Brian W. Antoine
April 5, 1993
I felt like shit. Eight hours straight concentrating on sensing the cellular structure of a living creature, and trying to make sense of what I was seeing, had left me with a headache that was making it difficult to even walk straight. As I stepped back through the gate into the lab I didn't even have enough strength to close it behind me. I just staggered to the easy chair I'd set in the observation pit and collapsed.
I opened my eyes just far enough to throw a dirty look towards the view screen on the wall, then gave up and closed them again. "That's one way to describe it. If Kal ever wants to become a sadist, I'll give her a good recommendation."
"I take it, then, that you got to play student instead of teacher today?"
"Yeah, she was trying to teach me to scan cellular structures in preparation for manipulating them. High school biology was never like this."
"Maybe you should have paid more attention back then."
My only reply was a very rude noise, since I really didn't feel up to gesturing. Kalindra was trying to teach me how to become a healer, just as I was trying to teach both her and Tan how to teleport. We both had skills the other lacked, and had agreed to try cross training. Whether it was age or aptitude, we were both having a hard time of it. Tan, on the other hand, seemed to be catching on much quicker, though he still had quite a few problems with control. Three times during his last lesson he had managed to dematerialize the test object. Of course, it had reappeared as a burst of random energy, but he was on the right track.
Kal had spent the entire class staring at her object, and had yet to get it to do anything except stare back. Still, she was able to shadow me as I did the exercise, so it should only be a matter of time before she managed it on her own. I was having a little better luck with the healing, but she was constantly yelling that brute force was not the answer and that I needed to develop a little finesse.
"Well don't get too comfortable in that chair. I need some answers on the design of some of these subsystems for the ship. I found several databases that gave the formulas, but I need the basic criteria from you, or I'm not going to get very far."
"Shit, no rest for the weary."
"Isn't that suppose to be wicked?"
"Whatever ... What do you need first?"
The next few hours were spent hammering out the design of the life support and sensor systems for the ship that was slowly taking shape on the farside of the moon. I had picked up the metal work for the reactor a month ago and installed the electronics to make it operational. Now Penny was using her remotes to begin fabrication of the basic hull of the ship, using the power from the reactor and the raw materials available on the moon. In a certain sense, she too had been attending school. I'd given her the list of subsystems I wanted available on the ship, and the rough sketch of the hull design. She then began ransacking every database on the planet for programs to turn my rough ideas into reality.
In the past month the hull itself had taken shape and the work had now progressed to the interior. Given about five more months of work the ship just might be ready for its first flight. Thank God for the remotes, otherwise I would have had to do the work myself and it would have taken me years.
"Well, does that give you enough to continue?"
"That should do it for now. I will probably need your help again when it comes time to install and calibrate the main drive. The remotes can't sense the drive balance the way you can and I don't want you to find out that the drive is unbalanced by spreading yourself across the solar system in a burst of radiation."
"Yeah, that would kind of ruin my day. Ok, let me know when you're ready. I've got some homework to do, and if I don't get it done, Kal will have my ears."
"I don't know why she'd want them. They're ugly and stick out way too much."
"Bah! If I try to work through dinner, give me a nudge and I'll grab a bite to eat."
I picked up a jar of stream water and carried it back to the chair. I set it down on the table in front of me, and then got comfortable.
"Ok, now lets find a nice Paramecium and see if I can figure out how the hell you work. Maybe I'll have better luck with something with only one cell to worry about."
Something told me it was going to be a long night.
The jar in front of me didn't look any different the before, but to someone who knew how to look it was screaming with activity. Quietly, I'd been playing with the basic rules as written by ages of evolution. In that tiny jar, one celled creatures were living at a rate that made their cousins seem to crawl. Slowly, and with ever so much care I'd been feeding energy to them and speeding up their rate of reproduction. It was the first step towards learning how to heal larger and more complex organisms.
Over the last few hours I'd been increasing the rate until the normal rate of once per 15 minutes had increased to once per 30 seconds. The whole time I was keeping things balanced so that the tiny cells divided and multiplied true to form, without mutation. I was just starting to increase the rate once more when, without warning, the world, as it was, suddenly changed.
"Huh?" In that instant, the energy that I'd been controlling went wild. The jar of river water, and the tiny creatures that I'd been working with, immediately vaporized as the energy converted to heat. <Foom!>
"Shit!" Water doesn't just vanish, it turns to steam. As I snapped out of my trance, I found myself soaked to the skin with scalding water. "Jesus Christ that hurts!" I began to tear off the clothes I'd been wearing.
