High Wizardry New Millennium Edition (5 page)

She shook her head and waited for the desktop wallpaper to load up, and the normal spread of startup icons. The wallpaper
did
load—the beautiful spiral-galaxy image that was the default wallpaper for these machines. But instead of the normal icons, or the Setup Assistant dialogue she was expecting, a window popped up that said in its title bar,
Manual Functions.

Dairine stared again, as behind her the cheerful argument between her parents went on unabated.
What?
What kind of functions does a
manual
have??
She wasn’t able to make out much about the contents of the window, for everything in that one was grayed out and blurred at the moment. Overlaid was a smaller dialogue window that said in its title bar,
New User Registry.
In the middle of the window was a single input field, with under it, very small, the words
Entries will be checked for uniqueness.

Just one?
Dairine thought.
Not a username and a password? Or maybe the password comes in the next window?
After a moment she shrugged and smiled and typed in a private joke: the code name that a certain untrained farmboy used in his fighter run on the Death Star, a name that suited Dairine since she had inherited her mother’s hair color. RED FIVE, she typed, grabbed sideways for the mouse, and clicked on the dialogue window’s OK button.

Both input field and button vanished.
User registry RED FIVE accepted,
said the window, and vanished.

Now the underlying window was clear. Dairine leaned in to look closely at the icons in it, still wondering if she was dealing with some kind of bizarre joke that had been perpetrated on the Apple distributor by some jokester in a factory in China or wherever.
What
is
all this stuff?
Dairinewondered. She didn’t recognize the icon designs, and the labels under them weren’t much of a help.
Assistance, Change, Seek, Directory, Manual
— She shook her head.
Online documentation, I guess?
Others were odder still.
Spinoffs, Secondary Spins, Cloaking, Copy/Duplicate—

That last one at least made some sense. But why separate the function out, when nearly every program on a machine like this would normally have a copy function of its own? It made no sense. On impulse Dairine clicked on the “Copy/Duplicate” icon to see what kind of window came up.

The new one that promptly overlaid itself on the Manual Functions window didn’t throw a lot of light on the subject.
Adaptive
Copy Utility
, said its title bar. And another small dialogue window appeared, saying
Specify Radius.

Once more Dairine was reduced to staring.
‘Radius?’ Of what?
For
what? This makes zero sense!
She scowled at the screen, starting to feel like her whole day was going to consist of bad jokes and situations that looked good at first but didn’t pay off the way they were supposed to.
Does this thing maybe use some kind of default if you don’t put anything in? Just hit
Enter,
see what happens—

She hit the carriage return.

Default radius,
the little window said.

And nothing happened.

Dairine let out a breath, scowled.
Okay,
now
what?

The window remained blank for a moment more; just enough time to make Dairine, impatient already, reach for the mouse in order to start clicking on the screen to see if something had frozen. But as she was reaching, more dialogue appeared.

Copy type: Desktop | Mobile

Dairine shook her head, increasingly frustrated.
I have
absolutely no idea
what I’m doing here,
she thought: an admission she was never happy about making, even to herself.
Which one do I pick?

There was no point in lingering over the issue, as at any moment her Mom and Dad might come to their senses and throw her out of here before she figured out what was going on. On a whim Dairine shrugged and hit
Mobile
. She had no idea what this would do, but mobile things were always good.

Copy utility ready,
said the dialogue window.
Click OK to begin.
And there was the button.

Dairine rolled her eyes and clicked
OK.

There was the very softest shirring sound as the hard drive worked.

And then there were two computers on the desk: the iMac and a laptop. The laptop was sleek and thin and glossy black all over, and had the same unbitten apple inlaid into its lid in white.

Dairine’s mouth dropped open. Then she shut it.

Whatever is going on in some factory in China,
she thought,
it isn’t
this.

