Working Vacation

By

Brian W. Antoine

November 21, 1992

Chapter One

"Telemetry terminated at 02:30:57.001394, and the link is dead."

"DAMNIT! Six months worth of work and the last of my cash and all I have to show for it is a cloud of plasma and a crater."

This is not what I had been hoping for when Penny and I had begun the trial run of the reactor about 2 hours ago. After months of simulations and safety checks, I thought we had everything covered.

"Ok, what were the last readings you received, and can you tell if the flash was visible here on Earth?"

"Two seconds before loss of signal we had a fluctuation in the containment field. The fail-safe tripped and shut the matter/anti-matter converter down, but there was enough already in the containment vessel to flash when the field dropped. It appears that one of the braces holding the field generators failed. I show a weakening of the field in quadrant 16 just before loss of signal. The field must have failed and the plasma detonated when it came in contact with the reactor components. There was only .00013 grams of anti-matter in the chamber, so the flash couldn't have been visible around the edge."

"Well thank God for that at least. I can just see the headlines as everyone tried to explain why the moon seemed to have been lit by something behind it during the night. The press and nut cases would have had a field day."

Very early on I had decided that testing the reactor on Earth was not something I wanted to take a chance on. Penny had helped create a remote test lab on the farside of the moon, after I had managed to teleport that far. She had handled the construction via remote waldos, with me providing the materials as needed. It looked as if our caution had just saved both of our lives, and those of everyone in the area around Antoine Peak, where my main lab was located.

"Well, got any bright ideas? That reactor is the only thing I could design that would power the main drive, and I don't have the money to try building another one. I can't get it built by any commercial firm, they'd ask too many questions, and judging from the crater we just created I can't build it myself."

"You still rule out creating it with magic?"

"Absolutely. If I use magic, and we ever pass through a void, the thing would fall apart. Magic in one of the fail safe's, yes. In the main design, no way."

"And you don't know anyone that could build it on the sly?"

"Nope. If I wanted to brew beer, or learn to ride a motorcycle, no problem. But build something like that reactor vessel, not a chance."

"Hummmmm. Ok, if you can't get it built here, how about somewhere else?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, why don't you check with Kalindra, and see if she knows anyone who could build it. Her world has a high enough technology level to be able to handle fabricating the thing, and they sure owe you a favor after what you did for them."

Now it was my turn to think. The metal work involved in building the reactor should be well within the capabilities of her people, and they did owe me a good sized favor. About seven years earlier Id been jolted from a sound sleep by the echo of what I, at the time, had thought was a cry for help. It turned out I was right, but the days and weeks that followed read like a 50s sci-fi story. With the help of Kimi, whod been the ArchMage at the time, Id learned out to trace the call I was hearing. In the course of that work both she and I had come to the same ridiculous, but only viable explanation we could think of; the call I was hearing did not originate from Earth. On a night Id remember for the rest of my life I managed to open a gate through space-time to get to her.

Luckily, I could open a gate without having been to the destination already. My maximum teleport range was a distance of about two light seconds, which was why the test lab was on the moon, instead of someplace in the asteroid belt. I had gotten the gate open and passed through it just in time to help her prevent the destruction of the world she lived on by a chunk of rock and ice that had decided to change its orbit. After we recovered from both the initial culture shock, and the effort of destroying that damned asteroid, we became pretty good friends. I visited her every couple of months, and she visited me once or twice a year, when it was safe to do so. Her people definitely adjusted better to my appearance than someone in Spokane would to hers, though it was still funny to watch the reaction of travelers passing through her home when I was there.

"Yeah, that might just work. But I think that I'd prefer to trade for the reactor. Kal's a fair Mage, but not quite up to my level. There must be something I can do that would be worth the price of the reactor and not make it feel like I was trading their lives for a funny shaped hunk of metal. I helped because I could, not because I wanted something in return. I want this to be a fair exchange of services."

"Well, think of things they might need and I'll get together the stuff I wanted to send to her. I have another dress made up for her and you haven't been to visit her for awhile so you can deliver it for me."

"You know, you ought to just open a shop there and cut Kal in on a percentage. I'm sure she could find someone to run it for you."

"I'll keep it in mind."

"Ok, get your package together, and make me a set of blueprints for the reactor. I'll contact Kal and arrange for a visit just after Thanksgiving. The holiday weekend would be a good time for a visit, and I shouldn't be missed here."

I had set the alarm for about 10:30 Thursday night. That would give me a few hours sleep after the annual Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunts, before I set off on my vacation and business trip to visit Kalindra. Of course the best laid plans never work out as you want them to. The family had decided to go see the new Disney movie "Aladdin" after dinner, then we returned to my aunts for pie. It was almost 8:00 before I got home and tried to catch a nap before leaving.

"Penny?"

