Practical Exercise

Adara -1 is closing on completion.

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Eclipse 45

“Janie shouting for help is how I got involved,” Morgana answered. “If the two of them hadn’t been persona, the kidnappers would’ve ignored them.  If Janie hadn’t been so good at mentalics back then, the kidnappers might have gotten away with it.  Unless Joe stopped them.  One of the kidnappers had a very strong mentalic screen, strong enough that Janie had to be really loud to be heard outside.  Fortunately, we heard her.  But when I met Janie and Trisha I could tell they were very deeply gifted, and needed a practiced hand guiding them.  That was me.”

“In any event,” Morgana continued, pausing once and again for more chicken, “there was press coverage of Joe saving Trisha and Janie. The press made it sound like the villains teleported out to Sand Crab Island.  In the middle, Joe somehow separated them from their pistol, following which Stars Over Boston came to the rescue.  Then Joe got your daughters back to you.  The miscreants must’ve been seriously injured while resisting arrest, because they all died that evening.  None of that is false, but there are some minor details left out.” Morgana paused to finish off another croissant. 

“Janie described Joe teleporting them, first to someplace in northern Canada and then to Frog Pond Park,” Abigail said. “They were both worried about Joe, because when they left him he was shivering.”

“Chills are common if you go way too deep into your gifts,” Morgana explained. “And I mean way too deep, not just a bit too deep.  That’s not surprising, given what he did.  Fortunately, he or they moved the whole thing to Sand Crab Island.  That combat was not a couple of guys wrestling over possession of a knife.  Joe was the good-guy side of the deepest level persona combat in New England since Crittenden’s War.  Joe is in the power range where he could easily level a city block of brownstones with one plasma blast, which is truly unusual for a boy his age.  The people on the other side were probably about as good.  The pistol that did not quite take down Joe’s shields was indubitably a Krell disruptor pistol.  It’s a starcore weapon.  If the villains had fired it at Boston, they would have torched everything on the ocean side of Beacon Hill with one shot.  Assuredly it hit Joe’s shields, and his shields did not go down.  Joe won by himself.  On the way out, he grabbed the pistol and a Krell shield bracer from one of the miscreants. The miscreant was dead at the time.   Joe killed him.  Joe seems to have no compunctions about killing people.  Stars Over Boston got there after everything was over.  I am morally certain.  Joe teleported out with your daughters because he saw me appear. 

“Then, afterward, something broke into Castle Island Prison, put the guards to sleep without their noticing anything, hid its presence from the three members of Stars Over Boston who were also guarding the place, and exfoliated the memories of the surviving villains, incidentally killing them.  The villains were very deeply tranquilized and being given medical care.  Mighty Mind was going to search their memories, but was waiting for the needed court order.  Something else did not wait.  You may have heard about the ring of perverts in our country’s southern neighbors, the ones who were kidnapping persona children and torturing them to death? The people captured in Boston were their strike team.  The same night that the prisoners died, something appeared above the perverts’ main base, smashed down a very high power set of force fields, killed the personas defending the place, and rescued a bunch of children.  The political aftermath, when the detailed records were made public, is still reverberating.  People have heard the parts, but not connected the dots.”

“Is Janie safe near Joe?” Abigail asked. “Isn’t it dangerous to have personas that powerful wandering around in their vicinity? I’m not counting you, of course.”

“The only time I’ve seen Joe use his powers, that from a distance, he was protecting Trisha and Janie at what I hope he realized was a considerable risk to his own life.  Trisha and Janie have nothing to worry about, so far as I can tell.  Joe took a big chance to fight that crew.  I’m not sure whether or not he knew he was taking a chance.  He may have thought he would just stomp the people attacking Trisha and Janie into the ground.  If they’d been ungifteds, he would have. I want to speak to him.  With that sort of power, unless you have good training, your slight errors can get large numbers of people killed.  Including you, if you make a big enough mistake.  Also, someone put a geas on your house.  I find that bothersome.  There aren’t a lot of people who can do that, and none that I can name appear to have a motive.”