Hesitantly Dairine she put out a hand to the laptop, and touched it, and found it real. Its power light was on. Gently she lifted its lid and looked at its screen. The display matched that of the desktop machine. Both of them now said:

COPY SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED

And the dialogue window vanished simultaneously from both displays, leaving Dairine staring at two screens, each of whih had the same spread of identical icons on it.

Standing there, Dairine discovered that she was actually having some trouble breathing.
What do I do now?!
She didn’t dare turn around or make any outward sign: behind her, her mother and father were still arguing peaceably over the contents of the Apple manuals and how messing up the setup process might, or might not, somehow invalidate their warranty. Trying not to listen to them, not daring not to, Dairine stared at the icons, and her eye fell on one of them in desperation.
Cloaking

She grabbed for the desktop’s mouse and doubleclicked it.

Another window popped up.
Cloaking Utility,
said the title bar.

Choose one:

(1) Hide network object

(2) Hide network copy

(3) Hide remote object

(4) Hide remote copy

Exit

Pulse racing, flying blind, Dairine clicked on “2”.

The window blanked, showed her new text:

Browse for copy to hide:
(and a search box)

Hide most recent copy?
And two buttons,
Yes
and
No…

Dairine clicked on
Yes,
the sweat breaking out on her. The window cleared again, showed her more choices.

Options:

(1) Hide in realspace (invisibility option)

(2) Hide in realspace (size reduction)

(3) Hide in otherspace (retrievable pocket)

(4) Discard in otherspace (nonretrievable pocket)

(5) Timed storage (coordinate-specific claudication)

Exit to main menu

Dairine blinked… then typed 3, because at least it sounded like she might be able to get something back afterwards.

The dialogue box cleared again.
Password for retrieval?
And an input box.

Dairine swallowed: then hurriedly typed, RED FIVE.

Input options: Verbal | Keyboard.

Dairine clicked on
Keyboard.

Hiding most recent hard copy…

And the laptop vanished.

At which point Dairine’s father, sitting on the floor, turned around and saw her at the computer; saw the wallpaper. “
What are you doing?!”
he yelled, and was so busy getting up that he didn’t see how the screen writhed briefly, changed, and a second later was displaying a window that said
Setup Assistant.

“Uh,” Dairine said. She couldn’t remember when she had last been so at a loss for words. Her father, though, wasn’t even slightly concerned with this. Several seconds later Dairine found herself going to New York with Nita and Kit, by magic.

To her astonishment, at the moment that concept actually struck her as rather tame.

*

It took Dairine an unbearable tale of hours to get free of Nita and Kit. All the while her mind was raging, turning over and over the the taking of the Oath the night before, and the thought of the kind of power implied by what had happened in her living room, in broad daylight, right under her parents’ noses. For a while she didn’t seem able to think as clearly as she should be able to.
Shock,
Dairine thought. It seemed to take forever, in the face of the impossible actually happening to her, for her to figure out what to do. And when she finally got down to the ladies’ room and sat down in one of the stalls, her heart was hammering with excitement and sweat stood out on her.

“Red five,” she whispered, and held her breath.

There was a sleek black portable computer in her lap, and on its lid a biteless apple glowed.

Dairine flipped up the lid and found that the machine had been on standby all this while, the screen showing the same galaxy wallpaper and the same grouping of icons as it had before—the ones that had disappeared from the home machine the moment her Dad looked at it. Now, though, she clicked and typed hurriedly, using the Cloaking program to put the books she’d bought in an otherspace pocket and get them out of her way. The books having tidily vanished, Dairine went back to the main screen.

Assistance,
she thought.
Maybe some kind of tutorial? Or a help menu? This isn’t the time to claim not to need help.

She clicked on the Assistance icon. A small dialogue window appeared.

Active or passive mode?

Dairine was out of her depth again.
But active’s always got to be better…
She clicked on it.

The screen cleared again.

