Ketan had wanted to go to The Treehouse. That wasn’t so odd. It was a local landmark and had at least regional fame as a tourist attraction. What Kyle didn’t understand was “why now”. Ketan had lived in the city for at least three years, but he said he’d never gotten around to going. Which made sense, Kyle supposed, but it had still been unexpected when he’d announced that they should meet up in the big tree.
The nice thing about meeting at a tourist attraction was there was a bus stop right in front of it. Kyle stepped out of his bus and looked up at his destination. A 40 story tall redwood in the middle of the downtown skyscraper district was always worth a second look. Locals kind of got use to it, you could walk by every day and after a while you’d stop looking twice at it. But that wasn’t really the same thing as thinking it looked normal. If you just walked by you didn’t really see the whole thing. The Treehouse looked like an empty lot with a wooden thing in the middle of it out of the corner of your eye. Nothing special. Well, Kyle had been told the ease of parking was sort of special.
To really see the the landmark you had to stop, take a moment to appreciate that the “wooden thing” was a trunk the width of a small building, then trace your eyes up it to the vast expanse of canopy both as wide, and as tall, as any of the buildings around it. Only then was it possible to appreciate the scale of the thing. A building had been put into that canopy. It was a modern construction of lightweight Plexiglas, aircraft aluminum, and carbon fiber. It wasn’t very big, perhaps 15,000 sq feet of floor space, that was tiny compared to everything else around it. It was, however, a lot of building to find 30 stories above the ground in a tree.
The Treehouse had been built during the same spate of architectural one upmanship that produced the Empire State, and Chrysler Buildings. Not that it had been named that at the time. Back then, it was known as the Warner Magic Building. Measured using modern techniques and money it had probably cost millions of dollars to grow, build, and magic into being. Given that the skyscrapers had cost hundreds of millions and Warner had gained roughly the same sort of fame, it was probably a good deal.
Or perhaps not. Warner Magic had eventually failed and the structure had changed hands several times with it’s mundane portion being rebuilt each time. The modern incarnation was supported by the buildings to either side of it rather then the tree and was owned by some real estate company. It currently contained two restaurants, several cramped shops, and Shooters, a drinking establishment that couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be a bar, club, or pool hall.
Kyle crossed the parking lot, thinking. The Treehouse had three entrances. You could enter through either of the buildings that flanked it. Or you could use the world’s scariest elevator. That was descending as Kyle watched. It was a glass box, clear on every side, and in the evening light it seemed to be floating. It wasn’t, really, it was actually suspended by a carbon nanofiber cable roughly the width of a line of dental floss, but Kyle couldn’t make that out at all in the evening light. Such a strand could hold around seven tons of weight.
Kyle didn’t really like heights. Under ordinary circumstances he would never have considered the elevator. But Magic Materials Inc. had produced the nanofiber that now held it aloft. That was part of why Ketan had wanted to come. Perhaps that fiber had been spun out of Kyle’s machine. He wanted to see some of what he’d suffered for in action. Then again, how bad had the headache been that day? Maybe he shouldn’t risk it after all.
He arrived at the small street level enclosure the elevator descended into, right as it touched down. No one else was waiting, but a few people got out when the doors opened. None of them seemed to have been bothered by the ride. There were two women, who were pretty, slightly tipsy, and giggling. There were two men who looked to be paired with the girls. Finally, there was one older man in a suit who’s half lidded eyes and set jaw suggested he wished he’d waited for the next trip. They departed, one of the girls stumbling slightly.
The elevator doors closed.
The car stayed put.
Apparently, there wasn’t anyone at the top either. He looked for the cable again. Maybe there was a hint of something crossing the purple of the sky above the car. He’d read an article in Magic Digest about this elevator. There was no practical way to make enough friction between the cable and a wheel to actually lift the car. Instead, the car used an extremely powerful electrostatic charge to cling to the cable and a steady change in that charge moved it along the cable. It was the largest implementation of that system to date. When he’d been reading the article that had seemed pretty cool.
Come on, Kyle thought, don’t be a wimp.
The car firmly refused to wander off to serve other customers. Come on, he told himself angrily and punched the button. The doors to the elevator instantly opened. Then, after about a minute, they rolled shut again.
Hundreds of people ride this thing every day. Maybe thousands. It’s safe. He hit the button again and the doors opened again. Trust your work, would you? And trust the work of those guys who made the electro static connection to the cable. He hesitated then shook his head once sharply and stepped inside just as the doors started to shut. They bounced open again. He considered getting out, but resisted and punched the up button instead. He moved to the center of the car where a hollow metal tube surrounded the nanofiber. At 1 sq millimeter thick it couldn’t cut like a knife as the thinner strands would if stretched tight, but it could easily cause injury. There was a faint scent of ozone in the air from the electrostatics.
The car started to move. Kyle noticed it was more smooth then a regular elevator. Had the ground not fallen away under the clear floor of the elevator he might not have even noticed it was moving. He rapidly looked away from the ground falling away from under him, trying to focus on the inside of the car instead. There wasn’t much to focus on. There were rails, and some equipment over his head. And beyond that scenery slowly moving downward. Still sort of nauseating. He shifted to looking at the skyline. That didn’t change much as the car made it to the top of the cable.
A bell rang, and Kyle got off the elevator as quickly as possible without looking down.
“I’m glad to see you aren’t a weakling. I thought, for sure, you’d take the wuss route up.” The elevator opened into the pedestrian walkway that ran through the center of The Treehouse. There was an observation area at the center of that; a piece of transparent material set into the floor looking down through the foliage of the giant tree with a clear view of the street and parking lot below. Ketan leaned against its rail.
“Your faith in me is touching. So what’s up?”
“Not much, I’ve got us a table and the first round is coming up. Over there.” Ketan led the way to Shooters and a table set against the wall. Huge limbs grew through every part of The Treehouse. The different shops integrated them in their own ways. Shooters had chosen to build up the contrast. The decor of the bar was was all flashy and modern, but all of the limbs had been carefully groomed and maintained so they maintained their foliage.
Two beers were waiting at the table for them. “How is the super spell coming?”
“Eh, so so. I’m still figuring out exactly what it will be. Maybe I could do something relating to agriculture.”
“That’s a very unique idea. What inspired you?”
Kyle wrinkled his nose. “I’m working with light. That could be applied to crops.”
If you invent the next big thing you’re going to have to work at that a lot harder then the average guy.” Ketan set his beer bottle on the edge of the table and titled it slowly as though he were going to push it onto the floor.
“Is this more of your grand conspiracy theory?”
“If you want to assume it’s just a theory, that’s fine. But when was the last time a new ArchMage came to power?” He waited for a moment. When Kyle didn’t answer he continued, “You don’t know. I don’t know either, but I know it’s been a long time. The Arch Magi are immortal. They’re powerful, extraordinarily, and they’ve been that way for a very very long time. They don’t like change, because any change they don’t control threatens their power.”
“Yeah,” Kyle said trying to keep his voice neutral. Then he changed the subject, “So what’s the plan? Just beer, or do you want to get some food? We could grab a pool table.”
Ketan raised his eyebrows as far as he could manage. “The plan is talk to these beautiful women all around us! We came here because I read it was a great night spot.” He gave is head a little shake and laughed.
Kyle sighed. Talk to people. Perfect strangers. Women. Suddenly he was nostalgic for the elevator.