"You're a terrible, terrible scientist," squawks my headset, "and you should be ashamed of yourself. We're doing lab work, Mike!"
I shrug, not that Brent can see it, and continue gazing out across my perfect lawn. It's early yet and the light hasn't lost that golden quality - and near the edge of my property the mist is still burning off. Perfect.
"Listen, I have all the equipment I need right here. It'll be just like I'm in the lab, except I don't have to smell you. Did you really think I saved up all these years and bought a house in the country just so I could spend half my day in traffic? It's not good for me, Brent. My people need to be close to nature."
"Your people? You can't be more than a quarter elf, Mike, and you would die in a week if I took away your television." This is true. As soon as the sun is a little higher in the sky I plan on sitting in front of that television, sipping some very expensive coffee, and watching some steroid-pumped ogres beat each other into a bloody pulp on cable. Not exactly a smiling little forest elf.
"I need you to take this seriously, Mike. Please." He sounds desperate, nervous. Brent is never nervous. I can picture his beard bristling, him pacing back and forth as he curses me in Dwarvish, and I wonder again what has him so agitated. I don't wonder enough to actually drive to the lab, of course - moderation in all things, right?
"I'm pulling up the video now, keep your beard on." I turn away from my magnificent lawn and key my password into the computer, pulling up a live feed of the lab where Brent has, for some reason, placed a costume sword on the table.
"Explain, please." This ought to be good. I tighten my bathrobe around me and walk outside for the mail as I listen to him assure me once more that what he's about to tell me is not a joke. As if Brent ever joked.
"It's... it's a magic sword, Mike. An actual magic sword."
I pause at the end of the driveway, looking at my neighbor's patchy grass. They've got obnoxious plastic animals staked into their lawn, not to mention the hideously ugly real animals. One hisses at me - hisses! - as I close the mailbox. I've seen a lot of rare breeds of chickens, some with big white tufts of feathers and some with enormous blue feet, but never have I seen a breed that looked as ill as these. Long necks, sparse feathers over grey-green scaly skin. Disgusting. I hiss back and turn towards the house.
"Brent, have I mentioned how ugly the neighbor's birds are?"
"Mike... stop obsessing about how great your house is and how much better you are than the neighbors. I need you to focus." It would be easier to focus if the neighbors weren't so much worse than me, but I know that one of these days I'm going to push things too far and Brent will have a heart attack while yelling at me, so I let it go.
"Sorry. Okay, so you have some sword that you say is magic. Hooray. We all have something our grandparents swear was magic, Brent. I've got that obnoxious shield over the fireplace, my ex-wife had... well, no, she had the shield, I stole that. Anyway, it doesn't really change the fact that there's no such thing as magic. Never was, never will be. Fairy tales don't count as scientific evidence." There's a heavy silence, and I know I've pissed him off. He finally says something, and his voice sounds strange.
"Humor me, Mike."
I sit down at the computer and take control of the robotic arms, swinging them down with the laser cutter to take a bit off of the sword. It looks brand new, so this it probably going to be the fastest way to shut Brent up. The handle is wrapped in leather of some sort, and the new dating machine can tell us the age of something in just half an hour with an organic sample. The lasers are positioned, and I activate. I just need a little slice, and... huh.
"Something is wrong with the laser scalpel, Brent." He doesn't say anything, just reaches on-camera with my nameplate off my desk and runs it under the beam. The laser flares around it and the nameplate falls in half. I should be upset about that, it was teak, but I can't stop staring at the leather. It seems to be completely undamaged.
"Brent... I need you to put that sword into the Chamber." The Chamber is my personal baby, one of the most expensive devices on the continent and the reason Brent puts up with my shit. He places the sword inside, and I start scanning.
"Okay... we have... huh. We have zero background radiation. None. This thing is completely inert." This isn't happening. Brent is playing a trick on me... except he isn't. Probably wouldn't know how. The Chamber continues to sweep and Brent is silent, he knows this is going to take some time to sink in. Finally, a message flashes up on my screen.
"Got something... it's... I have no idea what it is. Some kind of radiation, but nothing I've seen before. Not a magnetic field, exactly, but it's behaving like one... I'm going to see if the Chamber can reproduce it." After a moment the lights on my screen flash green and then vanish in a sea of red. Damn. "Brent, something went wrong. I had it, I'm sure I had it, but as soon as I matched the field something must have broken because now the Chamber says it's everywhere."
"Can I reset it? I need to know what this is, Mike." He sounds giddy. That grumpy little dwarf is actually giddy.
"I'll need to do it. I'll be there in an hour." I grab my clothes and pull them on as I walk towards the door. Disheveled and a little smelly, I shuffle to the car but I'm forced to stop by the latest decorating disaster my neighbors have committed. It looks like a life-sized statue of the guy, all dressed in his gardening outfit. How tacky can you get? As I'm looking at it I notice a blue glow through my window... did I turn the television on? I can't let it burn out the screen, I just got that baby. I head back to the house at a jog, and as I open the door I see that the glow is coming from the ancient shield hanging over the fireplace.
The keys drop through my numb fingers as I hear hissing and screaming in the yard behind me.