7392 words (29 minute read)

Chapter 1

Blergh, Sigrid winced. Her body tried to reject her command to pull off the covers and get on with the day. She tricked herself into sliding her legs out of the warm embrace of her comforter. Once she got both of her feet on the cold, wood floor she was conscious enough that she couldn’t slide back into a semi-sleep state. The spell broken, she staggered over to the blackout curtained window and let the blazing light of the full noon sun into her room. Sigrid frowned at the bright, cheery day displayed outside her window. A ghost of her reflection stared back at her, wavy hair sticking out all over her head. She ran a hand through her hair, but it eased back into disarray. Without a backward glance at the idyllic afternoon, Sigrid flopped into her office chair and powered on The Beast.

The acrylic box roared as its fans engaged in their own version of a morning routine. BIOS initiated, LEDs flared, hard drives mounted, and the OS finally deigned show her the login screen. Sigrid stifled a wave of impatience, the PC took mere seconds to boot but it would never be quick enough. She flicked her mouse and the cursor jumped to the browser icon. She prodded her connection toward her social media and news feeds so she could catch up on everything she missed after a morning wasted sleeping.

Oh good. Lyds guesses she’ll only go to three parties this weekend. Sigrid could understand the desire to do nothing but party, but her kind of party generally involved warriors and orcs. She clicked the like button, settling for a sarcastic thumbs up in lieu of a non-existent down vote option. As if anyone would pick up the subtext of a like. Commenting seemed like too much work this early in the "morning" even for her best friend in meat-space. They weren’t all that close anyway, different tastes. She tabbed over to the news feeds. Google’s I/O conference was only a few days past, so her feeds were still clogged with reviews of the latest smart watches they were desperately trying to make into a must have this season.

As much as she wanted one just to play with, she was damn certain most of the smart watches in her feed weren’t going to catch on. The user interface just wasn’t there yet. Until the whole space above the touch screen could be an interact-able surface, there was just no way. That would be shiny.

A few pages later, Sig had absorbed everything there was to know about the latest in tech and games. She wasn’t pleased by what they were doing to paladins in her MMO, but the devs never did anything but nerf pallies. She didn’t voice her opinion on the forums, what was the point? Some nerd with a neck beard would just flame her down or wall of text everyone about the state of rogues and their desperate need for another buff. Typical rogues.

Sigrid logged into said game to check on her digital auctions. She’d just about cornered the market on ore, meaning her paladin didn’t have to worry about gold for a while. Symmera was kinda a big deal on her server. An officer in the top guild on her server, seller of ore, blacksmithing master, and a capped out item level will do that for you. What wasn’t to like about the great Symmera? Sigrid shifted in her office chair uncomfortably.

[Morning All,] she greeted her guild.

Officer’s chat lit up with hi’s and hey’s that only other guild officials could see.

There were just as many greetings in the main guild chat, and several pleas for help in the form of gold. Their guild leader, a Mage named Thyraxx, sent her a direct message. [You free?]

[Yup, what’s up?] ’Raxx was a decent guy, and as guild leader, always grouped with top tier players so the spoils of any quest they went on were on the order of fantastic.

[Got a little raid on that open world Warlock boss. You down?] Sigrid was immediately disappointed. A caster boss? It isn’t going to have anything for me. Bosses typically only dropped the kind of thing they would logically have on them when they died. As a paladin that focused on protecting others, only knightly bosses would have any items Symmera could use. Sigrid quickly fabricated a reason to be elsewhere, and not a totally dishonest one. [Well...I am supposed to do this thing for my parents soon so...]

There was a pause that could have meant anything from ’I’m typing’ to ’I’m done with you’. She figured he’s just message someone else and was about to log off when ’Raxx finally replied. [Listen, I know there isn’t anything in it for you, but we need a tank. You’re the best we’ve got, but you already know that. If you do this for me, then I’ll make sure that you get your pick on whatever drop you want on raid night. Plus, if we kill this guy we get a shot at the side boss during the raid. High Lich Andromar may even drop that mount.]

Sigrid let out a little involuntary gasp. The winged steed of the High Lord! The mount was a winged palomino armored in the royal colors of a lost empire and bestowed with twenty percent faster speed than any other mount currently deployed in the game. The odds of it dropping were god awful, but if it did... [Alright, but I’ll only do it if you give me the next two drops. And I want some crafting work I’ve been putting together materials for made gratis.]

