Tag Archives: fiction

A Like Indignity

“Hey Capulet, want to make Montague disown his only son?”

“Um, YES. That idea sounds like what sliced bread is going to be the greatest thing since. What do I do?”

“The kid wants to marry your daughter. He’s totally down with the whole ‘deny my father and refuse my name’ plan, but I figure you’d rather make his old man kick him out of the family tree. You announce tomorrow that you’re fine with her marrying Romeo Montague, and suddenly he’s the biggest embarrassment Lord M has ever seen.”

“Hm, and I don’t even have to follow through with the indignity of marrying Juliet to a Montague if Romeo’s not a Montague anymore! But I was going to have her marry Paris….”

“Wealth, power, whatever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give your arch-nemesis humiliations galore.”

*

“Hey Montague, want to mess with Capulet?”

“I do that 24/7, what’ve you got?”

“He’s about to have his daughter marry Paris. Count Paris. The cousin of the guy who rules Verona. The incredibly wealthy cousin of the guy who rules Verona. I’m not saying he’d get a political advantage that your family never recovers from, but let’s just say you probably want to stick a spoke in his wheel.”

“So, what, I send in some guys with a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak?”

“Close. Call the CPS. Or if that’s too nonexistent for ya, get Paris to leave town angry. Start a couple of nasty rumors that this whole thing is against Juliet’s will and that she’s already secretly married to her True Love, Romeo.”

“ROMEO? With capital letters and everything? I’ll—”

“You’ll what? Marry him off to some rich noblewoman he can’t stand? I guarantee you won’t get more for him than Capulet just proved he can for Juliet. You’re not gonna get another chance to stop that threat. Unless you want Prince Escalus to start taking his new family members’ side in every little dispute…”

*

“YOU! You promised me Montague would disown his kid over this! And then he goes and allows it! What are you playing at?”

“He’s gonna. Look, Romeo’s got a bit of a reputation. This time last week he was all gooey-eyed over some Rosaline character. Montague probably just expects him to change his mind again. Otherwise, he’ll step in before the wedding. Or possibly during if he wants to be dramatic. And then Romeo’ll make him keep escalating the threats until he can’t escalate any more.”

“Fine, I’ll play for time. I’ll pretend to be all modern and say she can’t get married until she’s at least fifteen. But you better not be wrong!”

*

“We got rid of Paris, the rumor about them already being married got proven false; what do we need the actual wedding for? I’m not having any daughter of Capulet’s in my family if I don’t have to!”

“Just think of how much Capulet hates this. The dude’s a politician. Going from Paris to Romeo? No offense, but you’ve, like, met Romeo. You know Capulet wants to veto this, but the whole ‘publicly announcing otherwise’ thing kinda means he has to think twice. And he doesn’t want it to be him  who everyone sees breaking up the happy couple. He’d rather have it be you.
There’s still no way he’ll actually let it go through. Probably just waiting for the last minute. You know, so you’ll give in and do it first.”

“OK, I won’t stop the wedding until after he does, but you better not be wrong.”

[Wrongness ensues.]

*

I am not claiming that this would work, for any definition of “work” that excludes “everyone dies.” I’m just waving a hand in a general direction while loudly implying “look over there.” I bet there’s some way to convince one or both antagonists that this is a good idea solely to spite the other guy.

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Capes and Masks

“Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team.  Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves.” —Lisa Wilbourne, aka Tattletale, Worm.

Unfortunately, that’s not remotely close to true. A typical world with superheroes has property damage is in the high billions, and offscreen civilian deaths are way too high. It’s worse off than if there were no superheroes at all.

That’s really too bad, so let’s see if we can construct an exception. A situation where it might actually be to the city’s benefit to have capes and masks running around wreaking (controlled amounts of) havoc. It won’t be much better than regular Earth, but it won’t be worse.

You’ve got what Tattletale calls full-contact cops and robbers, where people dress up in costumes and run around throwing superpowers at each other. The heroes get to say they’re doing it to protect the public, the villains say they’re in it for the money, but really they’re all just playing for fun.

