Brian W. Antoine
August 22, 1993
"There, that should do it." With the last cable connected, I reached over and flipped the power switch on the computer. After much blinking of lights, beeps, pops and general mayhem, it powered up. As it started to fire up Windows, the normal backdrop was replaced with one of Penny's little jokes and I heard her chuckling.
"So, you finally got it to run again. I'll never understand why you spend so much time playing with that archaic piece of junk."
"Well, maybe I like to have a least one computer around that I can shut off when it gets on my nerves."
"No 'in', just great." The noise that blasted from the speakers did a pretty good job of letting me know just how much my pun was appreciated. "Just keep it up, you're about due for your next memory upgrade. How about I use 1K by 8 bit static rams this time instead of those Terabyte memory crystals I added last time." The only reply I got was the restoration of my normal backdrop and a click from the speakers. "Ah hah, now there's a redhead that knows how to keep quiet." I didn't get any reaction, so I assumed that Penny had gone back to arguing with Kalindra. The two of them had been at it for days about wether Velar existed in the same universe as the Earth. It made for some interesting theory's about just where the gate in my lab went.
Anyway, with the computer back up I started going through my private work list. There were a few things that I considered private enough that I tried to keep the secret from even Penny. Most of the time it proved to be useless, but I kept trying. I was going through the list when I came across a short note that caught my attention. A few weeks back I had played around with one of the natural void's that wandered around the Earth. I had discovered that it was possible to overcome, at least partially, the loss of magic that they caused. After that nights' experiments, I'd written a quick note that listed a few other things to try. It should have been added to the public work list that Penny kept for me, but had somehow gotten added to my private list instead.
"Hummmmm.... I'd forgotten all about this." I didn't have much else on the schedule for the evening, and this sounded like a good way to spend the time. I flipped the toggle to connect to the lab, but before I could even get the first word out I heard Penny and Kalindra going at it.
"No! Just because the gravitational constant is one percent lower on Velar, you can't assume..." and I cut off the speaker.
"So much for that idea." I sat back in my chair and thought about the notes I'd left. There wasn't anything in there that suggested I'd need any backup for the experiment I had in mind. With a snort, I decided to work on it alone. "I'm starting to rely on her to much anyway."
It took me three tries before I got connected into the main data banks at the lab. "Shit, I'm getting rusty at this." When I did get connected, I accessed the master survey network that tracked the voids and kept an eye out for signs of magic in use. A few moments later I confirmed that the void we had worked with before was still there. It had shifted east about a half mile since my last visit, but I could use the walk. Grabbing my jacket and staff, I brought up the coordinates of the void and teleported.
The moon was almost three quarters full, so I had plenty of light as I appeared on the forest floor. As I looked up I could see it winking in and out of the trees above me. With a small witchlight to help avoid any roots and such, I set out eastward for the void. As I walked, I listened to the night life in the forest around me. I was making enough noise to be heard quite a distance, but I still managed to stumble across the occasional night owl that was out searching for a meal.
When I figured I was getting close, I started sending small lights out ahead of me to locate the edge of the void. My walk hadn't been real straight, so it took me about twenty minutes to locate the dumb thing. "About damn time, there has to be an easier way to do this." Planting my staff point down in the ground, I woke it up and set it to glowing. I was going to need a little more light then the moon was providing, and I didn't want to have to concentrate on my work and keep a light alive.
"Ok, what was first on the list." I pulled a scrap of paper from my pocket and started reading. "Hummm... Test for minimum energy level requirements." Stuffing the paper back in my pocket, I concentrated and began to accumulate a magic reserve. The idea was to see how little I could keep bottled up within myself, and still be able to tap external sources while within the void. I'd determined earlier that the basic problem a Mage had in a void was that he or she couldn't properly the initiate energy feed that a normal spell required.
Casting a spell required an initial energy release that came from within the spell caster. Very few people were ever able to meet that simple requirement. The basic problem with a void was that the energy requirements for any spell went through the roof and that included the initial energy feed that started the spell. After a lot of experimentation, I'd found that I could augment my internal energy with an external source. With a little effort, I could store enough energy to meet the greater initial demands that a void created.