[Done.] An invitation dialog appeared on Sigrid’s screen instantly and she clicked the accept button. Now that she could see the raid, she understood why he was so desperate to give away those loot drops, even though that typically caused a bit of drama. This...would be a challenge. Bunch of scrub recruits and older folks who couldn’t stay up all night for regular raids. Before she could complain, ’Raxx allayed her fears [The fight is mostly tank and spank. You soak up damage, and we pop all our ability cool downs. Thael is coming in to be your dedicated healer.]

Thael was a priestess who mostly dabbled in the shadow damage tree these days. She got tired of being the go to healer and just stopped doing it for a while. That was what it was like when nothing is a challenge for you anymore. As far as she was concerned, Thael had beaten that part of the game. [What carrot did you dangle in front of her?]

[Dinner and a movie on Friday. Have to pay big bucks for a sitter, but it’ll be worth it if The Staff of the Dragonspeaker drops.] Thael was also ’Raxx’s wife. It had to be difficult to get a non-gamer like her to play the game at all, and had to be equally tough to get outclassed by her.

Symmera flew her armored eagle over to the boss in question, one Neckrot, only a few minutes flight from her home city. The Dark Arbor stretched below all the way to

a few minutes flight from her home city. The Dark Arbor stretched below all the way to

the Hrashen peaks. At the base of the peaks was an enormous cave mouth that led to the warlock’s lair. Everyone else was already spread out in front of the cavern by the time her eagle lighted on the ground. A summoning dialog - one that could have teleported her there instantly - popped up and she hit the decline button. Symmera walked over and tapped Thael on the shoulder, then hugged her.

[I hear you have a weekend planned.] Sigrid messaged Thael. They were close, but the awkward hierarchy of the guild always hung between them. Sigrid was an officer, Thael wasn’t, but she had more perks than one being married to the guild leader. It would have pissed Sigrid off if Thael were anyone else.

[You know it! He’s taking me to the girliest movie I can find at that theater with the couches. Are we going to eat there? Oh no, we’re going to dress up and eat downtown first. He’s going to romance me and he’s going to damn well like it! Lol.]

[Lol, don’t kill him. We need him for...stuff, right?] [I know all his passwords, I think we’ll manage if fearless leader expires.] She was a terrifying woman, our Thael, but fun as hell. It was also incredibly helpful to have a good relationship with your healer.

As they caught up, the raid group was killing trash mobs in the entrance. There were packs of humanoid dragons inside the cave up until the boss, but they were easily dispatched. The girls found ’Raxx shooting bolts of fire into the final guardian in the antechamber of Neckrot’s laboratory. Thyraxx saw them and sent a group wide announcement. [Alright, looks like the calvary has arrived. I want everyone to get into the room. STAY ALONG THE WALLS! When the fight starts, stay out of the patches of green fire. The yellow patches will be healing, jump into those if you’re getting low on health to help out the healers. Don’t hold back, just throw everything you have at him. Remember. Yellow patches good, green patches bad.]

Thyraxx sent out a ready check to make sure nobody was away from their keyboards. Sigrid always felt a deep calm cover her like a blanket whenever the check fanfare played. Hell yes I’m ready. Let’s do this.

[Ok Sym, you want to do the honors?] "Sigrid, honey? Are you about ready, we have to be at the park in fifteen minutes for your father’s company picnic!" Her mom yelled from downstairs.

Shit. "Yeah, just a minute mom!" She hated that her voice betrayed exactly what she was really doing. Sigrid was a terrible liar IRL. She hit a series of keys to bring up her macro program. She designed it for just these occasions. The program did all the button mashing that was required of her while she ran a brush through her wavy hair and found something to wear from her closet. She loved that she could automate the basics like that.

After she’d pulled on a shirt and some mostly matching pants, Sigrid looked up with one eye twitching. She played the game enough that she swore she’d developed a mental link with it. Sig leaned out of her closet to look at the screen. "Double shit!" She bounded across the room in three huge steps and slammed into her chair to take control of her character back from the program. It couldn’t sense fire patches on the ground, and she’d been standing right in one. [Sorry Thael, Lag spike,] she lied.

