20 Mar 2020

Digital Magic - Chapter n+1

Chapter n+1

"Moonrise is in ten minutes."

"Magic isn't beholden to the man-made concept of time.  Even those muscle-bound fools can feel the power building."

"Just pointing it out."

Donna rose up on my left.  "Steve, I have done this many times over the centuries.  I am well aware of the schedule, more aware than you'll ever be."  She patted my shoulder.  "Even this one with no training at all can feel what's building."  The best I can respond is to give her a whithering glare.  She's right, though.  The hair on my arms are standing on end and there's something in the air, like touching it and getting the smell of cinnamon.

"What would you like me to do, Donna?" Steve asks.  I can hear a tone of lustful want in his voice.

"Make sure this one doesn't cause too much of a problem.  I have some other issues to deal with."  Donna strides out of the room without a second look at me.

I look over at Steve.  "How's the jaw?"

He regards me like he would roadkill.  "Taunting is such an old and pathetic trick, Jackie.  We're not in a poorly written video game."  He walks out of my sight behind my head.  "You could have had an amazing one-last-night, you know.  The heights of ecstasy."  Steve caresses my left cheek with a finger.  I suppress a shudder.  "Too bad about your other boyfriend.  Looks like neither of us wanted to share."

"I think your girlfriend is the one with the sharing problem.  Does she always eliminate her competition in a dramatic way?"

Steve's finger stopped brushing my cheek, letting it linger.  He snatched his hand away.  A sheet of flame appeared centimetres over me.  I gasped out of reflex, flinching from the fire and heat.  "Dramatic enough for you, Jackie?" Steve spat.

Beads of sweat rolled off my forehead and down my temples.  "Easy to show your power over a tied up woman, isn't it?"  My tone is braver than I am.

"Thanks for the reminder."  The flames disappear.  My arms are stretched to their limit as Steve adjusts the straps holding them.  "How is that?" he asks.

"Great," I grunt.  If I get out of this, I'm going to have to visit a chiropractor just to get my body bad into its proper shape.

I hear Steve's footsteps as he leaves through a door behind me.  Alone again.  I can't move my fingers or even my wrists now, so there's no chance of me using magic to get out, not without a major change of the metaphor that lets me wriggle my toes.  I also have an itch in my side that I really want to scratch, which is bugging me like nobody's business.  "Hey!" I shout.  "Hey, Steve!"

From the other room, I hear a bored, "What?"

"Your sacrifice is uncomfortable."

"That's nice."

I roll my eyes.  "I think what's-her-name, Donna, will be pissed if I'm not in the the best of shape for her ritual."

"Dear, I don't give a damn what shape you're in as long as you're alive."  Donna's distinctive high heels click in from where Steve left.  "If breaking your leg is needed, it will be broken, trust me on that."

Donna walks into my view.  She's changed outfits, her stylish, expensive skirt suit replaced by flowing silk robes embroidered with runes of some sort in gold.  "You didn't have to get dressed up on my account."  The snark slipped out before I could stop it.

"Certain effects are easier to get when comfortable," she explained.  "You would have discovered that little fact eventually if you weren't what I was looking for."  Donna shrugged.

"Yes, thanks for not letting me learn that tidbit on my own."  Trish is right; my mouth is going to get me in trouble.  I still need to find a way out of this.

Donna sneers at me.  "Have your fun while you can.  The time is nigh."  Steve runs into the room, runs right to Donna's side, interrupting her.  He whispers something in her ear.  "Well, go find out.  I know you have a brain, too.  Use it."  Steve steps away, head down, suitably chastised.  He picks up his pace to a run once out of the room.  "Good help is hard to find."

"Maybe if you didn't hire on looks," I suggest.

"It wasn't his looks I wanted.  Took some time, but I trained him well, especially in bed."

"Too much info, lady."  I really wanted to give my brain a good bleaching at the idea of them in bed together.

Donna shrugged.  "Don't knock it.  Steve was a quick learner.  Still a bit mindful on fulfilling himself but that can be worked out of him.  Not yet as good as my previous assistant.  He was very willing to please.  Too bad he had morals."

"Can't have everything, eh?"  I have to keep her talking.  Anything to delay her, at least long enough for me to come up with a better idea.

"I'll deal with him later, after I've achieved immortality."  Donna pauses, her eyes going unfocused.  "Almost time."

"I'm not suitable."  Desperation time.

Donna looks down at me.  "And just how would you know that?"

The phrase, /Because I don't want to die,/ flashes through my brain.  I tuck it away and answer, "I know enough about magic.  I'm not completely untrained."  Yeah, a week of training, half of it simulated.  No one would let me drive a car with that sort of driver's ed.  I just have to convince her, though, that I know more than I do.

"That's nice, dear.  Now, shush.  The adults are working."

