He eyed the device with a curious look smeared across his face; Nathan raised an eyebrow when he spotted it.
"Yes, that's a computer," he said, "Yes, you're going to rip it to pieces if you use your claws."
Quincy pivoted his head around the diminutive laptop, eying it from any angle he could position his head to--which didn't amount to very many. The dragon's head was simply too large to get around to see the rear of the laptop, nestled up against a wall in Nathan's garage. It was one of the only spots Nathan could really clear for his friend; generally they have every reason not to go to his house in the suburbs. Well, except for the fact that Nathan's house had power. Or any electrical wiring whatsoever, for that matter. Quincy didn't quite need these things; he'd padded across the earth in his blue hide for over 150 years, so he's had plenty of time to find other avenues of interest. It took him a long while to finally take an interest in electronics.
"What can you do with one?" Quincy asked simply, eying the keyboard and power button.
"You know..." Nathan waved his hand in a circle, trying to conjure the right word, "...stuff. Lots of stuff."
"I'm not sure as to what you're referring to in 'stuff,' can you show me?"
"Yeah, sure, just a moment," Nathan stepped out of the garage and somewhere into the house, leaving Quincy with the laptop. It wasn't very new, and sort of worn around the edges--frayed grey-white plastic with a few of the old stickers peeling off. An uncharitable comparison can be made between the laptop and the dragon, who eyed the computer in a curious, engrossed fashion. His blue scales were reflected off the laptop's glossy screen in a muddle, showing the dragon a watery portrait of himself: Pale grey eyes rimmed by blue scales and grey-marked horns next to pale blue frills. Behind him stretched two pairs of wings and a long, untipped tail, which curled around his body instinctively. Some might liken him to a sitting cat, if they were feeling particularly powerful that day. The feeling wouldn't last very long though, if someone, somehow, angered him and caught a glimpse of his deathly glare--complete with lightning crackles streaking across his cloudy-grey irises.
Quincy sat, staring over the device with calm eyes; they only showed storm-like activity when he's exerting himself or his element. One thing he was afraid of was accidentally frying the fragile-looking device, leading him to sit and examine any other objects that came into his attention. Most of it was situated inside a line of tables and shelving stacked up against the wall like a bookcase, as well as some gardening tools hung on the other wall. The wait didn't really bother him, though he had to resist the urge to rifle through Nathan's drawers--that would be remarkably rude. Instead he sat, calmly, his tail tapping against the ground like a metronome. He had plenty of patience to wait, at least for a short time.
Nathan arrived just inside that window, keeping Quincy from tromping around the garage searching for something unfamiliar. Somewhere underneath Nathan's sandy-grey hair he carried an armful of old keyboards and mice, as well as some sort of plasticky cover for the keyboards. "These aren't as expensive as a laptop, even that one," he said, before plugging in one of the keyboards and mice with a purplish and greenish connector, respectively.
He slid the two devices over to Quincy on a shortish table they had set up prior, before finally pressing the power button. The laptop took its time, allowing Quincy to fiddle with the keyboard and mouse. The former was covered by bright yellow keys, with letters printed onto it with bold capitals; the latter was equally simple, with a red rolling ball nestled underneath the two mouse buttons. Of course, the first thing Quincy did was send that rolling ball rolling to the ground with a rather jarring thump against the wooden table.
That made the dragon jump slightly at first, like a startled cat, then catch the ball as it rolled off the table. Nathan held a slight smirk when he looked back up.
"Don't remember seeing you jump like that often."
"It startled me," Quincy replied, earning a chuckle from Nathan.
"The mouse ball?" Nathan asked, half in disbelief, half in mocking, "It lets a mouse track your movements, how on earth can it startle you?"
Quincy tilted his head from side to side, "Well, simple. I was being very careful, so I was worried that I had cracked it, or something of the effect."
Another chuckle, "No way you can do that--they're solid rubber. Put it back in, the computer's almost booted."
Quincy did so, with an almost surgical precision: Two claws holding the ball like a claw machine, hovering precisely over its target. Then, as if with baited breath, he let the ball tumble back into its slot and reset the cover.
"Seriously?" Nathan asked.
Quincy nodded, "You never stated how fragile the mouse is."
"About as much as the ball," he answered dully, then watched Quincy after he finished rolling his eyes.
A tinny orchestral tone blasted out of the laptop before a blue spashscreen displaying "Windows '95" and logo flashed onto the screen, which Quincy stared at intently. Nathan was half disappointed that it didn't startle him very much, but he held back any reactions. Instead he waited, slightly bored, for Quincy to decide what to do.
Quincy stared at the login screen for a moment, focusing on the blinking cursor inside the "USERNAME" text box. He tilted his head at this, then asked "What do I enter?"
"What it asks for," Nathan said simply.
