Authors: Diane Duane
Kit rolled his eyes as he took a pancake. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Yeah,” Nita said. “But I’m gonna make sure she doesn’t completely monopolize it. It’s got really nice graphics: there are some astronomy programs I want to get for it, and some nice stuff online. I’ll show you later…. “ She finished that pancake, grabbed one more. “Where’s Ponch?”
They went out and sat on the side steps that led up to the screen door. The locusts in the trees were buzzing louder than ever as Ponch, Kit’s big black dog— part Border collie, part German shepherd, part who knew what—came bounding up the driveway to them through the green-gold early sunlight.
“Oh God, what happened to his nose!” Nita said. “Ponch, did you get stung again, you nut case?”
“I buried a bone,” Ponch said in a string of whines and barks as he came up to them. “The bad things bit me.”
“His favorite bone-burying place,” Kit said, sounding resigned, “has at least three yellowjacket nests around it. He gets stung faster than I can heal him.”
“I was brave,” Ponch said, resting his chin, with the swollen black nose, on Nita’s shoulder, and looking sideways at her for sympathy. “I bit them back!”
“You were dumb,” Nita said, scratching him behind the ears. “But brave too. Go on, get a stick, brave guy. I’ll throw it.”
Ponch slurped Nita’s face and raced off down the length of the back yard. Kit smiled to see him run. “So what’s on for today?”
“Hadn’t decided. But there’s a new space show on at the Hayden Planetarium in the city,” Nita said. “You up for that?”
“Sure. Haven’t been there before.”
“It’s nice. I went for the first time on a science class trip a couple years ago, but they’ve put in a lot of new multimedia stuff since then. And the folks said I could go.”
“Good,” Kit said. “Mine won’t care, as long as yours said it’s okay.” He gave Nita a sideways look. “They’ve gotten pretty easygoing about you going to the City by yourself…”
Nita’s eyebrows went up as she watched Ponch rooting around under one of the backyard trees in search of a stick. “Like they could do much about it if I wanted to and they said no?” she said. “Not that I’d want to go behind their backs. But since we’ve been back from the Hamptons, Mom nailed me down a couple times for more details on what happened the night the Sun went dark.” She smiled a slightly grim smile. “I think she and Dad pretty much got the message that if you and I are palling around with great white sharks and walking away from tangling with the Personification of Evil, nothing human’s going to be able to mug me or drag me off down some dark alley.”
Kit nodded, watched Ponch find a branch and come galloping back down the yard with it. “That’s a relief…”
“You okay for cash?”
“I should be. Let me double-check. Then we can get out of here before stuff starts going wrong.”
Nita went back into the house, noticing as she passed through the living room that Dairine was now tapping actively at the iMac’s keyboard while her oblivious mother and father were still sitting on the floor pointing at two different pieces of paperwork and arguing cheerfully about what they implied. In the living room the computer chimed softly again as Nita went to her room, went to the dresser, and upended the jam jar that she used as an impromptu bank.
There was no pause in the arguing from the living room.
Sometimes I think they like it,
Nita thought, counting the bills.
hat did the website say admission was?
She counted the bills and coins.
…Yeah. Enough. And maybe a snack afterward… a hot dog and a drink or something.
Nita stuffed the money in her pocket and pushed the jar to the back of the dresser.
…And Nita’s eye fell again on the CDs on her desk, and the wizard’s manual underneath them. She pushed the CDs aside to look at it, still open to the Oath. Idly she pulled the manual out, touching the open pages as she held it.
In Life’s name, and for Life’s sake,
began the small block of type on the right-hand page,
I say that I will use this art only in service of that Life…
Dairine was in here yesterday,
Nita thought, skimming down over the words of the Oath.
…And it looks like she was reading this.
For a moment Nita had a flash of anger at the idea of her sister rummaging around in her stuff; but it didn’t last.
Surprising that she could see it, though,
Nita thought, for most nonwizards had trouble seeing or even noticing wizardly things.
aybe this isn’t so bad after all. She’s been pestering me with questions about wizardry ever since she found out there really
such a thing. She thinks it’s all exciting adventures. But the Oath’s heavy stuff. Maybe it threw a little scare into her with all the stuff about “time’s end” and doing what you have to, no matter what.