[You really need to look into better service, Hun.] Thael was terse, obviously sweating by the looks of her near empty mana bar.

Sigrid popped every cool down ability she had to mitigate incoming damage and heal herself while Thael recovered. Symmera was out of tricks for a solid five minutes.

[ALL WILL FALL TO NECKROT!] The boss screamed. [Everyone to the healing patches!] ’Raxx told the raid. Neckrot suddenly loosed shockwaves of hellfire that would hit everyone and kill those who didn’t get into the healing pools of light. As always, there were a few who didn’t react quick enough - people with real lag issues, or who weren’t as good at this raiding thing. [Ah man. It’ll be ok, don’t release from your bodies,] ’Raxx said, [We can still do this!]

Ever the optimist, Sigrid mused. Quarter of a raid down now. She couldn’t respond in chat, she was too focused on killing this caster and not dieing in the process. Her fingers hit each key the moment her abilities became available. Sig let herself settle into a rhythm, sort of cruise controlling until the end when she’d have to be more active again.

Twice more Neckrot released his hellwaves as the heroes hacked away another quarter of his life, and each time a few more characters fell to the ground. They were down to five of their original twenty-five players. The corpses of those who couldn’t help anymore watching and cheering their team on. Thael was barely hanging on, and Symmera was fresh out of any abilities that would help for another thirty seconds. An eternity.

[YOU DIE NOW!] Neckrot raged, essentially announcing that he was at a low enough health that damage dealers could close in for the kill. For Symmera and Thael, it also meant he would start hitting like a damn truck.

Luckily, it was only ten seconds until Symnmera’s major ability cool down times reset. The final five raid members hit their own versions of ’I win’ buttons one after another. The rogue sliced away another couple percent from Neckrot’s health, a hunter sent volleys of arrows into him for a few more, and Thyraxx burned him down to a sliver with his fiery blasts.

[1% guys! We got this!] And down went Thyraxx as a fire patch blossomed beneath him while he was typing.

Sigrid was just thinking it was odd that she hadn’t seen all of Neckrot’s abilities when murphy’s law kicked in. The warlock cast Dragon’s Form. It expanded into a black reptilian monstrosity, spikes sprouting all over its body. Its skin was cracked, and in the gaps glowed green fire like ley lines. The hunter and rogue both died to an ill timed swipe of the dragon’s tail.

Neckrot’s health dwindled fractionally as Symmera hammered away from behind her shield. Five seconds...

[You guys should just stop,] ’Raxx tried to be friendly despite feeling crestfallen. [We’ll reset and probably have it next time.]

[Nope.] Sigrid wasn’t done yet. She panned the camera around to check on Thael just in time to notice the flame patch form under her half way through a huge healing spell. [Thael!!] her character screamed. The healing spell finished an instant before the priestess collapsed.

Sigrid gritted her teeth and panned the camera back to stare down the boss.  Symmera’s health dwindled far faster than Neckrot’s.

[Cool downs are up, shit head.] She wasted precious seconds to trash talk an AI that wouldn’t appreciate it, but it felt right. The first cool down to reset was a spell that boosted her combat potential. Symmera doubled in size and her damage quadrupled due to the increase in both strength and speed. Neckrot let out a gout of flame engulfed Symmera, and when the green flames subsided, she was surrounded by a translucent bubble that prevented all damage. It was a miracle she was alive, she had only one health point left.

Holy shit, Sigrid started breathing again. Another cool down ability healed her back up to full health just before the shield faded away. Neckrot seemed to notice the shift as a seconds worth gap between his abilities. He launched back into the fight after that heartbeat passed, aiming for the total party kill.

Sigrid wore a grim smile. Gotcha. She hit the button that activated her ’I win’ ability. Wings of light flared behind Symmera and her hammer and shield glowed with holy light. They flowed into the form of a giant warhammer of pure radiant energy. She switched her ability set over to damage dealing with a complex keystroke and slammed her warhammer through a combination that chipped away health as well as any damage dealing class. Symmera called down a pillar of light from the heavens - even though they were in a deep dark cavern - to burn away the last of the boss’ health. The dragon bellowed in defiance as it shifted back into its warlock form.

