Friday, December 31, 2010

Chapter 49 - THE EMPEROR HIMSELF

As soon as the guests had all been escorted out of the room to depart for their respective homes, servants swarmed through once again and removed the remains of the meal until the place was spotless again. The emperor, and the six of us who were left, were kept supplied with wine, since the emperor retained his glass and apparently wanted it kept full, though he didn’t drink it very fast. I sipped at my glass; after all, I was sitting directly across from the emperor, I was expected to do the same as he did. It was bitter and strong. I didn’t like it. It was all I could do not to make a face every time I tasted it. (This is a small example of how ignorant I was of my magic. I could have turned the wine into water and simply colored it differently, but I didn’t think of that).

While the servants were bustling around, the emperor sat in his chair across from my mother in silence. When the servants were finished, the man who was apparently their manager, bowed to the emperor, and then they all were gone.

The emperor sat there for a long time just looking at the three of us. Then he looked directly at me and spoke with a voice that was as smooth and calm as his bearing. “Your mother has tried to explain to me how it is that you do what you do, but it’s apparent that she has little or no understanding of it herself and so had difficulty speaking of it. Could you perhaps do better?”

I sat up straighter and tried to explain much as Durmas had tried to explain it to me. “My magic is an elemental magic. I can manipulate the elements around me. The four major elements are earth, air, fire and water. Most of what I do deals with those four elements, either one, or more often, all of them.”

“You say you manipulate the elements around you. How do you do that?” he asked, as he leaned forward on his elbows.

I don’t know how it happens exactly, but what I do is draw from the elements around me to make something I need, or simply move that element to a different location. The more unnatural the task, the more energy it takes to perform it.”

“So tell me what you did to your grandfather.”

I looked at my mother, but she just nodded, she had told me that I was to tell the plain truth if it ever came to this. “I didn’t know he was my grandfather until that evening. He kidnapped my parents. He turned me and my companion at the time, Pip over there, into articles of freight. He abandoned Pip and left him to die of starvation. And to top it all off, he had me flogged; sixteen lashes to commemorate my birthday, which had happened while I was securely packed in his crate. I was very angry, my dad was scared and my mom was crying.”

The emperor listened quietly without changing the expression on his face. If he hadn’t been looking directly at me, I might have wondered if he was paying attention to what I was saying.

“The baron had heard of my magic, probably from one of my father’s reports about the planet where we had been living. He wanted to use me - to control my magic, I guess. He ordered me to make him a pile of gold. I can’t just make something like that. I can find it and bring it like he wanted, but I was too angry to want to please him, so I drew on the closest supply, and there was a lot. I began to change his floor into gold. When he got down off of his pedestal to touch the floor, I couldn’t resist; I changed him into gold too.”

“Can you change him back?”

I knew someone would ask me that question someday. “I think I can make him meat, bones and assorted organs again, but there won’t be any life in it. It won’t be the same either; the matter that was the baron was changed, it doesn’t exist any more.”

He sat back and looked at me for a while, thinking about what I had said. “You’ve made it clear that you can kill with your magic and killing a baron, regardless of the reason, is a crime. What good have you done with your magic?”

He was right, but I had to think for a moment. What good had I done with my magic? I had never thought of anything that I did with my magic as being good or evil, and I was haunted by at least one of the deaths I had been responsible for, but before I could form an answer Colin stood up. Obviously, he had heard the question.

“He made it possible for me to walk on a real planet; something I was always told I would never do.”

The emperor looked up at him. He was obviously surprised at the audacity. “Come forward,” he said, with a wave of his hand that seemed elegant without seeming effeminate in the least. As soon as Colin was standing at my mother’s shoulder, he said, “Explain yourself.”

“My mother ran away with a miner shortly before I was born. I was raised on an asteroid until my father finally found us. I was thirteen years old before I knew any gravity at all. It took me three years before I could tolerate the low gravity of the space station where my father was a governor and that wasn’t a pleasant experience even then. During our journey here, Liam made me stronger. He made my bones thicker and my muscles bulkier. I still tire pretty fast, but at least I have a chance.”

The emperor turned back to me. “What did you do?”

“I drew the matter from the frozen sides of meat in the kitchen freezer. There were muscles and bones already made. I looked up on the computer for the correct dimensions and let the magic do the rest. I’m not sure if I got it all right. We could both benefit from a visit to a doctor. He could tell me what I did wrong, or not well enough, and I could fix it.”

The emperor looked at me and cocked his head almost imperceptibly. After a moment, he asked, “Have your other companions felt your magic or seen it?”

“Yes sir, they have.”

“Mr. Pip, step forward and tell me what you have seen.”

Pip and Georgy took up a position next to Colin, and told of my making our food and then changing the appearance of my clothes on two separate occasions.

Georgy told of our first meeting just outside of the palace walls and what it had felt like to be held by nothing but air.

As amazing as these facts were, it appeared as though the emperor was thinking about other facts. “The baron sent imperial troops to a non-member planet to trap you? He wanted you very badly indeed. And you say he turned you into freight; just how did he do that, and how could he keep you that way, if you could do the things you say you can?”

“I was trying to trace my parents, so I had to cooperate with them. I had to endure everything they did to me in the hopes that they eventually took me to my parents, and then I figured I could do whatever I needed to do in order to get us out of whatever we found when we got there.”

He sat back and looked at Pip, Colin and Georgy. “You may return to your seats.” He watched them until they were seated, and then he studied my mother and father as if he could read what was going on beneath their skins. Finally, he said, “I would like to see an example of your magic.”

The guards shifted uneasily. It was the first movement from them since this whole meeting had begun. I looked at the emperor’s glass of wine. It was half-full or perhaps a little less. I reached a hand toward it. One of the guards pinned my hand to the table, but the emperor waved it away and sat back to watch. I first thought to change the glass into a basilisk, but I changed my mind, the basilisk was me; the emperor needed something elegant. Then I had it; there was a crane-like bird on Planet 663-457 that would be perfect. Under my fingers, his wine glass stretched and swayed. It came together at the mouth and stretched up into a thin, long graceful neck with a long sharp beak and sensitive spiked feathers around its neck. Its mouth was open, ready to catch the unwary rodent that might rush by. This bird did not fish in the shallow rivers but hunted in the tall grasses. The stem divided and became two long thin legs. The wings and tail feathers trailed down almost to the tabletop offering the unwary rodent a false shelter from the hunting beak only for a moment. The dark red wine that had been the contents of the glass colored the slender body and tinted the rest of the glass by its presence. The guard didn’t relax for a moment, even when I removed my hand from the glass figurine. He was really quite pale.

The emperor carefully picked up the figurine and looked it over closely, succeeding in tipping a few drops of red wine out of the open mouth in the process. “I like this.” He set it back down on the table between us. “I’m curious about one thing though. Why did it take you so long to come here? Why didn’t you make your petition sooner?”

“We took the first ship coming in this direction,” said my father. “We broke down only a month out and lost power. We were under tow the rest of the way into dock.”

“I see. I heard about that ship. Attacked by pirates too, as the report states. Pirate Randall was captured trying to take the ship. It seems he was having all sorts of trouble. He ranks very high on our most wanted list.” The emperor looked directly at me. “You wouldn’t have something to do with that trouble, would you?”

“Yes sir, most of it anyway,” I replied.

“I see,” he said with a hint of a smile. He looked back to my parents, suddenly serious again. “Lydia, you and your husband will go back to the barony and take up where your father left off. It is proper, as his only living heir, that you do so. Your son will stay here under my close personal supervision. Your seat and welfare will depend on his behavior. This arrangement will continue until I feel certain that your son is safe, or until he can be made safe. Mr. Pip, you and your nephew will be properly compensated for your services. You will then be free to go wherever you wish. Mr. Colin. You too will remain here at least for a time. I’m curious to see what the doctor has to say about you.” He rose, took his transformed wine glass and his guards with him and left the room. We had been dismissed. The meeting was over.

As soon as the emperor was gone, servants came and escorted us in our separate directions. Mother gave me a hug and pulled me down to plant a kiss on my cheek. “Everything will be just fine, you’ll see. I love you.”

Father shook my hand. “We’ll keep in touch.”

“You better,” I said. “Don’t make me come find you again.”

They both waved as they were escorted to the door. I know mom was crying again before she got there. I hoped everything would be fine.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chapter 48 - DINNER WITH THE EMPEROR

When I walked into the grand dining hall, I was amazed. There must have been hundreds of people in attendance and they all were dressed in the highest fashion. Well, I guess it was the highest fashion; I found it all to be quite outlandish. Fortunately, what the seneschal selected for us to wear had no feathers or ruffles; of course, I think Pip may have had something to do with that.

Just as I had been instructed, nobody here was talking with anyone else here, so aside from the entertainment, which took the form of music and acrobatic dancing, the room was very quiet. Then I noticed a tall slender man enter the room. He was younger than I expected, somewhere between thirty-five and forty I would guess, and dressed in somber black flowing robes. At each shoulder was a guard in full armor. No matter what the emperor did or where he went, they never strayed more than two feet from his elbow and their eyes were constantly roaming, searching for the smallest possible danger. There were other guards around too who were never more than ten paces away. I’m sure there were others as well; after all, he was the emperor.

The emperor himself passed among the people with somber dignity and seemed to speak to almost everyone there. He didn’t speak to me or my friends so there were probably others who didn’t receive his attention. As he passed through the people, he had a brief conversation with those he chose, and then, most of the time he paired them off with someone else of his choice. These people then began to talk to each other. Occasionally, in the case of a man being paired off with a woman, they would dance to the music. In my opinion, it wasn’t really dancing music, so this only happened a couple times.

