WarSpell: Space Race

When the Merge happened, the world as people knew it and the world of the WarSpell role playing game got completely tangled up. Now, magic can turn space exploration into a popular pastime. Fortunes can be made!

But it’s not going to be cheap—and definitely not safe. The hardscrabble outfits will have to risk losing their lives along with their shirts. Or blouses and bras.

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When the Merge happened, the world as people knew it and the world of the WarSpell role playing game got completely tangled up. That opened millions of fantasy worlds to explore, sure—but it didn’t do anything for space exploration. There was no spell to take someone to the Moon or Mars in the rule books. And to make things worse, early attempts showed that magic worked differently in space than on the surface of the earth.

Disastrously different, as a rule.

Still, if someone can figure out how to do it right, the magic of WarSpell has the potential to change space exploration from something only governments and billionaires can do to something that the rest of the human race can take a crack at. Not to mention the possible fortunes to be made in extraterrestrial magic and technology

But even with WarSpell magic, getting into space isn’t going to be cheap—and it’s not safe at all by fussbudget NASA standards. There are roadblocks in the way. Some put there by nature, some by the supernatural, some by good intentions, and others out of spite and greed.

So if the hardscrabble, by-their-bootstraps outfits are going to have any chance to win the orbit prize, they’re going to have to risk losing their lives along with their shirts. Or blouses and bras.

The Merge decade was characterized by frenetic activity in a number of fields, including space exploration, as the magic of the game worlds and technology were combined.

Location: Apartment of Jerry Garman, Houston, Texas
Time: December 30, As the Merge reaches Houston

Jerry Garman set the coffee cup down and began to type. “By changing the aerodynamic loading we can the spell is left overstressed.” What the hell? Freedric the Incompetent was also writing an analysis when the Merge hit. He was doing it with a quill pen, but his thoughts tripped off of Jerry’s fingers before Jerry became aware of the Merge.

Between one breath and the next, Jerry gained the memories of the fourth-level book-wizard, Freedric the Incompetent. If he had been asked, merging with a fourth-level book-wizard would not have been his first choice, but he doubted that merging with him would have been Freedric’s first choice, either. The more he considered it, the more he knew it wouldn’t have been.

Freedric was twenty-four, less than a year from the mage academy in Callbrige City in the Kingdom Iles. Freedric wasn’t truly incompetent. It was a handle he got stuck with early in his training.

Jerry stretched and reveled in the feeling of movement. He seemed to have Freedric’s energy and physical well-being, which Jerry’s experience let him appreciate in a way that the twenty-four-year-old Freedric couldn’t have. He looked down at himself and saw that his pot belly was still there; exercise might help with that. Well, I seem to have Freedric’s memories. I wonder if I can do magic?

Jerry/Freedric closed his eyes and went through the routine that allowed a non-magically gifted person to sense magic. It was a spell like any other. But, unlike most, this spell was used so often that most competent book-wizards could do it in their sleep. Freedric didn’t have more innate magical talent than Jerry, just more study and practice. Plus a special tattoo that the prospective wizard had received in his second year of training. With the completion of the routine, Jerry could sense the flow of magic fields.

Jerry got up and went to the mirror in his bathroom. He opened his shirt and there it was, a multicolored complex of lines and symbols over his heart, mostly covered by his chest hair, but still visible.

Where the tattoo was placed was up to the wizard. Some flaunted it, placing it on their hands or face for all the world to see; others placed it somewhere private, like their inner thigh, where it would never be seen save by their intimates. Freedric, like most, chose a middle course. The thing that freaked Jerry out a little was that in all the games of WarSpell he had played, never—not once—had the wizard’s tattoo been so much as mentioned.

He slowly constructed a minor spell. A concept, a gesture, a shape, hold that there. Another gesture, a visualization. Combine the two and gently place them in the tattoo.  It was like trying to tie a bow tie with his toes. At the same time, it was something he remembered doing hundreds of times before, as natural as tying his shoes. Having spent several minutes putting the small spell together from memory, he cast it and looked at the gentle glow on his hand. It was red-gold in color and about as bright as a candle, barely visible in his well-lit living room.

Jerry played with it for a few minutes, turning off the lights to see it more clearly, thinking about what he knew about light, which was more from Jerry’s college physics than from Freedric’s early-Renaissance worldview.