[My studies...can’t...perish here!] Neckrot collapsed in a pile of glowing loot. The chat pane went from hushed silence to fervent clamor in an instant with shouts of congratulations as Symmera cast a mass resurrection spell to get a move on the looting process.

"Sigrid Holsdottir! If you want to keep your internet privileges, get down here now!" Her father yelled from half way up the stairs. He tried to lay down the law, but he was too much of a nice guy to make an impact. He didn’t have to though, the threat of losing her digital lifeline was enough.

[Now that is how you kill a caster.] Sigrid had Symmera salute Thyraxx, standing there with his new Staff of the Dragonspeaker and logged, running out of her room.

ᛝ ᛝ ᛝ

Sig found her parents watching the news in the family room. Her mother sat on the couch, clutching her sundress while her father stood stick thin arms braced on the backrest around his wife. "I thought we were going? Sorry I took so long."

Instead of answering, her father Fredrich just turned up the volume with the remote control. An on the scene reporter was narrating the scenes of devastation behind her in a nasal voice. "Coming to you live outside the business district here in St. Louis. It seems that an as of yet undisclosed bomber created an improvised explosive and detonated the device near a filling station in the downtown area. In a tragic right place right time scenario, the gas mains beneath the street exploded along with the station due to a pierced a high flow line. Firefighters say that the explosive must have been near a weak valve, because the sheer force of the blast should not have been significant enough to pierce the piping. That’s all the information we have at the moment, Matt?"

"Thank you Deanne. We’ll be back with more as it happens from St. Louis. Everyone is concerned that the same terrorists behind the attack on Pittsburgh may be the perpetrators of this most recent violence, but as was the case when Pittsburgh was decimated there have been no demands or credit taken for the blast. If you’re just joining us..."

"Honey...all those poor people," Brigid sniffled and blew her nose into kleenex. Her eyes were red with tears as she looked at her daughter. "It’s happening again."

"They don’t know what happened yet. Lets just calm down and go on with our day, alright? We’ll go to the picnic and try to get this out of our heads." Fredrich wrapped an arm around Sigrid and drew her into an awkward, fatherly hug and kissed the crown of her head. "You keep up with this, alright? I know you’ll just be on your phone the whole time anyway."

"Yeah, anything you need dad." Sigrid took her rooted phone out of her pocket and started creating a new RSS feed to pull in anything on her news sites tagged with data on the bombing. Anything she could find that would keep her mother from hysterics. She had been inconsolable for days after Pittsburgh was destroyed. The media outlets told everyone it was a terrorist plot that overloaded a nuclear facility, and it was only the safeguards that kept fallout at bay. Bullshit. I’ve never heard of a fallout containment method for a blast that destroys a city. She thought back to any stray article or even a movie she’d seen that could explain that but came up blank like she usually did. The decimation was terrible in Pittsburgh, all that remained was a massive crater surrounded by a cordon kept by the Pennsylvania Army Reserves.

Her father herded Sigrid to their beat up subaru and they putted along to the annual picnic her father’s software design company hosted. Sigrid heard her parents talking as a mild buzz. Occasionally she’d hear her name and grunt something meaningless in response. A part of her noticed this, felt bad about it since this was how she always acted when they went out, and moved on to the next page articles. Her phone pinged so often with incoming updates from the St. Louis explosion that she had to mute the speakers. Nobody knew anything. Most of the information out there was either before pictures of the location or blocks of hastily typed opinions of what people thought had happened. Some was rational, others bordered on the insane.

When Sigrid looked up from her phone, her parents were already getting out of the car. She locked her phone and got tangled in the seatbelt as she tried to jump out. She unbuckled the belt, thankful that nobody had seen her general state of disconnection. She jogged to catch up to her family and be there for them. Somehow that was important, just showing up.

"Mr. Parker! Good to see you," Her father waved at a young family at one of the tables who all waved back.

"Fred." The man nodded to him. His wife turned quickly when her daughter giggled. The young girl had a squirrel in her hands and was running away as her mother tried to get her to put it down.

The Holsdottirs grabbed the nearest table that was free and set down their belongings. "Can I get you girls anything from the buffet line?" My dad, ever the gentleman.

"No thanks." Sigrid was drawn back toward her phone, swiping her complex unlock pattern.

