Eclipse 36

“Afterward on that?” Morgana said. “OK, there is a rule here, which is why you need a champion, Janie.  Joe is clearly not Eclipse.  Wrong height.  Wrong hair color.  And he’s a boy.  And you’re not sure you even played the new move against him.”

“We talked about my move,” Janie said. “I was really proud of it.  We talked about some other variations.  And why they weren’t so good.  That’s what I thought then.  We might have talked about the special move.  But it was a bunch of friends doing things.  Or him and me playing City of Steel.”

“May I confirm, mind-to-mind, that each of you does not know where Joe lives or has any of his contact addresses?” Heads nodded. “Just focus on that statement.  Good.  He has shielded the line between his public and private personae.  That’s an absolute legal wall, like someone asking my private persona, Professor Lafayette, who my public persona is, not that it’s much of a secret at this point.”

“Everything is good?” Abigail asked. 

“We talk afterward,” Morgana said. “However, the clock is approaching eight.  The simplest approach is that you open the garage door, I’ll be framed in the light, and Janie will be right next to me.  You two, Abigail and Patrick, will be a few feet behind us.  Then we come upstairs.  Are people good with that, it being your house?”

“Unless we want to use the front door?” Patrick asked. 

“Big snowdrift, dad,” Trisha said. “I think I can get it in time, but it’s more snow than the whole driveway.”

“Skip the front door,” Patrick answered.  As usual, Trisha never showed any sense, say the sense of asking for help.

“Trisha and I will get out your good City board,” Brian announced. 

“That’s very thoughtful of you to do that, Brian,” Patrick answered. 

“We’d better get our coats on,” Abigail said. “That includes you, Patrick.  Do you want to borrow a coat, Morgana? We may be standing there for a while.”

“That’s very kind of you.  I’m quite weatherproof, thanks.  Actually, I’m going to leave my sweater here.  I may need to move quickly,” she answered.  She draped her sweater over the back of a chair.  She wore underneath a white silk blouse.  An intricately-worked gold necklace centered a single huge blood-red stone on her chest. 

Coats were donned.  The Wells family stood in the family garage. “Three of eight,” Abigail said, “Time to open the door.” Panels creaked and groaned as the door rotated up and over.  Snow and bitterly freezing air rushed in from the street. 

Precisely at eight in the evening, Krystal North and her four companions appeared in the driveway.  Janie waved to Grandmaster Kurchatov, who waved back.  Morgana Lafayette pressed her hands together and bowed slightly to Krystal North.  North recoiled a half-step. 

“For the purpose of this conversation,” Morgana announced coldly, “I am Professor Morgana Cysgodol Lafayette, Rogers’ Technological Institution.  I am the Wells family’s persona champion.  I am here to ensure that Miss Wells, confronted with a persona, is not placed at a disadvantage during a valid lawful process, and that there is adherence to the privacy codes.  That goes for your remote watchers, too, Gamesman Kamensky.”

“I am Krystal North, Captain-General of the American Persona League,” a shaken North said to Lafayette. “My companions are here to ask Miss Wells about her new City of Steel move, hopefully to prevent possible unfortunate outcomes.  I am here as the American persona champion, to validate the conversation, subject to the privacy codes.  You will recognize Speaker Ming.  I believe Janie knows Grandmasters Kurchatov and Hornpiper, and may recognize Supreme Gamesman Alexander Vladimirovich Kamensky.  Given our balmy New England weather, mayhaps we might move inside?”

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Eclipse 35

Eclipse, the Girl Who Saved the World, is for sale on Third Millennium, Smashwords, and Amazon.

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“Thank you,” Morgana answered. “No, really.  Dinner would be great.  But we’re running short on time.  Let’s see where I am.  Janie, you played that move against Kurchatov.  You have not, if I heard right, ever used the Eclipse move in match play.  You were saving it for the Nationals.  Right? You have friends your own age over for play.  Are any of them any good?”

“Does everyone have to call it the Eclipse move?” Janie shook her head.  The whole thing was terrible.  That was her move.  Eclipse was getting the credit.  Killing Eclipse was too good for her. Unless she could throw Eclipse into the Sun.  Slowly. “Not really.  We play.  They get better.  Joe improved the most.  He always remembered his mistakes.  He didn’t make them twice.  Sometimes I play Territories on-line.  Anonymously.  Universe of Warfare site doesn’t allow personal information.  They don’t know who I am.” They just know, she thought, that I thoroughly thrashed them. 