As a further check of his sanity, Jerry turned on the TV news only to see reports of dragons and of people flying without the benefit of aircraft. The Freedric part of him was shocked by the TV and even more shocked by Jerry’s knowledge of how it worked. It was apparent that whatever had happened to Jerry had also happened to others around the nation . . . and was spreading around the world.

Then Jerry started making phone calls. For once, he thought, he’d get in on the ground floor of something.

✽✽✽

Tim Walters grinned as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He saw Jerry’s name and his grin widened. Tim was on his way to an all-night pawn shop to buy a guitar. He got the memories of a character from WarSpell a little less than thirty minutes ago and guessed that Jerry did too. Jerry was an old buddy who left NASA about the same time Tim did.

“Tim, you watching the news?” Jerry asked.

“No. I’m on my way to the pawn shop,” Tim said. “Did it happen to you too?”

“Yes! Why are you going to a pawn shop in the middle of the night?”

“To buy a guitar. I bet you got old Freedric, didn’t you? I always said you’d regret inventing him.” They were new at NASA when a friend in their department introduced them to WarSpell. They played a few games for laughs and it was kind of fun. But neither one of them played long enough to advance past fifth level. Tim didn’t remember for sure but he thought Freedric was fourth level.

Jerry and Tim both left NASA in disgust when the robot boys won the bureaucratic battles and everything but a token manned presence in space was effectively abandoned. Naturally, that decision wasn’t made public.

When people go into space, people die. Not all of them, but enough. That makes for bad press. Bad press meant you were required to go over everything you did again and again and again. Consequently, the cost went through the roof, not that the costs weren’t steep to begin with.

“Smart ass,” Jerry said. “Okay, I got Freedric. Who did you get?”

“I got Alvin. Hence the guitar.” Tim couldn’t help but smile. He was never particularly good at small talk or social niceties. The classic geek, Tim was almost blind to social clues and always terrified of putting his foot in his mouth. Alvin the Bard was his fantasy self, the person who always knew the right thing to say. So smooth he didn’t seem practiced. With the Merge, Tim remembered what it was like to be Alvin and understood that it wasn’t that Alvin knew what to say, but that he was good at understanding what others wanted or needed from him. It was empathy. There was calculation in it, but also a sort of confidence that Tim never felt in any social situation.

“Alvin, the bard. The guy who specialized in persuasion.”

“Yep, and let me tell you the secret, though you won’t believe me any more than I would have. It’s paying attention to the people around you, like you would an airframe design. Like realizing that you didn’t only call to see if I got the memories too. What have you got in mind?”

“Okay, Alvin,” Jerry said. “Do you realize what this means? Space is possible, man. Genuinely possible. Not at a cost of billions per space shot, but at a cost of millions. Maybe hundreds of thousands, if you go with a reusable spacecraft. We can do it. We can get enough capital for that and we can win the Orbit Prize. We have the credentials.” The Orbit Prize was a prize offered to the first group to use the same spaceship to reach orbit three times in a sixty-day period and carry supplies to the international space station at least once.

“Maybe,” Tim agreed. “We need to talk to The Artful Dodger. And maybe Steve Lock, over at Boeing. And I think you need to let me do a lot of the talking. Alvin’s abilities can be a real asset now.” Artemius Dujarié (the Artful Dodger) was a tech billionaire with a great interest in space.

“Tim, I honestly never cared for Alvin. He was too studied.”

“No, Jerry,” Tim said. “It was me. The old me was too studied when I was playing him. I remember it both from Tim’s point of view and Alvin’s. To Alvin, it was real. What he felt, what he saw in the other person’s eyes and in the magic fields around them. What I see in the magic fields around people and plants and everything.” Tim/Alvin remembered what he was like as both people. It was too early to tell if he would be more like Tim, the electrical engineer geek, or Alvin, the entertainer, a natural magic user who concentrated both his skills and his magic in the area of entertainment. He could play a lute and a Spanish guitar; sing and dance. And, most importantly, he could use spells to enhance all those abilities. Tim loved music, but before the Merge couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Alvin the Bard, back in the games, was the party’s face and front man. A charming rogue that people went along with simply because he was such fun to be around.

“I’m not saying I should be in charge or anything. Alvin wasn’t actually a leader in any real sense. He was the cool kid and nice about it. I want to try to keep that part without losing the tech geek.”

