Thursday, January 29, 2004

TNT: Ch. 19

Eric did not speed for long. In fact, in light of recent events, he was very self-conscious about it. He realized he was very lucky to still have a license at all after the crash on the way into Wheatsfield. So the key this time would be to focus. To not get lost in his own little world. To - hey, was that the gear shift from his old car? He supposed it was possible, but - No! To focus. Focus on getting to... To...?
"Umm, guys? Where are we going?"
"We figured you knew," replied Gina.
"Nope. I think I'll pull over at the next rest stop so we can figure it out. Until then, well, what have we got to find?"
"The Golden Handle," said Vlad.
"The, umm, Heating Element of something something," Gina chimed in.
"Eternal Flame, I think," finished Eric, "And then the Iron Springs of, uh, Life?"
"Yes, and one more," said Vlad.
They all thought for a minute.
"Oh well," said Eric finally, "We'll ask Master Lin next time we call him. Any leads on the first three?"
"I might. There is an old children's tale my uncle used to tell me back in the old country. There was once an old craftsman, you see, who was making a great statue for the plaza of his village. It was commissioned by three different men, and they all wanted it made out of different materials, and they all wanted it to look like them. The first man, who was-"
At this point, he was interrupted by Gina's cry of "Eric! The road!"
"Right, right. The road," he said, turning back around, "Go on Vlad."
"Do you want me to drive?" Gina asked before Vlad could finish.
"No, I got it."
"Ok, but one more slip up and we're switching."
"Won't happen. Do go on."
He did. "Where was I?"
"The first man," Eric said helpfully.
"Oh yes. The first man was a tall lanky man, and when he spoke he talked with his whole body. He wanted the statue to be a common man's statue. He said it should be made of wood, so people would not think of it as above them. He wanted it modeled on himself, as he had always been a champion of the common man. The second man was a short, stout fellow, who wore rich, ornate robes. He spoke in long eloquent words and spun his side of the story like an expert lawyer. He felt the statue should be made of gold, so it would be a symbol of wealth for the city. He wanted it modeled after himself, the richest man in the village. The last man was the strong, silent type. He mostly listened to the other two. It was only when the craftsman asked him what he thought that he spoke. He said he wanted the statue to be made of painted metal - metal to symbolize strength, painted so it would look real, and people would be encouraged to talk to it. The craftsman listened to each of them and said he would heed all of their requests. They were skeptical, but they went away trusting his genius. Weeks passed, and the craftsman was seldom seen away from his studio. Finally the day came, and the man unveiled his statue. It was a man, with his mouth open as if giving a speech, but a look in his eyes that said he would listen to your suggestions too. He was gesticulating with hands stretched out to the people. His body, of wood, was modeled after the first man. His face was steel, painted with the most realistic paints to be had. And his tongue was golden. It symbolized the strength of the city, it's wealth, and it's willingness to listen to and help the common men. It was said to be the greatest masterpiece ever created in the city. And the moral is that it's better to listen to everyone than just to do what you think is best."
"That was great," said Eric.
"What the hell did that have to do with toasters?" asked Gina, a little annoyed. (She could only listen to Vlad talk for so long before getting irritated)
"Good question," added Eric.
"Well," said Vlad, "I figure a golden tongue could be used as a toaster handle."
"It'd be a weird toaster," said Eric.
"Could be kinda cool," Gina pointed out, "But it's a pretty weak lead."
"And do you have a better one, Miss Gina?" asked Vlad.
She thought for a minute. "Actually, yes. Yes, I do."