If people get seriously injured, it’s not fun. So everyone on both sides goes out of their way to avoid hurting people. The guy with the power to disintegrate organic matter by pointing at it doesn’t go into crimefighting. And definitely not crime. He’d get arrested and charged with lots and lots of murder. He goes into medicine instead and zaps people’s cancers or something.

The powers that get used by the people in masks are more oriented toward containing their opponents, or defeating them in any relatively harmless way. If Mythos messes with Relentless’ perception of time during a fight, everybody’s OK with it as long as she puts it back afterward. There are also people with powers like explosions and lasers, but nothing that can’t be set to stun gets used in a fight.

As you might expect, since people are running around (or flying as the case may be) and hitting each other, injuries do happen. No deaths or anything classified as catastrophic, but there are a lot of concussions. This is recognized to be a problem, but the average fan doesn’t really care.

A typical cape fight looks nothing like a crime in progress and more like an improvised stage production. A villain group announces that they’re going to, say, rob a particular bank that weekend. On Sunday the bank is closed and there has been plenty of notice for bystanders to get out of the way—except of course for the people who bought tickets. At the prearranged time, the villains arrive and pose dramatically for the cameras before walking toward the front door. The heroes drop from the sky and start the fight.

If the bad guys fight their way in, they break into the vault and get out with as much as they can carry. It’s all covered by the bank’s villain insurance, along with any property damage. If the heroes win, the villains get captured and left shouting phrases like “Curses! Foiled again!” until the actual police arrive. There usually aren’t charges pressed, because everyone knows it’s all part of the game. The bank was never actually in any danger of losing anything, and the endorsement deals are good for business. In any case, everything is back to the status quo pretty quickly.

The villains are obviously playing along. If they really wanted to rob the bank, they could just not tell people ahead of time. But then it’d be treated as a crime instead of a sport, and nobody wants that. Besides, they’d lose all their fans.

Obviously, this wouldn’t be able to work without a powerful industry backing it up. That’s where the money comes in.
There are the ticket sales, and people might pay through the nose for that, but you can only fit so many people around the site of a bank robbery. It’s not like superheroing takes place in a baseball stadium. The real money comes from merchandising. If people will buy a T-shirt that looks like Peyton Manning’s jersey, they’ll buy one that looks like Enforcer’s costume. They’d do it for golf if that were the sport that everyone cared about, and I guarantee superheroes are at least as interesting as football players. From selling things with their logo on it, the National Supers League could probably bring in, oh, at a random guess let’s say $2.1 billion per year.

Ticket revenue is pretty much negligible next to that, and advertising will be less than it is for current sports. There may be just as many people watching it, but when superheroes fight supervillains it’s not exactly a predictable length with scheduled commercial breaks.* Call it a billion and a half in advertising.

Selling the rights to televise the matches could bring in another three billion dollars, and I’d imagine there’s a lot to be made from movie deals as well. The Avengers made a lot of money, it would have made a lot more if they could have marketed it as “based on a true story,” and that means more money for the superhero teams.

The fans, meanwhile, enjoy being able to follow their favorite franchises.  There are rumors that Captain Anvil might leave the Defenders and move to a different city? Well if that happens, you’ll have to start rooting for the villains over there! He’s supposed to be on our team! It’s hard to imagine a sport that’s better designed for rivalries than this one.

There’d also be all kinds of non-fight-based events. If the fans have been arguing over whether Atalanta could outrun Speedster over a long enough distance, organizing a race means free publicity for both heroes and a great advertising opportunity for the NSL. But the main events are always the classic heroes-vs-villains match-ups.

You might not like the idea of a giant entertainment industry built around watching people hit each other. But a lot of people enjoy watching it, and there aren’t all that many people being hurt and they aren’t being hurt that badly, so it’s fine. Right? Anyway, if you’re in favor of the continued existence of football you should probably consider these superhero fights a good thing for the same reasons. You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be entertaining.