"If you say so," Quincy said, then began carefully tapping out his name on the keyboard. The first few keystrokes had a pianist's delicacy to them, for fear of scratching the keys, but slowly grew more swift as he became certain that he wouldn't damage the keyboard. "Swift" is a relative descriptor, however. He had to stare at the keyboard each time, hunting out the keys from the nonsensical layout. Nathan leaned back in his chair, waiting for Quincy to finish his pointless endeavor.
When he moved to the "PASSWORD" field, his paw hovered over the keys while he tried to divine the proper passcode. After a time, he tapped a few characters on the keys, then quickly cleared them out when he noticed the black dots appearing on the text. It took him a moment to realize what they were meant for, but then typed "Gharna" into the field.
He hit the enter key and waited, wondering what the computer was doing.
A little "Welcome" text appeared on the screen and the mouse cursor turned into an hourglass. Quincy stared at it for a moment, disappointed, then wondering why the computer was using something as antique as an hourglass for this purpose. However, he could not continue pondering this, because an error shot up onto the computer's display, stating that his username or password was incorrect. Or? He was perplexed by this rather purposefully vague word choice.
"And welcome to computer security," Nathan said sarcastically, "the only place--apart from government--where nobody trust anybody else."
Quincy shifted his gaze to Nathan for a moment, "I beg to differ. Governments, by virtue, are founded in trust--"
"Yes, but what about now?" Nathan replied.
He paused for a moment, "I think they are, mostly."
"Sure," Nathan dragged the word out, before taking over the keyboard and rapidly entering in his credentials. Quincy stared at his keystrokes with curiosity, and much to Nathan's chagrin. However, he pressed the keys so quickly that Quincy wouldn't have been able to see what keys he was hitting; they were just too fast. He wasn't even looking at the keyboard!
The computer displayed the same "Welcome" text as before, but Quincy held his objections for a handful of seconds. Then, instead of displaying an error once more, the computer logged in.
An ocean of blue flooded the screen, causing the dragon to reel his head back in surprise. Splashes of grey then popped onto the screen, as well as a few blips of other colors. Nathan still had control of the mouse at this moment, and he let the mouse hover in the center of the screen, "This is the desktop, a lot of people like to treat it like a trash bin, but this is where you always start off when you log in."
Nathan double-clicked on a blue box with a white N icon, "Respect the desktop."
"Why, exactly?" Quincy asked, honestly.
A shockingly red "YAHOO!" image loaded onto the screen, line-by-line, "The desktop is your home on the computer. Wouldn't you keep yours clean?"
"A certain amount of clutter is good for-"
"Yes, you do," Nathan interrupted, rather rudely, "On a desktop."
"If you insist," Quincy said, before tilting his head again. "What is a 'Yahoo?'"
"The world, at your clawtips," he answered with false saccharine, before sliding the keyboard and mouse back to Quincy.
"Anything you want to know, the internet will tell you, through a search engine like this," he answered.
"Really?" Quincy couldn't quite grasp the scope.
Nathan looked like he was wondering how many times he had to affirm his response. "Yup. Anything you can think of."
In response, Quincy wordlessly typed "What happened to Therenody?" key by key.
The words "No results were found" appeared on the screen. Quincy didn't move for a little.
"What's a Therenody?" Nathan asked, after he tired of watching the screen.
"She's an old friend." Quincy said, after a pause.
Nathan shared the pause, "Oh, um. Did you want to keep going, or did you want to be left alone?"
Quincy shook his head and brightened his expression, "I'm fine, just some old memories coming back. Very old. Don't worry about them."
"Are you sure?"
He nodded, "Now that I've had my fun, show me something cool."
"That's what I said."
"Um," Nathan said, then his fingers blurred as he typed in "www.nytimes.com" into the URL bar, and hit enter.
Nathan nodded, bringing up his finger to point at the timestamp underneath an article's headline, "That one was posted fifteen minutes ago. That's cool, isn't it." He meant to make it sound like a question, but the words lost their energy sometime around that's.
Quincy tilted his head and thought for a moment, then nodded, "Seeing events the moment they happen? That seems like an incredibly useful tool. But, I believe you can do better." He gave a grin with this challenge.
He thought for a moment, and minimized the window, setting the screen awash in blue again. "Uh, check this out," Nathan said, as he double-clicked an image of a steel ball.
The screen went blank for a few moments, causing Quincy to tilt his head, before tinny sound blasted out of the laptop's speakers and echoed across the room. Quincy flinched and blinked a few times, before looking back at the screen. On it was a slightly blurry image of a pinball table, with a scoreboard reading "3D Pinball: SPACE CADET" to the side.
The dragon couldn't help but laugh. "What is this?" He asked.
"A video game. Try it." Nathan slid the keyboard back to Quincy.
Quincy stared, "How?"
