Of Breaking Waves

“Hello. Today I’m Professor Morgana Lafayette,” she announced.  “The Speaker asked me to drop by to talk.  He didn’t say it had to be today, but the hint was clear.  Is he free? Is there a best  time?”

“Yes, ma’am.  Just a moment.” He pressed a button.  He was replaced by a beautiful picture of the Grand Canyon and sweet music.  In a few moments, his image returned in a split screen, the other half being the Speaker’s lead secretary, Ophelia Parrotwood.

“Morgana,” Ophelia gushed, “what a delight that you got back to us so quickly.  The Speaker is in the process of escorting someone out of the office.  If you can get here quickly, no, wait, the Capital teleport screen is up, so…’

“That’s a non-issue,” Morgana answered.  “I seem to recall your office has a west floor to ceiling window with nothing in front of it.”

“Yes, but…”

“I’ll be there in a  few moments,” she announced.

The occupants of Ophelia Parrotwood’s office affected not to be surprised when a woman stepped out of thin air in front of them.  Teleportation, after all, was a commonplace. The more astute observers realized that they were inside the Federal District teleportation screens, so the appearance should have been impossible. 

Ophelia’s enthusiastic greeting made clear the young lady was an invited guest.  “Morgana, it’s always such a delight to see you.  I hope you’re well?”

“I am indeed.  And you?”  Morgana asked.

“Also well, though not as young as I used to be,” Ophelia answered.  “As a girl, I would dance all night.  Now I prefer to sit for conversation as midnight strikes.”

“That’s practical experience, not age,” Morgana answered.  “But, hark, the Speaker approaches.”

No sooner had she made those remarks than Speaker Ming, in his informal robes of state, entered the room.  “Ah,” he said.  “Morgana!  So good you could be here.  Let’s step into my inner office.”

Morgana found herself squired into an overpadded armchair, its complicated print being chrysanthemums in full bloom.  Her blooms were gold and yellow.  His were pale pinks that accented his scarlet robes.   After  offering a few pleasantries, the Speaker got to the point.

“I have a legal issue, but do not know what to do about it,” he announced.  “It relates to Eclipse, may she rest in peace.   I gather that she grew up with her mother, and, one fine day when she was probably eleven years old, she was thrown out of the house.  I can’t propose endangerment, somewhat the reverse, but abandonment is illegal.  Is there a way to find and arrest her mother?  Do I actually have evidence for charges?  Eclipse was apparently entirely closemouthed about her parents’ names.  What should I do here?”

“Yes,” Morgana said, “I have the answer to this riddle.   I know it, but only because the Wizard of Mars invited me for tea.  You need to know it, to quiet your worries, though it is a terrible tale.  The actual answer is that the Wizard of Mars is an extremely cruel man.  Alternatively, he is bound by rules beyond our comprehension, rules that demand that for every answer there must be a proportionate price.  For every good he does, an evil must match.   For his answer to ‘How may I avert this doom, so far away yet so swift approaching?’, that doom being the Sword People and then the Invincible Star Demons, the price was indeed high. I didn’t ask this question. The Silver General did.”

“Are we to be like the High Technarchs,” Ming wondered, “crushed like grains of wheat between two millstones, when Solara and the Silver General clash?  That seems to be what happens whenever the Silver General manifests herself.”

“For better or worse, no,” Morgana answered. “The final Doom was Invincible Star Demons, actually the last three of them.  Except that this Doom has been averted, Eclipse sacrificing her life to do so, they would be here, sometime this year, and the world of the League of Nations would be one with Gaia Atlanticea.”

“Oh, dear.”  Speaker Ming had turned pale.

“For Astrid, the Silver General, the answer to that question, and the price for the answer, were the same.”

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Of Breaking Waves

Morgana Explains Eclipse to the Speaker

Professor Morgana Lafayette marched briskly down the corridor toward her new laboratories.  Her office was down the corridor bend; it could wait.

“Professor Lafayette!” The voice was directly behind her.

“Yes, Penelope?” Morgana answered, turning around as she spoke.  Penelope Fairweather was her new senior post-doc, and already doing a fine job.

“Your office!  There’s a messenger!” she said.  “In uniform.”

“Uniform?” a surprised Morgana asked.

