The Weaver and the Wind
Chapter 9: Gravy Geeks In Space

Copyright© 2010 by Sea-Life

Wind and I had jumped, not straight to the Tower, but first to the Shavrom enclave, Where we gave our new friends a quick update on what had transpired.

"Wick, I am going to ask you to act on my behalf in a matter, if you are willing," I said over a glass of Korellian Blue Leaf.

"Certainly Weaver," The Shavrom patriarch agreed. "What will you ask of me?"

"I would like you to check up on a family for me. Plank Durmiter and his wife Opal and their two children Ketch and Biter. During our journey to Beletara we met many fine folk, and in particular we met and became friends with the Durmiters, who were also traveling to Beletara. We have not seen them again since we left Pelec's Crossing, but had word of them at Taraval Springs. They were traveling to Beletara to join Plank's brother Spoke and help him on his goat farm. I want to make sure they are all well, and have word of Wind and I."

"Of course, it will be good to meet people that Weaver and The Wind would call friend."

"Thank you, my friend. If it turns out they are in need of anything, let me know."

We collected Slider and Grendel, who were both glad to see us, though they had obviously been well fed and well treated. We gave a final caution to Wick, Cap, Cord and the rest of the Shavrom clan regarding the wizard's guild and then, once again with a lifting of NeedleThorn, we were gone.

We stopped briefly at King Esterhal's palace to pass word to FireTree of the happenings in Beletara. I didn't have enough experience on Arbor to tell me if the behavior of the Guild in Beletara could be attributed solely to the coercer GraySea or not.

"Weaver, their behavior was not typical, and I will be sure to let those in the Guild in other places know of their actions. Your last words to them though, may have been ill advised. Some Wizards will see it as a challenge."

"Some men see all warnings of danger as a challenge. That is just the nature of men. As a warning I think it will be effective. Watching me bite the head off of one of their members only moments earlier will serve as reinforcement for the seriousness of it."

He made me show him my Titan-shape. And he examined me closely, confirming for himself that it was not an illusion or superficial transformation, but truly a matter of becoming a duplicate of Titan.

"How is Plover?" I asked once he;d had his fill of my Yaru transformation.

"She is doing well! Wood Wife that she is, she needed to be somewhere she could touch the soil, and as a person who had been thwarted of a life and purpose of her own for twenty years she needed something to do that she saw as useful. She is back living in that same little cottage in the clearing where the Ur-Witch had kept her, and she works every day to make the forest and the road that passes through it safe again for travel. In exchange for this, King Esterhal has decreed that the forest surrounding the river is to remain untouched from the sea to the upper hills ten miles inland."

That was very informational, but when we pressed him, Firetree also admitted to spending most of his free days at the cottage, and that he and Plover were becoming 'somewhat intertwined', as he put it.

With our information passed on, and reassurances from Firetree that we should have support from the majority of the Wizard's he knew, we moved on.

We took lunch at the Red Flag. Thistle was down the stairs and sitting with us within minutes of our arrival. We quickly caught him, Trough Farelly and Ash up on most of the happenings during our travels to Beletara. Ash informed us officially, as King Esterhal's agent, that the road to the valley had been completed, and to keep an eye out, as several families had already begun homesteads on the new land opened up by the road.

After lunch, we got a chance to talk to Thistle in private, and asked how the rest of his time on Earth and with Ren had gone.

"Earth was an interesting place. That we were visiting a place with so many ties to your ancient history and culture made it even more so, and the Spanish Guitar! I am currently managing to control my new obsession. I will begin publicly performing some pieces written for it soon, I think."

"And Ren?" Cor reminded him gently.

"Ah, Midnight and Thistle. We are in some ways destined for each other I think. We are each the spark for the other's tinder," Thistle sighed dramatically and gave us both an odd, rueful grin. "The connection we feel is beyond description, but that intensity and depth of feeling can drain you after a while. We have both decided we need to spend time living our own lives, and we will allow the tinder to reignite whenever we can. Midnight has a project she is involved with elsewhere now, so I will see her as her new obligations allow."

Thistle, Ash and Trough collectively agreed to act as our agents for any who came inquiring of us. They were suitably warned about the insanity of the Beletaran Wizard's actions, and that I hoped they would send their peaceful representative to the inn in within the appointed time.

