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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Of Breaking Waves

Several Bits in Between

Eclipse Goodby to the Kosters

Spring had reached the Koster’s back yard.  Crocuses, gold and white and purple, filled side flower beds.  Massed green sword points of daffodil shoots rose between them, their first white and pink and button-red blooms opening to the morning sun.  It was a Sunday morning.  Eclipse could hear the thoughts of four Koster children, breakfast completed, sitting on their back sunporch, doing their homework.  Their parents were still upstairs, enjoying a final cup of coffee.

“No time like the present,” Eclipse said to herself.  She strode across the lawn, surrounded by blades of grass and grape hyacinth leaves just turning green after a winter’s sleep. 

Heather Koster looked up from her homework, stared, and ran to the door.   “You’re dead,” she announced as she pulled it open.  With those words brothers and sister looked up from their own work.

“I’m tougher than I look,” Elipse explained.  “I just came to say good-bye.”

“Mom!  Dad!”  Peter shouted.  “Eclipse is here!”

~~~~~

A gloomy Victoria Wilson sat on her favorite perch above Thornberry pond, her feet not quite touching the water. A brisk breeze blew across the water, raising tiny waves that lapped against the stone wall below her.  She should be cold, she thought, but her magic, no, her gifts, the gifts Eclipse had given her as a safety precaution, were keeping her warm.  She had to be careful with using them, though.  Telling mom and dad about Adara had been challenging enough, even with Eclipse at her shoulder.  Telling them that she could now fly, catch bullets in her bare hands, and punch holes in reinforced concrete walls would be too much.  She’d done the right thing, she told herself, accepting Eclipse’s gifts, even if they came with a price she hadn’t considered.  Her gifts, she thought, did offer her a job opportunity, or would if she were a better actor.  All those silly superheroine TV shows needed stuntwomen.  She would be perfect, if she had any idea how to get to first base as a candidate.

“Victoria?”  Someone had come up behind her, without her hearing a thing.  She looked over her shoulder, and sprang to her feet.

“Eclipse?  You’re dead?” she managed.

“In the flesh,” Eclipse answered. 

Victoria reached out, confirming Eclipse was solid, not an illusion.  Touch turned into hug. 

“I’m here to say good-bye,” Eclipse said.  “Our universes are parallel.  I’m going home. My pets will miss me.”

“Thank you,” Victoria said.  “Thank you for helping me with my parents.  And for saving everyone in the world.”

“You’re welcome,” Eclipse said.  “For me it’s always ‘Life, lighter than atoms.  Duty, heavier than worlds.’  Don’t copy me.  It’s a great way to get yourself killed.”

“Sounds good to me,” Victoria said.  “Perhaps you should change?

“Please don’t tell anyone I’m alive,” Eclipse asked. “But I had to come back to see you.  Because the memory of me dying…it might turn you away from using your gifts, when you absolutely had to.”

“I, oh, you’re right,” Victoria said.   “I was getting depressed.  Having these gifts, not being able to tell anyone, getting my parents really mad at me…but you being alive, at least I don’t have to be so afraid of the gifts.”

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” Eclipse said, “and was afraid I wouldn’t.”

“Will you ever be back?” Victoria asked.

“Never say never,” Eclipse answered.  “But not likely.  It’s an incredibly long trip.”

“Well, then, good-bye.”

“Yes, good-bye.”  Eclipse faded into the blue of a bouquet of bachelor’s buttons, the jingle of sleigh bells ringing softly in the cold air of early spring.

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Of Breaking Waves

You are seeing fragments, some of which are not consistent with others. But slight progress is being made.

“I checked.  Your world and mine have the same essay.  Yours is hard to find.  Ours is the most read book in the world.  Cloud and Comet and all the guys, they’ve already memorized bits in second and fourth and sixth grade; they’ll read it in ninth and twelfth grade, and likely twice again in college.  My mom made me read it in Latin, well, she said I should.  And I’ve always trusted her completely.  So I did.  After I learned Latin.  I read it a month before we left each other.  So I have a community.  It’s only Cicero is dead, so he can’t answer my questions, so I have to figure out myself what he meant.” She turned her attention to the meal. 

Far later, main courses having been followed by apple pie and ice cream, Pickering began a fresh question.  “That leads me to my other inquiry, the one I’d hesitated to ask before, hesitating until the opportunity seemed lost.  You once mentioned the Great Maze, where past and future may be woven and rewoven.  Where is it?”

