|Chuck Boeheim||(The World's Tallest Leprechaun)|
|Nick Gimbrone||(Ye Olde Buzzard)|
|Kristina Granlund||(The Princess)|
|Rich Gallagher||(The Dragon)|
|Paul Zarnowski||(The Zark)|
Let it be said of no one connected with this story, either directly or indirectly, that it was not taken in the spirit in which it was offered. Remember, most of the following tale was penned between the hours of midnight and four AM.
See Historical Perspective and Glossary
Copyright MCMLXXVII by Operators Ltd.
** The Wizard of OCKS **
Once upon a time, in the far off land of OCKS, in the little village of Baker, there lived a beautiful Princess, a Leprechaun, an evil old Buzzard, and a Dragon.
Now the land of OCKS was ruled by a great and powerful Wizard, known as the Wizard of OCKS. This wizard, whose name was VM, was never, ever seen by the villagers. The populace, known as those-who-use, or users for short, asked questions of the wizard VM from afar, and received his cryptic replies scrawled on pieces of paper. The orders given to the villagers by VM came from his assistants: High Priest Van Houweling, his kindly advisor Manning, Manning's advisor Jones, or, sometimes, from a mysterious voice on the other end of a magical phone that had no dial; some said that this was the voice of VM himself
Some of the people of the town of Baker discovered that if they typed on the village teletype, it would often answer. Sometimes they would talk to the villages of Uris and Upson, and, sometimes, someone from the mighty Turquoise City of Langmuir would answer, where it was said the all-seeing Wizard of OCKS lived.
Then, one day, a decree came from the advisor to the advisor of the High Priest, known as Boss Junior: the villagers would no longer be able to use the magic typewriter to talk to Langmuir and the other villages.
The Dragon puffed and blew smoke rings, the old Buzzard ruffled his feathers and clacked his beak, the Princess sniffed and said Piffle!, and the Leprechaun sulked under a toadstool. To no avail. It was a decree from VM; he was annoyed.
The villagers gathered to plan out what they could do ...
The villagers gathered to confer: what could be done about the decree? They agreed it would be no good to stage a revolt; at the first sign of dissention, the K.J. Chang's of the world would overrun the village. And that, they agreed, must never be allowed to happen.
So the Leprechaun wrote an exec that let people talk between the villages by handing a one-line note to an elf by the name of CP, who would deliver it to the other villages. But no longer was that voice from far-off Langmuir City heard in the villages.
But the infamous Boss Junior discovered this, and decreed that CP should be banished from Baker Village.
Isolation clamped down around the lonely little village again. The villagers huddled closer against the onslaught of users, forgotten by their sister villages.
"But why?" asked the Princess, trying to plug up Box 53 with folded listings; the users kept grabbing at them from the other side. A hand reached all the way through the box, groping, and she let loose with a searing oath: "Piffle!" The hand retreated, and the box stayed plugged for a while.
"'Twas a decree from the wizard VM," said the Buzzard, chasing Chang away from the plotter, again. "He is annoyed. We were tying up the phone line."
"As if we ever got any calls," put in the Leprechaun, building a barricade out of old manuals. "How about boiling him in hot coffee?" he added, nodding his head towards Chang, who was still skulking behind the card reader.
"I know!" exclaimed the Dragon, leaping to his feet and abending three jobs with a sweep of his scaly tail. "I will journey to the village of Uris and ask High Priest Van Houweling to put another phone line in the village. He has four of them already, surely he can spare one of them."
The Dragon galumphed off down the hill in the direction of Uris. The other three watched him go sadly, for they knew that, fierce as he looked, and as thick as his smoke was, he was a nice Dragon, and could never breathe fire at anyone.
So they took up their posts for the defense of the village. The Leprechaun set up the plotter drawing magic hexagrams, the sat down at the front counter with a box of rubber bands, and shot any user who ventured too near. The Princess set a box of K.K. Mon's listings on fire to make the users believe the Dragon was still in the village. The Buzzard busied himself defending the magic typewriters from K.J. Chang.