“There was this communications gap on who Joe is.  Except he teleports.  And flies.  And has combat skills.  He was a friend your age.  Am I right so far?” Morgana asked. 

“Completely,” Janie answered. 

“Did you ever talk about him rescuing you?” Morgana asked. <You two weren’t carrying on, Janie, were you? I know you’re way young for that, but it matters legally, so I have to ask.  If you were, you can’t be questioned about him.> The telepathic question went unheard by the rest of the Wells family. 

<No! Absolutely not!> Janie tried unsuccessfully not to sound offended.  That idea was beyond totally gross!  It was sick!  What did people think she was! “We kept in touch, after he rescued us.  He and I could reach each other mentalically.  I never needed to phone.  We’d agree on good times for him to show up.  Mom and Dad said it was all right.  Didn’t you, Dad?” Janie asked.  He nodded.  She had asked, she told herself, and Dad had seemed to understand her question. “Sometimes we all played base ball nines together.  A few times, Brian needed extra players for his team.  Trisha was always catcher.  She insisted.  And never managed to hit the ball.”

Trisha, now dressed in a scarlet red pantsuit, cuffs and collar ornately trimmed and stitched in orange flames, reappeared and sagged bonelessly into her chair. “I might’ve hit the ball out of the park by accident,” she said. 

“Absolutely,” Patrick answered. “Joe was a good person.  I’d have liked to have met him.  Actually, I did meet him.  He was very polite. But you somehow forgot to mention who he was, Janie.  He did save you two, and I gather he took a pistol or knife or something away from one of those scoundrels, the people Stars Over Boston flattened.  Fortunately, you shouted for help, and he managed to avoid getting hurt.”

“He’s a great guy.  He even helped us move the firewood into the garage,” Brian said. “And once he made this unbelievable catch and throw to win a nines game for us.  He throws like a girl, a girl who plays hardball all the time.”

“Last November,” Trisha added. “The delivery guy just dumped the wood in the driveway.”

“Last time we hire him,” Abigail said. 

“So we three got to carry it into the garage,” Janie said. “No gifts allowed.  The neighbors would’ve seen them.”

“But Joe showed up and helped.  He said he owed Janie for playing City of Steel with him,” Trisha explained. “He helped a lot.  Of course, he’s my height, or almost, but really strong.  Not gift-strong–you can tell–but strong.  Strong as I am.”

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Eclipse 34

“I can try snow-blowing,” Patrick announced. 

“I’ll take care of it,” Trisha said.  She faded into a blur of motion headed for the basement stairs. 

“Just a moment,” Janie said. “I have to find Krystal again, tell her we’re good for 8 P.M.”

“And there’s a blizzard, so they need their winter clothing,” Abigail added. 

“They want to bring the Supreme Gamesman,” Janie finally said. “He’s visiting from Russia.  I agreed.  I’ve never met him! It’s beyond belief!  Mom, you need to get some photos of the four of us standing over my game table!  Please?” Abigail went to fetch her camera. 

Trisha reappeared from nowhere, leaning against a kitchen cabinet. “I shoveled the driveway, Dad,” she announced. 

“In two minutes?” Patrick grumbled. “What if the neighbors saw you?”

“Two minutes.  Superspeed.  You can hardly see the house next door, and the Goosedotrs are in Florida.  You can’t see the street lights.  Besides,” Trisha added, “I stayed invisible the whole time, and inside the snow cloud I raised.”

“Invisible?” Patrick asked. 

“Like this,” Trisha said.  She vanished from sight. Her voice came from the same part of the room as before, but nothing was to be seen. “I’m right here but you can’t see me.  Well, maybe you can, Professor.  I was going to tell you all what I just found as a gift, but these other things came up.” Trisha reappeared. 

“Shoveled?” Abigail asked. “The entire driveway?  Not ‘flew the snow onto the lawn’?”

“Shoveled.  As in ‘I’d like to take a shower and change my clothes’, that being really a lot of shoveling I just did.  And not ‘flown’.  I’d for sure accidentally pick up the concrete.”

