18 August 2006

Prologue: Some Days

Some days, it's easy to make myself believe I'm just a normal person. I get up in the morning, pet the cat, have some breakfast, stumble into work, tell computers stories (which, being computers, they more or less have to believe, even when they're not true), wander home, pet the cat some more, have dinner, maybe get together with friends.

You know. Normal.

Other days are more difficult. Other days, various oddities that have woven their way into my life, mostly by chance, some by design, and a couple, perhaps, by fate, make their presence known once again, and my life gets not-normal for a while.

There's a problem, though, when you have one of those sorts of lives. You never really know which sort of day it's going to be.

Some days I wake up ready to unleash some serious mayhem upon the forces of darkness, brandishing my flaming sword (stop that, you pervs) and my arcane knowledge to right wrongs, square circles, and generally engage in Mighty Hero type things. Then the fog of sleep clears and I discover that it's just another normal day, and it's time to pet the cat and have some breakfast and go convince my employers' computers to do something new.

Other days, I wake up perfectly content with normality, in no mental state to deal with the Mighty Hero business whatsoever. Then the fog of sleep clears and I discover that I'm not even going to get a chance to get a cup of coffee before I get whisked off to slay a dragon or something.

(OK, so I've yet to actually slay a dragon. Probably never will. My employers -- that is, my other employers, not the ones who ask me to write computer programs -- kind of like dragons and would get very cross if I did. But you know what I mean).

Anyway. Today...today was closer to the latter than the former.

I stumbled out in my usual underslept and undercaffeinated state. I had no greater thought in my mind than the hope that I was sufficiently cogent to drive to the cafe to get my breakfast and desperately needed coffee.

And then, I tripped over the box that had been left on my stoop, along with a newspaper.

I'd never figured out how my employers learned enough about the world in which I live my normal life (I've learned not to call it 'the real world', at least, not where they can hear me) to do it. My instructions always arrived looking almost exactly like that day's paper (unless you actually read it), and the box always came to me looking like a perfectly ordinary UPS package. Once, I even checked the tracking number against the UPS website. It was not only valid, but told me where the box had been picked up from. I kept meaning to trace back to that depot and see if I could figure out how the connection got made, but somehow I'd never gotten around to it.

Anyway, I knew what the box meant. No computer programming for me today. Oh, I'd come back, and the calendar would still say it was today, and I'd probably even still wind up going to work, assuming I got a good night's sleep before returning. But for me, it would probably me months before I got back to the office, and worse, months before I got another cup of coffee. Another thing I hadn't gotten around to doing yet -- bringing over some coffee plants and seeing if I could grow them there.

OK, I thought. It's here. But they shipped it UPS Ground, so they're not actually in a hurry. I can, at least, have a cuppa and get my brain into the right frame of mind before I open it.

Back inside I went, lugging the box and newspaper in with me. I left the box in the living room and the newspaper in the dining room and stalked off to the kitchen, hoping I was correctly remembering the bag of beans I'd bought to leave in the freezer for just such an emergency. I'm lazy. I don't like making my own coffee. But the last time I had a day like this, I'd deeply regretted not having the option.

Sure enough, there they were. Beans, check. Grinder, check. Grind. Water. Filter. Switch. Stare at it for a full minute while it does absolutely nothing. Plug it in. Switch. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Blissful aroma.

Coffee brewed, I brought the pot with me into the dining room and set it down, poured a cup, and unfolded the paper.

The newspaper was not so much a set of well-disguised instructions as a briefing on the current state of my employers' world. As such, it contained everything you might expect an ordinary newspaper to contain...if that ordinary newspaper were based in a quasi-feudal kingdom in a different world where magic works and a shadowy organisation occasionally feels the need to hire outside help. Which may sound contradictory, but really, not as much as you'd think.

So, the front pages contained the latest in politics and war, from the point of view of the Kingdom of Renar, which told me where I was going, or at least, from where I'd be starting out. The next section was all the latest about the City of Atharin, the capital of Renar. There was a business section updating me on the current forces in local markets -- important to know when you've been away for several months and don't know what bread and cheese will cost you. Even a sports section, which was always a good place to gather names of possible henchm...er...assistants with a bit more muscle or agility or whatnot.

The last section was the entertainment section, which included all the latest court and "celebrity" gossip, listings for theatres in Atharin, and the funnies.

The impressive part was not that they thought to include a funnies section, although that was a nice touch, but that they were actually funny! Better than I could say for the real paper 'round these parts, that was sure.

All in all, it took me about three hours, and most of the pot of coffee. I like to go into these things fully wired up on caffeine. It helps to cushion the shock. Alcohol would probably work as well, but the quantity I'd need would make me useless for days afterward.

I folded up the paper, making a mental note to make a better effort to find out which of my colleagues was actually responsible for producing it. I wanted to thank them for doing such a thorough briefing job, and so creatively presenting it. And then, taking one last swig of coffee, I set aside procrastination and went to open the box.

The sword glistened even in shadow. It sang to me, called to me, and I heeded it and grasped it, drawing it from the box. It greeted me like an old friend, speaking to me of old times we'd had together. I smiled.

The mission was not going to be pretty. Political developments had complicated many things that had been simple last time, and made almost impossible things that had been complex. Few would welcome my return -- although at least one would do so with considerable enthusiasm, I hoped -- but most would appreciate my results.

I stepped out through my front door, and although the portal was only just opening, I could smell the piney aromas of the Keshir Wood, just outside the City, and taste a hint of its wintery air despite the spring-like day around me. I could feel the strength flow into me from the sword, followed by the memories of how to use it. Thoughts of code were set aside with thoughts of incantations of a different kind, and I could feel my connection to the Source strengthen with every heartbeat.

As I drew the sword and spoke the words that would complete the portal, I thought, perhaps today is not such a bad day to be a Mighty Hero after all!

1 comment:

Susan said...

I'm finally getting around to reading your fic. I like the beginning... always a good thing! :) I'll comment as I read the rest.