The Magic Lighter
Dreamed 1985/8/10 by Chris Wayan
I go to see my friend Leona's new house in Mountain View. Nice, but I wonder how long she'll stay. Her housemate Sally tells me privately that Leona's so territorial, she's already offended ALL their neighbors! I love Leona but she has some fierce defenses.
Sally and I discuss it, but don't know what to do. We've both brought it up with Leona, but she dismisses you right away. She seems to think... if she cares what others think at all, or even LISTENS, she's surrendered--under their control.
So she plows ahead, ignoring everyone defiantly... and has to move every year or so, fleeing the mob with torches. Well, the suburban equivalent--neighborhood associations with fiery petitions.
I fought against Evil, once; even gained several talismans. For a long time, it seemed we'd won; Evil went dormant. But now Evil's sent a powerful emissary; the Great War's begun again.
A woman comes to recruit me; as a proven fighter, I'm needed, even though I'm a primitive in the eyes of the star-peoples who carry the brunt of the war. She introduces me to Captain Sally, who's in charge of strategy in this sector and they argue tactics involving whole solar systems. I feel left out, a savage.
They all wear light helmets, like showercaps--flimsy things, but full of high-tech magic, for they let you fly. I say "I want to try a helmet." Sally says "I doubt you can use one; they're too far from your time and technology. They're steered by pure thought. Still... I'll go with you. Just a short flight." I know she's only letting me risk this out of respect for my war record. To survive what I did, I must be more adaptive than your average savage. I'm not mocking myself or her: the gap is real. But this helmet--I feel drawn.
Rightly so. I soar on my first try, and unlike Icarus, I find it easy to command--a part of me! I love flying. To see one's world from above, all spread out as a whole! It isn't just scenery--you can only love what you can know, and I've known my world in pieces. To see it all as one is to love it so, as one.
And then she guides me up, through white cloud-canyons, up till the sky turns indigo and faint stars appear. She points out the other planets and explains "This is the true battlefront, not planetary surfaces. This solar system has been distorted by the Evil--all the orbits are cometary now, and the worlds go hot and cold. Such orbits interfere--two planetoids collided, leaving streamers of gas and debris. The living worlds face comet strikes in the time to come. Hard times for biospheres." The details may be above my low-tech head, but even I know a rain of comets can't be good.
We head for our command post, up the slope of a green city like Berkeley. I walk rather than fly: want to give myself time to prepare to meet Commander Leona. She's a bit... formidable.
We join three other fighters on the third-floor balcony of a store, overlooking a huge courtyard, an atrium built where the slope steepens to a cliff, and a hundred-meter waterfall drops in a slender white dart to a green pool. It's beautiful, but sad for me; it's a battle site, where I dueled a terrifying creature in the last war. Traumatic and hazy for me; the memorial plaque knows more details than I do. Strange, but that loss is my war-scar. Could have been worse. One of the recruits, heady in her new helmet, wants to dive off the balcony into the pool; I suggest "This isn't a game." As if I hadn't loved my first flight, just days ago! Old trauma talking--making me cautious.
Down into our command center, Leona's Inner Sanctum...
Leona's a well-read witch. She knows her talismans, and I want her advice on one. Not something I won in battle, but one I've kept secret--a small safety pin I've kept hidden in the seam of my zipper, in my jeans. I figure if anyone notices they'll just think I'm the kind of slob who pins his pants. You know us veterans.
But the safety in THIS safety pin is extraordinary--I can feel the force, but I want Leona's best guess as to what it does exactly. Safety from what? And defense aside, what about offense? It's been a long time since I fought, but...
Suddenly I recall the sword I once had. And it appears quietly, without any fuss, hanging from my belt.
Oh, and remember the psychic lens, to focus my powers? Where did...? It reappears too.
As soon as I realize I had such weapons, I have them again.
Leona's busy tutoring her child, who's reciting a lesson: "Fear is the mind-killer; I will cast it out."
As we walk up, Leona says "Yes. Swear you won't break down." But her eyes are sidelong, at her husband, not their child. She repeats "Swear YOU won't break down!" eyes on him, and the dig is blatant this time. For in her view he did give in to fear, in his gentle policies between the wars, and she can't accept that, or him.
This marriage is over.
And him? He still thinks he did the right thing.
Leona tells me there are only two types of magician. Not exactly good and evil... "One type are like brontosaurs, apatosaurs, whatever you call them--big lunky grazers... maybe irritable, maybe destructive, maybe not. But they're not out to kill you. Then you have your tyrannosaurs, your predators, who HAVE to feed on others. That's the split that counts--predator or not?"
She's wants my help trying to summon up a magician's spiritual "heart", to control him. "We need to make it material somehow--then we can control him, or kill him..." I feel queasy. I know it's war, but...
Her husband leaves. Leona laughs bitterly, calls him weak, and me too. "All of you are too squeamish. We're in a war against evil, you know!" My. She's working herself up to a fit of righteousness!
Leona laughs again and jumps into her armchair, which spins from the blow. But it keeps spinning, faster and faster! Leona cackles and hoots and yells "Cowwwwwaaaarrrrds!"
Leona leaps from the chair and storms out of the shelter like a tornado on the loose. She'll crush the Enemy all by herself...
Oh, no! She forgot her magic cigarette lighter! It's sitting on the table. Hope she can get started without it. Well... she's a big girl now. A big, big, big girl.
The chair spins slowly to a stop...
And then it stirs! What?
Leona forgot something else. In her chair, curled up asleep like a cat... is a girl no bigger than a cat. Not a child, a miniature, feline-flexible woman. Who Leona was SITTING on. Squashing.
But not any more!
Suddenly, Commander Sally giggles and whispers "Leona's getting careless... she forgot who was sleeping underneath her! When the new girl wakes, SHE'LL inherit the Magic Lighter!"
And I can't say I feel bad about it.
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