Location: The Big Game, Orange County, California
Time: December 30, As the Merge reaches Los Angeles

Cynthia Westin was waiting tables in a sports bar. It wasn’t the job she wanted, but it paid the rent. Tonight, though, the big screen TV wasn’t tuned to ESPN. It was tuned to CNN, reporting on the weird stuff that was spreading across the nation. Dragons and elves and magic, oh my. All apparently heading this way. She was trying to figure out what was going on when the Merge hit.

Suddenly she remembered her life as Mandrake/Mandra the wizard. She didn’t lose Cynthia, but was now a blending of the two. She knew how magic worked. Mandra was a high-level book-wizard who always kept some spells ready, just in case. The spells were there; she could feel them. She said a word and made a quick gesture. Her tray lifted itself into the air, collected the three beers that had been ordered by table five, and floated across the room.

People stared.

When the tray arrived at the table the three beers floated off the tray and settled on the table. By that time the only noise in the place was the TV.

Location: Apartment Complex, Moscow
Time: 11:30 AM December 31, As the Merge Hits Russia

Vasily Petrovich Sokolov played the Russian version of WarSpell in his youth. He worked in the Russian space program for even more years. And now Vasily remembered the life of twenty-three-year-old Vasily, Wizard of Rus. Vasily rode a unicorn and fought dragons. No unicorns in this world; no dragons either. But there were spaceships and Vasily knew that his magic could help with that.

With his help, Russia was going to get back into space. It could do it now, he knew. This time it would be Russian private enterprise, though. Not the government, such as it was.

And—though Vasily regretted it—to an extent the Russian mob would have to be involved. By now the government of Russia was made up of the mob. The mob and former KGB agents. The mobsters were into almost everything. The good news, Vasily tried to believe, was that parts of the mob were starting to try to go legit. Just because they were criminals, that didn’t mean that they didn’t love Mother Russia—in their way.

Location: Home of A. Dujarié, San Francisco, California
Time: 3:27 PM January 5

Honey Abrams stifled a grin when she answered the door. These guys were classic geeks, at least before the Merge. The first guy grinned back at her. She could tell they were merged. It was a subtle thing, but on average the merged were better looking than they were before the Merge. And in a lot of the merged there were incongruities. The pocket protector didn’t fit with the “I’m too irresistible for words” half-grin. The other guy, now, he wasn’t bad. Dark hair and eyes, intense eyes.

Dark-eyes said, “Hi. I’m Jerry and this is Tim. We’re here to see Mr. Dujarié.”

Honey smiled one of her best smiles, the one that said, “I’ve got a secret but I’ll let you in on it.” It worked, as usual. Dark-eyes, Jerry, responded to it. He smiled back.

“Dodger is expecting you,” Honey murmured. “Come on in.”

On the one hand, Honey knew that a woman with an MBA didn’t have to open doors for anyone. On the other, she’d never been able to settle on the kind of work she wanted to do. Dodger knew she was a little older than she looked and knew about the MBA. He wasn’t interested in anything long-term, but was willing to spend his money on nice dates and presents. So Honey drifted into his life and expected she’d soon be drifting out of it. Dark-eyes, there, Jerry . . . he might be a nice direction to drift in.

✽✽✽

The conversation was interesting. Tim noted that Dodger brought the girl, Honey, into the talk more than he would have expected. Especially for someone who was obviously not all that interested in space exploration. She asked a number of questions, mostly about magic and money. Tim was intrigued by the girl, but could tell that the feeling wasn’t mutual. That was all right. If Tim was reading her right, she didn’t trust the cool kids. Probably from experience.

Dodger nodded. “It will take a lot of money. I’ve got some money, but not enough to go it alone. At least, not at the price before the Merge.” Then he looked at Honey and grinned. “Tell you what, boys. I’m familiar with Honey’s assets and I know how much is in her portfolio.” Honey stuck her tongue out at him. “For every thousand she puts in, I’ll go ten grand. With the provision that she is the CFO.”

Jerry looked shocked. “Why her? Why not one of us? We know what has to be done to get to space. I can get some money. So can Tim.”

“Because I’m not crazy, guys. Neither of you understands money. More importantly, both of you want this to happen too much. It would be a disaster. You’d low-ball your estimates, try to do it for too little and come running back to me for more money to reattach the corners you cut. Honey, on the other hand, has a sharp eye for money and she isn’t in love with space. So sell her on the idea, sell her enough that she’ll put in her own money. If you boys want to put in your money, that’s fine, but it doesn’t get the multiplier. And once her money is in the pot, she’s not going to let you waste it.” Dodger grinned. “So there it is, Honey. If you can make this work, you’ll be rich as hell. If you can’t, your tits are going to be on public display again, because you’ll have lost your shirt. That’s if you want to try it. If you’re not convinced it can be done with the money we can raise, then you get to tell them no.”

