I thought it may be time to visit the Friday Fairy Tale again. Last, the teenagers gather around the table to play a networked game. Here’s the link to the story as it goes so far:
And here is the chapter:
7. Magic Realm
“What can I do for you?” asked the Forest Fairy.
Ben glanced over the rim of his computer. Nadisda had disappeared. But her avatar was still there in the game, talking to him.
“Mike, what’s happening?” asked Ben.
“Damned if I knew,” replied the master hacker. “She was here a moment back!”
“The game has reabsorbed her,” said Jen with a shiver. “We have to get her back out of there!”
“Actually she is an original feature of the game itself,” said Mike.
“But she lived and breathed and walked amongst us,” objected Jen. “You can’t just allow her to become a piece of programming again!”
Mike stared at his screen. “You’re right, I can’t. But she’s home. It’s what she wanted. What must I do?”
“For now, let’s keep on playing,” said Ben. He focused on his avatar. The fairy was still waiting for an answer. He checked his questbook.
The Shadow Knight dug a small notebook out of his pack and opened it. Nadisda leaned over to see what was going on. In glowing letters, a quest was being written by an invisible pen.
“The Moonstone,” read Nadisda. “First step: Find the Forest Fairy and ask her for a spell of clear sight.” She glanced up at the Shadow Knight. “Sure, Ben! No problem!”
“I’m supposed to barter with you for it,” he said.
“Oh!” Nadisda was surprised. “What can you offer?”
“I have coins,” said the Shadow Knight.
Nadisda shrugged. “I don’t need coins. When you get to the real world, please tell Mike to send me Valentine. I must speak to him. Does that sound like a fair exchange?”
“Fine by me,” said Ben equably. He glanced up at Mike. “Did you just hear that?”
“Hear what? I’m trawling for Hugo in the town with my team,” said Mike. “We’ve already grown to ten warriors.”
“She says she needs to speak to Valentine,” said Ben.
“Give her a message,” said Mike. “Valentine will look her up just as soon as I’m done with this part here. Okay?”
Ben typed the relevant information into the game. The answer came back. The deal was done.
Nadisda collected the ingredients for clear sight from her store room and started preparing the spell. Eye of newt – that was a herb, by the way, goldenseal, eyebright… clear quartz for clarity… lucky the Shadow Knight wouldn’t have to drink this, she thought. The quartz splinters wouldn’t be good for Ben’s intestines at all. And then she remembered that apparently, the Magic Realms were only code in a computer… pixels on a screen…
Snow flickered across the screen. Mike blinked.
“Ben, is the battery not fully charged?”
“That’s not battery,” said Ben, getting up. “Is yours doing it too?”
“And mine as well,” said Jen.
“Mine too,” added Nancy. “What’s going on?”
“Could be network trouble, or a short-circuit,” said Ben. He went around all the laptops and old PCs checking the cable connections.
“Maybe that new video card we put in yours,” said Mike. “That’s all that has changed.”
“And Nadisda’s computer,” added Ben. “It hasn’t been used in a while. It was unstable, remember?” He investigated the cabling on Nadisda’s workstation. “Guys, sorry, I’m taking her offline. Got to take a look at her computer first.”
The Shadow Knight winked out of existence. Nadisda looked up in surprise.
The grove exploded in a blinding flash of light, and everything went dark. Spinning dark, with a ringing, high-pitched buzz like tinnitus. Nadisda was falling through the void.
Reflexively she spread her wings to catch the fall. Her sojourn in the real world had taught her that there was such a thing as pain. She didn’t want to be out of action again.
Slowly, stars winked on overhead. And – below! A landscape of stars, a whole sea full of it, spread underneath, with rolling valleys and dales. She gasped at the beauty of it.
A little boy at his window, peering through his toy telescope.
“Mommy! Come and look at this!”
“Danny, you should be in bed!”
“But Mom! You must come and look at this!”
Angela Johnson peered through her son’s telescope. That toy had been an eighth-birthday gift from his LA grandparents who didn’t get to see him often; it was an entry-level, real telescope. And right now it was fixed on a light that was travelling across the landscape.
“A shooting star?” surmised Angela.
“No, Mom! It’s a fairy!”
Her son had never been given to girly tales before, she thought with worry as she took another good look. And she realised he was right! The thing in the visor was a figure flying over the valley, with most exquisite blue wings. The wings were where the light was coming from. Some contraption, some toy? It looked pretty convincing.
She followed that little light until her son nudged her away from the telescope so he could look again.
“It’s setting down!”
“Wait,” said Angela. She peered through the telescope once more. “I know that place.”
A knock at the door.
Mike and Jen exchanged edgy glances.
“They found us!”
“Positions, everyone,” hissed Nancy, getting up from her PC and reaching for the heavy saucepan she always kept within reach during gaming sessions.
The trouble was that while they were online, there was always a chance – remote but present – that someone would be able to trace them, despite the security of the server and them using wireless anonymous connections. Police were wily, these days, and web-clued-up. Especially that Hero Hugo – Connor McNaught, the bull-dog-style relentless police hacker from Morris Park, NY.
Ben grabbed a brick he kept for such emergencies; Jen, who had a druidic streak in her somewhere, the heavy oaken staff she had fashioned herself. Mike grabbed his tazer gun and opened the door.
A speechless moment, then:
“Nadisda! Come in! Quick!”
The fairy folded her wings down – as she did, they disappeared. She entered the house cautiously, staring wide-eyed at all the defensive weapons.
“We have a problem, Valentine. My world has just disappeared.”
Jen made Nadisda some tea and sat with her, trying to calm her down.
“You’ve been offline before, haven’t you?” asked Nadisda, upset.
“Yes! Every day! We don’t play twenty-four-seven.”
