12. The piano sounds like a cannonball / And the microphone smells like a beard

Billy Joel—Piano Man

Charles met Steve not long after meeting Edie. One evening Charles was walking by the Mary Reed Building and heard Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” being played faster than he had ever heard it before. Curious, he found the piano practice room and stood at the door watching Steve tearing up the keyboard. Steve finished the piece, looked around, and saw Charles watching.

“Wow,” Charles said. “You have some real chops!”

“Naw. I got short fingers and can barely span an octave.”

“Well, you make up for it with speed and fire.” Charles played bass in a jazz band on campus. He had thought their keyboardist was pretty talented, but Steve blew him away.

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13.  She’s so sharp, Sharper than cheese

J.Geils Band—So Sharp

Charles is working on a draft of a new blog post. He’s not sure where he’ll post it and not at all sure it will be received positively wherever he posts it. This one’s hot, he thinks. I need to talk with Chip about this before I post it. He texts Chip, who says, “Come on over to my office.” Chip throws on his jacket and walks across the street to Chip’s office.

“’Sup, your Dudeness?” Chip asks when Rita ushers Charles into the office.

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14.  I am so into you, I can’t get to know the nurse

Atlanta Rhythm Section—So Into You

Edie and Charles went to an amusement park and got on a Ferris wheel ride where the cabs spun on their long axes. Partway into the ride, Edie couldn’t take the disorientation and said, “I’m going to barf.”

Charles grabbed the wheel that controlled the spinning of the cab and constantly cranked it to keep the cab upright throughout the rest of the ride. His arms and shoulders were on fire as he struggled to keep the cab upright as the ride continued for what seemed like forever. Throughout the rest of the ride, Edie howled, “I’m gonna barf! Oh, my God, I’m gonna barf!”

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15.  The truth is lost and maybe never to be found / Like the shadows of my panty line

Kamelot—Sacrimony (Angel Of Afterlife)

He meets Sigourney Weaver secretly in the back of a cruddy coffee shop, far away from the windows. They are involved in some sort of illicit undertaking, a plot, a heist, or something similar, and they quickly leave the shop, then walk the streets quickly, aimlessly.

Finally, in a large gathering in a roomy house, Sigourney takes Charles and another plot member each by the hand and winks, leading them into a corner of the huge living room, which is dominated by a king-sized canopied bed. She means to take them both to bed, but there are children all around in the living room, clamoring for autographs from Sigourney the star.

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Trial

ELO—Strange Magic

Jeannie Darcy, stocky, large-breasted, long-haired and clad in a long wrap-around skirt, a white peasant blouse, jeans jacket and wearing desert combat boots, breezed into the coffee shop and ordered a salted soy caramel mocha espresso. She also grabbed a packaged vegan blueberry banana muffin. Impatiently, she plopped down into a booth to eat the muffin and flipped open her iPad, settling it into the groove of her Bluetooth keyboard. That damn Harley, she thought, as she gathered her wavy auburn hair into a ponytail. Son of a bitch is on my last nerve.

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Apprentice

At four o’clock, Jeannie packed up her stuff and got ready to walk back to her car. As she got up to go, she realized her right ankle hurt. Bending over to examine it, she saw a little cut that still bled a little. OK, that’s pretty freaky! That’s where Lady Zhurong nipped me with her sword! Jeannie’s brain seemed to lock for a moment. What . . . the . . . fuck, she thought. She shook her head and shivered. There’s no fucking way, no fucking way. I must have scratched it on the edge of the booth or something. She hurried out of the café onto Hayes Street and headed south.

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Acquisition

Weeks went by, with Jeannie still living with Juston. They kept separate beds, but spent most of their spare time together. Juston told Jeannie more about Chaos Magic, and even had a few mage friends over for dinner. Jeannie went to Magic the Gathering drafts but didn’t play any games, afraid that she might inadvertently use her magic to win. Booz got the federal contract, and Juston hired Jeannie to be the AI team lead.

Both of them were at a loss as to how Jeannie could control her power. Jeannie, for her part, was so paranoid about accidentally using magic, that she carefully examined all her reactions to other people, hoping to tamp down her emotions. When stressful situations came up at work or with other people, Juston would helpfully whisper or text her, “Foolish Chaplain says chill.”

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Mastery

In the weeks following, Jeannie spent a great deal of time pondering the problem of broadcasting her power. It’s not like it’s a radio message, she thought. I can’t just take over the AMEBA array to broadcast healing worldwide. I need something with greater reach.

One day, Jeannie asked George, a co-worker, about some classified technology that she thought could help the project. “Oh,” George said. “You’ll need a top-secret clearance for that. It’s in the NSA databases.” “Can I get the clearance?” Jeannie asked. “I don’t see why not. I’ll see if I can get you set up.”

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Healing

Jeannie released the army of chatbots at the height of international tension following a gruesome live beheading of five journalists in Syria. The bots swarmed through the NSA machine out onto the myriad networks to which the computer was connected, especially the social networks. They were targeted at all manner of dark behavior, from organized terror networks to lone-wolf terrorists to garden-variety extremist trolls. Once latching on to a target, the bot engaged the person in dialog that incrementally steered the conversation toward an examination of the subject’s reason for living. Often a subject would break off the communication before the end of the process, so each chatbot could to assume different identities and personalities to keep engaging with the subject.

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16. Blow up the world with strange magic – Integration

Jeannie realized she was reaching the edge of her ability to continuously digest the tremendous flows of information the chatbots were generating. I need a better inter­face, she thought. Perhaps I can enlist other senses. There’s only so far I can push my visual and auditory abilities. I need to engage my full sensorium. Despite the surge of power she fed on from the empathy generation, Jeannie was exhausted. She tried to think of new ways to assimilate the information but drew a blank. She decided to ask Juston for help.

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