"The ritual isn't going to work.  I'm not a virgin."

Donna cocks her head.  "Excuse me, what?"

This better work.  "I'm not a virgin.  I know how the metaphors work.  It's even in popular culture.  Rituals need a virgin sacrifice."  All that comes out far faster than I wanted.  Desperation isn't pretty.

To my surprise, Donna laughs.  "First, that's symbolism, not a metaphor.  Second, trust me, dear, I don't need a virgin.  I've done similar before to extend my life.  Virgins don't add anything to the ritual and give me heartburn afterward."

"None of my business but just how old are you?"

"You're right, it's none of your business."  She begins to hum.  The room erupts in a symphony with a bass line that rumbled through me and the slab I lay on.  The walls shimmered in time with the almost classical music.  It's like being in the middle of a Beethoven concerto dialed to eleven.

I blink as the walls start to melt.  Colours that shouldn't exist cascaded down from the ceiling and up from the floor.  I now know what the world looks like from inside a lava lamp.  Still doesn't help me escape, though.  I can feel . . . something vibrating through me.  It's not the room shaking; the slab I'm on is still solid.  It's something far more basic and far more ephemeral.

Donna's humming changes, picking up tempo.  The colours swirl around, crashing through me.  Raw magic.  Everywhere around me, unconstrained magic roars.  If my hands weren't inside solid metal, I might be able to use it.  Especially if I could think clearly.  Not even when I had a critical assignment due with a broken wrist did I feel this useless.

Wait.  I was able to get that damned assignment done.  One finger typing and mousing with a hand in a cast was a pain in the ass, but the mouse pointer wasn't that fussy about position for most of the work.  There's enough pure magic here that I should be able to use it despite Steve's handiwork.  I try moving my right hand; there's enough wiggle room to mime mousing.  Right clicking I can do like before – roll my arm over.  This time, the click won't be as difficult.

The music's pitch rises.  I can't tell how much time I have, but I doubt there's much.  First thing, stop the ritual.  It'll be easier to escape if I'm not dead.  I close my eyes to help visualize the process.  With effort, I wiggle my hand to get the imaginary mouse pointer on the room.  It's harder to roll my arm while strapped down, but I can move my wrists enough.  I'm rewarded with the menu appearing in my head.  Do I have to use the mouse, or can I move the cursor just by thinking?  Worth a shot.  I visualize moving the selection to the music entry, and the cursor actually moves for me.  No need to type or mouse!

As I should have expected, the list of possibilities under for the music is far longer and more detailed than I want to handle.  The music has gotten louder and is heading for its climax, though.  Not much time and I don't know enough about music theory to figure out how to counter Donna's song.  Maybe if I drowned her out?  Damnit, I knew I should have taken music in high school instead of art.  Trish would know.  The number of times--  That's how!  Do to Donna what Trish did to me: practice a loud instrument badly.

I force the "new" entry to appear and select it.  The key is to create something loud, like a foghorn.  Too bad it's not on the list of instruments.  Tuba, however, is.  Good.  Volume is next, and I will the slider over to the loudest end.  I wince.  I have no idea if this will work or how loud I've made things.  There's no choice, though.  I refuse to be sacrificed.

I mentally smash the play button.

An army of tubas play one long, loud note, drowning out everything else.  The last thing I hear is Donna screeching.  Her music crashes, starting to break like waves on a shore line.  I open my eyes.  Cracks appear in the flowing colours.  Donna yells something at me I can't hear over the cacophony.  Probably swearing at me.  I have something more urgent to worry about, though.  I'm still chained to the slab.

Donna starts gesturing, her arms trying to get the kaleidoscope to change in time with her tempo.  She gives me a couple of hate-filled glares before focusing on her task.  That should give me time to do something with the metal encasing my hands.  I look down at my right hand.  If I can get that free, it'll make things easier.  Okay, properties, got it, and . . . can I change the metal to something else?  Basic physics will prevent me from just disappearing the metal ball, but changing it from one substance to another?  Sure, it's closer to what alchemists wanted to do, but they didn't have raw power around them and the desire to not die horribly.

I take a quick look at Donna.  She's still swaying away.  The colours in the stream of magic is starting to return to her control, but she has a lot of work in front of her.  Good.  Deep breath.  Concentrate.  Check the metal's properties.  Nothing there about changing what the restraint is made of, but I should be able to add that in with a bit of thought.  There, at the bottom of the list.  It leads to a text entry box.  Careful, Jacqueline, don't enter the wrong substance there.  Just pick something safe.

Neon.  Neon won't explode or burn me.  Neon.  I enter it in and mentally click okay.  The weight on my right hand disappears.  I flex my fingers; they still work, no stiffness.  I should be able to work faster now.  Typing one-handed is something I learned in high school as I ate at my keyboard while doing homework.