Finally, when the emperor felt that he had spent enough time mingling, he headed for the head table and his seat. Once comfortably arranged with his ever-present guards at his elbows, he waved his hand. Someone must have been waiting for the signal because a flood of servants entered the room and escorted people to their seats.

As soon as everyone was seated, (I was seated next to my father, who was seated next to mother, who was seated directly across from the emperor himself), the food began to come out in a seemingly constant flow. It was a very good meal, but I soon discovered that the courses changed when the emperor was done with his portion, regardless of whether you were finished or not.

Near the end of the meal, a servant leaned close to my ear and said, “When the meal is finished, you will remain seated. His Lordship wishes to speak with you after everyone else has left.”

I nodded to show I had received the message and then glanced at the emperor. He made no indication that he even knew of my existence. This would be interesting - I think.

My parents and all three of my friends must have received the same message because we all stayed at the table. Pip, Georgy and Colin were seated at a table about half way across the room. They remained there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chapter 47 - EMPIRE CITY

By the time we docked, most of the repairs had been completed. I think all they had left to do was replace some of the larger components and then the ship had to pass some sort of inspection before it could be declared space worthy again.

It felt strange as our impromptu family disbursed, knowing it was highly unlikely that we would ever see each other again, but we all knew it was inevitable. Perhaps some of us would remain in contact. We all had each other’s names and addresses by now.

Dad hired a private car and we went directly to the emperor’s complex. I was amazed that the complex was the size of a major city all by itself. Gaining access was difficult to say the least, which is appropriate I guess, but I found it irritating. I was thankful I had the distraction of helping Colin adjust to full gravity. Most of the work had already been done. All that remained was for him to get used to it and build up his strength and endurance a little more; he tired rather easily.

It was almost six weeks before we gained an audience with the assistant of an undersecretary of some other underling’s underling of the emperor, but it was a start, and mother was excited about it. Apparently, our story gained someone’s interest because, as short as two weeks later, we were summoned to see an assistant of the undersecretary of the emperor himself.

Mother purposefully kept the unusual details of our situation extremely vague, but the report caught the ear of the emperor nonetheless and apparently, it caught his interest.

Three days later, he sent for my parents. A private audience with the emperor was just what my mother had hoped for. I went along, but I wasn’t allowed into the meeting. Several hours later, an assistant suggested I return to my apartment. The emperor wasn’t going to see me today, and he was far from finished with my parents; there was no point in my remaining any longer.

I returned to the apartment I shared with Pip, Georgy and Colin. I tried to interest myself in the movie on the video screen, but I had missed too much, and it was too complicated to try to catch up.

I went and took a shower instead. It was the closest thing to a rain dance I could find; it was a long shower.

After pacing the apartment for another hour or two, Pip had a suggestion. “Why don’t you call the closest guard post and ask if there’s some place where you can go and work off a little of that pent up energy. Your orbiting is going to drive me nuts.”

That sounded like a good idea to me, so I did it. They gave me an escort to a workout arena where the guards in our area did their own training and exercising. I had to have an escort because I would be taking my own weapon and only certain people were allowed to go armed here.

I ended up staying there until the wee hours of the morning, either trying to invent unopposed sets, or sparring against anyone who offered, and there were several guards willing to take on a kid who needed to unwind. It would have been nice to flex my magic too, but there were too many witnesses and I didn’t want just anyone to know. Consequently, though it felt good to do this kind of workout, it was still inadequate.

I didn’t see my parents until late two days later and I spent most of that time at the garrison’s training field. I was worried about them, but I hoped that, in this case, no news is - well, maybe not bad news.

Early in the afternoon of the second day, a group of men and women arrived at our apartment. The man in charge called himself a seneschal and he informed me that the four of us were to attend a formal dinner with the emperor, and that the people he had brought with him were to assist us in dressing properly, among other things.

The ‘among other things’ included a quick lesson in proper manners at the emperor’s table such as what, when and how much to eat, when to speak and what to speak about, as well as when to sit at the table and when it is acceptable to leave. I’m sure we were getting an abbreviated lesson in such etiquette; I got the impression from some of the people attending us that it was common knowledge that dumb country bumpkins like us couldn’t manage such a complicated affair as a formal dinner with the emperor and should never be allowed within a light year of him.

By the time they were done with us, my head was in a whirl, and I think Pip would have gladly wrung a few necks, but we were primped, trimmed and tucked in all the right places and dubbed ready to depart.

They ushered us into a vehicle that looked like a small train. The front car was the engine of course and looked like a large van. Behind it were three more cars that looked like the front one without the windshield. The seneschal ushered me into the first car behind the engine. Pip, Georgy and Colin were ushered into the second car along with three other people, and everyone else got into the last car.

“You must realize,” said the seneschal to me as soon as we were alone, “that the emperor is very interested in you and your family. He will likely speak to you rather often, if not almost exclusively, so you must be careful how you respond.” He shrugged. “Then again, he may ignore you entirely until after dinner and the others have all been dismissed. Remember what I told you; do not attempt to engage him, or anyone else, in conversation. He will indicate the flow of conversation; no one comes to see the emperor in order to converse with anyone else.”

“Why don’t you just say, ‘don’t speak unless you’re spoken to’? Wouldn’t that be so much easier?” I said.

He just scowled at me. His whole body language said he thought I was just too stupid to understand.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chapter 46 - THE LONG ROAD

Repair crews aboard tug ships appeared two days later and we were under way again though it would be sub-light all the way. I clawed my way out of my seat as soon as they installed the parts that held the force field over the port. Nobody understood how things had been working, but they had little reason to question me, for which I was thankful. I was also thankful that they hadn’t repaired the gravity plating yet either, because I’m not so sure that I could have walked down the stairs to my seat. It was all I could do to shuck the space suit I’d been wearing.

Colin was the first to see me drifting down into the cabin and was at my side immediately. “What happened to you? You look like the living dead.”

“Great, what’ll my mother think? Where is she anyway?” Before I let myself relax into my seat, I said, “Colin, I’m going to need your help and Georgy’s too. I’m going to sleep for a while, probably a long time. I’m going to need you guys to take care of me. You’ll have to make me eat and I’ll need to eat a lot. Wake me about every four hours. I can’t think of anything else; I’m too tired.”

“We’ll take care of you Liam; don’t worry,” said Colin. “And Liam, thanks. For what you did for me, thanks.”

I think I smiled. I was glad he hadn’t been scared away. “My pleasure. Glad I could help. Don’t let mom get too upset. This’ll scare her - a lot I think. She’ll want to fuss. Won’t do any good.”

My sentences were getting shorter and I was rambling. I missed Colin getting me into my seat; I just suddenly found myself there, and then I fell asleep. It was such a relief just to turn off for a while.

They told me it was six days while I mechanically consumed whatever was placed in front of me before I said anything. Apparently, I asked for an apple. Colin told me I’d have to make it since there wasn’t any in the galley. All I remember is someone telling me ‘I’d have to make it’. I didn’t remember what I was supposed to make. I don’t know if I even tried.

It was nearly three weeks since leaving the cockpit before I pulled myself out of my seat and found my way to the shower. Mother tried to steady my progress until Colin and Georgy took over; since the gravity was still off, it was a sonic shower, not nearly as revitalizing as a water shower. I felt a little more coherent when I got out, but was still quite ragged around the edges.

I picked up my sword belt a couple days later and those in the cabin who noticed, cheered. They had no idea what I had done; all they knew was that I had been ill and sleeping for a long time. Now that I had started sparring again, the boredom of their day had some relief.

The noise attracted the attention of the repair crews who were coming and going all over the ship. They had moved in with us, filling any empty seats while they worked on the ship, therefore they were constantly in and out as their shifts changed.

We stayed at it longer than I intended, but sparring in 0-G was so much fun, and the enthusiasm of the crowd was catching.

Our lessons expanded when members of the repair crew joined us from time to time. Before they got the gravity plating turned back on, we all got several pointers on how to use our weapons under weightless conditions; of course, Colin didn’t need many of those pointers, but he practiced avidly just the same. You don’t stay good at something if you never practice it, plus he had new mass to learn how to wield.

Ultimately, this trip took fully twice as long as it was supposed to, since we were forced to drop out of faster than light travel far sooner than we should have. Consequently, I had another birthday in space. You don’t travel with a group of people for a year and a half without becoming as close to a family as it is possible for a group of strangers to get.

Everyone had a birthday at sometime or another during the trip. We celebrated them all with a bit of a party and a few exchanged gifts. No one had really come prepared to celebrate over a hundred birthdays, so not much but well wishes were ever exchanged, but the parties were fun and another diversion from the boredom of endless travel.

There were movies too, (fortunately) and we had seen everything in the library more than once. Long before we reached our destination, movies were played by popular demand; I liked them all.

Supply ships found us twice since the disaster and unloading was also a diversion. It’s interesting the things people will use to relieve their boredom. By the time we reached our destination, the line between crew and passenger was almost indistinguishable.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Chapter 45 - PIRATES

It was taking me hours to bring us to a relative stop and I was feeling the drain. Shortly before we achieved it, we were hailed by another ship.

“Hail, passenger liner Bradshaw One. Stand to and prepare to be boarded.”

“This is the Bradshaw One,” I replied. “We have no engines. I estimate I won’t be able to come to a full halt for at least another hour. Who is this?”

“If you don’t have any engines; how are you slowing your motion?”

