High Wizardry New Millennium Edition (8 page)

The ceiling creaked a little, the sound of Dairine moving around her room. “What have I done to deserve this?” said Nita’s father to the immediate universe.

“Harry,” Carl said glancing at the computer screen and away again, “this may come as a shock to you…”

“Carl, I’m beyond shocking. I’ve walked on the Moon without a spacesuit and seen my eldest daughter turn into a whale. That my youngest should go to Mars on a whim…”

“Well, as to what you’ve done to deserve it…you have a right to know the answer. The tendency for wizardry comes down to the kids through
your
side of the family.”

That was a surprise to Nita. As for her dad, he looked stricken, and her mother looked at him with an expression that was faintly accusing. Carl said, “You’re related to the first mayor of New York, aren’t you?”

“Uh, yeah… he was—”

“—a wizard, and a considerable talent. One of the youngest Seniors in recent history, in fact. The talent in your line’s considerable; too bad it missed you, but it does skip generations without warning. Was there something odd about one of your grandparents?”

“Why, my—” Nita’s father swallowed and looked as if he was suddenly remembering something. “I saw my grandmother disappear once. I was about six. Later I always thought I’d imagined it….” He swallowed again. “Well, that’s the answer to why me. The next question is, why Dairine?”

“She’s needed somewhere,” said Carl. “The Powers value the status quo too highly to violate it without need. It’s what we’re defending, after all. Somewhere out there is a life-or-death problem to which only Dairine is the answer.”

“We just need to make sure she knows it,” said Tom, “and knows to be careful. There are forces out there that aren’t friendly to wizards—” He broke off suddenly as he glanced over at the computer screen. “Carl, you should see this.”

They all looked at the screen. user log, it said, and under the heading were listed a lot of numbers and what Nita vaguely recognized as program names. “Look at that,” Tom said, pointing to one. “Those are the spells she did today, using the computer. A huge amount of online memory used and storage invoked, in the yottabytes. A lot of it in one session, the latest one—at 16:52 hours—”

“That’s what… about ten of five?” Nita’s mother said. “She wasn’t even here then….”

The stairs creaked as Dairine came down them into the living room. She paused a moment, halfway, as well she might have done with all those eyes and all those expressions trained on her… her father’s bewildered annoyance, her mother’s indignant surprise, Tom’s and Carl’s cool assessment, Nita’s and Kit’s expectant looks.

Then Dairine hesitantly walked the rest of the way down. “I came back,” she said abruptly.

Nita waited for more. Dairine said nothing.

Nita’s parents exchanged glances, evidently having the same thought: that a Dairine who said so little wasn’t normal. “Baby…” her mother said, sounding uncertain, “you’ve got some explaining to do.”

But Carl stepped forward and said, “She may not be able to explain much of anything, Betty. Dairine’s had a busy day with the computer. Isn’t that so, Dairine?”

“Don’t want to talk about it,” Dairine said.

“I think it’s more like you can’t,” said Carl.

“Look at the user log, Harry,” Tom said from behind Nita and Kit. “Huge storage space spent on a single program run. A copy program. And run, as you say, when she wasn’t even here. There’s only one answer to that.”

Slowly, as if he were looking at a work of art, Carl walked around Dairine. She watched him nervously. “Even with unlimited available memory and a computer running wizard’s software,” Carl said, “there’s only so much fidelity a copy can achieve. Making hard copies of dumb machinery, even a computer itself, that’s easy. Dairine did that once before moving on to more advanced work.”

Carl kept walking around Dairine. She didn’t move, didn’t speak. “Carl, come on,” Nita’s father said from behind her, “cut it out. You’re scaring her.”

“I think not,” Carl said. “There’s only so much you can do with a copy… especially when the original’s a living thing. The copy’s responses are limited. See, there’s something that lives inside the hardware, inside the meat and nervous tissue, that can’t be copied. Brain, sure, no problem copying that. But mind? That’s tougher work. And soul—there’s no copying that at all. Those are strictly one to a customer, at least on this planet.”

The air was singing with tension. Nita glanced at Kit, and Kit nodded, for he knew as well as she did the feel of a spell in the working. Carl was using no words or gestures to assist in the spell he was buildling, nothing but the slow certain pressure of his mind as he thought in the Speech. “She copied the computer into a smaller more mobile format and took it to the city with her,” Carl said, “then got away when she could. And after she’d left Earth, she decided—I’d imagine—that she wanted some time to sightsee. But, of course, you’d rightly object to that. So she copied something else, to buy herself some time.”

