Chapter 26: Winter Wonderland
Shortly after we got settled in at the Gutierrez farm, our tributes offered up to housemistress Mary, she laid out a cold lunch for us, the remains of the hot lunch we’d missed by taking our side trip.
We were almost the last to the farm because of that, but the rest of the Gutierrez clan sat down with us at the dining table and socialized while we ate. We made it known that Jess was now in on our magical secret, so the conversation turned to open discussion of our power’s possibilities.
We’d finished our lunch and retreated to the comfort of the living room, still batting ideas around when the last family member arrived, Allison.
“Hey, guys!” she greeted us, waving generally at the couches as she came through the front door.
Kaitlyn and I rose to greet her while the rest remained seated. “What took you?” Kaitlyn asked her sister.
Allison’s eyes shifted rapidly around the scene, and her voice dropped for our ears alone. “I was at Joss’ dorm.”
“Oho!” Kaitlyn exclaimed through the beginnings of a chortle. I just smiled knowingly. “And he was giving you a little early Christmas gift?” Kaitlyn needled.
“Nunna yer bizness!” Allison shot back in a low hiss.
“Lemme guess, the gift was smaller than a breadbox…” Kaitlyn continued.
“Oh, I know! Was it shaped like a salami?”
Allison smacked her sister on the arm and was about to say something hot and fast to go with it when I quickly interjected, “We were discussing magic,” in an attempt to cut short the developing skirmish. Allison’s eyes darted from her antagonist to land on Jess, so I said, “She knows. We revealed it to her just this afternoon.”
Kaitlyn and I escorted her sister with us to the couches and we resumed our cogitations, another brain stronger now.
Conditions limited our ability to try the ideas out. Kaitlyn’s internal reserve was still considerably smaller than mine, and there were quite a lot of things even I couldn’t do indoors despite my more capacious magical reservoir. The farm’s fields would be too bare to work magic in covertly until about mid-summer, so that wasn’t an option for us.
That left the Gutierrez family retreat area, still natural enough in its unfinished state for me to do powerful magic inside the enclosure. The major problem was that it was so flippin’ cold outside that Kaitlyn and I had to divert some of our attention from the magic, either to block out the cold mentally or to do it magically with an insulating wrap. It didn’t really matter, because both options limited what we could achieve. The warm months were simply far better times to do magic.
Still, the group came up with several new ideas for us, a few of which turned out to be practical.
Vin wanted me to try flying badly enough that he actually started to wheedle before I gave in and we began kicking around some ideas on ways to achieve it. The best I could come up with was to entrain a blast of air from underneath, holding me up that way. The problem then is that humans are not aerodynamically-shaped objects: we’d just tumble and fall through the blast of air, rather than glide gracefully through it. This is why wing suits, hang gliders, and parachutes exist. At Vin’s insistence, I tried it anyway and ended up beaten, battered, and scuffed. Jess was pretty impressed seeing me heal up from all of this, but I was convinced: unassisted human flight is a bad idea, even for mages.
“So what if you grew a skin layer between your arms, legs, and body?” Jess proposed. “You know, like a flying squirrel?”
“It’s not enough that I’m flying naked, I also have to be a physical freak as well?” I shot back.
“C’mon, give it a try!” Then she dared me in terms I could not ignore: “For science!”
I remembered that humans have vestigial DNA inherited from our aquatic ancestors. Human feet and hands are webbed for a time in the womb, and a rare few humans retain this webbing at birth. I decided to start with this, since flipper-like appendages weren’t all that far from wings, biologically speaking.
Promising though the start was, and impressive as the result was, I was soon ready to give up again. “Nope, nope, nope. Not gonna work,” I told my onlookers in disgust. “It took me like half an hour just to get my hands done, and I had vestigial DNA to work with. It’d probably take me most of a day to turn myself into a flying squirrel, and even then, it still won’t work well, owing to the square-cube law. Even with magic bringing up a stiff wind from beneath, I won’t so much fly as enter a controlled plummet. Tell me, you two, when will I ever be in a situation where going to all that effort makes sense? Even if you see me someday falling off a cliff while naked or stripping bare after being kicked out of an airplane, I simply won’t have time to save myself.”
