“So you gave her your personal passwords, your credit card number, and your Social Security number even though you’d only just met?” said Officer Carruthers incredulously.

“You don’t understand!” wailed the quivering lump of pale manflesh in the precinct office. “She had dyed hair…she was so vibrant and quirky, I just…I just felt a connection!”

“Even so, Mr. Daniels, surely you must have had some idea that things weren’t on the level,” added Chief Strong, trying and failing to sound sympathetic rather than annoyed.

“She said she wanted to grind for loot for me in Dungeons of Krull,” blubbered Daniels, “and she wanted to register so we could play together!”

“Gentlemen I believe I may be of some assistance here.” At the sound of that familiar voice, both Carruthers and Strong recoiled. “Not again.”

“Yes, gentlemen, it is I: Sherwood Greg. Collector, scholar, dungeon master, level 25 elven sorceress, head of the Council of Twelve, and overall coordinator for Nerdicon.” The rotund form of Sherman Gregward, as he was known to the state, waddled into the office. If nothing else, he made Daniels look svelte by comparison.

“What is it, Gregward?” snapped Chief Strong. “Can’t you see that we’re in the middle of something? How’d you get in here, anyway?”

“I heard the cry of a kindred spirit in need, echoing throughout the blogisphere,” said Sherwood Greg grandly. “And it just so happens that your man at the front desk is a fan of Glowworm, and now has a complimentary ticket to the cast and crew panel at this year’s Nerdicon.”

The officers exchanged looks of intense annoyance. “Well, we’ve got a fairly straightforward case of identity theft here, Gregward,” said Officer Carruthers. “So I don’t know what help you can be.”

“On the contrary, our mutual friend Mr. Daniels–AKA Armageddetron82–has fallen victim to a recent trend that I like to call the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl Scam.’ Namely, a savvy con artist aping the two-dimensional wish-fulfillment female characters so prevalent in entertainment for the purposes of cutting-edge fraud and social engineering.”

“I think we had figured that part out,” said Chief Strong. “What can you do that we can’t?”

“I can offer myself up as bait, of course,” said Sherwood Greg. “For I assure you that seeing the con artist who has been ravaging the local nerdgeek and geeknerd community brought to justice is foremost on my mind, and I am a far more tempting target than either of you could ever hope to be.”

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“Gentlemen, I give you Ruins & Rogues, 1st edition,” said Matt. “The Old Testament. Fire and brimstone. Death around every corner.” With a flourish, he opened his bag and took put a stack of books with brightly colored if crudely drawn covers.

“Wow, is that a 1st edition Adventurer’s Guidebook?” cried Chris.

“With the rare first printing inclusion of copyrighted characters from the Tolkien estate,” Matt said proudly. “Bought them at an estate sale on Dounton Street East.”

“What’s this?” Jeff, the third member of Matt’s erstwhile Ruins & Rogues group took up a sheaf of papers between the Ruins & Rogues Creature Compendium and the Ruins & Rogues Interverse Manual.

“Oh, it’s the campaign that whoever owned this stuff before was playing,” Matt said. “It’s MS3TK-worthy, you’ve got to see this.”

“Got to see this is right,” Chris chortled, taking up a character sheet with a 1984 date. “Drake Midnight: level five barbarian of Clan War Bear. Nineteen strength, nineteen agility, four intelligence.” He held up a crude illustration of a Viking in a horny helmet wielding two axes bug enough for their own Congressmen. “Look, it’s straight out of Napoleon Dynamite’s sketchbook. Hope those straps are velcro. Hilarious!”

“Hilarious is this map right here,” countered Jeff. “Titcave Mound, home of the Priestesses of Lost Memory. Or is that lost mammary? Look at these booby statues they drew!”

“It’s a wonder they got in there at all considering their healer was Chastity Witchmourner,” Matt added. “Her character sheet includes her measurements and a nice little doodle of what I can only assume is a 12-year-old smuggling beach balls. Looks like the player–one ‘Steve’–was pretty into it. I hope this stain is from the fried chicken they were eating!”

All three had a good laugh before settling down to the business of filling out their new character sheets, with Mat promising that the old campaign would be incorporated into their new one for kicks and giggles. Before the playing got started in earnest, though, Matt excused himself to fetch more snacks.

The basement door opened onto a vast and red-skied vista illuminating a temple carved into the living rock of the mountainside with impossibly busty caryatids supporting it. A flamingly redheaded woman of similar proportions, and wearing what must have been about three cubic inches of chainmail, was rushing toward him.