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Eclipse 44

“Why am I having dinner here?” Morgana asked. “That returns us to the issue I learned about tonight.” Trisha’s parents seem to think, Morgana thought, that their smartest and most sensible child is a complete idiot.  There’s no way to fix that. “Joe.  Janie mentioned she had a regular playing partner of that name, which is perfectly reasonable at her age.  It’s a very common name.  I didn’t connect with the persona who saved her a few years ago.  I don’t think the geas — the one I just removed — would have misled me.  I’m very good at spotting geases that try to bother me. 

“However, the Joe who plays Janie seems to have been very careful to make sure that I never met him.  After all, I’m the only person other than your daughters who knows what Joe-the-Public-Persona who saved your daughters looks like.  I’m significantly impressed if this Joe, whoever he is, is actually as strong physically as Trisha, given that neither of them have strength as a gift…and Trisha would know if Joe had that gift.  Two years ago, no one else got a good look at him.  However, I would’ve innocently assumed that if Janie had run into the fellow who saved her, she would’ve talked about it.  She did, except for not saying that they were the same person.  Do Janie or Trisha ever talk about what happened to them, two years ago?”

Morgana kept trying to fit the puzzle pieces together in her mind.  They refused to cooperate.  Janie had this remarkable City of Steel innovation.  She had this boy who had saved her, a boy with remarkably potent gifts.  Someone was casting geases.  Hopefully that someone was not Joe.  The thought of a child who thought he understood fourth level work was seriously alarming. 

Patrick and Abigail looked at each other. “We told both of them,” Patrick said, “that if they ever want to talk about it they may.  If they want someone else to talk to, we can arrange that.  They both said they were entirely comfortable talking with you.  What I didn’t expect, though maybe I should’ve, is that Brian wanted to be sure he understood what his sisters went through.  Janie shared mind to mind with Brian what she remembered.  They all said that Joe’s mom did something, so that they remember what happened, but they don’t remember being frightened, and they are not frightened when they think about it.  Or did you help with that?”

“I would’ve done that for them,” Morgana said, “but Joe’s mom did it first.  She did a very good job of it.” Morgana looked down at the table. “Actually, she did a truly fine job of it, and I can’t imagine who she is, either.  I could’ve taken care of their minds if they needed it.  Goddess only knows I’ve had enough practice healing people with after-combat mental distress.  What I meant to ask about was not those horrifying few hours, but the physical details of the persona combat.”

Abigail shook her head. “Trisha was out cold almost the whole time, and Janie said she didn’t see much except occasionally things got bright.  She was busy shouting for help.  She did pull Trisha over the edge of a sand dune.”

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Eclipse 43

“Brian and Janie between them have an additional gift, mayhaps because they’re almost identical twins,  because the random sort of chromosomes for fraternal twins managed to give them almost the same set of chromosomes, though obviously not quite the same, namely they can trade their gifts.  They did.  It was Janie using shields and plasma torch who took down the last of Emperor Roxbury’s robots.  As we’ve said, Trisha has ultrafast flight, deep space navigation, life support, meaning she can breathe for the people she’s carrying through space, this invisibility which she just mentioned, and telescopic vision.  On a clear night, especially if she goes above the atmosphere, she views a fair number of stars as having obvious discs.  And planets.  Questions?”

“I did say,” Abigail said, “that we should respect my children’s privacy so long as they were not going to get into any trouble or do anything dangerous.  From what you’re saying, my twins are safer with their gifts than they would’ve been without.  What am I missing?”

