that goes Bing!
Brian W. Antoine
June 4, 1995
No matter how many times I'd listened to Kalindra describe the process I still had trouble taking it seriously. Even as the Sunbeam III slid into low orbit around the Earth, I still had to laugh to myself every time I thought about it. "You're still sure this will work?" My mate just twitched her ears slightly and ignored me. "That's what I thought," I grumbled aloud. "This is all just a complex plot to make the Klizach look like an idiot."
"There are a lot of easier ways ..." interrupted Lythandi before I glared at her and shut her up.
"The Mage is feeling silly enough as it is. I don't need help from the gallery, thank you."
"My mate is acting like a child," came the comment from beside me. The look I got when I turned to face her was just daring me to glare at her the way I had at Lythandi. Outgunned once again, I swallowed once and turned back to my console to pout in private.
One of the things holding up the plans we had for getting Earth involved with the primitive interstellar trade that was going on, was that I didn't feel right about splitting my attention so many different ways. By the simple fact that the Book of Mages was still in my possession, I was the ArchMage of my world. The truth of the matter was that there wasn't anybody else to take the job and that I was only spending about half my time living on the world of my birth. It wasn't a real problem, the primary reason for my job was being handled by the Oort Guardians we'd created. They were on station and well prepared to eliminate any natural external threat to Earth. It was the unnatural ones that worried me.
When things got going, I was going to have even less time available to watch things. Just from the level of activity that we'd already seen, both Kalindra and I believed that we'd both be getting called upon more and more often to step in and arbitrate. It was a situation that neither of us liked, or could in honor step away from. We'd started this together and it was up to us to finish it. So, to make sure I had the time to be flitting all over the near spiral arm, I needed a replacement. That search was why I now found myself preparing to step into open space and feel silly.
"We're in position," said Kalindra as she broke into my solitude. I'm holding us in the orbit you'll need, so you won't have to worry about correcting your position every hour or so.
"Good enough. Let's see if this crazy idea actually works." Stepping over to the airlock, I spun my environment field with a wave of my hand and cycled through. As soon as I was comfortable and wasn't drifting relative to the Sunbeam, Kal spun it around and dove for a higher orbit so she wouldn't be close enough to distract me.
The western edge of Russia was just passing underneath me as I let my eyes adjust to the dark. It was a full moon tonight and I could see just enough of the land below to figure out where I was. Taking my pocket watch from my pants, I noted the time, then left it open so I could hear it ticking. I had roughly twenty two hours before Kal would be back to pick me up and being alone with only my heartbeat to keep me company would have started playing tricks on my mind. The quiet ticking of my watch gave me a background noise to focus on as I relaxed and got started.
The idea was simple, though untested. I'd known for years how to test for voids in the Earth's magic field. This was just testing for the opposite case. It felt like I was taking an extra deep breath as I called the raw magic to myself and let it build. Then I expelled that breath in one quick burst towards the planet beneath me and listened with all of my senses for a reaction. It was like pinging with radar, but the object of my search was a Mage and the tool was magic.
I'd have no idea if the concept was even valid unless I heard something. If I found nothing, we'd have no idea whether the concept was flawed, I hadn't listened hard enough, or possibly there weren't any latent Mages on Earth. In any case, we'd have to try something else. All my worries ended when a couple of hours later I 'pinged' central Europe, and heard a quiet bell note echo in my mind.
*Kalindra, I think you should here this* Throwing our link wide open, I 'pinged' again and let her hear the reply.
*I told you it would work. When will you learn to trust everything I say?*
*Never,* I replied with a ripple of laughter intermixed. *How can I trust someone who still thinks I'd look better with a tail?* I felt her own laughter wash through my mind, then she let me get back to work. I still had to narrow down the search area before I passed out of range, as well as test the rest of the planet. It was going to be a long day.
* * *
My hair was still dripping water down my back as I plopped down in the sleeping cushion that covered about half the floor of our cabin. I hadn't taken two steps after coming through the airlock, before I'd been picked up and thrown into the shower. Someday I really needed to figure out an enhancement to the environment field spell that didn't leave the occupant smelling like a pair of stale gym socks after being protected by it. Oh well, life goes on.
"So, which one do you wish to check out first?" asked Kalindra as she grabbed a brush and motioned for me to sit up.
"Well, considering what else we're here to do, I think the trace that came from the area of Switzerland would be a good starting place. We can kill two birds with one stone." Kal had to stop and think about that for a moment because I'd lapsed back into English while thinking about my home world. It also distracted her just enough that she twisted the brush wrong and ended up removing some of the hair she was supposed to be grooming. I didn't yell, but I didn't bother to damp down the pain that echoed through our link either.
"So, do you suppose Gregor will remember who we are after all this time?"
"I rather expect he will," I said as I took the brush from Kalindra and handed it to Lythandi. "If not, I suspect one of us will think of something to jog his memory ..."