*Usually it’s over more quickly than a normal sporting event. With some exceptions. When Vortex dueled Chronomancer, they both got mistaken for statues of themselves. Eight hours in, Chronomancer won with the first punch, and those two have avoided each other ever since.

Alchemists’ Duel

Alchemists’ duels are weird.

Part of it makes about as much sense as duels usually do, with two people throwing alchemy at each other for whatever reason. The particular details of alchemists’ duels are more unique.

For one thing, both participants have easy access to Elixer of Life. So no duel ever actually ends with anyone dying, which means alchemists are more willing than, say, wizards, to fight duels at the drop of a conical hat. Sometimes they do it just for bragging rights.

I have no idea what caused the one I saw. Maybe Aceso accidentally insulted Heptamegistus (yes, silly names are traditional), more likely he just wanted the boost in reputation from having beaten her, but for whatever reason he challenged her to a duel and she agreed. They scheduled it for thirteen days later, and started preparing.

I asked someone who seemed to know what was going on, and apparently thirteen days is standard. Some of the more powerful mixtures take precisely a fortnight to prepare, and they don’t want those being used around spectators. (It has to be a fortnight and not just fourteen days. Most of the people I asked didn’t know the difference either, but they all pointed out that they weren’t alchemists.)

Heptamegistus publicly bragged that he had found a way to brew the Evil Tomato Juice Of Powerful Power in less than a fortnight. While the people constructing the arena started moving the stands farther back to keep them out of the blast radius, reporters asked Aceso if she was worried about facing someone armed with that. She didn’t even change her expression, just said that he was probably lying about the fortnight and had more likely started preparing it before challenging her.

The former underdog kept going, claiming that he would use more and more powerful and dangerous abilities. Every time he escalated, it was obvious that he was getting more and more stressed, but Aceso continued being aggressively calm. Now the interviewers were asking Heptamegistus whether he really thought it was a good idea to challenge the Aceso to a duel, and did he really think he could win this. Aceso continued not reacting, and commented that she wouldn’t have to use any alchemy at all because her opponent’s nerves would lose him the match.

With three days to go, Heptamegistus said he had an idea and disappeared. He was hardly seen at all after that, but when he came out on the day of the duel he looked prepared. He was still shaking, but he told the interviewers that he had created a potion that would give him nerves of steel, and with the firepower he was bringing he could leave a giant smoking crater where Aceso used to be. It would take her weeks to recover.

I had made sure to read up on what the point of these duels was. Apparently, ever since the formula for Elixer of Life became public domain these duels hadn’t been duels so much as games. The winner would be whoever was left standing, but the real point was to win with style. The crowd was expecting fireworks and lightning, at minimum.

The contestants walked on to the arena. The audience had to strain to see them; normally they would have been nearer but for this duel their normal distance might be too close.

Both duelists were checked by the officiating wizards for any traces of preexisting alchemy, and walked up to their assigned cauldrons. Duels could either end in seconds if one had prepared something the other was unready for, or go on for hours or even days as they improvised with the ingredients they brought. The arenas had to be entirely made of alchemically boring aluminum, and had been ever since an incident where a duelist vaporized the wood floor with a single drop of dragonfire.

Both drew out their allotted single chalice of previously prepared liquids, and Heptamegistus drank. Aceso poured hers out in front of her, and it was pure water.
Her opponent froze with the glass to his lips, and the ground rang when he fell.

At the post-match interviews, the first time someone asked Aceso what she had done to Heptamegistus she answered that she had done nothing at all; but he was in no pain and would be back to normal any minute. She had simply arranged for him to drink an excessively literal potion.

It turns out steel wires aren’t that great at correctly transmitting electrical impulses for the nervous system. It works better with actual nerves. So Heptamegistus was receiving no information from any sensory organs, and could send no instructions to his limbs to move them. He would stay conscious but paralyzed and insensate until the Elixer of Life brought him back to normal.