"Cute, was that what was suppose to happen?"
Sometimes Pennys sense of humor is much too close to my own to be funny. "What the hell did you interrupt me for? Didn't you see I was deep in my homework?" I tossed my clothes into a pile and grabbed a robe from one of the closets. "There goes several hours worth of work up in steam."
"Um, I didn't interrupt you. I was busy working on the Life Support system design. I only spoke up after you yelled."
"Huh? Now, wait just a minute, I distinctly heard ..." I stopped right there. That hadn't been an audible cry I'd heard, it had been mental. Penny might be able to perform feats that bordered on magic given the capabilities I'd built into her over the years, but that kind of communication was reserved for the living. I opened up my mind and looked for the trace that had proved itself useful so often. In my minds eye, I saw a bright silver ribbon that trailed off into the distance.
"Well, I'll be damned. I think we just acquired a new partner." I kept the trace visible, stepped over to the hologram of the Earth that hovered above the fire pit that I'd built when remodeling the lab a few months back, and activated its sensor array. After I'd discovered how to detect the residue left over by the use of magic. I'd built an orbiting array of sensors that fed a real-time image of the Earth/Moon system back to the lab. The hologram made it much easier to track the various voids that appeared from time to time and just keep a general eye on things.
"Huh? What do you mean partner?"
"Give me a minute." As I mentally followed the trace back to its source, I scanned the hologram for signs of activity. The trace stretched out across the country and then across the Atlantic. Looking at the map before me, I could see a couple of possible origins that lay in its path. "It's got to be one of them ..." Soon the trace dived back towards the planet and zeroed in on a small town in the southern part of Denmark. Looking up at the map I could see a small bright dot that represented a magical field in flux. That was the source of the cry I'd heard.
"Well, it looks like the Earth just gained another Mage. The cry I heard looks like it was the outburst of someone who just surprised the hell out of themselves."
"You've been expecting this?"
"In a way, yes. Since Jon was lost ..." I stopped to think about that whole episode for a moment. "Since Jon was lost, only Kimi and I have been available to stand guard. If the records are right, three is the smallest number that is usually allowed to exist at any given time, historically. There have been fewer, but never for any long period of time."
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, since I hold the title of ArchMage, It's my job to welcome our new friend into the group, and explain just what they have become a part of. If they decide to accept the job, it then becomes my job to train them in the use of their new abilities."
"What if they don't want the job?"
"That's one of the strange parts about the process. I asked Kimi that when she first contacted me, and later read everything in the records I could find about someone refusing. It doesn't happen very often, maybe once in a couple of hundred awakenings. However the ability is passed on, it seems to only transfer to people who will use it as it is intended to be used. If they do refuse, it fades away shortly afterwards, along with any memory of its existence."
"That it does. But weird or not, I think I just acquired a new apprentice. Whoever it is won't have much ability yet. That first spell probably did no more than move an object that they were thinking about, or create a light in mid air. I've got a little time to get ready before I contact them. The ability is very intermittent at first, though it does seem to protect them from being discovered, or trying to tell someone about it that isn't already a mage. Just another one of the mysteries that has never been explained."
I grabbed a small bag and began to pack a few things I would be needing. The most important was a small book that gave a short history of the people who had come before me. Each person who chooses to accept the job offered them got a small description written about them by the person who was to become their teacher. I stopped to scan the last page that had writing on it. It was my description, written by Kimi when I had accepted and joined the long list of people who had come before. The entry just before mine was Jon’s. Sometimes, not often, the ability passed to someone who failed to meet the test of time.
The list stretched back thousands of years and through languages long dead and forgotten. Each person had discovered that they had been granted something special and had accepted the responsibility that went with the ability. My next job, and one I looked forward to, was to introduce the newest member to the family, and to teach them about the wonders they would see.
I closed the bag and grabbed my cloak, and looked around the lab at what I had created. The limits of what could be done were only bounded by my imagination and skill. The skill increased with time and practice, and the imagination seemed boundless. Whoever I was going to meet had just taken their first step into a world of endless wonder.
"Ahem.... Are you planning on trying to scare whoever it is?"
"Take a look at what you’re wearing."
A quick glance showed that even an ArchMage can be forgetful. I'd put on a robe after I doused myself in steaming hot water and forgotten to switch to some dry clothes. I would have made one hell of a sight if I'd showed up like this.
