WIZARDS! I hate them. Always so smug and condescending like they know some Great Secret denied to the rest of us. Cavorting with daemons and THINGS from the Seeming Nothingness while producing nothing of benefit to their community or society at large. Wasting their lives on frivolous things instead of real work, like golem repair or alchemist. And NONE of them have proper names like Yennifer or Reginald, instead it’s always Sylvandras, or GrymmDark24/7 or this fellow who’s name sounds like a bear caught in a wood-chipper. I know I shouldn’t be surprised as he’s foreign and so few of them, or any of the non-human cultures, have a REAL alphabet to work with.
He doesn’t even dress like a wizard. No fancy hat, or flowing robe. No twisty glowing staffs like the judges on that one show have for their pets to roost on. Just the smugness. How someone could be smug in this rathole shop in the Brickhaven district is beyond me. None of the shelves stand straight, nothing on them is organized in any way, and it’s all covered in a thick layer of dust.
Well, most of it’s covered in a thick layer of dust. Some of it is spotless, as if the dust refuses to touch it. I try to get a closer look at one of these unbelievably clean objects, but my eyes refuse to bring it into focus. A phlegmy cough from behind draws my attention to Bearchipper as he returns from the back of the shop with a quill as tall as he is. He thrusts it into my hand and gestures for me to follow. I have to take a step back as he turns to avoid the rotating silver ring that hovers behind him. The lettering on it reminds me of a tattoo James Scolfield got during Spring Break years ago. I try to make out what it says but the letters seem to change every time I blink.
Bearchipper snatches an open can of ravioli off the hotplate next to his cot and begins to eat it with his bare hands. The sauce starts coating his matted greying beard and dripping onto the cornflower bathrobe he’s wearing, opened so I can see his filthy underwear and scarred legs.
“We have some time to practice before our guest arrives.” So say the birds on his shoulders, cockatiels I believe, in the voice of my dead aunt Matilda.
“Practice what? I thought you had everything prepared and all I had to do was show up and make the exchange,” I stammer.
The birds stop scavenging in his beard and fix me with that beady, judgmental stare all fowl possess. The one on the right deliberately relieving itself down his back without breaking eye contact. I look away first.
“Communicating. Reality is very different in the place our guest calls home. It’s…”
“The kind of place that to look upon invites madness?” I suggest.
Of course it is. I mean if he said it was all bunnies and topless models then he couldn’t gouge people for more money, could he? We head to the backroom which, unlike the shop, is very clean and well organized. Just through the doorway is his alchemical lab and apparatuses, against the wall to my right an impressive library and reading area, and racks, shelves and cabinets of tools spread across the other two walls. It’s the floor that catches my attention the most though.
Set into the concrete are two metal rings. The larger one is about eight or nine feet across and the smaller one is about four or five feet across. Both are filled with some viscous looking fluid that plays strangely with the light. I approach the larger one. What appeared to be shimmers of light from the door reveal themselves to be ever changing images of different places. I stare out over the Nogostvo mountain range before seeing the sun rise on the sands of an unknown desert, and then find myself staring out into the void of stars that surround our world. As the scenes shift into more and more bizarre vistas I find myself reaching out towards the ring as if to stop it and fully take in the sights beyond, but Bearchipper clears his throat loudly, breaking the spell.
“Please, do not touch. It could cause problems for our guest when he tries to step through.” He gestures at the smaller ring. “This one however you may touch as much as you like. In fact, I insist.”
The smaller ring was filled with a dark oil covered with a slick sheen of colors where the light hits it. Bearchipper took the tip of the quill and dipped it into the oil while muttering something. I check my phone, noting I need to be at work in less than five hours, and start planning out all the meetings and calls I’ll need to make. In a few moments he stands smiles and gestures at the pool. I see a crude clock face and stick figure that seems to flow from the tip of the quill. As I watch the stick figure goes into a badly drawn room with other stick figures. Despite the simplicity of the scene I can recognize my coworkers and understand this is the weekly productivity meeting. The figure, me I suddenly realize, then goes into an office picks up a phone and several other faces appear in quick succession in a square balloon above his head. As the last face fades it goes back to me looking at the clock face.
“Not bad,” The bird on the right squawks. “You should be able to communicate with our guest easily enough by the time he arrives. We’ll keep practicing until then.”