“Yeah, all right,” conceded Jess.
Vin growled, “Dammit, I wanted this to work so bad!”
“I can’t go inside like this,” I said, holding my webbed fingers up at them, then began work deconstructing and reabsorbing my minor body modifications.
“It’s amazing work even so, Davie,” Jess told me. “Freaky looking, but no more so than what you can see in a thousand sci-fi movies, any night of the week.”
“We’re trying for subtle here,” I told her. “Freaky doesn’t work for us.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Jess soothed. “It was worth a try, though.”
“How about defense?” asked Jess as we were about to get back inside for dinner.
I told her about how I’d fended off attacks using air shields, sand tornados, and such, but she interrupted me, “No no, that’s all arguably offensive attack stuff. I mean, I see that you used it all defensively, but what I’m hoping for is a way for you to fend off attacks without physical force.”
“Like a Star Trek phaser!” enthused Vin. “Set forefinger on Stun! Zot-thump, baddie goes down!”
We laughed at this image, but then it sparked a thought. “Y’know, Kaitlyn, sleep is biological, and if there’s anything nature mages are good at, it’s playing with natural systems.”
We tossed back and forth as much as we could all remember about sleep waves, REM states, and such, but that wasn’t getting us anywhere, so I spoke up, “Kaitlyn, I usually get up before you do, and I confess that a few times I’ve slipped into a Gaia trance with you in that state.”
I didn’t say aloud that I’d usually done this back in the summer when we’d been able to sleep fully nude outside, when the overnight low was often higher than so-called room temperature. What use are clothes then?
I continued, “Anyway, I’ve literally watched you sleep, at a deep level. I think I could replicate that state in you.”
“You mean put me to sleep,” Kaitlyn replied.
“Yeah, on demand, right quick.”
“You? Yeah. Like I said, I know you at a very deep level, biologically.”
Vin looked about to make a wisecrack at this, so Kaitlyn said, “Shush, you.” Then she turned to me and said, “All right, gimme your best shot.”
I walked around behind her and enfolded her nude body in an embrace, a standing spoon pose. In her ear, I asked, “Ready?”
“Hit me,” she challenged.
We were both in a light trance state to maintain insulation bubbles around ourselves, so I quickly slipped into her brain and began inducing the chemical and electrical states I remembered from watching her sleep. Almost instantly, I found myself supporting about a hundred and twenty pounds of dead weight!
I gave myself a bit of a fright with her collapse, but I shortly saw that she was still breathing deep and slow, currently in REM sleep.
As I settled Kaitlyn to the cold sand there in the retreat area, Jess breathed quietly at me, apparently not wanting to wake Kaitlyn, “You did it!”
“Yeah,” I said with a bit of pride as I began patting Kaitlyn’s cheeks. “Wake up!”
“Whrrr? Why’m I onna groun’?” she slurred.
“You decided to take a nap just then,” I teased.
“It worked?” she said, sitting up. Without waiting for an answer, she added, “I’m frackin’ cold!”
“Oh!” I cried, “You must have lost your insulation bubble when you fell asleep.” I turned to the others and explained, “We have yet to figure out how to maintain a spell while unconscious.” I felt her reestablish the bubble quickly. “Sorry, I should have realized that,” I apologized to her.
“’Sallright,” she replied, still clearly shaking off the sleep.
I’d apparently done quite a thorough job, as long as it was taking her to recover. “Well, that’s cool!” I told the group.
“It’s not much use if you have to know the target intimately,” replied Vin critically.
“Or if the target has to be naked at the time,” added Jess.
