columbo that way."

She's going to badger me into telling her.  My options are to try to let her get bored with it or answer now to save me being hassled by her for the next couple of months.  "Since you put it that way, I was with Lance, okay?  He works for a software developer and we talked."

"That's not as fun as I thought.  What did you have for dinner?"

"Chicken parmigiana."

"Let me guess, you paid your own way."

"No, he made it for us."

Trish blinks in surprise.  "Wait, strip the sarcasm out of that.  Did he really make you dinner?"

"He made us dinner.  Why?"

"And this wasn't a date?"


Trish smacks me on the shoulder.  "Are you blind?"

"Hey!"  I rub the spot she hit.  "No, I'm not blind.  And he's an amazing cook."

Trish walks away, shaking her head.  "Jackie, open your eyes."

I ignore her.  Instead, I get a glass of water and down it in one gulp.  What does Trish know?  I was there for tutoring.  Just because she has the more active love life, that doesn't mean she understands what I'm doing.  Of course, now that I've reminded myself that she has a love life where mine is on life support, maybe I should consider what she was trying to tell me.  Lance is nice to be around, but I'd never have guessed that he was a chef.  We get along, and I love his smile and his laugh.  I have to admit, I have notice his butt when he's been ahead of me.  We haven't known each other for long, though.

I refill my glass with more water, then head out to the living room.  Trish is watching Jeopardy, though she glances at me as I sit down on the couch.  She turns down the volume.  "Jackie, I-"

"It's okay, Trish.  I should have called when I realized the time."

"Yes, you should have.  But I shouldn't push you on finding a boyfriend.  I just want you to be happy, and you haven't been, lately.  I mean, you're not depressed or anything, but you don't get out as much.  Well, you didn't get out as much.  Two dates this weekend.  Why am I pushing you again?"

I think I followed that.  "Trish, I'm happy, okay?  I'll find a boyfriend when I'm ready, and the two dates is a fluke.  A happy fluke, I hope, but it's not normal."

Trish beams.  "Just remember to call if you're going to be late again."

Jeopardy gets interrupted by a weather warning.  I turn my attention to the TV.  A storm front is forming on the outskirts of town.  The satellite image shows the storm front.  West of Ottawa, the weather is clear.  Inside the western fringe, and there are nasty looking storm clouds roiling.  The weatherman tries to explain it, but how can one explain something that freaky?

Trish turns off the television.  "Someone is playing a practical joke somewhere.  There's now way that video was real."

I get my laptop out of my backpack and turn it on.  The computer connects to the wireless network here in the apartment.  I open a browser and go to Environment Canada's website.  For Ottawa, the government has a weather warning in effect.  "Trish, you better look at this."  I pass her the laptop.

"This is impossible."  She returns the computer to me.  "Isn't it?  Jackie, you took science classes.  You should know."

"I never took anything about weather."  I dig deeper in the site, looking for the government's own satellite photos.

"Well, what do you think, then?"

"That something weird is going on."  I find Environment Canada's satellite photos.  They show the same thing that was just aired.  "The forecasters are using words like 'local inversion' and 'occlusion'.  They don't know, either."  I sigh.  "Okay, you know how air gets colder as you go up a mountain?"

Trish nods.  "Yeah?"

"Same idea.  Air gets warm, flows up, cools off, rain may or may not happen, depending how much moisture there is.  Storms come with rapid rising and cooling.  But Ottawa city limits doesn't have anything there that would cause rapid heating and cooling."  I take a closer look at the satellite shots.  "Especially nothing that would follow the boundaries of the city."

"So this means?"

"The weather is misbehaving."

Trish throws a cushion at me.  "You're not helping."

"I'm in Computer Science, not Geography.  In Computer Science, we avoid weather.  PCs tend to stop working when they're out in rain and snow."

Trish puts her attention back to the television.   She's either giving me the silent treatment, which seldom lasts an hour, or is coming up with an idea.  "Say Jackie," she starts after Jeopardy returns.

