Switch City stories are normally Patreon only, but in this special anthology, Tales From Switch City, we’ll share a few stories with everyone so they can learn what the world of Switch City is all about. Tonight, we bring up our first tale of Lockely, a normal human who soon crosses over into an abnormal world.
Tales From Switch City
For every decision you have ever made there exists another version of you that has made the opposite. And so began the existence of infinite timelines. However, there are more timelines in existence than simple choices like what color shirt you wore that day. In some timelines magic and wonder exist. In others, technology like you’ve never seen. Others still may be decades or even centuries behind their counterparts. For the most part, these timelines extend out parallel to each other, never intersecting beyond the point they branched off. However, there are occasionally places where timelines bend and converge at a single point. We call places like this a Nexus Point. At a Nexus Point, it is possible to cross over to another timeline, often even realizing it had happened. If it was a timeline where you simply wore a different shirt that day you’d still have the shirt on and just express confusion later when you had two of them when you got home. Sometimes, you wind up in a timeline where everything is different, even the laws of physics. When you cross over into another timeline we call this a Reality Shift.
Now, enter Switch City. Its location is in constant flux. The city was built right atop a Nexus Point without anyone knowing. At least in most timelines no one knew. Combine the population of a large city plus its visitors all moving around the Nexus Point and you get a staggering amount of Reality Shifts. In our tales we will explore what happened to some of those who were caught up in a Reality Shift.
Tonight’s tale is about Lockely. A normal human from a mundane timeline. While heading to a job interview he finds himself in the middle of a Reality Shift. And suddenly, the nature of the job, the skills required and even the people there are all radically different. And so, Lockely must navigate this new reality and try to understand what’s going on.
There were only five minutes left before the interview was supposed to start. And Lockely was circling the building looking for a place to park his car. He was applying for the job of a travel agent, something he had a fairly large amount of experience in so the odds were in his favor. Provided he showed up on time. Yet, the office building he had come to visit for the interview didn’t have a single free parking space. He could go down to the next closest office and walk but there were a couple problems with that.
To start with: Lockely was dressed in fairly nice clothes. Business casual, slacks, a nice button up shirt and dress shoes. He also of course had his glasses on as he needed them to see, and because it was a rather col day in December a white scarf. A long walk was not going to be comfortable in this weather in this outfit even with the scarf. Plus, he’d likely get either his clothes or his neatly combed blonde hair dirty when he had to go through large segments with no side effects.
The other problem was there simply wasn’t enough time. On either side of this building were large weeds and the next buildings were both several blocks away and he would not be able to get to them, park and walk back in five minutes. He had to find a parking space here and he had to find one now.
He did another circle, praying someone would leave. He was now debating pulling his car over the curb in parking it in the weeds just so he could make it in. Three minutes left. He turned the corner, and he felt a shiver go down his spine. He ignored that sensation as he saw a miracle. Where the parking lot had been completely full now half the slots had freed up on this side of the building. Somehow, he had missed them leaving. It must have been time for their lunch break. At 3:30 PM. Well, not everyone worked 9-5 hours, in fact it was getting rarer by the day so it wasn’t that far fetched a team might have just gone on lunch or gotten off. He wasn’t going to question his good luck. He quickly pulled into the nearest parking spake and hustled inside.
The entrance was a pair of sliding glass doors. This wasn’t remarkable in and of itself. But they made Lockely stop for another reason. The metal parts of the sliding glass doors appeared to be made of gold. It had to be just a gold-colored plating. There was no way it was real gold. But… He didn’t recall them being gold last time he was here when he dropped off his application. This was one of those places that made you apply in person instead of online, so this wasn’t his first trip to the building. He was pretty sure he would have noticed this then.
Whatever. There wasn’t enough time to think about it. It had been at least two months since he first applied. They had probably just painted it during that time. He quickly headed inside and looked to the left for the elevators, only to find they were gone.