Brigid looked at her daughter, bemused as mothers often are, and smiled back at her husband. The horrors of a violent newscast fading into memory. "I think we could all use something to eat, maybe drinks too?"

"You’d better come help carry then. You watch the fort, Sig." "Hold down." Sig corrected, but they had already left by the time her body automatically made the response for her. She shrugged and looked around at all the families in attendance. It’s so very, very...outside right now. I hate it.

Sigrid sighed, and dove back into the digital realm. She hopped onto her guild’s forums and posted a thread about the attack. Less than a second later she was rewarded with reply after reply about what her people knew. [Guys, this is so much better than listening to the news.]

[I hear that. The media is a propaganda tool designed to subjugate all the sheeple out there willing to follow along.] A random new recruit guild member posted. [OMG, your ridic.] Another replied, jumping at the chance to argue with a rival. [You’re.] posted the conspiracy addict. It went back and forth for a while, but the first person to correct grammar generally won these things. Her guild could overlook most faux pas, but proper grammar was not one of them.

[Shit.] Thael embedded a video below her out of character obscenity. Sigrid tapped the play triangle. A man was being chased by a small group of armed assailants. Special forces types, if Call of Duty had taught her anything. They closed in on the man near a filling station - the same one from the news reports- and stopped firing.

"Come out with your hands on your head. We are here to help!" "Horse shit!" The man hid behind one of the pumps, obviously hoping that his attackers wouldn’t fire toward the pumps and risk an explosion on the narrow street.

"No! Not Horse Shit! Just stay calm Mr. Galis. You have to understand, you gave us no choice but to fire warning shots on you before. This doesn’t have to end in violence. Please, listen to reason!" The same masked assailant - or perhaps simply a military man doing their job - shouted.

"Not a chance!" Galis concocted some kind of incendiary from his hiding place and hurled it at his pursuers. When it hit the ground, the flames spread like oil across the surfaces they touched.

The camera operator whispered "What the fuck?!" and the shaky camera zoomed in on Galis. He stood out in the open now, his hands out in the air as if he were about to pass a basketball. The center of the empty space between his hands sparked, and he spun his hands around the fire until it wove into another ball of flames he threw at the military - as Sigrid was now certain they must have been.

[What the hell is this photoshopped garb...] Sigrid began typing in reply to Thael’s post, but the video kept playing as a bullet flew through Galis’ head.

"Oh my god!" Sigrid said aloud. No one was near enough to notice. They were all playing or eating nearby, a world away. One moment this man was fine, throwing fireballs like it was the best day ever, then his head popped back as if he were going be sick. Instead of blood, a fiery contrail like a trail of molten steel erupted from the back of his head. A single line of the same goo slid sickly down from the hole in Galis’ head and lines of it started to glow from inside of him. His veins, Sigrid realized. Galis glowed brighter than a bessemer melting iron, then exploded like a water balloon. Only there was no way that much of the molten whatever could have been inside him, it just kept splashing outward and melting through whatever it touched.

The camera fell to the ground and footsteps pounded away from it as the forlorn device stared at the ceiling. Its lifeless eye taking the molten stone from the brick walls seeping in and forcing the wall to slump inward. It cooled rapidly, and all that was left was a weirdly contorted hole open to an otherwise inauspicious sky.

Sigrid deleted her text from moments before and tapped out a new post. She had to fight her phone’s autocorrect a few times thanks to her fumbling fingers, but soon she had a response - the first to be posted after the video. [Thael? Has your husband looked at this? He’s a graphic designer, right? Is this legit? There’s no way this is what it looks like...right?]

She stared at her phone, trying to focus hard enough to reach through the screen and shake her friend. Sigrid only knew a cursory amount about photoshop artifacts and other tricks to determine when an image is fake, but the video she just watched didn’t set off any of the normal uncanny valley alarm bells in her head.

"Honey, is everything alright?" Her mom asked from right next to her. Sigrid nearly jumped off of the picnic table bench.

"Yeah, just...guild stuff." She didn’t want to upset her mother, so she shared a mildly overwhelmed glare with her father and shook her head slightly.

He nodded back to her, "I think I saw coffee over there in one of the pots if you want to give it a shot?"