We visited briefly with Speck when we stopped at the stable to retrieve Slider and Grendel. Speck had begun to feel the effects of adolescence, and appeared to have grown several inches taller since the last time we'd seen him. He had also acquired a trainee, Root, who shadowed his every move.

"Root is going to be a big help when the cattle come through this year." Speck said. "Perhaps he will inherit my job in the fall as well. I am getting a bit old to be a stable boy."

"Root, you will do well if you give Speck your full attention whenever he is showing you something, and we will be seeing plenty of you here in the future, I'm sure."

"Yes sir! I will sir."

Speck laughed. "Root's a notorious suck up! He brings me a cup of Cintosa every morning! But he pays attention, he's not afraid of the work or of the learning, and he can actually speak without stammering when addressing the clients. He'll be fine."

We said our farewells and began the trip along the new road to our equally new home. With the road finally completed, we decided to pass on taking any shortcuts and set out for the valley at a steady trot.

Both the homesteading families we found along the way had settled fairly close to the Red Flag end of the road. Not surprising, as the land was good and help was nearby if it was needed. The first family we met was the Prost clan. Ice and Ivory Prost were an older couple, with three children. The two oldest daughters, Glisten and Lamb, were married, and their spouses Ruddy and Auger were homesteading the land with them. Peat, the young son was of an age where he was probably thinking of finding a wife and settling down himself, or else preparing to strike out on his own. It was always one or the other in these rural families.

The second family was a young couple, Fleet and Iris Arral. They had been married only weeks. Fleet had come with the Royal Engineers when the road was being built, and seeing the opportunity, had proposed to Iris as soon as he had returned. Iris' parents had given the young couple their stake, and from the looks of the large, sturdy home already half built, Fleet's time with the Royal Engineers was going to be a valuable asset to the community that would eventually grow here.

We moved on down what we were surprised to hear the new settlers calling Weaver's Way, towards what we had already named The Valley of the Wind. The road itself was very nicely done, and as we went I let a little Magic play over it, reinforcing the permanence and durability of it. The tunnel gateway to the valley stood open for us and we passed through unhindered. I still had some thinking to do about stationing a guard or guards at the entrance to the tunnel.

And then we were at the tower.

The Magic that had been invoked to make the Tower of the Wind, like all major uses of Magic on Arbor, had revealed itself over time as it settled into its final, permanent state. The most basic aspects remained unchanged. At the heart of those was the tower's total openness to any of the four of us who had been involved in its raising. When we reached out to the stones of the tower, we passed through to whichever part of the tower it was our desire to go.

We still had not recruited a single person to staff our home, so there were none here to greet us. We had candidates in mind, come the time. But for now the levels were all deserted, except for us.

The very bottom level of the tower was for Slider and Grendel, with room for more horses, certainly Thistle and Midnight's as well as perhaps as much as a dozen others. There was room to store plenty of fodder for the horses, and a well equipped tack room. The many levels above were divided into storage areas, an armory, guest floors, a library and a music room. The top floor was split into two 'offices', one for Weaver and one for The Wind of Arbor. The next floor down was our private residence, which Cor and I shared. The floor below ours was split into two suites, one each for Thistle and Ren, and below that a massive kitchen.

The entire tower had the Arborian Magical versions of central heating and central air. Needless to say, when you live in the Tower of the Wind, stale stuffy air is never an issue!

The open top of the Tower, despite being so exposed to the elements, was always exactly as Cor wanted it. After two weeks of rest and recuperation, hot showers and soft beds, I found Cor standing on top of the roof looking out over the valley. Her cloak, doing its best 'clouds scudding across the sky' impression was wrapped around her and the season was autumnal and breezy. I walked up behind her and slid my arms around her. She leaned back into me and I wrapped her up tight.

"You're missing home." I said.

"No. I really do think of Arbor as home now. But I'm missing Mom and Dad and some of those everyday things you grow up with that you don't notice until they're gone."

"Ice cream sundaes and strolling down the sidewalk, the chatter of cafeteria crowds and jogging in the morning. Yeah, I know what you mean."

"Yeah, you do," She sighed.