“This is how I’m supposed to communicate? It’s a bit crude isn’t it? I mean, image wise it could be better.
“That is why we practice. The oils will respond, through the quill, to your thoughts and intents and translate them for our guest. This simple imagery was captured from stray thoughts as I attuned the oils and quill to your aura, but focused thought and clear intent will produce better results.”
I shake my head in confusion. “Why can’t I just tell him what I want?”
Bearchipper smiles as the birds speak. “For the same reason our guest cannot simply ask you what it is you want. This dimension is vastly different from that one. What would stretch the limits of our sanity and burn our souls is just, eh, business as usual for them. We cannot comprehend, or even bear to listen to, their language without suffering on a spiritual level. And the same holds true of them for us.”
I take a moment to let his words soak in before commenting.
“Hang on, you’re saying that a simple hello from me could drive HIM insane. That’s ludicrous! Some mighty what’s-it from across the Seeming Nothingness that can manipulate our reality like clay is going to be driven crazy by interacting with me? ME?”
Bearchipper lets out a sigh before responding. “Why not? Everyone assumes it’s only a one way street, but our world is as strange and incomprehensible to some of them as theirs is to us. Just because you can manipulate something doesn’t mean you fully comprehend it nor does it mean it’s not affecting you as well.”
I began to wonder if this was such a good idea after all. I quickly squash that thought before the oil betrays me and try concentrating on what I wanted instead. For over an hour I bring images to life in the pool, following Bearchipper’s instructions as best I can. He can manipulate it without a quill, and produces some stunning displays as teaching aids. I struggle to produce images that don’t look like a five year old drew them. Finally Bearchipper puts up a hand, smiles and nods.
“Enough practice. You don’t want to wear yourself out before….”
He was cut off as the larger pool begins to fill rapidly. The oil rising to the lip of the ring, then bowing out as something presses against it from beneath. Suddenly the tension breaks, the oil cascading down an inhuman form rising out of the blackness. I expect the pool to overflow, but it doesn’t lose one drop as the thing invades our world. This creature from across the gulf of dimensions. This being from a reality none of us could begin to comprehend. This……FISH?
I blinked rapidly, and shake my head hoping this is some illusion or hallucination, but nothing changes. Hovering over the large pool, the last streams of oil dripping off it’s scaly body, is a fish. A perch if I’m not mistaken. I mean, yes it’s around seven feet tall, and has navy colored bat wings instead of fins, but it is still a fish. I feel cheated. I want fire, and horns or tentacles. A good face upside down on its skull with a mouth full of eyes and eye sockets full of teeth. You know, something impressive that would make people jealous when I told this story. But no, I get a fish.
It seemed to be getting its bearings, which made sense considering how far it has probably traveled. It floats upright, as if standing on its back fins (wings?) and slowly turns around, taking in the room, Bearchipper, and myself. I think it’s an odd pose to take until it turns its gaze on me. From that position it displays its belly to me, so in effect it is looking down at me. Looking down. AT ME?
I can’t believe it. I had attended a major university. I had gotten a four year degree in Art History. I had gone to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the country club for almost a week until I got Dad’s golfing partner to give me a management job. I was Vice-President of Production for the eighth largest manufacturer of plastic cutlery in the world, and I had earned it. How dare he! As if being some floaty bat-fish thing was some big whoop.
It extends its belly wing-fin until the tip touches the smaller pool. It feels for a few seconds as if the ripples in the pool are also flowing through my mind, but the sensation passes quickly. The Fish-Bat seems unaffected, instantly filling the pool with a dizzying array of swirls and patterns in every conceivable color under the sun. Simultaneously, my head gets filled with a prickling sensation, as if thousands of baby spiders were crawling inside my skull. After a few agonizing seconds of this assault it stops, and the pool resolves itself into an image of a person bowing to me. I say person because it is obvious that Bat-Fish isn’t familiar with the human form. One arm was longer than the other, the legs were on backwards, and despite the presence of cartoonishly sized breasts it was obviously, very obviously, a male.