Over the next two hours, I must have worn a path through the forest. I would exit the void, charge myself up, then re-enter it and try to cast a spell. However, when I was done I had determined the minimum amount of energy that I would have to carry around if I wanted to be able to function. Pulling the paper from my pocket, I wrote another note to myself to pass this information along to Kimi and to remember to try this little trick out the next time Bob and I took the Sunbeam out. If it worked in a void, it might just work in deep space also.
The other item on the list I didn't need a reminder for. The last thing I wanted to try was to see if a void could be destroyed. If a void was a natural magic sink, maybe it could be filled up and removed. Standing beside my staff, I setup a small recursive spell that sent out a witchlight aimed at me every few seconds. Without Penny and the sensors in her remotes, it would be the only way I would be able to see wether I was effecting the size of the void. As I walked back towards the center of the void, I could see the little balls of light as they came flying in my direction and vanished as they hit the edge of the void.
Sitting down on the ground, I used my stored energy to initiate an external feed and began to draw on the natural magical energy of the Earth. Rather than cast a spell with it though, I just let it radiate outwards from me and be absorbed by the void. Every few minutes I would check the trail of lights coming from my staff and increase the amount of energy I was funneling through myself. By the time I finally noticed a change in the distance the lights were traveling, I was drawing on the energy from an area the size of Texas. "Shit, this thing is really greedy!"
I was however having an effect. I was currently pouring enough energy into the area around myself to blow the top off of a good sized mountain and the edge of the void had shrunk inwards by about six feet. "Ok, lets see just how much this damned thing will hold" and I extended my reach outwards towards the Sun.
If you have ever asked someone why they race car's or why they like doing any number of things that involve risk. You will have run into the quiet grin that they have when they remember what it's like. Something about either the idea of pushing yourself to your limits or the idea of controlling something that could kill you without a thought, can only be understood by someone that has experienced that kind of thing themselves.
As I began to tap the Sun and pour the energy into the night, I began to float in my mind and ignore my surroundings. Some part of my noted that I had begun to visibly glow from the energy I was releasing, but it was ignored by the rest of me that was reveling in the idea of controlling that kind of power. "Who the hell need's alcohol?"
I have no idea how long I sat there in my trance. My next memory is of seeing one of Penny's remotes hanging in front of my face and hearing her yell at the loudest volume it could produce.
"Brian! God Damnit, snap out of it!"
"Huh?" The distraction almost caused me to lose control of the energy I was handling. My reflexes took over and cut off the energy siphon I'd created. The last of the energy I'd been working with vanished in one massive pulse straight upwards. I was just starting to regain my sense of self when Penny began to scream at me again.
"Christ Boss, what the hell were you trying to do? You set off every magic alarm you have in the lab and pegged every energy sensor I have. Your secondary glow was visible from orbit!"
"Would you believe I was creating a spot remover?"
"Boss, this is no time for your jokes. You had this whole valley lit up like it was high noon. I've got no idea who might have seen it and be on their way to check it out. We have to get out of here and I mean now."
"No, I've got one thing to check first." In that final release of energy, I given up the small amount I'd meant to hold in reserve. Now I tried to call up a small light and was happy to see it appear in my hand. "Well, at least that worked. Just call me Void Killer from now on." Then it dawned on me that I should have been getting hit by the lights coming from my staff. I grabbed my jacket and ran over to where it was still sticking in the ground, the whole time listening to Penny try to get me to hurry up.
"You know, I think I drained the poor thing dry. Remind me to get it charged back up again when we get home." I though about what I had just said. "Cancel that, I'll remind myself."
"Never mind, bad habits die hard."
"What in the world are you talking about?"
"I'll tell you later, let's get home." I reached out and grabbed the remote from mid-air. Tucking it under my arm, and ignoring the muffled complaint, I got ready to leave. "Quiet." With a last look around I concentrated and jumped.
Penny was more insistent than usual when she started to make my computer yowl in that annoying way. As I approached the machine, I asked what all the ruckus was about.
The screen of my computer scrolled up a graphic that showed the earth as a lit jewel on a background of stars. "What's wrong with this picture, Bob?"
"Looks good to me."
I did. This time, I realized that there was a spot of light on the planet where there shouldn't be one. "Change the angle of view, Penny." She did, and I could easily see the point of light. It pulsed slightly, and had a blue tinge to the deep white it was made of. What the hell is that?"
It stunned me. "Jesus Aitch. What do you mean it's Brian? Did he nova or something? What the hell is going on?"