Nathan put his fingers on the Z and backslash keys, "These control the flippers, and the spacebar," he tapped it, "controls the plunger. You can even bump the table with X and period. Pretty, uh, nifty, huh?"
"Why not go to a real arcade?" Quincy asked, staring at the digital pinball table, "But this idea is very interesting. How does it do that?"
"What?" Nathan asked, before reaching over and pressing the spacebar, sending the ball shooting up the digital pinball machine.
Quincy held his words for a few moments, trying in vain to keep the ball from dropping out of play, but he had to keep glancing at his claws to ensure that they were still on the right keys. By the time he looked back at the screen, he had already lost the ball. "Simulate something to look like real life," he said, examining the details in the image, "How?"
"Something called a game engine. This one cheats its way around some things, but I've heard that the things they're making for things like Sony's PlayStation are gonna look better than real life," he allowed a little enthusiasm to creep into his voice, but it faded quickly.
Quincy let the ball tumble through the flippers again. Or, rather, he was unable to stop it. He grimaced. "I hope I don't do as poorly if I tried a real pinball machine, those cost money," He commented, before thinking about Nathan's other statement, "And that sounds interesting. I'd have to judge it for myself, but I might want to buy one of those PlayStations when I get a chance."
"How would you power it? And you also need a TV, I doubt you'd have one of those."
"It's not like your laptop?"
He laughed a bit, "No, not at all, PlayStations hook into TVs."
Something resembling a "huh" escaped the dragon's snout.
"You've got a lot to learn," Nathan said, his tone a bit mocking.
Quincy nodded, "What is the next thing I should know about a computer?"
Nathan thought for a moment, "I could make a list for you, and by the time I finish that list it'll have changed completely, but what you should know is that computers do work."
"In what ways?"
"I should have told you this in the first place, but I was trying to impress you. We're part of the information age now, and that's where the work is headed. The internet will be big, I think. So big that people could live on it." Quincy tilted his head and stared for a bit, examining the computer and Nathan in equal measure.
"Not literally." Nathan added. He snickered at the realization spreading across Quincy's face, "But they'd make enough money to live off of it."
"That seems a little outlandish," Quincy stared at the laptop, "How?"
He shrugged, "I don't know; I'm not gonna try."
Quincy nodded, "How else can computers do work?"
"Do you ever write letters?"
"Well, of course. Not many lately, but yes, I have."
"How long does it take you to get a response?"
"Few days, usually," he paused, "Sometimes a few weeks."
"How about a few minutes?" He was met with a confused look. "With e-mail, electronic mail."
Quincy seemed to take an interest in this, "How does it work?"
Nathan closed the pinball game and opened something called "Hotmail." Quincy didn't understand why it was titled as such, and assumed that the name came from the supposed speed of the mail. He also didn't understand the layout of the client, with each line of text containing a "subject" that was often cut off, and wholly nonsensical either way.
"This is your inbox, which shows you the newest e-mails that you've gotten. Each one has a subject line and comes from someone's email address," Nathan said, with his mouse cursor hovering over each item as he explained it.
"How do you get an email address?" Quincy asked.
"They give it to you."
"That's the only way?"
Nathan nodded, "The only other thing I know about is something called Six Degrees. They call it social networking. You get to add virtual friends and things like that."
"Yeah, virtual," he shrugged, "On the computer."
"I don't understand."
"Say I know Bill Gates." Quincy nodded. "And say he has an account on Six Degrees. I could search for him and add him as a friend. Then we could communicate through that."
"If you know him, why don't you have his e-mail?"
Nathan shrugged again, "I don't know. Maybe if he forgot to give it to me?"
"Then wouldn't you just call him?"
He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it and thought for a moment, "Maybe if you met him once?"
Quincy thought for a moment, "I have no other ideas."
"Yeah. But it's new, really new. We'll have to wait and see," he said, tired of the subject.
He nodded, "So, what's next?"
At this point, Nathan stared at the laptop's screen for a little while, "I don't really know. I've shown you the internet, email, games, What else did you want to see?"
Quincy shuffled around a bit, doing something resembling a shrug, "I'm wholly new to computers; you tell me."
In defeat, Nathan tossed his hands into the air, "I don't know. That's really all that's interesting enough for me to tell you. The rest is technical. I could tell you it, but we'd both be bored."
"I beg to diff-"
"Maybe another time," Nathan cut in, shutting down Quincy. Silence overtook the room for a little while, until Nathan said: "Why did you want to learn about computers?"
"Why not?" Quincy was examining the keyboard.
"Because they're not all that specia-"
Quincy shook his head so quickly that Nathan cut off his own words, "You don't think it's special, even when you just told me the internet has everything in the world. That's amazing! Perhaps you've simply grown used to it?"