Honey was obviously surprised. “Me? Why me?”

“Why not you?” Dodger grinned. “You’re sharp. You’ve been looking for something for as long as I’ve known you. Besides, this rootless existence of yours isn’t doing you any good. I think you’ve got it in you to be a real player. So this is a shot at the big time for you. A shot, but not the only one. Don’t go for it if it doesn’t look good. Saying no is part of the job too. In this, I trust your judgment more than mine.” He grinned. “I’ve got the space bug, like them.”

Dodger stood up, still grinning. “I have other business to take care of, Honey. You three talk this out and let me know what you decide.”

✽✽✽

Tim and Jerry were staring at her like a couple of puppies. Hopeful looks notwithstanding, Honey shook her head. “I’m going to have to research this, you two. There’s no way I’m putting up my money unless I’m convinced this will work. You guys want it too badly for me to take your word for it. We’ll get together in a couple of days for lunch. Then we’ll talk.”

They left, still swearing that yes, the plan would work. Honey shut the door behind them and made a few calls.

The first was to her broker to confirm how much she had available to invest. Her next call was to an old acquaintance, Frank Castle. He published Castle magazine, one of about four high-end men’s magazines that featured centerfolds. “Hi, Frank. This is Honey Abrams. What’s going on?”

“Same stuff, different issue. You got problems? Say, did you Merge? I know a lot of the girls did. WarSpell was popular a few years back.” Frank took a friendly and supporting interest in the girls who appeared in his magazine. It was one of the reasons the magazine was well thought of.

“No. It must have been before my time or after it. I have some questions I need to ask.” She told him what she needed and he said he’d have Lanai Jones call her.

 

Location: Le Filippe, San Francisco, California

Time: 6:25 PM January 6

Honey sipped her water from a fluted glass on a snow white linen tablecloth while she watched Lanai Jones saunter up to the table. Honey had always envied Lanai Jones her statuesque beauty. Lanai was five eleven if she was an inch. Her coppery skin seemed to gleam with an inner fire.

As she reached the table, Lanai asked, “So what’s all this about, Honey? Not that I mind an invitation to dinner, but I’ve never heard from you before.”

Honey waved her to a chair. “I need some answers. I’ve got an opportunity to invest in a private company to explore space and I’ve got a couple of aerospace engineers who merged with magic users. They claim that the magic will make it cheaper and easier to get into space. Since I know you’re into tech and role playing games, I thought I’d ask you what you thought.”

Lanai grinned. “I think I want in. I grew up wanting to go into space. I still do. Did you see Carla Jackson’s report last night? Translocation to space won’t work, so we still need spaceships. Magic seems to work in space. At least, the effect of divination spells works. Magic can help make spaceships cheaper.”

“Honest answer, Lanai. How much does magic change things?”

“No one can be sure yet, but I think it changes things a lot.” Lanai paused and considered. “On both sides of the equation, to be honest. Opposed to space are the spells that might be used to do what would have taken a zero-g environment or a largish area of good vacuum before the Merge. There are spells that counter or reverse gravity, but I don’t know of any that negate it, which might be what you’d need for some of the materials research. There are wall of force spells, effectively force fields that might allow largish areas of good vacuum. Those sort of spells are going to decrease the need for space travel by letting us do some of it here on Earth.

“On the plus side there are the spells that will make space travel a lot cheaper. The obvious ones are things like the ever-full water skin and shrink, but there are more . . . purify air, for instance.” Lanai stopped and her eyes took on a distant look.

Honey waited till Lanai came back from her world of calculation. “So how does it stack up?”

Lanai fiddled with her drink. “If it were only the spells that came with the Merge, I think it would come out about even. Maybe a bit on the side of space, but not that much. Thing is, it’s not only the spells that came with the Merge. Those spells are important, but in the long run I think they are less important than the magic itself. Part of it is space and the things that can be done there, but that’s not all of it.