I send back an image of myself bowing in respect, and watch the pool bring forth an image of me presenting a box to the disproportioned man. I glance over at Bearchipper while he produces a hammered brass cube containing all my body hair, two cups of used kitty litter, menstrual blood from an unmarried Aelfe, and three iron rings. Bat-Fish extends a wing-fin (fing?) and takes it from his shaking hands. One eye focuses on the box while the other continues staring at me. After a few tense seconds both eyes focus me while the figure in the pool breaks into a horrible looking grin. I watch the disproportioned man vomit several images in rapid succession, gold, another figure, a house, some weird car/boat hybrid, and a lightning bolt. My crude figure went to each one, picking it up and examining it before moving on to the next one. After a couple of passes I understood what was happening.
I think of my job, and the pool shows me conducting a meeting in the conference room. A bubble comes out of my mouth displaying orders coming in, productive workers, happy customers, and management dancing around piles of cash. Then the bubble bursts and there’s a pile of order forms, empty shelves in the warehouse, workers standing around, and angry customers shouting at me. It shifts, showing me making a bet with my friend, then watching my team lose horribly. Finally it shows me talking to my family about the great vacation we’re going on, then the storms, food poisoning, and crushing disappointment we got instead. This is my story. No matter what I say or promise, I am always wrong. It never works out, and I am fast becoming an embarrassment to my family, and a joke at work.
I don’t understand it. I am a very intelligent man with a keen sense of management. When home office cut our orders in half because we were working sixty hour weeks and were “overbooked”? I led the initiative to cut half our workforce. I mean if we are only going to be getting half the work, we only need half the workers. I cut our payroll overhead by fifty percent with one brilliant decision. Yet somehow, we’re back to sixty hour weeks again, and home office is screaming at us to hire more workers. I heroically headed off that as well pointing out that temps could do the jobs. We don’t have to pay them as much, and save even more because we don’t have to provide benefits. Again, something went wrong as our production plummeted for some reason while we trained them. Then product quality took an unforeseeable hit, leading to a dramatic increase in customer complaints, and a drop in sales. For some incomprehensible reason, my co-workers want to blame all that on me as well, but I smugly point out my ideas have seen our operating costs plummet by almost a million dollars a year!
At home, it’s not much better. I very calmly, and succinctly, explain to my wife that magic is completely unnecessary in the modern world. It has never, or will ever produce anything of benefit or use to me, or anyone I know. She calmly finishes taking the tincture that prevents her seizures, and informs me I can sleep on the couch that night. I still don’t get what she was upset about, but I’m putting an end to it. From this day forth the world will see my insightful intelligence for what it is, and forever more question how they could have been so wrong about me.
I replay the same series of images with a slight twist. The orders are filled ahead of time and under budget, my team wins in a blowout, and the vacation is more epic than any blockbuster film. The images fade to be replaced with my smiling reflection, and Bearchipper’s grimace. Bat-Fish immediately sends a series of images that show his figure giving my figure a lightning bolt that my figure swallows. He then produces a door, and behind it is the car/boat vehicle. My figure guesses it to be gold. The vehicle morphs into a pile of gold coins as the door opens. I immediately seize control of the scene, making my guy do a happy little dance. I’m beaming like a bride on her wedding day as I look across at Bearchipper. He just stares into the pool, dead eyed with obvious jealousy at my unbelievable savvy.
Bat-Fish withdraws it’s fing from the pool, waving complicated patterns in the air. Bearchipper slaps his hands over his ears and turns wide eyed towards me while mouthing something. I take the hint, and before the first syllable escapes from Bat-Fish’s piscine lips I drop the quill to cover my own ears. As the spell engulfs me it becomes difficult to keep them plugged. The energy causes my muscles to spasm, nearly causing me fall into the pool. Then it’s over, and with a final sweep of limbs Bat-Fish descends into the large pool, taking the brass box with him. As soon as he’s gone Bearchipper strides over, and grabs a handful of my shirt.
“You said you wanted to have a better life! To be more respected by friends, family, and co-workers for your accomplishments and abilities! Do you have any idea what you have done here?” The birds scream simultaneously as he shakes me.
“I’ve done just that!” I slap his hands away. “No matter what I’ve said, or done, up to this point in my life I’ve been wrong. I’m a laughingstock at work. I’m a joke in my own home, but all that ends today. I have made it so I can never be wrong again.”
Bearchipper shakes his head and rubs his eyes. I turn away and start to leave, but he places a hand on my shoulder to stop me. He holds up a coin, a quarter daler, showing me the hoof print on one side and the snawfus head on the other. He throws it towards the ceiling while the birds screech to call it. I pick heads, and we both watch the coin land flat with the head staring up at us. We repeat this three more times before I stop him.
