Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chapter 2

The sun was beginning to drop between the buildings and Gerald had to squint into its glare, "Matt? It is you isn't it?"

Matt pulled himself away from the building with liquid grace, like an actor, he always managed to position himself in the best light. He now tilted his head fractionally to the west and
lifted his square jaw just so. He turned his large gray eyes on Gerald keeping his dark face exactly half in shadow and half in the light, as if he'd just stepped out of a Film Noir from the 50's, "Sorry for all the crazyness G," he said characteristically not answering Gerald's question "It's an unfortunate side product of transitioning. Happens to everyone."

Gerald had always felt somewhat small next to the other man, and the whole lighting effect thing wasn't helping.

Even though Matt had not expressly admitted his identity, there was no question of who it was Gerald was talking to, "Listen Matt, what the hell is going on? I was home and this bird smashed into my..."

Matt held up a
placating finger, and made soothing sounds, "shhhhh," he breathed, which naturally brought Gerald's anger once again to the surface.

"Don't shhhh me!" he shouted. "I really need an explanation. Now!"

Matt offered only a small smile.

"Please Matt, I really need to know."

Matt looked thoughtful, and then gestured for Gerald to

Since Gerald already had experience of Matt getting away from him he didn't hesitate for even a second, but he also kept right on asking questions until Matt finally turned to him, and said with that annoying grin of his, "take a breath will you? I promise when we get to the lab everything will be explained."

Gerald however was on a roll and his questions continued even as he hurried to keep up, "The lab, you say? What lab?" The other man though had already begun to move along toward his destination.

"Matt, I absolutely refuse to take another step if you don't provide me with some sort of explanation for all of this!"

Even as he said it he knew it was just bluster, and considering that Matt never so much as glanced back, it was clear evidence that he knew it as well. Gerald, to his own great annoyance had no choice and he knew it. He even had to jog to catch up once again. Gerald then proceeded to sulk, and feel abused and misused, and very sorry for himself, even while keeping up as they hurried past the throngs of people and made their way though the gates.

One of the largest people Gerald had ever seen in his life stood guard, checking IDs and the contents of packages, carts and the occasional pocket. As Matt passed by, the guard put his finger to his cap and waved him through. Gerald obediently followed, only to find himself suspended several meters off the ground, and the back of his collar pulled up so high he could feel it in his groin.

"Where'd ya' tink yer goin'?" the gigantic guard questioned him in a voice filled with sand and gravel. Gerald could only sputter and make feeble attempts at freeing himself, but Matt quickly
spoke up, "oh, I'll vouch for him. He's with me."

"Yeah?" growled the giant, uncertainly shaking Gerald about like an old sock that had gotten turned inside out.

"Hey," Gerald yelled, "stop it. You're hurting me!" The huge guard spun Gerald around so that he could looking him square in the face. "Yeah? Well I'm watchin'
you, and don't you forget it!" With that he gave Gerald a final shake and tossed him like so much baggage directly at Matt.

The two of them went down like bowling pins and several passersby went down as well. It was only Matt's profuse apologies to all that they were able to get away from a very angry crowd.

The guard could be
heard laughing over the din of shouts and threats, if of course the the sound of two trains colliding could be described as laughter. The two men raced away from the mob of people who'd been assaulted by Gerald and Matt's flying bodies, and now held them personally responsible.

As they made a quick turn into a narrow alley Gerald asked for a minute to catch his breath. Matt let
him stand there panting, and bent over clutching his stomach for like five seconds and then said, "ok then, we gotta go! Got a lot to do and don't have much time." With that he turned on his heel and started off again.

Gerald having no choice at all, stumbled along after him. As he tried to understand what was so
patently not-understandable, he took another stab at making some sense, "look," he gasped, "I've been badgered, and pushed around and tossed about, and made to run, and held by the scruff of the neck, and I'm so damned sick of the whole thing," He knew he was beginning to whine again but just couldn't help himself, "and, and I have no idea of even where I am!" Without answering Matt swerved, ran up some steps and entered an ornately carved doorway with a sign overhead that stated in thickly chiseled lettering, Laboratory of Computation and Mechanical Wizardry. Below that it said in smaller type, Prince Mathew Arc- proprietor.

