|In the center of the Chamber of the Oracle, a hundred ScreenSavers
armed with a hundred swords surrounded Conan. From the raised alter at
the head of the room, High Priestess Meta regarded him.
"I thought of returning you to my friend the Duke," she said, "I believe
there is the matter of some damages he would like to settle. I doubt, however,
that he really wants you back." She removed the Prism from its place in
the alter and fastened it to the leather cord around her neck. "Of course,
I cannot allow you to return to your temple, either." She took two steps
to the end of the platform, removed her cloak from its hook and wrapped
it around herself. "But don't think that it is without a touch of regret
that I must say goodbye now."
She reached back and threw a switch by the alter. The swordsmen advanced.
Conan raised his sword and circled. The odds against were incalculable,
the path of retreat nonexistent. Then, just as suddenly as they had appeared,
the Screensavers were gone.
"You!" Meta's outstretched arm pointed behind the alter, her voice was
hoarse with rage. "What in the name of the Fields of MARC do you think
Colin stood up slowly, a circuit board in his hand. "Just checking the
Virtual Reality generator. Fifty thousand image maintenance?"
Conan sprang onto the platform in front of the alter, his sword raised.
"Stop!" Meta's voice rang harshly. She held before her a black object
the size and shape of a dagger's handle. "You think you have won, but you
have not. I have one last spell, and it will destroy everything in this
cave." She took the prism from its cord and inserted it into the black
"No," Colin's voice choked, "you can't."
"As I have built up," she released a catch on the handle, "so I can
bring down." And she pushed the button.
There was a roar like a thousand Hyper-Cats and an expanding wall of
light and heat knocked Conan off the platform. After it passed, he sat
on the floor, his ears buzzing, the smell of ozone in his nostrils. The
purple shapes dancing before his eyes slowly faded. The room appeared intact,
and eerily quiet. The monitors were black.
From behind the alter he heard Colin groan. There was a blue glow where
Meta had stood. As Conan staggered forward, he found the glow to be the
morning light reflecting on an open door. Before it the floor was scorched
in a perfect circle from which an acrid steam rose. From the center of
the circle, Conan retrieved the prism.
Colin looked like he might be sick. "Didn't think she'd use it," he
said shakily, "Massive destruct spell. Awful." He swallowed hard. "Reversed
two lines of its code. Just to be safe, you know. Never thought she'd really
use it." He stared at the floor and shook his head. "A brilliant mind.
If only she'd used her powers of cataloging for good instead of evil."
Behind them, the great Oracle hummed to life. Lines of text and code
scrolled again across its monitors. Colin hurried back to the alter where
the Oracle waited to bless the world with knowledge. Conan looked out the
doorway where the sun was burning away the mists and the air was fresh
© 1994, by Hadley V. Baxendale