“Service of the Republic.  With all the gold braid.  He said he’s from Speaker Ming, himself.” Penelope spoke so rapidly she had to stop to breathe.

“I’d better see him first, then,” Morgana said.  Now what? she thought.  She’d been hoping to get real work done today.  Days before teh term started were precious things, easily wasted, falling away forever in a shower of scarlet sparks like rubies from the hand of the Nizam.  “He’s at my office door?” 

Penelope nodded.

“I will try to be available soon,” Morgana said. “However, the return is my research funding.”  Not so long ago, people only thought of her as Morgana Lafayette, brilliant and very junior research scientist.  Now, a few people, more than she would have preferred, realized that she was also Morgan Le Fay, the Living Crone, Bringer of the Apocalypse.   It was not  much of a secret that the Speaker’s personal slush fund gave her very substantial resources. She hoped those were in recognition of her research, not terror of her persona identity.  Ming was very happily married to his new, much younger wife; Morgana ignored rumors that she had seduced him.  Of course, she considered, most of the people circulating those rumors had no ideas as to her public persona identity. She had planted many paintings that happened to show someone else as the notorious Morgan Le Fay.

She turned the bend in the corridor.  Standing in front of her office door , posture a stiff parade rest, was a young man in bright teal uniform.

“Hello?” she said.

He looked to his  side, pivoted, and executed a formal boot-slamming salute.  Morgana tapped her chest in response. 

“I gather there is a message for me,” Morgana said.

“Ma’am! Yes, ma’am!”

“Follow me into my office,” she ordered.  Her new office was considerably larger than her cubbyhole at Rogers had been; it was large enough for her entire research group to assemble in one place.  He deposited an envelope on her desk.  She looked, signed the outer jacket, handed him back a now-open outer envelope, and looked at the inner envelope.  “Was a reply expected?” she asked.

“No, Eternal Lady!” The messenger answered. 

“In that case, you can be on your way, and I need to see what Speaker Ming has to say for himself.” 

“Yes, Eternal Lady!” He exited. 

The message was quite short.  “Morgana, a technical moral issue has arisen on which I would appreciate your personal guidance.  I believe the matter would better be handled if we were in the same room.  My schedule today is free, if you ignore the line of Congressional supplicants.”

Different, she thought.  She tapped a long number into her old but very secure telephone.  In a few moments, one of Ming’s flak catchers appeared on the screen.

“Good aft,…” he swallowed. “Good afternoon, Eternal Lady, ” he stammered. “Speaker Ming’s office.”

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Of Breaking Waves

Note that I am also writing a physics review monograph, which is a bit slow. However:

“Yes, Snapdragon!  You, too!”  I took the other pony in my arms, the first Appaloosa pressing close beside the second.  For a few moments the three of us snuggled together.  It was wonderful to be back home, back with the wonderful creatures that so completely loved me. 

A horse head leaned over, poked me firmly in the stomach, then snuffled sideways, questing again for coat pockets and their unspoken treasures.

“Oh,  all right.  Both of you.”   I pushed the ponies apart, enough to jam a hand into each pocket, withdrawing a pair of Golden Delicious apples.  The slightest trace of concentration quartered each fruit.  Palms and fingers flat, I presented the apples, which were neatly taken up, crunched upon, and swallowed.  A further search of coat pockets produced another pair of apples, which rapidly followed the first, and two large lumps of maple sugar, all of which disappeared amid snorts of appreciation.  Additional snorts greeted my attention, one horse at a time, with brush and curry comb. 

Daffodil tickled the back of my neck, took my coat collar gently between equine teeth, and tugged gently towards the open field. 

“You want to be ridden, don’t you?’’  I asked.  I cuddled Snapdragon, who viewed being ridden as something to be taken or left, and patted Daffodil’s nose again.  “Okay, okay!”

The ponies held still as nylon halters went over their heads; lead lines followed.  Setting one hand firmly on Daffodil’s shoulders, I vaulted onto the gelding’s back.  Without prompting, Daffodil turned for the out-of-doors, the mare pacing a few steps behind.  I felt my hair, confirming that my hat was solidly in place, its tie firmly under my chin.  The math said someone flying nearby could pick out my hair color, at least under perfect conditions; blue-white blonde was rare enough that a hundred tons of Manjukuoan gold might prompt that someone to investigate.  Tomorrow it was back to the hair dye. 