And so they waited for the Dragon to return...
At dawn the next morning the Dragon returned from his guest, fairly bursting with his news.
"The High Priest says that we can have another phone in the village," he announced. "CP can return!"
He was drowned out by the cheers from other villagers. He finally managed to get a word in sideways: "But..."
The villagers fell silent.
"We must travel to the Turquoise City first, and ask the approval of the Wizard."
"But how shall we find the way?" asked the Leprechaun.
A tiny little man opened the door in the side of the magic printer, and clambered out, puffing heavily. "Follow the Yellow Byte Road!" he piped, and scurried out the door accompanied by high-pitched laughter from the corners.
The villagers looked at each other, perplexed. "Munchkins?" said the Princess, and giggled.
"Follow the Yellow Byte Road!" repeated the Leprechaun delightedly. He started skipping off, unable to contain himself. "Follow the Yellow Byte Road! Follow ... " He disappeared abruptly under a mass rush of AP students brandishing assignments and copies of Conway and Gries. The others vaguely heard the Leprechaun's cries of outrage drifting back to them over the battle cries of the AP's."What's this warning mean? What' this..."
"I don't have a processor card, so how come it's telling me that it's invalid? What's a processor anyway..."
"Will you go over my program with me before I punch it on cards to make sure it's right? This is my first..."
"What's CLOCK, 0002 mean? ..."
"The computer hates me!"
"Get away from me! I'M NOT ON DUTY ANYMORE!"
The other three came to his rescue. While the Buzzard chased the AP's off into the woods, the Princess and the Dragon picked the Leprechaun up and dusted him off.
The Buzzard came stomping back, the AP's having escaped into the woodwork. "I still hear one of them yammering," he said.
They looked around and discovered one still fastened tightly onto the Leprechaunıs ankle, whimpering over an invalid ELSE. He shook his foot and it slithered off under a large flat stone, just inches ahead of the Buzzard.
"How are we going to get to the Turquoise City? It's so far."
"Watch," said the Dragon.
He walked to the village phone and dialed a number. He talked for a moment, ten put the receiver down, and had tem hide.
"But what ..." began the Buzzard.
"Shh!" cautioned the Dragon.
A few moments later a strange vehicle with a large domino on the roof pulled up. The driver got out, carrying a pizza, and disappeared up the path. The four scurried to the truck and hid themselves in the back.
The driver reappeared, looking perplexed. He looked about just in time to spy a mob of a dozen AP's bearing down on him. He dropped the pizza and sprinted.
"All right, I admit it, Itıs a kluge," said the Dragon in a whisper as the driver gunned the engine. "But it works..."
They were off to see the Wizard.
The highway where they had abandoned their borrowed transportation lay far behind them when the Yellow Byte Road disappeared, diving beneath a field overgrown with small, bushy plants. On the far side of the field, the road reappeared. And beyond that...
"Look! The Turquoise City!" exclaimed the Princess. "We're nearly there!"
They broke into a run, flying across the field towards the hazy, shining image beyond. Suddenly, the Leprechaun slowed and stopped, his interest caught.
"It's a strawberry field!" he exclaimed, plucking one of the juicy berries and tossing it into his mouth.
"Hurry!" said the Princess. "It's almost time for them to lock the gates for the night!" She turned, intending to urge him to hurry, but the Leprechaun was nowhere to be seen. In his place sat a russet chipmunk with an unusually unruly shock of hair.
"Rich!" she shouted, "Rich!" But instead of the Dragon, a large Siamese cat sat licking the strawberry juice off of its whiskers. The cat fixed her with a level, if cross-eyed, stare.
"Nick!" she cried. "They're magic strawberries! Don't eat any of them!"
A large sleek ebon bird croaked, "Nevermore!"
"Oh dear, what can I do now?" She sat down on the ground and looked at her three friends. The cat spied the chipmunk and uncrossed his eyes. The chipmunk escaped the first pounce and fled, diving into a pocket in the Princessıs dress. The cat, annoyed, went for the bird, only to catch a vicious peck on the nose. "Nevermore!" quoth the Raven. The bird and cat sat and glared at each other, and the chipmunk peeped timidly out of its pocket.