 “There was the issue I learned about yesterday, which is alarming but not dangerous,” Morgana answered, “and there is the issue I learned about tonight, which may be dangerous.  The alarming but not dangerous issue is that on rare occasion the Wizard of Mars invites people for tea.  Those people are very well advised to go.  That’s totally safe for the people involved, as opposed to visiting the Wizard of Mars and playing trade questions.  Trading questions with the Wizard of Mars rates up there with flying to the center of the sun… as a suicidal act.  For reasons I do not know and am not about to fly to Mars to ask, the Wizard of Mars has been inviting Trisha and Janie and sometimes Brian for tea.  He asked that they not tell anyone, because it would be dangerous to the whole world, and they fortunately had the wisdom to honor his wishes.  The last time they visited, he said that they could tell their sensei, and I could tell you.  So far as I can tell, he has been asking them completely innocent questions, and telling them educational stories.  I think he’s why Janie got over her issue with gifttruth.  I would strongly urge you to rely on the Wizard of Mars having good intentions.  He always has.  Also, the warning ‘dangerous to the world’ should be taken extremely seriously.  If someone had given the Lords of Eternity that warning, they would’ve had conniptions.”

“Brian is selling his models?” Patrick said. “He never mentioned. He only talks about fixing things. Wait!  My taxes!”

“I checked,” Morgana said. “Harry Truman’s Lemonade Stand exemption.  It’s strictly Brian’s work…he might get audited, but there’s no tax.” Patrick, she thought, is a truly self-centered person, someone entirely worried about how his children’s actions might reflect badly on him, and not at all on what might happen to them.  Most heads of state would sell their families into slavery for an invitation from the Wizard, and he is brushing it off in favor of his income tax being paid correctly.

“If you say the Wizard is safe for Janie and Brian,” Abigail said, “I believe you. I don’t think anything is safe for Trisha.”

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Eclipse 42

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“Faster than light?”  Abigail asked. “That means that in a few minutes Trisha could be millions of miles from Earth, and get lost.  We go to the supermarket, and she gets lost, can’t remember where we parked the car.”

“Has Trisha actually flown very far at high speed?” Patrick asked. “I’d hate to think she tried flying to the Moon and ran out of steam part way there.”

“We were going to discuss this,” Morgana said, “because she had this really neat photograph she wanted to show you, admittedly taken with one of my cameras, of the Milky Way galaxy.  The picture is from well to the Galactic South, so you can see all the spiral arms.  That’s about 600,000 light years out from the Galactic center, which she covered in under half an hour, notwithstanding the need for acceleration and deceleration and being careful not to fly through anything large and solid along the way.  Oh yes, she has the safe form of superspeed, so she isn’t getting any older if she spends a couple of subjective hours shoveling the driveway, the way she just did.” Morgana pulled a bitstick from her blouse pocket. 

“Socket under the table,” Patrick said. “The screen comes down from the ceiling when in use.” The three waited a few moments.  Up on the screen came an image, a huge photograph of a galaxy, multiple spiral arms all clearly visible. 

“Furthermore,” Morgana continued, “Trisha, Jessamine Trishaset, has true deep space navigation.  She cannot get lost, up to local hazards that she can fly away from, anywhere in our universe.  She knows exactly where home is.  And her other gifts would let her make that flight, all the way across the universe, though she might want a nap at the end.” Abigail swallowed deeply. 

“That’s our galaxy?” Abigail asked. “My specialty was computational astrophysics, not observational astronomy.”

“That’s ours,” Morgana answered. “Trisha took it.  She did want me along, half to kibitz on camera setup, half because…she could do it by herself, it’s perfectly safe, but she doesn’t trust herself.” Mostly because people don’t trust her, Morgana thought, and people keep telling her that she has bad judgement and will hurt herself if she tries anything challenging. “We did a timed flying run.  Trisha is undoubtedly the fastest persona in the world, including any of the Lords of Eternity.”

“To finish the grades,” Morgana continued, “Brian has a first rate set of screens, not to mention several plasma attacks that did a fine job on Emperor Roxbury’s robots.  If he were a grownup, he’d be welcome in Stars Over Boston, though it would be a waste of his time.  His model building is a gift, but a very rare one.  He’ll probably develop other gifts as he goes on, but he’s the type that develops a few things deeply rather than many things broadly.  Janie is an absolutely first-rate mentalist.  Besides telepathy and screening, she is one of the few personas I know who can read machine minds.  Very recently, she developed a mentalic attack, something that will kill people.  I emphasize that she has a very well developed sense of gifttruth, so she is safe with the gift in question, but if she is driven to the point that she decides that she has to kill someone, they will be very dead very quickly indeed. 