“Yes, I get it. Whatever I say the coin is going to land on, it lands on. I can’t be wrong. That’s the deal, now I have to go. Thank you for your help.”
“One more toss,” the birds squawk, “but not heads or tails. Instead say the first thing that pops in your head. Do this for me, and you can go.”
I stop in the doorway leading out of the workroom. Bearchipper stands there holding the coin. He quickly throws it upward, and I try to track it’s silvery arc. As it falls I cry out, “On the edge with my butt on the face.”
A dull thump follows. Not the ringing tone of a coin rolling on its edge or spinning on the floor like every other toss has produced, but a flat thump. Bearchipper steps back to give me an unobstructed view of the quarter perfectly balanced on its thin edge, my pasty cheeks mooning me in miniature. He walks over while I gape at the coin, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“You are infallible,” the birds whisper. “Whatever you say comes true, even if reality itself must be rewritten to make it so. The trouble you could cause yourself is…” He waves his hands futilely,“nearly infinite and incomprehensible. Now do you see why I reacted so?”
“To myself? Don’t you mean to the world?”
He considers this for a second before shaking his head. “No, our friend wasn’t that powerful. I mean, he was no god, so unless you’re involved in something potentially world changing then it should just affect you, and those in contact with you.” He shrugs, “Maybe, anyone in earshot as well. ”
“In other words be careful what I say, and to whom, or it could cause serious trouble? My friend you worry too much about that. I’ve had sensitivity training with HR. I’m all about watching what I say.”
I leave before he can say anything else. I’ve got less than 3 hours before I go to work, and I’m dragging. I start pulling up places that are open this late on the GPS when it hits me. I’m infallible. I can do this if I just phrase it right. I jot a few phrases down in my phone until I’ve got what I consider the perfect one. I take a deep breath. Exhale. Then with my clearest, most authoritative voice, speak, “I’m not tired and sleepy at all.”
And suddenly, I’m not. I’m almost alarmingly awake, feeling like I’ve downed several cups of coffee in a row. I leave Brickhaven, heading towards my home in the Maerapeldre district to get a quick shower and shave. I’m ten minutes from my house when some jackass in a rusted out sedan with expensive wheels pulls out in front of me. I slam on the brakes, just barely avoiding rear ending him. I jam down the horn while yelling a colorful stream of invectives at him before ending it with, “Next time, just hit me!”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I panic. What have I done? Am I now destined for a car accident? When will it happen? Is he going to circle back and ram me, or is it going to be at some other time and place at some point in the future? Can I change all that by saying something different now? I decide to try it out.
“I mean, pay more attention to where you’re going so you won’t get into an accident with anyone. Especially me. Just be careful out there.”
By this point cars are backed up behind me and honking so I wave them past before starting on my way again. The rest of the drive I’m on high alert, triple checking every intersection and side street for some four-wheeled steel specter of doom. By the time I pull into the driveway my hands are cramping, and my shoulders aching from the death grip I have on the steering wheel. I sprint for the front door, conscious of the fact I said hit me not hit my car, and head straight to the master bath.
I shower and shave in record time before heading to the bedroom. My wife is just starting to stir under the squealing beep of her alarm when I pull my new suit out of the closet. Custom tailored espresso poplin fabric, with a chartreuse Tonigan silk tie and gold cufflinks with an ebony inlay of my initials. It’s the kind of suit you get married in or get buried in, and it cost me more than I’ll ever tell my wife, but it’s perfect for commanding long overdue respect. As I make the final adjustments to my tie my wife comes out of the bathroom and gives me a critical look over.
“You’re going in?”
“Yes. I need to finalize my end of the deal, and don’t trust Margie to get it all done by herself.” I turn and give her a reassuring grin. She rolls her eyes and comes over to retie my tie.
“I’m surprised you’re even awake. What time did you come home last night?”
“Just got in and showered.” I hold up a hand to cut her off before she responds. “I got one of those Pep-Em’s potions and drank it before I came home. I’m good for a few more hours before I crash.” I wince at the word crash causing my wife to quickly pull her hands back.