As soon as Lythandi had finished braiding my hair, the three of us walked forward to the flightdeck and got comfortable while I started playing with the communications gear. Penny would have done what I need before I could have finished asking her, but she was still banned from Terra. I might not have been as fast, but I still managed to get linked into the global phone network without tripping any alarms. Then came the fun of tracking down Gregor so I could call him. We'd been out of contact with him for a couple of years now and I wasn't sure I could open a telepathic link without taking a chance that I'd catch someone beside him in my hail. I almost changed my mind when I saw how many Gregors were listed in the Moscow phone directory.
"Hello, I have a long distance call for a Gregor Bedanin from Kalindra," I told the voice that answered the ninth number I had tried. Instead of a confused answer in Russian though, I finally heard a reply in English.
"Kalindra? Brian, is that you?" came the reply after a moments pause.
"If it isn't, old fuzzy butt better explain why she dumped me!" I told Gregor before I broke into laughter.
"Where are you calling from?"
I looked out the forward port at the planet that hung below us. "Close enough to be able to call you. Have you got a few minutes? I'd like to talk to you about a project we're starting and I think you can help ..." Two days later, Kalindra and I picked up both Gregor and Cali at the airport in Geneva and things began to fall into place.
* * *
"This place doesn't look too bad," I told Cali while Gregor talked with the Realtor. The second floor is plenty big enough to section off into offices and still have plenty of room for storage.
"It better have plenty of room. If you seriously expect me to build a multi-racial hospital here, I'm going to need every square meter you can spare."
"You'll get everything I can give you, but you don't have to create a hospital. I'm thinking more along the lines of a first-aid clinic that we can use to patch people up for minor things. The serious cases, if any, we'll stuff through the gate to their homeworld." Cali just looked at me in amusement. She obviously figured I didn't understand what was going to be happening around here. I was just getting ready to argue with her, for about the sixth time, when a the whole ceiling began to reverberate like a gong.
"Jesus Christ Kal, what the hell are you doing?"
Kalindra looked back at me from where she stood next to one of the ceiling supports and grinned as she shook dust and a little rust from her hair. "I wanted to see how sturdy these supports where," and she wanged on it again with her fist. I swear I saw the support bend slightly from her blow, but it continued to hold the roof up without effort. "It looks fine!"
The look on the Realtors face as I walked over to where she stood with Gregor didn't look quite so confident. "So, the building seems to meet our needs, if nothing gets screwed up in the paperwork, we'll take it." Gregor nodded his assent, but the Realtor came real close to screwing the deal with her next comment.
"Fine! We can return to my offices and draw up the lease forms for you and your lawyer to go over."
Gregor was a little slower to catch it then I was, but we both froze in place and turned to face the young Swiss lady that had been showing us around. "Excuse me, did you say lease?"
"Yes, the owner of the building will want a 3 year minimum ..." and she fell silent as she caught the look on my face. "Is something wrong?"
Ignoring her for a moment, I asked Gregor, "Didn't you give them a copy of the specs we agreed on?"
"Yes, I sent the same specs to every real estate firm in the city."
Turning back to the agent, I shook my head in disgust. "Didn't you read the paperwork we sent you?"
"Yes, I read it a couple of times to make sure I understood your requirements," she answered with just a hint of puzzlement in her voice.
"Then why are we talking lease? I tried to make it clear in our specifications that we were in the market for a warehouse to buy, not lease." When I spotted her giving us all the once over, I understood what had happened. Gregor was at least wearing slacks, shirt and a tie. The rest of us looked like we could have just walked off the street in the poorer section of Geneva. Hell, the T-shirt I was wearing was mildly obscene in several countries that had gotten there nose out of joint about network security the last few years.
"Gregor, who was the next company on the list," and the two of us turned and started to head for the stairway. "Maybe they will have something we can use..." Behind us, the Realtor started to panic.
"Please, wait. Maybe I have made a small mistake here, but I'm sure we can work things out!" Given that she probably worked on commission, and was just figuring out what she was letting get away, she have ever reason to be a little pale when she ran around in front of us and tried to get us to stop.
"Miss, you have indeed made a mistake, and it wasn't little. Part of the paperwork we sent out was a letter of credit from our bank. Had you bothered to read or verify that information, you wouldn't be so surprised at the fact that we were serious about buying a building, not leasing one. Now if you excuse us, we have a few more stops to make today," and I started to walk around her. Then she made an even bigger mistake, she tried to step in front of me and stop me from leaving. Before she knew what was happening, Kalindra was standing inches away from her and trying her best to growl.
"You will not attempt to stop my mate from leaving," she muttered just loud enough for everyone to hear. "You have failed to deal with us honorably and we will now go find someone who will." The poor lady almost fainted I think, but she held her ground.
*Kal, back off,* I told her as Gregor tried to get my attention.
*This female will not be allowed to become a problem for my mate!*
*Kalindra, that female is scared shitless and hardly counts as a problem. Besides, you are about to violate one of your own rules.*
*And which one is that,* she asked me as she took a step back.