“I’m working on it. Identify yourself,” I said again. I was tired and getting irritable.

“That must be a pirate ship,” said my companion. “Otherwise, they would have identified themselves with the first thing they said. We’re sitting ducks.” A note of panic was showing in his voice, but I didn’t have time for that.

“No, we’re not,” I replied. “Tell me what to do.”

“What do you mean, ‘tell you what to do’; what can we do? We don’t have any engines, so we can’t run, and we don’t have any guns, so we can’t fight. Like I said, we’re sitting ducks.”

I continued sending out our distressed call, and in the process, I felt them trying to jam the signal. In a moment of irritability, I reached out and took their jamming equipment. Let them try to figure that out when they tried to fix it.

I was starving. It was tempting to take what I needed directly from our unwanted visitors, but I still wasn’t sure they were pirates. I also was determined not to kill again. I didn’t remember the one time I did, and I had never tried to, but the very thought of sucking the life out of someone to feed my hunger was repulsive.

In an effort to distract myself from my hunger, I turned my eyes in to the cabins again. The people in the common cabin were still safely buckled into their seats, and they were being tended and comforted by the stewards as well as Colin.

The view in the first class cabin wasn’t nearly so quiet and there was ample evidence why. There were bodies floating around everywhere, gruesome evidence of why it was important to strap in before we dropped down into sub-light speed. I found a quiet line directly to the stewards that caused a small light to blink.

“Frank speaking, how’s it going captain?”

“The captain is dead. My name is Liam; do you need gravity in there?” I asked.

“There’s no one named Liam on the crew. Who are you?” asked Frank.

“I can give you gravity if you need it. I can help you clean this mess up if you want my help. Yes or no.”

“We’re making headway in the clean up. It’s easier to move bodies when they don’t weigh anything. We’re fine here.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let me know if you do need something and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“Right, just how do I find you?” said Frank with no little sarcasm in his voice.

“I’m sitting in the pilot’s seat trying to save your ass,” I said in response and cut the connection.

As we got closer to a complete relative halt, I began to draw my awareness back into myself. I maintained my connection with the closest object out there and with the internal systems in order to keep them working. Now I could focus more attention on our visitor.

Using my experience with this ship, I infiltrated the systems of that ship. My presence didn’t go unnoticed however. I heard one crewman say, “Someone has accessed our internal systems. They’ve touched most all of them. I think they’re in the audio/visual systems now.”

“What!” replied another man, ostensibly the captain. “Get them out of there.”

“I’ve tried, sir. Nothing works. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

I found the men who were talking and watched them for a few minutes as they tried to trace my passage through their systems.

As I looked through their ship, it occurred to me that I might as well draw my food from there. Under normal conditions, we would have almost a month of travel left. Now that we had been forced to come to a halt, it was entirely possible it would take us considerably longer to reach our destination, so our supplies might need to be rationed. Judging from the amount of supplies on board the pirate ship, they were based somewhat closer.

I drew on their supplies to make me a thopper leg and began to devour it. (God, I was hungry) I made a big fat sandwich after that and washed it down with a fat glass of milk followed by an apple. The rest of their supplies I transferred to our own galley.

After going through their logs, such as there were, I found that they were definitely operating under the line of legality, so I didn’t feel so bad about taking from them.

I saw them maneuvering closer to our hatchway and melted their maneuvering thrusters, and then I gave them a gentle shove away from us. My ear into their bridge told me they were scrambling for explanations and the captain was getting furious. Things like this just didn’t happen on his ship. Wait until someone tells him there’s no food in the galley.

I continued to play this kind of game with them. An hour after my last meal, I made myself another, much to my companion’s disgust. “You shouldn’t be eating in here,” he said. I ignored him.

Two hours and another meal later, our distress call was answered by the police cruiser Prometheus. The pirate ship’s communications were so screwed up by now they didn’t hear it, so they were the sitting ducks when the Prometheus arrived on the scene.

They tried to run, but I disabled their engines and they ended up tumbling slowly away. I pulled my awareness into the ship after that. We had long since come to a relative halt and the pirates were no longer a threat. All that was needed of me now was to keep our internal systems functioning; I felt like I could sleep for a month.

An investigative team boarded to assess the situation and began to take statements from the crew and some of the passengers. When they saw the damage in the cockpit, it was obvious we were in real distress.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chapter 44 - DIVERTING DISASTER

I rose to return to my seat and saw Colin coming out of the bathroom, and then there was an explosion. The gravity plating ceased to function and the engines that had become so much a part of our lives that they had ceased to exist for us, suddenly went silent. All I remember at the time was total pandemonium. People were screaming. The stewards were trying to restore order but were having little success. I had to get upstairs. I had no idea why, but I knew I just had to go.

I yelled at Colin over the ruckus. “Colin, help get these people back into their seat. You’re good at this. I’m counting on you.” I don’t know why I said that, but it seemed to galvanize him into action. I kicked off toward the stairs with somewhat less grace.

My mother snagged my arm. “Where are you going? You have to buckle into your seat before we slow down any further.”

Her grip sent us both careening out of control in off the wall directions (literally). Colin caught my mother and propelled her safely into her seat and then caught a child and headed in another direction with it. I didn’t catch what he said but I heard the kid giggle.

With an utterly graceless bounce off the ceiling and then the wall, I managed to find the stairs and head up to the first class level. The stewards were having less luck here. Everyone was shouting over each other, demanding an explanation immediately. The stewards had no answers to offer so the passengers continued to yell. Very few of them were willing to do as the stewards were telling them.

I continued past this floor and on up to the operations deck unhindered and unnoticed. Huddled in a corner near the door to the cockpit, was a young officer. I knelt down by him and asked, “What happened here?” When he didn’t answer, I shook one of his shoulders and asked again.

Finally, after a light slap on the face he took notice of me. “What did you say?” Then he realized that I had to be one of the passengers. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help,” I said. “Tell me what happened. Tell me why you’re out here like this.”

He looked around and then began to shake. “I . . . I just had to go to the head. I was only gone a couple minutes. I should have been in there too.”

I could see that, if I wanted any further information, I couldn’t let him dwell on this much longer. “What happened in there?” I asked again and I shook his shoulders to encourage him to answer. I knew there must be some way I could use my magic to help calm him, but I didn’t know how to do that.

“We must have hit an asteroid or something,” he said in a very small voice. He pointed to a red light over the door. “There was an explosive decompression. The cockpit is compromised. Hell it might not even be there anymore,” he continued.

“We need to get in there. We need to regain control of this ship, to send out a distress call, to . . . .” I wanted to tell him that I intended to fix what I could, but he wouldn’t believe that. Sometimes I hate being a kid.

He looked up at the red light again. “We need to get in there, you’re right.” He stood up and opened up a small panel beside the door. After he flipped some switches, I felt some motor in the wall come to life. “Yes, the airlock works.” He turned to the wall he had been huddled against and started to open cabinets.

In those cabinets were pressure suits for the flight crew. Finding what he was looking for, he passed one of them to me. It had ‘Lisa’ on the chest. “It’s the pilot’s suit. I think it’ll fit you well enough.”

I felt uncomfortable putting on something that belonged to someone who was so recently dead, but it was the most logical thing to do. I probably didn’t need it, but to spend magic unnecessarily would be foolish.

Climbing into a space suit in zero gravity was an interesting task, but amazingly enough I only took a couple minutes longer than he did. I put myself into a somersault in the process, but he caught me and helped me finish sealing up the suit and turning on the air.

After we got through the airlock, I could see the extent of the damage. Something had punched through the glass that made up the ‘windshield’ and smashed a good deal of the consoles in the center of the room. Where it went from there, I don’t know. It was like a bullet the size of a cannon ball had been through here and everything that had been torn loose or wasn’t bolted down had been sucked out of the compromised windshield. Obviously, the crew hadn’t been buckled in. Frankly, I didn’t look at that hole very closely. I might have to deal with it later, but I’d put it off as long as possible. Right now, we needed engines, navigation and communications.

“Buckle up,” said the crewman; I didn’t know his name yet. “We’re going to be dropping out of F.T.L. soon.” He was buckling himself into a chair and flipping switches at the same time.

I found a seat that was closest to the destruction and buckled in as well. The fact that the straps were in tact, confirmed that its previous occupant hadn’t been buckled in before . . . .

“That’s the pilot’s seat. You think you can fly this thing?” said my companion.

Of course, I couldn’t fly this thing, but I was confident that I could make it do whatever we needed it to do.

He was madly flipping switches. “Damn, I can’t get anything to work.”

I reached my hands out, touched the closest consoles and closed my eyes. A search of the chaos between him and me revealed that there was indeed chaos. I saw nothing but scrambled remnants of billions of wires and twisted remnants of the brackets that used to hold everything in place. All of that ‘everything’ had been sucked out of the sizable hole in front of me. I couldn’t fix this. I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Instead, I began to identify systems that were still intact but cut off from any power source or control. I found a system that had been a way for the crew to look in on the cabins below us and used it to do just that. The people in the common cabin were all strapped into their seats and looking scared. The first class wasn’t nearly so well organized. Only about half of them were sitting in their seats, glowering.

I found the announcement system and used it to magnify my voice. “May I have your attention please?” I said and then had to repeat the request two more times before getting some sort of response. I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, but I wasn’t too interested in that.

“This is an emergency. This is not a drill. This is an emergency. Everyone must prepare for an unplanned reduction in speed at any moment. Return to your seats and buckle your seat belts immediately. Stewards, you will buckle yourselves in now.” I watched the stewards cease to argue with the passengers and go directly to their seats. I was relieved. I needed them to be safe so that they could manage the chaos that would be sure to come.