Without that elixer, Heptamegistus would have been basically flayed alive from the inside—the sciatic nerve, for example, is roughly the size of an epee blade and perilously close to several arteries, and thinner nerves would be sharper and more numerous—but with it he’d just spend a few minutes unable to see, hear, feel, or move. He later reported this as having been the worst few minutes of his life, trying to mix potions but not knowing whether his body was obeying his commands, or even if he was still alive.

The audience, thoroughly impressed with Aceso, decided to tell Heptamegistus that he had fought on bravely even after Aceso hit him with a compound that took away his senses. It’d be less embarrassing for him than the truth, and it’s not like he could know the difference.

And after that, nobody challenged Aceso for a very long time.

Phoenix Tears and You

So, you’ve just found out that there’s a species dependent on your tears to stay alive.

Wait, what?
It’s true. Your tears can cure any illness or injury they ever get. Anything short of death.

Seriously?
Yes. They’re called “humans,” and they consider your species legendary beings.

Because of the tears thing?
Because of the tears thing. Well, that, and the burning to death and being reborn at regular intervals, and all the flame-themed magic, and stuff like that.

So is this why humans keep asking me to cry?
Yes. It’s pretty understandable, actually, since they usually have someone they want you to cure and when humans die they don’t just light themselves on fire and come out younger.

What? Why are there any of them left?
There are always new ones. Sometimes there are more of them and sometimes less; it’s kind of weird. 

So it doesn’t really matter if they die?
It matters to them. It’d be nice of you to help them out.

And by “help them out” you mean “cry on them to keep them alive.”
Or save the tears in a jar or something. Can you cry at will? I can recommend some acting lessons.

This is weird and kind of creepy.
Yeah, probably. But I promise it’s worth it to the humans.

I don’t like the idea of my tears being in someone else’s body. I’m not doing it.
I’m pretty sure all the humans would agree you have an ethical obligation to do it.

Not doing it.

 

So, you’ve just found out there’s a species that needs your blood to live.

 

Wait, what?
Yep. They’re called vampires, and they starve without human blood.

I heard you talking to that phoenix. You’re about to try to convince me to feed the vampires.
Pretty much.  It’s inconvenient but safe, and it’ll save someone’s life.

A vampire’s life.
It’s not their fault they’re a vampire! That’s racist. And they have literally no ethical source of food other than human volunteers.

Aren’t they just going to need to feed again later?
Usually it’s a one-time thing. There are exceptions. But even so, so what? 

It sounds painful.
Kind of. It’s a lot less painful than starving to death, though.

And dangerous.
It’s actually not. It’s not like anyone will go crazy and try to kill you for your blood, and modern sanitation makes vampirism not contagious.

And disgusting. I don’t like the idea of my blood in someone else’s digestive tract.
How do you think they feel about it?

Look, you’re obviously crazy and there is no way I’m doing something that disgusting.
You’re OK with people dying for your feelings?

Go bother someone else.
You know, a phoenix just refused something easier than this. How would you like to be able to tell people you’re more ethical than a phoenix?

OK, I’m in.

So, you’ve just found out there are people who need your blood to stay alive.

Hey, you’re that vampire guy! I’m not letting any vampires use my blood.
Why not?

Um, they’re disgusting and cannibalistic and evil and stuff?
I’d argue with you, but it turns out calling people racist isn’t very effective at convincing them.
What if they weren’t disgusting evil creatures? Would saving someone nicer be worth something  approximately that degree of weird?

Well of course. I’m not a psychopath, so of course I’d take a few minutes’ inconvenience to save the life of a centaur or a unicorn or whatever.
In fact, wouldn’t you agree you have a moral duty to do that just as much as a phoenix has a duty to save people?

Well, not as much, because with the phoenix it’s less effort and it’s saving real human people….
Good news! It works on humans, too.

Huh?
Really. You go slightly out of your way and have a moderately unpleasant part of your afternoon, and it saves someone’s life. This is totally within your power as a normal human and doesn’t have to involve any fantasy creatures whatsoever.

Oh, you’re talking about blood donations. No, I don’t do that.