I made the lightest of mindscans.  No one else was on the property, nor in line of sight outside.  Bareback riding at full gallop distracted some of my neighbors, even when the ponies had perfectly proper halters and reins.  I could, I thought, dispense with reins, using telepathy to show the ponies exactly what I wanted, but guiding a horse by telepathy  was like arguing with a small, good-tempered child who has recently discovered the `no’ concept and always likes to experiment with it. I nudged Daffodil, who responded eagerly with a canter, then, clearing the paddock, with a full-winded gallop. 

Much later, two contented appaloosas and their exhausted mistress returned to the barn.  The ponies scented food and forgot their rider, who gratefully dismounted, separated them from their harnesses, and headed for home.  

I hung my clothes on the bathroom door.  The water was now hot enough for a good bubble bath and subsequent shower.  Hair dried, wrapped in nightgown and down-filled bathrobe, I raided the refrigerator.  Milk, soda bread, and roast chicken made a delightful meal.  Surely Daffodil and Snapdragon wouldn’t begrudge my one apple?  I needed a nap.  Bathed, fed, at long last secure in my own bed, I snugged the quilt around my shoulders, tucked my head into the pillows, and fell into dreamless sleep. 

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Of Breaking Waves

Armor plate?  Well, there was a new roof.  Reroofing had been gruelling hard work.  Water marks in the attic said it was mandatory.  The wood underneath was still mostly sound, but the roofing was too old.  Fine-control telekinesis did mean I could literally strip the shingles from an entire roof, every nail pulled out by its roots, in a single burst of concentration.  Foresight had been the recognition that if I tore off the roof all at once, I had to replace every bit of it before the next rain, a real gamble late last fall.  Repairing the roof a section at a time, replacing rotted wood with new boards, laying down and sealing the felting, cutting flashing and asphalt tiles and dragging them into place, and nailing the whole thing down, securely enough that the first good wind wouldn’t destroy my work — that had been hard-earned experience and exhausting muscle work.   Only after several days of hammering had I figured out how fine telekinesis could drive masses of nails effectively.  A realization that exhausting muscle work was now only hard muscle work, that rolls of roofing felt could be moved with a dedicated heave of shoulders and back and legs, rather than the burst of telekinetic energy I barely dared risk using, showed muscle work had consequences.  Those consequences paid off in the Maze, when traps set to the Maze’s anticipation of a child’s strength and endurance failed to close around me.   

In the months since, working in moments stolen from studying, stolen from my ponies, stolen from my duty to my gifts, I’d managed to refurbish and decorate two rooms and part of a third.  I loved the rooms, but they were a far cry from Star’s Fortress of Evanescent Darkness.  And that much progress had been possible only because the last owner had replaced all the utilities, so wiring, plumbing, solar heat assists, and hot-water heat were all in good order. 

Bathing — the hot water tank would need a while to refill and reheat — seemed most in order.  Then I could go to bed.  My carryall went in a bedroom corner; the reserve crash kit went by my bed.  I changed clothes, replacing moon-gray garb with sneakers, corduroy pants, largish brightly-checked shirt, oversize felted jacket, and floppy straw hat.  Neighbors saw the disguise inconceivable to Star and Cloud: I was obviously the 13-year-old son of the house.  Raiding the kitchen filled jacket pockets. 

I stood in the loft of my three-walled barn.  Below the loft, the fourth wall remained over its center half open to the elements.  Dry cat food in the automatic feeder was somewhat depleted,  neat lines of tails showing where Bluebell and Columbine had been busy among the rodent population. Their nest, woven of sticks and cloth and paper and plastic scraps, was empty — they must be out hunting.  Two tins of tuna fish went down besides the tails. 

I dropped hand-over-hand down a pipe.  The horses were outside.  That was for the best, I told myself.  They expected to have the barn mucked out regularly, but found the slight glimmer and crackle of telekinetic energy disheartening.  Of course, I could muck the stalls with a shovel and barrow, so I wouldn’t frighten them, at a dozenfold the time investment — not to mention what I’d smell like afterwards.  No, some sacrifices were not worth their price.  Not today. 