“What did you say?” asked my companion, but I was immersed in the workings of this ship and I barely heard him. I found how to turn on the gravity plating but opted not to, because with gravity restored, I feared that more people would feel confident enough to leave their seats and harass the stewards.

I found the life support system and was relieved to see that it was automated aft and had been undamaged. Then I found what looked like a safety system and a force field went across the hole in the windshield. Atmosphere began to equalize and I could hear my companion cheer that something worked.

I found a count down to sub-light and broadcast it into the first class cabin. That worked better than anything else had so far, but they were obviously a stubborn lot. Then I found the navigation system and heard another cheer from my companion once again, but the sound turned disappointed since I couldn’t do anything with it.

As I immersed myself deeper and deeper into the workings of the ship, my external awareness of myself got dimmer, with the small exception of the voice of my companion. I needed him to tell me what to do.

Then it occurred to me, in my diversified mind, that I needed to tell him that. I had no more than toyed with that idea when we had slowed enough to drop into sup-light speed. The wrenching compression was just the opposite of when we moved into faster than light speed, but I was so distracted that I barely noticed anything other than the way everything felt sluggish and heavy now.

“Now what do we do?” I asked, feeling as if my words were coming out too slow.

“Now we have to send out a distress signal and figure out a way to stop this thing,” he replied.

‘Stop this thing. I think I can do that.’ Motion in space is relative to surrounding objects. I sent magical feelers out to a number of those objects then I located the control circuits. Fortunately, most of those controls were located in front of me and had escaped the destruction on my left. I located the retro jets and set to firing them at measured intervals. My goal was to match our speed with those far away objects until there was no difference between their motion and our motion. While I struggled with this, I started calling across the radio waves using the frequency supplied by the ship’s computer.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chapter 43 - UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTH

There is an old expression I’ve heard from time to time that says ‘my, how time flies when you’re having fun’. I was reminded of the passage of time though, when I overheard my mother asking Colin, “Have you spoken to your father? I’m sure he would love to hear about your progress.”

“Father doesn’t know where I am and I can’t tell him,” replied Colin. “You see the lieutenant governor was going to have me arrested for that last fight. There aren’t any jails on space stations or asteroids; it was a death sentence for someone like me. Liam said he thought he could help me. What could I lose by trying? I never would have imagined doing what I’m doing now, and I really want to thank you people for lending me something to wear. Anyway, if I call father; he’ll have to turn me in.”

That was really something; the only people in our ‘family’ who weren’t wanted by the authorities were Pip and Georgy. Course if anyone discovered that they were with us, they could be added to the list easily enough.

I had been putting off telling Colin what I had been doing to him. I just didn’t know how to do it. I liked him a lot and I didn’t want to scare him away, but he was starting to think it was some miracle and I couldn’t let him believe that.

Finally, the day came when Colin asked me what it was that I had done and I couldn’t put it off any longer. He weighed twice as much now than he had when I first met him. He knew that the gravity plating was normal for this ship and I think he suspected that it had never been lightened for him as I said it had. Perhaps they would have if he were a first class passenger. Maybe, if they thought he really was my mom’s son and if they knew who she really was, but no. He thought it had to be something I was putting in his food. By coincidence, I was always handing him his food.

We were just finishing our daily sparring match one day when he said, “It feels so wonderful to be taxing my muscles and know that it’s not just to breathe or walk across the room. What did you do to me? You said you thought you could help me and I’m much stronger than I ever thought I would be, I can see it in the mirror, so what did you do, slip something into my food?”

“No, Colin, its nothing in your food. If there was something that could be added to your food, don’t you think at least one of those doctors your father took you to would know about it?” The three of us went to the bathroom and I locked the door. “Colin, I’ve told you a little about myself. You remember me talking about the planet where my parents had been stationed and how I had remained there after they left.”

“Yeah, I remember. It sounded like a cool place. I’d like to visit it someday.”

“I was forced to stay because I had to learn how to control my magic.” I made an apple and handed it to him. He’d never seen an apple before, but that wasn’t why he stood there, gape mouthed.

Georgy watched in fascination too. He knew about my magic, but had had little opportunity to watch me do any. “Eat it,” I said to Colin. “It’s my favorite. This is some of what I learned to do.” I made a tiny waterspout in the center of my hand then I held the water and made it spin between my two hands like a tiny planet. After I tossed that into the shower, I tried to explain. “I can manipulate or make whatever I need. I do that by drawing on the elements around me. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”

I made a steel marble and tossed it into the air a few times before tossing it to Georgy. He was looking from Colin, to me, and back again. He too was trying to figure out how I had helped Colin. He knew that I had done it; he just didn’t know how.

Colin pulled his eyes away from me and looked at the apple still in his hand and at the shower where I had tossed the ball of water. He shook his head in disbelief.

“Do you remember telling me that I couldn’t help you unless I could make you a whole new body?” I let the thought hang for a moment.

“Are you telling me that you gave me a new set of bones?”

“Well no, not really, but I did build up what you already had.” I didn’t think he would appreciate me telling him how careful I was being or how much I feared that I might get it all wrong. Right now, he was at about ninety-eight percent of what the library reference said was normal for his height, and he still weighed less than either Georgy or me. I figured I could help a little more if he needed it when we got to Earth. He’d never been on a full sized planet, and despite everything I’ve done for him, it would still take some getting used to.

It took him a long time to say anything, but when he did, I wasn’t really expecting the question he asked. I guess I should have though; it was a logical jump.

“So what did you use to do that? Who got weaker so I could get stronger?”

“No one and no thing got weaker so you could get stronger. I pulled your bone and muscle mass from the frozen meat in the freezer.” I could have pulled the matter from anywhere, but it was a logical choice to me; I didn’t expect his reaction though. It took him a few moments to understand what I had just told him. He turned and, dropping the apple, he grabbed the edge of the sink behind him and threw up.

I don’t remember anyone ever throwing up in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. Should I do anything? Should I say anything? I reached forward and laid a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged me off with a growl. “Get away from me.”

I drew back. I had done it. I drove him away. Well, I didn’t regret what I had done for him. I hope he does all right on Earth.

I left the bathroom and returned to my seat. I opened my computer but found nothing in there to interest me so I went to the viewing port. There was nothing there to see either, but the vastness seemed soothing somehow.

My mother saw my distress and came over to me. “What is it dear? Why are you so upset?”

“I just told Colin how I’ve been helping him get stronger. He’s in the bathroom being sick. He hates me now.”

“Nonsense. I’ve watched Colin. He’s like a wild animal that has been in a cage far too long. I won’t pretend to understand what you did, but you’ve opened the door to that cage and he’s free for the first time in his life. He’ll come around. Just give him some time to think about it.”

What choice did I have? It would be interesting trying to avoid him for the next month, but I guess I could try.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chapter 42 - BUILDING MUSCLES, BONES AND FRIENDSHIP

As we stood in line to board the ship, the governor’s son came up to me and pulled me aside. “Do you still think you can help me?”

“I think I can, and I’m willing to try. I don’t know if I’ll succeed though. I can’t promise that.”

He shifted his feet and looked longingly at the gangplank then he looked back the way he had come. There was a pair of guards there, but I have no idea whether that influenced his decision or not. “All right, I’ll try it. I don’t want to live like this any more.”

We stepped back in line and I said, “Mom, meet my brother . . . .”

“Colin,” he supplied.

Mom looked at us in stunned surprise, but then she smiled. “You really must find some other way to make friends, Liam. Beating them up first is just . . . bad taste.”

We all had to laugh, even Colin laughed about it when I told him about my other three friends. Make no mistake, laughing hurt, but we did it anyway, carefully.”

I took the ticket from my mother and handed it to the ticket collector. There was a little problem there since our ticket claimed six people and their records said that we were a party of five, but when we all handed over our IDs, which, with another bit of slight-of-hand, confirmed what our ticket said, they let us pass. Someone had made a mistake somewhere; they would investigate it through the proper channels but they couldn’t afford to delay us from our flight. I’m sure Colin thought we had second-guessed him and had things changed in advance, but he never asked about it.

First class passengers got staterooms. Common class passengers all sat in padded seats, not unlike fat recliners, arranged four wide in rows around the common room on the lower level. That seat was where we would live for the duration of our trip. We would sleep there and sit there whenever we did those things, and there was a large compartment overhead for our luggage. There was a common bathroom at the back of the compartment where we could shower if we wanted, and a small cafeteria where we could eat our meals during the appropriate time of day.

Even the light boost used by the ship to leave the system was hard on Colin, but I used my magic to buffer the boost and bolster his strength.

I stayed by Colin constantly during this time. Pip was the only one who guessed what I was doing. Not even Colin knew. I had Georgy bring us our meals, but Colin could hardly eat. I asked a steward if I could have a library hookup and he brought me a small touch-sensitive screen for my use. Using it, I was able to look up much of the information I needed to know, then I used my magic to search for the materials I would need to use. I felt fairly certain I would find it, but knowing where it was would help. I didn’t want to draw from any-old-where.

I reached over and touched him on his wrist. “How are you doing?” I asked. I didn’t need to ask, but I used it to distract him from what I was doing. Drawing on the massive sides of beef in the freezer, I began to add the necessary bulk to his bones and muscle. I stopped when he started to shiver. I hadn’t quite expected that, but I decided to use it as a limit each time.