“I make my living explaining high tech to the millions of people who use it every day, but mostly don’t understand it. Especially not the history of it. I wouldn’t have a job, at least not this one, without the space program. Better than half of the high-tech wonders that fuel that sector of the economy exist, directly or indirectly, because the people who developed them needed to do something at a distance or make something smaller and lighter. Or some other impossible thing involved in putting people in space and keeping them alive while they were there.”

“And that makes me money how?” Honey arched one of her perfect eyebrows.

“We’re going to be facing the same problems and using magic to solve them,” Lanai explained. “Some of that we can do with spells that we already have, some by modifying those spells a bit. But some of it is going to take new spells that are designed and built to get us into space or keep us there. Many of the spells—not to mention magical and semi-magical devices—that we’re going to have to make to get into space, are going to launch new industries. Research projects work best when they have a goal, but not too concrete a goal.”

Honey was about to take a bite of her dinner, but cast Lanai a curious look. “Say again?”

“If you set your goal to try to make a better mousetrap, you generally get a better mousetrap and not that much else. Try to measure the age of the universe and mostly what you’re going to find out is how old the universe is. But try to put a girl on the moon and there are hundreds of problems to solve. Solve one of those problems, find another, solve it, and the solutions to one have to fit with the solutions to the others. That means black boxes that you can plug in and they do their job without screwing up all the other black boxes. When you’re done, you not only have a girl on the moon, you have a whole load of black boxes that can be plugged into all sorts of systems. Now, add in magic, a whole new type of energy that we understand about as well as a seventeenth-century sailor understood the wind.”

Lanai’s entire body felt eager, almost ready to jump up and fly. “What we’re looking at is a new industrial revolution, and I can’t think of a better way to jump start it than a project like this.”

“Why doesn’t that work with mouse traps or the age of the universe?”

“Because the mouse trap doesn’t have to put the dead mouse in the trash. So it’s not affected by the trash can. Nor does it affect the trash can. But the air supply on a spaceship is affected by the water system and the food system and the waste disposal system. And they’re all affected by the acceleration and the radiation and so on and so forth.”

Location: Le Filippe, San Francisco, California

Time: 1:35 PM January 8

It was a cold and blustery day even in California as Jerry fidgeted in his seat. He looked out the window at the gray sky and worried. “I hope she gets here soon. I hope she says yes.”

Tim nodded. “I do too. If Honey Abrams can be convinced, then with Dodger’s money, we can do this . . . I’m not thrilled that our dreams rest on the judgment of one of Dodger’s bimbos, but any chance is better than none.”

Jerry looked over at Tim. There had been changes in Tim since the Merge. He was easier around people and it wasn’t practiced. So when he came out with a Tim-ism—the sort of thing Tim would say before the Merge—it caught Jerry a little by surprise. Tim must be even more nervous than he’d thought.

A stir at the front of the restaurant drew their attention. Their mouths fell open a bit as Honey Abrams and three other women headed for the table. “We’re going to need a bigger table,” Honey told the waiter. “There are six of us, not three.”

The waiter looked a bit desperate, but wasn’t about to argue with the women in front of him. He was clearly a bit stunned. “I’ll see what I can do. Give me a moment.”

It didn’t take long. The waiter quickly moved another table into position and rearranged the place settings. When everyone was settled, he took their drink orders and left, still open-mouthed. With good reason, Jerry felt. He recognized all three of the other women. He’d had their pictures as screen savers off and on for years.

“Gerian Mason.” Tim nodded to the redhead. She’d always been one of his favorites. “As beautiful in person as I ever dreamed you would be. And Lanai Jones. And Cheri Stewart. I am honored that you would all join us today. But I do wonder why.”

Jerry was sitting frozen, stunned by the women surrounding him. It was a pity that he merged with Freedric the Incompetent, another nerd, instead of the bard Tim got. Caught by surprise, Jerry tended to show all the grace and style of a fourteen-year-old caught with his pants around his ankles.

Honey smiled. “It’s a go, gentlemen. I’ll do it. I told Dodger that last night. But there are some conditions. These ladies, friends of mine, have talents we’re going to need. Lanai merged with an intercessor, Cheri with a natural wizard and Gerian with a book-wizard. All at least in the middle levels. We’ll be working with them.”

Jerry thought he might have died and gone to heaven. Four beautiful women. Working with them every day. On a spaceship. Life couldn’t get much better than that. Now if only he could get his tongue untied.

His hopes crumbled a bit, though, when Gerian looked at him. “I’ve got an aerospace background too. And I’m the highest level Merge at this table. So why do we need you?”