"I'm not going out there, Trish."

"Spoilsport.  I wasn't going to ask you to go alone."

I'm not saying a word.  Last thing I want to do is trigger another argument.  "I'll be in my room."  I get up and bring the laptop with me to my bedroom.

I sit down at my desk and plug the laptop into an outlet.  To tell the truth, I'm as curious as Trish is about the weather.  I just don't want to be in the middle of a crowd of people when the weather starts moving.  Being trampled in a stampede is not on my list of things to do.  Maybe after the storm has moved or disappeared, but not now.

I begin transferring homework from the laptop to my main computer.  Never hurts to have a backup and I prefer using a full sized keyboard.  I sign into the larger PC and verify the files copied properly.  Homework is always a priority; the co-op program has a minimum grade to maintain, and I like being ahead of that.  The assignments are almost done anyway, with all the work I've been doing to them.  I could pull a late night to finish them and have the rest of the week to practice with Lance.  The plan might break if there's a new assignment handed out tomorrow or Thursday, though.

Around ten, I set the homework aside.  I'll look it over again before the weekend to make sure everything is right before I hand it in.  For now, I pick up the gloves and start Valor Quest.  Jacinda's new town looks like a rainbow exploded over it.  No exposed surface has been left unchanged by players.  As I'm watching, the town's fountain changes from sky blue to forest green to lavender.  I wonder if player versus player is allowed here; the colours keep cycling to the point where I'm waiting for the first spell to be cast in anger. 

Jacinda is waiting for me at the town's inn.  She looks healed from the fight against the invisible rat.  I verify her current hit points; fully healed.  Good; I want to take her out of the town to try what Lance showed me the past two days.  The server is supposed to be for practicing, but who knows what surprises have been left by the developers.

I bring Jacinda out of the town and towards a river.  I'm hoping to find some rocks along the shore to see if I can try the trick with the billiard balls.  The rendering of the shore is impressive, with waves lapping along the shore line on both sides of the river.  I can even see fish swimming in the water.  No rocks, though, on this sandy beach.

The fish could provide some practice and some entertainment.  The idea of juggling the fish appeals to me, as absurd as it sounds.  First, though, I have to group the fish.  I set the mouse aside; I want to do this with only the gloves.  I wriggle my fingers to make sure that the game picks up the motion.  A menu appears that would let me adjust the river's properties.  I dismiss it.  As amusing at it would be to turn the river red, it's not why I have Jacinda here.

I select four fish in the river to turn into a group.  After a few gestures, I find a menu with the closest to what I want.  There's no Juggle option, but I can give the group a path to take.  From there, it's not a problem to set up a circle for the group where the fish spend time in the air.

On screen, Jacinda waves her hands the same way I did.  The fish line up and start swimming to the surface.  The first one breaks through the water into the air.  At the top of its arc, the second fish emerges.  The third is out as soon as the first is back in the river.  The fourth comes out when the first is at the bottom of the cycle.  I keep watching the parade of fish as they splash in and out.  Not a bad first try.

"Jackie!" Trish calls from the living room.

"What is it?" I yell back.

"I need you out here!"

What now?  "Hang on!"  I save the game, leaving Jacinda by the river juggling the fish.  I click on the button to quit the game, then dash to the other room.  "What?"

Trish points at the window.  "You better look."

Expecting the eyes that stalked my last week, I look out the window.  The storm has hit.  Snow mixed with hail turns everything outside white.  The buildings behind ours are hidden by the weather.  "When did that start?"  Wind rattled the balcony doors.

"I called you when it started.  Keep watching, though."

My gaze never leaves the scene outside.  There's a flash, then the snow and hail turn orange.  It lasts long enough for me to see but is still gone before I can say anything.  I look over at Trish.  "Did that just turn . . .?"

"Orange?  Yeah, and you missed the blue and pink earlier."