Utility options:

(1) General Data & Logistics—
Manual

(2) Travel—
Transport

(3) Intervention—
Change
(see also
Manual
)

(4) Duplication—
Adaptive Copy

(5) Preservation—
Cloaking, Seek

(6) Outside assistance—(routine)
Support

(7) Emergency—
Assist

Exit to system

Dairine chewed her lip and thought. Just to see what would happen, she clicked on “2”. The screen cleared.

General Transport Utility

Input? Keyboard | Verbal

Dairine clicked on “2”.
Because hey, who wants to have to type all the time?

“Inside local solar system or outside?” the computer said very quietly, but so suddenly that Dairine jumped and almost let it fall off her lap. The computer’s voice was masculine: a light restrained tenor with a cultured sound.

“Um,” she said. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry. “Inside,” Dairine said, and swallowed.

“Planet?”

Planet?!

Dairine gazed toward the door of the ladies’ room, immediately thinking of the displays outside with a sudden and terrible desire.
Closed for maintenance, huh? We’ll see about that.

“Mars,”
Dairine said.

The portable’s hard drive worked briefly and softly: the faintest possible chitter chitter that she felt through her lap more than heard. “Coordinates?”

Dairine knew that areographers used some kind of latitude-longitude system for Mars, but didn’t know anything else about it. “Default,” she said, on a hunch.

“Default coordinates confirmed,” said the computer, “last recorded transit. Atmosphere?”

Last recorded—?!
“Uh, atmosphere? Yes,” Dairine said.
Atmosphere’s got to be a good idea…

“Atmosphere parameters?”

“Umm…” She thought back to what she remembered about this from science class. “Fifteen percent oxygen, eighty percent nitrogen, five per-cent carbon dioxide.”

“Mix proportions approximate Terran sea-level parameters. Default to those proportions and that pressure, or specify other?”

“Default.”

“Estimated time to spend at transit location?”

Like I have the slightest idea how long I want to spend off planet my first time! Days!
Weeks!
…But I haven’t had lunch.
“…One hour.”

“Transit data complete,” said the computer calmly. “Ready to transit. Verbal confirmation required. Transit command ‘run.’ ”

“Run,” Dairine said.

And everything slewed sideways and upside down.

Or no, the world stayed the same—but Dairine’s frame of reference suddenly became huger than the whole Earth and the space that contained it, so that her planet seemed only one moving, whirling point plunging along its path through a terrible complexity of forces, among which gravity was a puny local thing and not to be regarded. Up was some other way now; down had nothing to do with the floor. Her stomach rebelled.

And her eyes were seeing things they had never been made to see. Lines and sparks and traces of white fire seemed to tear through her head from her eyes to the back of her skull; they pinned her to the rolling Earth like a feebly fluttering moth to a card. A terrible silence with a deadly sea-roar at the bottom of it, more terrible than the stillness of her Oath-taking, flattened her down with its sheer cold antiquity, a vast weight of years without sound or light or life.
Cosmic rays,
Dairine thought desperately, clutching at reason:
faster-than-light particles, maybe that’s what the light is. But the dark—it’s death, death itself, I’m going to die—

…and the wizardry let her go.

Shakily, staggering, Dairine got to her feet. The first crunch of stones and gravel under her sneakers, instead of tile floor, went through her in a rush of adrenaline as fierce as fire. Her vision cleared. Rusty-beige wasteland stretched away under a pale dim sun, a pallid buttery sky arched over her; the wind sang chill. She turned slowly, looking around. High up in the cold golden day, something small and bright fled across the sky, changing phase as it did so.

“Deimos,”
Dairine whispered. Or maybe it was Phobos, the other of Mars’s two little moons. Whichever it was, it went through half its month in a few minutes, sliding down toward the horizon and down behind something that stood up from it. It was a mountain peak, upraised as if on a pedestal, and so tall that though it came up from far behind the foreshortened horizon, its broad flat base spanned half that horizon easily.

“What is that?” she said, her voice faint with awe: though she thought she knew.

“Syntax error twenty-four,” said the laptop Apple dispassionately. “Rephrase for precision.”

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