Tim spoke up smoothly, before Jerry could get defensive. “Contacts. We’ve got contacts in the industry, people who have worked on this for years. You don’t.”

Jerry gulped a bit. “And you may have the education, but you haven’t worked in the field. We’d have met if you had. At the very least we would have known about each other’s work. Certainly, you would have been mentioned.”

Gerian smiled. “Not going to let me intimidate you, Jerry? Good. We’ll need to work together on this. Now, what’s our first step?”

“The first thing we do,” Honey said, “is set up the company. Then we’ll need to find the people we need, sign contracts, all that stuff. Find a place to work, come up with a design.”

Location: Home of A. Dujarié, San Francisco, California

Time: 8:27 PM January 20

Normally, Artemis Dujarié would as soon have done this in a boardroom. Cocktail parties and serious business didn’t fit together that well, in his mind. Schmoozing investors, that was cocktail party stuff, not contract signings. But Honey wanted it this way, and what the hell. He liked her. There was a sharp mind hidden under the “bimbo” style she affected. So he’d agreed, this once.

His living space was full of beautiful women—not a bad side effect of having agreed to this. Honey Abrams turned out to have more contacts than he’d have expected, thanks to that little sorority from her centerfold days. It was surprising what those beautiful girls went on to accomplish, in many cases with the money they’d been paid for those pictures; a great deal of that cash went towards furthering their educations.

Lanai Jones, there. Gorgeous, that woman. With a doctorate in environmental systems. Gerian Mason, with a degree in aeronautics. Cheri Stewart, the tiny Cajun with a faint French accent, a medical doctor, fresh out of her residency in athletic medicine. And the others who wanted into this project. Who would have thought it, Dodger mused. Who knew the sheer number of young women who dreamed of space and were prepared to put up nearly every dime they could scrape up to buy into the company that would give them a shot at it?

Andrea Elliott, beautiful, blond and a mechanical engineer. She wasn’t a centerfold, but once did a Girls of Cal Tech photo spread. She called Frank after word of the project got out. So did Susannah Cordoba, yet another blond, and a CPA. Still others, a few men as well. And each of them bought into the company with a minimum of $100,000 or some necessary skill, for the opportunity. This was going to work, Dodger thought. With this kind of talent and determination, it would almost have to work. So. Time to sign contracts. Contracts that gave him thirty-five percent of “Space Exploration Corp,” which some of the girls were already calling S.Ex. Corp. Not unreasonable, Dodger thought, since most of the investors were pictured with a metaphorical staple in their belly buttons at least once. In a way, it was a good thing that they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. Besides, it didn’t hurt to have the competition underestimate you, as these ladies knew full well.

Location: Cynthia Westin’s Apartment, Orange County, California
Time: 10 AM January 20

Leaning against the kitchen counter in his sisters apartment, Jason Westin said, “What I’d most like to do is go to space. I always wanted to do that.” Jason was about six feet one, tall and lanky with wavy brown hair and brown eyes. The Merge gave him an authority that wasn’t noticeable before. In the weeks since the Merge, he and his sister were concentrating on rebuilding their references for the crafting and casting of spells. The kitchen counter was covered in sheets of high grade paper printed in color with spells pulled off the internet. And even more sheets of notes, hand-written in colored pens.

“No.” Cynthia Westin, seated in the dining nook off the galley kitchen of her apartment, looked up from the computer screen and considered Jason. They both decided to grow up to be astronauts after seeing a movie about real space flight in their early teens. “Won’t work. Neither of us have the background.” Neither of them gave up the dream easily.

“We do now,” Jason insisted with quiet certainty, waving at the note on the counter.

Cynthia looked at the sheets, then shook her head again. “I’m not convinced that we do.” She was unimpressed by Jason’s new found authority. She had the same wavy brown hair and hazel eyes that turned green in the right light. They were brother and sister and oddly enough merged with the same character. Jason dropped out of his gaming group for a few months and Cyn took over the character, changing its gender. When the Merge happened they both got the memories of the same character. They both remembered the character as Mandrake/Mandra the Wizard. A nineteenth-level book and amulet-wizard.

“Granted, we couldn’t afford college,” Jason said. “But Mandrake could.”

Cynthia nodded. “True, bro, true. But the college of wizardry in the university of Korbath isn’t the same as Cal Tech. Yeah, we merged and got magic. How would that help you get into space?”