"Thanks dad." She left before her mother could ask anything else. This wasn’t a suburb nicety kind of moment, it couldn’t be contained in mere words. This was an epiphany. Apocalypsis in the truest sense of the Greeks’ word: a revelation.

Sigrid’s phone pinged again, only urgent messages would ping if she had it on silent running mode. She flicked it open - the lock hadn’t had time to reengage - and saw a new e-mail notification from ’Raxx.

[Hey, [didn’t want to weigh in on the forums. Guild leaders should probably stay out of wild conspiracy stuff, right? Or maybe everyone should be. The video looks real to me, so the only way someone could fake it is with some serious effects work. I don’t know anything that would make that explosion at the end or make the lighting so even. This is... I don’t even know what this is, but it’s taking off. It’s popped up all over the net now, but the ’real’ media is staying clear until they hear from someone official.

[If this is tied to Pittsburgh like the news was saying...then I don’t think it was a nuclear blast at all. It was something like this. Stay safe out there Symmera. See you in-game.

[Thyraxx] Sigrid’s hands were shaking as she picked up the paper coffee cup and pulled back the lever on the pot. Don’t know why I’m shaking. That’s just stupid. Everything is fine. She took a pull from the blisteringly hot caffeine infusion and focused more on how terrible it was than whatever had happened in St. Louis. I’m sure it’ll turn out to be just some screwed up troll posting a video. Something, right? Just an irrational reaction, crazy person thinking that there was an apocalypse starting.

She heard a phone nearby start to ring, then another vibrated across a tabletop. Within moments, everyone was getting a call or texting. "Oh good." Sigrid sighed. Her mom was going to totally lose it.

ᛝ ᛝ ᛝ

[So, Casters are a thing now. In the real world. There are wizards out there.] Thyraxx reeled to the guild officer chat. No chance of having a reasonable conversation in regular guild chat. The limited number of officers made it only slightly more manageable.

[More like sorcerers,] the hunter class captain posited. [Ooo, or like mutants! They could be among right now. O_O]

[No fracking way man. Probably just some government project gone wrong or something. You can’t believe what they’re spoon feeding everyone, right?] Hanjo, the rogue captain, seethed. [The press corps gotta hire new people though. Just sad that everyone out there took the bait. We have a new greatest threat to America for everyone to look at instead of whatever the government’s really got cooking.]

Sigrid couldn’t shake the image of the exploding goop man from her head. Anyone nearby when that happened... she shuddered. Time to change the subject. [Lets just say it is some kind of test gone wrong. Odds are there aren’t too many of these things. Newsflash: We’ve got that Andromar raid coming up. I am going to have me that mount. ^_^ ]

[As if it will drop,] Thyraxx retorted. Just like that, the serious conversation about the Secretary of Defense’s announcement was over. Every major news outlet was running the same story, showing clips of the video everyone had seen. Luke Galis had been an active member of his community, until he fell in with the wrong crowd online, blah blah blah. Hanjo was right, that did smell like some bullshit. At the same time, who in their right mind calls him a Caster. May as well be a mage, am I right? Or a sage or well...something.

Her family had more sensible reactions. "Sig, be a chum and help us carry in the supplies." Her dad yelled from the front door.

"Yeah, coming!" she shouted back. Sigrid tapped out a hasty goodbye and logged off of her virtual life. Always made her feel more alone, like she’d just lost something major but couldn’t put her finger on what. She jumped down the stairs a flight at a time, grabbing the banister for a quick turn before dropping onto the landing and punching the floor. "Nobody? Come on, that was awesome." I might watch too many movies.

The door was wide open. Sig peeked out, checking to make sure she didn’t barrel into anyone, and saw her parents talking at the back of the little Subaru station wagon. "Hey, so, stuff?"

"Thank you dear," her mother passed her a box full of canned goods, continuing her conversation around Sigrid. "I am just surprised there aren’t more people taking all of this more seriously. Honestly, you’d think there would be a run on the stores like a hurricane or some such dealy."

"I don’t think that people are taking wizards any more seriously than they have before, mom."

"Well, fools all for not fearing the might of my +3 Orb of Scrying!" Fredrich shot her a dad-wink over his horn rimmed glasses, letting his role playing nerd flag fly. "We got a heck of a deal on all this stuff. Managed to hit the end of season sales on the camping gear, too."