*You are about to use your natural advantages against someone who is not your equal. You can get away with that with me, but please remember where you are at the moment.* I suspect I'm the only one who spotted the change in her posture, but Kalindra backed away and then stepped to my side. *I believe you owe the young lady an apology.*
Kalindra is a lot of things, but one thing she isn't, is too pig-headed to admit when she's in the wrong. Or at least when she's in the wrong and I'm not the one who's right. This time though she apologized without problem and I saw a little of the color return to the cheeks of the young lady in front of us. Then she swallowed and took up where she had left off. This one had guts ...
"I'm sorry also, I did not mean to offend you. What I wanted to say was that I don't think the owner of this building would have any objections to selling it. I didn't want you to pass up a building that seemed to meet your needs simply because I made a mistake."
"Apology accepted," and I turned to look at Gregor. "You think we should give her another chance?" He nodded, so I told him, "Then I'll leave you and Cali to begin going over the details. Kalindra and I have something we need to take care of this afternoon, so we'll meet you back at the hotel for dinner."
"OK, I'll see you about 7?"
I nodded, then grabbed Kalindra by the arm and shuffled her down the stairs and outside. The moment the door closed behind us, I grabbed her by the arm and spun her around. "Would you mind telling me what the hell that was all about?" As upset as I was, the last thing I expected was for her to fall into my arms and just hug me. "Uh, let me rephrase that. Would you like to tell me what is wrong?"
"Brian, do you ever regret accepting my request to become my mate?" she asked as she kept her face buried in my chest.
Any other time, I'd probably have said "Yes," and then ran like hell as she chased me. Somehow, that didn't seem like the right answer just at the moment. Reaching down, I touched Kal under her chin and lifted her face so I could look into her eyes. "Kalindra nal Kan, I've probably broken every bone in my body at least once, I've come as close to death as I ever care to, and I live with the silliest collection of people this universe has ever seen. If I had it all to do over again, the only thing I'd change would be that I'd have said yes, faster."
Sometimes, I guess it just helps to hear the words spoken.
"Now, tell me what brought all this on ..." and I wrapped me arm around her as we walked down the street. Even with gentle prompting, it took awhile before she told me.
"I've been watching you ever since we entered the city. I can feel you reacting every time a good looking female walks by and I was worried that you might be regretting having to spend your life living with an alien."
"It has to be the different sunlight," I muttered as I glanced up at the clear sky above us. "Kalindra, I react because I happen to like looking at pretty ladies. Splitting my time between worlds the way I am, I simply don't bother hiding that fact when I get the chance to just wander around Earth and enjoy the view. Would you rather I tried to hide it?" She was still thinking about it as we rounded the corner and saw the sidewalk cafe that was our destination. "Come on, I'll buy you the biggest chocolate dessert they have on the menu."
Kalindra was in a much better mood after working her way through the Swiss equivalent of 'Death by Chocolate'. We'd also spent enough time sitting at our corner table that I'd gotten a good look at all the patrons that had arrived for the lunch hour rush. I'd been 'pinging' Geneva for a week now, and our target almost always showed up in this cafe for lunch through the week. Sitting there relaxing, I reached over and wiped a bit of chocolate from Kal's cheek and licked it off my finger. "You're going to be so fat that you won't be able to fit into the Sunbeam for the trip home." She pretended to snap at my finger and giggled.
"Well, I suppose it's time to see if our victim is present. You watch that side and I'll take this one." It took a moment for Kal to pry herself away from her chocolate, but then she nodded and slowly turned so she could see the area in question. I waited about 20 seconds, then 'pinged' lightly. The instant I did, a young lady about four tables away jumped in surprise and spilled her drink all over her table.
"I think that answers that question," I said as Kal and I watched the closest waiter rush over to help clean up the mess. While they were both distracted, I lowered the power even further and 'pinged' once again. She didn't jump this time, but she did turn around and start looking my direction. "Not bad," I whispered to Kal. "When we finally got close enough, she could feel it even though she hasn't had any training."
The lady looking around for the source of what she had felt finally looked in my direction and noticed that both Kalindra and I were staring back. Raising my hand, I snapped my fingers so she could see, and 'pinged' again. The look on her face was truly something to see. I had her undivided attention as I reached over and slid the spare chair for our table out and motioned for her to come join us. She hesitated, and I didn't blame her, but after looking from Kalindra to me and them back to Kalindra, she got up from her table and walked over to ours.
Either customs had really changed the last few years, or something else had happened, because she seemed honestly puzzled by my getting up and helping her into her chair. "Thank you," she told me as I sat back down in my own chair. "I didn't think men still bothered to act like a gentleman unless they were looking for someone to share their bed for a few hours."
"Old habits die hard I guess," I answered her with a chuckle. "Besides, my mate here would beat me silly if I forgot my manners."
"Uh, yeah, I guess that does sound a little strange."
"Then you can explain that after you tell me what it was you did with your fingers a few minutes ago. That was the oddest feeling I've ever had. It felt like I was a bell that someone had hit with a small hammer."
"Fair enough. Tell me something first ..."
"Jean," she answered, as she realized what I wanted to know.
"Hello Jean, I'm Brian, and this is my mate Kalindra. Tell me something, do you believe in magic?"