“Oh,” he grimaced, “I’m doing all right, I guess. I had almost forgotten how pleasant this can be.”

I found some excuse to touch him every few hours but found that even that was too often for him, at least for now, as he pulled out his blanket and struggled with it.

It took us two days to clear the system. During that time I managed to add about five percent to his bone and muscle mass, but now came the preparation for the jump to faster than light.

Dad coached us in detail. Georgy had never been on a ship that went faster than light; he’d never had to go far enough to bother. Colin was plainly terrified, but to his credit, he buttoned his mouth and didn’t say anything.

When the announcement came over the intercom, the stewards came around to make sure everyone was buckled up and all our things were properly stowed away. Our steward offered Colin a stiff narcotic, but he declined.

And then it began.

There was an alarm light at the front of the cabin and it started to flash red, then the disorienting stretch of reality came and pulled at my very fiber. In reality, it all happens quickly, but your perception of it seems to last an eternity while you are aware of each cell attaining its new speed.

My fear was that my magic might rear up and try to do something to counter this perception, and if it did, I feared that it might throw everything off. I figured that I could stop this ship if I tried, or I might divert its course and send it into a sun, or something else just as deadly. I might short out half the circuitry in the ship. I might . . . . The list of my fears went on and on, but none of it happened. I concentrated on keeping Colin in one piece and I think that’s what kept me in one piece.

After the ugly part, there were a few moments of weightlessness and then the gravity plates were turned on.

Five percent additional bone and muscle mass weren’t enough. Colin made a few gasps and then fainted. Desperate to keep him alive, I kept his blood flowing and full of oxygen, and then I added another twenty percent of bone and muscle mass and made it ten degrees warmer in his immediate area.

Now it was up to him. He needed to build up his strength. I could build muscle mass, but I couldn’t make it strong for him.

When he woke up, he was still shivering, but he felt better than he thought he would. I told him they lightened the gravity plating and encouraged him to get out of his seat for a little exercise. I opened the luggage compartment and pulled out two metal staffs; there was precious little matter that could easily be turned into wood here. The other passengers cleared the central floor as soon as they saw what we intended to do. He lasted nearly half an hour that day, but with that encouragement, he kept at it each day and no longer noticed the faint chills from the new mass I added every day.

Within a few weeks, it was the three of us in the center of the cabin and we had a captive audience. I would teach Georgy and Colin the sword, and Colin would teach Georgy and me his way of fighting with the staff. It was a lot of fun and many of our goof-ups were punctuated by laughter throughout the cabin.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chapter 41 - OFFER TO HELP

I didn’t come out of my room again until the next day when I had to go get my teeth fixed. We were all sitting in the cafeteria afterward when the governor came in with his son in tow. When I say he was ‘in tow’, I mean the governor had him by the scruff of his neck. He came up to our table and placed his son so that he faced me most directly, then he gave him a shake. I winced along with him; that little shake had to have hurt since the whole side of his face was purple.

“I’m sorry,” he said, through clenched teeth. “It won’t happen again.”

I wasn’t too sure I believed him. Sure, he wasn’t likely to challenge me again, but then again, I wasn’t likely to pass through this space station again. I looked at his resentful expression and suddenly had an insight into the reason behind it. I might regret this, but I thought I aught to try. I got to my feet and motioned him to follow me.

When we reached a spot where no one could overhear us, I asked, “Why don’t you come with us? You look like you could use a change of scenery.”

He looked at me in disbelief. “What makes you think I want anything more to do with you?”

“Suit yourself,” I said. I tried. I started back to my seat.

“You’re going to Earth,” he said to my back. “I can’t go there. I can’t even go to most asteroid colonies. I have enough trouble walking the strip here.”

I turned back to him and looked at his too thin form more closely. “I think I can help you . . . if you’re willing to try.”

He scoffed. I expected that. “You can’t help me; not unless you can give me a whole new body. Dad has taken me to so many doctors, I’ve lost count, and they all say I’ll never be comfortable under gravity. There’s a reason why it’s against the law to give birth to children anywhere other than on a main planet, and for children to spend no more than one year in five in space until they’re teenagers. My mother ran away with a miner before I was born. By the time father found her on some unnamed little pebble, I was already thirteen years old.”

I tried one more time. “I still think I can help you, but if you’re too scared to try then . . . well, I was going to say ‘I’ll be seeing you’, but I doubt I ever will.” I went back to my seat.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chapter 40 - TURF

By the time we reached the hatch at the top of the ladder, we were climbing using only our arms and only touching every few rungs to keep us propelled upward. Before entering the now open hatch, Skinny Dude opened a cubby, drew out two long staffs and propelled them ahead of us. Once he and I had followed them, the hatch was closed, leaving only him and me in the huge empty space that could only be the center of the station.

I’ve seen these puzzles where there is a collection of about ten sticks all at different angles held in place by strings laced across the ends of the sticks; in the center was a glass ball. The point of the puzzle was to remove the ball by sliding the sticks in the right direction along the strings. I felt like we were inside that ball but there was no glass between the girders and us.

As soon as my eyes had assessed my surroundings and had come back to him, he spoke. “You’re going to fight me for the right to exist on my strip and only I will decide when the fight is over.” He launched one of the staffs at me.

I recognized the move and deflected it without loosing the staff in this weightlessness. I hadn’t pitted myself against Master Larak and learned nothing in all those months. Skinny Dude might be better at the ‘no gravity’ thing, but I did know how to handle a staff. It looked like he was going to use a style I wasn’t familiar with though.

For my friends and my teachers, a staff had simply been an over long club, but I didn’t have the weight to do quite the same thing and had been forced to modify my style accordingly. My hands could therefore be most anywhere on a staff, but seldom directly in the center.

With a deft kick off one of the girders, my adversary launched at me with a vicious swing. It was supposed to connect with my head. I wasn’t entirely successful in twisting out of the way, and though he missed my head by no more than a hair, the other end of his staff connected with my shin. I’m certain that if the blow had landed under gravity, my leg would be broken; it felt like it was broken anyway; jeans weren’t the protection my leathers were.

I learned something from that as well as my own counter attack. Being in the center of his staff, his attack was much more balanced and controlled. Mine, on the other hand, was slower and I was propelled away by the force of my own swing, which of course missed entirely. I learn quickly though. I adjusted my grip on my staff and kicked myself back into the center of the chamber.

By the time the fight was over, I had a royal shiner with a cut at the end of my eyebrow that was bleeding freely and leaving drops of blood floating around. I had a chipped tooth and a loose tooth, a split lip that was adding to the red blobs in the air. I also had three broken fingers on my left hand, at least a couple broken ribs and a broken shinbone. That might sound pretty bad, but my opponent was wracked up every bit as bad. I don’t think I broke any fingers or his leg, but I know I broke some ribs at least twice and he had a nasty gash on the side of his head right over what could well be a concussion. I just left him and his staffs floating there and made my way to the first hatch I could find. I was rather proud of myself; I hadn’t used any magic, though I was tempted to at least give myself some stability, but I really didn’t want an unfair advantage since it seems that I had strength on him already and skill than he expected.

When I finally made it out onto the strip again, I was greeted by a scream, which brought security guards within moments (I guess I must look quite a sight by now with blood running all down my front). They took me to the infirmary where they patched me up with stitches, straps and splints; my shinbone was only bruised and skinned.

The station governor came to see me while I was getting my stitches (he managed to miss them setting my fingers) and asked me what had happened, and then, almost in the same breath, he told me. He knew about Skinny Dude and his gang; all I did was confirm what he already knew and tell him that I had been the winner.

He seemed a little surprised about that. It seems that Skinny Dude was his son and he had been caught at this too many times. The governor told me that he would reimburse us for our entire stay here and pay for our flight if we wouldn’t report it. I was in no little pain; the drugs they had given me for the pain weren’t competing too well with my magic, so I just told him he could talk to my dad about that.

Needless to say, my parents were in a right tizzy when the governor brought me back to our rooms. What they said or agreed on, I have no idea; I went directly to my room to lie down. I share a room with Georgy and Pip, and Georgy was watching a movie when I came in.

He glanced up and then did a double take. “My god, what happened to you?”

“I ran afoul of the governor’s son and won,” I muttered through my swollen mouth. I went to my bed and flopped down on it. Oh man, that was a mistake - take my advice, if you ever get beat up, don’t ‘flop’ anywhere, not even at one-fifth gravity.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chapter 39 - TRAVEL PLANS

Late wasn’t quite the word for it. When I came down into the common room, lunch was in full swing and my plate was waiting for me. I wasn’t quite awake enough to begin worrying yet, so my appetite raged unhindered.

Pip just smiled, but my parents began to grow concerned as I put away my third plate of food. They made no comment though, and waited until I was finished before speaking.

“We have come to a decision,” said my father, after the waitress had removed our plates and brought us our drinks. Pip had ordered a brandy, my parents each had a glass of white wine, but Georgy and I had ice water. My experience with alcohol had not been too favorable yet. “We have decided to take our case directly to the emperor.”

I nearly choked on my water. “Won’t they be expecting us to do something like that? They’ll find us.”

“That’s a possibility, but I’m hoping they won’t be looking in that direction at all. If we can present our case to the emperor before we’re hauled in as criminals, it will look a lot better for us. It’ll make us appear more the victim in this. We’ll have to present the entire case, Liam, which means that you’ll have to show the emperor some of what you can do. The man isn’t stupid; he knows what kind of man the baron was. We’ll have the entire trip to plan what to say and do in more detail.”