And Nita smiled to herself, a bit grimly
. Be a good thing if it did make her back off a little, because she was getting waaaay too interested…
Nita shut the manual, tucked it under her arm and headed out into the living room. Dairine was still standing in front of the computer, typing hurriedly into an open window, the text too small for Nita to see. Their mother and father were still deep in the paperwork, congenially contradicting each other. “Mom,” Nita said, “Kit and I want to go into the city, to the planetarium, is it okay? Kit’s folks say he can.”
Nita’s mother glanced up at her, considering. “Well… Okay, but make sure you’re back before dark.”
“Stay out of Times Square,” her father said without looking up, while riffling through more of the paperwork.
“You’ve got enough money for the train?” her mother said.
“Mom,” Nita said, hefting her wizard’s manual in one hand, “don’t think we’re taking the train.”
“Oh.” Her mom looked a touch dubiously at the book. She’d seen more than enough evidence of her daughter’s power in the past couple of months, but Nita knew better than to think that her mother was anything like comfortable with wizardry yet, or all that used to it. “You’re not going into town to, uh,
something, are you?”
“We’re not on assignment, Mom, no. Not for a while, after last time.”
“Oh. Good. All the same… you be careful, Neets. Wizards are a dime a dozen as far as I’m concerned, but daughters…”
Nita’s father looked up at that. “Stay out of trouble,” he said, and meant it.
“Now, Bets,” her Dad said, immediately turning back to the subject at hand, “see, right here, it says ‘The first time you turn on your iMac, Setup Assistant starts. Setup Assistant helps you—’”
“Yes, I got that, Harry. But that’s not the problem. It’s the business of the email accounts. Over
Nita hurried out through the kitchen before her folks could change their minds. Kit was evidently thinking along the same lines, since he was standing in the middle of the sandy place by the backyard gate, using the stick Ponch had brought him to draw a wizard’s basic transit circle on the ground. “I sent Ponch home,” he said, setting various symbols around the inside circumference of the circle.
“Okay.” Nita stepped in beside him. “Where’re we headed? Grand Central?”
“No, the worldgate there’s down for the next hour and a half for maintenance. The manual says to use Penn Station. What time have you got?”
Nita squinted up at the Sun. “Nine thirty.”
Kit rolled his eyes at Nita, though the expression was good-humored. “Show-off. Use the watch; I need Naval Observatory time.”
“Nine thirty-three and twenty seconds,” Nita said, scowling at her Timex, “now.”
“Not bad. Let’s get out of here before—”
“What are you doing!”
yelled Nita’s father, clearly audible even ten yards outside the house.
Nita and Kit both jumped guiltily, then looked at each other. Nita sighed.
“Too late,” Kit said.
At nine thirty-three and twenty-eight seconds, the screen door opened and Dairine was propelled firmly out of it. Nita’s father put his head out after Dairine, and looked up the driveway. “Take her with you,” he said to Nita, and meant that too.
“Okay, Dad…” Nita said, trying not to sound too surly as the screen door slammed shut. Kit rolled his eyes and slowly began adding another set of symbols to those already inside the circle. Dairine scuffed over to them, looking at least as annoyed as Nita felt.
“Well,” Dairine said, “looks like I’m stuck with you.”
“Get in,” Kit said, sounding resigned. “Don’t step on the lines.”
“And try not to freak out too much, okay?” Nita said, secretly rather hoping that she would. It’d serve her right.
Dairine stepped over the bounds of the circle and stood there with her arms folded, glaring at Nita.
“What a great time we’re all going to have,” Kit said, opening his manual. He began to read in the wizardly Speech, fast. Nita looked away from her sister for the moment and let Kit handle it.