Gerald became tentative as he followed Matt, who he known back home (how easily that thought came - back home where ever that was now) as the bartender at The Broken Pigeon. He was the guy who was always trying to be one of the gang, but failing largely due to his extreme good looks in combination with a general lack of computer savvy. It wasn't that Gerald, his best friend Gabe, and Roxanne tried to exclude him or anything. It was just that Matt was a guy who didn't know a pixel from a coffee cup. Gerald, now standing in the center of one of the oddest looking assortment of gizmos, cranks, gadgets, and gear wheels, not to mention the vats of boiling goop in every corner, was suddenly rethinking some of the strange conversations that had been had over a glass of beer at their table in the Pigeon. Matt would be going on and on about what he called the etheria of computational constructions, while the three friends would humor him in hopes that he would go away. Now Gerald wasn't so sure that humoring him had been what they should have been doing.

"What is all this?" he quavered in spite of the turmoil that continued to run through him. He just couldn't help but be curious. "Ah, finally!" Matt enthused, "I've been attempting to get your attention for more than a year, but have
received only ridicule for my efforts."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Gerald began until Matt gently cut him off, "It's no matter really. I believe that I must have not been communicating correctly, but please let us forget the past. You are here now and we have much to do."

"Yeah, on the subject of being here..." Gerald
felt for a moment that he had an opening, but Matt continued on without missing a beat, "this," he said spreading his arms, "is the place of Moth's birth."

"Sorry?" Gerald moved back into the comfort of his confusion, who the hell is Moth?"

"But you were talking with him," said Matt with surprise, "I saw you on the
hillside. Thick as thieves, you were."

"Wait, wait a minute...that mechanical...thing is..." Gerald knew that his stammer was back but didn't care.

"Yes, yes that's him. I built him here."

The question came to mind, and before he could stop it Gerald heard himself blurt out, "but what the hell? Why is he called Moth?"

"Dunno really. It's what he decided to call himself, but please let me get
this out." He paused for a moment as if listening. Apparently, upon hearing nothing but the clanks and churning sounds emanating from the contents of the lab he continued, "We need you Gerald, uhm well that is to say, I need you and soon everyone around here is going to as well, not to mention all the nice folks back in your world, since we have a robot gone wild you see?"

"Oh, sure, I see. Just let me get it straight then. You're the one responsible for bringing me here, and, for creating a robot who's named himself Moth, who according to you has gone wild? That's what you're telling me right?"

Matt took a moment to puff his cheeks out before answering, "yes, that's exactly it. I'm so glad that you've chosen to take the news in stride. I've
been quite concerned about what your reaction might be." Matt moved to the bench stretching across right side of the enormous space of the lab, "If you'll take a look here you can see that I've been working on the cure, unfortunately the results are not everything one might wish for." When he realized that Gerald had not followed and remained silent he turned a quizzical eye in his direction, "What?" he asked with such genuine innocence that Gerald burst out laughing, and then he couldn't stop. He laughed until his sides hurt and tears ran down his face. He laughed until he couldn't catch his breath. He laughed, as it were, until he cried.

Matt waited quietly until the tide subsided. Gerald finally looked up and said, "Fine. I'll just accept
this whole thing as is. I'm lost in someone's nightmare. I know that it's not mine 'cause I'd be awake by now," his words tumbled over one another in a torrent, "and there's no escape, so I'll just have to make the best of it, right? I don't know what else to do, really I..."

Matt interrupted the flow, "the thing is, ol' buddy, we need you."

Gerald was brought up short. "You need me? Right."

Gerald paused a moment to roll his shirt sleeves up both literally and figuratively. He took a cleansing breath, "What exactly do you need me for?"

"Well as I said, it's about Moth out there. He wants to be real."

"Real? He is real! I can barely believe it but I talked to him. He's real alright."

"No, not like that. He wants to be, well, human."

"You've got
to be kidding me! What's he been doing, watching Pinocchio? He want's to be a real live boy?"

"Really, I don't know where he got the idea, but it's become a problem and it's getting to be worse every day."

"But, so what? So he want's to be real and can't be. There's nothing anyone can do about it. Can't you just tell him to get over it?"

"That'd be nice wouldn't it? But I'm afraid that its much worse of a problem. Although I built him I don't have any control at all over what he does. He's fully autonomous you see? It's just that his way of thinking is becoming increasingly destructive."

Gerald couldn't help himself. He was fascinated, "but he didn't seem so bad. How is he being destructive? I mean, he looked like he might be up to some baking or
maybe putting together something fried, but that's it. Why not just let him be?"