"Oh yeah, I guess I'd better find something a little more suitable to wear." A quick trip home and I was ready to go. This time I wore my standard faded jeans and obscure and mildly obscene T-shirt. I seem to collect the strangest shirts and my friends help me just to see the expression on other peoples faces when I wear them. They would miss this little jaunt, but the thought was there.
"Ok, how's this?"
"Have I reminded you lately that you’re a sick person? Bob and Karen should be ashamed of themselves, and you should find a good shrink."
"That good huh. Thanks!" If Penny'd had a head, she would have been shaking it in despair. Instead, all I got was a rude noise from the terminal that looked out over the lab.
"Ok, now lets find out who our new Mage is." I extended my senses along the trace I'd made. I took a look at the surroundings and got my first look at the source of the disturbance I'd felt.
Sitting alone in what looked like light woods was a young man. At first guess I would have said he was about 15 or 16 years old. The source of the disturbance was a small globe of magelight that he was using to chase birds in the trees around him. From the look on his face he was having a great time, although the birds would have had a few things to say to him had they been able.
I expanded my scan to include the surrounding area, and picked a spot behind a clump of trees and got ready to make my jump. Before I did, however, I raised a shield that would block me from his sight. I wanted to have a little time to watch him up close before I announced my presence. When I was ready, I concentrated and jumped.
I appeared just about where I had expected. I was about 30 feet away from the kid, hidden by a small clump of trees. He shouldn't have been able to detect me, but after the lessons of the last few months, I was not taking any chances. When I was sure he wasn't aware of me, I stepped around the trees and sat down at their base to watch him. He was so engrossed in his game of tag with the birds that I don't think anything short of a scream in his ear would have gotten his attention.
Watching him brought back memories of my first exposure to true magic. I'd played a lot of fantasy games as a student, and had read every science fiction or fantasy book I could get my hands on. One weekend, a group of us had gotten together for a 48 hour gaming session. By the time I got home, I was so punch drunk I could hardly see straight. Unlike the kid in front of me, my first spell had been more destructive than constructive. While getting ready to sack out, I tripped over some junk that I had left in the middle of the floor. Half asleep and pissed as hell, my toes screaming in pain, I'd reacted as I had been doing all weekend to things that annoyed me. I woke up fast when the gesture I'd made at the stuff on the floor resulted in an energy bolt that vaporized about half the stuff and scattered the rest all over the room.
It had taken me 2 months to figure out what I had done and how to reproduce it, but shortly thereafter Kimi showed up and introduced me to the rest of the group, after explaining what they did and asking if I was interested. Since that day years ago the original group was almost gone. The elder of the group, Alston, had died of old age. Kimi had semi-retired after passing the title of ArchMage to me. Jon had joined the group a few years before I did and I still have a cold knot of anger in my gut about how he turned on us. Thank whoever that our battle had never become public.
As I watched the kid in front of me explore his new toy, I decided to join in the fun and see how he reacted. Creating my own globe of magelight behind one of the trees he was zooming around, I waited until his passed close and then took up the chase behind him.
It took him a few seconds before he realized that there were two globes flying around through the trees. When he did, he stopped his in mid zig and sat there staring at mine. I stopped mine a few feet from his and waited to see what his next reaction was going to be.
Almost a minute when by before he snapped out of his shock and began to look around him in a panic. When he didn't see anything he turned back and looked at the twin globes hanging in the air, and I could sense him getting ready to bolt.
*Hey, you're not playing the game right. You going to have to do better then that*
I sent my globe on a collision course with his and as they hit gave him what I hoped was enough of a hint that I meant him no harm. *Tag! You're it!* and I sent my globe off into the trees.
"Huh? Who's there?" He stood up and began to search the area around him.
I dropped my shield and he spotted me sitting there when he turned around. "Hi. You know, you're going to have to learn to play tag better then that. I've got a friend who shows no mercy when it comes to a game of chase."
"Whhhoo... Who are you?"
"A friend. I sensed you when you discovered how to tap into the magic. I know how I felt when I first did it, and I figured you might have a few questions. I'm here to answer them, and invite you to join a small group of people who have made the same discovery."
"Magic? I... I thought it was some kind of psi ability or something."
"Nope, its honest to God, good old fashioned, right out of the fantasy book magic, and you are one of a very few people who have the talent, will, and imagination to use it. Have a seat and I'll tell you a story. By the way, what is your name?"