A whorl of light struck at the barn floor, primly collecting hay, road apples, and miscellaneous material into a neat pile that floated itself to the side door. The spreader robot, bought by the former owner, hummed into action, rolling out the door towards the next section of garden plot.  I still took the time needed to refill by hand the feed bins with hay, and to put back and shoulders into spreading the now-clean floor with straw and wood chips. 

I was so intent on my barnyard chores that I missed the clop of hooves behind me.  A friendly nudge across my back sent me staggering.  I whirled, caught the pony around the neck, and hugged it tight. “Daffodil!  Oh, Daffodil!  I’ve so missed you!”  The Appaloosa nickered gently, delighted at my return.  A second clatter of feet was followed by the press of damp, oversize lips, first across the back of my neck, then probing towards coat pockets.  I took half a moment to ponder the difference between horses here and there.  Why were horses there not as smart and loyal as dogs and cats? 

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Of Breaking Waves

An inpouring of cerulean light, a chorus of lonely bells.  I stood in my own kitchen, every surface sparkling, white-painted woodwork gathering the sunlight that poured through gingham-curtained windows.  The room brought to my nostrils the faintest overlay of cinnamon and cocoa.  A lightning tour of the house showed all was in order.  Propane and oil tanks were nearly full; a few minutes restarted the water heater and reset the house heat from unoccupied to occupied level.  My bedroom, wood-panelled, queen-size bed with neat black-and-white quilts, black and grey checkerboard carpets, solid oak dresser and chair, and mahogany vanity table, were all as meticulously neat and clean as when I’d left them.  The sheaf of wheat, spreading out from a cream-white ceramic vase, had collected a spider web.  A furry stuffed cat, a fragment I’d saved from the home in which she’d grown up, hung from the bedboards.

I remembered the days before I left for Mars, spending hours and hours cleaning house, telling myself that work before I left meant tranquility on return.  I’d been right.  I drank in the order in the house, let it suffuse my flesh and restore my strength.  Doors and windows were closed. A lavender sachet had saturated my bedroom with its delicate scent. Floor to ceiling glass with frilly country drapes faced west and north, revealing acres and acres of well-fenced pastureland with the coastal hills beyond. 

My study and library, boards for built-in bookshelves cut to length and freshly stained, desk with Tempest-class computer and stacks of schoolbooks and CD-ROMs and self-study discs, reminded me of what I had not been doing these past weeks.  I told myself I’d have plenty of time now.  I was totally worn down.  For the next month, serious use of my gifts was strictly for saving my own life.  I might teleport to the barn, but someone else would have to save the world.  The thought of studying reminded me of home — my real home, the one I’d had to leave, the one in which Mom had always been there when she’d been needed, whether it was words of praise, a little firm encouragement to do what I knew I was supposed to do, or just the right question so I’d figure out everything for myself.  No matter.  That was over, and I knew in my head that it must be the best for me.  Even if I didn’t know why.  Sometimes my heart even agreed. 

Other rooms were carpeted and draped, but virtually bare of furniture.  A faked parental bedroom would convince prying eyes that my parents lived here, too; I had to remember to keep that room clean even though I never used it.  A few lamps and chairs, positioned before windows, were arranged to fool prying strangers.  One rocking chair sat by the front picture window.  The rolled hammock in the back closet waited for warmer spring.  I remembered the Fearsome Four’s estimate of my base: the Fortress of Evanescent Darkness, complete with hardened steel armor, atomic force-screen generators, subterranean caverns filled with scientific equipment, and the — no, Star had not been pulling my leg — the batteries of tesdri-controlled nuclear-shelled nineteen-inch-guns.  I burst into laughter.  I had to laugh; the alternative was to cry. 

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Of Breaking Waves

Eclipse gets home eventually

The High Cascades

The first light of dawn awakened me. I was bundled in a polar-grade sleeping bag, with a wool scarf covering my face.  This high in the Cascades nights could be bitter cold, but I was someplace where absolutely no one could find me.  In a few hours, I could safely teleport home, turn off the intrusion alarms, and enjoy living in my own house.