“Eh?” This was the first thing that truly threw Lockely for a loop. It was easy to explain why several people might have left at once, or that a door frame might have been painted. But how did the elevators vanish? There was just a smooth wall where the elevators should have been. He looked to his right. The elevators were there on the right wall. Except… He was absolutely certain that the last time he came in the elevators were on the left. He would have considered that maybe he just got turned around and came in from the opposite direction, except that the right side had been a bunch of windows, not a smooth wall. So, it wasn’t just that the elevators had moved, but the windows had disappeared as well. And because of the missing windows he was absolutely certain his memory was correct about where the elevators should have been.
Lockely slowly approached the elevator on the wrong wall and pressed the call button. He squinted at it, as if expecting it to do something well… unexpected. Nothing happened. After a few seconds there was a ding and one of the elevators opened up. Lockely was very sure to verify there actually was an elevator inside before stepping into it. He looked over the floor buttons. The floors appeared to be labeled the same as last time. He quickly pressed floor 9 which was marked as ‘Dream.’ It was short for Dream Vacation Getaways, but that was a bit long to put next to elevator buttons.
The doors started to shut, and then Lockely heard a high pitched voice.
“Please! Hold the door!” The voice cried.
Lockely was going to be late. Thanks to the parking situation and him freezing up at the elevators and just the general time it took to walk through here he had used up his five minutes. Every second he was later was a point against him, and decreased the likelihood of him getting this job. The pay and benefits were considerably better than the last job he worked so he really wanted this one. But, he didn’t have it in him to be a jerk to save 30 seconds. He quickly held an arm out to stop the elevator door from closing. It opened back up. Lockely waited but never saw anyone come in.
“Third floor please.” The same squeaky voice sounded from inside the elevator this time. But down close to the ground.
Lockely glanced down and for a moment thought he might have taken leave of his senses. There was a single mouse with white and black fur standing in the elevator next to him. The mouse appeared to be a completely normal mouse. Lockely had no idea how that had gotten in here. The voice had to be-
“It’s a lot more effort for me to push the button.” The mouse laughed somewhat nervously. “So if you could just hit it.”
“Uh… Sure…” Lockely stared blankly as he pressed the third floor button. The elevator doors slid close and it moved into motion. He found himself staring down at the mouse, realized he’d likely be caught staring and tried to look away. But, he found himself still observing the mouse out of the corner of his eyes. He was absolutely certain that mouse had just talked. But… How? How was it possible?
A robot! There were drones and toy robots that could do all kinds of things. The mouse hadn’t spoken. It had to be some kind of remote-control toy that someone else was controlling. Someone was messing with him. Maybe this was one of those hidden camera shows. Heck, maybe they were responsible for the elevator swap, and it was all some kind of optical illusion to make him think they were on the wrong side. That was possible. Right?
Lockely took a deep breath. It made more sense than the elevators being relocated or a talking mouse. He didn’t know how the illusion worked. But that absolutely had to be what was going on. And maybe someone was waiting for him to react. He couldn’t risk reacting though as the last thing he needed was this episode to air with him freaking out on whatever show it was before the person interviewing him made their final decision. It was all just a clever prank. Done with smoke and mirrors and a toy. Nothing to get-
Ding! The elevator reached the third floor. The doors opened, revealing what looked like an actual zoo but instead of cages animals were in cubicles. They all looked like normal animals, and so the cubicles all had to be different sizes. A gigantic one for a bear right next to a small one for a dog. And all the animals were talking.
“Excuse me, are you getting everything you can out of your insurance?” The bear spoke into a headset.
“Thanks so much.” The mouse spoke up, making Lockely nearly jump. Staring at what might have been a literal cubicle farm complete with goats and roosters had pushed the mouse completely out of his mind.
