High Wizardry New Millennium Edition (7 page)

“Had dinner yet?” Carl called from the kitchen door, which, like the dining room doors, looked out on the backyard. “Annie! Monty! Down!”

“Bad dog! Bad dog! Nonono!” screamed another voice from the same direction: not surprising, since its source was sitting on Carl’s shoulder. This was Machu Picchu the macaw, also known (to her annoyance) as “Peach”: a splendid creature all scarlet and blue, with a three-foot tail, a foul temper, and a precognitive talent that could read the future for months ahead—if Peach felt like it. Wizards’ pets tend to become strange with time, and Seniors’ pets even stranger than usual; and Peach had been with them longer than any of the others. It showed.

“Come on in,” called one last voice: Tom. Kit and Nita pushed Annie and Monty more or less back down to dog level, and made their way into the house through the dining room doors. It was a pleasant, open place, all the rooms running freely into one another, and full of handsome functional furni-ture: Tom’s desk and computer sat in a comfortable corner of the living room. Kit pulled a chair away from the dining table and plopped down in it, still winded from his earlier wizardry. Nita sat down next to him. Carl leaned over the table and pushed a pair of bottles of Coke at them, sitting down and cracking a third one himself. Tom, with a glass of iced coffee, sat down too.

“Hot one today,” Carl said at last, putting his Coke down. Picchu sidled down his arm from his shoulder and began to gnaw thoughtfully on the neck of the bottle.

“No kidding,” Kit said.

“You two look terrible,” said Tom. “What’ve you been up to?”

For answer Nita opened Kit’s manual to the directory and pushed it over to Tom and Carl’s side of the table. Tom read it, whistled softly, and nudged the manual toward Carl. “I saw this coming,” he said, “but not this soon. Your mom and dad aren’t going to be happy. Where did she go?”

“Mars,” Kit said.

“Home,” Nita said.

“Better start at the beginning,” said Carl.

When they came to the part about the worldgate, Carl got up to go for his supervisory manual, and Tom looked at Kit with concern. “Better get him an aspirin too,” Tom called after Carl.

“I’m allergic to aspirin.”

“Acetaminophen, then. You’ll need it. How’d you manage to disalign a patent gateway all by yourself?… But wait.” Tom peered at Kit. “Are you taller than you were?”

“Two inches.”

“That would explain it, then. Hormonal surge.” Tom cleared his throat and looked at Nita. “You, too, huh?”

“Hormones? Yes. Unfortunately.”

Tom raised his eyebrows. “Well. Your wizardry will be a little more accessible to you for a while than it has since you got started. Just be careful not to overextend yourself… it’s easy to overreach your strength just now.”

Carl came back with his supervisory manual, a volume thick as a phone book, and started paging through it. Annie nosed Kit from one side: he looked down in surprise and took the bottle of Tylenol she was carrying in her mouth. “Hey, thanks.”

“Dear God,” Carl said. “She did a tertiary gating, all by herself. Your body becomes part of the gateway forcefields,” he said, looking up at Nita and Kit. “It’s one of the fastest and most effective kinds of gating, but it takes a lot of power.”

“I still don’t get it,” Nita said. “She doesn’t have a manual!”

“Are you sure?” Carl said; and “Have you taken delivery on a computer recently?” said Tom.

“Just this morning.”

Tom and Carl looked at each other. “Thought only Advisory levels and above were supposed to get the software version of the manual just yet,” Carl said.

“Maybe, but she couldn’t have stolen one of those any more than she could have stolen one of the regular manuals. You’re offered it…or you never see it.”

Nita was puzzled. “‘Software version’?”

Tom gave her a wry look. “It’s been in beta,” he said. “You know the way you normally do spells, right? You draw your power diagrams and so forth as guides for the way you want the spell to work, but the actual instructions to the universe are spoken aloud in the Speech.”

“Yeah, of course.”

“And it takes a fair amount of practice to learn to do the vector diagrams and so forth without errors, and a lot of time, sometimes, to learn to speak the Speech properly. More time yet to learn to think in it. Well…” Tom sat down again and began turning his empty glass around and around on the table. “Now that technology’s proceeded far enough on this planet for computers to be commonplace, the Powers have been working with the Senior wizards to develop computer-supported wizards’ manuals. The software draws the necessary diagrams internally, the way a calculator does addition, for example; you get the solution without seeing how it’s worked out. The computer also synthesizes the Speech, though of course there are tutorials in the language as you go along.”