“We got big magic.” Jason grinned. “Big magic. With the knowledge of Mandrake and his abilities, we’re two high-level book-wizards with all sorts of spells. Looks to me like we could send out a call for other people, regular guys like us, and set up a company. If a bunch of bimbo centerfolds can get funding, why couldn’t we? All we have to do is get there first and win the Orbit Prize.”

“Could work,” acknowledged Mandra more than Cynthia. Then Cyn’s own personality came to the fore. “Why not? Why the heck not?” She bounced over to the phone, grinning and twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “I know some people. Let me make some calls.”

✽✽✽

Cynthia thought about it a few moments. Who to call? Who else was interested in space? A few more moments thought.

She hit the auto dialer and left a message for Jan Beckman. “Can you meet me for supper tomorrow night? How about Martie’s, about seven? I’ll be there unless I hear different from you.”

Location: Martie’s Burgers, Orange County, California

Time: 6 PM January 21

Martie’s was a hole in the strip mall, but they made great burgers. Not only the usual beef, but turkey or chicken or even veggie. And Jan was there, but it was a Jan Cynthia was surprised by. Instead of her usual jeans and t-shirt, Jan was wearing a cotton robe. In pale green, which was a color Jan never cared for. More surprising, she ordered a veggie burger when she’d usually ordered beef double cheeseburgers in the past.

“Lots of changes in your life?” Cynthia guessed. She knew that Jan merged with a cleric but didn’t have the details.

Jan grinned. The grin was the same as it always was, pixieish and full of mischief. She rolled her eyes. “Well, on the one hand, you could say that. On the other, I’m much the same as I ever was. But focused a bit differently.”

“Who’d you get?”

“Efima.” At Cynthia’s quirked eyebrow, Jan went on. “I played in college. In one game I wound up as the intercessor. A nature intercessor, third level, with a particular affinity to water sources. When the Merge hit, I got her.” Jan shrugged. “Living in California, what with all the desert and all, I figure it will come in handy. I start a job with the Forestry Department next week.”

Cyn took a bite of her burger and ate a couple of the fries. “Guess you’ve lost interest in space exploration, then?”

Jan nodded, then shook her head. “Not exactly lost it, but there are more important things. I’m a little ambivalent about it. I’m still interested, but I want to work on this planet and try to clean it up. I think that’s more important. Once that’s done, maybe I could work on a different planet. Assuming we ever get to one, that is.”

✽✽✽

Cyn didn’t have much more luck with the other people she called and arranged meetings with.

Dan Neely gave good advice and wanted in, but didn’t have the right skills.

Sara Dugin merged, but not with a magic user. She was a fourth-level fighter and recently put in an application to the police force. She did plan on learning magic, but it would take years to get good.

Janet Houlton tried to recruit Cyn and Jason for a project she came up with. She wanted to make a dimension-walk to gather magic moss for the purpose of making magic devices. Cyn was tempted by that one.

From the time of the Merge, there were calls from other friends, mostly asking if she had merged and with who? Calls from her parents, from coworkers, internet friends and old boyfriends. Everyone was calling everyone in the days after the Merge, trying to find out if anyone they knew had merged.

Cyn didn’t hesitate to tell friends that she had merged. Well, not that much. They were friends, after all, though Mandra’s experience warned against it. Telling people you were magic was like telling them you were rolling in money. It could change relationships and, more often than not, for the worse. In any case, the fact that they were merged became public fairly early on. Some of their friends wanted nothing more to do with them. Some wanted things from them. Some were merely curious about it.

Cyn didn’t know how it happened, but she and Jason ended up on a bunch of spam lists. Also on some religious groups’ “Watch the Merged” lists. Apparently someone out there decided she and Jason were dangers to society. So they were now on a privately-owned web page with a list of other merged. It included their addresses, their phone numbers, description and a surprising amount about Mandrake/Mandra’s life history. It seemed to focus a lot on the sex change. Cyn wasn’t sure whether that was because the owner of the website thought it was especially bad or was titillated by it. Maybe both.

At first it amused her. Then it alarmed her when she sensed she was being watched. An adventuring wizard learned to notice that sort of thing. She considered doing something about the website but decided against it. It would be seen as justifying the watch list.

Apparently not everyone felt that way. The website went down several times and there were a couple of news items about people’s computers being struck by lightning on clear days.