"Oh don't be fooled by the apron. I know that's what you're on about," Matt said this with some disgust in his voice. "I've been through this before. That's just what he's into this week. He thinks if he wears, you know, domestic stuff it will help him to make the transition."

Gerald, of course,
had more questions, but the good prince continued on, "what you're not seeing behind that apron is the woman who was wearing it before our dear Moth got his hands on it."

Matt shook his head in apparent despair, and Gerald couldn't help but be moved. "So he killed her?" Gerald was feeling real shock at how close he might have been to the end of his own life, earlier on the hillside
as he stood innocently talking to that thing that was apparently nothing less than a monster! He could feel as his knees gently knocked together and hoped fervently that Matt could not hear them.

"Oh no he didn't kill her or anything like that... She's still walking around and everything, but..."

"What?" Gerald quavered, "what did he do?"

"Well, if you must know he ate a
part of her brain."

"Oh My God!" Gerald exclaimed.

"It was a small part, if that makes a difference." said Matt defensively.

Gerald heard the tone in Matt's voice and pounced "What aren't you telling me?"

"It was the part she was using to remember her life and such, you know name, address, favorite books... like that, but I'm sure with some rest..."

Gerald was horror struck
. "So, she's pretty much a zombie then?"

"Well, it wouldn't be fair to call her a zombie since she was never actually dead. Let's just call her someone who's no longer present... if you know what I mean" But listen, we can't waste timewith that when there's so much to do."

It was time, Gerald decided, to take a stand. So he sat on a handy stool, and said very clearly,
"I will not help! I will not participate! I will do nothing until you tell me everything, and I mean everything. I want to know: how I got here, why I'm here, how the hell I'm going to get back, and, and well, everything that I don't know right now which is... dammit, everything!" He folded his arms and glared at Matt feeling much like a child threatening to hold his breath, but this was going to be the way he wanted or, or - well he was hoping that Matt wouldn't call his bluff.

A very long moment passed while the two men eyed one another. Finally, Matt sighed and pulled up a stool of his own, "Okay then," he held up a finger, "you were brought here through the portal that lies outside the window of your apartment." He held up a second finger,
"That portal is the Ninth Street Station and it has been in operation for about 600 years in the same location." He appeared to be warming to his subject, "at one time the station was level with the ground. There was a mountain firmly in place where your building now stands." He stood and began to pace, "you'd think that people would have enough sense to leave a mountain where it belonged, but no, developers see a beautiful place filled with trees and lakes and mountains and see the opportunity to make tons of dough and the mountain becomes an obstacle to what they want so what do they do?" He suddenly turned on Gerald and raged at him, "they tear it down! What kind of people tear down a mountain?!"

Gerald flinched at this and started to
remind Matt that he'd strayed from the questions when Matt, after staring hard at Gerald as if waiting for an answer, appeared to shake himself. He shrugged and sat once again. "It is true that you were lured here by Xolopotolmai..."

"The bird right?"

"Yes the bird. Matt replied with some displeasure at having been interrupted. "Where was I? Oh yes, Xolo got you to understand
that we were in desperate need of you."

"Why he did no such thing. I was minding my own business when that flying white rat..."

From a high shelf set midway up the wall a familiar voice rang out, "one shouldn't run around calling folks names, you know?"

Gerald looked up to find a single beady eye shooting daggers at him." He was immediately embarrassed, and at the same time
he felt an overwhelming urge to laugh wildly. Fighting the urge, though not all that successfully he stammered, "it's you!"

"Yes," replied the bird dripping acid,"it is."

"Listen I didn't mean to insult you, but..."

"But you didn't know I was here, right?" Xolo finished for him while standing on one leg and scratching under a wing.

"True, I didn't, but perhaps you shouldn't
be spying on people." Gerald just couldn't help it. The bird aggravated him at every turn.

"I was not spying," replied Xolo in a reproving tone, "I was observing, and you are standing in the middle of my home! How exactly would you classify that as spying?"

"Stop," Matt shouted, "I can't stand it." The bird opened his beak to speak but thought better of it when Matt glared
up at him.

"Okay then," Matt pronounced into the uneasy silence, "I can't have the two of you bickering.

"But he said that I was..."