"Yes?"

"I'm going to try and catch a few hours sleep before I leave. If I try and sleep through the alarm, will you make sure to kick me out of the sack?"

"No problem. I've got all the stuff together in the lab you requested and I'll be more then happy to make sure you get up," with the later comment trailing off into an EVIL chuckle.

Great, that certainly made me look forward to the alarm. I'd get up now just to avoid finding out how she planned to wake me up.

Chapter Two

I was out of the bed by the second ring of the alarm. "I'm up! I'm up!"

From the den, around the corner, came a voice that sounded like a little girl pouting. "Rats. Now I'll never find out how good a conductor the bed frame is."

"Some friend you are, or should that be fiend instead?

"Go back to bed and find out."

"No thanks," and I wandered off towards the shower. It was going to be quite awhile before I got a chance to get any sleep again, and I needed to pop a couple of antihistamine's before I made the trip, so I grabbed a couple from the medicine cabinet and threw the rest into my travel bag. Being allergic to animal dandruff was sure a pain, especially when visiting a world like Velar that was populated by people who wore more fur then clothes. I'd considered trying to cure my allergies with magic a couple of times, but kept deciding not to screw around with my biochemistry when the results could kill as well as cure.

After my shower, I packed some things I would need for my trip into my carryall, and got ready to leave. "Penny, please remember to record the Jonny Quest Cartoon Festival for me. They have never released most of the series on tape, and this might be my only chance to see them again."

"No problem, I've got your recorder all programmed for you. Have a good trip, and say hello to Kalindra for me."

"Will do. I'm going to leave the gate open enough to punch a signal through if an emergency occurs, otherwise I'll see you Sunday night." I picked up my bag and walked into the bedroom. Behind the bedroom door was the gate that I had created for local travel. I stepped in front of it, and concentrated to gather the energy to activate it. I lightly sketched the outline of a doorway on the wall, and the gate came to life in front of me. Around it were symbols that represented various destinations, and I focused on the symbol for my laboratory under Antoine Peak. The wall shifted from its normal white color to jet black, and then the lab snapped into focus. I stepped through, letting the gate close behind me.

Behind me was what appeared to be a normal door, although it was for appearance only. The opposite wall of the lab was bare rock, with an arch carved into the center of it. The arch itself was outset from the wall about six inches, and had a single word carved along the top. Kalindra had written the word Velar out for me in their language, and I had carved it into the arch. I stopped and picked up the last few things I would need for my trip. From a wooden chest I took an embroidered cloak, and the staff that was the symbol of my profession. The back of the cloak was embroidered with the image of an Arctic Wolf. The artisan who had created the cloak for me, at Kal's insistence, had done a beautiful job, even though the animal he had imaged was not of his world. I emptied my pockets, except for my good luck piece, and replaced my pocket watch with one that had been given to me as a present. The new watch never left the area of the lab, as I didn't want to have to explain the markings, nor try to explain why it wanted to keep time to a day that was almost 27 Terran hours long. I double checked the time to verify that it was about an hour after sunrise on Velar, then slid the watch into my pocket.

After pausing for a yawn, it was time to get going. I stepped over to the arch and began to draw on the power to activate it. When I was ready, I touched the end of the staff to the top of the arch and released the energy I had accumulated. A faint hum began to originate from the stone, and I could feel a faint vibration from the arch itself. The last step was to touch the carving of the word Velar and pronounce it aloud.

With this, the space defined by the arch began to glow white, and then to clear into a view of my destination. The image shimmered slightly because of the quarantine field I had included in the original spell. I was pretty sure that there were no bugs that could survive on the wrong side of the barrier, but didn't want to take any chances. Anyway, time was wasting, so I stepped through the gate and began my vacation.

I stepped through and emerged at the edge of a meadow. The Velan side of the gate was a free standing stone arch that Kalindra had created for me. Without it, the gate exit point would have wandered around over time. We had decided to anchor it in one spot, and had picked the meadow I was standing because it was close to the town she lived in, but was in a fairly isolated area. Not that the people living in the area didn't know that it was there, they just respected our wish for privacy and didn't disturb it.

There was just enough light to illuminate the meadow and the forest that surrounded it. The sun had not yet peeked over the tops of the trees yet, so it looked as if I had come through just about the time I had aimed for. I checked the sky to see what kind of weather was due. It was spring on Velar, and I didn't want to get caught by an unexpected rain shower. Luck was with me, and except for a few nice fluffy clouds, the sky looked pretty clear.

Of course it was green instead of blue, but I wasn't going to complain. Penny had figured out at one time that the color was caused by a combination of the lighter gravity, about 90 percent normal, a slightly thinner atmosphere, and a different average size of the dust particles suspended within it. Those combined to reflect more of the green wavelengths rather then the blue I was use to. I hadn't worried about it except the one time I had brought my camera with me. Kodak had never had green in mind when they color balanced the film they sold, the whole batch of pictures had turned out terrible. Anyway, it made for a pretty sight once you got use to it.