 

 I’m always annoyed at people in fiction continually missing really obvious solutions to things. And then in some cases the same thing works even better in real life, and people still don’t do it. I don’t know if it came across, but the point I was trying to get at is that if you think phoenixes should cure everything then you should probably be a blood donor.

Inverse Magic

After seeing it used one too many times, I decided I’m tired of the whole “strong emotions make your magic more powerful” thing. It’s not bad; it’s just overused to the point where it doesn’t occur to people to not use it. So I want to see something where it’s the opposite. Try this instead.

Magic power is proportional to how much you care about the thing you’re using it for. That much is pretty normal. Unlike normal, it’s inversely proportional.

You can, on a whim, create a planetoid made entirely of antimatter. And keep it magically contained in such a way that it’s entirely safe and leaks precisely enough energy to warm up your tea. But if you’re trying to use magic to Save The World, then you’re limited to maybe creating a small air current from across the room.

It is considered impolite to use magic for others. This is because if you are capable of, say, conjuring them a sandwich, it implies that you don’t care very much whether or not they get one. (The extent to which this is true depends on how much magic you have to use while doing it, but for purposes of politeness and social signalling people usually just avoid stating upper bounds on how important other people’s needs are. For obvious reasons.)

Instead, people employ mages for hire. It’s a pretty low-status position because of the specific requirements, but it does pay well. The mages for hire are nice friendly people with no empathy. They don’t care about your problem at all, and how much they care whether the solution works depends entirely on how much you’re paying them.

The economics would be interesting, but I suspect it works out. For really big things, like if you want to hire one to end world hunger, that’d be worth a lot of money to you. And they won’t do it for less money than you’re willing to pay. But if they personally have a lot riding on it then they actually do care whether it works and so they wouldn’t be able to easily do it. For small, cheap things, they could but you’ll get out-bidden. There’ll be a range of things that are worth hiring a mage for and still possible for them to do, but I haven’t decided where that should be.

(No, you can’t just pay a mage $1000 to make you a millionaire. Governments use mostly mundane but extremely aggressive anti-counterfeiting measures so that it’s prohibitively difficult to get away with magically creating money. Most magic users know better than to try.)

Of course, there has to be a typical way to try to take over the world. You need at least two villains with completely orthogonal goals, so that they honestly don’t care whether the other succeeds or fails. Like maybe Sauron wants to rule the world but doesn’t care who’s in it, and Magneto doesn’t care who rules the world but doesn’t want any non-magic-users in it. (I’m sure there’s at least one version of Magneto that wanted all non-mutants dead, right?) Then since magic power is inversely proportional to importance, they can both do unstoppable amounts of magic to help the other.

Unfortunately for the world, it’s nearly impossible to stop the villains by magical means. Anyone who wants to try is trying to save lots of people’s lives and everybody’s way of life, and that’s probably near the top of the list of things they care about. Very few of these villain teams have ever been brought down by any wizard that there is or was.

Very few have ever had to be. Fortunately for the world, the villains doing this have to fit some specific criteria. They can’t be friends, or what happens to the other will be something they care about and that limits their power. They can barely even be allies, since they’re working toward totally different goals and are completely neutral toward each other. But they have to trust each other completely, enough to unleash world-shapingly powerful magicks upon request. Since all the parties involved are of the supervillainly persuasion, the trust bit usually fails and they turn on each other and the world remains un-taken-over. The average citizen doesn’t realize how many times this has happened.

Solving world problems with magic is accepted (mostly accurately) to be impossible. Some were easy enough, for instance widespread starvation is no longer a thing, but the remaining serious issues are complicated enough that the only people who would know how to solve them with magic are also the people that the issues are important to.

The protagonist of the story (Not that I’m not going to write one. If someone else wants to use parts of this, well, I’d be entertained.) comes up with a way to reliably do big things. Of course, nobody listens because that’s known to be impossible and also because using magic to accomplish things gets interpreted as an insult, but when the entire population of Earth gets an invitation to move to his moon colony, the entire thing becomes obvious in retrospect.

