Before the Magic Operation Center offered me a job, they sent me on a ride-along with one of their seasoned mages, Paul Weaver, and boy could he talk. He picked me up in his black 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, and headed into town.
“Nice to meet you, Larry. We’ve got a call to troubleshoot some pylons down along Juniper Boulevard.”
He had longish brown hair, about a week and a half of stubble, a green crew shirt, and blue jeans.
“The pylons are everywhere. I guarantee you’ve seen them. We originally set them up to sink the excess magic whirling around the city. That’s what happens when you have a metropolis like ours so full of wizards.
“They’re more than sinks now, though. They literally anchor the magic’s fabric and keep it even throughout so that there aren’t high-concentration areas where a wizard might intend to move a stone with his mind, but wind up crushing a house with it. The other danger it prevents is not to allow places so thin with magic that a wizard is rendered powerless and vulnerable. We all hate that—good and bad.
“Larry, we like to keep things on an even keel here. This isn’t the Wild West. My job is to keep them in repair.
“Have you figured out what they are yet?” I didn’t have time to shrug. “Fire hydrants. The quality of tapping into water was very conducive to magic interaction, so all hydrants were adapted. You’ll be hard-pressed to find even one that has not been fitted with the appropriate magic interfaces, though they aren’t visible to anyone not knowing what to look for.
“We monitor them from the Magic Operation Center where even the weakest of wizards can send beacons of power through the fabric and receive echoes from every pylon. It’s a pretty amazing system. The mages on duty sit in a circle, translate the echoes, and project the pylons onto a three dimensional image between them.
“It’s a great place for any novice wizard to start. They keep in constant contact with archmages such as myself, and they learn new things about how magic really works. Cheez, sometimes they know more about what’s going on than we do.”
He pulled onto Juniper Boulevard and parked with one wheel on the curb.
“We don’t usually lose the pylons altogether.” He unbuckled and popped his door, so I followed suit. “Low water pressure can make the strength plummet, and thunderstorms or odd environmental things can make them fluctuate unpredictably, but there’s not much to cut them off entirely.”
We walked a short way down the street to the first hydrant.
“This is our anchor,” he said. “It’s the last good one before we get to the ones we lost, so we’ll be trying to interweave their magic with it.”
Further down the street, we found another fire hydrant, and an unusual sight started my heart pumping. I could see small creatures clinging to the side, but they were only visible through my second sight. They looked like giant pill bugs, but with spines coming out from each ring of its shell, lacy-looking claws coming out the sides. The bugs shimmered in a way not usual to normal vision.
In my life up to then, I had only encountered my second sight three times. It is by no means common.
“What do you think?” Paul asked.
“Are those bokochiggers?”
“Ding-ding-ding! Nice guess. What do we do now?”
“Remove them? Maybe their preventing the magic from flowing.”
“How do we do that?”
I felt embarrassed because I had no idea. “Uuuuh. Pull them off and bag ‘em?”
“Go ahead,” he said.
I grabbed a trash bag from the back of his truck and shook it open, then put on some thick gloves. I looked at him uneasily, and he nodded toward the hydrant.
The creatures clung very tightly, so it took a lot of strength and prying to get them off, one by one. When I had them all, he told me to tie off the bag and throw it in the truck.
By the time I turned around with a new bag, the hydrant was once again covered in the things.
Paul looked at me and smirked. “I like the fact that you just dug in and got your hands dirty—you weren’t even thinking of treating it with magic. However, an important lesson in troubleshooting is figuring out if something is a cause or a symptom.” He nicked his head at the hydrant. “Them bugs be symptoms. They feed off of a magic residue of some sort after magic is gone.”
“Wow.” I tucked the trash bag in my pocket. “What happens when we get the magic back?”
“They’ll scatter like roaches.” I must have looked worried because he patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry. They’re perfectly harmless.”
“You want me to let the ones in your truck loose?”
“Heck no. They’re good eating.”
Paul waved me on. “Let’s check the next one.”
About halfway down the next block, a sticky blue haze flowed in several directions, then receded into a dense dark cloud the size of a buffalo.
“What new hell is this?” said Paul. “The thing is, we’re only barely close enough to the anchor point to draw power and defeat this thing.” He shook his head. “What have the sorcerers come up with now?”
I felt a little timid, but I was pretty sure I knew what it was. “I may have a remedy. Let’s get to a gardening store.”
He looked at me like I was crazy at first, but looking back at the cloud, he shrugged his shoulders. We picked up a battery operated garden mister from a mom and pop gardening store, and I grabbed a gallon of vinegar from a grocery store.
When we got back to the cloud, which was now moving like a pinwheel on its side, I filled the mister’s tank with the vinegar and turned it on. I aimed the mist at the cloud, stepping closer and closer as it receded. Little by little it dissipated and vanished.
When it was gone, Paul scowled at me askew. “What the hell was that?”
“It wasn’t magic. It was rogue nanobots.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Why vinegar?”
“A lot of the nanoswitches for this rogue stuff are pH activated, but if it wasn’t, there was a better than even chance the acidity would disable them.”
“Huh.” Paul called the MOC and verified the pylons were coming back up, and the magic fabric was restored. “How did it interfere with magic?”
“No idea,” I said. “I figured we should at least eliminate it as a possibility.”
“Huh.” He rubbed his neck. “So nanotechnology can interfere with magic now.”
He scoffed. “It’s a brand new world. You’re hired.”