I started walking across the meadow towards a path that led to the main road into town. I wove my way through the forest for about half a mile before coming to the edge of the road. Here I stopped and checked for any traffic heading into town. It was only about another mile and a half to Kalindras, but being a lazy SOB I'd rather have hitched a ride than walked. Unfortunately, it was still a little early for any of the locals to be traveling yet, so I started off on foot.

After about 10 minutes the forest began to thin out along the sides of the road and I began to see the local farms appear. After another few minutes I spotted a couple of workers out in one of the fields. One of them looked my direction and spotted me about the same time that I spotted him. I was pretty sure I recognized him and waved as I walked by. His partner must have been new to the area, because when I was pointed out to him, he did a double take, before taking off at a dead run for the farm house. I could hear the first guy laughing as he took off after his friend to explain who I was. Velan's have a keen sense of humor and enjoy practical jokes. Springing me on his friend that way was going to be considered good fun by the other farm hands, although I was sure that revenge would be had in the end.

A little more time passed and I began to reach the edge of town. I passed several more people on my way to Kalindra's house, greeting them as I passed. I had been studying the Velan language for a number of years, and was finally at the point where I didn't need to use Kal's translation trick to make myself understood. Of course I still got kidded about my terrible accent. Taking those Japanese lessons had sure helped here. I had gotten use to speaking and hearing a language that bore no resemblance to English.

I rounded the last corner and ahead of me was Kal's house. She lived in a small place at the end of the road, and the house was surrounded on two sides by one of the many wooded areas that Velan's had preserved even in the hearts of their towns. I checked my watch, it was about midmorning. She should be awake and waiting for me, though I wouldn't have bet money on it. I wasn't the only lazy wizard around, Kal liked to stay up late and sleep in even more than I did. Oh well, if she had overslept I'd wake her up in a hurry.

As I knocked on the door I sensed a mental probe from the rear of the house. That was where Kal's workroom was and it felt like her touch so she must have managed to get up on time. The probe vanished and I heard someone coming to the door. When it opened, it wasn't Kal standing there, but a kid maybe 9 or 10 years old. Velan's mature about that age normally, and do most of their growing by that time, but this kid could not have been more than about four feet tall, and looked scared to death. We stood there staring at each other for about 10 seconds, until I decided to break the deadlock.

I knelt down in front of the kid and said, "Boo!".

That did it. The kid turned and went screaming down the hallway, towards the back of the house.

"Hummm. That may not have been a good idea."

In about 5 seconds, Kal came tearing around the corner of the hallway, running towards the doorway with her staff in her hands. I could feel the buildup of power, and was preparing to deflect it, when she realized it was me and skidded to a stop in the doorway.

"What the hell did you do? Tan is hiding under a bench in my workroom crying about monsters trying to devour him!"

Uh oh, I think I just screwed up. "Tan? Monsters? I'm no monster, and who is Tan?"

"Tan is my new apprentice."

Apprentice? Yep, I just screwed up royal. Shit... "Well, I may have scared him when he answered the door. He didn't seem to be expecting me." Kal gave me a look that said she didn't believe me, but seemed to cool down a little after that.

"Hummm. Yeah, I might have forgotten to tell him that you were coming to visit today. I've told him about you, but you might have caught him by surprise."

"Well, shall we try to calm him down? I don't want the apprentice of the Mighty Kalindra turning me into a newt when I'm not looking," and I smiled.

That got a smile in response. "Yeah, come along you idiot. I'll introduce you proper," and we both started down the hallway to the workroom.

"Stay here for a moment," and she indicated a spot just out of sight of the workroom doorway. "Tan, come out of there. That's no monster at the doorway, it's my friend Brian. He may be an idiot," and she looked back over her shoulder in my direction, "but he's no monster."

It didn't sound as if Tan believed her, but I could hear him moving.

"Come on, I've told you about him, and he's here for a visit. Is this the way you greet visitors?"

"No maam, but he sure looks like a monster to me."

"Well he's not, so come out from under there and say hello."

"Yes maam."

I peeked around the corner as Tan began to crawl out from under the bench. As he stood up, I stepped around the corner and then knelt in front of him. "Look, I'm sorry about that. Sometimes my brain doesn't react in time to keep the rest of me from doing something stupid. I shouldn't have tried to scare you like that." I was still carrying my travel bag with me, and had a sudden inspiration. I reached for the bag and opened one of the side pockets. Inside were several bags of lemon candy drops, and I grabbed one and tore it open. I held the bag out and said, "Here, this will cheer you up. Friends?"