The spell built and built in power, and the air around them all began to sing the note ears sing in silence, but much louder. “Nothing not its own original can exist in this room,” Carl said, “once I turn the spell loose. Harry, you’re having trouble believing this, are you? You think I’d treat your real daughter this way?”

Nita’s father said nothing.

“Run,” Carl said softly.

Dairine vanished. Air imploded into the place where she had been, and all around the room, paperwork ruffled or blew about in the sudden wind, then slowly settled.

Nita’s father put his face in his hands.

Her mother looked sharply at Tom and Carl. “I’ve known you two too long to think you were toying with us,” she said as Carl went to sit down slowly on the sofa, looking pale. “You said something a moment ago about forces that weren’t friendly…”

“Nita’s told you some of what wizards are for,” Tom said, looking at Carl in concern, then up again. “Balance. Maintenance of the status quo; protecting life. There are forces that are ambivalent toward life. One in particular theld Itself aloof from creation, a long time ago, and when everyone else was done, It created something none of the other forces had thought of: death. And the longest Death… the running-down of the Universe. The other Powers cast It out… and they’ve been dealing with the problem, and the Lone Power, ever since.”

“Entropy,” Nita’s mother said, looking thoughtful. “That’s an old story.”

“It’s the only story,” Tom said. “Every sentient species has it, or learns it.” He looked over at Nita’s father, who was recovering somewhat. “I’m not about to pass judgment on whether the Lone One’s invention was a good idea or not. There are cases for both sides, and the argument has been going on since time was set running. Every being that’s ever lived has argued the case for one side or the other, whether it’s been aware of it or not. But wizards fight the great Death, and the lesser ones, consciously… and the Entity that invented death takes our interference very personally. New wizards always meet it in one form or another, on their Ordeals. Some survive, if they’re careful. Nita and Kit were careful… and they had each other’s help.”

“‘Careful’ is not Dairine’s style,” Nita’s mother said, sounding rueful. “And she’s alone.”

“Not for long,” Tom said. “We’ll track her, and see that she has help. But I think Nita will have to go. She knows Dairine’s mind fairly well.”

“I’m going too,” said Kit.

Carl, still ashen from the exertion of his spell, shook his head. “Kit, your folks don’t know you’re a wizard. You might have to be gone for quite a while—and I can’t sell you two a time warp as I did once before. My time-jurisdiction stops at atmosphere’s edge.”

“I’ll tell them what I am,” Kit said.

Nita turned and stared at him.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, since you told your folks,” he said to her. “You handled it pretty well,” he said to Nita’s parents. “I should give my mom and dad the benefit of the doubt.” The words were brave: but Nita noticed that Kit looked a little worried.

“Kit, you’ll have to hurry,” Tom said. “She’s got a long lead on you, and the trail will get cold fast. Neets, where would Dairine want to go?”

Nita shook her head. “She’s always read a lot of science fiction. Books, comics…”

Carl looked worried. “Any Heinlein?”

“Some,” Nita said. “But right now she’s mostly hot for Star Wars.”

“That’s something, at least. With luck she won’t think of going much farther than a few galaxies over. Anything in particular about Star Wars?”

“Darth Vader,” Kit said. “She wants to beat him up.”

Tom groaned and ran one hand through his hair. “No matter what the reason,” he said, “if she goes looking for darkness, she’ll find it.”

“But Darth Vader’s not real!” said Nita’s mother.

Tom glanced at her. “Not
here.
Be glad.”

“A few galaxies over…” Nita’s father said to no one in particular.

Carl looked grim. “She can be tracked, but we’d best start working on it before the trail gets too cold. At any rate, Tom and I can’t go.”

“Now,
wait
a minute…” Nita’s mother said.

Carl looked at her gently. “We’re not normally allowed to leave the Solar System without sanction from quite high up,” he said. “There are reasons. Would you normally get out of a car you were driving?”

Nita’s mother stared.

“We’ll get you support,” Tom said to Nita and Kit. “Wizards everywhere we can reach will be watching for you. And as for a guide—”

“I’ll go,” said Picchu abruptly, from the computer table.

Everyone stared, most particularly Nita’s mother and father.

“Sorry, I should have mentioned,” Carl said. “Peach is a collleague. Bird, isn’t this a touch out of your usual remit?”