"He has some experiment in progress. It's a big one too, from the way that all of my sensors are reacting."
"What's he doing?"
"He's in an area that had a magic void. We did some experimenting with it a short time ago."
"It's an area that absorbs magic energy."
"A black hole for wizards, eh?"
"So, what's the problem? Has something gone out of control?"
"I don't think so, but what we have is a very visible light source where we shouldn't have one. If my sensors are ringing alarms, then the government is seeing the same thing on their equipment."
"What do we do?"
"I'm on my way to the area now, I want you to do something about the investigation that I'm seeing start up."
"There are quite a few of them."
"Shit. Ok, get Brian the hell out of there, and give me some help on the It. I have an idea."
I went out of the house and around to the garage. Jab trotted beside me, and for once he was silent. The It sat in the garage, looking like a Ski-Do resting on a pile of crushed boxes. It was hard for me to crawl over the disarray of upset crates but Jab moved with the grace of a cat, and stood at the hatch, waiting. "It fly"
"Yep. Get in." I thumbed the hatch open and Jab went in with me right behind. I powered it up and set the field for neutral buoyancy. With a little pressure from the forward array, the It scraped itself off the garage debris and backed out into the night. "Hold on, Jab." I hit the throttle and blew the It straight up out of the yard. I cloaked and made for Brian's lab on the moon. Along the way I told Penny what I was going to need, and she set the remotes to assembling it all for me.
The It dropped into the lab a bit faster than I normally would consider safe, but I was in a hurry. The tiny ship settled to the lab floor just next to the Sunbeam and I had Penny skip raising atmosphere. "Just have the remotes attach it like I told you, Penny."
It took only a few moments. I sat and stroked Jab while the drones did their work. On the top of the It they attached a segment of the Sunbeam wing that had been damaged in the first test flight. I'd had it shaped into a parabola, and was having it attached on a gimbal I could control from inside. The operation took twelve minutes, and I was edgy and growling by the time it was done. Penny hadn't shut the overhead when I'd dropped in, so when the last attachment was made, I'd blasted throttle and jumped straight up, sending a remote somersaulting across the lab.
The It was running at full throttle plus, and I plowed it down into low orbit over the planet. I had Penny identifying space junk --obsolete satellites and other crud-- and was giving them bursts of anti directional force off the forward arrays to send them plummeting earth side. It was a kind of bumper cars' game turned into a rock toss. Most of the debris from my foray into space sanitation was falling on a track into the general area where Brian was. Or should I say, hoped he wasn't anymore. It took about twenty minutes, all in all. Next, I positioned the ship and extended the highly mirrored wing segment. A few hundred gigawatts of the suns' power reflected off the parabola and needle pointed on the ground where the void had been.
Looking at the site later with Brian, I'd left a 20 foot crater on what had been a small meadow in the woods. The vegetation was scorched or burned to a crisp in a 150 foot radius of the crater. The burst from the mirror only focused for about fifteen seconds, but the temperature at the apex was nearly twelve thousand degrees. When the helicopters brought in the investigation teams, they found what they believed was the remnants of meteorite impact. All in all a believable affair, and especially so given that this was the time of the 'Parro-Deez' as my son calls it. The season for meteor showers.
There was only one drawback. A county sheriff's deputy had seen the glow and had come to investigate. His four wheeler arrived some few minutes after Brian left. The only thing to do for him was introduce him to my cat. He was padding through the trees with his eight-cell police flashlight. I sent kitty out to meet him. He took a wary look at the Meenzal, and then, reassured, stepped towards Jab with his hand extended. Jab let him get within five feet before he blew out to a snarling, ten foot high aberration. His pants immediately reeked of urine.
I suspect that when he recounted his findings back at the sheriff's station, that nobody took too much stock in what he had to say.
As soon as I appeared in the lab, I released the remote I'd been carrying and laid my staff down on one of the benches. "Now, would you mind telling me what the hurry was? There was nobody in the area when we left and I didn't leave any traces behind."
"No, and Bob is making sure of that."
It took a second for that to register. "Bob? What has he got to do with this?"
"When you went nuts and decided to light up the country side, I called him and got him to help me cover your tracks."
Penny has seen me get angry plenty of times and I think she knew she had just put her virtual foot in it once again. I'm sure she didn't have any idea just how deep the hole was. "You did WHAT? I made sure that no one could trace anything back to me even if they saw the little light show that I put on. What gives you the right to drag Bob into this and what the hell is he up to?"