"I know," cried the Princess, leaping to her feet. "I'll ask the Good Fairy!"
"I'm sorry, the Good Fairy is out right now," a cheerful, smiling, brown-haired woman said, appearing in the strawberry patch. "Can I help you?"
"Mariann!" exclaimed the Princess. "What can I do?"
"See a consultant," she advised.
"But thereıs no consultant on duty until Monday!" she wailed.
"Well, Hon, you're the Princess" Mariann replied, peering over her glasses.
"Kiss them!" With that, she vanished again.
Shrugging, she drew the chipmunk out of her pocket, and kissed him.
"You were cuter as a chipmunk," she told him as he towered over her again. "Hrumph," grumped the Leprechaun.
"Nevermore," quoth the Raven.
The Princess transformed the other two and they set off again. Just ahead of them now loomed the gates of the Turquoise City...
Finally the four travelers reached the shining turquoise city. And there, at the base of the citadel, were stopped by a locked gate.
"What do we do now?" asked the Buzzard.
"There's someone over there. Perhaps he knows the way in," suggested the Leprechaun.
Slumped against the wall a short way from the group was a dusty old figure, clutching something to his chest under a tattered brown cloak, nodding slowly and talking to himself.
He looked up as they approached. "Come the see the Wizard, have ye?" he grated in a voice choked with grit. "Everyone wants to see the Wizard, you know. Don't do them no good, though. No one sees the Wizard."
He drew his hand out from under the cloak, clutching a brown glass bottle caked with dust. He raised it to his lips; a dark liquid gurgled inside. The four could see a label on the side, hand lettered. It read, OLD CLAPTRAP.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and continued. "I been here seven years now. The wizard I came to see wasnıt even named VM. It was a different wizard then. He was named CLASP. The he retired and a new wizard came in, by the name of HASP. Nowadays HAS himself ain't nothin' but an under-wizard to this new fella, VM."
"Why won't they let you in?" asked the Dragon, trying to stop the derelict's rambling.
"I got a condition code." He replied, hanging his head. With a sob he burst out: "Iıve been in wait state now for seven years!"
The four wandered away, leaving him to his misery. "Let's try the front gate again."
Our four heroes were still standing outside the locked gates of the Turquoise City, staring at the desolation around them. Occasionally, a truck would pull up to a forlorn building across the parking lot marked "Agri-Bio Labs" and unload a few cows.
"That must be food for the wizard!" whispered the Princess.
"He must be even more overweight than I am" snorted the Dragon.
While the Leprechaun, the Princess, and the Dragon sat there, alternately sulking and trying to budge the towering iron gates, the Buzzard flew over to what seemed to be more of his own kind ... sleek, beautiful white birds whose graceful markings were marred only by the inscription 'AGONY AIRLINES' in red letters upon the backs of each one. His efforts to charm them, as great and powerful as his charms were, were to no avail most would not even speak to him or take notice, except for one who took 100 humans upon her back, spit fire at the poor Buzzard, and flew off toward the legendary empire of Ye Longe Island. The venture was not totally in vain, however ... as he trudged sadly towards the iron gates of the Turquoise City, he spotted a magic device which dispensed a potent elixir...
"I've found it!! A way to lure the gatekeepers, witches and warlocks away from their posts! A way to enter the Turquoise City! You see, I've discovered a plentiful source of the elixir which no devotee or servant of the wizard VM can survive without..."
"You mean.." exclaimed the Leprechaun, his voice quavering with awe.
"YES! C O F F E E!" shouted the Buzzard, "HAVE A CUP..."
"Ah, yes, coffee..." smiling, the Princess went on to admit, "How else did you expect me to stay awake during my 36-hour shifts at the villages..."
The Leprechaun, being well experienced in the ways of the famous elixir (indeed, it had been said that he was even in possession of the magic 'Mr. Elixir' device), knew exactly what to do. Gathering the others together outside a nearby open window, he whispered a plan of action to them.