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

TNT: Ch. 18

Finally, as the time for Master Lin's meeting drew nigh, Gina decided to just head for the junkyard. Miraculously, Eric and Vlad had the same thought. They also happened to meet a little ways away.
"Guys!" shouted Gina when she saw them, "I have something to tell you!"
Before they could answer she continued, "The reason I ran away and Master Lin didn't say my last name and I didn't like the lobster is because my father is a cult leader and I'm engaged to this guy and -"
"Gina!" Eric interrupted, "We know. Vlad had a conversation with the gentleman."
"I didn't want you to find out like that, but I couldn't risk telling you, y'see." She was almost in tears. Eric had never seen her this way.
"It's okay, we understand." And before he knew it she was crying on his shoulder and hugging him. He noticed Vlad wink.
Luckily, Master Lin saved him from this awkward situation.
"Welcome." he said. Gina immediately snapped up and turned around, wiping her eyes. "Some of my students have been working since our meeting. Come, see."
He led them through the junkyard. Presently, Eric was accosted by two unshaven, slightly odiferous men.
"My name's Hank, and this here's Jeb," said one.
"An we reckon yur the feller as was in here a few days ago," Jeb continued.
"That toaster y' kicked out of our junkyard was our property."
"An furthermore, if it had hit somebody, we'd be t' blame fer it."
"I'm very sorry," Eric replied sincerely.
"Well, y'should be."
"An y' owe us 10 dollers."
"What!?! That was my toaster originally. And it wasn't worth ten dollars! And what was it even doing four miles from where I threw it away?"
"We're in the interjunkyard exchange."
"We take the worst stuff to the junk trade show, an' trade with other area junkyards. Helps us bring quality junk to you, like that car ur buildin'."
Master Lin, who had been watching the exchange amusedly, stepped in.
"We agreed on a fair price for the car, and I'm not going to allow you to overcharge it's driver for a piece of low-valued material you can't even prove he purchased. I will give you $1.20 for the useless toaster remains and your trouble. Agreed?"
"Alright, Master Lin. Fer you," Hank relented. The two wandered off, muttering unintelligibly.
"They're not too bad once you know them," said Master Lin, "And my pupils use this place for exercises frequently. In fact, that's how I got this done."
In front of them, surrounded by mechanics and repairmen in training was a most extraordinary vehicle. It looked like a Volkswagen Beetle. At least, the main body seemed to be hacked together form two VW beetles and something else. It was blue and green, except for the irridescent purple hood and trunk. All four hub caps were different. The overall effect was that if one tried to drive it, it would fall apart.
"All we had to buy firsthand were the tires," the mechanic who had shouted "Up" back in the classroom said proudly, "We call it the Ringo Harrison."
"Why?" asked Gina.
"It's made from two Beetles. So whaddya think?"
"It's... nice," said Eric.
"Very resourceful," said Vlad.
"What a piece of junk," said Gina.
"Indeed," said Master Lin proudly. "Want to try it out?"
They really didn't, but once they got inside, it ran pretty smoothly. They bid Master Lin and his apprentices goodbye and took off. (Eric couldn't help but test the top speed which was a whopping 100 mph.)
"An' now he's speedin' like all get out. Liable to kill someone."
"Reckon so, Jeb. Reckon so."

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Fun with the Template: Full Throttle

Say hello to the copyright notice. (scroll down).

TNT: Ch. 17

Even while having this most interesting conversation, Vlad was quite concerned that Eric and Gina weren't in the coffee shop where they'd said they'd meet him.

Eric was quite concerned that he had no idea where Gina had ended up, and that Vlad was probably in the coffee shop waiting.

Gina was quite concerned that Rob was here, looking for her and that she couldn't risk leaving the bushes behind the back door of the Starbucks, even though she could see Eric wandering away. She was even more concerned when she ventured a look through the window and saw Rob talking to Vlad! If he found out everything, and told Eric, she'd... What exactly? Why didn't she want them to know? She'd been blindly keeping up the secrecy so long, she hadn't even given thought to telling Eric and Vlad what, of course, they deserved to know. But she still wanted them to find out from her, not Rob! She decided to find Eric while Vlad distracted Rob.