“I’m not sure about that last, at least,” I defended. “Kaitlyn and I are learning to deal with tech interference. Jess, if I were to grab you the same way I did to Kaitlyn, with you all bundled up like that, I’d have techie fabric all up and down my front, but none on my sides and back. With some care, I can redirect my work out the back, through your bared neck, and up into your head that way. Are you willing to try the experiment?”
“Sounds risky, you messing about in a strange head,” she replied nervously.
“Strange indeed, my dearest friend,” I acknowledged. “I promise not to go crashing around in your memory palace. I’ll go slow.”
“For science!” she said, psyching herself up.
“For science,” I acknowledged, then stood, enfolded her in an embrace, and asked, “Ready?”
She took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Go.”
As I’d suggested, I let the power out of my back and around, enfolding her like wings and dragged her gently down into sleep. Within a few seconds of beginning the magical working, I had almost a hundred and sixty pounds of dead weight in my arms, Jess now also breathing deeply, clearly asleep. I lowered her gently to the sand, dragging a cushion from a nearby patio chair to place under her head.
“Hey, you just reinvented the Vulcan nerve pinch! Do me, do me!” said Vin excitedly.
I was about to stand and give him his wish when Kaitlyn said, “No, I was watching on that last one. I think I’ve got the idea of it. Do you trust me, Vicente?”
Siblings can be so many things to each other, and these two had had quite a lot of rivalry over the years, but over the past few months, we’d all grown quite close together, so her little brother didn’t even hesitate. “I do. Take me down into slumber, sis!”
She awkwardly hugged her winter-bundled brother from behind while I watched her weave, out the back, around to enfold, up the neck, into the brain, and…
“Whuff!” Kaitlyn cried, staggering now under a good hundred and eighty pounds of dead weight!
“I was going to offer to help,” I said as I quickly stood, grabbed one of his arms, and helped her lower Vin’s bulk to the ground. Magically, I checked him out, and he, too, was dreaming away, his eyes moving in saccades under shut lids.
“Yeah, I got a little over-eager there,” she replied, then added mischievously, “Shall we leave the two there?”
“I don’t think they’ll let us use them as test subjects again if we do,” I replied. “Besides, one of them is our landlord, and that-un’s sweet on the other’n. No, I think we have to get them up before they start shivering.”
“Oh, very well,” Kaitlyn capitulated with mock exasperation.
“You know, Vin,” Kaitlyn said as she was gently slapping his cheeks to wake her brother, “this is not what they mean when they say ‘sleep with your girlfriend!’”
“Yer,” he replied, slurring as he shook off the sleep, “guess’ll just hafta keep tryin’. Gonna get ’er right ’venchully.”
We got the two nappers inside shortly, arriving just as Carmen was setting the table for dinner.
During the meal, Kaitlyn and I described our experiments and results, leading the group down the path of mental magic.
“Can you do telepathy?” Miguel wondered.
“You are thinking about Mama Mary’s home-made mashed potatoes and lots of gravy,” I essayed, eliciting smiles and a few guffaws.
“No, seriously, I’m thinking about a number. Tell me what it is,” he challenged with a small smile.
“I don’t even know where to begin finding out,” I told him. “Kaitlyn and I can get into magical rapport with each other, and in that state, we have a kind of telepathy, but I’ve never sensed anything from someone else nearby while in rapport only with Gaia myself.”
“So we can use you two like walkie-talkies?” asked Miguel.
“Only if there’re no tech barriers between us,” answered Kaitlyn. “We tried it once in a parking garage and couldn’t make it work. All those I-beams supporting slabs of concrete and rebar, you know.”
Mary interjected at that, “You were naked in a parking garage‽”
Kaitlyn colored a bit at that, so I answered for her, “Yeah, up in Salt Lake on that trip we took. Long story; we’ll tell you later.” I then returned my attention to my wife. “We’ve refined our technique a bit since then, Kaitlyn,” I reminded her. “We might be able to do better now. I’m pretty sure the house is still a hard barrier to someone outside; I couldn’t be out in the retreat area and get into rapport with Kaitlyn sitting here at the dining table, but we might be able to do it over the top of the house, from one side to the other. Or, better, underneath it, through the Earth.”
