Who Needs Batteries?


Brian W. Antoine

July 19, 1993

With a quiet <pop>, I appeared a couple of feet away from where one of Penny's remote hovered. She had scanned the area and given me the visual fix I needed for my teleport. That done, she commenced with her detailed scan of the area just ahead of us. Scattered all around the area were a couple of dozen more of her remote probes. Between them they were mapping the area a short distance in front of us.

"The leading edge is about 50 yards in front you. The position of the bubble is constant, but the size varies slightly from moment to moment. It almost acts like its being affected by the wind or some analog."

"How much is the variation?"

There was a short pause before her answer came. "The average is about twelve inches with a maximum of twenty."

"Ok, so I won't try standing next to it. Lead me to within about ten feet of its perimeter" and I rested my hand on top of the remote. It was a New Moon tonight and what would have been pretty dim lighting to start with, was reduced to nothing as we walked along the forest floor. I had created a small witchlight that hovered just above my shoulder, but its light didn't extend very far into the gloom around us. The lack of light coupled with the overgrowth, meant that it took us almost ten minutes to close the distance to our target.

I was just stepping over a tree root when the remote stopped moving. "Ten feet, give or take a few inches. Do you need anything else before I back off?"

"No, this should do fine."

About ten feet in front of me was the perimeter of Magic Void. I had been thinking about an experiment I wanted to try, and when this one had showed up on the master map back in the lab, I had decided it was time to give it a try. As far back as the written history in the Book Of Mages went, no one had ever managed to explain why these void's occurred. The best we could do was to map their locations and avoid passing through them. Tonight I planned on standing in the middle of this one and trying something that none of my predecessors had thought of.

A void was an area where magic didn't work, or at least that was the explanation I had been taught. Being the incurable snoop that I was, I had decided to try playing with one. First on the list of tests was to verify its existence. For that, I took the witchlight hovering nearby and sent it floating forward. Sure enough, as it reached about ten feet in front of me, it simply vanished.

"Well, chalk up one for those new sensors I installed in your remotes. They seem to have nailed this things position down pretty well."

"Of course they did. What did you expect of the team of Antoine and Antoine, a sensor ghost?"

I chuckled to myself. "Remind me to double check your humility circuits when we get back. Your getting almost as bad as I am."

"That bad? I'll need a complete mind wipe then."

I let it drop right there. I can hold my own against anything living in a battle of barbs, but trying to outsmart something that can think at computer speeds is a little beyond even me. So ignoring her last remark, I started the next experiment. The void definitely canceled magic, but would it effect something created by magic. To test it I pulled a small transponder from my pocket and tossed it as far forward as I could. It bounced off a tree before going very far, but was well within the boundary of the void.

"Ok, are you picking up the signal?"

"Loud and clear."

I had created the transponder using magic, but none of its functions relied on magic. The second transponder I pulled from my pocket did require a passive spell to function and now I tossed it into the vicinity of the first one.

"Anything now?"

"Nothing, the signal died about the same time as it crossed the edge of the void."

"Ok, that's what we expected. Did you get the measurements?"

"Yes, and it looks like you might be right. Allowing for the variation in the edge location at the moment the transponder passed through it, the signal continued to broadcast for almost 32 microseconds after it passed the leading edge of the boundary."

Hot damn, that's what we had been looking for. "Ok, then lets see if we can exploit that little quirk." With a couple of quick steps I walked up and through the edge of the void. There was no feeling as I did so, but I had trouble convincing myself that everything was all right. Over the years I had gotten so used to magic being a part of my life, that the idea of standing in a place where I was powerless was a little frightening. When I now tried to draw on the power to create a small witchlight, and found nothing to draw on, the feeling was weird. When I had confirmed that I could not tap any of the usual power sources that I used to perform magic, I stepped back through the edge of the void.

"That was weird. I didn't feel any different, I just couldn't tap any energy source. It was like they were gone, or blocked off from me."

"Nothing else, just no energy available?"

"That's it. I could run through the spells, but there was nothing available to power them."

"Ready for the last test?"

"Give me a minute." Now I began to draw on the power I had been unable to tap a moment ago. What I didn't do though is cast a spell with it. What I wanted to do was build up a reserve and hold onto it. As the energy level began to build, I started to feel as if I had just eaten a seven course meal. I had been working on this off and on the last year or two and knew just about how much I could hold without releasing it. When I was ready, I stepped back into the void.

This time I knew to the second just when I stepped across the barrier. The energy I was holding onto felt as if it was being tugged every direction at once, but its level wasn't decreasing. "I'm holding it, though it feels like I'm standing in a vacuum or something. I'm going to try a simple spell." Once more I began the process of creating a small witchlight. This time, when I reached the part of the spell that required energy to activate it, I released some of the power I'd been holding onto. The moment I started to feed power into the spell the draw from the void increased. Before I realized what was going on, I found myself feeding enough power into the spell to have vaporized a good portion of the forest around me, but there in my hand was the familiar glow I had been hoping for. Almost immediately I found that I had to continue to feed power to the spell to keep it from collapsing. Rather that waste what I still held in lighting up the forest, I let the witchlight die.

As the light died, I heard Penny's voice sing out in the darkness. "Not to shabby for a beginner, do you do card tricks as well?"

"I'm terrible at cards, but I do have a trick that you may like." I tested the power I still held and figured how much extra I'd need based on the results of the last test. I seemed to have more than enough, so I closed my eyes and with the image of the lab in my mind I jumped.

The power drain was a little more than I figured and I arrived with almost nothing left in the reserve I had started with, but I was standing in the middle of my lab. I turned to face the screen on the wall and chuckled. "Not bad, not bad at all. I think we found a way around those damn'd things. I'm going to have to practice at hoarding power though. Casting anything inside one of those voids takes ruinous amounts of power and you have to keep feeding the spell to keep it from collapsing."

"Will you be going back, or should I bring the remotes home?"

"Call your children home, that's it for now. I've got some thinking to do before our next round of tests." I sat down at my terminal and began running some calculations. It was going to be hideously expensive of energy, but it looked as if I might not be so useless on the flights Bob and I were planning after all. This was going to be fun!