A Wizard Abroad, New Millennium Edition (2 page)

There will be nothing good about it!!
Nita thought. The best part of the summer, the best weather, the leisure time she’d been looking forward to putting to use either working or just hanging around with Kit…  “Mom,” Nita said, changing tack, “how’re you going to afford this?”

Her mother gave her a look that was a bit too acute: the expression of someone who knew an attempted end-run when one presented itself. “Honey, you leave that to your dad and me to handle. Right now we’re more concerned with doing the right thing for you. And for Kit.”

“Oh, you’ve been talking to his folks about this too, have you?”

“No, hon, actually we haven’t. I think they’re going to have to sort things out with Kit their own way. I wouldn’t presume to dictate to them. But we want you to go to Ireland for six weeks or so and take a breather. And see something different, something in the real world.”

Oh jeez,
 Nita thought, they
think this is the real world. Or all of it that really matters, anyway. This is going incredibly wrong…
 “Mom,”  Nita said, trying hard to calm herself down, “there’s something here I’m not sure you’re getting. Wizards don’t stop doing wizardry just because they’re not at home. If the Powers that Be put me on call when I’m in Ireland, well, I go on call, and there’s nothing that can stop it. I’ve made my promises. If something like that happens, if I have to go on call, wouldn’t you rather have me here, where you and Dad can keep an eye on me and know what’s going on all the time?”

Nita’s mother frowned at that, and then looked at Nita with an expression compounded of equal parts suspicion and amusement. “Oooh, sneaky,” she said, vanishing briefly back into the kitchen and returning with a glass bowl in the crook of her arm, the bowl full of something fluffy and amber-colored, with a white fluffier layer on top. “Nope. Sorry. Your Aunt Annie will keep good close tabs on you—we’ve had a couple of talks with her about that—”

Nita’s eyebrows went up: first in annoyance that it was going to be difficult to get away and do anything useful if there was need; then in alarm. “Oh,
You didn’t tell her that I’m—”

“No, we didn’t tell her that you’re a wizard!” Her mother rolled her eyes. “What are we supposed to do, honey? Say to your aunt, ‘Listen, Anne, you have to understand that our daughter might vanish suddenly. No, I don’t mean run away, just disappear into thin air. And if she goes to the Moon, tell her to dress warm.’”  Nita’s mother gave her a wry look and reached for the wooden spoon that Nita had been playing with. “No. We trust you to be discreet. You managed to hide it from us long enough, Heaven knows...you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping things under cover with your aunt.” She started folding the egg white on top of the mixture in the bowl down into the layer underneath it. “No, honey,” she said. “Your dad’s going to see about the plane tickets tomorrow. I think it’s Saturday that you’ll be leaving—”

Nita was going hot and cold with shock. It was way too soon,
the idea of being shipped off against her will like some kind of air mail package was bad enough, but there was no way she was going to get anything done now,

“Yes, the fare’s cheaper then. We have to get you out of here before it goes up again: we’re in kind of a keyhole between the two summer rush periods for air fares to Europe. It’s a little complicated…”

“I could just, you know, 
 there,” Nita said desperately. “It would save you the money, at least.”

“What, you mean just vanish and reappear, the way you do? No, I think we’ll do this the old-fashioned way,” Nita’s mother said calmly. “Even 
 would have some logistical problems with arriving at the airport and getting off the plane without anyone noticing that you hadn’t been there before.”

Nita frowned and started working on that one. “If we—”

“No,” Nita’s mother said. “Forget it. We’ll send enough pocket money for you to get along with; you’ll have plenty of kids to socialize with—”

Socialize with,
Nita thought, and groaned inwardly.
Like she’s sending me off to some kind of dog park for teenagers. To get
with normal human beings.
What have I done to

“Come on, Neets, cheer up a little! It should be interesting, going to a foreign country for the first time.”

I’ve been to foreign
 galaxies, Nita thought. This
I’m not so sure about!
 But she also had that sense that further argument wasn’t going to help her. No matter: there were ways around this problem, if she just kept her mouth shut.

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go. ...But I won’t like it.”

Her mother gazed at her thoughtfully. “I thought you were the one who told me that wizardry was about doing what you had to, whether you liked it or not?”

“It’s true,” Nita said, and got up to go out.

“And Nita,” her mother said.

“What, Mom?”

“I want your promise that you will not be popping back here on the sly to visit Kit. That little ‘beam-me-up-Scotty’ spell that he’s so fond of. The one you two use when you want to save your train fare for junk food.”

Nita felt the blood drain away from her face. That was the one thing she had been counting on to make this whole thing tolerable. 
 But Mom, it’s easy, I can just—”

“No, you can’t ‘just.’ We want you to take a break from each other for a while. Now I want you to

Nita let out a long breath. Her mother had her, and knew she did; for a wizard’s promise had to be kept. When you spend your life working with words that describe and explain, and even change, the way the Universe is, you can’t play around with those words, and you can’t lie… at least not without major and unpleasant consequences.

“…I promise,” Nita said, hating it. “But this is going to be miserable.”

“We’ll see about that,” Nita’s mother said. “You go ahead now, and do what you have to do.”


Kit said. “This is completely dire.”

They were sitting on the Moon, on a peak of the Carpathian Mountains, about thirty kilometers south of the crater Copernicus. The view of Earth from there this time of month was good; it was waxing toward the full, while a dazzling Sun hung quite low over the Moon’s horizon. Long, long shadows stretched across the breadth of the Carpathians, so that the illuminated crests of the jagged peaks stood up from great pools of darkness, like rough-hewn pyramids floating on nothing. It was cold there; the wizardly force-field that surrounded Kit and Nita snowed flakes of frozen oxygen gently onto the powdery white rock around them whenever they moved and changed the field’s inner volume. But cold as it was, at least it was private.

