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The Nationwide Network of Oz

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The Magic Picture hung at the foot of Ozma's grand bed, where Ozma and Dorothy could watch its shifting landscapes while relaxing against a mountain of green velvet pillows.

In recent decades Dorothy had developed a fondness for watching scenes from the United States and other non-fairy countries, laughing at the strange new fashions and marveling at the inventions that grew finer every year. Ozma had offered to send her back for a visit, or at least to install the Picture in her rooms instead, but Dorothy had turned both down. When she had the urge to travel, there were still endless unexplored corners of Oz and its neighboring fairylands to enjoy. As for the Picture, "if we hang it in my room, what excuse will I have to visit yours?"

Both princesses had laughed merrily at that. Of course Dorothy needed no excuse to spend as many nights in Ozma's chambers as her own.

(The only people who ever found it puzzling had been some of her fellow non-natives of fairyland, and they were quickly reassured. As the Wizard said to Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, "If you'd worked at a circus you would have met plenty of couples who were at least as queer a match as those two, and no less happy for it.")

On this particular evening, she was playing idly with a lock of Ozma's thick brown curls while they watched a group of students in a country called Japan. At least, Dorothy thought the people were students. They were using computers, which in the past few years had become the favorite way of printing assignments.

When she asked to see the topic they were studying, though, the image on the canvas grew blurry and confused. With some more prodding she discovered they weren't studying at all -- they were reading a kind of digital journal, written by someone from a city that Dorothy only just recognized as the modern San Francisco.

"Which is awfully far from Japan," explained Dorothy for Ozma's benefit. To the Picture, she asked, "Was it sent there directly, or can it be seen from other places?"

A patchwork of scenes bloomed across the canvas. Dorothy recognized the skyscrapers of New York and the coasts of Sydney; she was reasonably sure those gabled houses were in Europe and that crowded airport was in Asia; but most of them she couldn't recognize, offices and farms and libraries that could have been anywhere.

"Why, it's better than the wireless telegraph!" she exclaimed. "It's like a notice board that the whole world can read -- any time!"

Ozma, for her part, was sitting up straighter. "It does look useful," she agreed. "Now, why doesn't Oz have this yet?"

 

~*~*~*~

 

The Scarecrow greeted them at the gates of the magnificent tin Castle of the Winkies. "Come in, come in! It's been too long," he exclaimed, ushering them in while the Winkie guards took the carriage and Saw-horse to the royal stables for some polishing. "You both look well. Dorothy, have you been growing again?"

"You know I'm quite happy with this age," said Dorothy with a merry laugh.

"And so is Ozma, eh?" teased the Scarecrow, winking one painted eye. As the previous ruler of the Emerald City, he was one of the few who felt at liberty to tease Ozma about such things. "Shall I take you straight to what I've been working on, or would you like dinner first? Nick is still out visiting with his subjects, but I know he would rather you not go hungry for his sake."

"Don't worry, we ate on the road," said Ozma, who had conjured most of their meals herself. "Let us see the receiver."

The Scarecrow took them to a laboratory full of tin instruments, and, on the most prominently-placed desk, a large screen in a tin frame. "I suppose Nick designed this," said Dorothy, examining the typewriter-like keyboard with its arrangement of tin keys.

"We must all stay true to our aesthetics," said the Scarecrow. "I can only assume Shaggy's design gives the user static shocks when the weather gets cold."

"It used to," admitted Dorothy, "until Betsy made him shave it. Shall we call her now?"

Betsy and Trot, Dorothy's fellow girl immigrants to Oz from the Americas, hadn't had quite the same motivation to grow older as she did. Trot was still a sweet-faced child, but Betsy, after some years of seeing how much Dorothy enjoyed being an elegant young woman, had elected to give it a try.

So it was a teenage face with a honey-blonde bob that greeted them -- not in the tin frame, but on the small one-to-one communication device the Wizard had invented back in the day. "Hello, your majesties! Is everything loading?"

"We were just about to start," Ozma assured her. "Is Shaggy there? I thought he might want to see."

"I'm here, Princess," said the Shaggy Man's voice from just out of view. "Although if I'm honest, Betsy here has mostly taken over the coding for this little project."

"Has she!" exclaimed the Scarecrow, who had served as the other end of the development team. "And here I thought you had gotten some extra brains installed."

Betsy grinned, pleased at the indirect compliment. "The photos you'll see are all mine too -- if you see them."

The Scarecrow gestured for someone else to do the honors, so Dorothy stepped up to the keyboard and made the tin-framed screen come alight. She keyed in the path they had agreed on. A moment later, the screen began to fill with pictures: the royal animals of the Emerald City, including Eureka leaping after a curtain tassel, Toto sitting solemnly on a plinth in the garden, Hank the donkey leaning against a marble wall to scratch an itch, and the Lion and Tiger napping together in a wide beam of sun.

"You do have an eye for these, Betsy dear," said Ozma admiringly.

"And I s'pose she's found the only thing in Oz that people will want to look at even more than you," added Dorothy, scrolling past an image of nine tiny piglets attempting to climb down a set of stairs.

