Authors: Diane Duane
New Millennium Edition
A Wizard Alone
Republic of Ireland
A Wizard Alone
New Millennium Edition
Original edition copyright © 2002 by Diane Duane
New Millennium Edition copyright © 2012 by Diane Duane
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
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Harcourt Trade Publishers hardcover, 2002
Harcourt Trade Publishers / Magic Carpet Books mass-market paperback, 2003
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade Publishers ebook edition, 2010
Errantry Press International ebook edition, 2011
Errantry Press New Millennium ebook edition, 2013
This 2013 Errantry Press New Millennium ebook edition is derived from the text of the 2011 Errantry Press International Edition ebook. It has been revised and augmented to bring it into line with the new timeline established in the New Millennium edition of
So You Want to Be a Wizard
and its subsequent volumes.
For all the friends from Payne Whitney
and all the other voices newly heard
more than just being alive (and worth the pain)
keep it growing
wants to stop:
remind check / don’t hurt
watching: get it right!
later it all works out,
meantime, make it work
(because now is all you ever get:
—The Wizard’s Oath, excerpt from a private recension
Footsteps in the snow
suggest where you have been,
point where you were going:
but where they suddenly vanish,
never dismiss the possibility
—Book of Night with Moon, xi, v.3
In the living room of a suburban house on Long Island, a wizard sat with a TV remote control in his hand and an annoyed expression on his face. “Come on,” he said to the remote. “Don’t give me grief.”
The TV showed him a blue screen and nothing more.
Kit Rodriguez sighed. “All right,” he said, “we’re on the record now. You made me do this.” He reached for the wizard’s manual on the sofa next to him, paged through it to its hardware section—which had been getting thicker by the minute this afternoon—found one page in particular and scanned down it. Then he keyed into the remote a series of characters that the designers of both the remote and the TV would have found unusual.
The screen stayed mostly blue, but the nature of the white characters on it changed. Until now they had been words in the Roman alphabet. Now they changed to characters in a graceful and curly cursive, the written form of the wizardly Speech. At the top of the screen they showed the local time and the date expressed as a Julian day, that being the Earth-based system most closely akin to what the manual’s managers used to express time. In the middle of the blue screen appeared a single word:
Kit let out a long breath of exasperation. “Oh, come on,” he said in the Speech. “Why not?”
The screen remained blue, staring at him mulishly. Kit wondered what he’d done to deserve this. “It can’t be that bad,” he said. “You two even have the same version number.”
VERSIONS AREN’T EVERYTHING!
Kit rubbed his eyes.
“I thought a six-year-old child was supposed to be able to program one of these things,” said a voice from the next room.
sure feel like a six-year-old at the moment,” Kit muttered. “It would work out about the same.”
Kit’s father wandered in and stood there staring at the TV. Not being a wizard himself, he couldn’t make sense of the Speech displaying there, but he understood the meaning of the blue screen well enough from the way Kit was glaring at it. “So what’s the problem?”
“Looks like they hate each other.”
His father made a rueful face. “Software issues,” he said. He’d been a pressman for one of the bigger newspapers on the Island for most of his adult life, and having lived through the process of the company converting from hot lead to electronic and laser printing, he’d learned more than most people cared to know about the problems of converting from truly hard “hardware” to the computer kind.
“Software? Nope,” Kit said. “I wish it were that simple.”
“What is it, then?”
Kit shook his head. Once upon a time, not so long ago, getting mechanical things to see things his way had been Kit’s daily stock-in-trade. Now everything seemed to be getting more complex by the day. “
they’ve got, all right, They just don’t make sense to me yet.”
His father squeezed his shoulder. “Give it time, son,” he said. “You’re a
nothing can withstand your power.”
“Nothing that’s not made of silicon, anyway,” Kit said.
His father rolled his eyes. “Tell me all about it,” he said, and went away.
Kit sat there staring at the blue screen, trying to sort through the different strategies he’d tried so far, determining which ones hadn’t worked, which ones had worked a little bit, and which ones had seemed to be working just fine until without warning they crashed and burned. The manual for the new remote indicated that the DVD player was supposed to look for channels on the TV’s native tuner and the TiVo box once they were plugged into each other, but the remote and the DVD player didn’t even want to acknowledge each other’s existence so far, let alone exchange information. Neither the DVD’s manual nor the remote’s was any help. The two pieces of equipment both came from the same company, they were both made in the same year, and (as far as Kit could tell) in the same place. But when he listened to them with a wizard’s ear, he heard them singing two different songs—in ferocious rivalry—and making rude noises at each other during the pauses, when they thought no one was listening.
“Come on, you guys,” he said in the Speech. “All I’m asking for here is a little cooperation—”
“No surrender!” shouted the remote.
“Death before dishonor!” shouted the DVD player.
Kit covered his eyes and let out a long, frustrated breath.