At the precise time, the Dragon gave the prearranged signal (coughed and lit a Marlboro) and everyone shouted in unison the magic oath: "COFFEE BREAK!" As our heroes rushed in front of the iron gates, they were trampled by a mad rush of programmers, operators, demons, warlocks, beasts and research biologists. The Princess, however, managed to get up in time to rush over and prop open the quickly closing gates. The others rushed in, sat down to dust themselves off from the footprints, and smiled.
At last, they were in the inner sanctum of the Turquoise City!
Once inside the Turquoise City, of course, our heroes TWTL, YOB, KtheP & RtheG had to prepare for their visit with the Wizard...
"All right, folks" said the Dragon as he organized their little group. "Let's look sharp now! You Buzzard! Wipe that yogurt off your face! Princess! Get those piffles of your under control! And YOU..." he said, whirling to glare at the world's tallest... "YOU stop chattering now! NO twitching your tail! And get those strawberries out of your pockets they look RIDICULOUS."
"Hmmmmpf," sniffed the Leprechaun ex-post-facto-chipmunk. "YOU could at least work on rounding out your smoke rings, Dragon..."
"Okay, okay... let's get going, folks," called the Buzzard, and so they did...
The Wizard's hall was full of noise and light; piles of serpentine wires fed the many clustered chattering machines while here and there a display board would blink to its neighbors. "Welcome to the Land of Ozone beware of Munchkins" proclaimed a sign, and indeed, our heroes could see the VM Munchkins running about the hall, attending to their feared lord and master, the Wizard.
A small companion of VM, named DECWRITER, rattled at the group as they passed.
"ENTER C" it said, and the Dragon punched in the correct response.
"vm/370 online ljh359 qsyosu" it responded, and then stopped.
"What happened?" asked the Princess. "How come itıs so quiet?..."
"Maybe it's waiting for a secret password..." speculated the Buzzard. The Dragon, who was quite adept in the field of secret messages and spells, tried his best to wake the sleeping DECWRITER but to no avail.
"Itıs not paying attention!" sighed the Princess. "Piffle!"
"Watch those piffles..." scolded the Leprechaun, as he hit the key marked "attention" on the DECWRITER. "Maybe this'll work... try it Dragon." So RtheG retyped his secret password message and DECWRITER woke up.
"Login," it said, and they walked on.
Onward our dauntless heroes trudged. Up and down a seemingly endless maze of hallways, guided always by big signs which read 'Computer Room This Way'. The further they went, the more crowded the halls got. People were running everywhere and always their talk was the same, about abends, condition codes, channels, controllers and other strange devices which none of our heroes had ever heard of.
After quite a few minutes of walking the Buzzard decided to fly ahead and see what he could find. Luck was with him, for when he returned he informed the rest of the party that just around the next bend he had found what looked like the entrance to the Wizard's chambers. With that, the whole party started to run down the hall knocking down people in their mad rush so excited were they at the prospect of ending their journey.
As they rounded the corner they found in front of them the biggest, most ornate set of double doors that any of them had ever seen before. And before each door stood a big, mean, ugly, hulking guard. On each side of the doors were long lists of proclamations all signed by the Wizard VM's subordinates (CMS, HASP and TSO). It was obvious to all that this was where the Wizard must live.
Everyone started to get excited, the Dragon swished his tail, the Buzzard flapped his wings, the Leprechaun chattered his teeth, and the Princess piffled uncontrollably. The guards who had been quietly conversing before seemed amused by the great excitement that was generated when our heroes saw the doors. After a few moments one smiled at the other and stepped to the side of where he had been standing.
Suddenly everyone quieted down and the Dragon exclaimed "Oh no, we'll never get to see the Wizard". And at that the guards started laughing even harder, for you see they had been blocking out heroes' view of a big sign on the doors that read 'Positively NO Admittance, NO Unauthorized Personnel, NO Smoking, NO Food, NO Drinks, NO Animals'. Everyone was looking very dejected, the Buzzard mumbled under his breath "This Wizard sounds like a chick I used to date," and the Leprechaun suggested that they all go home since obviously they couldn't see the Wizard.