“You want to see the Great Maze?  It’s not far at all, allowing it’s where it belongs, here in your world.  But why?”she asked. 

“Eclipse, I don’t want to see the Great Maze.  Comet explained its rules.  I want to walk the Maze, understanding that failure and death are one and the same there.” Pickering sounded totally serious. 

“Walk the Great Maze?  You?  It tests people relative to their limits.  I guess with its rules you’d have the same chance as anyone else.  Not very good.  I wouldn’t dare try it,”she said. 

“I do not ask you to go for me.  I’m asking you where it is, so I can get there myself.  There’s something I need to correct,”he explained. “Something I can’t correct here, for all my genius, my scientific pre-eminence, my untold millions, Telzey’s computational skills.  Something in the past, done forever, locked away by the passage of time.”

“It’s not quite suicide to try the Maze.  It’s been done.  Not by a human being, not that I know.  If you really want to go, I’ll take you.  Tomorrow morning.  It’s not much out of my way.  And that Maze lets people back out, if they want to turn and run.   So if you find it’s insoluble, I’ll just bring you home again.”

“Agreed.  What should I wear?  Armor?  A space-suit?”inquired Pickering. 

“Its puzzles are mental, not physical.  Whatever gives you confidence.  But why?”she asked. 

“Let us say that Telzey’s image is that of a real person. One who kept to her original course.”

“Oh. Got it”  Grownup romantic silliness, she thought.  But what was wrong with Telzey, whatever her name really was, that she didn’t like Pickering?  He had to be one of the nicest people she had ever met.  Perhaps her guess was completely misplaced.  Perhaps Telzey had met someone else first.  Or was his judgement that bad? 

He looked wistfully into the trees, no longer seeing his own breakfast room.  Eclipse decided that she did not want to see a sad Pickering face to face. 

“I’ll take you.  I owe you more than that.  I wish you wouldn’t.  I’ll, I’ll be sad to remember you, if you fail.  One thing: it lets you back away.  You can quit and turn around,”she repeated. 

“Eclipse, there is no more wonderful thing that you can ever do for me.  Unless I mistake what I see, though,  it is far past your bedtime.”

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Of Breaking Waves — continued

 

Now on sale: Practical Exercise

“He knew.  I’m not infinitely strong.  I’ve had gifts longer.  That helps.  Their gifts limit themselves.   If they want extra power, it’s a real struggle for them.  I know how to call power, all I want.   If I don’t mind wrecking myself up.  I get attritted calling my gifts.  My limit is that attrition kills me if I go too far.”

“Attrition?”

“Star could spend all day slicing tanks to ribbons, no sweat.  When Comet crashed out, when you met us, she’d done thirty hours without sleep and twenty billion lightyears, carrying more weight than she should, in twenty hours.  But me?  Anything I do hurts me, a bit.   Luminosa wiped me out, enough so I was half-conscious for a day.  And there’s long-term damage: When I get home, I forget using gifts for a couple weeks.  Or I’m in real trouble.”

“You’d be welcome to stay here permanently,”Pickering exuded total sincerity. 

Eclipse shook her head. “My pets wouldn’t like that.  Ponies get lonely.  The cats would start to get wild.  Besides, I want to go home.  Sleep in my own bed.  No matter that you gave me the most wonderful bedroom I could ever imagine.  Lots nicer than mine.  It’s just not home.”  She returned to her original conversation.  “I said I came to apologize.  I haven’t.  We promised we’d go away.  But I haven’t.  I don’t have an excuse.  I, I just couldn’t face the trip, not twice across the universe, not until I’d healed up a bit.”

“No one here would fault you,”answered Pickering.  “Indeed, if you promised to let us work our own justice under our own laws, in our own terribly inefficient way, no one would be upset if you remained here forever.  Certainly no one, except a few politicians afraid for their necks,  minds if you spend the night.”

She smiled shyly. “If you put it that way.  But in the morning I’ll go.  I have two other good-byes to make.  I left some things to do back at home.”

Pickering set out dinner.  Eclipse was girlishly polite, ready to make conversation, but obviously ravenously hungry. 

 “I hear.  I accept your apology.  Say no more.   Tell me, though.  What is your community, to which you are gift-true?” he asked. 

“My community?” She seemed taken aback, sampling the food to postpone answering his question. “My community is the one you always have to live with.  The one you carry with you.  It’s — all the hero tales and books you read, everything your mom tells you.  They’re in your mind.  You have to live with them.  You can’t ever leave them.”  She finished another mouthful of cous-cous.  “I’m alone.  Alone as you can get, in my world.  My community is me.  And my past.   Did you ever read Cicero’s {\em On Duty}? “

