"Don't be afraid Zoe. He's just an old man." "He's a very old man. I'm scared." Her broad shouldered father gave the girl a warm smile and put his hand on her shoulder. "It's not far now. He's no wizard, it'll be alright." They made their way through the thickening forest. Hassan, the father led the way with Zoe so close behind that she often bumped into him. "Stop where you are!" A voice boomed all around them. "I thought you said he wasn't a wizard?" Zoe whispered. "It must be a gadget. Probably a lot of tubes and horns. I heard that he likes gadgets." "Put down your sticks and come to the gate." "They aren't magical." Hassan shouted back. "They're just walking sticks." "Bah! Put them down and come to the gate. Or don't come at all." Hassan laid his stick on the path where it could be easily found again and Zoe followed suit. They raised their hands and walked up to the gate. "Don't try any funny stuff. I got these machine guns pointed right at your hearts." Beside the gate was a thick tower with metal tubes sticking out. Zoe kept one hand in the air and grabbed her father's shirt with the other. "Are machine guns gadgets Daddy?" "Don't worry about them. Their harmless." "What do you want?" The voice was not all around them anymore, but came from behind the tubes. It was feeble and cracked. "We want to talk to you. May we come in?" "You don't have anything magical with you do you?" "No." The gate swung open. When Hassan and Zoe were inside it closed behind them and the old man climbed down from the tower. He was bent over so that he wasn't much taller than Zoe. "Nobody's afraid of machine guns anymore." "Sorry sir." Zoe whispered. He eyed Zoe for a long while. "I like when young people are polite. Are you polite?" "Yes sir." "Hmm. If you want to talk then let's talk over tea. Come inside." "May my father come too, sir?" "Since you asked nicely, yes." They followed him into a heavy concrete bunker and then down many stairs where they found his home behind a thick steel door. The home was filled with every kind of gadget. The walls were covered with paintings that were more realistic than anything they had ever seen before. They were on a strange sort of canvas. Zoe's head was spinning with the novelty of it all. She moved closer to one of the paintings of many towers. "That's a photo of Chicago." "The Frozen Ruins?" "Heh. Not back then. That was taken before the Ice Age, before The Fall." He sighed. "Before magic." " 'Taken?' What do you mean taken?" Hassan asked. "It's a photo, not a painting. You use a camera and the light causes the chemicals to make a picture. That is, you used to be able to use a camera, before magic made all complex chemical process impossible." "This isn't magic then?" Zoe asked, touching the photo with the tip of her finger. "Blah. When the magic got into it it started to fade. I had to paint over the photo to keep the image." "It's magnificent. Is this really what the Frozen, I mean Chicago looked like before the Fall?" "Yes. It sat so beautifully on Lake Michigan. It was full of people some of the greatest architecture in the world, and the El. See it there in the photo." He moved close to it and touched it himself, lovingly. "El?" Zoe asked. "An electric elevated train." Her blank stare made him bunch up his face. He tried again. "A train on elevated tracks. A train. Ugh, a train was a machine, a, er, gadget that moved by electricity." Still no comprehension in her eyes. "Before there was magic there was technology, machines that could think and work on their own, computers, phones, televisions, trains. All that changed when the asteroid fell on Earth. That is what you call The Fall. It killed nearly everybody and started the Ice Age, and brought, Magic!" He spat the last word. "You don't like magic do you?" Zoe asked. "No. Magic was brought by the same rock that killed nearly everybody." "And guns were good things that magic made useless?" Hassan asked, his voice pitched for sarcasm. "Didn't guns kill people too?" "No. Guns didn't kill people. People killed people, and I suppose that they still do." He looked sideways at the big man. "That's not what I meant. Now nobody can misuse some things, but we had to lose a whole lot of positively good things. And good people." "How did you survive?" Zoe asked. "I was one of the astronomers that discovered the planet-killing asteroid. I bought this property and started building this compound, but my wife refused to leave Chicago. A lot of people didn't believe my team." "It was a strange rock though. It hit with less than a third the energy we expected, most of it came out as magic. The rest had enough punch to muck up everything though and my wife stayed in Chicago until it all collapsed." He flopped down into a chair. "But she sent your son away." Hassan said. "What?" "She wouldn't leave Chicago because she was a nurse in a hospital there, but she sent your son south to a farming family to live with them." The old man squinted at Hassan. "How do you know that? Look, why did you people come here anyway? What do you want?" "I know that because I am your great-grandson. And we're here because we want you to come live with us." The old man looked at Zoe who was nodding and smiling. Then he looked at his photos. "Can I bring those?" "We were hoping you would, and anything else you want from Before." Hassan smiled. "Okay. I surrender."
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