I groaned. “Dad, you’re talking six to eight months of faster than light travel. What if . . . what if something goes wrong? I dealt with the PTS boost all right this time, but this is new. What if . . . .”

“If you can handle PTS boost, you can handle this,” dad said. “Don’t you remember when we made the trip last time? It’s unpleasant, but not nearly as drastic as cryo-sleep. I’ll coach you through it before we start and make sure you know exactly what to expect.”

I groaned again and looked from face to face. “Are you sure this is the best thing? Not that I want to spend the rest of my life on the run, but this seems like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.”


We went to book our flight using Pip’s name and the money dad had paid him, then we went shopping. Pip was fine with me making things to order as long as it wasn’t food, but mom wasn’t convinced that I could get it right. Mom likes to go shopping. I have come to the conclusion that shopping is my mom’s version of my rain dance.

Though it almost hurt my mom’s feelings, she bought us all common clothes to wear. Our cover was that dad and Pip were cousins, which made Georgy and me second cousins once removed or something like that; anyway, we were one big happy family going to Earth on a pilgrimage. It was not unheard of for people to travel to Earth at least once in their lives in order to tour all the historical sights of the origin of man. It would also allow for us to be a bit eccentric though we were only traveling common class. Mom didn’t have a clue how to act like a commoner and dad was just as bad.

The next morning, we packed our luggage (as I said, mom likes to go shopping) and headed for the docks. We would take a shuttle to one of the space stations in orbit, and then from there, we would get on one of the space liners and begin our journey to Earth.

The space station was a minimum gravity complex. It operated at about one-fifth normal gravity, but it was almost like going to the mall. There were hundreds of shops of all sorts, offering everything from reading material to alcohol to toys. The selection might be a little smaller and the prices somewhat higher, but for the most part, if you wanted it, you could find it along the strip somewhere.

Our ship would arrive in two days and take a day to turn over then we would be leaving. In a way, I could hardly wait to go, but also in a way, I dreaded the departure. I feared that my basilisk might rear its ugly head and do something under the stress of passing into light speed, and I feared I was strong enough to make that a very dangerous prospect.

Mom occupied her time with more shopping, though she didn’t really buy much here. I went with her some, but I found shopping boring. Finally, mom got tired of my impatient company and told me to go for a run. “You always used to burn off all that extra energy when you would go running around with your friends. Why don’t you try it here?” I didn’t understand what she meant by that at first, but she pointed out a young woman jogging past, and it occurred to me that I had seen her go past before. Run; I hadn’t run since I left Planet 663-457, home to me.

I went to our room and changed into a t-shirt and jeans with tennis shoes. When I stood out on the strip, I felt a little odd. I had never run just for the exercise; I had always run in order to get somewhere and because my friends had always ran wherever they went. What could I lose? It would burn off some nervous energy like mom said.

The pace I had learned to be comfortable with was a long legged pace that was almost a full sprint. It felt so good to get the blood pumping, and at one-fifth gravity, it was so easy. It took me almost an hour to make one complete circuit and I made three circuits before I stopped at a cafeteria and bought a bottle of water.

I drained half of it while I turned to leave the shop. When I lowered it, I found my way blocked by three men. At least two of them looked like men three or four years older than me; the third one might have been the same age, but he was unnaturally thin. That and his white hair made him look old.

It was the thin one who spoke. “Who gave you permission to use my strip for anything other than spending money?”

I was surprised at the question. He didn’t look like someone who might be in charge of the station. He wasn’t old enough for that by a long shot. “My mother did.”

“Your mother?” His tone was dripping with sarcasm. “You have to earn the right to do that and I don’t recall seeing your mother.”

“We just got here; we’ll be leaving day after tomorrow, so I won’t be a threat to your authority for too long.” I moved to step passed him, but he snagged my arm.

“You’ll have to pay the penalty for your actions if you don’t want a lot of trouble.”

“What - I don’t have any money.” I didn’t. I hadn’t asked dad for another credit chip yet. The water had been put on our room bill.

The two bigger guys moved around and took each one of my arms. The skinny dude just smirked and said, “You don’t understand, I’m going to have to punish you. Bring him.”

I could have broken free, but I was curious, so I went along. After a few yards, I pulled my arms free in order to finish my water and chuck my bottle in a trash bin.

A couple hundred yards further, we entered a service hatch marked ‘Station Personnel Only’, and then we began to climb a ladder. They must work for the station; I wondered if their boss knew what they did in their free time. I also wondered if they were going to plug me in to one of the glittering panels we were passing; if they shorted out a fair chunk of the station, it would take them another month to fix it - job security.

He didn’t seem at all interested in those panels though, and as we climbed, I realized that the gravity that was already light for me was growing lighter. That little revelation told me where we must be heading as well as why he was so thin. He had spent virtually his entire life in low or no gravity. We were going to his turf. I wondered what we were going to do there, but I had my suspicions.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chapter 38 - THE FIRST TIME

Next to sit at my table was a girl I had never seen before. Before I could ask her what she wanted, three guards entered the inn. At first, I thought that guy who tried to take my dad’s sword might have sent them, but their words were an indication of something much worse.

“We’re looking for a man, a woman and a sixteen year old kid. Has anyone in here seen anything like that?” one of them asked loud enough for everyone to hear.

I tossed the rest of my drink back and gasped as fire rushed back up my throat.

Getting no response to their question, the guards decided to apply a little pressure. They went to every table and looked each occupant closely in the eye, asking their question again. When one of them reached my table, and leaned on it, I forced myself to look him directly in the eyes. “You look like you might be about the right age. You staying here by yourself, are you?”

I showed him my key.

The girl scooted her chair closer to me and put her hand on my arm as if for security.

“Why are you looking for these people?” I asked.

The man reared his head up and glared at me. “I’m the one asking the questions here.” Then he glanced at the girl and moved on to the next table.

When they went upstairs, I stepped outside. The girl clung to my arm. I let her because she would make me appear older than sixteen. Perhaps the guards thought she was my wife. Plus, if they found my parents up there, I could interfere with them out here in the dark a lot easier than in the inn where there would be far too many witnesses.

As I leaned against the building, the girl wrapped herself around my arm and started to rub her leg against me.

“What are you doing?” I asked. I almost wanted to push her away.

“You looked like you could use some company,” she said.

Oh my god, I had a hooker. What do I do now? “I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” I said, as I diverted her hand from going down my pants.

She had succeeded in getting my shirt unbuckled by the time the guards left the building. They were alone. The man who had stopped at my table saw us and chuckled. “Take it inside. You don’t want to get arrested for lewd behavior, do you?”

As soon as they were out of sight, I pushed the girl away from me. “That’s enough.” I walked off down the street away from her, refastening my shirt. I suddenly felt like I was about to crawl out of my skin.

As I walked, it started to rain. The rain felt good and I stopped long enough to tip my face to it. Then, off to the side, I saw a burned out building back from the street a ways and I had an idea. I went to explore it. It was perfect. It was open to the sky and all view from the street was blocked. I drew my sword and searched for my music.

It was long after suppertime when I found my way back to the inn. I begged a plate of meats from the innkeeper and went up to my room.

I set my plate on the table and went directly into my little bathroom. I hung my clothes in the shower and remade them, leaving the water to run down the drain. Then I took a shower. With a towel wrapped around my middle, I sat down at the table to eat my meal.

I hadn’t lit a light in the room; I didn’t need one. It was cloudy and dark outside, but with the curtains open, there was more than enough light for me. I was a bit giddy but very relaxed and growing full rapidly as I made short work of my meal, so I was totally unprepared for someone other than me turning the light on.

With my arm over my eyes, I was a thought away from attacking whoever was in the room when she spoke. “Oh my, are those bullet wounds?”

Oh my god, the hooker; she was here. “What are you doing here?” I asked as I peeked from under my arm.

There she stood in all her glory. Fine glory. Then I looked at my bed; she had been waiting for me there.

“I still think you could use some company,” she said.

“I don’t need any company. Go find someone else and leave me alone.”

Before I could see well enough to fend her off, she had danced forward and pulled my towel away. I didn’t want to hurt her and I didn’t want to bring the whole house into my room to investigate the commotion, so trying to be quiet, I did my best to keep her at a distance. However, the euphoria left over from my rain dance, and the fact that I was now well fed, combined with my youthful hormones, utterly raging by now, as well as my curiosity; it all conspired against my brain and she won.

The first time was a lesson. The second was a better lesson. The third time was pure joy. I’m not going to tell you about the rest of the night. It was only some time later that it occurred to me to do it in the shower. That might be fun. Needless to say, when the dawn arrived, I was oblivious to it and woke only when my father knocked on the door.

At the sound I sat up abruptly thinking vaguely that it was time to start the day back at the cave, but then I remembered where I was and why. The girl was gone and she had taken the only thing in the room that was of value to her, my credit chip. Using my magic, I sought out the very familiar object and changed it into a useless metal coin. I might have let her have it if it didn’t draw on a relatively bottomless account.

The knock came again.

“What?” I asked, still feeling groggy from lack of sleep.

“Are you all right?” said my father. “It’s late, we were worried about you. It’s time we talked.”

“All right, I’ll be down in a minute.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chapter 37 - EXPLANATIONS

My sword was sheathed but my hand rested on my dagger at my back, ready to draw it in a moment should I need to. Mom and dad followed close behind me.

He led us through many winding back alleys with many twists and turns along the way. He also bought us several short rides on assorted transportation systems going different directions. As I watched him, I felt certain that he was doing his best to throw off anyone who might have thought to try to follow us.