"I'm Steven-- What kind of a story?"
As he sat down I began to tell him the history of the guardians. As he listened I could see the interest grow in him. Unless I missed my guess, I had a new apprentice and the world had a new guardian. Green he might be, but with my teaching he would soon have enough of the basics to begin to learn on his own.
"The story starts thousands of years ago with a man who truly..."
"So you see, the guardians are protectors of the world, but are sworn not to interfere. We defend against external threats, with our lives if need be, but that's the limit of it. I expect there have been plenty of times over the years when the temptation was enormous to intervene in local politics or prevent some natural disaster. If any of us does attempt to interfere, our abilities either weaken or vanish completely. The basic rule that seems to govern our abilities is that they are not suppose to be known to exist by the population as a whole. That isn't to say that you can't tell anyone at all. You just need to be very choosy about who and how many know what you're capable of doing.
Steven just sat there across from me and absorbed what I had been telling him. I had been talking for several hours and was getting more then a little thirsty.
"So, what do you think? Does it sound like something you want to be involved with?"
"What if I don't? What happens to me?"
"Well, if you decide to bow out, the abilities you have will fade away within the next day or two. You will also find that you can't discuss anything I've told you with anyone and all memory of this conversation will fade away also."
"What if I join, what happens next? Do I vanish to some secret school in the Himalayas or something?"
"Nothing quite so dramatic, I'm afraid. I become your teacher and as you have the time I teach you about the things you will need to know. As you learn, I expect you to begin researching things that interest you, finding out where your strong and weak points are. In the mean time, I'm getting thirsty. Would you like some fruit juice or something?"
"Yeah, what do you have?"
"Wait a second, and I'll check."
Far off in my lab, my lazy draconian friend stirred out of his sleep. In my mind I pictured him picking up a jug of juice from a cabinet in the lab and bringing it to me. I had been practicing it with him for a few weeks now and he had caught on fast. Leaving the link open so he had something to home in on, I sensed him grab one of the several jugs and hovering in midair, and then he jumped to my location.
"Holy shit!" Steven just sat there stared as Smaug dropped the jug into my lap and then landed on my shoulder to stare back at him.
Keeping my best straight face, "Hum... Looks like apple juice this time, want some?" I sat there grinning as the two of them tried to out stare each other.
"I'd give it up if I were you. As far as I can tell, my friend Smaug here has two eyelids and you don't stand a chance of winning a staring contest with him."
"What is he?"
"A friend that picked me for a companion on a world I've visited."
"A world? You've been to another world?"
"Yes I have. If you have the skill, and don't turn out to be xenophobic, I'll take you there some time to meet a rather unique lady."
I poured a glass of juice for myself and one for Steven. He managed to hold it in his hand, but it didn't look as if he was going to have much luck remembering to drink it.
"So, do you think you might be interested in joining our little group? The pay is lousy and the hours terrible, but the things you will get to see and do will more than make up for it. Or at least that's the way I've found it to be."
Steven broke off his contest with Smaug and began to stare at me instead. I could guess what was running though his mind, but the decision was his to make. I'd shown him a little of what he might get to be involved with, but he could still back out. The history written in the little book in my bag had enough examples of people who couldn't handle the world as it could become to warn me that it was possible for almost anyone to be scared enough to turn their back and walk away. As Steven sat there thinking, he started to talk a couple of times and then faded off into silence. I just sat and waited, drinking my juice. After a few minutes Smaug curled up and went to sleep. The whole thing didn't interest him in the least.
"I think... I think I'd like to try it."
"Try? Let me give you one warning. Once you accept the job, your abilities will begin to grow, but if you change your mind at a later date the backlash can be much more severe then just a little memory loss. If you accept, the first lesson I have for you is the ability to comprehend languages you have never heard of. The story I told you is pretty sketchy at best. I've brought a book along that contains a much more detailed history and I will want you to read it. It fills in a lot of the details that I've glossed over at this point."
"Ok, I'll accept that. I still want to give this a try." Looking up at Smaug he got this small smile on his face. "If that is the kind of thing I will get to meet, this is going to be a lot of fun."
I reached up and scratched Smaug on the top of his head. "I can't guarantee you will get as lucky as I have, but the chances are good that since I've broken the path that you will get to use it. My friend here is probably the most normal of the things you might encounter. Now are you sure about this?"