Before it reached the planetary colonization stage, the one-man space program started out pretty small-scale.
All he had to do was convince a few people to do completely routine things by using vastly unnecessary amounts of magic. And, more importantly, to do it predictably. If someone regularly decides to negate gravity around the part of Earth’s surface containing their house in order to make their chair more comfortable, that would be overkill. But as long as the chair is already fine the way it is, there’s no reason they can’t do it. And if the protagonist happens to know that gravity is going to be turned off for a while above his neighbor’s house, there’s no reason he can’t take advantage of it.

Single stage to orbit gets a lot easier without gravity, especially if you can get the necessary speed a similar way. Convince a second neighbor that as long as they’re opening an umbrella with magic anyway, they might as well do it the cool way by imparting upward momentum to everything above them. And it is cool; you get to watch a hole get punched through the clouds when a cylinder of cloud moves out and back in. (And the rocket gets extra speed. But they probably don’t even need to know that.)

(And maybe convince a third neighbor that thunderstorms are an extremely useful method of convincing the cat to stay indoors. Or something. As long as it gives that second person a reason to open an umbrella.) As long as none of the people involved are doing anything they especially need magic for, there’s arbitrarily large amounts of free energy available. You can magic away gravity, or air resistance, or pretty much anything standing in your way. The only catch is that each step has to involve someone doing something ordinary by completely uncalled-for methods.

The protagonist’s name is, of course, Rube Goldberg.

Well, that escalated quickly

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king,
“Do you know what I know—”

Said the advocatus diaboli,
“I object to hearsay!
It’s not admissible, mighty king.
I object to hearsay.
He says, he says, only what he’s heard
From the animals and the wind.
From the animals and the wind.”

Said the lawyer for the little shepherd boy,
“No, this is not hearsay.
By rule 801 section b
This cannot be hearsay.
There is, there is, no prior statement here
Said by any person at all.
Said by any person at all.”

Said the other guy to the mighty king,
“Ask him how he knows this.
The witness will admit, mighty king.
Ask him how he knows this.
The source, the source, for everything he says
It was just a voice on the wind.
It was just a voice on the wind.”

Said the king to the lawyers pro and con,
“How are you both so wrong?
I will overrule both of you.
How are you both so wrong?
Those rules, those rules, don’t apply to me.
If I say so, he’ll testify.
If I say so, he’ll testify.” 

Said the king to the people everywhere,
“Listen to what I say.
I’m in charge, people everywhere.
Listen to what I say.
Because, because, they have displeased the court,
Lawyers now are banned from the realm.
Lawyers now are banned from the realm.


And they all lived happily ever after, to the end of their days.

True Story

I found this in my “Trash” folder. I didn’t  write it or throw it away, but maybe someone else has some idea what it is.

There is a building on campus. It’s one of those things where people see it all the time, but they look right past it and ignore it completely. If you’ve ever walked around that block, you’ve probably seen it yourself.

The thing about this place is that it is completely unused. It’s surrounded by busy university buildings, but it’s always empty. Despite that, the power is on, the elevator works, and the building is kept unlocked.

When looking for this building, you always seem to take a wrong turn. But if you plan out where to go ahead of time, and try to follow the directions instead of trying to find the building, then you can end up at the front door. When the front door closes behind you, everything is suddenly quiet. You can hear normal building sounds—doors opening and closing, air conditioners running, the occasional elevator ding—but not a single thing coming from outside.

Most of the doors on the ground floor are unlocked. There are some exceptions. If you walk around for a short time, you will find a door that is not only locked but sealed. Duct tape covers every edge in an airtight seal. Do not break that seal. If you do, something bad happens. I don’t know what, but there was definitely a reason.

Inside the building, there are signs that people have been there recently. A receipt dropped on the ground dated earlier that month. A flyer posted on a wall advertising an event that is always two weeks ago. Janitorial supplies in a few places. Different places every time, but always somewhere. Every time I went there, it had been clear that this was a building people used. I don’t know how many times I have been in that building. The first time I entered, I left thinking two things. One was that it was surprising how all the lights were on, and the other was that I should have brought a flashlight.