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Eclipse 41

“I try not to tell people this,” Morgana said. “The tenure committee agreed to a memory shield block, meaning that if anyone tried to read their minds about this, the block would use up the memory before the shield was worn through.  They could remember what I told them, but no one else could extract the information from them.  I’d rather you agreed to the same, it being much for your own safety.” Abigail nodded.  There were a few moments of silence. 

“First, notwithstanding that half of the grad students and post-docs in my and several other departments have what is supposed to be a secret betting pool on which of them will be the first to seduce me, the woman who is obviously the youngest female Professor at RTI,  I am not a young woman.  My persona name is not Sunsword, the Boston Post notwithstanding.  It is Sun’s Sword, because I was, once upon a time, the Golden Warrior, the Living Sword of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. That was the title; if there is such a Goddess, we have not met.  That was in the court of the Japanese Emperor, when I was living in the Nipponese capital, which at the time was Heian-Kyo.  Their capital has since moved..  I’m not at all offended that you thought I might not be up to coaching your children, since you had no idea who I am.”

“You’re how old?” Abigail asked. “Before we go farther, how is it that I’ve ended up with you sitting in my kitchen?  It would be like discovering that you’re Solara in disguise.  I’m not complaining.  I’m truly grateful for what you do for my children, but the coincidences seem strained.”

“Why am I here?” Morgana responded. “Far before you reach my actual age, you realize that you want to live in Athens.  The most civilized, cultured, sensible place there is.  In the Tenth Century, that was Heian-Kyo.  At another time, Byzantium, Baghdad, and Cordoba were mayhaps more civilized, but less welcoming to women.  Once upon a time, it was the Leviorkianu Domain, and others it was Marik-on-the-Sea or Gaia Atlanticea or Sarnath.  And now it is Cambridge, the American Athens.”  

“Second,” Morgana continued, “we really need to talk more about what it means that Trisha and Brian and Janie are all really first line personas.  It’s not just they have a few gifts.  Yes, Brian can ignore machine gun fire.  Janie can read minds.  Trisha can fly really, really fast.  We’ll get back to that in a moment.” Morgana paused to finish part of another croissant.  This was going to be more difficult than she had hoped.  She hadn’t realized quite how carefully Patrick and Abigail supervised their children, or how little they respected their own children’s judgement, poor Trisha’s in particular.  No wonder Trisha was short on self-confidence. 

“They’re all in good health.” Morgana tried to sound reassuring. “They may catch the flu, but they recover in a few hours. They are almost certainly immune to chocolate…but their friends aren’t. Janie and Brian, in very different ways, can focus very deeply on what they’re doing.  That’s why Janie has her Highly Respected by the Lords of the Hexagon, and Brian’s models sell for enough to pay for his hobby, the extra books he buys Janie, and Trisha’s sewing supplies and books and extra athletic equipment.  Trisha is a physical fitness fanatic, except…really, please stop telling her she’ll hurt herself if she works too hard.  Please? She won’t, not to mention she’ll recover in a bit if she totally overdoes things.  Your feedback is confusing her.” Actually, Morgana thought, it’s hurting her very deeply, but she’ll never say a word about it, and I can’t be telling her parents that. 

“That’s just what mothers say,” Abigail countered.  This was going to be a mess, Morgana thought.  Trisha is taking her mom literally, and I am not going to be able to explain to Abigail what that means when she talks at Trisha.  Nor can I tell Trisha not to listen to her mom. 

“Absolutely,” Morgana said. “The two feet of snow and plow curl she removed from your drive…she wasn’t vaguely close to her muscle and bone limits.  For her, that was just a healthy bit of exercise.  She knows it.  Please keep in mind that superspeed passes normally for her.  She actually had to shovel your driveway of two feet of heavy snow, one scoop at a time.  And catch her breath when she needed to.” Hopefully, Morgana thought, I have made a dent in the problem.  I can’t very well tell Abigail that she is absurdly condescending in ways that are hurting Trisha. “However, there is also the third thing.”

