Chapter 4: Dry Your Eyes, Ann
When Kaitlyn and I got back to the house, the family was stirring from their postprandial naps, so I decided it was massage time. We started with the two most likely to leave early: my wife took Joss, so I took Ann.
Joss scarcely took his eyes off my wife’s nubile nude form, and I never once saw him flaccid from the moment his briefs’ waistband gave his erection a bounce as it passed until the end of the massage an hour later. Allison watched her boyfriend watching her sister, a tolerant grin frequently reappearing on her face. I expected that she’d remind him later about where the sex came from in their relationship.
For my own part, I had a fair bit of work to do for Ann. I’d healed her some in the two massage sessions we’d had back around Christmastime, but since I hadn’t been “out” with her as a mage then, I’d been relegated to what Kaitlyn called the bucket brigade method: expend one’s internal magical reserves on the client, sneak outside to recharge from Gaia, go back inside, and repeat. There’s a limit to how often you can do that in a massage without the client getting curious, and the size of the mage’s magical reserves puts a separate cap on the largest working the mage can accomplish that way. Still, it was better than nothing.
Now that Ann knew my secret, I didn’t need to be circumspect with her any more. But also, here I was no longer limited to the size of my magical reserve: I could draw the power directly up through the sand, the Gutierrez retreat area being sufficiently close to raw nature as to not block me from Gaia’s power.
Ann was an elderly woman, so there was a lot of work left to do.
“I can feel the improvement as you work, Davie,” she said in a quiet quavery voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. She’d told me to call her Ann before, but at the moment she was my client, so I decided to keep this at least quasi-professional. “Frankly, there’s a lot to do, not incremental improvement, so the jumps are big enough for you to notice.”
“What can I expect in the end?” she asked. “When you’re all done, I mean.”
“Well, I’m not going to turn you into a 20-year-old,” I told her, though I didn’t know if this was actually outside the scope of my full powers, once developed. I certainly didn’t know how to achieve it, so the statement was true enough for the moment.
I continued aloud, “We’ve got too little data on the limitations of magic; we’re just too new at it all. My best guess is that with regular attention, I’ll be able to get you to your maximum lifespan while keeping you as healthy as possible. Whether I can extend your lifetime beyond the maximum you could attain without our help, I don’t think we can say until we achieve it. Maybe when we’ve got you past a hundred we’ll have a useful basis for speculation.”
Ann began to cry softly, her tears dampening the sand.
“What is it?” I asked, deeply concerned, stopping my strokes.
“I can’t tell anyone about this, can I? No one at all.”
“Definitely not. We’d be locked up by the government or spirited away to some private research lab for sure if this secret got out.”
“And here I am benefiting from your skills while my friends continue dying off. I could save them!”
“Not with only Kaitlyn and I on the job. I mean, in principle, we two could give the same benefit to all of your friends, but they have friends you don’t share in common, and those friends have family, and those family members have friends you’ve never even heard of, and so on. It’d explode on us if you told anyone, and then no one would get the benefit. Well, none except the powerful, maybe.”
“That’s a big part of the reasoning behind the massage therapy business, Ann,” put in my wife from across the sunning area: “we can improve the collective local health without revealing exactly how we’re achieving it. Hide in plain sight, you know? If people come back from the massage therapist feeling better, well duh, right? No one will question it too closely.”
Ann nodded her understanding, so Kaitlyn continued, “If you want us to help your friends and family, just send them our way, and we’ll see to healing them as best as we can under cover of therapeutic massage. There are limits, Ann: no one’s going to believe we mended a broken hip with massage, but if we can plausibly get away with healing something without getting caught, we’ll be doing that, and not just for your friends. We’re not trying to hoard the power, just prevent it from getting snapped up and misused. We can give your friends and family discounts if needed, too, even do them for free if they’re unable to pay.”
“That helps,” Ann said. “Thank you, dearie!”
I added, “We won’t have to remain in hiding forever. There were a bunch of shows in the 70s and 80s like that — Kung Fu, The Equalizer, Knight Rider… — where the show’s savior protagonist was in hiding for some reason, but they’d solve the downtrodden’s problems, then go back into hiding. Those shows’ plots had a lot of practical problems, but I think the biggest is simply that the trope’s inefficient. It’s why thieves are rarely rich: too much time spent fading back into obscurity after each job, not enough time being productive. No, y’all, we need to be out in society if we’re going to give the world the greatest benefit. While we’re vastly outnumbered, we have to stay hidden for our own safety, but once we find enough mages, we’ll be able to present the world with a fait accompli, the powers that be accepting us, having no other choice.”