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June 4th, 2011:

Sampling Today’s Output: Ten Gentle Opportunities

Having gotten stuck on The Everything Machine a couple of days ago, I went back to my whimsical novel of magic-as-alternate physics (and spells-as-software), Ten Gentle Opportunities. Sales of my 99c ebook fantasy novelette “Whale Meat” (epub) have been unexpectedly good. You guys want magic? I give you magic: object-oriented magic. Oh, and zombies. Gotta have zombies these days. Here’s a snippet from this morning’s work, which comes immediately after the short piece I posted last Halloween:

Styppkk’s snerf-sense brought him fresh indication that Jrikkjroggmugg was hard at work on something on the other side of the wall. The angry Adamant had his number by now, and would not use any cheap stock spell that could be subverted by a mere Hkkrr.

Quickly, then! Using his left pinkie as a lamp, Styppkk dumped both the material and immaterial contents of one of his many pants pockets on the ground. A zombie activator: basically a quarter of a prtynytty, ground fine and mixed with some blood, bile, and toad stool, all rolled into the payload of a small black-powder bottle rocket. A packet of obedience dust clipped to a packet of etheric intelligence booster might also be useful, assuming the trigger spell wasn’t broken. (Always a risk when you bought cheap magic at Shazam’s Club.) A reputedly unreliable can of generic zombie repellant rounded out the kit; next time he would pay another bkk to get real Zom-B-Gone, and worry less.

Styppkk stuck the little rocket’s bamboo tail into the eyesocket of a nearby skull and struck a match. After a moment for the very short fuse to sizzle, the activator rode a little arc of fire four or five cubits into the noisome air. With a quick pop! it burst, scattering its foul-smelling dust in every direction. Styppkk ran out toward the center of the lychfield, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Through the twin daggers in the visor of his iron helmet he watched the process begin: little glowing wisps twisting and darting in short motions synchronized to the unheard but deeply felt double beat of the World Heart. Twist-twist and pause, dart-dart and pause, descending and flowing into the stiff bodies lying everywhere around him.

He watched them shudder and stretch, gathering limbs beneath them and shoving away from the ground. The odor in the air changed from the dull, dank smell of stagnation to the sharp reek of rot. In waves radiating out from the center of the lychfield they stood, staggered, and scratched their heads. Those that still had noses raised them, turning to follow the strong scent of magic that surrounded Styppkk. Step by shambling step, they lurched toward him.

Styppkk gave himself a few quick schpritzes with the bargain-bin zombie repellent–head, crotch, and armpits–in case things got a little too cozy. He then picked up a sit-by-nellie spell from the pile of oddments at his feet.

“You guys need something to do,” he said aloud. The spell seemed reasonably well-made and certainly strong enough, somewhere past yellow if not quite green. Styppkk cranked the range up as high as it would go, poked the repeat-until-break spot to set it, and then hit the trigger.

Tapping his teeth together to keep the beat, Styppkk began a hoary old folk dance he’d learned at his cousin’s wedding years ago: Hands out, hands flipped, hands on hips, hands behind head, wiggle butt, jump and turn 90 degrees. All around him the newly animated zombies imitated his every move. He went through it a second time (more slowly, to go easier on decomposing limbs) and then, spinning his middle finger for emphasis, poked the segno.

The auto-arrange property of the spell worked beautifully: In perhaps a score of beats the zombies had spaced themselves equally into a perfectly rectangular constellation of wiggling, writhing doom.

Styppkk had the cover he needed. It was now Jrikkjroggmugg’s move.