“No, No, No. It’s the suit. First time wearing it, and all. I’ve got to go, but we’ll celebrate tonight.” I give her a quick slap on the bottom and head for the door.” And if you play your cards right I might let you seduce me.” That brings a smile to her face, and I have to dodge a wet towel while I close the bedroom door. Another sprint for my car, and I’m soon deep in the stop-and-go morning commute.
I have time to stop and grab a quick to-go order at a local diner. I’m fidgeting because my suit doesn’t seem to be fitting as well as it should. When he girl ringing me up, an Aelf with a nose ring and multicolored hair, gives me the total, I wisecrack “Sure it’s not free?”
“No. It’s not.” She responds flatly.
I pay her then head to the car where I spend a couple of minutes tugging and pulling on the suit to try and get more comfortable. It doesn’t work. As I eat I try to figure out what happened in there. I’m supposed to be infallible. So why did I have to pay for my breakfast? I bet that Bearchipper scammed me. He’s a wizard after all, and illusion and artifice is second nature to those types. I bet he even rigged the coin toss. There’s only one way to be sure. I’ll need to test it myself, and I see the perfect opportunity.
“I see a way to avoid all this traffic and get to work on time,” I say very calmly.
Suddenly I spy a side road that will be easy for me to go down. I make the turn into a neighborhood I don’t recognize and feel immediately lost. I keep driving anyway and notice another road to my left. I turn onto it without hesitation. Soon I find myself pulling up to the security gate at work ten minutes earlier than usual. That’s when I realize I don’t have my employee I.D. on me. I start fumbling in my wallet and pull out a fuel rewards card.
“This will work.” I mumble as I pass it in front of the sensor.
Sure enough the door clicks and I’m inside just like that. I’m making my way to my office when Margie, my Dwarven assistant, comes out of the break room with a sheaf of papers and a cup of coffee. I hold my hand out with a welcoming smile and find it filled with the papers. Margie takes a long sip from the mug and starts for the elevator.
“I’ve never seen you so happy to do the quarterly reports. You’re not drunk again are you?”
“No! I am not drunk, and I wasn’t drunk that time either! I was having a bad reaction to an elixir my doctor prescribed for my cold.” I push the elevator button. “You want to do the quarterly reports for me?”
Margie fixes me with a disapproving stare and rubs her curly beard before replying. “No. I have a ton of work to do myself, and besides you’ve never trained me to do the quarterlies so it’s all on you.”
I’m dumbfounded. For the second time today my ability has failed me. How? Is it something to do with race? Margie’s a Dwarf and the cashier was an Aelfe, but no, it’s got to be something else. Something simple I’m overlooking or not doing right. What is wrong with this suit? Maybe I needed to stay at Bearchipper’s shop a little while longer and learned the limits. I should probably swing by there after work and see if he’ll help. Or should I? As we step into the elevator I think of the obvious solution.
“I know the rules that govern my power, and its limits.” I whisper.
Margie turns towards me. “What?”
“Nothing, just trying to remember something.”
And there it is, branded into my brain as clear and easy to remember as my middle name or my wife’s birthday.
1. Anything I say will be absolutely true from the earliest moment it can be true.
2. If I leave any room for doubt in my statement, or ask a question, the power will fail.
3. I cannot contradict myself.
As we exit the elevator I thrust the quarterly reports back into Margie’s hands and inform her that she is going to do them this time. She starts to protest but I cut her off with a simple hand wave. I then give her my biggest, friendliest business grin and inform her that she can do this and I know she will do it perfectly. I then head into my office to begin my real work.
I check my e-mails, getting any that seem important out of the way before beginning to draft my idea for turning the company around. Knowing my power’s specifications I carefully evaluate every word and turn of phrase, rooting out anything that I consider vague, or open to reinterpretation. I nearly blow it all when I catch myself muttering under my breath during one review. It takes me the better part of an hour, and over a dozen drafts, but I finally have an ironclad and airtight speech to boost our production.
I pick up the phone, adjust my jacket, key in the code for the P.A. system, and stop. A momentary wave of panic comes over me as I remember the security precautions against magical interference. The building is littered with counter-wards, detection runes, and even a Watchmage to keep this sort of thing from happening. The simple act of using magic to boost our efficiency and production would lead to my immediate termination at best and, depending on how the authorities interpreted it, some serious jail time. Damn labor laws. What good are they if they prevent companies from being productive? How can I get around them?