If I hadn't seen the orange flash, I'd say Trish was pulling my leg.  I'm still wondering if I'm only seeing things.  The next flash, a nice lemon yellow, convinces me I'm not.  I sit down on the couch so I can watch the show outside.  Trish retrieves the quilt from her bed then joins me.  I steal a corner from her and curl up underneath it.  Outside, the wind howls, sending hail clattering into our windows.

Thunder crashes near by.  The lights in the apartment go out, as does the TV.  "Jackie?" Trish says quietly.

"The flash light's in the kitchen."  I close my eyes for a few seconds, hoping to get them accustomed to the darkness.  The storm outside provides the only light, casting long shadows in the living room.  I leave the warmth of the quilt to walk to the kitchen.  The lack of light means I have to feel around for the flashlight.  Fortunately, we tend to leave it alone until we need it.  My hand wraps around it in the unlit cupboard.  I fumble with the switch, turning it on.

A dim light tinged electric blue lights my way back to the couch.  It's enough for Trish and me to use to get around, and we can take turns winding it up.  I hand it to Trish.  "And you said this was going to be useless."

"I take it back."  She turns off the light, then clicks on the radio on the gadget.  The sports channel comes in clearly.  Trish plays with the tuning dial, trying to find news on the storm and the power loss.  All she gets is music of various types.  "Stupid radio."

"It just happened, Trish.  Give them time.  Patience, remember?"

"Screw patience.  I want to know now."

"It might not be the entire city, either.  Just us lucky folks in the Glebe.  And will you just pick a station already?"  The sound of song snippet after song snippet gets irritating after a while, especially when going from classic rock to country to hip hop.

"Okay, okay."  Trish settles on a Top 40 station and keeps the music low.  "Better?"

"Thanks."  I sit back down.  Just as I'm wrapping myself back in the quilt, I hear my cell phone ringing in my bedroom.  I throw aside the quilt and dash into my room.  I use the phone's second ring to locate it and answer it on the third.  "Hello?"

"Jackie, dear, it's your mom."

"Hi, Mom, what's up?  How's Dad?"  The last thing I need tonight is Dad having a heart attack or something that sends him to the hospital.  I'll go, despite the weather.  "Nothing happened to him, did it?"

"Oh, no, it's not an emergency.  I was wondering if you had power where you are."

I steady myself against the wall as I'm filled with relief from the lack of emergency.  "No, Mom, no power.  Just went out."

"What sort of heat do you have?  Your Dad thinks you have natural gas but I thought you had electric heat."

"Natural gas, Mom.  We still have heat, and Trish has her quilt.  We're fine."

"Oh.  Well, I was going to invite you over to stay here tonight."

I return to the living room and the warmth of the quilt.  "Thanks, Mom, but me and Trish are okay here."

Trish looks up at her name.  "Who's that?" she asks.

I cover the mouthpiece.  "Mom.  She invited us to stay there tonight."

"Tell her hi."

On the phone, Mom says, "Do you have enough food?"

I return to the conversation on the cell.  "We're good, Mom.  Trish says hi."

"Tell her hi back.  As long as you're sure."

"I am, Mom."  I wave to Trish for my mother.  "Have you heard why the power's out?"

"Your father's in the kitchen with the radio there trying to find out.  Do you want me to have him call you when he knows?"

"No, Mom.  I'm probably going to bed soon anyway.  I think the storm knocked down a line somewhere."

"Okay, dear.  I should go before my phone dies.  Call me if you need anything."

"Thanks, Mom."  She means well, and it's nice to know my parents are available if I need anything.  "Love you."

"I love you, too.  Good night, honey."  Mom hangs up.

I close the phone and try to get more comfortable on the couch.  "The power's out in Kanata, too.  The city's going to have things working by morning.  Last time it took longer was that blackout that took out the entire East Coast."

"And the storm?" Trish asks.

I shrug.  "It'll end eventually.  Besides, it's kind of cool to watch."

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