“Trisha,” Brian asked, “That was the last of the Indian pudding, but may I heat some of my apple pie up for you? And warm milk? For when you come down here again.”

“Please?” Trisha answered. “That was really a lot of snow.”

“You could’ve asked for help,” Patrick reminded.  Sometimes, he thought, his older daughter had no sense at all.  Actually, most of the time she had no sense at all. Janie was a Junior Gamesmistress, Brian made these fantastic models, but Trisha never did anything, no matter how often he tried to improve her thinking.  Music?  Despite her mother’s aspirations, Trisha’s singing at best often hit a real note.

“Don’t work too hard, Trisha” Abigail said. “You could hurt yourself.” Janie realized that no one else caught Trisha tensing when Trisha heard what Mom said.  Mom kept saying things that put Trisha down, and Trisha kept being hurt more and more and retreating farther and farther into herself.  Trisha’s feelings really hurt when her parents put her down like that, but there was no way, Janie realized, to help her.  More and more often, Mom reduced Trisha to tears saying things like that, tears that only Trisha’s superspeed let her hide. 

“Mo-om! You guys were all busy,” Trisha answered, diffusing her mom’s criticism. “And it’s really fluffy snow.  I’ll be back down in a bit.” She vanished in a blur. 

“Folks,” Morgana said, “The clock is ticking, and I can readily tell Jessamine Trishaset is just fine.  Your Indian pudding was excellent, Brian, especially since I skipped dinner.  And lunch.  There was a major NIH grant due, but it’s done.”

“I think there’s an extra slice of my pie left,” Brian said, “and the vanilla ice cream I made yesterday.  Trisha will want some, too.”

“I can’t just…” Morgana began to protest. 

“You will have a real dinner, Morgana,” Abigail interrupted, “and we should have you over more often, now that I know who you are.  My family has been scrupulous about respecting your privacy, as in knowing that you and Sunssword are one person, and not telling me.  Though looking at the clock, dinner is after this meeting.  While you three are doing your homework.” The last sentence was directed at her children. 

“Already done,” Brian said. “I was going to work on my new model.  I’m making real progress.” His current project, the ship-of-the-line George Washington, had 1200 pieces, most requiring modest woodworking prior to assembly. 

“Me, too,” Janie added. “Grades night.  Not much homework.  But my new stones book is on thickness.” I’m not making enough progress in playing stones, she thought.  I keep losing.  I have to work harder. 

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Eclipse 33

“Brian!” Janie and Trisha did not quite shout at their brother.  

“Oops!” Brian managed. 

“And this would be, Brian Arthur?” Patrick asked ominously. 

“Joe asked me not to bring it up, Dad,” Janie said. ”Because it didn’t matter.  Besides, I knew that you knew already.  He’s the guy who saved Trisha and me.  When we were kidnapped.  Except I was sure you and mom knew already.”

“He’s the young man who saved you?” Abigail said. “He is an extremely polite, well-brought-up boy.  It’s very nice of you, Janie, to reward him by playing City of Steel with him.  Especially, she thought, very nice by comparison with some of the other things girls sometimes did to thank young men who risked their lives to save a young lady. 

 “And you, Trisha?” Abigail asked. “Did you tell Joe about Janie’s move?”

 “No. Joe and I, all we did was go cloud-diving a couple of times.  Cloud-diving!”  Her parents gave her a very odd look.  Trisha blushed deeply. ”Nothing else! We for sure didn’t play City of Steel! I hardly play the game at all.  I couldn’t give Janie’s move away if I wanted to.  I don’t even know what the move is.” But, she thought, I’m going to be blamed for giving it away, no matter what.

“Complication planet!” Morgana said. ”And we’re way short of time.”

“What’s wrong?”  Janie asked. ”Joe can’t have the Namestone.  He’s a boy!  The Bearer is a girl.  The Bearer looks like you, Professor Lafayette, not him.  Well, sort of like you, if you wore slightly tighter clothing.  Then you’d look like her.  Joe’s mom is too tall to be the bearer.  Joe doesn’t have any brothers or sisters.  He told me.  Besides, I’m not even sure I played that move against him.” Janie was baffled.  Joe couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the Namestone. 

