“He tried to kill me,” I whispered.
Grandpa Smedry snorted. “Not very well. You’ll understand eventually, lad, but pulling a gun on a Smedry isn’t exactly the smartest thing a man can do. But that’s behind us. Now we have to decide what to do next.”
“Of course. We can’t just let them have those sands!”
Grandpa Smedry raised a hand and pointed at me. “Don’t you understand, lad? It’s not only your life that’s in danger here. This is the fate of an entire world we’re juggling! The Free Kingdoms are already losing their war against the Librarians. With a tool like the Sands of Rashid, the Librarians will have just the edge they need to win. If we don’t get the sands back before they’re smelted—which will only take a few hours—it could lead to the complete overthrow of the Free Kingdoms! We are civilization’s only hope.”
“I … see,” I said.
“I don’t think you do, lad. The Lenses smelted from that sand will contain the most powerful Oculatory Distortions either land has ever seen. Gathering those sands was your father’s life’s work. I can’t believe you let the Librarians steal them. I’ll be honest, lad—I had higher hopes for you. I really expected better. If only I hadn’t come so late…”
I sat quietly, looking out the windshield. Now, it’s time you understood something about me. Despite what the stories like to say about my honor and my foresight, the truth is that I possess neither trait in large amounts. One trait I’ve always possessed, however, is rashness. Some call it irresponsibility; others call it spontaneity. Either way, I could rightly be called a somewhat reckless boy, not always prone to carefully considering the consequences of my actions.
In this case, of course, there was something more behind the decision I made. I had seen some very odd things that day. It occurred to me that if something as crazy as a gunman showing up in my house could happen, perhaps it could be true that this old man was my grandfather.
Someone had tried to kill me. My house was in a shambles. I was sitting in a hundred-year-old car with a madman. What the heck, I thought. This might be fun.
I turned, focusing on the man who claimed to be my grandfather. “I … didn’t let them steal the sand,” I found myself saying.
Grandpa Smedry turned to me.
“Or, well, I did,” I said, “but I let them take the sand on purpose, of course. I wanted to follow them and see what they tried to do with it. After all, how else are we going to uncover their dastardly schemes?”
Grandpa Smedry paused, then he smiled. His eyes twinkled knowingly, and I saw for the first time a hint of wisdom in the old man. Grandpa Smedry didn’t seem to believe what I had said, but he reached over anyway, clapping me on the arm. “Now that’s talking like a Smedry!”
“Now,” I said, holding up a finger. “I want to make something very clear. I do not believe a word of what you have told me up to this point.”
“Understood,” Grandpa Smedry said.
“I’m only going with you because someone just tried to kill me. You see, I am a somewhat reckless boy and am not always prone to carefully considering the consequences of my actions.”
“A Smedry trait for certain,” Grandpa Smedry noted.
“In fact,” I said, “I think that you are a loon and likely not even my grandfather at all.”
“Very well, then,” Grandpa Smedry said, smiling.
I paused as the old car turned a corner, moving with a very smooth speed. We were leaving the neighborhood behind, turning onto a commercial street. We began to pass convenience stores, service stations, and the occasional fast-food restaurant.
It was at that point that I realized Grandpa Smedry had taken his hands off the wheel sometime during the conversation, and now sat with his hands in his lap, smiling happily. I jumped in surprise.
“Grandpa!” I yelped. “The steering wheel!”
“Drastic Drakes!” Grandpa Smedry exclaimed. “I nearly forgot!” He grabbed the steering wheel as the car turned another corner. Grandpa Smedry proceeded to turn the wheel back and forth, seemingly in random directions, as a child might play with a toy steering wheel. The car didn’t respond to his motions but moved smoothly along the street, picking up speed.
“Good eye, lad!” Grandpa Smedry said. “We always have to keep up appearances, eh?”
“Um … yes,” I said. “Is the car driving itself, then?”
“Of course. What good would it be if it didn’t? Why, you’d have to concentrate so much that it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Might as well walk, I say!”
