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A typical puzzle that Alec would solve.

Alec and Jake made a great team in the pod. Alec's sharp, critical thinking skills led him to quickly solve most of the riddles and puzzles. But his slow, deliberate manner was no match for the quickly morphing pod controls that would disappear from one location and reappear in new shapes and patterns in another virtual place. His quick eyes easily tracked the wandering controls and status indicators, but his slow hand usually pointed at the last place the controls had glowed. That’s where his old friend and college pal, Jake, came in.

Jake, a bit of a slouch when it came to solving the puzzles, excelled when it came to putting a fast finger on the right control. So, Alec shouted out answers above the Sarnk’s stereophonic hissing, and Jake punched them up in just about the blink of an eye.

"The dynamic duo," Lenore often called them. The regulars at the Pizza Heaven arcade knew it too. That whole corner of Heaven crowded around to watch them play at the awesome Ring 13. Almost spellbound, they watched Alec’s mental agility and keen persistence cut through the Sarnk’s puzzles while Jake’s coordination and quick energy made fast work of the control adjustments.

Alec was energized by the Sarnk’s challenges. Unlike the sluggish classes at Sundance, the game's stakes seemed real and urgent. At Sundance, Alec felt aimless, listless, with no passion for his studies and no relish in imaging his future. Although a bright and astute student, some of Alec Booner’s college teachers had accused him of, as a wizened English teacher had put it, "…satisfied with doing just enough to get by." 

Still shuffling the broom, Alec's imagination transported him from Ring 13 to his History of Dynastic Chinese Culture class with Professor Wong. It was conveniently scheduled from 8:30 to 10:00 on Tuesday and Friday mornings, and it did count as three credit hours toward his summer studies requirement. Unfortunately, with topics as interesting as popular dynastic table etiquette, plus Dr. Wong’s utterly monotone English (a regrettable consequence of early language studies with a tone-deaf teacher), the convenient summer class had turned into an exercise in mind-numbing, suffocating boredom. 

"Oh yes, now, where were we, oh yes, the early Ming perspective on Son-Jin-Yuan civil examinations. Now it is Professor Elman's theory that the barbarian conquest plus a certain cultural apotheosis were the two main, oh, oh, oh causes for the…omm…transformations between 960-1280 C.E. in…omm…Song China."

In his mind's eye, Alec saw the lethargic Wong drifting around in the delicate ocean foam swirling around an early Ming dynasty vase. Then the vase settled on a narrow ledge under a patio window. It wobbled and tipped. Wong’s figure cracked into fragile shards—right at the feet of the nimble Dr. Max.





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