“Slightly tighter?” Morgana rolled her eyes. “As in ‘spray-painted on’?  Except I’m quite sure the real Eclipse doesn’t look like the paintings.  Valkyria didn’t recognize her.  The wanted posters give the bearer my height or Valkyria’s — five-ten or so — but the real Eclipse is I’d guess five and a couple-four inches, mayhaps not quite your height, Trisha.  No matter.  The complication…let’s save that for later.  Where does this Joe live? How do you phone him?  Who are his parents? If Janie might’ve played this move against him, they’re going to want to question him next.”

“I’ve only met him twice,” Patrick said. “Dear, it must be in your Rolodex.”

“I thought you knew, Patrick,” Abigail answered. “Janie, you must have visited his house.”

“Ummh, er, no.” Janie shook her head. “I have the good City playing set.  The big board, the extra-large heavy unit counters, the nice table in the sun room.  He teleports, remember?  He could live anywhere.  But that’s odd.  I never thought to ask.  I always get Bell numbers and interlink IDs from new friends, first thing.  I just never thought of it.” How did I forget? Janie asked herself.  It was really annoying, especially if Dad and Mom decided to blame her for forgetting.  Every so often they did blame her, if only after they were done blaming Trisha for everything.

“We talked a few times,” Trisha said. “He was very nice and polite.  I figured you had his address and everything, Janie.  But we only went flying after you two played your moves out.”

“Let’s save this for a bit,” Morgana said. “But there’s something a bit odd…later!  OK, tonight they’ll teleport in.  Your driveway would be good, except there’s two feet of snow on it.”

“I can try snow-blowing,” Patrick announced. 

“I’ll take care of it,” Trisha said.  She faded into a blur of motion headed for the basement stairs. 

“Just a moment,” Janie said. “I have to find Krystal again, tell her we’re good for 8 P.M.”

“And there’s a blizzard, so they need their winter clothing,” Abigail added. 

“They want to bring the Supreme Gamesman,” Janie finally said. “He’s visiting from Russia.  I agreed.  I’ve never met him! It’s beyond belief!  Mom, you need to get some photos of the four of us standing over my game table!  Please?” Abigail went to fetch her camera. 

Trisha reappeared from nowhere, leaning against a kitchen cabinet. “I shoveled the driveway, Dad,” she announced. 

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Eclipse 32

“Yes, they would be asking Janie about City of Steel, wouldn’t they,” Patrick said. “Having said that, these people are my guests in my house, so you will treat them politely.” He stared at his son.  Brian nodded vigorously. “Janie, I’ll phone Morgana.  It’s simpler.”

A few minutes later, there came a knock at the back door. “Lafayette is here!” The speaker’s voice was a rich alto. “You called, Professor Wells?”

Patrick stepped through the vestibule and opened the door. “I did indeed, Morgana.” Patrick stood aside to admit the tall young woman.  She wore a baggy royal-blue sweater and loose blue jeans, but seemed unbothered by the blinding snow, gale-force winds, and below-zero weather.  Nor had snow lodged in her hair or clothing.  Patrick turned to his family. “I believe you all know Professor Morgana Lafayette under one name or another.”

Morgana took Patrick’s hand, just for a moment. “I’m not in garb, so Morgana is good.” She glanced at Patrick’s children as she swept around the table. “Have you three been staying out of trouble?” Patrick decided not to notice his twin children looking furtively at each other.  For Abigail Wells, Morgana had a firm hug. “It’s been way too long,” Morgana said. “We should really get together to talk.  Soon.  I can always be free at lunch.”

“There’s more Indian pudding if you’d like some,” Trisha announced. 

“You have to ask?  Please?  I know about your mom’s cooking.  Or is it yours?  However, we have almost no time,” Morgana said. “I know it’s not polite, but, Janie, please give me a fast update mind-to-mind of what they all know.” The two women stared at each other for a few moments. 

“That was just what you’ve all heard,” Morgana said. “OK, have you folks ever had a champion before? It’s like having an attorney.  What mostly matters is that at the end Krystal North wants mentalic contact with Janie, to confirm that what Janie said is true.  That’s, well, it’s not dangerous, but while that is going on Janie would be relatively open to someone trying to tamper with her mind.  I’m here to stop that.  Also, Krystal is well behaved, but sometimes you find persona who try to shout or bludgeon people into submission.  Worse, our friends across the waters have some very different opinions about good manners.  Some idiot from over there might try to kidnap Janie and interrogate her about her hypothetical contacts with the Bearer.  That’s forcibly interrogate.  I’m very definitely here to stop that.”