“A fine, inspirational work, scarcely read in these unfortunate and decadent times,”responded Pickering. 

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Of Breaking Waves Continued

Now Published — Practical Exercise

“Limited?  Nonexistent?  Publishable?”Eclipse burst into giggles, paled, and clutched her side.  “Sorry.  My joints still hurt if I move fast.  No, that’s real kind of you, me not having insurance or anything.  But you don’t need to.  Besides, what could your people do?  You can’t even X-ray me; I’m, like, totally opaque to x-rays.  It’s not that I haven’t been banged up before.  I found a quiet place.  Spending a few days lying there, healing, fixed everything serious.”

“Did you have enough food with you?  Are you hungry now?” Pickering asked.

“I had water and survival rations.  I don’t have to eat, in a pinch, though that trick is really not good for a growing girl.  But I hate to impose on you.  I came here to apologize, not to mooch another meal,”she explained. 

“I am entirely capable of directing unwelcome freeloaders to the door,”responded Pickering. “You, on the other hand, saved my world from great misfortune and are a welcome guest.  You are surely welcome in almost any home in these United States, save for a few occupied by judges and congressmen.  I fear that my references to hanging corrupt political officials frightened them.  Would steak and salad do?  I have a cous-cous, a bit hot with curry and ginger, and imam bialdi — eggplant and tomatoes and olive oil.”  Her eyes lit up. 

“It sounds great!  But me?  Welcome?”Eclipse was utterly astonished. 

“Of course.  You’re a hero.  If you hadn’t done —  what you did — the Star Demons would have killed us all.”

“Your people?” Eclipse wondered.  “Yeah, the Tibetan  Empire was just setting up its production lines.  And force walls and antimatter bombs were a lot more effective against a single target — Comet and me – not that it did them any good — than against flocks of aircraft.  So you would’ve won against the Tibetans, I guess, at least if they didn’t summon the Star Demons, but lots of your people would’ve died.”

“We know,” Pickering said. “My whole country knows, now.  I said you would be a beloved heroine, welcome in any home in the land, except for the minor detail that we gave you a state funeral.”

“Me?  Welcome?” Suddenly she produced a handkerchief from her cloak.  Pickering turned his back, making busy with cooking, letting the steak grill until her tears subsided.  She continued.  “Sorry.  It’s so different, having people who like me.  It’s not that way at home.  Not at all.  No matter I saved a lot more people there, from something far worse, than I saved here.  They don’t understand, so they all hate me.”

“I understand why you did what you did. And Comet and Aurora said they understood.”  Pickering produced a cup of warm milk, slightly flavored with cocoa and cinnamon, from the microwave.  “Cloud hoped you had died.  His reaction was unforgivable.  Unless your world is incomprehensibly different than mine.”

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Of Breaking Waves — continued

there’s a gap here, things I have not written yet.

Late evening.  The sky was dark.  The full moon, partly masked by scudding clouds, illumined the silhouette of an ancient pine.  Pickering, alone in his study, worked at his desk, pausing once and again to admire  the baleful flicker of the moon’s reflection in his dark and wind-swept lake.  Line after line of text marched across the monitor as his latest monograph acquired another chapter. 

A window opened in the display, Telzey’s ever-smiling visage in its center.  Guten abend, Herr Doktor Professor, she announced.   A visitor has entered the west gazebo from unknown direction.  At the five-sigma level, it is Miss Eclipse.

“Display visual, west gazebo, full screen.”ordered Pickering.  The monograph’s prose was replaced by a television image of the porch.  The outside lights were dim, but the cape and silver-white hair left little doubt as to the visitor’s identity.  Eclipse was clutching the railing, leaning to support her weight.  Slowly, she straightened her back. “Telzey, outside lights \ldots no, cancel, cancel.  Outside pinlights, full garden, all on.  Kitchen and breakfast room, lights off.” Let us not, though Pickering, alert everyone spying on me to the fact that I have a guest, one about whom they would rather not hear.  That’s especially the case when the guest is dead if not buried. Nor let us call their attention to my doors, opening and closing.  He skipped down the stairs. 

Swinging open the side door, he met a wan, thinner Eclipse.  Her smile was visibly forced.

 “I came to apologize,”she said. “I promised we’d be gone days and days ago.  They went; I didn’t.  I would’ve gone, if I could have done it.   I just couldn’t.”