"You!" Donna shouts.  She launches a stream of invectives in what sounds like Italian at me.  Then a symphony starts, Donna's voice in the centre of it.  I drop to the ground, the weight on my left hand clanging on the stone floor.  Wind coloured by free-flowing magic whips over me and splashes against the wall.

I get up into a crouch, ducking under Donna's blast of air.  Her voice goes up an octave, steady, loud.  She should have been an opera singer instead of an evil sorceress trying to kill me.  If I could shut her up for a moment, even just smack her.  I look down at the weight on my left hand.  Nothing to lose.

Several steps and I've closed with her.  My left hand is already swinging up when Donna notices what I'm doing.  She doesn't have time to dodge.  I slam the lead weight into her gut.  The witch doubles over and gasps for air.  Again, the colours swirl around and the music sounds like my high school band warming up.  For good measure, I clobber her on the back.  Donna falls to the ground.

Discordant music pulls at my pyjamas.  I step away from Donna.  With a quick typing gesture of my free hand, I turn the remaining lead weight into neon.  I flex my left hand, making sure it still works, then I look around.  The walls waver; the floor flexes.  Reality must be breaking down; I can taste the sound and touch the colours.  The door is both in reach and leagues away from me.  The snarky part of me points out that I'm finding out what happens when the universe divides by zero.  The rational part of me is just screaming.  Another part of me that I didn't know I had tells the snarky and the rational parts to shut up.

The noise makes it hard to concentrate.  The closest thing I've seen to this is a computer having a fatal crash.  The usual fix is to reboot the PC.  Right, Jackie, how do you reboot the world?  There's no user's manual.  Think, girl.  If this was a computer, I'd just terminate the runaway process before it gets worse and then worry about memory recovery later.  But--  Magic isn't like an operating system.  It's not a programming language.  I'm working on the hardware level here.  How the hell do I stop a hardware crash?

Donna had gotten back on her feet while I was trying to solve this little end of the world problem.  "You moron!  Do you know what you've done?"

I turn to her.  "Me?  You started this!"  She either didn't hear me or she's ignoring me.  Donna focuses on the raw magic around us and sings.  Strings of arcane energies obey her commands.  Great, except if she's successful, she's going to try to kill me.  I need to get to work at containing this mess so I can worry about Donna afterwards.  I could use the cavalry anytime now.

After a cleansing breath, I close my eyes and try to feel how the magic is flowing.  My hands begin typing on an invisible keyboard.  The source has to be around here somewhere.  First thing, create a spell that can trace the flow.  Let Donna do the hard labour of controlling the deluge.  It takes me who knows how long to get a spell that does what I want, kind of.  I can feel the current and eddies of the energy, at least, but no pointer.  I'll have to walk around while concentrating on my spell.

Donna's song grows louder as she gets the wayward magics under control.  I can feel several currents going to her, but she doesn't even have a quarter of what's here under control.  Still, I need to work faster.  Eyes still closed, I focus on finding the source, the strongest concentration.  I follow the flow and bump my shoulder into a wall.  The escaping magic buffets me; my pyjamas are brushed flat against my thigh by the force.  I open my eyes.  All that colour and noise?  I may not be in the middle of it, but I'm close enough.  I really wish Lance was here; I could use his advice.

The symphony has graduated from high school and is ready to compete with marching bands.  It'd be easier to rescue myself if I could hear myself think.  I've found the power source.  I need to cut Donna off from it.  How the hell do I plug up a flood?  I take a cleansing breath.  What would Lance tell me?  He'd get me to go back to my metaphor, get me to think of this in programming terms.  But, now, it's not a software problem; it's hardware.  So, think of it in hardware terms.  If I think this is too much power, no amount of machine level programming is going to help.  Too much power and the motherboard burns out, and not even rebooting the world will help.  No, my thinking is too close.  I have to move out a bit.  If there's too much power, I could either unplug at the outlet or pull the breaker.  Great, if I knew where I could find what I need.  Okay, if I can't cut the power, maybe I can limit it.  Add resistors, reduce the current, and--

There's the flaw.  I cut power now, Donna nails me hard.  I don't have her experience.  The only hope I have is to use the raw power here.  I look over at the bitch.  She's sweating hard, but the colours around her don't look like someone's thrown up crayons.  Time to slow her down.  Let's see what happens if I start playing with the colours.  Nothing to lose, right?

I try to access the properties of one of the eddies.  Bad idea.  I get thrown against the wall with the wind knocked out of me.  I slide down the wall gasping for breath.  Too much power, like sticking a knife into an electrical outlet.  Fortunately for me, Donna's still too busy.  She's two-thirds towards getting everything under control and completely ignoring me.  Goody.

Let's try this again.  Don't grab too much this time.  There, a smaller strand of energy.  It doesn't seem

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