“Uh no problem.” He looked down at the mouse. It looked up at him and nodded. It didn’t seem like a toy. It flashed a sheepish grin no normal mouse would make and seemed beyond the abilities of a toy. Then the mouse quickly ran out on all fours as it went to look for its own cubicle. It definitely walked. It didn’t run on wheels. But… No… This couldn’t be real, that would be absolutely ridiculous. And also impossible.
The elevator door shut again and continued on upward. Lockely braced himself for another completely insane scene. But, the doors opened up to a familiar lobby. Everything looked exactly like he remembered it from last time he had been here. He stepped out from the elevator into the lobby, quickly headed down the hallway. When he saw the Dream logo on the third door on the left it filled him with some confidence that reality had been restored. Maybe there was some kind of gas leak in the building and everything else had been a hallucination. That was… Rather frightening. But at least it would mean he hadn’t temporarily gone insane.
Through the door was a waiting room. It was empty except for a single receptionist with long black hair. Not the one he had seen last time. But at least she was human.
“Um hi…” Lockely slowly walked into the room. “I’m-“
“Lockely right?” The receptionist asked. “You’re a few minutes late. Head on through. They’re waiting for you in Conference Room 3. It’s going to be the fourth door on your right.” She didn’t even look up at him as she spoke. She was busy reading a magazine. Lockely imagined that since most of the business was done over the phones that her days had to be pretty long and boring. He didn’t blame her for her blasé attitude. He hurried for the door but paused and did a double take.
The receptionist had some of her hair fall forward onto her face. She quickly reached a hand up to brush the hair back. As she did Lockely got a look at one of her ears and saw that it was pointed.
No, he couldn’t be sure of that. He was seeing all kinds of crazy things now. His mind had braced itself for the insane and was not actively looking for it. And besides, what was he going to do? Go over and ask her to hold her hair back so he could get a good look at her ears. If he did that, getting the job would be the least of his worries. He’d have to work on convincing them that he wasn’t insane and didn’t need to be locked up for his own protection.
Lockely took a deep breath and went through the door into the rest of the facility. He counted the doors until he got to the conference room. As he did, he became aware of the fact it was rather warm in here. It made sense they’d keep the heat on. He quickly unraveled his scarf, rolled it up, and forced it into one of his pockets.
Then, he stepped into the conference room.
“You’re late.” A voice immediately spoke up. Sitting at the table was the receptionist he had just spoken to. How had she gotten here so fast? He had passed her on the way to the room.
“I’m sorry, I arrived early but I had difficulty finding a parking spot.” Lockely tried to sound as respectful as possible to the raven haired woman. Hopefully, he could do a good enough job with the interview to make up for this. But… As he looked over at her, there was one thing he had to ask, “Um… How did you get back here faster than me? You were still in the receptionist booth when-“ Lockely didn’t get to finish. Much to his surprise he was cut off by the woman’s stern express breaking and giving a merry laugh.
“Flattery will get you everywhere.” She managed to say between laughs. “That’s funny, acting like you confused me for my daughter. Surprised you didn’t ask if we were sisters instead. Oh goodness me I needed that. Suddenly I feel like I’m only 200 again.” She slowly recovered her composure. “It’s going to be a long day as they say. I’ll overlook you being late for your attempts to flatter me. But… From this point forward you’re going to be judged on skill and skill alone.”
About a hundred questions flooded through Lockely’s brain all at once. Had she said 200? Maybe he was still hallucinating, or this was all a really, really elaborate prank. He didn’t know. She looked just like the person at the desk except… No… Lockely couldn’t say for sure without seeing the receptionist again. But, it looked like this woman had a small crease in your head from worry and stress over the years. He didn’t think that the receptionist had the same mark of aging. It wasn’t impossible she was the other girl’s mother. And… She had laughed when he asked the question. She had a sense of humor. So the 200 remark had to be a joke. That was the only thing that made sense. Yet, he still wanted to ask several questions.
“Okay.” Was the only word he managed to mutter.