Finally he led us into an inn not far from the docks and then up to a room on the second floor. Pip was sitting there at a small table looking quite used and much abused.

My guide went and stood behind him and I went forward to clasp his hand with relief. “Pip, I thought you were dead. They told me they had discarded your box at the docks.”

“They did. In fact, they discarded me among the freight almost at once. If it weren’t for Georgy here, I’d be dead for sure. Speaking of which, I think we are due for a few introductions.” He indicated the young man who stood at his shoulder. “This is my nephew, Georgy. I enlisted his help as possible backup in case something happened to me, or we got separated, and it’s a good thing I did. You, McTavish, weren’t supposed to spot him or even notice him unless he was needed, but I thought your reactions would be much better if I didn’t tell you otherwise.” Then he turned his eyes on my parents. “And you, Mr. and Mrs. McTavish, I’m glad you’re safe, but I think you should do a little introducing of your own. I think you owe your son an explanation.”

I was surprised. I looked at my parents. “What does that mean?”

My mother seemed to wilt and my father guided her over to the bed and sat down with her, but he didn’t offer to speak for her.

While I watched my mother wrestle with herself, Pip whispered something to his nephew who left the room quietly.

“Liam,” mom began with difficulty, “We . . . your father and I . . . were in no real danger. The baron wouldn’t dare. You see . . . he’s my father, and he never claimed any other heirs. He kept us incommunicado. We couldn’t get any messages out to you. We couldn’t warn you in any way. It didn’t occur to us that you might come looking for us. We just hoped that, in time, he would let it go and in the mean time you would be safe on that planet.”

I groped for the only other chair in the room. “What?”

“I’m sorry, Liam. I should have told you long ago, but I didn’t think it would ever matter,” continued my mother. “I was disowned when I married your father, that’s why we moved to Earth.”

Making my first sword hadn’t made me as numb as I was right now. I had to get out. I had to think and I couldn’t do it while looking at my mom’s face.

I left the room, passing Georgy on the stairs, and made it as far as a table near a cold fireplace before I had to sit down again. It was just as well; half the city was probably looking for me by now.

I sat there, churning over what I had just heard and what I feared would happen now. I had just killed my grandfather. My grandfather was a baron. My parents and I would be hunted by the entire empire, but there was no hiding; we were known - well known. I could think of no real justification, no real excuse for doing what I had done other than the fact that I could. What did it matter if he had had me whipped? What did it matter what he had wanted from me and how wrong it would have been to give it to him? Surely, I could have gotten us out of there without killing.

My father came down and sat down beside me. He laid my original sword belt on the table in front of me. “Mr. Pip said you might want this.”

I reached out my hand and touched the familiar wear spots, nicks and scrapes on the leather. I opened my cloak and unbuckled the one I wore. It was pristine. I coiled the belt around the sword, like the other one was, and laid it in front of my father. “You can have this one.” I let my hand linger a second, making the dragons disappear. “The dragons are mine. They need to be sharpened.”

Dad touched the back of my hand. “I’d like to get a better look at this.”

I unbuckled my sleeve and pulled it up as far as it would go and traced where the tail went for him to imagine since my sleeve wouldn’t go up that far.

“It’s beautiful. What made you get it?”

“I was throwing my credits around, using my name as much as possible. I was trying to attract attention. It worked. I don’t think I’ll do this again; it hurt. If I decide I want another tattoo, I’ll do it the easy way.” I pulled my sleeve back down and buckled it again.

“The easy way; what way is that?”

I just smiled and touched his chest. “Like that.”

With a bemused smile, he unbuttoned a couple buttons on his shirt and took a peek. On his chest I had put a small red heart, shot through with an arrow, written in it was my mother’s name.

He just smiled and nodded. “Your mother will like it.”

The mention of my mother brought me back to my problem. “Dad, what’re we going to do now? I really messed things up.”

His reply was interrupted by a massive hand coming to rest on the sword belt I had just given him. “It ain’t right that you should have two such fine get-ups. Why don’t you give one of ‘em to me?” The man looked like a football player only he wasn’t wearing padding; it was the muscles of his shoulders, arms and chest that stretched his shirt so far.

“No,” I said calmly. “I gave that to my father. You can’t have it.”

The man had been in the process of drawing the belt toward him, but he froze and looked me directly in the face. I’m sure he was seeing a young teenager trying to look much older than he was.

Someone from behind him spoke up. “Bart, if you start another fight, I’ll have to call the guard again. That’ll make it your third time here.”

Dad looked like he wanted to become part of the woodwork, but he stayed where he was. If he were to start moving away, everyone would follow his example and that would clear the way for a fight.

“Now boy,” the man said. “Think what you’re sayin’. You got two of them fancy outfits. What would anybody need with two?”

“You can’t have it,” I repeated, while staring the man directly in the eyes.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my father go pale, but to his credit, he showed no other reaction.

With a sly look coming across his eyes, the man named Bart moved the belt another inch and then grew suddenly pale as well, but for a very different reason.

My father had gone pale because he had been looking at the table, and he saw my sword melt down through its sheath as well as the table and out of sight without leaving a single trace of its passing. My antagonist went pale because he suddenly felt the point of that blade poking him in a very tender, very valuable place from under the table.

“Please remove your hand from my father’s gift.”

He did just that as if it were suddenly very hot. “Pardon me for disturbin’ ye, sir,” he said as he backed away. He left the bar shortly after that. He’ll probably spend the rest of his life wondering how I had managed to draw my sword without him seeing.

I stood slowly, brought my sword out from under the table and slid it back into its sheath, then I deliberately buckled it around my waist before sitting down again.

A barmaid came over with two small glasses full of some amber liquid. “The innkeeper says thank ‘e for breakin’ the fight. This is on the house.”

Dad nodded his thanks and tossed back a gulp with a grimace. After he set the half-empty glass back on the table, he drew the sword belt back in front of him and slid the blade out a few inches. “Just what can you do?”

I took an experimental sip of my drink. It was smooth as fine oil and kindled a nice warmth in my roiling stomach, but it tasted nasty. It was probably better than the one beer I’d had though. I turned back to trying to answer my father’s question. “Master Durmas told me that first day that I should consider myself an infant only just learning to crawl. It took me a few weeks to learn how to stand. I figure I’ve got a firm grip on walking now. I might even be able to run a little. I have no idea how far it will go; perhaps I’ll fly someday.”

Dad raised an eyebrow at my analogy and then ran his thumb down the few inches of exposed blade in front of him. “There’s no edge.”

“I haven’t figured out how to do that yet. It’s not hard to sharpen though.” I set a stone in front of him and then I brought out a small stone flask of oil and a small cloth. I had made each one of them under the table out of sight. It looked as though I was bringing them out of a pocket.

Dad smiled as he realized what I’d done. “You’re kind of handy.” Dad finished his drink and then he went back up to mom.

I sipped at my drink; it had been a gift so I intended to finish it, but I figured I’d not order it again.

I was just beginning to mire myself in my worries again when Pip showed up.

“You all right, kid?” he asked as he took the seat my father had vacated. He held up my father’s empty glass and the barmaid came over and replaced it with a drink of his own.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m glad you made it too. Tell me how you did it.” I figured listening to his tale would put off my worries for a little while longer.

He sipped at his drink. “Well, it took Georgy most of an entire day to realize we were missing. Then he had a heck of a time finding both of us. You were easy. They kept you in the back of the infirmary. They buried my box in one of the four cargo holds.

“By the time he found me and opened the damn thing, I had long since come to the conclusion that I was dead. I was hungry and thirsty and I couldn’t even call for help. It was all I could do to breathe. Despite the fact that my box wasn’t near as comfortable as yours, we thought that I should stay in it, just in case someone were to check once in a while. Georgy brought me food and water every day, twice a day if he could manage it. It gave me a chance to stretch my legs for a few minutes.”

“Then you were lucky. I was kept in the box, packed tight all the time. They shoved a tube down my throat and pumped me full of food and drugs . . . oh I don’t know . . . once a day I think. I think the worst part was that my magic wouldn’t let the drugs work.”

We sat in silence while Pip finished his drink and ordered another one.

“What now, Pip? I asked.

“I guess we see what your parents want to do.” He slid a key over to me. “I’m going to bed.”

Before he could leave, I asked him, “Pip, how did you find out about my parents?”

“I didn’t know, not until we got here. Too many things were too strange, so I did some checking. All the strange links fell into place pretty quickly after that. Your mom’s face is well known here.” He left then. “You should eat something,” he said over his shoulder.

Yeah, I probably should. I hadn’t spent much magic all things considered, and I was in such a whirl, I couldn’t even think straight enough to decide whether I was hungry or not.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chapter 36 - ESCAPE

One thing I learned from my teachers was to think about surprising events after you are safe and have time to think about them. I whirled around, grabbed my parents by the arms and started to run, but soon realized that my mother wasn’t capable of running. She was too stunned to do more than stumble along, so I scooped her up in my arms, thankful that she was a small woman. My father might have been able to do it too, he was bigger than me, but all his time at the table writing his papers couldn’t compare to what I had been doing for the last near year (I don’t even want to count my time in that box).

My magic bolstered my strength and energy, but it didn’t tell me where to go. As soon as I was out of that room, I was hopelessly lost. My father, however, had no such problem.

As soon as we were in the hall, he took the lead. “This way,” he said, and waved me after him.

Up until now, I always thought of my father as some kind of a dorky nerd, but right now, I would have followed him into the gates of hell.