Which was good, as Nita’s mood was raw and her nerves were frayed, and there were few people besides Kit who she trusted to see her this way. “We were just getting those trees locked down,” Nita muttered. “I cannot

“Do they really think it’s going to make a difference?” Kit said.

“Oh, I don’t know. Who
what they think, half the time? And the worst of it is, they won’t let me come back. She made me
promise. Dammit!”
Nita picked up a small piece of pumice and chucked it away, watching as it sailed about a hundred yards away in the light gravity and bounced several feet high when it first hit ground again. It continued bouncing down the mountain, and she watched it, scowling. “And now the upcoming-projects schedule is shot too. The hurricane-steering thing—that waiting list was about a mile long and we finally got on it, and then
happens! Not to mention the Venus survey. And that custom worldgating workshop at the Crossings, that’s shot too now. We’ll lose our places and it’ll be years before we can reapply. There won’t be any time to do
about them before I have to go.”

Kit stretched and looked unhappy. “We can still Manual-chat. Or overhear each other thinking, when that works.”

“Mmf,” Nita said.

“Or I can just call you.”

“Better not,” Nita said. “Roaming charges.”

“Not so sure about that,” Kit said. “Did I tell you I was talking to Tom and Carl last week about ways to tweak your phone with wizardry so you get around long-distance problems? There are apps you can install that hook it into the manual…”

Nita said.

“But as for work here… I’ll get the trees finished with pretty soon: you can coach me at a distance—”

“It won’t be the same! You know that.” Nita had often enough tried explaining to her parents the “high” you got from working closely with another wizard: the feeling that magic made in your mind while working with another, the texture, was utterly unlike that of a wizardry worked alone—more dangerous, more difficult, ultimately more satisfying. But her folks didn’t seem to get it.
Or maybe they
starting to get it… and it’s starting to freak them out.

Nita sighed. “There must be some way we can work around this. How’re your folks handling things lately?”

At that Kit sighed too. “Variable. My Pop doesn’t mind it so much. He says, ‘Big deal, my son’s a 
 Sometimes he’s actually kind of proud about it. But my Mama...” He shook his head, sighed. “Half the time she’s okay. Mostly after she’s been talking to my Pop. But other times… She doesn’t really want to say it, but I think she may have the idea that somehow we’re meddling with Dark Forces.”

“Oh no…”

“Oh yeah. An idea which Helena put into her head.” Kit rolled his eyes. “Thank you so much, idiot big sister! I caught her looking at some kind of website about
the other day.”

“Cute,” Nita muttered.

Kit shook his head. “When are they making you leave?”

“Saturday.” Nita rested her chin on one hand, picked up another rock and chucked it away. “All of a sudden there’s all this junk I have to pack, and all these things we have to do. Go to the bank and get Euros. Get me a debit cardBuy new clothes. Wash the old ones.” She rolled her eyes and fell silent. Nita hated that kind of rushed busy-ness, and she was up to her neck in it now.

“How’s Dairine holding up?”

Nita laughed. “Hardly heartbroken. Anyway, she’s so busy doing big-scale long-range wizardry that half the time I only see her at meals. Don’t get me started about breakfast.” She snorted. “There she sits shoving cornflakes into her face while she builds these weird half-Speech-half-machine-language wizardries with Spot the magic computer. Or else she sits there having these bizarre voicelink conversations with wizards halfway across the Galaxy through Spot’s manual functions. It’s like watching intergalactic Skype.” Nita fell into an imitation of Dairine’s higher-pitched voice, made even more squeaky by annoyance. “‘No, I will 
 move your planet! What do you want to move it for? It’s fine right where it is!’”

Kit merely rolled his eyes and produced an expression of general disgust, with which Nita empathized completely. Dairine had come into wizardry at a younger age than most, and at a much higher power level; and she was also (by several months) a newer wizard than the two of them were. As a result she was presently more powerful than Nita and Kit put together, which annoyed Nita incredibly… not that there was a thing she could do about it. All she and Kit had on Dairine right now was experience, and the useful advantage of being two brains against one. Or at least it was useful
. “At least she’s not on your case as much as she used to be, it sounds like,” Kit said.

Nita sighed. “Yeah. We don’t fight nearly as much as we used to. In fact, it’s been real quiet, that way. Not sure it’s normal.”

“Oh, right,” Kit said, and laughed, “the way
 normal? Is it just me, or are we starting to sound like our folks?”

Nita had to laugh too. “You may have something there.”

But then the amusement went out of her, because all the comfortable familiarity between them was about to be seriously interfered with.. “Kit, this really, really
Who’m I going to have to talk to in Ireland?” She kicked one of the moon rocks in front of her and watched it bounce lazily downslope. “I miss you already and I haven’t even left!”

“Hey, c’mon,” he said, and nudged her shoulder with his. “You’ll get through it.” And he gave her a slightly evil grin. “Who knows, maybe you’ll meet some guy over there—”

“Don’t joke,” Nita said, irritable. “I don’t care about meeting ‘some guy over there.’ Don’t even know if they speak the same language.”

“Your aunt does.”

“My aunt’s American,” Nita said.

“Oh, come on, it’s not like they don’t speak English over there,” Kit said. “Otherwise why would all these big companies have factories and stuff all over the country? It can’t all be just Irish-speakers.” He looked at Nita with a concerned expression. “Come on, Neets. Life’s handing you lemons, so set up a lemonade stand. You can see a new place, you can probably meet some of their wizards. They’ll be in the manual directory... Give it a chance!” He picked up a rock too, turning it over in his hands. “Where
you going to be, exactly? Dublin? Or somewhere else?”

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