“Alright, I’ll be honest, we have a lot of positions to fill. So as long as you can pass a simple test and don’t give me any reason not to hire you, we’ll bring you on immediately.” The woman exclaimed. “Anyway, I don’t think we’ve met before. I’m Thasinia Faren. You can just call me Faren. Don’t feel the need to put a Mrs. before it, it makes me feel old. As for the test.” She reached beneath the table where there were several drawers. She pulled out a large case and pushed it across the table to Lockely.
“What’s this?” Lockely asked.
“Your test.” Faren answered. “You have 30 minutes to make a Truth Serum. Do so, and you can start working immediately. We need people badly, so we’re using a really easy potion for the test. We can train you up on anything else but we need to make sure you understand the basics. If you make the wrong potion, your potion doesn’t work, or you run out of time, you fail and you’ll be dismissed.” Faren got up and approached the door. Her hair fluttered in the air for a moment and Lockely was dead certain both of her ears had points. “Good luck. I’ll be back to check on you in 30 minutes. If you need to use the restroom or get a drink they’re further down the hall on your left where the floor opens up.”
“Uh…” Lockely opened the container. Inside was what looked like a high school chemistry set. “This is Dreams-“
“Dreams Come True Alchemy, yes.” Faren replied. “We are with a corporation, not a vendor center. Meaning you do get the full benefits package. There… was an accident in which a lot of our alchemists are now no longer old enough to work… But that’s the first time that’s ever happened. Honestly, when I tried to find out what was going on they just kept telling me a couple of kittens had somehow gotten into the office and then started shouting about playing tag. But that’s neither here nor there, I’m cutting into your time, and I want you to have a fair chance.”
And with that she went through the door and Lockely was alone in the room.
“Alchemists?” Lockely managed to ask out loud. Where had he gotten completely separated from reality? Maybe it was a dream. It felt real but… He pinched his arm. That hurt! He wasn’t asleep. Unless… Maybe he had crashed his car and was now in a coma? Could you feel pain in a coma dream? He didn’t know. But… That made more sense than whatever this was.
And what even was this?
Okay, panicking wasn’t going to get him anywhere. He didn’t know if this was real or fake or what was going on. But right now it was happening to him and he had to deal with it. It felt like he was in a completely different world from what he knew right now. And maybe that was true. If that was the case securing a job was going to be required. Except… He didn’t know the first thing about being an alchemist. At least not outside of games. But he doubted it was going to be as simple as writing what spell formulas you wanted for the day down.
How did someone even make a potion? There were lots of small bottles and pouches in the kit marked with different things. He looked over a few of them. Mandrake leaves, eye of newt, faerie dust. Well, they sounded like potion ingredients. But the odds of throwing together something blindly and getting what he needed were… Near non-existent. He needed instructions. He whipped out his phone intent to google how to make a Truth Serum. There was no service. That was weird. He had service here last time. Then again, maybe it wasn’t weird. The bar for what counted as weird had been raised substantially.
It was at this point he asked himself why he kept having to tell himself this was weird or didn’t make sense. Nothing had made sense ever since he parked. Come to think of it, that lot had been full and he had felt a strange shiver run down his spine before he found the spots. And after that was when reality decided to just randomly become a mashup of the fantasy genre and modern day capitalism.
This was a pretty extensive kit. Maybe it had instructions! If the Truth Serum really was a basic potion it might be listed as an example with step by step instructions on how to make it. There was no point fighting the madness anymore, it was time to go with it and hope he landed on his feet.
Lockely dug his hands behind the ingredients and found a soft flap inside the case. He reached inside of it and his hand came across a small book. He pulled it out, at first not daring to get his hopes up. It was a book titled ‘Formula Book.’ Not quite step by step instructions, but he could work with this.
Lockely flipped through the pages until he found a table of contents. It had a list of what he assumed were different potion types. His eyes passed over most of them without reading them before it finally found Truth Serum Page 105. He turned to the page and found his instructions.
2 pinches Pd + 1 Ml. Heat for 10 minutes. Stir in 1 pinch Df.