“The project has both useful and dangerous sides,” Carl said. “For one thing, there are good reasons why we use the Speech in spelling. It contains words that accurately describe things and conditions that no Earthly language has words for. And if during a spell you give the computer instructions that’re ambiguous in English, and it describes something inaccurately… well.” He looked grim. “But for the experienced wizard, who already knows the theory he’s working with, and is expert in the Speech, it can be a real timesaver.”

“A lifesaver, too, under special circumstances,” Tom said, looking somber. “You two know how many children go missing in this country every year.”

“Thousands.”

“It’s not all kidnappings and runaways,” Tom said. “Some of those kids are out on their Ordeal. Because they don’t have time to become good with the Speech, they get in trouble with the Lone Power that they can’t get out of. And they never come back.” He moved uneasily in the chair. “Providing them with the wizard’s software may save some of their lives. Meantime…”

Carl turned over a page or two in his manual, shaking his head. “Meantime, I want a look at Dairine’s software; I need to see which version she got. And I want a word with her. If she lights out into the middle of nowhere on Ordeal without meaning the Oath she took, she’s going to be in trouble up to her neck. But also, your folks should know about all this. Easier if we tell them, I think. How ‘bout it, partner?” He looked over at Tom.

“No question. I was about to suggest it myself.”

Nita sagged with relief.

“Good. Your folks busy this afternoon, Neets?”

“Just with the computer.”

“Perfect.” Carl put out his hand, and from its sharger cradle the kitchen phone leapt into his hand. “Anything come up today since I looked at the calendar?”

“Nope, blessedly peaceful for a change…”

“Not that that lasted long,” Carl rolled his eyes for a moment: then focused. “Harry? Hi there, Carl Romeo… Nothing much, I just heard from Nita that you got the new computer in… Yeah, they stopped in on the way home. …Yeah. What did you decide on?… Nice machine, that. Did it hook up all right?” Carl listened for a few seconds to the soft squeaking of the phone, while Picchu chewed idly on Carl’s Coke bottle while keeping one eye on the phone.

Carl’s eyebrows meanwhile went up as he listened. “…Yes, of course I would. It may not have been anything serious, but no harm in looking at it. I was going to ask if we could stop by anyway, there’s something going on with the kids that I’d like to check on… Not at all. Absolutely, that’s perfect. Fine… Fine. See you in a bit. Bye now.”

He hung up. “That was your mom in the background,” he said to Nita, “insisting on feeding us again. I think she’s decided the best thing to do with adult wizards is tame them with kindness and gourmet cuisine.”

“Magic still makes her nervous,” Nita said.

“Or
we
still make her nervous,” Tom said, getting up to shut and lock the patio doors.

“Well, yeah. Neither of them can quite get used to it, that you were their neighbors for all these years and they never suspected you were wizards….”

“Being out in the open,” Tom said, “causes even more problems than ‘passing’… as you’ll have noticed. But the truth works best. Front door locked?” he said to Carl.

“Yup,” said Carl. He looked down at his side in surprise: from the table, Picchu was calmly climbing beak over claw up his shirt. “Bird—”

“I’m going,” said Picchu, achieving Carl’s shoulder with a look of calm satisfaction, and staring Carl right in the eye. “I’m needed.”

Carl shrugged. It was difficult and time-consuming to start fights with a creature who could rip your ear off faster than you could remove her. “You do anything nasty on their rug,” he said, “and it’s macaw croquettes for lunch tomorrow,
capisce?”

Picchu, preening a wing feather back into place, declined to answer.

“Then let’s motor,” Tom said. They headed for the garage.

*

“It really is sleek,” Tom said, “and the documentation’s clear, which is a blessing.” Nita watched with barely suppressed amusement as Tom and her father leaned down together to look at the screen. “But you say it froze on you?”

“Just briefly after Dairine was messing with it, before the kids left. It seems okay now, though: I rebooted it shortly after that, and we went through the setup screen with no trouble. But after that it started freezing up again every now and then.”

“Where’s Dairine, Daddy?” said Nita.