"I just added another," said Betsy. "At the top. Tell me if you get it."

Dorothy scrolled back to the top, but saw no change. Presently, she said, "The first one is still Toto."

"It doesn't update in real-time." The Scarecrow leaned over her shoulder and tapped a set of options. "We tried that in short-range, and couldn't make it work for more than a few connections at a time. Instead it sends the current status in one burst when each new screen connects, and if you want to check for a new version, you tell it to send again -- like this."

Sure enough, the screen had updated, and a new picture was being loaded at the top. This time, though, half of it was left blank when it came to a sudden stop.

"We only got part of it," reported Dorothy. "I recognize the top of the royal chicken coop, but I couldn't tell you how many chickens are there."

"Neither can I, but only because so many of them overlap," said Betsy. "Hang on a minute while I ask the Magic Picture what went wrong."

It didn't take long -- the Picture had been moved into their laboratory for the occasion. In the meantime, the Scarecrow tried refreshing the screen again, just in case. It didn't help.

When Betsy returned, her face was somber. "One of the beacons you set up is broken. Part of it was shiny enough that a magpie stole it for its nest."

Ozma frowned. "We set up extras in case one got damaged...."

"...and the next one was knocked over half an hour ago by a marauding Kalidah."

"Ah."

"Not to worry," said the Scarecrow cheerfully. "It was working perfectly up until this one little problem, and you have the finest brains in Oz working on a solution."

 

~*~*~*~

 

They were joined for dinner by the Tin Woodman and the Patchwork Girl. Unlike the Scarecrow, Scraps had never lived at the castle full-time, but she was a frequent visitor and had a room to stay in any time she wished.

The Scarecrow outlined their technical difficulties while Dorothy and Ozma ate local Winkie delicacies from tin dishes. Nick listened politely, nodding every so often. Scraps managed to sit still for parts of the conversation, though she periodically had to get up and do a few cartwheels or backflips around the room.

"I could assign one or two of my soldiers to guard each of these beacons," offered Nick.

"That would get awfully dull," said Dorothy sadly. "Standing around all day, scaring off animals from getting too close to you? There's a reason farmers put up scarecrows in their fields instead of hiring a meat person to do it."

"And we might be scary enough to crows," put in the Scarecrow, "but we don't pose any threat to Kalidahs. As you and I and Nick all know firsthand."

"I'm considering directing Glinda to make them unnoticeable," said Ozma. Her tone was solemn and authoritative, in spite of the dab of mustard on her chin. "The way she did with all of Oz, so it's now invisible from the outside world."

"But what if one needs repairing?" asked Dorothy. "Or replacing? We'd never know where to find it."

Scraps chose this moment to do a backflip into the Scarecrow's lap, clasp his shoulders to pull herself upright, and chant in a singsong voice:

"Razzle de-dazzle ma-faz,
These critters cannot haz.
So stash the prize up in the skies,
Where it's safe -- or as good as."

The other diners looked at the Patchwork Girl, then at each other.

"I could do that with the Magic Belt, easy enough," said Dorothy.

"The Rain King is an ally. I'm sure we could work out a deal," said Ozma.

"Or, if you put them high enough, they'd even be above the weather," said Nick.

The Scarecrow gazed admiringly into Scraps's button eyes. "What did I say? Finest brains in Oz."

 

~*~*~*~

 

They took a slightly different route back to the Emerald City, so the two princesses could meet with as many subjects as possible during the round-trip. Still, they managed to stop by all the beacons along the way, and Ozma used her silver wand to transfigure them all into drab colors, blending in with the rocks and trees.

When the Wizard heard about their plan, he immediately offered to build a balloon that would take them up. "If you control its flight with the Belt," he told Dorothy, "you won't have to worry about drifting out over the desert and landing in countries unknown. Not that I suppose you, of all people, would be worried about that...."

"We'd better not," said Dorothy. "A balloon is fine entertainment for common folk like you and me, but for an audience between royals, Ozma ought to have something that matches her station."

The Wizard smiled to himself, and didn't point out that Dorothy was hardly common these days. "A sky-chariot, then. I can build one of those too. I'll build in a little magic of my own, so you don't have to worry about breathing in the upper atmosphere...do you suppose we could get Polychrome down here to give advice on what the fashions are?"

Of course it wasn't that simple to contact the Rainbow's Daughter, who was, as always, hard for land-dwellers to get ahold of. The style director ended up being Trot, who was still technically the ruler of Sky Island. Her sense of the latest trends was somewhat out-of-date, but she had very definite opinions on what looked good, and Ozma assured Dorothy that a strong aesthetic would make just as good an impression.

It wasn't long before the impromptu sky-chariot was finished. It looked much like an open sleigh, but without runners or wheels, and with far fewer inlaid gems than the typical Ozian style. Facing the well-padded seats was an enclosed cabinet to store the beacons, of which Betsy and Shaggy were just finishing another set.

The Gump, whose head was still mounted peacefully in one of the castle's private corridors, took an interest when it heard about the project and asked to have a look.