Nathan paused for a moment, "They're part of my job. I spend hours around them; I have to be used to them because my job is to keep them running." He paused for another moment, realizing something, "And, yes, all that knowledge is on the internet, but you don't know what knowledge you're looking for. That's the same reason you would never know to ask me about other parts of the computer."
"I agree with you," Quincy conceded, then paused for a moment. "Why don't you ask me a question?"
Quincy nodded, a small smile creeping its way across his muzzle, "I have been asking you questions all day. Why not return the favor?"
He opened his mouth to object, but Quincy stopped him, "Just one."
"Fine, I'll ask you one question," Nathan said. Quincy grinned a bit more.
Nathan thought for a little while. He kept looking back and forth between the computer and the dragon, but didn't really seem to know what he wanted to ask. He kept this up long enough for Quincy to want to start exploring the computer--or Nathan's garage--once more. But, he held his patience. He needed practice in that, anyway.
"Why exactly did you search for Therenody?" Nathan asked, finally.
"I've been looking for her," Quincy answered, calmly, relieving Nathan of any worry about the question, "Therenody and Gharna used to be good friends of mine. But one day I got into a fight with both of them. You see; both of them wanted to move to someplace else. I believe it was some mountainous region; They didn't care to see this town growing so close to our den. I personally found the town fascinating, and wanted to see how it developed. The quarrel lasted for weeks until we came to the conclusion that we must split up. I had known them for decades, so this came as an enormous shock to me. But, in the end, I agreed with them, if only to stop the constant bickering. That was thirty or so years ago. I've missed them, and had grown rather worried about them in the mean time. By the time they left, we were so irritated with each other that they refused to tell me where they were heading, specifically."
Nathan listened through the information without moving. He didn't seem very engaged at the beginning but became more interested as time went on. Quincy couldn't understand why he had this expression--it was unusual for Nathan--until he said: "I can help you find them."
Quincy stared at Nathan, wholly in surprise. "You can?" he asked, when he recovered.
"Yes, I can," he said, with more energy than he had shown any time earlier. Quincy noted a discernable alertness that had crept through his posture, like someone who was engaged an intense game of virtual pinball.
"Like this." He said, before seizing the keyboard and mouse. He reopened the browser--waiting several tense seconds--and navigated to Yahoo! search. He paused over the search bar, his fingers hovering over the keyboard. He thought for a moment, then typed "news dragon * mountain +Therenody +Gharna" and hit enter. This entry left Quincy thoroughly confused, thinking that Nathan had simply typed in gibberish.
Very few entries came up from his search, many of them actually being news about the release of a rather disappointing novel, in Quincy's opinion. But, after scrolling through the announcements, Nathan spotted something on the third page of results, between entries with titles such as "Dragons: Why do they prefer mountains?" or, more confusingly, "DRAGONS are RUINING our MOUNTAINS!" This entry was near the news article, and confused Quincy; dragons preferred mountains for the view. Does that mean humans are ruining beaches?
The news article appeared so deeply into the results because of its origin from a very small newspaper; he had never heard of the town before, but the title itself read "Local man attempts to evict longtime-resident dragons from mountain range." His breath caught in his throat when he spotted both names in the body of the article, displayed in a handful of greyed lines underneath the blue hyperlink.
Nathan immediately clicked on the article, and began reading through it almost as excitedly as Quincy. To warrant a news article, a man had apparently attempted to create a cavern underneath the dragons' den with explosives, hoping to remove the two dragons from the cave because he was irritated by their tendency to horrify his pets inside his house. He stated that he hadn't been able to sleep for two weeks because of the dragons. Quincy assumed he was exaggerating this point, because he would be dead if he was totally prevented from sleeping. But that barely registered on his mind.
"Do you know where this town is?" Quincy asked, pointing at the name of the publication.
"No," Nathan answered, with a flash of fear from Quincy, "But the internet knows." A few more taps and he had brought up a map of the location, with a line drawn connecting it to Nathan's house. Quincy stared, in awe.
"Well, uh, there it is," Nathan said.
Quincy stared at the map for some time longer. "That... that was incredible," he finally said. Nathan gave him an odd look.
"It was just a few Yahoo searches," Nathan said in reply, even though he still shared a bit of Quincy's enthusiasm.
"And in just a few 'Yahoo' searches you found people that I haven't found in thirty years."
"Thirty. Years. Think about that. And you found them in a few minutes. With the internet."
"It was just-"
"Thank you. I mean it, truly. Tomorrow I'm going to fly to that town. Make amends." Quincy shuffled around a bit, before handing the keyboard and mouse
"That's good to hear. Really." Nathan wore an honest smile, and took the keyboard and mouse, expecting Quincy to leave afterwards. Something about Quincy's look challenged that, though.
"But first..." Quincy said, with a small grin, "I want an email address."