“Third?” Patrick asked.  To Morgana’s eyes, Patrick looked deeply thoughtful.  She had no idea what influence he had on his wife, who seemed to be the source of the issues Trisha was facing. 

“Trisha does fly faster than sound,” Morgana said. “Faster than light indeed being faster than sound.  And all three kids have full deep space gifts, so flying to the moon or wherever is not an issue.”

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Eclipse 40

“And now, Morgana,” Abigail said, “we are going to hear our children’s grades on your coaching them with their gifts, and you are going to get a reasonably solid dinner.  And tell us about the specialist support you arranged for Trisha.  Dinner was not meant as a suggestion.  Young people like you are too careless about eating properly at the right hours.” Abigail turned to the sideboard and began bringing dishes back to the table. 

Morgana looked at the ceiling. “Patrick, you really didn’t tell your dear wife what you know about me through the tenure committee, did you? I know you promised, and I understand that you Americans are very strict in respecting the privacy of private personas, but under the circumstances…” He really had not told his wife, she thought, and that bit of New England propriety was about to create an interesting conversation. 

“Young lady, that is we Americans,” Abigail said, “since Patrick did mention that you were an Englishwoman but had taken American citizenship, just like several of my ancestors did, five and seven centuries ago.  Yes, Patrick has completely respected the privacy of your private persona, enough so that I knew there was a Professor Morgana Lafayette, and I knew there was a public persona Sunssword, but I had never met you, the Professor, to know that you were Sunssword.  And now you have half of a roast chicken, shoe peg corn, sliced potatoes with sautéed onions and sour cream, and what is left of the tossed salad with Roquefort dressing.  Oh, yes, several croissants with butter.  Brian was too busy with his cooking to snatch any of my chocolate fudge, which is just as well as chocolate would have gotten him into all sorts of difficulty.  Now I can sit down and hear what is going on.”

“I hope you don’t mind if I eat while we’re talking,” Morgana said. “There are ways to cheat on eating, in an emergency.  Your cooking, from the smell, is absolutely superb, far better than the alternative.  My cooking has never poisoned anyone.  Well, not recently.  At least, not accidentally.  In any event, to use a line almost as old as I am, the kids are just fine.  The worst problem was that Janie has an extremely rigid and accurate sense of gifttruth, at the level that leaves people paralyzed with fear that they have done something wrong.  She got over the fear.  Fortunately, she got over the fear before The Emperor Roxbury’s robots showed up at her school, because she had to do something violent to deal with them.  She did.  She’s absolutely fine.” And in a few moments I get to explain just how she overcame her fear. 

“I was more worried about Trisha.  Flying faster than sound could be dangerous.  What if she accidentally left the Earth’s atmosphere? I told Patrick that she needed specialist coaching, but he assured me that everything was in good hands,” Abigail said. 

“Ummh, I think we all agreed that so long as she was not doing anything dangerous, I would be trusted with my professional judgement on coaching her,” Morgana said.  I talked it over with Patrick, she thought; I’m sure he understood what that statement meant.  And Trisha actually is too cowed by her parents to talk to them about how wonderfully good a flier she actually is.  I should have leaned harder on her, so I could find out what she’d told her mom and dad. “So I was the specialist.” Morgana paused.  Abigail stared at her.  Trisha hadn’t told her that. 

“You’re the specialist?” Abigail asked. “But, then, I inherited grandmother O’Rigamy’s second sight.  I saw what you had on the table, Morgana.  You are no mere hedge witch, are you? That was a full ritual casting.”

 “I think I’d better go back a step, Abigail, since you have absolutely no idea about my other public personas,” Morgana said.  Abigail nodded.  And I dodged the question, Morgana thought. 

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Eclipse 39

“Yes, ma’am,” Janie managed.  A boy would try something just because he was told not to. She was not a boy, she told herself.  If she was told not to do something, because it was way too dangerous, she wouldn’t give in to temptation.  Well, not Brian.  He was almost sensible enough to be a girl. <Can you teach me how to do…whatever it is? Or at least how to protect myself?> Only Morgana heard her question. 