“What’s the issue?” Patrick asked. “Janie, you didn’t have time to tell us everything.”

“They think I know who has the Namestone,” Janie answered. “Or I have the clue! The clue tells them who has the Namestone.  It’s all in that City of Steel move.  The one I was going to spring at Nationals.  But Eclipse used it first! I hate her!” Once again a delicate fist pounded on the breakfast room table. “Eclipse is the most terrible person in the world.  No.  She’s the most terrible person in the Universe.  She’s more terrible than the Silver General and the Lords of Death, put together!  She used my move, and she used it first.  Speaker Ming, when I was speaking to him before you heard him, said ‘If your parents will consent to having you questioned by the American Persona League, we can say that you have been questioned, everything that could be learned from you has been learned, and therefore you should be left alone.’ ” Janie decided that photographic memory actually did have other uses besides studying games, like remembering exactly what other people said, even if the people in question were only politicians, so they were way less important than Players. 

“Did you ever tell anyone about the move?” Morgana asked. “That’s what they want to know.”

“I never used it in a match,” Janie said. “I was saving it for National.  Now Eclipse used it!  I have friends my age who come over to play Steel.  We try all sorts of moves, but we don’t record.”

“Actually, these days it was mostly one friend,” Abigail said. “Joe Cartwright is a very polite young man, OK, boy, he being slightly older than you, Janie.  You said he was a good player.”

“He got a lot better,” Janie said. “And he’s only a bit older than me.” She turned at her brother. “Don’t say it, Brian.” Her tone of voice held a touch of steel. 

“I wasn’t going to say he’s your boyfriend,” Brian rushed out.  Janie briefly considered, enthusiastically, violently unpleasant things she could do to her twin brother. “Honest! You think I want you and Trisha to kill me, just because I deserve it?” Brian asked. “Besides, he’s not.  Your boyfriend, I mean.  And I wasn’t going to say the other thing you told me, either.”

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Eclipse 31

Excerpted from Eclipse, The Girl Who Saved the World, now available from Smashwords, Third Millennium, and Amazon.

“The North American champion,” Krystal North said. ”The Visitor.  That’s Kurchatov and Hornpiper.  Speaker Ming.  Mayhaps the Supreme Gamesman.  I’ll provide mentalic support, to keep people honest.  We’re ready in an hour.  However, it’s up to you to agree or not.”

Janie caught Krystal North’s nod and broke the link. “Daddy, mommy,” Janie said, “I could hear what was behind her thoughts.  She thinks something bad probably happens to me very soon now.  Tonight, even.  Unless I agree.  I get to ask a friend to our house.  Someone to protect me.  When they question me.  Daddy knows Professor Lafayette.  That’s a good choice of champion.”

“Not your coach?” Abigail Wells asked. “Lafayette?  Who is he?”

“Champion?” Brian asked.  Janie glowered.  Brian had listened to Sunssword explain about champions.  Janie reminded herself that Brian was a boy, so he wasn’t supposed to pay attention to things that he didn’t care about, even when they were important.  And he hadn’t cared about champions.  Boys! She thought. 

“She,” Patrick corrected. “Morgana Lafayette.  Works at Rogers Tech.  In biochemistry.  She showed up at the back door, right after Janie and Trisha were kidnapped.” Abigail looked perplexed. “Human female, tall, gold-blonde, blue eyes, not nearly as pretty as you are, dear.” Abigail broke into giggles. Patrick was describing the persona Sunssword, but using her private persona name, the name Abigail had never heard. 

“But, Janie, why didn’t you just say Sunssword?” Abigail asked. 

“Sunssword doesn’t want her public persona to be tied to me,” Janie said, “She’s real careful where she coaches us.  We have a coach.  No one knows it’s Sunssword.  We never name her public persona.  I thought you knew who she was, Mom.  But Daddy knows Professor Lafayette.  They both work at RTI.  No one is surprised to see Professor Lafayette being my champion.”

“In particular,” Abigail said, “Sunssword never told me who else she was, and has that garb that doesn’t let you see most of her face.  And you were polite to Sunssword, not telling me who her private persona was.” Sunssword, Abigail considered, had done mentalic checks that Janie and Trisha had not been hurt when they were kidnapped.  Now Sunssword was coaching the three Wells children on using their gifts. 