Great, he had the formula. It was just too bad he had idea what Pd, Ml, or Df were. Obviously, abbreviations for ingredients. But all the ingredient bottles had the full names spelled out, no abbreviations. He could figure this out. It looked like it would only take 10 minutes to make once he got going. So he just had to identify the ingredients.
He was pretty sure that ‘Ml’ was Mandrake Leaf. He had seen that and he couldn’t find anything else that had an L after an M. Df took him a bit longer, but he found a packet of ruby colored dust labeled Dragon Fire. That seemed right. But what was Pd? He knew that was the chemical symbol for Palladium. One of the few he actually knew, but he didn’t see any silvery-white metals. He quickly searched through the ingredients in the kit and found only three things it could stand for.
Pixie Dust, which was apparently different from Faerie Dust.
Phoenix Down. It wasn’t just a term made up by a video game. Who knew?
Pegasus Dandruff. Surprising dandruff would be used in potions, but he supposed it did come from a magical creature, which he was just taking at face value that it existed now.
He had to try one. There wasn’t anything else that could narrow it down. He hesitated for a few moments then went with his first instinct and grabbed the Pixie Dust.
There was a small glass bowl included in the kit, he quickly dropped the Pixie Dust and Mandrake Leaf into a bowl in it. After a bit of searching he found the heater. It looked like a perfume bottle but when he twisted the knob it released a flame. A stand to hold the bowl and a small spoon to mix things in were much easier to find. The Mandrake Leaf was turning black but nothing much was happening other than that. Then Lockely started to mix in the Dragon Flame. The ruby powder lit up bright as it landed in the bowl, and suddenly the contents of the entire bowl were on fire. Lockely had no idea if this was good or bad so just continued to stir in the rest. After a few seconds the flames receded. The leaf and powders were gone and now there was a silver liquid. Had he done it? Except… The instructions said to heat it over ten minutes. Still, this was looking promising. He just had to wait for time to pass and then he’d be in the clear. Everything was going perfectly and-
Suddenly there was a small blue spark in the bowl.
“I hope that’s normal.” Lockely managed to say before the liquid exploded out of the bowl completely covering him and making a mess on the table and the floor. Strangely enough, despite how hot he had heated it, the liquid didn’t burn him.
At least, on the outside. Inside his body he suddenly felt as if a fire had been lit in his gut. He stood up and stepped away from the potion kit. He had no idea what was happening. He needed to call for help, but when he opened his mouth a hissing noise came out instead. He turned around to grab the doorknob and open it, only to trip and fall onto his face. What had he even tripped on? The answer turned out to be his pants leg. They were quite long on him. He reached a hand forward to pull them upward only to find that his sleeve slid off of him easily as well.
He was shrinking!? As if that wasn’t enough. His skin was turning orange! No… That wasn’t it! Something was growing over his skin. Scales! He was growing orange scales! Well, mostly orange. There were a few black specks near his thighs and shoulders. His entire body began to look more reptilian. Soon his nails were replaced with sharp claws. Then, his face pushed out into a long snout. Next, a long sturdy tail grew from the tip of his body. It carried his pants and underwear off with it. They slid off his smaller frame with ease. Lockely quickly stood up but he was tangled up in his own shirt. He quickly wriggled free. The burning sensation inside him finally died down. What had happened?
He looked at his claws then felt his snout. He was some kind of lizard? No, that wasn’t it. He was a kobold! Why was he a kobold?! He must have used the wrong ingredient for Pd!
“Is everything ok?” Faren’s voice sounded from outside. “Someone said they heard an explosion, I’m coming in.”
“Uh, I’m fine.” Lockely couldn’t think of what else to say. He looked around frantically. It was at this point he realized he was naked. He wasn’t sure if that was a thing kobolds cared about or not wherever he was. But in his mind he was still human. But, as a kobold he was half the size he used to be. No way his clothes were going to fit and… He remembered his scarf! He quickly reached into his pants pocket and yanked out the scarf before throwing it on over his body. Sure, he wasn’t actually any less naked without the scarf. But he felt less naked and that countered for something.