I’d been in my house three days ago.  I was real lucky.  I’d looked at a computer calendar to see how long I’d been away, local time.  I didn’t quite gasp in horror, but I was terrified.  Thanks to foamspace and travelling through the Tunnels, I had returned three days early, three days before I’d left. If I now met me, when I hadn’t done that before I left, the energy needed for paradox cancellation would come out of my hide, with surely fatal results.  Worse, I heard footsteps crossing the living room to the stairs. That had to be me, Eclipse, busy preparing for my trip across the universe.  I looked around, carefully, to be sure I hadn’t disturbed anything, and teleported out, my heart pounding.

I’d previously set up several caches of emergency supplies, not near the house, caches I checked like clockwork once a month.  I was sure I hadn’t checked them, before I left, to see that they were intact, so I could safely empty one of them and go hide for half a week.  The caches were perfectly adequate, including lots of things to read while I was hiding, and modern field rations. American, as it happens, those being the best available.  Three days of rest, even if the air was a bit cold, had repaired wear and tear from flying across the universe.

I considered the hour of the day.  Down in the coastal hills, other-me, me before I flew off to someplace and came back three days before I left, was about to travel to Medford. So soon as other-me was in Medford, I could safely go home. I waited until the sun was high in the sky.  By now Comet had formally divorced her parents, the Wizard of Mars had entrusted the four of us with a starcompass, and I and my friends were on our way across the universe. I gathered up my belongings, made sure I’d left no trash behind, and summoned teleport.  To the warble of nesting songbirds, I faded into the pale blue of an early morning sky.

* * * * *

I hovered among pine trees, my toes not quite touching the ground, every sense operating at full stretch.  The day was brilliantly clear, sky an impossibly deep blue, snow on distant mountains burning white.  There was my home, rutted driveway leading from garage toward an ill-maintained gravel county road, a well-worn path stretching from house to barn.  None of the burglar alarms had been triggered.  More passive mechanical traps, hidden snares to warn me if there’d been intruders, were equally undisturbed.  “The Fortress of Evanescent Darkness” as Star had named it, was neither dark nor evanescent nor fortified. 

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Of Breaking Waves

Eclipse reached ahead, feeling through the space from which Pickering had vanished.  He was gone. He hadn’t given her a chance to say her farewells.  He hadn’t even let her thank him for his hospitality.  She stared at ceramic walls, fixing the place in her memory.  Her forehead tingled.  She hadn’t at all expected what he had done.  She executed a delicate pirouette and strode up the Tunnel, her own home her firmly set goal. 

THEY WANT HER TO REVIVE THE NAMESTONE. SHE WON’T and CAN’T

The Tunnels.  The Grand Portico, exit to the plane of Earth.  To my Earth, anyway, thought Eclipse, since it seems that there’s more than one.  Her trip through the Tunnels’ ever-shifting stony hollows had been short, the Guardian announcing Eclipse’s toll was paid in full and indicating the correct exit.  Just as well, she decided, that Comet had paid for all five of them.  The Guardian’s prices always benefited the payer more than the Guardian, but she was too tired to want an expensive reward.  Forcing her way to the Great Maze had been difficult, no matter how much she owed Pickering.  Beyond the Tunnels, on this her home plane, she had ten billion uncharted lightyears to go.  And Pickering? His assist, carrying her from the Great Maze to the Tunnels in a single step, had been entirely welcome.  His unexpected kiss still tingled on her forehead.  She wished she had had a chance to thank him for all he had done for her. 

She paced across the terrace, stretching her arms and legs.  A step, a skip, a gentle hop took her into a double cartwheel. Even if she had a ways to go, it felt so good to be bound for home at last.  She finished the wheel, feet solidly planted.  A figure loomed out of the dimness ahead of her. 

“You were clearly not in a hurry?” it asked.  The voice was that of a woman in her early twenties, the sound matched by her figure.   Her garb was unmistakeable, a mix of white and yellow fabrics cut so tight that she appeared about to spill out of her garb, though she never quite did so.  The face mask was a plate of burnished gold, far wider than the head behind it, edges fringed in solar corona pattern, bejewelled eyes and mouth etched in a fixed grin.   Eclipse shuddered at recognition of the source.  Solara. “I’m afraid I seem to be blocking the stairs,” the older woman mock-apologized.  Solara shifted her weight, now standing to obstruct the portico’s only physical exit. 