It took seven trips to get everything out of the car between the three of them, and it took up most of the floorspace in their living room. Brigid was already meticulously sorting everything into plastic storage bins she’d produced from the garage. Sig was about to go back upstairs and reconnect - she was certain internet withdrawal was setting in - but her Dad called her back.

"Sig, I’ve got something right up your alley." He produced a box from behind his back, "I thought you could use a little something to BRIGHTEN your day. Huh?"

She’d seen solar chargers before, but never considered she may have a need for them. Not much wifi out of doors. "Thanks dad."

"You’re welcome. Now when the power grid is destroyed by another exploding ooze man, you can still keep your celly charged." He wrapped her in a hug that spoke more of his fears than any of his upbeat sarcasm could cover. Like if he just held on to her, then he could keep her safe forever.

"I’m gonna go test it out." She said, using the excuse to extricate herself from the too long embrace.

"Alright honey. You kill those dragons." He turned to his wife, "Our little girl is all grown up."

"Uh huh, dear. Can you take these out to the garage?" She was already through the doorway into the kitchen before he could protest. He stared at the four containers that held twenty one loads of supplies. "Thank yooou," Brigid yodeled from the kitchen.

ᛝ ᛝ ᛝ

Sigrid dug her fingernails into the clear plastic wrapping, tearing it in ten places while the box within fell safely to her bed. She took exquisite care in opening the package holding the solar panel, rechargeable battery, and assorted wiring, laying each on her bed along with the instructions. They were a quick read, plug this in here, that goes there, but it told her what the output voltage was going to be like. Barely enough to power a radio without letting it charge for a few hours first. Put out with her gift, she plopped into her chair and spun around to her keyboard. A cursory search yielded a few pointers in boosting the output of the panel.

Some of the pages suggested pulling out resistors and soldering the gaps, which sounded like a terrible plan. She’d studied computer programming in depth, beginning in the docile waters of HTML and Javascript. Courses at school weren’t nearly as developed as material online, so she made the jump into the big pond and found python, lisp, linux, and more to occupy her personal time whenever she wasn’t killing dragons. The internet was a magical place.

Aside from building her gaming rig, experience with the hardware side of computing wasn’t something that Sigrid cared about. She reached over into the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a tackle box. The lid expanded into shelves, putting hundreds of electronics components within reach. Sig’s father was a hardware hobbyist and tried to instill the same in his daughter. It just didn’t stick. She grabbed a Phillip’s head precision screwdriver, retrieved the solar panel kit from the bed, and deconstructed the battery brick. Four screws later, she was confronted with a small silicon chip and the aforementioned battery pack.

Careful not to break any of the connections, she teased out the wires connecting the board to the battery. Sigrid clipped the board into a small stand comprised of two alligator clips and a magnifying glass set on arms. These were easy enough to find at the right store, but she’d made this one with her father one summer vacation years ago. The same summer she’d gotten this electronics kit in the tackle box, and they both went mostly unused until now. She felt drawn to look deeper into the circuits, positioning the magnifying glass to see at the individual components on the chip. She idly reached into the tackle box, unable to look away, and fumbled around until her hand brushed against her battery operated soldering iron.

It sparked as she flicked the switch to start it heating up. Sigrid frowned at it when a minute later it hadn’t even started to heat up. She imagined the batteries inside of it must be dead, and no wonder since she hadn’t opened the box in years. She laid it down and rummaged around in her middle desk drawer for some more double A batteries. When she fished them out, the soldering iron was smoking on her desktop.

"Huh. Glad I didn’t lay you on something flamable." Sigrid firmly believed that talking to your tech would make it play nice. She dropped the batteries back into the drawer, a nagging feeling in the back of her head telling her there was something wrong with what she was experiencing. She shrugged the feeling away. Without any real knowledge of even Ohm’s law, she started disconnecting components and replacing them with bigger and better versions from her kit. The solar panel was next, she knew instinctively that there wasn’t much she could do to it with the components she had. While the chip cooled, she spliced open the wire that would connect the panel to the battery pack and started free soldering components to the severed ends of the copper braid. The part of her brain that compelled her to fiddle with the battery in the first place was satisfied, she attached the connector again and put heat shrinking on the exposed wiring.