“What’d you do?” The door opened and Faren appeared with a stern face. But as she looked over Lockely it broke into a grin and then he could tell she was trying very hard to hold back laughter. “A Truth Serum tears away all fabrications.” She snickered, losing in her fight to not laugh. “And it seemed it ripped away your little human disguise. So… On the bright side the potion worked. On the other hand, what do we do about the fact you lied about your species on your application?”
“Ummmmmm.” Lockely wasn’t sure if it would make things better or worse if he spoke up about what actually happened.
“We’ll overlook it.” Faren shrugged. “I’m going to pretend you made your disguise out of fear that you’d be rejected outright for being a kobold and not for any nefarious purpose. Honestly though, these aren’t the old days. We wouldn’t turn someone away just for being a kobold. Heck, some of the most famous alchemists in history are kobolds. I don’t know why you felt the need to hide that from us.”
“Well uh you see, the thing about that.” Lockely was trying to tell the truth. But it kept getting stuck in his throat. There was no question about it, he was not in his own world anymore. And yet, they had been expecting him. So there had to be a Lockely in this world. How had he gotten here? What happened to the other Lockely? Was he now back in his own original world doing an interview for the travel gig?
“You can start immediately… but…” Faren looked at where the potion had made a mess as it exploded. “I think you need to apply a little less heat. I’m going to assign you someone to shadow for the first week so you can get a feel for how all the equipment works here and not have another accident like this again.”
“Sure.” Was all Lockely could manage. If he was really doing this, that was for the best anyway. This would give him a week to learn the basics of alchemy at least. Probably not enough to be qualified for the job, but if he could just keep learning while occasionally tapping in on his coworkers for advice he might make this work. But there was so much to think about. He kept coming back to what happened to the Lockely of this world. He hadn’t shown up to the interview. Either something happened to him, or he had somehow traded places with the Lockely that was now a kobold.
That was going to present some problems. There was no way he could reach the pedals and see over the wheel to drive in his current form. Then again, who knew what the roads were like or what the laws were like so maybe that was the best. And he was going to have to find a place to live. If previous Lockely had switched places with him there would be a vacant home. It gave him an idea.
“Uh… Do you still have the original application I submitted?” Lockely asked. “I just want to change species to kobold. You know, make sure the paperwork matches.”
“Sure. Let me go find it.” Faren left the room.
OK, this was good. The application would have his home address on it. Or at least the home address of the Lockely who lived here. Either he would find an empty home, or another version of him that could maybe help. Hopefully, this version of him kept an emergency key hidden under the rug like he did in his own home world. Work was sort of figured out. He’d figure out living arrangements as soon as he got the address. His phone wasn’t working, so he couldn’t GPS it. Of course his phone wasn’t working. His carrier probably didn’t exist in this world. This also meant his ATM and credit cards were useless. He’d have to find food at his new home and make that last him till his first payday. Thankfully, being this small meant he was unlikely to eat a whole lot.
And… There was the matter of clothes. He patted his scarf. He’d prefer to wear a bit more than this running around. But, that was going to cost money, so he was again going to have to wait till he got paid before he could buy any fitting clothing.
Well.. At least… Some things were starting to come together and he had a plan of sorts for now. This gave him a sense of comfort. Knowing his next move made things easier to accept. And now he was growing curious about this world. Magic was real. What did it mean he was a kobold? Could he make a potion to turn back?
Did he want to?
He had been in shock up to this point. But, he wasn’t sure if he did. Once he got fitted clothes, he almost felt like this might fit him better than human.
Well, that was all stuff to think about later. Faren was coming back. Right now he needed to get that address so he could find where he was supposed to live. Once he was ‘home’ he’d decide what to do from there.