Ozma agreed immediately, and even carried it there herself one night. The late hour was partly because her royal duties had kept her busy during the day, and partly because she was afraid her old friend would say something disagreeable, and if Trot was offended she wouldn't hesitate to be disagreeable right back.

The princess held the Gump facing the chariot, and walked him all around so he could see it from all angles.

"Very serviceable," he said at last, which was high praise indeed. "Much prettier than my old body ever was."

"There's still time to fasten you to the front and let you fly it," said Ozma mischievously.

The Gump shuddered, which was quite a feat for a creature that had no body below the neck. "Don't even joke."

 

~*~*~*~

 

Not far from the Rainbow, a strange foreign object was hanging in the sky. Only one of the Rainbow's daughters -- the one who had spent some time on the ground, and had traveled in objects like boats -- had some idea what it might be.

Though her sisters all hung behind, Polychrome darted across the clouds to have a look. It took a bit of a jump, but she got her hands on the edge and hefted herself up to see inside. Her fairy form was so light and dainty that it didn't jostle the sky-carriage at all.

The occupants realized she was there when she let out a startled squeak and jumped back, landing on the nearest wisp of cumulus.

A moment later, one of the women's faces popped up over the edge, hastily straightening her hair along the way. Polychrome had guessed their identities before, so this only confirmed that it was her old friend Dorothy, and therefore the other must be Ozma. "Polly? Is that you?"

"I'm sorry!" stammered Polly. "I didn't see anything!" Which was true, in that both princesses had been wearing enough clothing for modesty to be preserved. "What are you doing? That is, I know what you're doing, but why were you doing it up here?"

Ozma appeared at Dorothy's shoulder. With a wave of a pretty silver wand, she tamed both of their disheveled hairdos and softened the blushes on their cheeks. "We planned to seek an audience with the Rain King," she said, with an impressive amount of dignity. "Although we did expect to spend a little longer in privacy first."

 

~*~*~*~

 

A series of evenly-spaced sky-beacons hanging high over Oz made Betsy's picture diary accessible from all across Winkie Country.

They built more screen devices, first releasing them to Oz's noted luminaries such as Glinda and the Woggle-Bug, then in batches to anyone who applied. They extended the network's range to every one of the four quadrants. They sent parties of explorers out to the strangest and farthest corners, running tests to ensure steady coverage.

When Dorothy had explained the idea to her aunt and uncle, they assumed the net would be mostly used by friends, family, and business partners trying to keep in touch across long distances. And indeed it was used for that, but Dorothy was delighted to watch it blossom into other uses as well.

Queen Ann of Oogaboo posted a scathing critique of the way Oz was being ruled. She nearly fainted when she loaded the responses the next day and discovered that Ozma could see it.

Ojo started a project to make all the laws of Oz available, searchable, and, eventually, annotated. When Scraps next visited the Emerald City, she started merrily addressing him as Ojo the Methodical.

The Tin Woodman created a forum which was intended to let the Winkies send him their concerns, anxieties, and requests for help. His caring heart sank as he realized there was more here than one man, even a man who didn't sleep, could possibly address. When he changed the setup to let Ozite visitors offer help to each other, and they immediately responded, his heart soared.

Betsy's photos were an instant focus of general national interest, and stayed at the top of the charts even as the other projects took off. The animals of the Emerald City became involved in a good-natured competition to see who could get the most feedback. It was discouraging for the Woozy to realize he was coming in last, and the Glass Cat assured him that the rankings hardly mattered anyway, though it must be suspected that she was cross at how Eureka routinely beat all the rest of them without even seeming to try.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dorothy and a small group of loved ones gathered at the screen in the castle drawing-room to see the latest updates from the Tin Woodman. The Lion had gone to his castle for a visit, and Toto too, and there were many delightful photos of the four old friends and traveling-companions reunited.

"I'm sure Scraps took these," remarked Dorothy to her aunt. "They're so whimsical, they just can't be from anyone else."

Sure enough, when she scrolled down, there were photos of the Scarecrow and the Patchwork Girl cuddling -- and with both of them having stuffed bodies, they were awfully cuddly. In at least one, Dorothy felt quite sure they would have been kissing if they had been meat-people. (It wasn't quite the same when one person's mouth was only painted on.)

Ozma and the Wizard both smiled in approval, but Aunt Em's brow knitted. "Is that...usual, with them? Only, I thought...the Scarecrow and the Tin fellow...." She waved vaguely at Dorothy and Ozma.

"Oh, they are, after a fashion," said Dorothy. "That is, the Tin Woodman's heart doesn't quite feel that kind of love, but he and the Scarecrow are dear and steady companions, who are never parted. And then Scraps is dear to the Scarecrow too, although she's, well...rather unsteady, if you see what I mean."

"If you'd ever worked at the circus..." began the Wizard, and then stopped. "No, never mind. I suppose some of the matches in the Land of Oz are queerer than any American circus ever produced, after all."

Dorothy slipped her hand into Ozma's. "And thank goodness for that."