Kyle’s garage really didn’t look much like a garage. The most obvious departure from an ordinary parking space was that he had wall papered it in silver fabric. The fabric was em shielding. Kyle had attached it to OSB and then placed it around the entire room, including the floor and ceiling. His cell phone reception was nonexistent, but his neighbors no longer complained about their electronics misbehaving. Behind that, was a layer of sand contained in nylon packing tubes, and behind that was sound proofing foam. Consequently, his neighbors also had no cause to complain of loud noises or the building burning to the ground.
It wasn’t really a great magical laboratory, but it was the best he could build for a few thousand dollars.
The interior space was filled with long steel work tables, racks of equipment that ran the gamut from scientific instrumentation to basic power tools and specifically magical paraphernalia. His equipment had been acquired through years of bidding on eBay, and about half of it was junk or completely unused, but he seldom wanted a tool he couldn’t lay his hands on. That was saying something, experimenting with magic could take a person in some strange directions.
When he came down to the lab after talking to Jessie at the Treehouse he began by clearing one of his work tables then setting a battery and a broad spectrum light meter in the center of it. Then, thinking about the flare of heat he’d generated with the tiny puff of magical energy he’d used earlier, he put the large battery he’d initially selected back, got out a tiny battery typically used for stabilizing low energy consumption spells in retail packaging. Thinking a bit more, he got out some of his sandbags, and looked up the binding for a magical flow limiter in one of his old reference books.
Though most laymen don’t realize the difference, a binding was not strictly speaking a magical spell. It didn’t change the fundamental nature of the world. Instead it changed the nature of magical fields by shaping them. The simplest possible binding was probably the “Apprentice’s Trove”. It was a circle of magical charge, and it kept the energy in it from dissipating at the usual rate. It effectively acted as a low quality capacitor.
The magical limiter turned out to be based on the Trove. It was a line of power stretching from energy source to magical spell, broken in the middle, with the Trove positioned in the break. Power radiated from the source side, across the gap, into the Trove, then out again into the spell side at a rate strictly controlled by the width of the gap and the diameter of the Trove. The book gave equations, and with a little work Kyle was able to set the binding such that the spell would draw around a micro-merlin per second. He could have been more precise if he hadn’t been building it all freehand, but the tiny flow should keep his sandbags from coming into play. He set the other bindings the way he had at the Treehouse, tuning for visible light, and then grabbed a welding mask and his fire extinguisher just to be on the safe side.
Finally, he set off a crack of undirected magical energy in it. The feedback loops worked just as they had before and a flash of brilliant light burst into being in the center of the spell a moment later. Even through his welding mask it was difficult to look at. The light meter was reading around 240 thousand lux.
Kyle admired his miniature sun for a long moment, and then he started to laugh. The mirth fountained up in his chest and he had to let it out in a chuckle, which grew into a cackle, which grew into a wild laugh that didn’t sound quite sane. But there was sound proofing in the garage so that was alright.
Then he really got to work. Since he’d started researching magical light production he’d thought it might play into illusion work, and to that end he’d snagged some equipment. It only took a moment to find it on one of his shelves; a RealDreams autocaster board. It looked like a sound mixer board mated to a bunch of light sensors and compact cameras, and it was a struggle to get it to the work table. The equipment was designed to be used with a self stabilizing wheeled mount of the sort commonly used in the film industry. Next, Kyle got his laptop, connected it to the autocaster board, and booted RealDreams Designer Studio – basically Photoshop for magically generated illusions.
As always, he was surprised by the quality of the RealDreams software and equipment. He’d worked with the Thomas Illusions products that were more common in the industry, and they didn’t feel as nice. Yet, he’d been able to pick up the RealDreams for less than a hundred dollars after the company went bust.
For a while, back in college, Kyle had been torn between majoring in magic or computers; with autocasters, there was a lot of overlap. Getting the RealDreams connected to his new spell proved he’d taken the right path by avoiding programming. The machine had an “expandable magical catalog” meaning it could work a stock library of light generating spells or incorporate the triggers for newly supplied spells. Kyle assumed that meant he could program it to perform his spell and he’d be set. He was wrong.
First, he found that instructing the machine to release magical power without a binding or active spell was a compile error. That essentially rendered the micro-chi-punch he’d been using to provide raw light emitting effects impossible. He searched through the machine’s documentation and eventually found a way to turn off that restriction – in an obscure config file in a counter intuitive place. Thinking he was home free, he began to connect the bindings he’d used the previous night to the raw magical spark only to find the RealDreams lacked the binding for the light-based magical flow limiter. That made sense, of course, the binding was obscure and possibly newer then the board. It was also an intractable problem; the RealDreams could handle any spell, but it’s library of bindings was built into the hardware.