“Besides being a persona,” Patrick said, “Morgana Lafayette is also one of the country’s leading biochemists.  She gave up trying to keep her public persona a deep secret.  She’s a member of Stars Over Boston.  Or was, anyhow.  They had another stupid argument about theology.  OK, opinions on the Speaker’s request?”

“I think we’d better,” Abigail said. “If it makes Janie safer.”

Trisha shrugged. “Sunssword is a nice person.  We go flying sometimes.  But I’ve only met her public persona.  To me she’s Sunssword, just not wearing garb.  She taught me cloud-diving.  In fact, Janie, you knew she was Lafayette, but you never told me.  That’s you being gifttrue.”

“Bragging rights!” Brian announced. “Grandmasters come to Medford to learn City of Steel from my sister.  The guys will never top this.  Not even if they get home runs off the Boston Doves’ lead pitcher.”

“I think we agree,” Patrick said. “My Federal research support is about to be reviewed.  Having Speaker Ming remember me favorably is desirable.  Unless Janie has really strong objections.”

“Just so they don’t ask me about my other variants on that move.”  She paused, thinking. “No, I can tell them about the variants.  And champion,” Janie explained, “means a government persona shows up to talk.  You get your own persona to watch your back.”

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Eclipse 30

Eclipse, the Girl Who Saved the World, is for sale on Smashwords, Third Millennium, and Amazon.

“What is going on?”  Janie’s mother asked fearfully.  Abigail Wells wished her children had been less involved in persona events, even if none of them had been their fault. “Have you been doing the persona thing again? Blowing up more robots? And not telling us?”

“No!” Janie realized that she was at the edge of getting into really deep trouble, for something that was not her fault. “No, Mommy.  And the robots last December were trying to kill Brian and me and our whole class.  I didn’t do anything.  Speaker Ming wants to ask me about City of Steel.  He needs your and Daddy’s permission to talk to me.”

“I suppose you should be honored,” Patrick Wells said. “I didn’t even know the Speaker plays City.”

“It’s one particular move,” Janie answered. “The one Eclipse used to beat the Maze.  It’s the move I pulled on Kurchatov, only hers was better.  I was saving that variant for the National, and… Now Eclipse used it first!” Janie pounded a delicate fist on the kitchen table.  It was unbelievably terrible.  Her move had been used, and not by her.  Now it would be the Eclipse Gambit, not Jane’s First Gambit! Nothing could be worse than that! “No one knew about that move.  No one.” She pounded her fist again, then looked momentarily thoughtful.  She hadn’t told anyone, had she?

“Dear, dinner or not, the Speaker is a very busy man,” Patrick said.  Hopefully, he thought, my daughter did not insult the First Citizen of the Republic too much. “You should forward what he has to say.  And you two bite your tongues.” Patrick glared at his other two children.  Brian nodded vigorously.  Trisha sagged back in her chair. 

“OK,” Janie said.  Suddenly the entire Wells family saw, standing directly in front of each of them, a short woman wearing a cream tunic and trousers.  Standing to her right was an elderly gentleman, balding, silver-haired, smiling, eyes sparkling, dressed in the scarlet robes, high-collared cape, and multipointed hat assigned by law to the Speaker of the House. 

“My apologies,” Speaker Ming said, “for having intruded, and I hope that young Janie here is not in any trouble as a result of my intrusion, but the hour seemed late enough to be after dinner, though I see I was mistaken, and the urgency of my interruption is indeed great.  In any event, the issue is that the Bearer of the Namestone played City of Steel against the Lesser Maze and used a novel move, rather a move that was novel until it was traced back to Miss Wells here.  I gather that the Bearer actually played a variation on Miss Wells’ original move.  There is great interest in what light Miss Wells can shed on this circumstance.  I would like to ask her about this.  My own position, which I have been heard to say repeatedly by the press, is that the Bearer–this Eclipse person–took the Namestone fair and square, so she now owns it.”

“Janie knows how to reach me once you decide on an answer,” Krystal North added, “but time is of the essence.  From the number of hits on the web pages of City of Steel Review, in particular the pages corresponding to Janie’s games, a large number of other people seem to have figured out the same thing we did.”