Right, I thought.
Those of you from the Free Kingdoms might be familiar with silimatic engines and can—perhaps—determine how they could be used to mimic a car. Of course, if you’re from the Free Kingdoms, you probably have only a vague idea what a car is in the first place, since you’re used to much larger vehicles. (It’s kind of like a silimatic crawler with wheels instead of legs, though people treat them more like horses. Only, unlike horses, they aren’t alive—and when they poop, environmentalists get mad.)
“So,” I asked, “where are we going?”
“There’s only one place the Librarians would have taken an artifact as powerful as the Sands of Rashid,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Their local base of operations.”
“That would be … the library?”
“Where else? The downtown library, to be exact. We’ll have to be very careful infiltrating that place.”
I cocked my head. “I’ve been there before. Last I checked, it wasn’t too hard to get in.”
“We don’t have to just get in,” Grandpa Smedry said. “We have to infiltrate.”
“And the difference is…?”
“One requires far more sneaking.” Grandpa Smedry seemed quite delighted by the prospect.
“Ah,” I said. “Right, then. Are we going to need any … I don’t know, special equipment for this? Or, perhaps, some more help?”
“Ah. A very wise idea, lad,” Grandpa Smedry said.
And the car suddenly jerked, turning onto a larger street. Cars passed on either side, whizzing off to their separate destinations, Grandpa Smedry’s little black automobile puttering along happily in the center lane. Grandpa gave the wheel a few good twists, and we rode in silence.
I kept glancing at the steering wheel, trying to sort out exactly what mechanism was controlling the vehicle. In my world, vehicles don’t drive themselves, and men like Grandpa Smedry are generally kept in small padded rooms with lots of crayons.
Eventually (partially to keep myself from going mad from frustration) I decided to try conversation again. “So,” I said, “why do you think that man tried to kill me?”
“Because the Librarians got what they wanted from you, lad,” Grandpa Smedry said. “They have the sands, which we all knew would make their way to you eventually. Now that they have your inheritance, you’re no longer an asset to them. In fact, you’re a threat! They were right to be afraid of your Talent.”
“Breaking things. All Smedrys have a Talent, my boy. It’s part of our lineage.”
“So … you have one of these Talent things?” I asked.
“Of course I do, lad!” Grandpa Smedry said. “I’m a Smedry, after all.”
“What is it?”
Grandpa smiled modestly. “Well, I don’t like to brag, but it’s quite a powerful Talent indeed.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“You see,” Grandpa Smedry said, “I have the ability to arrive late to things.”
“Ah,” I said. “Of course.”
“I know, I know. I don’t deserve such power, but I try to make good use of it.”
“You are completely nuts, you know.” It’s always best to be blunt with people.
“Thank you!” Grandpa Smedry said as the car began to slow. The vehicle pulled up to the pumps at a small gas station. I didn’t recognize the brand—the sign hanging above the ridiculously high prices simply de
picted the image of an upside-down teddy bear.
Our doors swung open on their own. Grandpa hopped out of his seat and rushed over to meet the station attendant, who was approaching to fill up the tank.
I frowned, still sitting in the car. The attendant was dressed in a pair of dirty overalls and no shirt. He was chewing on the end of a piece of straw, as one might see a farmer doing in old Hushlander movies, and he had on a large straw hat.
Grandpa Smedry approached the man with an exaggerated look of nonchalance. “Hello, good sir,” Grandpa Smedry said, glancing around. “I’d like a Philip, please.”
“Of course, good sir,” the attendant said, tipping his hat and accepting a couple of bills from Grandpa Smedry. The attendant approached the car, nodding to me, then took out one of the gasoline hoses and held it up against the side of the car. There was, I noticed, no sign of a gas tank. The attendant stood happily, gas hose pressed uselessly against the side of the car, whistling pleasantly to himself.
“Come, Alcatraz!” Grandpa Smedry said, walking up to the gas station’s store. “There isn’t time!”