Eric, meanwhile, decided to go back to coffee shop and hope Gina had done the same. He walked in right as the man he had seen enter earlier was storming off. He saw Vlad sitting at a table and joined him.
"Where is Gina?" Vlad asked.
"She ran off when the guy with the robes came in. I just don't understand that girl."
"Do we ever understand women?"
"But, she won't tell me anything! How am I supposed to get to know her any better if she keeps her past shrouded in mystery?"
"Ahh," said Vlad understandingly, "You are in love with her, no?"
"What!?!" was Eric's incredulous response, "Where did you get that!?!"
"My dear Eric," he said, ignoring the objections, "Women are like cod. Not because they're better dried and salted, they really aren't. Women, not cod. Anyway, women are like cod. When you get a good catch, you've got to let it drag you around for a while if you ever want to reel it in. So just play along with Gina, she'll tell you when she's good and ready."
"Nice analogy, Vlad, but I really have no intention of 'reeling her in.' I just want to know who she is."
"Well she is engaged to the man who just walked out, who also happens to be the owner of this lobster."
"You couldn't have just said that?"
"It was a good analogy. I didn't want to waste it."

Thursday, January 15, 2004

TNT: Ch. 16

She wasn't in the coffee shop! Rob Bluntz, Silver Moose of the order of Floobel had failed once more. And he was sure he'd seen her going in there. He was starting to wonder if this was really worth it. After waking up in the hospital bed and discovering that the lobster was missing, he had been searching every building in the city for either the lobster or for his fiance, but things just kept not going well. And now, well even if he could have returned without the Daughter of the Platinum Stag, he would certainly be ejected from the order if not killed if he returned without the sacred lobster. It was so unfair. If he ever figured out who launched that toaster...
Presently, something shiny caught his eye. A familiar ring. One which matched almost perfectly with the one on his own finger.
"You there," he said to the large Norwegian man who was sitting at a table playing games on his cell phone, "Where did you get that ring?"
The man seemed to consider this for a moment.
"It was placed on my finger while I slept, possibly by a lobster but more likely by a girl. Why do you ask?"
"Why do I ask? WHY DO I ASK!?! That ring is the-" he calmed down, realizing that to reveal too much would be a bad idea. "That ring is mine," he finished calmly if still not politely, "And I would like it back."
"I would be ever so happy to oblige. I don't like it much - the colors are too bright and it is somewhat effeminate. Of course, I'm quite comfortable in my masculinity and have no problem with a somewhat "girly" piece of jewelry, but I do not think this ring is really 'Me'. You see what I'm saying? Of course-"
"Yes I see your point exactly, which is why I think I should have that ring."
"Of course," the man infuriatingly continued almost ignoring Rob's comment, "You already have one such ring, I cannot imagine two would look good at all. If you wore one on each finger it would look too symmetrical, but two on one hand would be repetitive. So really, neither of us has much use for this ring, so-"
"So just... give it... TO ME!!!" he shouted, unable to control himself, "I need that ring to find my fiance and my lobster and go home again so I can be done with this stupid hunt and go home and get married! So just give up the stupid ring which you don't want ANYWAY!"
"I can't," the man replied calmly, "It's stuck, which is what I was getting at. By the way, I think I found your lobster. It's right here."
But his hand was empty.
"It was here a minute ago," he continued, "But I guess it finally ran off. It probably wasn't the same lobster anyway."
"Was it covered in symbols?"
"Well, yes."
"Then it was the same lobster! You've lost my lobster and gotten my ring stuck on your finger. Let's finish it off. You seen a girl around, 5' 10, short brown hair, answers to the name Annette?"
Again he seemed to consider this.
"No, I have met no such girl. Now, if you like we can get the ring cut from my finger. There are no jewelers in Wheatsfield, but I'm sure someone in the factory could help."
"Keep the damn ring! And if you ever get it off, send it to me. Here's my address." He took a piece of scrap paper out of his robes and jotted down an address. "Good day to you, sir!" he exclaimed and stormed off.
The lobster of Bune-Doom, seeing him leave, crawled out from under the table and onto Vlad's lap.