“Drake had gone berserk with War Bear battle lust!” she cried. “You must help me!”

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The precinct doors flew open, and a squat figure entered flanked by uniformed officers (well, perhaps they were more following than flanking, given how much of the corridor the man took up). An officer offered him a chair opposite the negotiation team; the man shook his head and pointed to a nearby loveseat, the one that had been in the office ever since Josie in dispatch had been pregnant. When it was wrestled into place, the man settled into it like an oversized armchair, leaving little room on either side.

“Sherman Gregward?” Chief Strong said.

The man tossed his head, with its dark hair thinning in front and gathered into a ponytail in back. “That’s me. Sherwood Greg, if you prefer. Collector, scholar, dungeon master, level 24 elven sorceress, and head of the Council of Twelve and overall coordinator for Nerdicon.”

“Mr. Gregward,”Strong said. “I assume you’ve heard about the events at SciCon earlier today?”

“SciCon’s a competitor, but a respected one,” Sherwood Greg replied. “I’ve deigned to attend on occasion, when campaigning is slow. I hear they went and got their guest of honor kidnapped.”

“Nestor Pressman, who played…” Strong looked at the sheet in front of him. “Captain Why of Timeship Omega in the 1983-87 tv series TimeTrek Wars.”

“Don’t patronize me, captain,” Greg sniffed.” I know Pressman. He was at Nerdicon three times before he went to the other side.”

“We’re had no luck in finding the kidnapper or kidnappers, and the demands that were left for us are, well, incomprehensible.”

“So you brought in an expert. Smart.” Greg waved an outstretched hand; Strong gave him a copy of the dossier with the cut and paste ransom note:

BR1|\|9 Ph1\/3 |-|U|\|DR3D 7|-|0U54|\|D d0LL4R5 (45|-| 4 (0/\/\PL373 1985 5(1-(0|\| (0/\/\/\/\3/\/R471\/3 (0LL3(710|\| 7|-|3 L057 3P150D3 0Ph 71/\/\3-7R3|<-\/\/4R5 4|\|D 4LB3R7 /\/\3LL5731|\|'5 5(R33|\| 7357 Ph0R (R'/P7 r0BB3R 70 7|-|3 (17'/ bU5 73R/\/\1|\|4L b'/ 319|-|7 70/\/RR0\/\/ 0R pR355/\/\4|\| 15 0U7 0Ph 71/\/\3

“It’s gibberish,” Strong said.

Greg glanced at it. “Bring $500,000 cash, a complete 1985 SciCon commemorative collection, the lost episode of TimeTrek Wars and Albert Mellstein’s screen test for Crypt Robber to the city bus terminal by eight tomorrow or Pressman is out of time,” he read.

“H-how did you…?”

“Child’s play. I’ve decoded leetspeak twice as hardcore before second breakfast. And before you ask: the 1985 SciCon commemorative collection is a legendarily rare swag bag from the first convention of which only 5 are known to exist, the lost episode of TimeTrek Wars was filmed but never edited just before the series was canceled in 1987 with only a few black and white stills known to survive, and after he won an Oscar Albert Mellstein was so anxious to cover up that he tried out for the lead of Crypt Robber that he bought and publically burned the negative.”

Strong’s jaw hung agape.

“See? You picked the right man for the job. Also, that last bit? Captain Why’s catchphrase was ‘we’re never out of time’ in the show. You’re welcome.”

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Nobody was surprised when young Chris Boyle began spending most of each day playing a new computer roleplaying game. Weak, awkward, and practically abandoned by latchkey parents, Chris had long sought immersion in such fantasy worlds. People did think it a little odd that, despite the time Chris seemed to invest in the game, none of the usual symptoms of intense game use (paleness, weight gain, pizzaface outbreaks) seemed to appear.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Rumors that Chris had beaten up perennial tormentor Daryl Dupine were confirmed by the appearance of the latter some days later with a shiner and assorted other bruises. At Track and Field Day (AKA Let The Gym Teachers Earn Their Keep For Once Day), Chris astonished with first-place finishes in track, shot-put, and weight lifting despite having no prior affinity for those events and no time in between playing games on a laptop to develop them. At the end of the school year, people had no more answers; even steroid use required a modicum of exercise to work, and school photos confirmed that Chris was significantly taller and more muscular than was explainable.

It wasn’t until just after school ended and Chris came into the town square riding a dragon, wielding a flaming sword and sporting engraved full plate armor that the situated became at least marginally clearer.

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