It was a strange journey that brought me to the edge of a settlement in the middle of nowhere. The old woman wove quite a tale for me and by the time I figured out what a load it was I was already committed. Well, committed and a little curious, but my curiosity had worn off over the past week.
The shack was just as she had described it though, right down to the faded “Electronics Repair” plank nailed above the open door. I take off my pack and lay it on the ground outside the entrance. Originally I’d been apprehensive about this part of her instruction, but with no one around it seemed safe enough. Out in the desert there was some value to the collection of junk I carried, but this close to a settlement I don’t think anything was worth stealing.
With a deep breath, I cross the threshold, parcel in hand. The old man eyes me up and down as I approached the counter and lay my parcel in front of him. I stare at him. He stares at me. He sets aside the radio he had been tinkering with and begins unwrapping what I had brought.
He has a lens mounted on his head somehow, and he pulls it in front of one eye and explores the machine with his fingers. All I have to do is stay silent and this will all be over soon. That was her final instruction. I can’t believe how stupid this is. I can’t believe how stupid I was. Finally, I can’t take the silence any longer and ask “Is it true what they say about you?”
The old man chuckles lightly to himself, but doesn’t look up from his work. He keeps at it, his fingers deftly manipulating the object, slowly taking it apart and laying the pieces on top of the cloths I’d wrapped it in. He removes the lens with a sighed replied “What do they say?”
“They say you are older than Cochise!” Any fool could tell, just by looking at him, that this man was older than Cochise. What an idiot he must take me for. Of course the man is older than Cochise. He is older than Dirt. He remains silent, but continues his work. I try again. “They say there’s nothing you can’t fix.”
Who am I kidding? “They” is just the one mystic whose name I don’t even know. How would she know anyway? Looking around his shop, I see piles of electronics, but I can’t tell what is working and what is not. The old man remains silent, and now his hands have stopped moving as well. After a minute of close observation, when I am sure that he is still breathing, I whisper “They say you can tell the future…”
He shakes his head, but he resumes his work. He has the cover off now, exposing the innards. “I can’t, unfortunately, but toasters sometimes do and you have brought me a fine specimen. Might I ask how you found it?” He pokes the electronics with a metal stick and I smell burnt metal.
She told me not to reveal anything about her, and she was convincing enough that I spent a month in the desert finding this piece of junk and bringing it here. I don’t even know what a toaster is, but she told me to bring him one, and she drew me a picture. “Don’t tell him,” I say to myself. I repeat it, “Don’t tell him.”
He snaps his fingers in front of my face. “Your toaster is fixed!” he says, waving his hand over the assembled device with a flourish. “Would you like to see?”
I’m not even sure when he finished, but now my attention is drawn to the glowing block he is retrieving from under the counter. It is the size of a fist, and produces a lazy blue light. He attaches the wires of the toaster to the fist of light, and pushes down the lever on the side. “Did she tell you to bring bread? She usually forgets.” He waves a hand in front of my eyes. “No matter, I have some of my own,” and he drops two squares into the toaster. I have no idea where they came from.
“This is not why you are here though,” he continues. “You are here for this,” and he places a golden disk on the counter. “It was inside your toaster, and now it is yours.” He reaches over the counter and pulls my arm, placing my hand over the disk.
“The toasters tell the future, not me, and this one is saying that darkness lies ahead. It is saying that a new evil rises in the wasteland, greater than the old. It is armed with newer technology and greater funding. The toaster is telling me that YOU must take up arms against this evil. That you must do it, and that you cannot do it alone. The toaster tells me this, and therefore I tell you.”
I contemplate this for a few moments then realize that the elder is waiting for me to respond. I say the first words that come into my mind, “How do you know that this is for me, and not for you?”
He smiles and laughs at me for the second time. “Because I already have one…”