Monday, January 12, 2004

TNT: Ch. 15

Since they had some time before they had to meet Master Lin, Gina and Eric decided to get some coffee while Vlad picked up the phone. There was one more key establishment in Wheatsfield, besides the junkyard, hospital, and Imini complex, and that was the Starbucks. There wasn't a particular need or desire for a Starbucks in the town, but for some reason the company couldn't stand the thought of a town without one. However, with it's placement at the center of town, it had quickly become a popular spot for Wheatsfield's residents, as well as farmers who were in town to sell crops. As a result, it was quite crowded when Gina and Eric ordered some coffee and sat down.
"So, Gina," said Eric, "Out of curiosity, what 'leap of faith' was Master Lin talking about?"
"I'd rather not say."
"We're going to be on this quest together one way or another, Gina. You can't keep hiding your past from me."
"I didn't ask you about your past."
"True enough. I'll go first. I was born in the suburbs of Indianapolis. I have a brother and a sister. I went to IUPUI after high school, and was fortunate to get a good job. I'm a data processor for Globocomucorp. Basically I take the raw data from the engineers and developers, turn it into charts and give it to marketing. I'm also in charge of my project team for the Riggs project - a series of graphics for the stockholder's meeting. This means I have to schedule all the-"
"That explains it!" she exclaimed, the boredom too much for her. "No wonder you got so worked up about your toaster!"
"OK, so my job's not as great as I wish it was. I always wanted to do something noble; something that mattered. I mean, I don't even get to present the data I process. I can only imagine the looks of joy on the stockholders faces when they see my charts."
"You'd probably be imagining them anyway," she replied in a tone that was supposed to be comforting but ended up patronizing.
"So, my life's boring and you don't wanna hear about it!" he said, upset, "At least I'm willing to talk about it."
"You're right. I was being cruel and I shouldn't have-"
"That's okay. You're forgiven. Just tell me about yourself. Where did you come from? What were you running away from?"
"I wasn't running away from anything. I wanted to be an actor."
He just looked at her, with one of those hard-to-pull-off-but-very-effective "You're not fooling anyone" looks. She collapsed under it.
"Ok, you got me. It's because of my father. He's a - Oh look, our drinks."
She got up and walked to the counter. Eric followed. They paid for their drinks and were about to sit down again when Gina froze. She was looking right at a man just outside the door.
"Let's take our coffee outside!" she said suddenly and with obviously fake cheerfulness, "Via the back door!"
"But it says emergency exit onl-"
"Nothing like hot coffee on a cool day, right?" she continued in the same tone, now dragging his arm. She successfully pulled him outside right as the man walked in. The fire alarm went off as the door opened.
"Excuse me sir, ma'am!" yelled the kid at the desk, "That door is for emergency use only!"
"Sorry" said Eric. He began to move towards the front door, but Gina had dissappeared while the door was open. As he left the coffee shop, he noticed the guy she'd been staring at. He was wearing olive green and silver robes, with some very familiar symbols. Eric walked out into the cold, trying to remember where he had seen them before.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