“Up in her room. You two must really have worn her out for her to come home so early.”

“Which train did she take?” Kit said.

“She didn’t say. She looked a little tired when she got in… said she was going to go read or something. Tom, have I got all the connections tight?”

“Everything looks fine from here,” Tom said, examining the back of the machine. “Let’s reboot it and see how it behaves.”

Carl, standing beside Nita, reached around the back of the Apple and hit the reset button. The screen went dark, and then after a moment the start-up chime rang softly again, and the Apple logo came up. But then Nita stared as she realized the apple had no bite out of it.

Nita’s dad’s attention was on that as well. Tom and Carl looked at it, then at each other. “See, I thought I saw that before,” Nita’s dad said, “but I wasn’t sure…”

“Interesting,” Carl said as the screen displayed its wallpaper again, and a couple of rows of icons.

“Uh huh,” Carl said. He reached down to the keyboard and typed control-C, and a window came up into which he typed a long series of characters, too quickly for them to register for Nita as anything but a blur. They disappeared, and a message appeared in the graceful Arabic-looking letters of the wizardly Speech. USER LOG? it said.

“Yes, please,” Carl said. “Authorization seven niner three seven one comma five one eight.”

“Password?” said the computer in a dry, cultured female voice.

Carl leaned near the screen and whispered something.

“Confirmed,” said the computer politely, and began spilling its guts in window after window full of the Speech in a simple clean Apple-ish font. Carl’s attention was on one window in particular, and something came up in it that made his face change suddenly, its expression going rather closed. “Pause,” Carl said. “Harry, you’d better have a look at this.”

Nita’s father got up, brushing himself off, and looked at the screen, and froze. He’d seen the Speech in Nita’s manual more than once, and knew the look of it. “Carl,” Nita’s father said. “What is this?”

Carl looked as if he wished he didn’t have to say anything. “Harry, it wouldn’t be fair to make Nita tell you this… but you seem to have another wizard in the family.”

“What?!”

“Yes,” Carl said, “that was my reaction too. Translation,” he said to the computer.

“Translation of protected material requires double authorization by ranking Seniors and justification filed with Planetary or equivalent,” said the computer, sounding stubborn.

“What’ve you done to my machine!”

“The question,” Tom said, getting up off the floor, “is more like, what has
Dairine
done to it? Or caused to be done to it. Sorry, Harry. This is a hell of a way for you to find out.”

Nita watched her father take in a long breath, then turn toward the stairs. “Don’t call her just yet, Harry,” said Tom. He laid a hand on the computer. “Confirmed authorization one zero zero three oblique zero two. We’ll file the justification with Irina later. Translate.”

The screen’s contents abruptly turned into English. Nita’s father bent over a bit to read it. “‘Oath accepted—’”

“This Oath, Harry,” Carl said. “Display heartcode.”

The computer cleared its screen and displayed one small block of text, dark in its white window. Nita held still while her father read the Wizards’ Oath. There was movement behind her: she looked up and saw her mother, with a peppermill clutched forgotten in one hand, looking over her father’s shoulder with a stricken expression.

“Dairine
took that?” her father said at last.

“So did we, Daddy,” Nita said.

“Yes, but—” He sat down on the edge of the desk, staring at the screen. “Dairine isn’t quite like you two….”

“Exactly. Harry, this is going to take a while. But first, you might call in Dairine. She did something careless this afternoon, and I want to make sure she doesn’t do it again.”

Nita felt sorry for her father; he looked so pale. Her mother went to him, put an arm around him. “What did she do?” she said.

“She went to Mars and left the door open,” said Tom.

Nita’s dad shut his eyes. “She went to
Mars.”

“Just like that…” said her mother.

Carl sighed. “Harry, Nita tells me she took you two to the Moon once to prove a point. Imagine power like that, but used without due care and attention. I need to make sure that’s not going to happen, or I’ll have to put a lock on some of her power. And there are other problems, because that power may be
necessary
for something….” Carl looked stern but unhappy. “Where is she, Harry?”

“Dairine!” Nita’s dad said, raising his voice.

“Yo,” came Dairine’s voice from upstairs, her all-purpose reply.

“Come down here a minute.”

“Do I have to? I’m reading.”

“Now.”

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