But the Princess quickly exclaimed, "NO, we mustn't go yet. Perhaps there's a way, maybe we can find someone who will authorize us, we can't just give up and go. Come on, let's at least look around the city some more before we go. Weıll find a way yet!" Thus the Princess exhibited two traits that are common to all Princesses: overconfidence and bullheadedness.
So our heroes trudged on down the hall to explore the Fabled, Magical, Mystical Turquoise City of Langmuir.
The last we saw of our fearsome foursome, they were wandering hopelessly around the Turquoise City of Langmuir. Now, several long hours later, they sat dejected on the floor of the hall next to a broken telephone booth and several very large crates marked:
Handle With Care
This end up <---
All was quiet around them, and it had become dark outside.
"Is there no hope for us?" sobbed the Princess...
The Leprechaun tried to console her, but the Dragon, sitting on his haunches, and the Old Buzzard, roosting on top of the telephone booth, could see it wasn't helping very much. The Dragon lit a cigarette and began blowing smoke-rings which drifted up past the Buzzard.
The Buzzard started looking around for another perch and flew over on top of the large crates. More long hours passed and it grew steadily darker. The Princess had fallen asleep and was leaning on the Leprechaun, who had taken the phone book out of the phonebooth and was now categorizing it by street names. The Dragon, looking annoyed at the Leprechaun for being so busy, muttered something about wishing he had stayed at Baker Village next to his trusty Datel (trusty, not rusty). The Buzzard was snoozing on top of one of the crates.
Suddenly, a door at the end of the hall cracked open, and muffled voices filtered out. The Dragon moved behind the crates next to the Princess and out of sight of the door. The Buzzard was still sleeping in the shadows. Then the door opened wide, and two guards walked out and down the hall and around the corner from the foursome.
The Dragon peeked around the side of the crate and looked down to the end of the hall at the open room. Finally, he got up and walked down the hall past the sleeping buzz-saw, errr Buzzard. When he got to the door of the room, he looked in cautiously and then exclaimed, "Hey! A coffee pot!!"
The Leprechaun immediately jumped to his feet and ran down the hall. The sleeping Princess went flying.
"What the hell is going on?" she yelled at the Leprechaun. The Buzzard squawked and flew over to the Princess to make sure she wasn't hurt, and then the two of them trotted down the hall to join the others.
"GACK! This coffee is awful!" muttered the Leprechaun. "Too bad we didn't bring some with us from the village..."
They all agreed and then started talking about how the coffee from Baker Village was the best in the realm of the Wizard.
Meanwhile, there was some activity going on down the hall in front of the doors to the Wizard's chambers. The Princess, now quite awake and alert, noticed it first and shushed the others to be quiet. They watched closely as first a cart, and then a person pushing it came into view.
"Look!" whispered the Buzzard, "he's opening the doors to the chamber!"
"Quiet, heıll hear us," commanded the Princess.
Then the person went through the doors, and the doors closed behind him.
"I wonder who he is?" said the Dragon...
"I dunno, but whoever he is, he left that cart full of boxes outside," replied the Leprechaun. "Maybe if one of us got into one of the boxes, he could get inside and then let the others in."
"What!? Are you crazy?!" yelled the Dragon. "Thatıs the craziest thing Iıve ever heard..."
"No itıs not," said the Leprechaun. "I think itıs a great idea."
"Okay, wise guy you do it then!"
"Not me," said the Leprechaun, "I'm too tall. Iıd never fit... But the old Buzzard certainly would..."
"Oh no you donıt!" said the Buzzard, "I'd get claustrophobia what about the Dragon there?"
"Be reasonable," interrupted the Princess, who up 'till now had been quiet. "He's much too big. You'd never fit that tail in."
They all stared at the Princess.
Then they all looked at each other.
Then they all looked back at the Princess.
"Whoa, fellas... You donıt think you're going to stuff me in that box, do you?"