I’ve heard that there’s something strange about this building, but I have no idea what’s strange, or who I heard it from. I’m pretty sure nobody I know has been in here. Today, I’m wandering around inside to see if there’s anything unusual. I do have a flashlight, because why not. I don’t know anything about whatever’s up with this place, but that’s a fact about my knowledge and not a fact about what’s in here. I’ll get some information, and then I’ll know.

Most of the floors are nothing special, not that I can tell. Just ordinary short hallways and locked doors. I keep hearing shoes, footsteps echoing from the staircase. When I call out, the only response I get is my own echo. I time the echoes, and they’re late. Well, I’d be pretty likely to get that wrong anyway. I keep walking around, not making eye contact with anyone. Nothing between the ground floor and the top stands out, especially not on the fifth floor.

When I explore the top floor, I’m surprised to find that it’s wider. I walk out of the elevator and keep walking past the distance from the elevator to the outer wall on lower floors. I go back down to the ground floor, measure the shorter distance, then go back up and measure the longer distance. Same number. I guess the ground floor is bigger than I remembered it. The extra space on the top floor is occupied by nothing especially interesting, mainly a bunch of machinery that looks ordinary and boring. But past the distance from the elevator to where the wall should be, I do find something. I never expected to see snow indoors.

I keep walking around this surprisingly large top floor, and take one door that leads horizontally to the roof. Lots of buildings have floors at the same height as their roofs, right? I can’t think of any right now, but I’m sure they exist. And the air is still breathable and the sky is still blue, so that’s a plus. Why was I here? Right. Information. I pick up some of the snow, form it into a small snowball, and toss it off the roof. It falls at a normal speed and lands on the ground at normal Earth. I can see university students walking around down there, so whatever is going on was just inside this one empty building.

I hear more footsteps, behind me this time. Next thing I know, I’m pressing the elevator button. My heart is pounding and my eyes are wide, but there’s nothing here to be afraid of. I must have decided I wasn’t going to see anything else inexplicable and gone back in to the elevator. Yes, that must be it.

Back on the ground floor, there’s a sign saying “Exit.” It leads to what looks a lot like a large dark room. With the door open, I jiggle the opposite side’s handle. It doesn’t move. Had I gone through, it would have locked behind me. I don’t recall seeing this door before. Could it be why I had wanted to come back with a flashlight? I wish I had remembered to bring one; then I’d be able to at least look at what’s in there. I consider asking the person in the room down the hall, but then I remember I’m alone in the building.

Instead, I go down to the basement. It’s even bigger than the top floor. I walk through part of it, ducking under air ducts (or whatever those are) and seeing whether there’s anything out of place. There isn’t. Except one thing, a sign taped to a piece of machinery: Employees Do Not Eat the Chocolate. I don’t see any chocolate to not eat, and I definitely haven’t seen any employees. The lack of punctuation is weird; this isn’t a command, it’s a statement. Maybe whoever posted the sign wanted to say that they had so much control over their employees that they could stop them from eating chocolate? Were they trying to tell me that? I can’t imagine who would come down here and see that sign; there isn’t even a clear path from here to the door.

Now my heart is pounding again, and I can feel that there’s someone behind me. I turn around, but I’m safely alone. Feeling all kinds of silly and hoping my voice doesn’t quiver, I ask aloud what’s the quickest way out. Nobody answers my question, so I follow their directions. I leave through a door that wasn’t there before, and exit (horizontally) into the normal world.

Most of what I saw already doesn’t make sense to me, and somehow I know it’ll only make less over time. I’ll probably forget the whole thing soon. In a very short time, I’ll still be here but the person who walked out of that building will never have existed. But I remember how to get back. Before I forget that, I’ll make sure my future self will find out. He won’t remember where he heard it or what it’s about, but he’ll go back and get some information and maybe then I’ll get my past self back. He’ll just have to remember to