"Xolo!" Matt shouted, "shut the hell up!" He turned his attention once again to Gerald, who had suddenly discovered a fascinating bit of debris beneath one of his fingernails, "Look let me finish this and if you still have questions when I'm done, well, you and Xolo really should take some time to get to know one another. The two of you have rather more in common than you'd believe." He held up a firm hand as Gerald started to reply and continued, "as I was saying, we are in desperate need of your programing skills." He began to pace again, "I must admit that the entire situation is my fault. When I activated the robot I was doing so in the belief that it would be a wonderful assistant around the lab, but I simply had no idea..." He shook his head as if lost in thought for a moment. "I don't know if I missed a step or added one in. Something as were went terribly wrong. Oh, it was fine for the first few weeks. It was content to sweep up and wash beakers, but then the lightening struck him out in the courtyard, and although it shouldn't have had any effect he was... different after that. He began following me around, and imitating everything I did and everything I said. It was like having a terribly annoying child around all the time, but it didn't seem dangerous. Then one afternoon while I was out having a bit of lunch I returned to find him making ."

"Hold on just a moment" Gerald interrupted. "You're sayin' lightening hit the poor guy and you thought he'd be just fine? What the heck is the matter with you anyway? How'd you think you'd feel if you were hit by lightening? And think, an electronics gadget certainly isn't going to be helped by it!" Gerald was visibly shaking."

"There you go!" Matt replied with a smile.
"That's exactly why I brought you over. You know stuff that's absolutely unknown here. Why Gerald, think about your position. You're the new court wizard, and I can't think of anyone better suited to the job."

This, stopped Gerald in mid-rant, "I'm... the new - Court Wizard?" "Of course you are! That's what I've been trying to tell you."

"But I don't know a thing about magic."

"But you do! You know everything about it. I've seen you on the networked computer... communicating through arcane methodology with others of your exalted and superior status." Matt said this with such a sincere and openly admiring expression on his broad face that Gerald felt moved to accept it for the compliment that it was meant to be. Under other circumstances he
might have been being jerked around by a masterful con artist, but now that he thought about it Matt always spoke this way - like a man from another planet or at least from somewhere else. Suddenly a memory of Matt attempting to join the techie conversations always going on at the table in the bar, caused so many things to reorder themselves in his mind that he felt he'd been
missing something all along, both back home in his cozy apartment, and here, wherever the hell here happened to be.

"Ok," he said cautiously, "tell me more. I think I need to know as much as you can tell me... And, really why do you think I can help you? What do you want me to do? I'm a just a computer programmer, so how exactly does that qualify me to be the Court Wizard?"

"Because, my friend, as it turns out what is called programing in your world is magic here, and to a certain degree my understanding of the etheria here does relate in some way to computers and magic in your world." "But computers aren't magic! They're machines. I'm not a magician or a wizard or whatever you want to call me. I work with machines."

"Yes, and yet somehow you manage to achieve results from those machines that no one else can even come close to. Correct?" "Well, yes." Even Gerald knew that he was preening in this moment. "But that just comes from an intuitive understanding of how they work. It's not magic."

"In your world maybe not," chirped a voice from the rafters above, "but here that intuitive understanding is delving into the deepest realms of the magical arts." The bird turned his attention to Matt, "are you sure this idiot is the one we want? He's such a whiner."

Gerald began to come to his own defense since no one else seemed willing to take the job when Matt screamed at Xolo to, (if I may quote) "shut his infernal beak and keep it shut!"
Xolo fluttered his wings in surprise and nearly fell
from his perch. "You needn't be rude," replied Xolo archly after fluffing his feathers, making his small body twice its normal size. "I do, after all, have feelings you know."

"Though you believe that I have none?!" Gerald was outraged, "you just called me an idiot, you dumb bir..."

"Stop," Matt glowered hard at Xolo who immediately closed his beak. "I don't have time to babysit the two of you! Just get over yourselves will ya?"

Both Gerald and the bird displayed hurt looks of - who me?

Matt deliberately chose to ignore them. "While the two of you bicker, Moth is busy terrifying the countryside, and it's no secret that the villagers hold me responsible."

"Well, it is your fault, after all." Matt stared bleakly at the bird saying nothing."

Xolo suddenly found an intense need to scratch under one wing.

Gerald took advantage of the uncomfortable silence, "so, what exactly do you think I can do to fix your broken Frankenstein anyway? I didn't see anything on him that looked remotely like a computer interface. To tell you the truth I wouldn't even know where to begin."

"Oh, but he's what you might call a wireless
unit," Matt replied, "that's his brain over on the bench."

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