<Yes.  But not soon.  Sorry.  Unless you want to give up games.  Talk later,> Morgana answered. 

<Ulp? Later.> Janie answered.  Give up games?  That was unthinkable, undenkbar, nevoobrazimy…and she realized that studying German and Russian, so she could read their games literature, had suddenly started to work. 

“Good.” Morgana touched the paper. “Nin amner Morgoth.” To Janie’s eyes, a point of blue light appeared on the page.  Morgana tapped the paper again. “Nin amner Calirath.” Another point of light appeared.  Morgana continued her chant.  When she touched the fifth point, the light from the points flowed out, forming a star etched into the paper, surrounded by circles within which burned words in a script Janie did not recognize.  To Janie’s eyes, the letters seemed to move, curling into and out of the page like tiny earthworms. “Now, all of you, try to remember that you want to ask Joe about his home address.  Good.  Wait.” Morgana gestured above the circle, her fingers making an intricate cat’s cradle that wove in and out.  Janie saw what her siblings did not, bands of light and lines of text connecting Morgana’s fingers.  The lights vanished.  The circle faded away, to Janie’s ears like the tuning fork that, once struck, fades and fades but never quite stops. “All done,” Morgana announced, slumping back in her chair. 

“What were you doing?” Brian asked. “Are you all right?”

“That,” Morgana announced, “was a fourth order attack in use.  Until I erased it.  It made sure that anyone in this house would not think that Joe had a home address or interlink ID, let alone wonder what they were.  Usually you would just think someone else knew the answer, so you didn’t have to ask.  The geas also made sure that no one would think it was interesting that the Joe here was the same as the Joe who rescued Janie and Trisha.  The attack followed Joe around, within a mile or two, so no one else would wonder.” She leaned back farther in her chair. “I’m all right, but it was very solidly embedded.”

“Who could do that?” Brian said, not quite making it sound like a question. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Morgana threw up her hands. “At a guess, Joe’s mom.  But I don’t know who she is.  ‘Cartwright’ is not a persona I can name.  Almost no personas can do things like this.  I don’t remember that any of the ones who can have children.  And thank you for asking, Brian.  Mayhaps another cookie, please? That was more than a bit tiring.” Brian handed her three cookies, the first of which rapidly disappeared. 

“You much look as though you need dinner,” Patrick announced, “and you three young ones need to give us a private conversation.  Your grades from Morgana, remember?”

“Yes, sir,” Brian answered. “Forward to modeling.” The three children headed upstairs. 

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Eclipse

“You are having dinner here,” Abigail ordered. “We owe you much more than that.  What do you need to do?”

“For the first I need your agreement,” Morgana said. “The first is called a null link.  It’s not mentalic, exactly.  But if anything happens to any of you, I know something is wrong and exactly where to find you.  It’s very slight editing of your subconscious, like crossloading an app onto a RadioBell.  Oh, when I’m done, you won’t remember that I did it.  Except you, Janie, you know your own mind too clearly.  You will remember.  You will also not remind anyone that they have one.  It’s a safety precaution.  Agreed?” Patrick, Abigail, Trisha, and Janie nodded.  Brian grimaced but finally mouthed agreement. “This just takes a moment.”

“Now,” Morgana continued, “the two things I need to do,” she winked at Janie, who smiled back, “are to find out if there’s a reason none of you know where Joe lives, and if so, what the reason is.  Each of you, try to remember to ask Joe for his phone number the next time you see him.” Her eyebrows wrinkled. “That was very interesting, but not the way I expected.  I can go to the next step, unless you want to drop it.” Janie needed a few moments to realize what had just happened.  Morgana had planted null links in her parents and her siblings, and in her mind, too.  None of them remembered it.  She hadn’t felt a thing when her link was implanted.  She could tell it was there, but it had just appeared, as if by magic. It was very good, that Morgana was so skillful, and very bad, that her own mindscreens were so completely worthless. 

