Jok was just settling in for some tinkering. The bench was clear, enough. Snacks ready to hand. Coffee topped off and a fresh pot just started. Ozzy Osbourne in his right earbud, Mozart in his left, and an Indian raga on the stereo just loud enough to bleed through. Conditions were perfect, perfect for working on a problem with three parts.
The project was to create an object imbued with Ways to allow it to gather additional context from an object which it touched. Lay it on a written page and get a view into the room where it was written for example. He had chosen a rather nice brass handle from some obscure piece of clockmaker’s equipment for the object. It didn’t really matter. I could have been a feather or a microchip and it would have worked the same. Except it wasn’t working.
As he settled into work mode and his Ways began to swirl around him he felt like he was digging through a box looking for the right tool. He wasn’t sure what that tool was as he sifted his way around the same stale pathways for the three-hundredth time. The object, the Way of Release, and the Way of Sight. All right there. All just sitting there like a pile of nuts and bolts that wanted desperately to be a robot but could not find the spark to brig it to life.
The bell rang. He ignored it. Read the card, imbeciles. The bell rang again, this time twice. He sighed and allowed the Ways to collapse as he got up to answer the door. Pulling it open he grinned. “Wallace! So good to see you! I was wondering if you were ever going to drop by to pick this thing up. It’s been ready for ages. Who’s your friend?”
“Kendra. She’s new.” replied Wallace as he allowed her to step into the shop first before closing the door behind them.
“Hi!” said Kendra with some enthusiasm, “Great Seeming on this place. How do you do it?”
“Oh, I uh… It’s on the back bench Wallace. It’s uh-”
Wallace cut in, “Thanks, she takes a bit of getting used to.”
“Ah. Yes.” Jok pulled it together. “It’s all part of the Way of my card.” He pulled one out and handed it to Kendra. In fine Copperplate it read.
House of Release
Shop : Round the Back
“Round the back of what?” asked Kendra, “We were just on the side of this hill and Wallace presses this invisible door bell and suddenly the place is here. That’s large scale man.”
“Let me start with that. I move around a lot. Sometimes as often as twice a century. But I always find a spot behind something so the Way has something to latch on to. There are other parts of the Way that sort of help, um, sort people out. If you’re patient you can sniff it out and find your way to wherever I am. If you’ve already been here or if I want you to come here then you can just zip straight here. I kind of unlocked some of the inner workings of the Narrow Roads, bent them around a bit.”
“Makes total sense.” said Kendra, “What about the bell though.”
“Oh that.” Jok was was warming to the subject now, “If you manage to find it but just ring it once like a normal door bell the whole thing shuts up tighter than a bank vault. Only the best of the best could get through it. Not all the work of Release is about breaking out, sometimes you work it the other way. Luckily Wallace remembered just in time and got that second ring in.”
“Sweet work man.” Kendra said with real admiration, “So what do you work on in here?”
“Started out as a locksmith. You get a lot of work for other houses. Increase especially, they’ve always got stuff they want to keep other folks out of. Last few hundred years though I’ve been branching out into other stuff. I make tools using Ways of Release and the Ways of other houses.”
“Like the way your card uses the Narrow Roads?” Kendra interrupted.
“Exactly!” Jok had a full head of steam now, “Like this thing here.” He picked up the brass handle, “Context Discriminator. Custom order for someone from Sight. When it’s done it’ll let you learn all kinds of things from whatever you touch with it. Like setting it on a piece of paper and being able to tell what was going on in the room when it was written, or any number of things really, but the client mostly wants it for written work.”
“But it’s not working is it?” said Kendra. She could see the tail ends of the Ways he had been working with slowly unwind.
“No! I bloody can’t! I know the Way of Release like the back of me hand,” Jok began slipping more and more into his native Yorkshire accent as his frustration built, “And the fellah tha’ taught me the way o’ Sight was a bloomin’ artist wi’ the thing. But I’ve been goin’ over and over it for nigh on a year now and I’m nearly ready to give it up fer a bad job.” Calming down slightly, he went on.
“There’s three parts see. The object is the first. It doesn’t even matter it’s just something physical for the Ways to get a fix on. But the other two parts, it’s like I’ve got a, a fork and a spoon but there’s something missing and it’s not the knife. It’s like I need some sort of a, a spoon… fork…” his steam ran out as the weight of the job pressed down on him.
“Relax man, you just need a spork.” Kendra smiled at the quizzical look Jok gave her.
“A what miss?”
“Half spoon, half fork man. They come with the side of mashed potatoes when you buy fried chicken. You need to get out of the shop more. Show me what you’ve got so far.” Kendra pointed to the table.
Jok brushed aside the earbuds, still blaring away and picked up the handle. He brought his focus down on it and the Ways began to spool up. Kendra watched and right away could see how they interacted. She watched as he really got them going, faster and faster and more intertwined but never touching.
“Yeah, they never touch. Try this. Start over again but go slower.” Jok shrugged and started over. Couldn’t hurt. As he spooled up again Kendra watched even more intently. Just at the point when the swirl was about to become a tangle she reached out and gave it just the tiniest little push.
Jok reeled. Then he steadied it. Steadied himself. Looked wide eyed at Kendra then back at the Ways before he lost track of what he was doing. He just stared and stared until she started to get worried but then he finally pulled it all back and set the brass handle down.
“How the bloody hell did you d-”
“Spork man.” Grin.
“Spork” Jok’s eyes were beginning to return to their normal size. “You, you just did in five seconds what I’ve been working on for nigh on a year and it’s PERFECT! It’s way beyond that even! Wallace! You’ve been having me on friend. She’s not new eh?.”
Wallace, satisfied with his new piece of kit shambled over to where the two were standing. “What now?”
Kendra stepped in, “It’s just like you said. You had two parts and were missing the third. Except it wasn’t a third part. It was more like… the space between the two parts you already had. Once I caught sight of it all I had to do was give it a little push, the rest just happened. It practically did it on its own.”
Jok just sat in stunned silence looking at her.
Wallace grinned and leaned in close, “It’s like that almost every day with her. And yeah… she’s new. Brand new. Thanks for the fix up, I owe you one.”
Jok waved him away and kept staring at Kendra, “On the house mate. She just saved my bacon on a year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears.”
“No sweat man. We should hang out some time. I like your style.”
Jok finally came to his senses. Handing her a card he said, “Just remember to-”.
“Ring twice. Right. Got it. See ya man.” Kendra took the card and followed Wallace out the door.
Jok took the now perfectly functioning Context Discriminator back to the big work bench in the middle of the shop. He didn’t even think about trying it out on anything. He knew it wouldn’t just do exactly what was wanted of it. It would do all of that and probably even more. After a long, long while he picked it up and touched it to the page of a book.
Immediately the blacksmith's shop where the instructions for making a horseshoe had been written leapt to life within his senses. The crackle of the coals, the woosh of the bellows, the tang-ta-tang of the hammer on the iron. In his wildest imaginings he had hoped for a visual fix. Even a small one, blurry around the edges, would have done the trick and finished the job. But it was all there. Sight, sound, smell, the works. He pulled back slightly and looked at the Way as it did its work. There. He could just barely make them out. The spaces between the two ways. There was something new in there. Brand new.
I love this so much... This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for... take the characters, the ideas, the places, the Ways... and go nuts. I love the details and, especially, the name, "Context Discriminator." Thanks for sharing!