Tan looked at me and then the bag I was holding. I could see his nose twitching as he caught the smell of the lemon drops. He slowly reached out, watching me the whole time, and then grabbed a couple of the candies, and snatched his hand back. I grabbed a couple of the drops and popped them into my mouth. This was apparently all Tan needed, as he popped one in his mouth and began to suck on it.

"Hummmm.... good!"

"Yep, good stuff," and I winked at him as I turned to put the bag away.

"Hold it a minute! You pass that bag this direction, or prepare to do battle," and Kal reached for the bag.

I had discovered long ago that Kal loved these stupid lemon drops, and so made it a point of bringing some along when I came to visit. There was no equivalent to the lemon on Velar, and the way she went for the stupid things I'd swear she was addicted to them. I pulled back and turned away from her to face Tan again. "I don't know about that. Candy is for kids, and you seem to be putting on a little extra weight anyway," and I winked at Tan again and got a grin in return.

All Kal did for several seconds was sputter. "What! What do you mean I'm getting fat? You don't have to worry about being turned into a newt. I'm going to find something much more appropriate for you! Getting fat, indeed."

I scooted over by Tan and turned to face Kal. "Hah, this is the welcome I get. I travel all this way, and what do I get? Threats and abuse. I think I'll leave. I don't have to stay here and endure this kind of treatment. I've got people back home who will be happy to see me." I started to put the bag of candy away, when I caught a thought from Kal.

*Ok, I think he's calmed down enough now, and don't you dare put that candy away.*

I grinned at her and turned to Tan. "Do you think she deserves any after the way she's acted?"

Tan looked at me, then looked over at Kal. "Yeah, she didn't mean it. Besides, she will be impossible to live with until she gets some. Everyone in town knows about her sweet tooth. She keeps two candy shops in business all by herself," and then he moved behind me and peeked around to see the reaction.

All Kal could do was sputter again for a few seconds.

"Humph. No respect... No respect at all, even from my own apprentice. What's the world coming to?"

"Oh well, I know how to take your mind off your problems, here." I tossed the bag to her as I stood up.

"Well, now that that is cleared up, got anything to drink? That's a good hike from the gate to here, and I'm kind of parched."

"Yeah, come along. I've got something that will take care of you. Then you can tell me about this silly machine you want built."

The three of us walked out of the workroom and headed for the kitchen. Things might have started out a little rocky, but everything seemed to be ok now. I had three days of vacation ahead of me, and intended to enjoy every minute of it.

Chapter Three

Kal finished pouring me a glass of something that tasted a little like apple juice, and sat down opposite me at the table, "Ok, so just what is this machine you need built?"

"Well, its kind of hard to explain. First off, I don't need the whole machine built. I've already got most of the internal electronics and stuff. What I need is the housing that holds it all. Here, let me show you what I mean." I reached down and open the travel bag I had brought along and pulled out two sets of engineering diagrams, one labeled in English, the other in Velan.

"I had Penny create a translated copy to give to whoever takes the job." I spread out the Velan version of the blueprints and began describing what I wanted. "What I need is the basic chassis to mount the electronics in, and to act as a shield for the conversion chamber. Getting something like this made in my world would cost more then I can afford, so I thought I would see if I could get it made here where I can trade some service for the thing."

"Well... I'm no engineer, so I'm not sure what youre showing me. Is there anything special about its construction?"

"For the most part, no. The only thing special is the metal sphere for the conversion chamber itself. It's a special alloy that may not be available here. One of the things that I may have for trade is the composition of the alloy itself. I've brought along some information about advanced metallurgy that I had Penny translate." I reached into my bag again and pulled out a small book. "This contains information about some of the latest metallurgical discoveries made on my world. Composition, manufacturing techniques, and some odds and ends that I thought may be of interest."

"Well, if there is anything in there that really is new, I would expect that we will have very little trouble finding someone to build your whatever it is for you." Kal looked out the window and hummed to herself for a minute, while sipping her juice. "I may know someone who can do the work. Let me check and see if he is available today, and if he would be interested. I'll be back in a few minutes." She stood up and headed towards her workroom.

I sat drinking my juice and enjoying the view out the window. It was going to be a beautiful spring day, quite a change from the cold winter I'd just come from. While I was sitting there, Tan walked in and sat down at the table. He kept stealing glances at me and seemed to want to ask me something, but looked afraid to talk.

"So, youre Kalindra's new apprentice. You must be something special to deserve the attention of the ArchMage herself." It's too bad Velan's can't blush, I would swear he would have turned bright red. Instead, all I got was a small sheepish smile, and another glance my direction.

"Well my teachers recommended that my parents find someone good to teach me when my talent first appeared. Everyone that tested me kept passing me further along, saying they weren't qualified to teach me what I was going to need to know. I eventually came here because there was no one left."