They all grinned, and in two minutes, she was snugly packed in box labeled 'WARREN'. They started walking away and then the Dragon stopped and said, "Wait a minute what does 'WARREN' mean? Iıve never heard of it before now..."
"Must be the name of an assistant-to-the-Wizard," suggested the Buzzard. The Leprechaun looked puzzled.
"Mmmm, guess you're right," said the Dragon, and they scooted down the hall and hid behind the Memorex crates.
A few minutes passed, and then the chamber doors opened, somebody reached out and pulled the cart in. The remaining trio was filled with glee. "We're almost there!" exclaimed the Buzzard. The Dragon agreed. The Leprechaun looked worried.
A few more minutes passed, and then the doors re-opened, and the trio stooped down next to the phone booth. Out came the cart, this time fully loaded, pushed by a tall blond figure.
"Hey," whispered the Dragon, "He looks familiar... sorta like a Zark..."
"Naw," said the Buzzard, "they're almost extinct. It couldn't be a Zark. It must be a leprechaun."
"Nope, itıs not a leprechaun," said the Leprechaun, "But he sure is awfully tall..."
"Yup. Almost as tall as you," said the Buzzard.
"Ya know," interrupted the Dragon, "I see a Zark back at the Village every now and again... I wonder if it's the same one?"
"It's not a Zark," insisted the Buzzard.
"No, maybe he's got something there," said the Leprechaun.
The Zark (or whatever it was) was just about to leave the hall when the chamber doors opened and a tall, stark figure trotted out. "Hey!" he cried, "You forgot this tape for Warren Terminal..."
Oh, thanks. Wouldnıt want to forget that, would I!" responded the Zark. "I should leave it here 'til tomorrow just to get them back for punching so many cards all the time. They really out-did themselves this time, tho... This box is really loaded with 'em... Oh well, I'll see ya' tomorrow." They turned and walked their ways. One into the freight elevator, and the other back through the chamber doors.
The trio was dumbfounded. "Now I remember, said the Leprechaun. "When I was looking through that phone book I saw a Warren Terminal listed somewhere... Yes, it's all coming back now... they call them 'Terminals' up here, but we call them 'Villages'."
"You mean-?" said the Dragon.
"Yes," said the Leprechaun. "Iım afraid thereıs a good chance that our beloved Princess has been hijacked by that Zark, or whatever it was, to a place called Warren Village..."
"What are we going to do?" signed the Dragon. The Buzzard fluffed his wings and the Leprechaun sat down in the telephone booth and sighed...
Somehow, the Turquoise had lost some of its sparkle...
The remaining three heroes(?) ran precipitously after the retreating Zark. To no avail; they had spent too long discussing the merits of various polishes and waxes to restore the lost sparkle to the Turquoise City. (See last chapter.) They burst from the front gate of the city to see a car spin out of the parking lot with the Zark at the wheel.
"I guess it was a Zark, after all." commented the Buzzard into stunned silence. In response to puzzled glances from the other two, he pointed to the long, black patches left behind the retreating car on the pavement, forming a large, stylized Z.
"You mean?" asked the Dragon.
The Buzzard nodded confirmation, "The Mark of Zark."
"Hush," called the Leprechaun, and motioned them all into cover behind a bush. A lone figure came tromping down the drive towards the gate to the city.
It was the Zark. As he neared the group, they heard him mutter something about his car and kick a can in the gutter. The can flew over the bush and came within an inch of laying the Buzzard out flat.
The Leprechaun whispered urgently to the others: "His car broke down. Quick, run and unwrap the Princess."
"And what are you going to be doing?" squawked the Buzzard indignantly. But the Leprechaun had disappeared into the dimness of the city at the heels of the Zark. The Buzzard and the Dragon had nothing to do but unpack the rumpled Princess.
She was not amused.
"Whose scatterbrained idea was this anyway?" she stormed, trying to smooth the wrinkles out of her dress and shake out her hair at the same time.
"And just where is the Leprechaun, anyway?"
They met the Leprechaun just outside the gates of the city. He lit up when he saw the Princess, and ran to embrace her, crying: "You're safe!"
