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Sun 11 Nov 2001 by mskala Tags used: ,

Before history when people had to go somewhere they would walk. Nobody went anywhere often enough for anyone to consider the issue of regularly following the same routes or making the path easier; what trails existed were created by other animals who might from time to time often travel the same way. Humans might exploit those, but only in an opportunistic fashion, greedy by the computer scientist's definition of the word.

Shortly thereafter we began to cut roads through our environment, and magic, for yes, we had magic even in those days, would be collected at the crossings. How many stories of enchanted crossroads do you know? Now that cities with their regular grids of streets place a crossroads just within spitting distance of any given point, you might think the magic would be concentrated. Not at all - the point is not the crossing but the fact that crossings were unusual in the days of crossroads magic. Cities dilute the effect; there is no magic in a city.

And roads are no longer so important for travel today anyway. You can still find the true crossroads if you search the rural parts of this continent, heck, you can even still find animal-made trails in the deepest parts of the woods. We'll always have those things. But now that we travel by airplanes and in ships, and remember, you can't sail the same ocean twice or penetrate the identical sky, it's all different. I once flew in a plane, a big jumbo jet with dozens of other passengers crammed in beside me, through a place where the contrails of three other jets crossed, one above another. We shot through the area of the crossing all in a few seconds and you bet I felt the magic then. But in recent years such moments are few and far between. Most of the time, the magic flails about for a place to land, too fast for any but the strongest of us to catch hold.

In the future we will live in giant buildings called arcologies. Most of us will never leave the arcology where we are born; will never go outdoors except in big rooms inside the building that look like the outside world as it was before pollution and war savaged it. Travel will be by elevator for short distances, by pneumatic train horizontall; but more often than you think, by staircase. Staircases have recurred in my dreams for many years now; truly, they are not only the way our bodies will travel but also the metaphor for how the insides of our minds will work in the years to come. Consider that a staircase goes up and down without moving. It is neither a wall nor a floor, but it includes many of each at reduced scale. The flat surfaces interact to create an approximation of a ramp, a diagonal floor - yet the fine detail of the structure allows us to climb at a much steeper angle than a ramp of the same grade. This is only the beginning of the story of the stair; I have not discovered the rest yet.

We'll start finding magic when we reach the first landing.


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