“Can we get one?” Merl’s young son squeaked, tugging at his robe.
“We don’t need one. You have me.”
“But. But. But.”
Merl sighed, picked up his son and put him on his shoulders. “Show me.”
His son pointed at the crowd gathered around the demo area. Merl hitched his robe and strode over.
An effervescent woman with shimmering red hair stood before a display stand with a row of foot-high cylindrical devices each in a bold primary color.
“Aren’t they beauties! And guaranteed to make your life hassle free. Say goodbye to the days of wayward witches or warlocks and glamours gone wrong. With the Mage-o-matic 5000, you can now have supreme confidence that your conjuring will always go right. No need to depend on mixed up mages that can fumble an enchantment or try to up-sale you sorcery you don’t really need. The latest Mage-o-matic has the 5000 most common spells, divinations and charms that ordinary folks need to keep up in this modern age.”
Merl’s son wiggled on his shoulders, clawing towards the display. “The green one. The green one. I want the green one!”
The red-haired saleswoman eyed the boy, then noted Merl’s star-stitched robe. “I see we have a master wizard in the crowd. Would you care to run the Mage-o-matic through its paces? We know it can’t compete with a conjurer of your caliber, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.”
Merl smiled his most forbearing smile and shook his head side-to-side while his son patted his thick hair and shouted, “Do it, Dad! Beat that stupid Mage-o-matic!”
“I thought you wanted one?”
“I do. Course I do. But it’s just a machine. You’re the real thing. And I want both!”
His son’s logic made no sense, but, then again, neither did the Mage-o-matic 5000. A device designed to cast spells that had taken him a lifetime to master. Yes, the machine could mimic the words and cadence that divined the ether and produce predictable results. But magic was much more than uttering a spell. Magic was a feeling and a force. Magic was a service and a calling. A sleek package of circuits, chips and code were incapable of the nuance that human experience and understanding brought to spell casting.
Merl decided he had to show this saleswoman, this crowd, what it meant to be a mage. What it meant to me a human. With his son bouncing on his shoulders, Merl strode to the front of the display. “I’d be happy to work with your device,” he addressed the red-haired saleswoman. “What would you like me to try?”
The saleswoman gestured broadly. “You are the expert sorcerer. Please test the limits of our Mage-o-matic 5000.”
Merl smiled back. “I’m sure the AI running the Mage-o-matic 5000 would probably agree that the limits of any technology are typically grounded in human error.”
“Tell ‘em, Daddy!”
Merl patted his son’s knee. “I have nothing against the Mage-o-matic 5000. In fact, I invoke the words of the noted futurist Arthur C. Clarke who long-ago proclaimed, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ I agree, to a point. Because technology is a product of our minds and magic is made manifest in the soul. You can feel the difference. Just like the laughter of a child.” Merl tickled his son’s sides and the child’s laughter spread infectiously through the crowd.
Merl turned to the green blinking cylinder on the display table. “Mage-o-matic, make my son laugh, please.”
The green cylinder blinked furiously.
The red-haired saleswoman frowned seriously.
The crowd leaned in curiously.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” came the hollow reply of the Mage-o-matic 5000, finally.
Merl’s son did a kind of seated jig on his shoulders. “Can we still get one, Daddy? I can give that poor bot some soul.”
The crowd smiled.
The saleswoman smiled.
Merl smiled. “Now that would be magical, son.”