We rounded several corners and descended two flights of stairs before we went through a door leading outside. Dad led me around behind some other building and up to a small door located in a massive brick wall.

I put mother down while father searched for something. She was crying now, though she was trying not to make any noise with it. “Don’t you remember, Lloyd? Six bricks up and two over” (sniff). “It’s on the right hand side.”

He went to the appropriate spot and a brick slid sideways at his touch. He moved something inside the small hole and the door came ajar. He closed the brick and ushered us through the door.

We were just rounding a corner that would lead us down into the city when we came face to face with someone I wasn’t happy to see; it was the shadow we had acquired at the mining colony.

I didn’t take the time to analyze his reaction to finding me here. I drew my sword, and then pulled him helplessly forward into its point.

“Pip sent me,” he gasped hastily before my point pierced his skin.

I froze. “What did you say?”

“Pip sent me. He sent me to see if I could find some information about you. I didn’t expect to find you so soon and not out here. Please follow me. I’ll take you to him.” He spoke rapidly, obviously disconcerted by his present predicament. “He sent these.” He held up a large bag, but was unable to present it too far forward without risking his neck with a careless shifting of his weight.

“What is it?” I asked without moving. “Open the bag.”

He let the bag fall open and then reached inside to draw out a gray cloak. “There’s one for each of you.”

I let my hold on him slip and he took half a step back with a barely concealed sigh of relief. I took the cloak from him. It was just a cloak, but just to make sure, I remade it. No one noticed the act; careful watching wouldn’t have revealed it, but now it was a product of my creation and couldn’t be trapped with anything. I handed it to my father and held my hand out for another one. My sword was still trained on the man’s throat. I noticed that he wasn’t much older than me.

After I had changed the third one, the man wadded up the bag and stuffed it into the front of his shirt.

I sheathed my sword and waved for him to lead on, but before he could take a single step, I pulled him helplessly back into my reach. “You better not be playing a trick on me. Don’t think you’ll be able to escape if you are.”

“I’m not. Pip set me to following you back at the colony. I was backup, in case something went wrong.”

“He didn’t tell me.”

“You weren’t supposed to know I even existed.”

I pushed him forward. We needed to get away from here. We didn’t have time for discussion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chapter 35 - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

When we made it back to where we started from, my box was still there though closed again. My ‘guide’ propelled me over toward the only other occupants of the room with a shove. My parents hugged me desperately. My mother was sobbing openly and my dad looked like he just might join her any second now.

Through her tears, mom said, “Oh, Liam, what are you doing here? We thought you would be safe on that planet. We thought you wouldn’t be able to leave. We thought you couldn’t.”

“I came looking for you. I got worried when I didn’t hear from you.” Then I whispered in her ear in case we were being listened to. “F.Y.I. mom, there’s another man with me, or at least I hope he’s still with me. The story is that you hired him to baby-sit me before you left. He’s a short man with light hair that’s turning gray. He has a mustache and his name is Pip; have you seen him?” and then louder again. “What’s going on here?”

Both my parents shook their heads imperceptibly about Pip and then tried to answer my question. “My last report about the magic that man told us about, I didn’t believe it until after we reached that mining colony,” started my father. “I’m sure my attitude was clear in my report and I didn’t bother to change it after you convinced me otherwise, but someone believed it. When they took us, they were after you. Baron Vladimir was furious when they brought us here and you weren’t with us. Now that you’re here, I don’t know what he’ll do.”

“Listen, mom, dad, whatever he does, I can handle it.” I really wasn’t as sure about that as I managed to sound, but they didn’t need to know that; they were scared enough. “So don’t worry. I need to know where they’ve taken Pip, so I’m going to have to let them do whatever they’re going to do until I find that out.” I looked them both intently in the eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll get us out of here.”

Mom looked dubious and dad was trying his best not to.

“Well, well, well. Such a happy family reunion,” said an oily voice behind me. “Ah, and there’s even tears, how touching.”

My dad stiffened and my mom let out a tiny gasp. I turned around, keeping my mom directly behind me. Striding into the room from a door on the far side was a man dressed in many layers and folds of what could only be very expensive material. All of it was glittering with gold thread and expensive gems. He might have been quite handsome some forty years ago, but greed and indulgence had had their way with him unfavorably. He had pale red hair and too white, too fine, too shiny skin. There was a large jewel on every one of his chubby fingers and gem encrusted slippers on his feet, or what I could see of them. I was stunned; he must be wearing several million credits worth of clothing. I wondered how much it weighed.

“Have you no welcome for your baron, boy. Didn’t your father teach you any manners? Bow to me, boy, before I have you flogged for insubordination.”

As a matter of fact, my father had never mention the proper way to greet royalty, but I bowed anyway, and out of the corner of my eyes, I saw my parents doing the same on either side of me.

I held my tongue as he looked me over with glee twinkling in his eyes. If he wanted obeisance, he wasn’t likely to stand for questions until he asked for them. My bow was only half hearted; I didn’t want to take my eyes off him, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“I’ve been told that you can do magic. I want you to show me something,” said the baron without preamble.

Who could tell him something like that? “What do you mean? I don’t know any magic tricks.”

“That’s not what I heard. I read that medical report. That idiot doctor going on about some miracle. No one could survive that kind of boost. A heavy-worlder couldn’t have done it let alone a skinny fifteen-year-old boy. Show me something, or I’ll show you some pain.”

“I’m sixteen now; I celebrated my birthday while I was in that god forsaken box of yours.” I knew that making him mad wasn’t going to get me anywhere but in trouble, but showing him some magic wouldn’t make the situation any better.

“Well happy birthday to you,” he said sarcastically. He waved to someone out of sight and a man with a whip stepped into view. Sixteen you say, then let it be sixteen lashes. If you can heal yourself from the damage done by a PTS boost, a little thing like a whipping should be a cinch.

He was right. I could protect myself or I could let it happen, but I wasn’t too sure I would be able to let it happen completely. That whip looked like it would cut to the bone and my control had never been tried under such pain.

Men poured into the room and grabbed me. They pulled me to the center of the room and forced me down onto the floor where they held me spread-eagled face down.

“NO!” my mother screamed, “How can you do this? He’s only a boy.”

“Silence,” Vladimir snarled at her. “If he can work magic then he’ll work it for me, or he can die.” Then in a different tone he said, “Be gentle with him, I don’t want him to pass out yet; I’m not finished with him.”

I looked over my shoulder at the man with the whip. “I’ll never work for you,” I yelled, trying to sound brave.

The whip descended with blinding speed and I could only flinch away from it. It didn’t do any good though. My back lit up like it was on fire. I didn’t scream after that first stroke, not because I was being stupidly brave, but because my lungs wouldn’t cooperate with such an idea. I did scream after the second one and for many others after that; by the time the last one had come and gone I was a blubbering mass of raw nerves.

The rest of the room, however, was quite silent. The men who had held me pinned to the floor drew away and I curled up, wishing I could bend the other direction so that my hurt could be protected from further pain.

“I knew it,” I heard the baron say, and my heart sank.

What had I done? I lifted my head enough to glance down my back and saw. My t-shirt was in bloody shreds but though my back was streaked with angry red welts, my skin looked like it had not been broken. I groaned.

The men who’d pinned me down pulled me to my feet where I swayed. I could hear my mom’s muffled sobs and I turned to look; her face was buried in my dad’s shoulder. My dad looked like he was carved of stone.

“So you can heal yourself, boy. I knew it. What else can you do?”

I locked eyes with my father for a moment longer before turning back to the baron. “Where is my servant? What have you done with him?”

“We left him at the docks. Someone will open that box . . . eventually,” replied the baron with a sneer. “I didn’t have any use for him.”

So, Pip was dead. I had no reason to believe that he had received the same care I had received. He had either smothered or starved to death in that damn crate. Someone would pay for that too and that someone was standing directly in front of me.

I turned back to look at my father; his face had gone all dark. Someone smacked a hand flat in the center of my raw back and I roared in pain.

I looked back at the man I had learned to hate. “I can do quite a bit. What would you like to see first, death or destruction?” It was rather satisfying to see my antagonist draw away.

The baron just laughed at what he thought was pure bravado. It was bravado, but it was so very real. “Why don’t you start by making me a pile of gold here at my feet? One can never have enough gold, you know.”

Gold? Gold is very rare and he wants a pile of it. “I thought you might start with something hard like clothes,” I said, and brought my leathers back into existence complete, with my blue basilisk. “Or perhaps weapons for your men.” I reached out and grabbed the two men who were closest, and used the metal and leather on their bodies, as well as the others who were close, to make my sword belt with its comforting weight of blades. I didn’t have to do it that way, but now they were disarmed, and some of their clothes were threatening to fall off as assorted buckles, zippers and buttons were no longer there to do their job. It felt so good to flex my magic. “But no. All you can think of is your greed.” I knelt down and touched the floor. The drain was tremendous, but the rush was exhilarating. Finding a source of gold far closer than I had expected, I caused a patch of it to replace the marble under my hand and then extended that patch toward the baron.

He was ecstatic, and actually bent over to watch it come. He was utterly unprepared for what happened next. It’s difficult to change stone into metal. It’s not much harder to change flesh into metal, but with the gold at such close proximity, I could scarcely tell the difference.

The baron stepped out onto the gold path and knelt down to touch it with his hand. He began to scream when his hand became welded to the floor and the line between gold and flesh traveled up his arm. In another minute, his screams stopped as his lungs no longer drew air to expel sound. His eyes were nearly popping from his head with terror before they too were made of gold. Everyone in the room was frozen with shock.