First Intermission 24
Art by Alisa Christopher
Turns since TBfGK: 3
Sizemore and Maggie were waiting for him in the shade of the archway at the garrison gate. Sizemore carried a wineskin and wore the same red tunic as always, the only outfit Parson had ever seen him in. But Maggie was wearing something new: khakis, laced boots, and something resembling a pith helmet.
"Nice, Maggie," said Parson as he approached. Eight pikers to either side of the portcullis stamped their boots to attention.
"Hey guys," he nodded to the pikers with a half-assed mock salute, then looked back at the Thinkamancer. "Very nice. Very Jane Goodall."
Maggie smiled with reserve, as she did everything else, but she seemed pleased. "Thank you, Lord."
The Dirtamancer smiled too, and fell into step beside Parson. "Warlord. Thanks for inviting me."
"Yeah, well, this could be a short trip," said Parson, as the three of them stepped into the sunshine and headed into the main city. "But I'm hoping to learn something one way or the other. You've been outside the city, right? Since?"
Parson squinted up at the bright, cloudless sky and saw at least three idle dwagons circling. Some Archons as well. "He should. If not, you could use an Archon to survey by thinkagram. I'll talk to the Tool about it."
"Would you? He's... hard to talk to."
"Sure," said Parson. They passed into the broad main thoroughfare that led from the garrison to the city gate. The streets were brick, remarkably smooth and even. The buildings were placed very far apart, and had something like a Tudor or Swiss chalet design to them. Maybe Bavarian. They had high, pointed roofs of wooden shingles. Some were brick or stonework, but most were timber-frame with stucco walls and shuttered windows. Glass windows were a new feature in this version of the city. In the old Gobwin Knob, pretty much only the office had had them.
Parson gestured at a nearby structure. "These are all empty, right? These buildings. They have no function?"
"Not as such," said Maggie. "Most of them are currently utilized as troop quarters or equipment storage. Some seem designed as stables, so mount units are being kept there. Most are exact copies along a few designs, and have no purpose beyond 'be the city.'"
Parson looked around thoughtfully. "That's a little weird, don't you think?"
They walked on.
"Sure, yeah. Mine was called 'Columbus.' Kind of an average city." Parson glanced around again. "Guess a lot of the houses there looked the same, too."
"What did it pop?"
"Columbus?" said Parson. "Mostly frat boys and minivans. And orange construction barrels. Had an army of those, as far as you could see."
"Did you rule there, Lord?" asked Maggie.
"Hah. I totally ruled there," Parson took a couple of steps in a mock swagger. Then he shook his head. "No, nobody really 'ruled' there."
Sizemore's curiosity was piqued. "Did you fight a lot of battles? Were you invaded?"
"Every day was a battle, Sizemore. We were invaded whenever there was a home game against Michigan."
"Do you miss it?"
Parson looked around again at this weird, creepy mock city. He glanced up at the dwagons cruising through the spotless blue sky, and tried to think about home. It seemed like he ought to be giving some thought to his parents and his friends, even his co-workers (he actually liked them, even if they were dumbasses). But all he could clearly recall at that moment was the weird sound his steering column was making whenever he turned left. He was never going to have to fix that now.
"Not really," he said at last. "But I'm telling you," he said, pointing at the nearest empty shell building, "I would suckerpunch a Girl Scout to turn one of these into a Steak n' Shake."