He still wouldn't look at me directly, but I detected a hint of pride in his speech. "Well if Kalindra agreed to teach you, then you must have at least the potential to meet her on her own grounds. Listen and remember everything she teaches, and your life will never be boring, I promise you."

Now he turned and met my gaze. "Yes sir! I will! Besides, its fun!"

I liked the way that sounded. Tan sounded like one of those rare students that enjoyed learning, rather than one who simply endured it. About this time Kal returned, and Tan hopped off the chair, and stood waiting to see what she did.

She smiled and sat down. "Well are you up for a short trip?"

"How short?"

"I contacted an old friend who lives about 3 hours shuttle ride from here. I described what you wanted, and what you might have to trade, and he seemed very interested. Actually, he was almost drooling at the mouth to get a look at the information you described, but he's always been one to love the search for new things more than everyday work."

"Did he say when we could meet?"

"He's willing to cancel all of his meetings for the day, and will meet us as soon as we can get there."

"Well, it sounds good to me. Let me pack everything up and whenever you can leave is fine with me." I began to pack the blueprints back into my bag.

"Tan and I have a few things to take care of, but I should be ready in about a half hour or so."

"Fine with me, take your time. I'll just sit here and enjoy the view and drink up all of your juice." I smiled and sat back into the chair, as Kal and Tan headed off towards her workroom.

It was actually more like 45 minutes before they returned. I had propped my chair back against the wall in the sunlight and was about half asleep, when Kal snuck up beside me and tickled me in the ear with her tail. "Jesus Christ!" I stood straight up, which was a mistake. I hit my head on a shelf, and bounced back down into the chair, which tipped over and dumped me flat on my butt on the floor.

"Shit! I've asked you not to DO that!" I yelled, rubbing my head. Kal grinned impishly, while Tan wuffed to himself in laughter. Any reservations he had about my being a monster or something died right there.

"Come on lazy, time to get moving. You can't sleep an entire day away."

"Easy for you to say. It's still the middle of the night as far as I'm concerned." I stood up and grabbed my stuff. Then I thought of something to even the score a little. "You know, we would get there a lot faster if we flew." I tried to keep a straight face and watched for Kal's reaction.

"Yech" and she shuddered slightly. "You're not getting me off the ground, and you must be crazy to do it yourself."

You know how most people react to spiders? Velan's react about the same way to heights. It was almost completely unheard of to find a building that had more than one story. If they built any direction, it was down, which helped account for natural surroundings even in the populated areas.

"Ok, well if we can't fly--," I got another dirty look from her "--then we had best get moving."

It seemed that Tan was going to be coming with us, as he grabbed his cloak and followed Kal and me as we walked to the shuttle station. The station was a small building on the outskirts of town. We entered and walked down the stairs to the main platform. It was still early morning, so the traffic was sparse, although I did get a few double takes as people spotted me and recognized who I was. Kal went to the request desk and asked for a shuttle to take us to our destination. The operator punched up the information, and a shuttle car pulled up and stopped at the platform. Here was an example of Velan high-tech. On Earth I'd only seen something like this in movies, but here in front of me was an honest to goodness sub-surface shuttle. The door opened, and the three of us got in.

"Tan, this will be a good time for some study. I want you to sit down and start in on this book." She pulled out a small book and handed it to Tan, then pointed at one of the chairs.

"Awhhhh, do I have to now?"

"Yes now. Now git!"

"Yes maam." He wandered over to the indicated chair and plopped down with the book.

Kal turned to look at me. "Oh no. Don't even think about handing me something to read." I said, smiling at her. "I'm going to pick out a nice comfortable spot and get some sleep."

"Are you going to make that horrible noise?"

"Noise? Oh, you mean my snoring. That's not noise, that's music. I just happen to compose better in my sleep."

"Well, it sounds like noise to me, and unless you want to swallow a pillow in your sleep, you better turn on the privacy field."

"Humph, music critic." I sat down and adjusted the seat to a comfortable position, reaching up and flipping the switch that engaged the privacy field. It would make it easier to sleep anyway. Kal walked over and sat down beside Tan, talking about and pointing to something in the book, or at least that's what it looked like, since I could no longer hear anything outside the field. In any case, it wasn't long before I fell fast asleep.

Chapter Four

"Huh?" Something had awakened me, like an itch in the back of my mind. I looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Kal and Tan were still sitting there talking about something, although I still couldn't hear them. So what woke me up? Then I recognized the feeling.

It was a telepathic cry.

* Help! Oh no...*

As the cry faded, I hoped my training had held, and that I had a trace back to the source. I snapped off the privacy field, and turned around to face Kal.

"Kalindra, did you catch that?"

"Catch what?" she asked me, with a puzzled look on her face.