“I get a champion, don’t I?” Janie asked.  Sunssword had explained all about champions, something ‘you need to know’. “Someone who makes sure no one takes advantage of me?” Speaker Ming nodded in agreement. “OK, I know exactly who to ask.  Who’s questioning me?  If Dad and Mom agree?”

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Eclipse 29

< I’m having dinner,> Janie answered telepathically. <Can’t interrupt.  Dad would kill me.  You have to wait an hour!> This was weird, she thought.  She never had strangers call her, but this woman was the fourth today.  The other three had got her RadioBell number somehow and called by voice.  Two were at least gamesmen, but that Vera Durand had been incredibly insistent, not to mention so arrogant she just assumed Janie knew who she was.  Janie checked her mental shields again, carefully, just like Sunssword had taught her.  You had to be really careless to take damage through a telepathic link, but it could be done.  It would not be done to her, she told herself.  Who was the woman?  Not a senior gamesman she knew personally.  Then she recognized: The woman was Krystal North, Captain-General of FedCorps, the American Persona League, and she had other people with her. 

<This is the Washington, Federal District, and it’s important!>  Krystal North said. Her annoyance showed through the mentalic link.

<This is Massachusetts, where America was founded,> Janie answered. <We’ve been here two thousand years.  The world waits for Massachusetts.>  Janie heard the echoes of another mind, someone older than Grandpa, chuckling at the exchange. 

<Speaker of the House Ming wants to speak to your Dad,> North said.  That remark came with another image, the Speaker in his scarlet robes and cape. <You’re in danger of being kidnapped.  Again.>

<My apologies for interrupting,> Speaker Ming’s voice came though the link. <There’s a major national issue here.  I need to ask you about City of Steel, and your move against Kurchatov.>

“Jane Caroline,” her father announced firmly, “We know you are a telepath, and so are some of your friends, but having them interrupt dinner with telepathy is as rude as answering a RadioBell while we are eating.” Patrick Augustus Wells almost never raised his voice, but his tone was completely clear to all three of his children. 

<I’ll ask,> Janie said. <But Dad is going to kill me.>

“Daddy, that isn’t a friend,” Janie said.  Her father raised his eyebrows. “Well, she’s friendly.  You met her.  That’s Krystal North, herself.  You know, Krystal North, lead of the American Persona League.  She was here two years ago.  When Trisha and I got kidnapped.  She wants me to forward a mentalic call to you, Daddy.  The Speaker wants to talk to you.  I had to get across: We’re having dinner.  He has to wait.  She said they’re in the Federal District.  I said back we’re in Massachusetts, and that’s better.  Two thousand years ago, Massachusetts created the American Republic.  She was a bit stubborn.  But I was more stubborn.”

“Speaker?” Patrick asked. 

“Speaker of the House,” Janie said. “Speaker Ming.  The top guy in Washington.  He was polite about asking if he could interrupt dinner.  He said it was important.  I said I’d have to ask,” Janie answered.  She decided not to mention that through her Krystal North, Speaker Ming, and whoever else was at the other end were still hearing the conversation.  Her parents already had those looks on their faces. 

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Eclipse 28

“You talked about, yuck, romance novels?” Janie asked. “That’s gross!  What do they have to do with that stupid play about Italians going into suspended animation? You think I can get an A+ if I insert something intelligent instead? I could talk about Chess or City of Steel or outward influence on my next English exam.  Yes, outward influence.  Those crazy dueling families in Romeo and Juliet do things to get spread-out advantage far away.  That’s outward influence, just like in stones.  And at the end of Hamlet everyone is in zugzwang, and they all move anyhow, littering the stage with bodies.  That’s what I should have said, they’re all in zugzwang, and then for sure I would have had my A+.” Janie decided not to notice her parents shaking their heads. 

“I lucked out,” Brian said. “I guessed Romeo and Juliet had something to do with romance novels.  I can’t tell what.  I wasn’t really sure. But, Dad, why is fiction called ‘genre fiction’?  Why not just ‘fiction’?” 

Patrick looked at his wife.  “Yes, I think they are old enough,” he said.  “We’ve had those discussions, after all.”

“Very well.”  Abigail looked to have bitten into a particularly bitter lemon.

