Omnitopia Dawn

PROLOGUE

RIK MALIANI STEPPED OUT OF NOTHINGNESS into the narrow cobbled confines of Troker’s Lane, overhung on each side by ancient half-timbered houses . . . and as his second step went squish, he realized he’d just put his left foot down right in the middle of a turd.

He stood there for a moment looking down at his booted foot and the unsavory dinner-plate-sized object he’d stepped into. It was blue. Rik stood on one foot, lifted the other one up and looked over his cloaked shoulder at the sole of it, sniffed. He immediately caught the unmistakable acrid whiff of griffin poop. Rik shook his head and smiled, impressed for about the hundredth time this week. Technology , he thought. Don’t you love it when it works!

He went over to the curbstone in front of the nearest shuttered house and used it to scrape the griffin crap off, or at least as much of it as he could see in this light. Above Rik, between the raggedy-edged, mossy tiles of the hanging roofs, only a strip of indigo blue showed, for it was coming on toward evening in the City. The usual town smells floated through the air: roasting meat, rotting garbage, frying fish, woodsmoke, perfume, the multispecies sweat that the perfume couldn’t cover . . . and, of course, ordure. The droppings of various animals, fabulous and otherwise, were something you just couldn‘t help but notice here, especially once you had the right hardware. In the face of numerous complaints about the problem, and the ever increasing traffic, the City had redoubled its claims that it was going to do something about the problem soon. But as for the magicians that the City kept hiring to do the job . . .

As he scraped the last of the stuff off his boot, Rik glanced up and around at the oriel windows of the old inward- leaning buildings, just to make sure that somebody wasn’t about to enrich his game experience—and the crap quotient of the laneway—by emptying a chamber pot over his head. The word on the City newsfeeds had it that the present administration just couldn’t keep wizards on the payroll long enough right now. But maybe this was understandable, since no magician worth his or her spells would waste time on a sanitation job when wizardry could be much better employed—and better paid—on one or another of the big campaigns that was running now. A huge and bloody war had just broken out in the Two Moons Macrocosm (now that the necessary threshold number of Moonies had finally responded to their invitations). Over in Pandora they’d just had a coup, and the deposed queen in question was busy recruiting an army as fast as she could. Dasheth Prime and LongAgo Three were also in the middle of rebellions or battles between major game guilds. And those were merely the “conflicted” game worlds Rik could think of off the top of his head: there might be ten or twenty others, Macrocosms he hadn’t been following, that were either actively rumbling or getting ready to. With business so brisk and prospects so positive for a smart war wizard or combat mage, odds were even that Omnitopia City was going to have to find other ways to handle its garbage management besides magical ones. And since no one with a brain would willingly spend valuable game time picking up street crap by hand, Rik felt sure that until out-universe matters calmed down a little, the ordure was going to stay right where it was.

But none of these matters were really issues