“Not in a hurry.  Not really.  After you.” Eclipse gestured at the outer stairs.  This could be a coincidence, couldn’t it?  It didn’t sound likely.  The Guardian’s words, that her passage through the Tunnels had already been paid, came to mind, too late to be a warning.  Perhaps the payer had not been Comet. “There’s nothing I can’t wait on, if you need the Tunnels.”

“Clever.”  Solara’s smile, barely seen between golden lips,  was that of the cat whose mouse is firmly trapped between its paws. “But I’m afraid you have something we want.” 

“Something?  We?” asked Eclipse.  You managed, she noted, to voice that question without choking.  “What do you want?  I’m not a thief.  If it’s yours, I didn’t know it, and you can have it back.” “We.” Solara gestured at the plaza, dropping an invisibility field.  A really good field, thought Eclipse, one I completely missed, not that I was looking.  There stood Prince Mong-Ku, mandarin robes a silken scarlet shimmer; the Screaming Skull, a featureless black matte shape around which hovered the eldritch outline of a skinless, fleshless face; Plasmatrix-The-Desolation-of-the-Goddess, a female form marginally clad in bits of blindingly brilliant light; Starsmasher; and Corinne, Solara’s nominally teen-age daughter, the tiara of the Ambihelicon of Geyer at her brow. 

“Oh.  Hi.  Didn’t see you all there.”  Eclipse managed a weak smile.  You couldn’t, she thought, stand up to Plasmatrix, that when you were fresh and she’d just flown across half a universe.  Though you might have fooled her; she may think you stood up to her.  But now you’re facing five of them at once, you not rested at all, and Corinne with the Ambihelicon.  Be calm, she told herself, don’t start anything unless you’re positive other choices are worse.  “I said I’m not a thief, Solara,” Eclipse continued.  “If you were ungifted, wheelchair-bound, blind, if I had something of yours, no matter its value, no matter I needed it as much as life itself, you only had to ask for its return.  You didn’t need to bring a mob along.  Or are you too deep into playing games with minds?”

Solara recoiled at Eclipse’s accusation.  Some intuition told Eclipse that Solara’s response was important, important at a level that Eclipse didn’t understand. 

“Games?  No,” answered Solara.  “ Not at all.  But you have distracted the boys — the great captains. the ministers of state — from their important duties.  Duties to the form of the future.  I can’t permit that distraction to continue.  Not now.  Too much, too many important things, rest on their undistracted thinking.  So I must remove the distraction.” She pointed at Eclipse. 

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Of Breaking Waves

The one thing, he thought, that I could not remember except while she was here, and could not remember if I tried to tell her, was that she is my daughter, a detail that in a few moments I will forget permanently.

He looked around the room, then stared at his calendar. It seemed that the entire week had passed as if he had been in a dream, with nothing to remember, but the word count on his desk display showed that he had indeed been productively busy.  He’d had a trip this afternoon, hadn’t he?  He must have taken a walk, and passed it in thought, so there was nothing to remember of it.  So what had he been doing?  His routine must have been so humdrum that he could remember nothing of it.  For some reason, the gap bothered him.

“Telzey, my schedule, the last week?” he asked.

Searching. Telzey paused. I have no records of that.

“Surveillance camera records.  Search.  Where was I on Wednesday?”

House security records for the last week have been deleted.  There was no transfer to remote storage. There is no record of a reason for the deletion. I have a message from you. ‘All that was deleted was done in my name and by my direction, for a good and sufficient reason.’

How charming, Pickering thought.  Something has happened to my memory, and to Telzey’s records.  The memory trick – that was surely one of my five visitors, who I always trusted. He scanned his desk, finding a note in his own handwriting. 

I will not remember the week clearly, the note read, with my consent, to protect my five visitors from serious harm, however annoying I will later find the gaps in my memory.  Last week will be a dream, one from which you have now awakened.

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Of Breaking Waves

“The Maze gets you home?” she asked. “By yourself?  That’s fine.  I’ve got a long flight ahead of me.”

“As it happens,” Pickering announced, “the Rules allow me to take you along.  And if our path happens to pass the Tunnels, and you choose to depart the path there, that’s your privilege.” Eclipse stared at him, eyes widening.  “Under the rules, I’m obliged to carry you.” He leaned over and scooped her up, his arms forming a seat while she clung to his neck. 