“Let’s try it after dinner!” Vin said excitedly. “I can go online and get a list of numbers from [random.org], then we’ll see if we can transmit them through your rapper link thingy.”
I let the mispronunciation slide, telling them instead, “We’ll have to have a scribe at each end. I suspect even an unpainted pencil and unbleached natural paper would be too much for us to work with while doing this. A computer printout and a pen for scratching off the numbers on one side and writing the received numbers at the other end… No way.”
“Right, so Jess and I will get bundled up and be your scribes.”
“And we’ll be naked in the freezing night,” Kaitlyn said, finishing the scenario. “Greeeeat.”
“C’mon, you can take it, and you know it.”
“I’ve got to see this,” said Miguel.
Shortly, the whole group had joined in on this idea.
Before dinner was over, we had the idea properly fleshed out, with several refinements over the original plan.
Most of the family went out in the front yard with Kaitlyn to hold blankets up around her to screen her from the road and the nearest neighboring house. Kaitlyn positioned herself out away from the screen like the receiver on a parabolic dish antenna, sitting bare-assed on the frost-crunchy winter-dead lawn. That left Vin with two computer printouts, a clipboard, and a marker, sitting off to her other side, leaving a clear path from Kaitlyn to the house.
The remainder went with me out to the retreat area, all but me bundled up in their winter-wear, sitting in chairs they’d drawn up at the far-side fence line, with me in the middle of the area, sitting on my bare butt on the ice cold slate pavers I’d pulled up from underground back in September, when it’d been sweaty work. Jess came with me to hold a small penlight for Carmen who was acting as our scribe, a steno notebook open and pen ready, these being tools of her secretarial trade.
I immediately got into a Gaia trance as soon as I’d set my clothes aside and sat down, questing down through the slate paving slabs, through the sandy soil the house sat upon, diving below the water pipes and electrical conduits, then coming up through the front yard, dodging sprinkler lines and landscaping bricks.
I was spread out there in a receptive disc when I felt Kaitlyn join me. We embraced there below the front yard, magically speaking.
As soon as Vin began speaking the numbers to Kaitlyn, I heard them with my wife’s ears and began repeating them, Carmen writing as fast as I spoke.
Shortly, we’d finished the first list. Then, as agreed, Kaitlyn and I retreated from each other and attempted to rejoin in rapport above the house. For some reason, this proved to be trickier. There were fewer obstacles, but it just seemed easier to pull our magical senses through the earth rather than through the air. Nevertheless, we touched and clung to each other’s ephemeral magical forms and repeated the transfer of information.
The front yard crew enfolded Kaitlyn in their blankets, and I just streaked the patio to get back inside, carrying my clothes under my arm.
We met up in the living room and compared lists. They were identical, of course.
“Wow! Think of the possibilities!” Vin enthused.
“What’s your range?” Miguel asked.
“The farthest we’ve stretched is a couple of miles. Keep in mind, we have to find a way around, under, or over any tech obstacles. There aren’t too many places left in this country where there are zero tech obstacles over that kind of distance. Power lines, if nothing else. In this area, we’ve also got gas wells, roads, all kinds of stuff in the way. And we have to do all of this while naked, which generally means we have to find a way to do this unobserved,” I reminded them. “For almost every possible case, it’s probably better to just use cell phones, walkie talkies, or similar.”
“And this trick of ours is easy to defeat,” pointed out Kaitlyn. “Just wrap one of us in a synthetic blanket, and we’re utterly cut off.”
“It’s pretty cool anyway,” opined Vin.
“That it is,” I agreed.
“Can you tell the future?” wondered Mary as we sat around the fireplace in their living room, sipping hot cocoa.