"Yes, I am."
I pulled the book out of my pack and handed it to Steven. "Here is the history I spoke of. It dates from the time of the first guardian until the present." I opened the book to the first blank page. As I did so, the page flared a bright silver and a description of Steven as I had just gotten to know him began to flow across the page as I wrote it with my thoughts. It would fill out during the coming weeks as we got to know each other, some of the comments I would add, others the book itself would update. "Now watch carefully, here is the spell to enable you to read the book..."
I had acquired my first apprentice, and Kimi and I had acquired a new partner. Time would tell how talented he was, but my first impression was that he had the right sense of wonder to go as far as he was capable.
No matter how hard you try there will always be days that will get you down. They occur without notice, and most people don't have a glimmer of a chance to defend themselves, myself included. Someplace or somewhere the gods just decide that you've had too much fun and that it’s time to humble you a little. Given the fun and good fortune I'd been enjoying lately I should probably have been expecting something to happen, but I turned out to be completely unprepared for the massive upheaval that had decided to come pay me a visit.
The final straw, as it were, had presented itself as I returned to my lab after coming home from work. I'd been hoping to spend some time working on my healing skills before joining Kalindra and Tan for another lesson. The two of them never failed to cheer me up and right now I could use a little of that cheer to brighten my day. The first sign of trouble had been a quick message from Kal letting me know that they would not be joining me because of a small emergency that had sprung up. It was nothing to worry about, but they would both be busy and unable to get together with me. Then, the other shoe dropped.
While knocking about the lab, I had spotted the book I had loaned to Steven sitting in its usual place on my desk. I'd been expecting its return, but not quite this soon. That book had quite a lot of history inscribed in it, and Steven should have taken quite a bit longer to have read it. When I picked it up and flipped it open to the part that represented the present, I discovered the reason for its being back.
Steven had changed his mind and abandoned the group. As I read the section that should have now included a description of him, and how he had come to join the group. I now found only his name, a short description of my talk with him, and his decision to pull the plug. Of course, the history as the book had recorded it had used its standard dry language to describe what had happened, but the last sentence told me what I didn't want to know.
'On April 13, 1993 AD., Steven decided to reject his abilities' and destiny based on his feelings' about the history he had read, and his fear of the current ArchMage.'
I remember putting the book down and sitting down in a chair in front of the gateway to Velar. There was one hell of a thunderstorm going on across the gate, and I just sat there and stared into it, my mind numb. God only knows how long I sat there; I have no memory of it at all. If I spent any of the time thinking about the events of the last few days, they made no impact on how I was feeling. I finally became aware of my surroundings when Penny decided to try to get my attention. Lord only knows what she thought of my just sitting there staring off into space.
"Ahh hum-- Brian?"
"Uhhh, can you hear me?"
"Isn't it getting a little uncomfortable just sitting there?"
"Hello? Are you listening to me?"
"HEY BOSS! The Iranian's just launched a nuke at Jerusalem!"
My lack of coherent response must have gotten her worried as very few things can. Her next attempt at getting my attention was to detonate the drive unit of one of her remotes directly behind my chair. She had shielded the explosion using the defense fields of several other remotes, but the explosion and energy release got through the fog I had worked myself into and triggered the defensive reactions we had worked so hard together to train into me. When I came to, I was in a crouch facing the direction of the explosion with my shields cranked so high they were arcing to everything in my immediate area.
When I couldn't detect any threat, I began to release the energy I'd poured into the shields, and started looking around to find out what had happened.
"Well, at least something got through to you. Do you have any idea how long you've been sitting there? Not making a sound, just sitting there watching the storm."
"No, I've no idea. I'm not sure I care either." I picked up the chair I'd been sitting in and set it in front of the gate again.
"Oh, no you don't! I haven't got enough remotes to keep getting your attention that way. Either talk to me, or go someplace where I don't have to watch you turn into some kind of vegetable."
I just turned around and stared at the view screen on the wall. After a few minutes I picked up the chair and returned it to its normal resting place. That done, I turned and walked across the lab to the gate the lead back to my apartment.
"Wait! I didn't mean it!"
I stopped in front of the gate and looked back over my shoulder at the view screen. "I know, I just have to work this out by myself. I've screwed up worse than I ever have before and it's up to me to deal with it. Keep an eye on things until I get back."
"How long will that be?"
"I really don't know ..." I stepped through the gate.
Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.