“And my world has never disappeared before.”
“Could it be that you simply went dormant every time we closed down the game?” tried Nancy. “And now that you’re a player, you stay aware?”
“No. My world carried on. You say Mike created all the code?”
“Yes, he did,” confirmed Jen.
“Then how didn’t he know that Faff is my mentor and I go visit him regularly?”
“That’s weird,” conceded Jen. “Maybe he just forgot?”
“More to the point,” Mike chipped in, sitting down next to Nadisda, “we’re glad you’re home! Don’t disappear on us like that again, ‘kay?”
She shot him a brief smile.
“But that doesn’t solve my problem,” she said.
“Fairy,” said Ben from where he had returned to fiddling with the computers, “I apologize, it was probably me. I took you offline because we were getting network problems.”
“But that shouldn’t have made my world vanish,” said Nadisda. “Like I said!”
“It will have kicked you back out of it though,” said Ben. He glanced up. “Mike, we’ve got a bigger problem.”
Mike got up and moved over to where Ben was trying to fix connections.
“It’s bombed out on all of us!” he observed, shocked. “It’s never done that yet!”
“Maybe you wrote one too many overrides,” said Jen with a smile.
“I don’t think so! I know what I’m doing, sis!”
“Course you do!” She got up too, followed by Nadisda, and wandered back to where the computers were littered across the furniture. “Sheesh! What is it, Mike?”
Mike had already begun to run diagnostics on his program.
“No idea,” he said. “All is as it was. Still I think we should re-upload from the backup.”
“You’ve backed up the most recent changes?”
He gave his sister an old look. “Sis, Bill Gates didn’t get rich either from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Course I did! I always do!” He closed down all computers over the LAN and started them all up again; deleted the current version of the game and uploaded the backup to all their computers. “Come. Let’s get back in there!”
“I don’t want to restart the old computer,” said Ben. “In case it was that.”
“The fairy can use mine,” offered Nancy. “I’m just the Perfect Princess, I’m in any case not a strong fighter. You need her more than me tonight.”
“Tomorrow we have another machine,” promised Mike.
“Bought, not stolen,” said Nadisda with a piercing glare at him.
“’Kay, ‘kay, fairy, definitely your way,” laughed Mike. “It’s easier anyway.”
Nadisda took over Nancy’s PC, and the four of them logged in. Nancy made coffee for them all and then made herself comfortable lounging on a couch, playing an idle little game on her cellphone.
Nadisda glanced at Ben. “Mind if I wait a bit with your quest? It could have been one of the ingredients.”
“That’s okay,” said the ‘Shadow Knight’. “I think I’ll start a new character, because the Shadow Knight can’t move forward before he’s completed this quest. He’s sort-of frozen.”
“Go ahead,” said Mike offhandedly. “Join us against Hugo. You too, Nadisda.”
“Where are you?” asked Nadisda as her grove opened on her screen.
“Still in the town.”
Her fairy wings extended and she started flickering.
“Nadisda, wait!” called Mike. She glanced up from her screen. He jumped up and came to her, and placed his hands on her shoulders.
“Don’t go!” he implored. “It’s blooming dangerous! What if you disappear into the internet forever?”
“I’m not aware of doing it,” she replied.
“Can I at least give you an anchor?” asked Mike. “Something you take with you from this place, so that you can find your way back more easily?”
“I found my way okay,” she replied.
“Just for safety,” said Mike and glanced around for something to give her to hold onto. He picked up a small, old 4GB USB stick that was lying around. There were only some shortcuts and hacks on there, nothing that wasn’t already part of his daily toolbox. He searched a bit and found some string in the kitchen, cut a length and pulled it through the hook of the USB stick, knotted it and put this make-shift necklace over Nadisda’s head. “Now you won’t get lost. ‘Kay! Shall we carry on?”
Nadisda’s hand closed around the small memory stick. How fitting: A memory stick, to remember where she could come home to! She smiled at Mike and at the others, got their approval, and they all returned to playing.
“The town,” said Nadisda, focusing on the screen and stepping into her grove.
The Shadow Knight was gone. She knew this of course. Ben was logging in as another character. She was curious what he’d be like. She did a quick check of her inventory. The ingredients for the unfinished spell were still lying there; she’d get back to them. That was alright.
There was a soft, tinkling sound outside her cave, and a breeze that carried some subtle fragrance. She stepped outside, and gaped at the fairy facing her.
“I’m Benita,” the wispy little thing introduced itself. She was clad all in pink ballet getup with a petal hood-and-cape from what had to be sweetpeas. “I’m the Sweetpea Fairy!”
“Cool!” exclaimed the teenager in Nadisda. “Ben, that’s awesome!”
“Oh, I’d rather you call me Nita,” peeped the flower fairy. “Send me a foe so I can show you what I do.”
“If you’re a flower fairy, I’d assume you look after the flowers,” replied Nadisda.
Just that moment a convenient Lesser Stinkbug the size of a Maltese poodle dropped from one of her trees – who had allowed it into her grove? Nadisda was furious. The bug approached Nita with menacingly waving mandibles. “Click-click, zip-zip.” They sounded like someone sharpening a pair of knives.
Nita lifted her hand and flung something at the stinkbug. There was a bright red flash of lighting and a pong of undiluted evil, and the stinkbug exploded into myriads of droplets. Nadisda squeaked in disgust and instantly pulled a cleaning spell over herself, Nita and the grove. Stinkbugs didn’t smell good in any format.
“So you do black magic?” she asked.
“That’s the one magic where you needed some reinforcement,” said Nita.
“Cool! Come and join me with Valentine against Hero Hugo!” Nadisda grabbed the flower petal fairy’s hand and unfurled her wings, and off they flew, direction town.
A Friday Fairytale
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