TNT: Ch. 14

After they left, Vlad gave some advice to Eric and Gina.
"Master Lin is one of the most revered makers of toasters in the business," he said, "And if anyone can find us a good, just toaster it will be him. But we must be very diplomatic. It is said that Ti Wao Lin can curse the toasters of those he dislikes, so they might never eat unburnt Pop-Tarts again."
"Don't you think you're being a little superstitious, Vlad?" asked Gina.
"Things in this world are not always as they seem, Gina, especially when toasters are involved."
And suddenly they were here, or atleast where the map said they should be.
Eric cocked an ear to the door. "I don't hear anything. Maybe the class let out early."
He cracked the door open and looked inside. A bunch of men (appliance repairmen from the looks of them) were sitting cross legged in rows throughout the room, with toasters in front of them. He was about to say something when four or five of the men called out "Up!" Half a second later the toast popped up in all the toasters.
A frail, Chinese man in a collar shirt and khakis appeared at the front of the room.
"Very good," he said, "You may all go. The class will resume this same time next week."
To a chorus of "Thank you, Master Lin"s, the men filed out. Master Lin turned to Eric, Vlad, and Gina in turn
"Eric Smellick," he said to Eric, and as their eyes met he felt a strange sense of recognition, like the man was an old friend.
"Vladimir Bergljotssen," (he saw the same look cross Vlad's face, leaving a huge, dumb grin in it's wake)"Sacred Lobster of Bune Doom," (Eric could not read the lobster's face, but was surprised to hear it so named) "And Annette -"
And, making eye contact with her, he stopped there. After a pause he picked up again. "Welcome."
"How did you know our -" Eric began, but the old man interrupted.
"Your coming has been long foretold, toaster seeker. And I have waited for this day. But we will get to that later. You came to ask something of me, I bid you ask it now."
This was it. The answer was sure to be here. All he had to do was ask. Yet Eric now felt a fear in his gut, a voice saying "This is stupid. Get out now." He ignored it.
"Master Lin, I'm interested in purchasing a toaster. A good toaster. A respectful, obedient toaster! A toaster that will make perfect toast every time! This is my request, grant it if you can!" Once the fire had taken over, every shred of self-consciousness left. Eric was once again affirmed in his beliefs.
"Eric Smellick, do you really believe I can grant you this request?"
"I had hoped as much."
"I cannot. But perhaps we can aide each other. I can forge such a toaster, but you must bring me the materials."
"What materials?"
"The prophesy says it must have the Golden Handle of Grace, the Iron Springs of Life, the Heating Element of the Eternal Flame, and the Casing of a Lost Soul. Will you accept this quest, Eric?"
"I will."
"With God as my witness."
She was silent for a moment.
"What about food?" she finally said, breaking the daze, "What about shelter and travel expenses? We don't even have a car."
"True. Accepting the quest is an act of faith. But you have made such a leap before, Annette."
"And look how it worked out!"
"It is still working out, and this decision will doubtless affect that."
"I'll do it. I've come this far; I might as well."
"And you?" he asked the lobster. After a pause he addressed them all.
"The you are ready to go. Take this cell phone number, so you might always call me. (But if you're going to call collect, do it on nights and weekends)"
"um, none of us have cell phones," said Eric.
"Good grief, toaster seeker, it's the twenty-first century! Take this voucher and get one from Jan in communications. Now go. Annette is right. Your first priority is to get a vehicle. I will meet you at the junkyard in three hours."
They left, their new quest weighing heavily on each of them.

Friday, January 02, 2004

TNT: Ch. 13

The Imini building was more of a headquarters than a factory. The factory was definitely a part of the campus, but so were the offices and the labs. The entirity of the corporation seemed to exist in this complex, and it served as one of two poles anchoring Wheatsfield in place, the other being the hospital. All the other buildings - homes, stores, a small school, the junkyard - had grown up around the healers and the appliance makers. (Well, wheat farming was involved too, hence the name, but that started out side the city limits.) When Eric, Vlad, Gina, and the Sacred Lobster of Bune-Doom entered the gates to the Imini complex, they were not just entering a small business as Eric had expected, but a whole appliance centered world. As they walked through the spacious, well-decorated lobby the receptionist welcomed them and asked the question Eric had been dreading:
"How may I help you today?"
He hadn't exactly figured out what to say to her, to avoid being categorized as a nutcase.
"Well, you see, my friends and I, we're on a sort of a quest - well, not so much a quest as a, a fact-finding mission and - y'know what it is more of a quest and-"
"We were hoping to talk to one of your developers." Gina cut in.
'Whom would you like to see?" asked the receptionist in her perfect receptionist voice, as if Eric's gibbering was perfectly run-of-the-mill.
They looked at each other. Some research would have been helpful before they actually got here. Luckily, Vlad was a toaster specialist before he was an anthropomorphic toaster specialist and he knew a thing or two.
"Does Ti Wao Lin still work with the series LM Toastillators?"
"I believe so."
"We'd like to see him, if it's possible."
"I'll schedule you an appointment with him," She typed a bit on her computer, "He's just finishing up teaching a class right now, you may be able to catch him on his way from the training center to the lab. Here's a map of the complex."
"Thank you, ma'am," said Vlad, and they headed off toward the center.
After they left the secretary paged Mr. Lin. "Mr. Lin, sorry to interrupt, but there are two men, a woman and lobster covered with symbols here to see you in reference to a quest."
"Two men, a woman and a lobster?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good. The time is finally come."