Suddenly it hits me and I can’t help giggling at how simple it is. I am infallible after all so I just have to phrase it right. I take a couple of moments then in a clear distinct voice say, “This will be undetected by any security measures or precautions that are in place in this facility that would prevent my ability from working fully.”
The beep of the P.A. draws everyone’s attention as I begin my speech. I take my time, carefully enunciating every word, and not deviating from the script for even a single syllable. I can’t stop myself from grinning like an idiot as I think of all the problems my genius is going to solve in the next few minutes. It goes like this.
“Attention Associates. I would like to have a few moments of your time this morning.I know we have been working long hours and extra days these past few weeks in an effort to meet our orders, and I want to take a moment to thank you all for the sacrifices you’ve made for the company, and our customers. Give yourselves a big round of applause.” I pause, silently counting to ten while they do this. “But today that all changes. Today, we start making our quotas in a standard eight hour day. Today, we start shipping ahead of schedule. We have the people. We have the will. We have the experience. We will work at one hundred and ten percent and pull our fair share without complaint until it is done. I believe we can do this. I know we can do this. Thank you.”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I feel invigorated. I open my e-mails again, tackling them with a brutal efficiency. Within an hour I’ve cleared my inbox and started in on the piles of paperwork crowding my desk. I hardly have time to notice my suit bunching up on me. Soon, I’m assaulted by a rumbling in my stomach and a fullness in my bladder so I know break is getting close. I chance a quick glance at the clock to discover I somehow worked through my break without noticing. No problem, I’ll just grab a quick snack, and a little bathroom trip, and be right back to start preparing for the conference call with Home Office later. I try to stand up, but discover I can’t. My hands keep dancing across the keyboard and signing papers without pause. No matter how I try I can’t stop working. I also seem to be picking up speed.
I panic. Somehow I must have screwed up the speech, but I don’t see how. I reviewed everything twice! I stopped myself from muttering before I said anything damaging! I need to pull up the last draft and re-read it so I can fix this, but I can’t. The enchantment won’t let me do anything except work. My body will not respond to any command not work related. It’s beginning to take a toll on me. My stomach growls in protest, and my bladder feels like it’s ready to burst! Not to mention the tense ache in my hands from endless typing and writing. I have to undo this, but how?. While I’m searching for a solution my body picks up the phone, keys in a command, and speaks, “Margie, are you through with those quarterly reports yet?”
“Just about,” her voice is strained, “I was doing a final read-through to make sure I haven’t missed anything before I give them to you to sign. If that’s OK.”
I assure her its fine before going back to finalizing my presentation for the meeting. Sweat blurs my vision while I fight a losing battle against my bladder, hampered by cramping fingers and an ill fitting designer suit. Surely it’ll let me stop after this. I won’t soil myself in the name of efficiency and productivity will I?
Margie’s entrance answers that question with a brutal finality. The stench is evident as soon as the door opens, growing worse as she crosses the room to drop the reports on my desk. Her face and beard are damp with tears. Her eyes the dead stare of a woman who’s given up fighting. She reminds me of my meeting, asks if I need anything, and waits patiently for a response. I try to say something to her. I want to apologize, to beg for forgiveness, to scream in frustration, or just confess but all I manage is a curt, “Thanks, I’ll let you know if I need something else.”
She nods then turns, with a squelching noise, before walking out with fresh tears streaming down her face. I’m left alone with my shame and embarrassment, knowing I’ve hurt someone I considered a decent worker. I’m left to ponder how it came to this point, and how to possibly fix it. More importantly I’m left to wonder if I should attempt to clean the carpet, or just replace it? I’m not allowed to stew for long before my body stands, gathers the materials for the presentation, and heads out to Conference Room 3, The Spork, for this teleconference.
Margie doesn’t even glance my way while I head stiff legged down the hall, sweat running into my eyes from the stress of a bladder close to bursting, and enter the room. The reek of a dozen adults sitting in their own waste is enough to gag a troll. I barely manage to stifle my gag reflex as the miasma engulfs me completely, soaking into my stupid, itchy suit. The Teleseer from I.T. is finishing up the spells to link the mirrors while I take my spot. Usually the room is full of buzzing conversation but today there is nothing but silence while we wait, like condemned prisoners for the meeting to start. I’m screaming internally while the mirrors align, and introductions are made on either side. I kick off our side’s presentation and, somehow, despite the excruciating pain from my abdomen, don’t even stutter as I walk the parent company through our last quarter’s performance, then next quarter’s projections. Other than the copious amounts of sweat coating every inch of me, I think I pull it off without a hitch. Almost.