“I don’t see how,” I replied. “Everything we’ve learned about magic so far looks like it’s consistent with physics, not outside it. That means that if we were able to predict the future magically, we’d just be doing the same sort of prediction a physicist or engineer could. If you hit this here billiard ball with a thus-and-so force at this certain angle, and it hits this other ball, the other ball will go off at a predeterminable angle and speed. That’s predicting the future by knowing the initial conditions of the system.”
“So you can’t tell me which stock to buy,” quipped Miguel.
Jess took that one. “There are quantitative data models that try to predict the stock market, but they depend on having access to a tremendous amount of data, computing power, and all at sufficiently low latency that they can capitalize on micro-trends before the humans get around to noticing them. Whatever magic turns out to really be, I don’t see how to compete with that. In the end, magic has to run through human brains; the computers will always be faster.”
“What use is it all, then?” demanded Mary.
I looked meaningfully at Kaitlyn. She bobbed her head back and forth slightly, weighing the question she saw in my eyes. Then she nodded.
I looked to Mary and informed her, “You had pancreatic cancer. Back before Labor Day, I mean. Kaitlyn saw it, too.”
“Had?” she said, shocked. “Past tense?”
“Past tense,” I confirmed. “I fixed it; squish-bye,” I added with an expressive flick of my fingers. “You know when I did it, too.”
“Oh, wow,” she whispered. “We need to talk about this.”
“Absolutely, but in private. What you all should take away from this right now is that there’s a lot of natural stuff that is within our purview. We’ve given all of you magical medical check-ups, and you’re all quite healthy. We’ve fixed a few things for some of you, but none of you had anything like what Mary had.”
“My back,” said Ramón with a nod of understanding.
“Also your hips,” I added.
“And me?” asked Carmen.
“Mostly stuff from sitting at your desk all day, but with your exercise regimen, we didn’t have to do much. Miguel was a tougher case, being an auto mechanic.”
“I’ve felt it,” Miguel confirmed. “I move more easily since those first massages; I hurt less. I thought it was just the massage.”
“And my baby?” Carmen pressed. “The check-up you did back at Thanksgiving wasn’t the whole extent of it, was it?”
Kaitlyn just looked at me, telling me with her look that I needed to own up to this one, too.
I sighed; I’d intended to give her this gift anonymously. “I found out why you two were infertile. That’s what ‘magic hands’ was really all about. We can speak of the details privately, but let’s just say for now that this is why we were being nosy, quizzing you two about having kids. If we hadn’t gotten confirmation that you wanted to have babies… Well, we — no, I — decided you’d want it fixed. It was my idea and my work. Did I overstep? Should I have asked first?”
“¡Oh, díos no!” she said, standing and pulling Miguel up off the couch with her. They came over to me, lifted me to my feet and crushed me in a two-way bearhug. “Thank you, Davie! Oh, thank you!”
I could feel tears on my bare shoulders and neck, having not re-dressed since the communication experiments earlier that night. Who needs clothes sitting before a roaring fire, a thick blanket covering me from toes to shoulders, and a cup of hot cocoa to sip from?
Embarrassedly, I said quietly, “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
“It was,” said Miguel. “If we’d known you could do it, we would have asked.”
After we’d all settled and the tears dried up, Allison said, “And me?”
“You’re in perfect health, as far as I can tell,” replied Kaitlyn, who’d been the one to check her out. “I should probably check you again, though; these massage classes have opened our eyes to a lot about human physiology that I hadn’t even thought about before. Not now, just soon. You’re probably still fine, as young as you are.”
Kaitlyn looked to the other couch. “You, too, Vin. I’ve had ample opportunity to check you out.” He blushed at this, but I doubt anyone there who didn’t know from firsthand knowledge guessed just how deeply Kaitlyn had checked her little brother out. “You’re as healthy as an ox.”
“Or a rooster!” cackled Jess. “Cock-a-doodle doo!” she crowed quietly through her mirth.
We retired for the night shortly after that, all having a lot to think about.
Kaitlyn took care of me very well that night. She barely contained my seed when I finally exploded inside her, after which we slipped into postcoital slumber.