"I just caught part of a cry for help. Didn't you catch it?"

"No, I didn't hear anything. Is it still active?"

I tuned out the noise around me and listened. I could sense something but there was no information content. "Kind of. I'm not getting any thought patterns, but there is still something there." I closed my eyes, seeking the mental image of a rope extending out from me, which was how I usually visualized a telepathic trace. If I was lucky, the practice that I had done to automatically trace mental contacts when I had been trying to figure out who Kal was had worked this time as well.

My luck had held. The image of the rope took on a life of its own and the other end went racing off out the side of the shuttle into the distance. "I've got a trace on the other end."

"I still can't sense anything. It's a good thing your sensitivity is higher when you're asleep."

I looked over at her with a wry grin. "Yeah, it has come in handy a time or two, hasnt it?" Just then I heard it again.

* Help! Can anyone hear me?*

"There! Did you catch it that time?"

"Yes, but I can't trace it."

"That's ok, I've got a solid trace on it. What do you want to do?" I waited for an answer, although I was pretty sure what it was going to be.

"Well we've got to help if we can."

"How far is it to our destination?"

Kal checked a status panel. "We still have about an hour to go. That's much too long to wait."

"Do you want to notify someone or go ourselves?"

She was still thinking about it when we heard the call again.

* Please, someone help us! My son is dying!*

That settled it right there. The one thing that could produce a response from any adult Velan was a threat to a child. Someplace during their evolution they had developed an almost instinctual response to a threat to a child. They would disregard their own life to try to save the life of a child in danger. Given the slow rate at which they seem to breed, it had to have been some kind of racial preservation response.

"We're going. Get ready to jump."

I grabbed my staff and cloak, focusing on the trace. "Are you going to leave Tan here?"

She looked at Tan, and thought for a moment. "Yes, he can watch your stuff and he will be safe here. Lets go."

I had been gathering the energy to make the jump and was just about ready. A teleportation jump took a lot more energy and concentration then passing through a gate. A gate was kind of a doorway to a fixed place. All you had to do is supply the energy to open the door. A teleport was a lot more work, and a lot more risk. You basically had to screw with the laws of probability and get them to make it more likely that you were where you wanted to be then where you currently were. Unless you were insane, you also wanted to be familier with the destination, but having the trace helped with a lot of that.

Kal stood beside me and I wrapped my arm around her. "Ready, hold on!" followed the trace in my mind to the end, mentally twisted reality, and as I released the energy I'd been holding we vanished.

 

<POP>

We appeared on a mountain side a short distance from the top of a cliff. In front of us was a small group of what looked to be campers. One of them, possibly the one who had generated the call, kept trying to approach the top of the cliff. She was not doing very well, however. Every time she got closer than about 10 feet to the edge she would stop, and then stumble back. One of the group turned and saw us.

Whether he recognized me or not, he must have recognized Kal. "Look! Help is here!" And the women who had been trying to approach the cliff ran towards us.

"Oh thank you... Please, you have to save my child!" And between sobs she told us how her son had been playing around and had somehow fallen off the top of the cliff. I didn't say anything, but if he had fallen from the cliff, what made her think he was even alive?

"Ok, we'll do what we can." Kal turned and began to approach the edge of the cliff. She hadn't gotten more than a few steps when I reached out and grabbed her shoulder.

"Let me look. I don't have a problem with heights." Kal looked as if she wanted to say something, but instead just stepped aside.

"Thank you."

I walked up to the edge and looked over. It took a minute or so, but about 50 feet down on a small ledge I spotted a body. "Kalindra, I can see the kid. He's lying on a small ledge about 50 feet down, but I can't tell if he's still alive. Can you sense anything?"

She closed her eyes for a moment. "Yes. I can sense him, but he must be unconscious, and he is pretty badly hurt."

I took another look. The ledge the kid was lying on wasn't very wide. If he woke up and panicked because of the height, or just rolled, he could go right over the edge and it was another 500 feet to the floor of the valley, at least.

I looked back at Kal. "Ok, we have to get him up from there, so you can take care of him. Unless you have some rope, I can only think of one way to do it." Kal turned and asked the group who had gathered behind her if any rope was available. As I expected, none was.

"Ok, I may not be afraid of heights, but this still gives me the willies. Give me a minute."

Behind me the mother began to sob again. Kal was trying to quiet her, worry about the kid, and help me, all at the same time.

"Well, I might as well get the show on the road," and I began to create what I called a Flight Field around me. Its basic purpose was to nullify gravity and act as a variable shaped airfoil when I was moving. As the field formed, the hair on the back of my arms stood up, and my stomach objected to the sudden loss of gravity.

"Wish me luck, and hope the kid doesn't wake up," and I stepped off the top of the cliff.

I began moving down the cliff face. When I reached the ledge, I stopped and examined the kid.