The air around them began to sing-the same note ears sing when they’ve been in a noisy place too long; but this singing got louder, not softer, as seconds passed. Nita had the mild satisfaction of seeing Dairine start to look nervous at that, and at the slow breeze beginning around them when everywhere else the summer air was still. The breeze got stronger, dust around them whipped and scattered in it, the sound scaled up until it blotted out almost everything else. And despite her annoyance, Nita suddenly got lost in the old familiar exhilaration of magic working. From memory—for she and Kit had worked this spell together many times—she lifted her voice in the last chorus of it, where the words came in a rush, and the game and skill of the spell lay in matching your partner’s cadence exactly. Kit dropped not a syllable as Nita came in, but grinned at her, matching her word for word for the last ten seconds They ended together on one word that was half laugh, half shout of triumph. And on the word, the air around them cracked like thunder and struck inward from all directions, like a blow—
The wind stilled and the dust settled, and they found themselves in the last aisle of a small chain bookstore, next to a door with a hand-lettered sign that said EMPLOYEES ONLY. Kit put his manual away, and he and Nita were brushing themselves off when that door popped open and a small sandy-haired man with inquiring eyes looked out at them. “Something fall down out here? No?… You need some help?”
“Uh,” Nita and Kit said, still in unison.
“Comics,” Dairine said, not missing a beat. “X-Men.”
“Up front on the right, in the rack, third shelf down,” said the small man, and vanished through his door again.
“Hope they’ve got
” Dairine said, casually brushing the dust off her shorts and her Star Wars T-shirt, and heading for the front of the store.
Kit and Nita glanced ruefully at each other and went after her. It looked like it was going to be a long day.
Like so many other human beings, Dairine made her first major decision about life and the world quite early; at the age of three, in fact. She’d seen Nita (then six years old) go away to kindergarten for the first time, and at the end of the day come back crying because she hadn’t known the answers to some of the questions the teacher asked her.
Nita’s crying had upset Dairine more than anything else in her short life. It had instantly become plain to Dairine’s three-year-old mind that the world was a dangerous place if you didn’t know things, a place that would make you unhappy if it could. Right there she decided that she was not going to be one of the unhappy ones.
So she got smart. She started out by working to keep her ears and eyes open, noticing everything. Not surprisingly, Dairine’s senses became abnormally sharp, and stayed that way. She found out how to read by the time she was four… just how, she never remembered: but at five she was already working her way through the encyclopedias her parents had bought for Nita. The first time they caught her at it—reading aloud to herself from a Britannica article on taxonomy, and sounding out the longer words—her mom and dad were shocked, though for a long time Dairine couldn’t understand why. It had never occurred to her that you could use what you knew, use even the knowing itself, to make people feel things… perhaps even to make them
For fear of her parents getting upset and maybe stopping her, until she was five or so Dairine kept her reading out of their sight as much as she could; for the thought of being kept away from books terrified her. Most of what moved Dairine was sheer delight of learning, the great openness of the world that reading offered her, even though she herself wasn’t free to explore the world yet. But there was also that obscure certainty, buried under the months and years since the decision, that the sure way to make the world work for you was to know
Dairine sat home and busied herself with conquering the world.
Eventually it came time for her to go off to kindergarten. Remembering Nita, her parents were braced for the worst, but not at all for Dairine’s scowling, annoyed response when she came home. “They won’t pay attention to what I tell them,” Dairine said.
And off she went to read, leaving her mother and father staring at each other.
School went on, and time; and after Dairine sailed her way effortlessly through the the first couple of grades, she was put into an advanced track. She knew (having heard a couple of her mother’s phone conversations with the school’s psychiatrist) that her mom and dad were concerned about this. But Dairine had gone out of her way to charm the poor guy, as well as taking time to impress upon him that he wasn’t dealing with some fragile flower, but a strongminded kid who had no intention of letting the older ones in the same track steamroll her. Once the new track placement took effect in third grade, she started to relax a little: having (as it were) received her school’s stamp of approval—as if she needed it—nobody would now find her reading habits unusual.
Then Dairine was able to really let her reading cut loose. Every day after school, she would hit the little local library (right across the street) and soon enough had read everything in the kids’ library downstairs at the rate of about six books a day. Then—after the concerned librarian got permission from Dairine’s parents—she read through the whole adult collection, a touch more slowly. Her mom and dad thought it would be a shame to stifle such an active curiosity. Dairine considered this opinion wise, and kept reading, trying not to think of the time, not too far away, when she would exhaust the adult books (for she wasn’t yet allowed to go to the big township library by herself).Still, you could always order them in by interlibrary loan, and from much further afield… even from the New York Public Library, where there were eight million volumes on tap. Dairine admitted that it might take even her a while to work through all of those.