"No thanks to you," she snapped. He stopped dead in his tracks, crestfallen. "You got me into that box, and left me there, and then you couldn't even come rescue me!"
"Don't talk to me!"
Meanwhile the Buzzard and the Dragon had been investigating the front gate. "Come on," called the Dragon. "The gate has been left propped open." They filed inside, the unhappy Leprechaun bringing up the rear.
Reaching the door to the wizard's inner sanctum, they discovered that the guards had vanished. The Buzzard tried the door. It was open! "Look," he said, "a penny got stuck in the door."
As they filed through the door, the Leprechaun reached to take the Princess's hand. She jerked her hand away and glared.
The Dragon moved between them. "You know, you two ought to make peace before the end of this adventure." he said kindly.
Her answer was lost as the four fell silent. They had come before the Wizard!
The four entered a large chamber that seemed devoid of any human life. It was not, however, quiet. The entire chamber was filled with a number of large, enigmatic machines, each filling the air with its own whirring, humming, or arhythmic clicking. In the center of the room was situated a large console, topped by a large rectangular screen, upon which lines printed in glowing letters moved lazily. The console was flanked on both sides by chattering printers, while an empty swivel chair swung idly before it.
"That looks like the Wizard's chair," whispered the Buzzard.
"But where's the Wizard?" returned the Dragon.
"Letıs look around, he can't be far away."
Sure enough, not far away, in a narrow aisle between two rows of low machines with glass tops, sprawled a gangling figure.
"Are you the Wizard?" enquired the Dragon.
"Doesn't look like a wizard to me," commented the Buzzard, sotto voce to the group.
"Looks more like a dwarf with thyroid problems," grumped the still-sullen Leprechaun.
"Yes. No, I mean I'm the assistant to the Wizard." said the oddly-shaped dwarf, scrambling to his feet (large) amid a flurry of Hollerith cards.
"I knight Dennis of Langmuir," he continued. "And this is the Wizard." With a grandiose wave he took in the largest machines and the odd console.
"What!" cried our heroes. "The Wizard is a machine?"
"Uhm, I thought everyone knew that." replied the bemused dwarf.
"Well, can it answer our question, then?" asked the Dragon, somewhat dubiously.
"Of course," cried the dwarf, brightening at once. "Just let me finish what I was doing, here."
"What is that?" asked the Dragon.
"Itıs an operating system," explained the hyper-thyroidal midget, as he gathered a deck of card off the floor, shuffled them a couple of times and moved towards a card reader. "It's a very powerful, all-purpose spell. It should have no trouble with your problems."
As he spoke, the last card whisked through the reader. Lights flashed for a moment, then the room grew quiet as everything halted.
"You killed the Wizard!" chorused the group in horror.
"Dennis, did you bomb the system again?" called a voice from a far corner of the room. A man appeared from between two tall machines.
"Who are you?" asked the astonished Buzzard.
"About time you four got here," he replied, smiling.
"You knew we were coming?" asked the Dragon.
"Big Brother is always watching you."
It was indeed the voice heard in the villages from the far-off city of Langmuir.
"Big Brother, who is the Wizard?" asked the Buzzard.
"There is no Wizard."
"But what are we to do?" asked the Princess. "We were counting on him to solve our problem."
"I think you can solve it. You four had the resourcefulness to reach Langmuir; anything else should be trivial. The Dragon figured out the way to the city, the Princess saved you all in the strawberry patch, the Buzzard found the way into the city, and you, the Leprechaun, the way into the machine room."
The Princess looked at the Leprechaun. "You put the penny in the door?"
The Leprechaun looked at his feet, but Big Brother was continuing. "Ah, but you need some proof, some badge of your deeds to convince you of your power. Ah, I have it...
I hereby proclaim you all, each one of you, a Wizard in Training in the Land of OCKS!"
When the sensation had died down, the Dragon said, "We have to get back to the village now. How do we get back?"
A tall figure wandered out from among the machines. "If you need a ride," said the Zark, "you can ride back with me in the tow truck."
** The End **