“I told you I was needed,” Picchu said irritably. “And I am. I can see the worst of what’s going to happen before it does; so I should be able to keep these two out of most kinds of trouble. But you’d better stop arguing and move. If Dairine keeps throwing away energy the way she’s doing, she’s going to attract Someone’s attention… and the things It sends to fetch her will make Darth Vader look like a teddy bear by comparison.”

Nita’s mother looked at Carl and Tom. “Whatever you have to do,” she said, “do it!”

“Just one question,” Tom said to Picchu. “What do They need her for?

“The Powers?” Picchu said. She shut her eyes.

“Well?”

“Reconfiguration,” said Picchu, and opened her eyes again, looking surly. “Well? What are you staring at? I can’t tell you more than I know. Are we going?”

“Gone,” Nita said. She headed out of the room for her manual.

“I’ll meet you in the usual place when I’m done,” Kit called after her, and vanished. Papers flew again, leaving Nita’s mother and father looking anx-iously at Carl and Tom.

“Powers,” Nita heard her father say behind her. “Creation. Forces from before time. This is—this business is for saints, not children!”

“Even saints have to start somewhere,” Carl said softly. “And it’s always been the children who save the Universe from the previous generation, and remake the Universe in their own image.”

“Just be glad yours are conscious of the fact that that’s what they’re doing,” Tom said.

Neither of her parents said anything.

In her bedroom, Nita grabbed her manual, bit her lip, said three words, and vanished.

Randomization

Dairine did not go straight out of the Galaxy from Mars. Like many other wizards when they first cut planet-loose, she felt that she had to do a little local sightseeing first.

She was some while about it. Part of this was caused by discomfort. The jump from Earth to Mars, a mere forty-nine million miles, had been unsettling enough, with its feeling of first being pinned to a wildly rolling ball and then violently torn loose from it. But it hadn’t been too bad.
Piece o’ cake,
Dairine had thought, checking the transit directory in the computer.
Somewhere out of the Solar System next. What’s this star system? R Leporis? It’s pretty close….
But she changed her mind, and headed for the moons of Jupiter instead… and this turned out to be a good thing. From Mars to Jupiter, bypassing the asteroid belt, was a jump of three hundred forty-one million miles; and the huge differences between the two planets’ masses, vectors, and velocities caused Dairine to become the first Terran to lose her lunch on Jupiter’s (then) outermost satellite, Ananke.

The view did more than anything else to revive her—the great banded mass of Jupiter swiftly traversing the cold night overhead, shedding yellow-red light all around on the bluish methane snow. Dairine sat down in the dry, squeaky snow and breathed deeply, trying to control her leftover heaves. Where she sat, mist curled up and snowed immediately down again as the methane sublimated and almost instantly recrystallized to solid phase in the bitter cold. Dairine decided that getting used to this sort of travel gradually was a good idea.

She waited until she felt better, and then began programming—replenishing her air and planning her itinerary, asking the computer to flag some interesting planets for her to visit. She also sat for a while examining the configuration screens of the transit programs themselves, to see if she’d been doing something wrong to cause her to feel so awful… and to see if perhaps she could tweak the programs a little to get rid of the problem. But quickly she realized that, in the short term anyway, she was no match for the programs’ complexities, which were considerable. And they had to be, to handle all the vector changes involved in interplanetary and interstellar transport. Earth spins at seventeen thousand miles an hour, plows along its orbital path at a hundred seventy-five thousand; and the Sun takes it and the whole Solar System off toward the constellation Hercules at a hundred fifteen thousand miles an hour. Then the Sun’s motion as one of innumerable stars in the Sagittarius Arm of the Galaxy sweeps it along at some two million miles an hour, and all the while relationships between individual stars, and those of stars to their planets, shift and change…

It all meant that any one person standing still on any planet was in fact traveling a crazed, corkscrewing path through space, at high speed: and the disorientation and sickness were apparently the cause of suddenly, and for the first time, going in a straight line, in a universe where space itself and every-thing in it is curved. Dairine looked and looked at the transit programs, which could (as she had just proved) leave you standing on the surface of a satellite three hundred fifty million miles away from where you started—not half embedded in it, not splatted into it in a bloody smear because of some forgotten vector that left you still moving a mile a second out of phase with the surface of the satellite, or at the right speed, but in the wrong direction…. And finally she decided not to mess. A smart programmer quickly learns not to try to improve on what’s already working… at least, not till it’s safe to try.
Maybe the transits’ll get easier,
she thought.
At least now I know not to eat right before one….

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