*It looks as if his arm is broken, and he has a pretty good bump on his head. I'll be up in a minute.* I shaped the field around my arms to conform to his general shape so I could pick the kid up. He moaned a little when I lifted him, but stayed unconscious. I'd have hated to have had him wake up and see just where he was. Cradling him in my arms, I lifted back up and over the top of the cliff and set him down in front of Kal and his mother. Before I could even finish dissolving the Flight Field, they were both at his side checking him out.

"You were right. The arm is definitely broken and so is his left leg. We need to get him to a hospital immediately. Can you monitor me while I try to stabilize him?"

"Yes, go ahead." I opened my mind and started to monitor Kal while she began to pour energy into the kid trying to stabilize him. While not a professional healer, shed still learned the rudiments of the craft and Id in turn picked up a few things from her. Her heart got a little unsteady at one point, and I nudged her nervous system to bring it back to normal. After a few minutes she sat back.

"He should be safe now. We need to get him to a hospital. Can you tell us where we are and where to take him?" The later question was directed at the mother who had stopped crying and was just cradling her sons' head in her hands. One of the other people answered for her.

"We are on the eastern slope of Mt. Selak and the closest hospital that I know of is in Taladasin, about 35 miles that direction," and he pointed off to the south.

Kal turned and looked at me. "Can you get us there?"

"I've got no idea." I turned to the man who had spoken. "Can you picture the hospital in your mind? I need something to focus on to get us there."

He looked at me with an odd expression, and for the first time seemed to realize just who I was. He looked at Kal and said, "Is it safe?"

She smiled. "Yes, but if you are worried, I can read the image and give it to him."

He looked at me, then back at Kal. "Please?"

Kal seemed to stare off into space for a few seconds, and then fed me a mental image of a building.

"Here, will this do?"

I locked on the image in my mind, mentally turning it this way and that, trying to picture how the features would change as I walked around it. "That should work fine. I assume the mother will go with us?"

The snarl that came from the mother made it clear she sure thought she was coming with us, and I wasn't going to argue. "Ok, pick him up and get ready." Kal helped the mother pick up the child and between the two of them, held him immobile. I put my arms around the three of them, pictured the building in my mind, gathered the energy needed and twisted.

<POP>

I missed by a little bit. We appeared about 100 yards from the entrance of the hospital. While I was still orienting myself, Kal the mother took off at a slow run for the entrance carrying the kid. By the time I caught up with them, the kid had already been taken away by the staff and was being attended to.

"Is he going to be ok?"

"The healer seemed to think so." Kal turned and looked closely at me. "How are you feeling?"

"I've felt better. What I'd like now is about 8 hours sleep and then a hot meal."

"Well, let me find a com panel. I'll contact Tan and let him know we are going to be a little late. He can wait for us at the shuttle station. In the mean time, I'll get you to the nearest shuttle, and you can sleep on our way to catch up with him."

"Please, no surprises this time?"

Something in my voice must have caught her attention. She looked back at me for a second, "I'll see what I can do," then continued on.

After one more check with the hospital staff, Kal and I walked to the local shuttle station. It turned out that the town we were headed for was about a four hour trip away. All this time, and we were further away then when we had started. When we boarded the shuttle, there were two other couples already aboard. They all stared at us, but I was a little too tired to care at that point. I sank back into the chair, flipped the switch for the privacy field, and was asleep before the shuttle had even begun to move.

Chapter Five

When Kal woke me up four hours later, I was almost feeling myself again. As we stepped out of the shuttle, Tan came racing up and started talking so fast I could hardly understand him.

"Slow down! My Velan isn't that good yet. Run that by me again."

He was still excited, but this time I managed to catch just enough of the conversation to understand that Kal and I had been a big hit with the information services, and Tan had been enjoying a little notoriety because he was Kal's apprentice. Someone had spotted him in the shuttle station, and had gotten at least the beginning of the story from him.

"Great, that's all I need." I must have sounded vaguely disgusted with the whole idea, because Kal looked over at me and gave a small snicker.

"That's part of the price for being a Mage. You almost get used to it after awhile."

Our delay in getting here worked to our favor. We made it out of the station and across town without getting caught by the local equivalent of a news reporter. Kal introduced me to her friend Tenaric and helped translate where needed. My Velan didn't include a lot of the technical terms needed, but using the blueprints Penny had provided we got things straightened out. Tenaric was more then happy to take the book about Terran Metallurgy as payment for the housing I needed. Most of it was already known to him, but there were enough spots where Earth had researched different areas then Velar, that he was going to be kept busy for quite some time.