It was after midnight by that time, but Kyle barely noticed. Instead of stopping he took a different tack. He cast his spell tuning it to pure green, red, blue, yellow, violet, aqua, and white light. In each case he made sure the resulting effect could be controlled. That, surprisingly, wasn’t automatic. The first spell he found for “blue” produced an utterly blinding set of glowing blue lines which rotated in a strangely hypnotic pattern that Kyle eventually recognized as the three-dimensional representation of a 4d hyper-cube. Feeding more power into the spell didn’t make the lines any brighter; it made them rotate faster and electrical discharge crawl along the corners of the garage’s em shielding. Kyle damped the power to that effect way down, then cast for a different blue using the scalar effect of one running copy to keep the tesseract spell from popping up again. The second blue light effect was far more cooperative, so he rapidly banished the first spell.
He also checked a radiation badge he’d had sitting in the corner. Fortunately, the tesseract hadn’t been hot.
Next he connected each effect to a trigger. Technically a magical effect wasn’t a complete spell until it had a trigger: some description of the spell’s function and intended behavior using a system of symbols or other elements that contain, encode, and manipulate information. As the name implied, after first discovery, the trigger was used to cast the spell. Modern magi tended to use mathematical equations, but magic itself had no preference for math or any other human artifact; DNA, computer variables, and a host of far odder things could be used to trigger spells. Connecting the trigger proved to be a pain.
The fundamental process was dead simple. Magi of old would just describe the effect while they cast it and the trigger and effect would collapse together like two unstable subatomic particles combining. But the process of trigger attachment was stochastic, again like a quantum system, and only a few triggers could be predictably attached to each effect. Modern magical developers jealously guarded those potential triggers because the rights to a specific sort of trigger were highly marketable if the spell was good. The RealDreams board would no more automatically attach a trigger to a new spell then it would automatically format its hard drive for more storage space.
After trolling through the documentation a second time, Kyle found that the RealDreams could attach a trigger. Kyle just needed to flip over the board, unscrew a panel on the back, physically flip a toggle, and reboot in a special “training mode”. That in place, he shifted control of the spells to the board, by having it feed them magical current, and attached Magical Universally Unique Identification based triggers one by one until the board could make each spell on its own. From there it was simple, well comparatively simple, to boot back into the board’s normal mode and have it use the newly minted spells as its color palette.
At that point he could have gone to bed. He should have gone to bed, really. It was so late it was almost early. He was so wired with excitement and energy drinks that he’d cobbled together a simple script in Designer Studio using stock art and effects. It was a chance to see what the magic could really do.
He flipped off the garage lights and ran it.
At first, nothing but a small light hung in the center of his garage. A tiny red ember that wouldn’t have been visible in even a well-lit room, the minimum output of his spell thus far. Then the light strengthened like a candle catching fire in a dark place. Soon it burnt brightly enough to illuminate the silver walls of the garage. The autocaster detected the energy flowing through the spell it controlled had reached a preset level and kicked over into the second phase of its existence. The ball of light expanded into a globe about the size of a basketball. It was a simple shape, one that had been easy to set, but it served his purposes. Once it reached its full size the spell entered its third phase and colors started to swirl across it. Every hue in the rainbow rippled and appeared in one place or another, but soon it was dominated by blues and greens. They began to move in definite patterns. Soon they had resolved into a picture. A miniature Earth floated above Kyle’s cluttered work table illuminating it with weak blue-green light.
The side he looked at was centered on the North American continent and dusk was sweeping across it in a long curved line that stretched from pole to pole. On the dark half of the Earth, lights clustered along the coast outlining the heavily populated areas along them. Further inland they stretched like a web of burning jewels. A major city was a clump here, then a string of lights, small towns, led along some unseen highway to another big bright city there. It was all based off of space imagery.
The RealDreams script moved forward. The Earth lifted, against the black backdrop of the still largely dark garage. It could have been spinning in space. With a brutal suddenness the tiny illusionary world shattered into a thousand glittering fragments. All the red, green, and blue flecks rolled out through the dark room. For a moment the junk stored there was lit with strange dancing colors. Then the colors came together to form a solid image. Trees sprang up out of the floor. At first they were shifting and cartoonish, but they took on details that made them, and the ground below them, and the sky above, seem vastly more real. After a moment Kyle found himself standing in an alpine forest, his garage hidden by layers of illusion. It even seemed he had interacted with it. There was snow on the ground beneath him, piled slightly over his shoes and clinging to the cuffs of his pants. When he looked back towards where the rear door should have been a trail of footprints led off the way he would have come detouring around trees here and there, becoming deeper as it crossed drifts. All the details were perfect, and it all ran off of one tiny battery.
“Incredible,” Kyle mumbled. The board caught the sound and formed illusion fog to match the breath of his words. “This I can sell.”