Anyway, I decided it was time to shake things up. So, here's a little definition and—because everything seemed to be going so smoothly—a monkey-wrench.
Reorganizing Celeste’s racing thoughts gave her few of the answers she sought. Celeste, Gawain, Jacob, and many others, legally classified as witches and warlocks in the Twenty-Fourth Century had been an impossibility until the Twenty-Second Century. That’s when the physicists at Lawrence-Livermore labs had restructured their tokamak field and accidentally unlocked what many considered the Age of Magic.
Of course, there had always been magical folk of a sort: telepaths, telekinetics, clairvoyants, psychics, but centuries of testing had found them impossible to pin down. The clairvoyant who could clearly see the location of a kidnapped child one minute, couldn’t find her own car keys the next. The telekinetic who could make furniture fly around at home couldn’t roll a pencil across a table while being videotaped. Some believed psionic abilities were simply masked by stress or duress. Others believed the abilities required the right stressors to activate them.
Most scientists just felt it was a load of hooey.
No matter how you classified them, they weren’t the witches and magicians of fantasy lore. No one had ever been able to turn anyone into a newt, conjure an entire suit of clothes from thin air, travel on broomstick, travel in time, or actually read minds on a whim. Prior to the Age of Magic, the world’s magic had been more like an occasional minor case of psionic hiccups.
Then came the Merlin. A small black device that—due to a coating of platinum oxide—vaguely resembled the Maltese Falcon. Before the first startup, however, the Merlin had been seven such birdlike-appendages attached to a set of three-meter long radial arms attached to a four-meter-diameter magnetic bottle enclosure that contained fusion reactions. Ostensibly a magnetic-field generator containing a self-sustaining fusion reaction, the Merlin’s initial startup changed the world. The fields started up, the radial-arms lit up. The indicator lights, “eyes” on each of the seven falcon-like structures, went from red to green. The fusion chamber was working, drawing in hydrogen from the seven radial arms.
And then everything disappeared. Everything but one of the seven birdlike things. The remaining bird-thing, eventually nicknamed The Merlin, floated, detached, mid-air at the edge of a room that had contained the rest of the tokamak. Three physicists and six graduate students had also disappeared, never to be seen again in this dimension. The remaining two physicists spent the rest of their lives trying to contact their missing colleagues. Their best guess was that, somehow, the other men and women, along with the rest of the tokamak behind the Merlin, had disappeared into one or more other dimensions.
Three major effects of the Merlin incident were identified in the following decade. The speed of light decreased by .09 percent. Planck’s Constant increased by approximately .1 percent. Earth’s gravity decreased by a whopping l percent (from 9.780327 meters per second-squared to 9.682524 meters per second-squared). The scientific community was slow to accept other changes that were being noticed around the world.
On his deathbed, the last surviving physicist of the Merlin incident sat up in his bed. “Dear God! They’re still alive. Three of them are still alive. They’re aging much slower than we.”
His daughter stood and moved to his side, dabbing sweat from his brow with a kerchief. “Who’s still alive, Dad?”
“We are,” said a woman’s voice. She shimmered into view. The daughter screamed. Two nurses and a physician came running. Everyone could clearly see the young woman. “Please, someone record this. I’m on a limited time budget. We had to speed up my image in order for you to understand us. We’ve been trying to contact you for couple of years, but in your dimension, that appears to have been several decades.”
As the nurses and doctors present captured on personal recorders—later played extensively on the Internet—she went on to describe changes they had classified in her dimension, changes that were likely to be true in every connected dimension. She strongly recommended nationwide psionic testing and careful regulation of the newly initiated abilities they would find.
Celeste knew the Ninue was herself in another life. Thanks to Gawain, she knew Ninue had similar powers. Clearly, like herself, Jacob, and Gawain, Ninue’s connection to the Merlin extended across time. Once an individual had been subjected to the multidimensional breach, the resulting bond was unbreakable. Experimentation with the Merlin extension in her own dimension suggested that even the destruction of the Merlin couldn’t close the rift. Those affected maintained their powers even when the Merlin was shutdown and—most remarkably—even if they traveled back in time to a when that didn’t have a Merlin. Once a witch, always a witch, it seemed.
Why, then, did Ninue steal one of the Merlin extensions? Why transport it back in time? Celeste felt certain the answer had something to do with why he had chosen the name Ninue.
Celeste, slogging through the increasingly muddy snow of the mid-afternoon melt, saw a landau drawn by a black mare in the near distance. She sighed a relief, but had no idea how to hail a cab in 1907 Minneapolis. Rather than shouting “Taxi!” she elected to speed her stride and wave.
As she approached, the driver, a tall gaunt man in black greatcloak and top hat, turned to face her. There was a strange, silvery gleam to his eyes, and his smile was toothy—fanged, one might say. He grinned, looking more ferocious than cheerful, and tipped his hat, “Taxicab, Mum?”
Celeste stopped for a second. Why couldn’t he be some pleasant little fat man? She sighed—smiled—and climbed aboard the landau. “Thank you, yes. Could you take me to a good candle shop?”
“Of course, Mum. The best. Only the best.” He cracked his whip. The mare, turned, flashing angry red eyes at the driver, and then lurched forward.
Did I see that right? Red eyes? Celeste shook her head. I need to get some sleep. Celeste leaned back against the plush leather cushion of the rear bench. Such a comfortable bench. Gradually, between the soft embrace of the cushion, the soft swaying of the landau, and the rhythmic clop of hooves on ice and cobbles, Celeste fell into a deep, warm sleep.