After some scratch pad figuring, Tenaric told me that he would have the housing ready for delivery in about two months. I made arrangements to return and pick it up about what would be the end of January for me. It had been about mid-day when we had arrived. When we left, it was just getting along towards evening. It was a the three hour trip back to Kals home, so the three of us visited a local establishment for some food before starting back, and I popped another antihistamine. The last one was wearing off and my allergies were starting to flare up.

Kal spotted me taking the pill, and explained to Tan what it was for. "Why don't you let Wythdantis fix that for you?" he asked.

"Just squeamish I guess. I don't like the idea of someone screwing around with my biochemistry. The medication works, so I don't worry too much about it."

After dinner we walked back to the shuttle station and grabbed a shuttle home. This time I was awake the whole trip. I was adjusting to the time change, but it still felt like afternoon to me. We spent the trip helping Tan with his lessons in control and concentration. He was learning how to avoid being distracted when controlling the energy flow that was the basis for magic.

When we arrived at our destination the stars were just beginning to appear on the horizon. The walk back to Kals home was nice and quiet. Velans had never gone nuts putting up street lights. Hell you would have had a hard time recognizing the streets. It was more like a very wide path that wove in-between the various patches of forest and houses.

When we got to Kal's house, both she and Tan looked as if they were more then ready to call it a day. I wasn't very sleepy yet, so I picked a book from my pack and set up a chair outside to do a little reading, after saying goodnight to the two of them. A small light worked fine to read by, but I soon put the book down, extinguished the light and just enjoyed the view. The cloud cover was pretty much nonexistent, so the stars had the sky to themselves to shine and twinkle to each other. I just sat and let my mind go blank. This was what I had in mind for my vacation. Time to forget the day-to-day problems and just relax. After about an hour, the first of the two Velan moons poked over the horizon, breaking the spell. I got up and headed to the guest room, and curling up in the large circular bed, said goodnight to the first day of my vacation.

The next two days were much quieter then the first. Kal spent much of her time working with Tan and I joined in and introduced him to some of the differences in technique between Kal's and my methods. In general, it was a very relaxing vacation, but all good things must end. About what would have been mid afternoon Sunday, I packed up my stuff and got ready to leave. Kal escorted me back out to the gate, leaving Tan behind. We talked about minor junk during the trip, but mostly kept quiet and just enjoyed the hike.

"Well here we are. Thanks for the help with Tenaric; with luck I may actually wind up with a working power plant. Tell Tan I'll see him when I return in a couple of months." I reach over and gave Kal a hug. She in turn gave me a small nip on my ear, and then backed away and wouldn't look at me.

"You take care of yourself, you hear me?"

"I will." I turned and faced the gate and began to draw on the power to open it. When I was ready I reached out and fed the power into the symbol she had carved into the lintel that represented home. The gate began to hum softly and misted over. When it cleared however, the familiar view of my lab was instead replaced by a black wall.

"Huh, what the hell's this?" Behind me Kal stepped to the side to see for herself.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know. I should be able to see the lab." I took my staff and poked the end of it through the gate. It passed through without a problem. I could see the end that was on the other side of the gateway. I withdrew the staff, and by concentrating for a few seconds, started it glowing brightly. When I poked it through this time, the other side was lit up and I could see my lab.

"What in the hell is going on here?" I stepped through the gateway and came to a stop. The light from my staff was lighting up the remains of what was once my lab. Now it looked as if a tornado had set down dead center or a bomb had gone off. For a few minutes I just stood there staring at the wreckage. Then slowly I started to think again and pick my way through the rubble.

"Penny, what happened?" No response, which stopped me dead in my tracks.

"Penny?" Another pause, and still there was no response.

"Oh my God." I started throwing things out of my way as I worked towards the vault where the computer that was the physical part of Penny was kept. When I got to the armored door at the entrance to the computer room I saw why she hadn't answered. The door that had been there had been blasted from its frame and was lying on the floor. It had been melted and little remained, even of the small name plate that had simply said, in English, Penny Louise Antoine. I stepped through the doorway, not really wanting to look for what I expected to find.

What I found was very little actual damage. Some scorch marks from the heat of the door melting, but nothing major. Then I saw the reason Penny hadn't answered. The frame that held the crystal that was Penny's physical self was empty. Someone had broken into my lab, trashed it and stolen the one thing I could never recreate. Then I heard a noise behind me.

"Oh no!"

Kal had followed me through the gate and was standing in the doorway looking at me. I had shown her around before so she must have known what the empty framework meant.

I just stood there. Then I started thinking about who might have done this and the more I thought, the madder I got. I looked back at Kal, and she must have seen the expression on my face because she backed out of the doorway slowly.

"Someone planned this. They waited until I would be gone for a few days someplace where Penny couldn't contact me easily, and then broke in here. Well, whoever it was just fucked with the wrong man." I stepped through the doorway back into the main lab and began searching for some things I was going to need. Kal followed along behind and sat down to watch me.