I’m in the home stretch of the presentation when I finally lose the battle with my bladder. I burst forth like a fire hose, soaking through my clothing in an instant. I don’t stop there though, oh no, like the mighty Ahligeri river my urine flows down my legs, and over my shoes, until I stand in a filthy puddle before my co-workers, and our bosses.
The division president loses it, ordering me out of the meeting to go clean myself up. I obey without question, wondering how to use my ability to fix this newest humiliation while spending the next half-hour in the men’s room trying to clean myself. Heading back to my office I see Joanne from H.R., with the Watchmage, waiting for me. They both look as bad as I do after the events of this morning, and I can think of only one reason they would both be here. I warmly greet them, inviting them into my office. Margie openly sobs while typing up reports at a blistering speed. Joanne explains that Home Office interrogated them all about what happened in the teleconference. They explained what was happening to everyone in the building. Home Office suspects magical interference, and Joanne believes it might be related to the speech I gave this morning.
“In short,” she fixes me with a hard stare, “did you willingly and/or knowingly violate the Magical Enhancement rules of this company, and find a way to circumvent the protections and precautions in place to prevent such a circumstance as this from occuring?”
I take my time to consider my response, looking for a way out. I seize upon the first thing that pops up.
“Joanne,” I smile, “I took an opportunity to help this company by reading a motivational speech to the employees this morning. That’s all. It’s not my fault if they choose to work through breaks or soil themselves because they were so inspired by it. If it was up to me they would follow every rule, and law, in place to ensure safety, and productivity is met. You can’t blame this on me. It’s just a coincidence.”
She exchanges a glance with the Watchmage before leaning forward, and lowering her voice. “It’s not just your job at stake here. This affected every one of our workers. Robbing an individual of free will is a felony, and a case of this magnitude could see the one responsible shipped off for the rest of their misbegotten life. Not to mention the lawsuits that would erupt from it. If you did this, or you know who did, you need to tell us so we can help you. Do you understand?”
“Joanne, I just tried to boost everyone’s spirit. I mean are you suggesting I have some magic power I’m not telling you about? Cause I don’t!”
As soon as I say the words I realize my mistake. I freeze in horror, barely taking notice of the device the Watchmage pulls out of his pocket to show Joanne. I don’t need to know what it is, the look she gives me lets me know my services are no longer required here.
The next few minutes are a blur as I’m escorted out of the building, informed my personal belongings will be mailed to me with my last check, and their lawyers will be in touch. I manage to yell an apology to Margie as I pass, but she won’t even look in my direction. Walking to my car, I curse my stupidity while wondering if I truly have lost all my power. Pulling a quarter from a soggy pocket, I toss it high in the air. At the top of its arc I yell “heads,” and promptly watch it land and bounce under a car. I’m forced to crawl on my belly to retrieve it, letting out a whoop of joy when I see it landed on heads.
And that’s when the car hits me.
I awaken in the hospital with both legs, one arm, three ribs and seven fingers broken, along with a concussion and multiple contusions. My wife sits by my bedside talking to a police officer. He tells me how I got here. According to the man who ran me over he doesn’t know me, and has never encountered me before today to his knowledge. He had been running errands when he spotted me, and was overcome with a fierce desire to run me down with his car. He tried to stop, but could only watch in horror as his body drove the car over a median, jumping the curb, and plowing through a fence before running me over. The officer says the driver tested positive for Magical Coercion, and wonders if the poor guy was affected by overflow from the incident at my former workplace. With a friendly smile he assures me they’ll get to the bottom of this and whoever’s responsible will pay, dearly. I manage a weak smile and say thanks as he leaves.
My wife leaves shortly thereafter to pick up our son. Alone in the room I try my powers again by stating my injuries aren’t as bad as they appeared and I’ll go home soon. The doctor enters shortly thereafter and explains that I’m in horrible shape and looking at months of recovery and multiple surgeries to repair the damage to my legs. He tells me they’ll do everything they can to help me and asks if I have any other concerns.
“Yeah, why don’t I feel tired at all?”