The Gift, Part 1

Steven Bergom

It all started when a dragon was killed, which was made all the more amazing because dragons, until that time, did not exist. No one to this day — and probably for a long time to come — has been able to determine how the creature came to be or why a house fell on him but we were all able to see his death on the television when a news crew showed up and broadcast his last moments in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

(Okay, I take that back; the house falling on the dragon is actually easy to explain. It seems that a local, eccentric businessman thought that his house ought to be two feet to the left. While at the controls of a very large and powerful crane a construction worker, surprised at the sudden appearance of a mythical beast, pushed a little too hard on a lever and, as always happens when you push too hard on a lever, the wrong thing happened.)

The beast had a rather annoyed expression on his face — more from the reporter sticking her microphone in his snout than his rather ignominious end — as he gasped through the pain of shattered bones and internal bleeding. "People of the world," he spoke. "My name is unimportant and my time short so I must speak in simple and un-adorned phrases. Me and my bretheren have watched you for many centuries. We have watched you fall and retreat, we have seen you stand tall; we have witnessed you perform horrific acts and incredible feats of kindness. You are the best and the worst of all the universe has to offer but you are lacking one thing that would make you complete.

"You have technology — more, in fact, than any species needs. Unfortunately, as you have developed your sciences and unlocked the physical mysteries of the universe you have developed an apathy. No longer does the thought of looking around the next corner fill you with romanticism and desire. Instead you wake up, go to work, do your job and come home in the evenings to a mundane life. Today, I give you a gift.

"I had wanted to teach you its use," he said turning a reproachful eye to a rather abashed construction worker, "but that will not be the case. Instead I must trust you to learn on your own what can and cannot be done. Be well and one day you may be in the position to return the favor." At that point the dragon coughed, lurched and then he exploded.

It wasn't a normal explosion, mind you. There were no bits of dragon meat flying through the air (well, none that I could see) but it was an explosion none-the-less. There was an incredible burst of light, sound and something else and it hit us in our homes shortly after it occurred. It was the something else that I blame for what happened next; everything went screwy.

Roughly half of the earth's population ceased to exist as all beaurocrats, papparazi, Microsoft employees (and MCSEs) and tele- marketers disappeared from wherever they were. Petroleum stopped igniting making gasoline-powered cars useless. Gold became quite plentiful, a chemical sludge fell on northern Africa and dogs and cats started speaking — in English.

These are all bad things, you might say, but I can honestly tell you that they are the best thing to ever happen to mankind. With the population much smaller we had a far easier time feeding people and with no beaurocrats to muddy up the works international trade became much less difficult than before.

At first people paniced at not having new Microsoft products, but it soon became apparent that everyone's lives was made much easier by using BSD and other Unix-based operating systems. (Note: There is much argument on this point and many dissenters claim that whatever power was relased when the dragon died changed every human's mind to be able to comprehend esoteric commands and type at blazing-fast speeds. It should also be noted that many of these self-same protesters painted their houses blue surmounted with strings of incomprehensible letters and numbers and were often jailed for molesting penguins.)

The papparazi were never missed, the gold was largely ignored because most countries had been off the gold standard for years and bicycles quickly became very popular (and the magical vortexes that connected far parts of the globe helped, too). The chemical sludge that fell on Africa was actually a super-fertilizer that greened the vast Sahara and enabled an agricultural rennaissance in Ethiopea and the only problem was the occasional Nigerian who grew a second set of arms or a pair of wings. The only problem with the sudden verbosity of the pets was with those people who didn't speak English.

I should also point out a rather dramatic shift in employment. I, for example, was employed as a networking wizard; you know, that guy who sits in an office crammed full of wires and cables and knows everything about every strange and magical networking protocol. After the explosion I became a wizard in actual fact, able to work magic and cast spells and all the rot. I even have a pointy hat and a wand to make it official! Of course, I'm more of a technomage since my magic works mostly with computers and such, but I'm a wizard none- the-less.

Then there were the physical changes that took place. Some people became fantasy characters right out of a C.S. Lewis novel and others became creatures that would give H.P. Lovecraft fits. A few were useful, a couple were evil, and an even larger group wandered around for several years trying to figure out their purpose. There was also a small but noticeable portion of the population that turned into domestic animals; my neighbor — a rather portly fellow — became a billy goat. Why he did so I do not know, but I must say that I have never seen the neighborhood so clean.

Now I know I should finish this tale now but there is so much to tell. I still have yet to get to the riots and the panics and the battles royale — it's quite exciting stuff, don't you know! — but, unless my ears deceive me, I think I can hear my wife's growling. There's been a few incursions of late by trollocs and she is employed by the town council to defend the city. She likes the work, but it is hard and trolloc blood mats here fur smells something fierce. It's my job to make sure that the water in the bath is at the right temperature, the children are in the other wing of the house and her supper is at body temperature.

So with that in mind I leave you until I take up keyboard and mouse and write to you again. Have a good evening and don't let the bed bugs turn out to be giant preying mantises.