“There is also ‘literary fiction’,” Patrick said.  “Most people don’t like it, so while real, meaning genre, fiction gets the Nobel Prize for Literature, ‘literary fiction’ readers have their own awards, such as the Joyce and Hemingway Prizes.  Joyce was famous for slapping together incomprehensible strings of words and claiming they were novels.  He was quite mad. The ‘literary novel’ you will all be stuck reading, in twelfth grade, is Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  It’s a truly disgusting work, in which a young woman becomes a fallen roundheel and ends up bearing a child, when she is not married. Instead of having the child taken away to be raised by decent people, as would happen in the real world, she is allowed to keep the child, and matters go downhill from there.”

“Yuck!” Janie said.  Her brother nodded in agreement.

“I have to read that?” Trisha tried to remember alternatives to taking twelfth grade. Dad had mentioned that Rogers Tech did not care if students had a high school diploma or not. That sounded helpful.

“What if I try inserting some of the instructions from one of your model ships…”  Janie’s voice trailed off. 

<Miss Wells?> The interruption was mentalic.  The telepathic voice came with the image of a short woman wearing the pale cream with copper-green trim uniform of a FedCorps mentalist.  Her black hair had a widow’s peak matching Janie’s. 

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Eclipse 27

  “Except Romeo and Juliet makes absolutely no sense at all,” Janie said. “I just wrote down what I memorized from those other crazy books.  You were right, Dad.  Finding those other books helped a lot, no matter how stupid they were, when I needed to write crazy stuff on my exams.  But if I had crossed out half the ‘not’s in my sentences, what I wrote would have made exactly as much sense.  The teacher said it was lots of extra books, not just one, and I could name them, so I got my A.  How did you do it, Brian? How did you pull an A-plus in that course? We read the same extra books.”

“Oh,” Brian said, “I added stuff about ‘the unbearable agony of separation’.  Whatever nonsense that is.  I lifted it from Trisha’s romance novel Pirate Lord of the Aztecan Gulf.” Janie rolled her eyes.  Brian was reading romance novels? Yuck! But it had been a pirate novel, and his last model had been a pirate ship, so it wasn’t totally stupid. 

“I only have one pirate novel!” Trisha interrupted. “It’s a reading assignment.  For my genre fiction requirement! It’s unbearably awful.  It’s even worse than that Regency romance. And I still don’t understand what ‘uninherit’ is or why it’s so terrible.  I even asked the teacher after class, not that it helped.” Trisha hoped that Dad believed her. If he thought she was reading romance novels because she liked them, he would be down on her like three tons of bricks.

“Disinherit,” Patrick corrected. “But that happened right here on this street.”  His three children had his full attention. “Marjorie Blake was your first babysitter, Trisha, though you might not remember her. She was just finishing High School.  She had a boyfriend.  They agreed to get married.  He was totally unsuitable, and didn’t ask her father’s permission before asking her to marry him. Her parents were furious. When Marjorie and boyfriend posted the banns in preparation for getting married, her parents disinherited her.  That means she had to move out of the house and never return.  Also, she was legally removed from Doctor Blake’s will; she will inherit nothing when he dies.”

“Oh, yes, thank you, Daddy,” Trisha gushed. “that makes complete sense in the Regency novel, except my teacher said my novel had to do with the Heinlein Act, which made no sense, not that I’m sure what the Heinlein Act is.”

Abigail rolled her eyes. “The Heinlein Act is that Navy monstrosity.  But you knew Heinlein, didn’t you, dear?” she asked Patrick.

“Indeed I did,” Patrick answered. “He was a fine Navy Admiral who’d won three skirmishes, officially with pirates, and retired with combat injuries.  He wanted to become a writer, but needed to support his family, so he’d read law. A few years later, along came this young lady, about the age of you three, and about as bright, who wanted Heinlein to use bad wording in a California state law to divorce her parents.  Her name is under seal; her initials were P.W. Her parents, it later turned out, were truly terrible people. Her case reached the Supreme Court.  Heinlein won his case.  Congress codified, the Heinlein Act, rules letting adult-competent children divorce truly bad parents.  Heinlein then took up writing, full-time, and made a fortune.”

“Sorry your novel was so terrible, Trisha,” a chastened Brian said. “But, you see, that novel was good for something.  You made the sacrifice, you read it, we all learned something from Dad, and it got me an A+.”

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