“Come in!  It’s cold out there.  And you don’t owe apologies.  Aurora told me what happened.  You killed three star demons, and they seemed to have taken you with them. ” He led the unprotesting girl through his kitchen, swaddled her in a comforter, and urged her into a window seat.  “The girls were convinced you’d been expanded to incandescent plasma. I could arrange for you to be hospitalized, though local clinical experience with personae is, let us say, limited.”

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Of Breaking Waves — continued

We are still in Chapter 1. Eclipse has returned to a place that is not quite our Earth, a place that she recently saved from the invincible Star Demons..

By now Comet and friends, the four of them, would be back home.  They would be enjoying the benefit that I would not, if I ever got home.  Star and Aurora would be re-united with their parents, Morgana and if need be the Speaker would ensure that Comet was safely housed near her new school, Cloud would see his mother and father, something that I … I groaned with pain.  Mum had warned me that overcoming a memory block, all the missing memories coming back at once, was agonizing, because the memories struck from within with absolutely no warning.  No surprise.  She was right. 

For a few moments I was seeing double, with blank areas where the eye actually does not see anything.  I closed my eyes, waited, and things were back to normal.  Normal, except I knew what the mind control had done.  All my life, I had been unable to think about the possibility that I had a father as well as a mother.  Any time someone made a reference to my dad, about whom I know nothing, the words were papered over, so that I simply did not hear them, and was not aware that I was not hearing them.  Mum never spoke a word that would trigger the mind control.  More recently, now that I thought about it, Aurora had noticed that I could not hearing certain questions, and steered people away from asking further. 

But why the control?  It was one more oddity in my past.  Of course, if I wanted to court death to find the answer, I had but to fly to Mars and ask the Wizard of Mars.  I’ve tried a quite adequate number of suicidal stunts in my life, thank you, including flying to the starcore, treading the Maze, and taking three star demons single-handedly, but I had a good reason for doing them.  Asking the Wizard of Mars a question is just as suicidal, because his price is very high, but the reward sounded too limited.

Perhaps, I thought, I should worry about more practical matters.  Lunch came immediately to mind.

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Practical Exercise Now on Sale!

Yes! Available in many formats on Smashwords.com.

Adara Triskittenion has been admitted to the school of her dreams, Dorrance Academy, the premier magical research university of the Commonality of the Timeless. Her objective: Become a faculty member and stay forever. Her family, House Triskittenion, the Hall of the Three Kittens, still has claims on her time. For most of the year she has books to read, courses to ace, but first that trivial test of combat magic skill, the Practical Exercise.

Readers are doubtless familiar with magical academies modeled after English Public (meaning private, boarding) Schools. In those hideous magical academies, student ages range from 10 or so to 18. There are vast numbers of unpleasant practical jokes, students destroying each other’s property, students in charge of disciplining younger students, beatings and floggings, and rarely a modest interest in academic life. Clubs and team sports are viewed as the critical part of a student’s education. Studying is at best secondary when not deprecated. The Faculty are teachers, not academicians; they do not perform research or write scholarly works.

Dorrance Academy is not one of these places. Dorrance resembles an American research university, though there are several tracks. One set of students arrives, collects marginally passing grades, makes social contacts, and receives a passing diploma. A second set of students works respectably hard, passes well a legitimate and respectably lengthy set of courses, and is prepared for a career. For a very few students, academic work leads toward an academic vocation. There are athletic facilities, but intramural team sports are a modest interest, while intercollegiate athletics do not exist.

A minor authorial aside: As it happens, your author is also a research scientist, a retired physics professor. Once upon a time, many decades ago. I was an undergraduate, graduate student, and post-doctoral fellow at America’s Dorrance Academy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have woven into the tale a fair piece of advice on how to succeed and be at the top at the top-line university. If you are headed off to such a place, please keep my advice in mind. You may also assume that a number of the events here are lightly disguised from real life occurrences.

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