"He's making the site look like a meteor struck it. That will explain the energy burst that you made so visible. He's just about to take care of it now."
My voice would have cut through solid hull metal when I managed to get out my reply. "Stop him."
"I said stop him, and I mean right fucking now! I'll take care of things myself, I don't need a damn nursemaid."
There was a pause while I assume she was trying to contact him. "Ah, it's a little to late. He just fired the shot that simulated the impact."
I didn't say a word, I just stood there and stared at the screen on the wall. Until a few seconds ago, I felt better then I had for a long time. It had felt good to prove to myself that I could still function without someone to watch over me. Now I was getting reminded of just what I had spent so many years getting out from under. When I hoped I was calm enough to make sense, I started in on Penny.
"When was the last time I asked you to quit hovering over me like I was some snotty nosed little kid?"
"Two months, 5 days ago. Why?"
"Did I not make myself plain? I don't want someone watching me all the time. You've inherited enough of my memories to know what I went through with my mother and grandparents. I can't and won't stand for someone, or something, trying to start that whole mess all over again!"
"Well someone has to watch after you when you decide to get drunk and vaporize the country side."
"That tears it! Get this straight once and for all. I wasn't drunk, and what I do is none of your business unless I ask you to help me. I can forgive Bob, he doesn't know me well enough to understand, but you have no excuse. Since you seem to want to be my guardian, then it's time you got a taste of the responsibility that goes with the job."
"What do you mean?"
I didn't bother to answer. Instead I quickly gathered up my notebooks and the private history that was mine by right, and threw them in a bag. I started to grab my staff and just dropped it on the floor when I remembered its condition. "I'll just make a new one." Shutting off the lights, I stepped through into the lunar lab. Penny had been trying to get me to answer the whole time and I'd had enough of it. I turned back to face through the gate and said the last I intended to say about the matter.
"Anyone who intends to place themselves over me, had better be able to handle my responsibilities. I hope you and Bob have fun." With that, I closed the gate and shut it down to keep anything else from coming through. I knew that wouldn't shut her up, and sure enough the remotes she had scattered about the lab took up where she had left off. "Sorry, I don't want to hear it." Turning to where the equipment bay that held the power tap was, I concentrated and vaporized the entire bay. Instantly the entire place went dark and I could feel the vibration in the floor as all of the remotes and construction bots fell to the floor powerless. The only light was a small witchlight that hovered over my shoulder.
I figured that it would take about 15 minutes for her to get the right equipment together to reestablish a temporary power feed to the lab. I didn't intend to be there when the lights came back on. The first thing was to get the gate to Velar opened. I'd prepped the wall a few months back when Penny's antics had almost exposed me to the world. It only took me about 5 minutes to complete the setup and get it opened. When it was ready, I reached back to Earth and transferred the master spell from the gate in the lab to the one I had just opened.
I could not be sure, but I would have bet good money that all hell was breaking loose back in the lab. With the transfer of the master spell, the gate there would have shut down and reverted to a rock wall. I hadn't just swapped the spells. I'd transferred and eliminated the gate in the lab. I didn't intend to arrive on Velar to be greeted by a message on the household computer. With the gate active, I climbed into the Sunbeam and began to power it up. I wasn't about to leave it behind. I'd spent to much of myself in getting it built.
I'd forgotten the computer link. As soon as the power came on I could hear Penny screaming at me over the link. It took me about 30 seconds to open the panel and start pulling wires and circuit boards out at random. I stopped as soon as the link died and plopped myself down in the command chair.
"Systems check please."
It took a lot longer without Penny in the loop, but the results came back with about 4 minutes to spare. "All systems operational within established limits except for computer linkage. Unable to establish link with main control base."
"Ignore." I grabbed the control headset and put it on. "Revert to manual flight controls."
"Yes sir, manual control at your command."
I lifted the Sunbeam and piloted it through the gate. I had set the exit point to bring me out above the mountains of my Velarian home. As soon as I was clear, I swung the ship to face the gate as it shimmered in the evening sunlight.
"You think you're good enough to act as my conscience, then deal with the problems that go with the job." With a wave of my hand and a thought, the gate I had just passed through closed and vanished into oblivion.