Clicking the circuit back into place in the plastic battery housing, Sigrid tightened the screws and put away her tackle box full of parts and a now cold soldering iron. She took the solar panel into her adjoining bathroom and laid it on the dry counter. Her hairdryer was still plugged in from whenever she used it last, so she cranked the heat all the way up and ran it over the heat shrink wrap until it was snug around all the parts. Again the innovator in her brain was satisfied and she went back into her room to connect all the parts together. She opened her blackout curtains to give it an inaugural charge, but it was pitch black outside.

"What the crap?" she left the solar charger on the windowsill and opened her door to the hallway. The only lights on in the house were those streaming out of her room and the electroluminescent blue night lights in the hall. Her parents bedroom door was shut for the night, too. They can’t be asleep already, it was four in the afternoon before I... She closed the door and went back to her desk. Shoving piles of books and paper out of the way until unearthed her clock whose blindingly green display read 4:13.

"The hell have I been doing for ten hours?" she asked the room, empty of everything but electronics and herself. As if in reply, the solar panel battery’s LED lit green declaring it was fully charged. "Well that’s just not true," She told it.

I don’t know what possessed me to start fixing something that was brand new, but now it’s broke for sure. Sigrid popped the battery pack apart from the panel and took it over to the nightstand where her phone sat, positive she’d broken it. She fished her charging cable from behind the bed and disconnected it from the AC adapter. Once the phone was connected to the charging brick, she went back over to her desk to turn on her PC and turned off the work light. No chance at sleep tonight. May as well farm some wolf pelts on an alt character or something.

Before The Beast had fully booted up, she heard a ping from her phone letting her know it was fully charged, please unplug me. "False. Get back to charging you," She turned to check - body bathed in the dull light of her darkened monitor - and saw an electric blue glow emanating from power brick. Her expression went from irritation tinged curiosity to gut wrenching fear in an instant. "Oh shit!" She leapt over to the device and yanked the cable out of the charging brick before it could ruin her phone further. Fearing the worst - some kind of power surge - she checked her phone.

"I’m so sorry phone, I don’t know what I was thinking. Please be OK! I’ll never plug you into anything but the most legit of power sources from now on so long as... uh." The phone’s screen powered up as normal, but displayed full power. No that wasn’t right, she looked again now that her eyes had adjusted to the brightness of the screen in the dim room. There were two full battery icons in her top bar now.

"That doesn’t make..." She fiddled with the settings, but couldn’t find anything to get the extra battery to go away. The phone worked fine other than that. Better than fine actually, it was snappy again like it had been in its youth of several months ago. "Yeah, nope." She turned off the screen and tossed it onto the nightstand. It was too early for any of this. The hours of semi-conscious work were catching up to her. She checked the phone again, but both battery indicators were still there.

She shook her head and backed away to her computer, she shut it down without logging in. Nothing good was going to happen the rest of the night. Even if she just ended up laying in bed and staring at her phone, she’d just do that. Safer that way. If she went online she knew she’d just look up creepy pasta about what had just happened and scare herself out of sleep. Crap. Too late.

Sigrid tried to get comfortable on her bed, but when she rolled over, the power brick slid off the other pillow and smacked her in the nose. "Ah-ha-haaoow!" She grabbed the offensive bit of tech and was about to throw it when that blue light turned on again. Transfixed by its glow, she brought it down to eye level and found that it was a power level indicator, one that she must have added in the process because it certainly wasn’t fancy enough to have one stock. Out of five dots, four were still lit.

"Nope! Nope, nope, nope." She was freaking herself out. She knew a thing or two about tech of all varieties, and this wasn’t right. Sigrid could remember thinking none of it was right throughout the power brick’s build, and memories of the hours started to come back. The more she thought about it, the more unsettled she became - by a stupid charging brick. Sig tried to rationalize it like that, but as she tried to push it away everything in her vision shifted like when she had too much caffeine that one time. She felt like she needed to do something with her hands to work it out of her system.

So she did the only thing her brain would let her at that point: take out her electronics kit and keep working. Her perspective drifted behind her into the third person like a disconnected observer of her own life. She wondered if she just picked up all the electronics knowledge through osmosis, or if she were having a lucid dream. At that thought, the version of her bent over the desk sat up. It turned around to the real Sigrid and smiled.