“Fortunately,” he remarked, “from the Maze to home all paths are but a pair of strides.  One.” He took a step…

and they were elsewhere, a circular hole blasted into dark stone.

“The tunnels,” she recognized. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” He lowered her to the obsidian paving of the entrance plaza.   She stared, unsure how she might thank him. 

“I regret I can bring you no happiness, only a shortcut homewards.  May your journey prove well-fortuned,” he said matter-of-factly.  Then, to her utter astonishment, he leaned over, kissed her gently on the forehead, and took a second stride…

to his library.  It was late afternoon, sunlight cascading from white-painted wood onto the magnificent carpet and drapes.  Pickering was utterly alone, his house empty again.

The one thing, he thought, that I could not remember except while she was here, and could not remember if I tried to tell her, was that she is my daughter, a detail that in a few moments I will forget permanently.

He looked around the room, then stared at his calendar. It seemed that the entire week had passed as if he had been in a dream, with nothing to remember, but the word count on his desk display showed that he had indeed been productively busy.

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Of Breaking Waves

Moments later, Pickering stepped from behind one of the columns.  He looked empty, drained of his usual humor and energy.  Eclipse sprang to her feet.  What was he doing here?  Or was this some trick of the Great Maze, some reminder that she had crossed an unmarked boundary and was subject to its whims?   

“All my life,”he said.  “All my life.”He stared across the vast piazza, not seeing her.  “All my life, I have been pursuing a dream. Always convinced  I had made small mistakes, correction of which would solve everything.  Mistakes, I thought, I could have corrected, if I had been a bit more clever, a little sooner.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing I might have done would have worked.  Not and gained me what I wanted.  Even this cyclopean edifice,” he gestured at the squat pile of stone behind him, “for all its command of time and space, cannot help me.  All it did was find alternate failures. Failures.”

“Failures?” she asked.  “But you’re alive!”

“Of course I’m alive,”answered Pickering. “The Maze only kills those it defeats.  But it didn’t matter.”

“But it was only moments!” she protested. “You weren’t gone long enough to win.”

“The Maze lies beyond space and time.  It was hours.  Or was it days?  Long enough to solve a variety of interesting albeit trivial puzzles.  But that’s over.  It didn’t matter.” Pickering shrugged. 

“You walked the Great Maze?  And it doesn’t matter?” she asked. 

“I walked the Maze, stood at the Arch of Time, where the tapestry of fate may be woven and rewoven.  And found that no matter how the threads are arranged, my dream was not to be.  Either she found another, or the finding changed her, so she was not what she was to have been, or … many things.  All failures.  It all didn’t matter.” Pickering’s voice was devoid of all emotion. 

“Even the Great Maze couldn’t help you?  That’s awful.” Eclipse wondered for what Pickering had actually searched, what impossible goal defied even the Great Maze’s supposedly infinite power.  She knew it was all grownup romantic nonsense, but it made absolutely positively no sense whatsoever. 

“Now we have each walked a Maze, mine less challenging to me than yours to you.  And neither of us gained great reward thereby.” Pickering looked over the embankment, down into the starry void, a darkness without matched by his darkness within. 

“But wait!”she exclaimed.  “From the Arch.  From the Arch of Time, no mortal may leave dissatisfied.  That’s the promise.”

“True,”said Pickering.  “So you may be satisfied, or you may be not allowed to leave.  Or, as I explained to the MazeMaster, you may leave behind mortality.  He shared the remarkable assertion that no mortal would believe my observation.  Do you disbelieve me, or are you immortal?”

“No.  No to both.  I think.  Sure I believe you.  That can’t be right—you’re not allowed to, said the Mazemaster.  The Maze’s Master is an immortal.  Sometimes answers of immortals demand exceedingly convoluted interpretation,” a puzzled Eclipse responded. 

“I found the last of these alternatives appealing. Curiously, of those who have stood astride the Arch and seen the flux of temporal possibility, almost none agree with me.”

“You gave up dying?” Eclipse asked. 

“Adara’s people make a habit of it,” Pickering answered. “Giving up dying, I mean.  And they seem to do reasonably well, for a group of slave-holding sword-wielding barbarians overrun by overaged mafiosi. But now, dear, we must not overstay our welcome.  The rules allow me a choice of paths home.”

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