From the kitchen came a sudden silence, something that was as arresting to Kit as a sudden noise, and that made him look up in alarm. His mother had been cooking. Indeed, she was making her
arroz con pollo,
a dinner that visiting heads of state would consider themselves lucky to eat. When without warning it got quiet in the kitchen in the middle of that process, Kit reacted as he would have if he’d heard someone say, “Oops!” during the countdown toward a Space Shuttle launch: with held breath and intense attention.
“Honey?” Kit’s mom said.
“The dog says he wants to know what’s the meaning of life.”
Kit rubbed his forehead, very much tempted to hide his eyes. “Give him a dog biscuit and tell him it’s an allegory,” Kit said.
“No, the biscuit!”
“Oh, good. You had me worried there for a moment.”
Kit’s mother’s sense of humor tended toward the dry, and the dryness sounded like it was set at about medium at the moment, which was just as well. His mother was still in the process of getting used to his wizardry. Kit went back to trying to talk sense into the remote and the DVD player, but they were having none of it. The DVD player blued the TV’s screen out again, pointedly turning its attention elsewhere.
“Come on, just give each other a chance.”
thing? You must have a chip loose.”
“Like I would listen!”
“Hah! You’re a tool, nothing but a tool!
“Oh yeah? Let’s see how well you entertain when
turn you off like a light!”
Kit rolled his eyes. “Will you two shut up and listen to me for a moment? You can’t get hung up on the active-role-passive-role thing. They’re both just fine, and there’s more to life—”
Kit’s mama came drifting in and looked over Kit’s shoulder as he continued to speak passionately to the remote and the DVD player about the importance of cooperation and teamwork, the need not to feel diminished by acting, however briefly, as part of a whole. But the remote refused to do anything further, and the screen stayed blue. Kit started to think he must be turning that color in the face.
“It sounds like escargot,” his mother said, leaning her short, round self over him to look at the TV.
“Sorry. Esperanto. I don’t know why the word for snails always comes out first.”
Kit looked at his mother with some interest. “You can hear it?” he said. It was moderately unusual for nonwizards to hear the Speech at all. When they did, they tended to hear it as the language they spoke themselves—but because the Speech contained and informed all languages, being the seed from which they grew, this was to be expected.
“I hear it a little,” his mother said. “Like someone talking in the next room. Which it was…”
“I wonder if the wizardry comes from your side of the family,” Kit said.
His mother’s broad and pretty face suddenly acquired a nervous quality. “Uh-oh, the chicken broth,” she said, and took herself back to the kitchen.
“What about Ponch?” Kit said.
“He ate the dog biscuit,” his mother said after a moment.
“And he didn’t ask you any more philosophical stuff?”
“He went out. Think he had a date with a biological function.”
Kit smirked, though he turned his face so she wouldn’t see it if she came back in. His mother’s work as a nurse expressed itself at home in two ways: either detailed and concrete descriptions of things you’d never thought about before and (afterward) desperately never wanted to think about again, or shy evasions regarding very basic physical operations that you’d think wouldn’t upset a six-year-old. Ponch’s business seemed mostly to elicit the second response in Kit’s mama, an effect that usually made Kit laugh.
At the moment he just felt too tired. Kit paused in his cheerleading and went rummaging through the paperwork on the floor for the DVD’s and remote’s manuals.
We’re in trouble when even a remote control has its own manual,
he thought. But if a wizard with a bent toward mechanical things couldn’t get this kind of very basic problem sorted out, then there really
He spent a few moments with the manuals, ignoring the catcalls and jeers that the recalcitrant pieces of equipment were trading. Then abruptly Kit realized, listening, that the DVD
have a slightly different accent than the remote and the TV.
Now, I wonder,
he thought, and went carefully through the DVD’s manual to see whether the manufacturer actually had made all the main parts itself.
The manual said nothing about this, being written in a slightly odd English that assumed the system was, indeed, being assembled by the proverbial six-year-old. Resigned, Kit picked up the remote again, which immediately began shouting abuse at him. At first he was relieved that this was inaudible to everybody else, but the DVD chose that moment to take control of the entertainment system’s speakers and start shouting back.
“Oooh, what a nasty mouth,” said his sister Carmela as she walked through the living room, wearing her usual uniform of floppy jeans and huge floppy T-shirt, and holding a wireless phone in her hand. She had been studying Japanese for some months, mostly via watching anime, and had now graduated to an actual language course—though what she chiefly seemed interested in were what their father wryly called “the scurrilities.” “
Bakka aho kikai, bakka-bakka!
Kit was inclined to agree. He spent an annoying couple of moments searching for the volume control on the DVD—the remote was too busy doing its own shouting to be of any use. Finally he got the DVD to shut up, then once again punched a series of characters into the remote to get a look at the details on the DVD’s core processor.
“Aha,” Kit said to himself. The processor wasn’t made by the company that owned the brand. He had a look at the same information for the remote. It also used the same processor, but it had been resold to the brand-name company by still another company.
“Now look at that!” Kit said. “You’ve got the same processors. You’re not really from different companies at all. You’re long-lost brothers. Isn’t that cool? And look at you, fighting over nothing! She’s right, you
idiots. Now I want you guys to handshake and make up.”