“What was interesting?” Patrick asked. 

“I just asked you a certain question.  You don’t remember me asking.  You can’t think about the topic. You can think about related things, though maybe only with me sitting here, but not the question you just thought about.  Even you, Janie, and you have solid mentalic defenses.  You each had your minds changed, so soon as I asked the question, but the mind changing was not done with mentalics,” Morgana said. “That’s why your mentalic screens didn’t trigger, Janie, what was done was not mentalic. And some of my wards, ones that normally never do anything, were poked, not gently.”

“Is it dangerous?” Abigail asked. 

“In this world, nothing is safe,” Morgana answered. “Someone placed a geas on you and your house.  That’s all of you.  Having a geas like that in your house is almost certainly dangerous.  Yes, geas, a stable fourth-order construct.  It controls what you think, about a narrow range of topics, inobtrusively.  Leaving it there, now that you know it exists, even though you can’t remember what the topics are, is probably even more dangerous.  To remove it, I need a blank sheet of paper on a clean table.”

“Got it,” Trisha announced.  The suddenly clean table had a large sheet of blank paper on it. 

“Three of you will see nothing.” Morgana pressed the paper flat. “Abigail, Patrick mentioned that your grandmother on the O’Rigamy side had the second sight, so you may see a blue haze.  Janie, you will see clearly what I am doing, but you should absolutely not, not even if it’s life and death, try anything like this, not until you know exactly what you are doing.  Clear? And the rest of you, don’t interrupt.”

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Eclipse 37

Chapter Five

The Wells Residence

Arbalest Street

Medford, Massachusetts

Late Evening

The Wells family again sat around their dinner table, Morgana between Janie and her mother. 

“You were really great, Janie,” Brian said. “You went through the bad variations, and sort of skipped the good ones, except Eclipse’s.  And the three Grandmasters just stood there nodding.”

“Speaker Ming stayed awake,” Patrick said, “An art in itself.”

“He plays,” Janie said. “Whenever he asked about the board, he asked the right questions.” Janie decided that the Speaker was really a nice person.  After all, he had said good things about her command of the game.  She yawned.  She’d had three grandmasters grilling her about her move, for two hours, sometimes interrupting each other, sometimes interrupting her before she could get an answer out.  It had been exhausting, but she’d learned so much from their questions, so much about how to think about game positions.  With real luck, she’d fed them the subtly bad variations on her move. 

“He is a gentleman,” Patrick said, “so of course he plays the Five Games.” Unlike, he thought, my oldest daughter, whose skills at the Five Games are non-existent. She may be good in school, but in her development of personal excellence she is hopeless, gifts not counting toward excellence.

“You two were very thoughtful,” Morgana said to Brian and Trisha, “to prepare tea for everyone.  In nothing flat.  I assume the caramel-frosted hazelnut cookies were Brian’s again?”

Brian nodded. “I made them last Sunday and was saving them,” he answered. “Well, I was saving the ones Janie and I hadn’t eaten yet.  Trisha, I told you that you were perfectly welcome to have more of them.  Especially after you did all that shoveling.  That’s why I made so many of them.  I knew we’d have snow shoveling.”

“Professor Lafayette,” Janie said, “You were hiding it really well, but you looked nervous.”

“Just a bit,” Morgana answered. “The Americans were fine, but Kamensky had the Russian Imperial Elite Strike Command at the far end of his leash.  If he’d decided that Joe is Eclipse, which to me sounds massively idiotic, he might have had his people try to kidnap Janie to extract details from her.”

“No!” Abigail said. “My little girl?”

I’m not little any more, Janie thought.  I’m twelve.  Well, barely twelve, but twelve.  And the Russian who puts a hand on me is dead. 

“I said try,” Morgana answered. “Janie was safe.  You were all safe.  The Tsarists?  Unless things went massively bad, after they finished discussing good manners with me they were toast.  Burnt toast.  Two out of three safe isn’t bad, is it? OK, I was more worried about the neighborhood.  But there are two things I need to do here, and then I really need to go home and make dinner.”

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