"Then lets go. Lets go home and spend some time. Get reacquainted with our friends and family. See what our friends at MIT have been doing without us. Read a newspaper! Watch an episode of SNL. Maybe it doesn't suck this year!"

That got me a scorcher of a kiss, and later as we were packing the few things we wanted to take back with us, a little something more than a kiss.

Despite having grown up on Meadow as well as Preci, Taluat and a few other places, I had come to think of Boston, and more precisely Cambridge as home in recent years, at least until Arbor assumed that privileged position. Despite a desire to check in with the family, it was Cambridge I wanted to get back to. Cor was the same way.

We had changed of course. I actually felt a little strange dressed in my favorite jeans and a t-shirt. Cor wore slacks and a nice top that insisted on reminding me that she had stopped wearing a bra while on Arbor and had not resumed the practice. NeedleThorn went into her spot by the bed, and I spent a little time and a little Magic, always less cooperative here than it was on Arbor, and made her more or less unnoticeable to anyone without a good dose of Magic or Light sensitivity themselves.

We spent a day airing out the apartment and restocking the basics and then we took a quick trip to Crown Point.

Crown Point was quiet and quietly dull, but Cor's parents were warm and happy and absolutely tickled to see us again, and Cor and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and evening we spent with them. We got to see all the pictures they had taken while we were in Greece, and especially the ones they took after we left. Our trip to the Corycian Cave and Mount Parnassus had finally fired up the tourist bug in them both, and there were a ton of pictures of the two of them with Ren and Thistle and with Mom and Dad.

We managed to get in and out without encountering T.C. And Reggie, who we were told had been stopping by almost every weekend. Bill actually thanked me for being responsible for getting to see his oldest daughter more frequently.

We headed back to Cambridge Friday morning, after a nice breakfast. I let Cor drive after doing a little PNM dump that gave her a good shortcut to the abilities needed to drive the StarLight on the ground and into the air corridor. Still, I paid attention during the transitions. The skill dumps we had developed during the Preci war were a big assist, but they were not perfect. It could take a while for the skills to settle in.

Once we were in the air corridor and Cor was busy being 'Captain Caldwell of Air Command', I jumped onto my cell phone and sent a quick string of text messages to Arne Walker and a few others in the Gravy Geeks.

"I'm arranging to get together with Arne Walker and a couple of the Gravy Geeks over lunch at Lobdell."

"Hmm! Us Iconic Cultural Archetypes hand selected by the Spirits learn very quickly that the key to sub-semi-diety-hood is to delegate, delegate, delegate. I called Traci while we were at Mom and Dad's and asked her to arrange the same thing. Guess where she's meeting us for lunch?"

"When did you sneak that in?" I asked.

"While you were out swooning over the new bearings on the power takeoff for Dad's tractor."

She earned a good swat for that one, which I delivered once we were back at the apartment. Of course a playful swat on her lovely bottom lead to a few other activities, but we were past the grinning and glowing stage of recovery in plenty of time to shower and change.

As we were standing in front of the mirror, Cor did sort of a double-take, looking at me and then at my reflection in the mirror, then at her own reflection.

"Andy, do you realize how much our appearance has changed in the time we've been together on Arbor?"

I reexamined our reflection in the mirror. Cor was right! It had been so much a part of life on Arbor, and so gradual that I hadn't been conscious of the changes.

We were both well tanned, and not just from our time on the Aegean soaking up the Greek sun, but from months spent living on the Road to Beletara. Cor's hair, which had always been dark and lustrous had grown out, far more than it probably would have unaided, and hung now to the small of her back, thicker, darker and more lustrous than ever. She used to wear it tied up in some fashion or another most of the time, but she seldom did anymore, even here on Earth where the Magic's influence was lessened, her hair seemed to manage itself. Beyond the hair, her appearance hadn't changed that radically, except that the trim and fit tone of her was several notches beyond what it had been. She didn't look like a body builder, but she looked like a professional athlete. Cor's lips seemed to have a deeper natural redness and the blue of her eyes had clarified, moving even further towards the icy glacier blue they had previously hinted at.

My changes weren't that much greater, but they seemed more pronounced. My hair was longer as well, touching my shoulders now, as was the Arborian fashion. As well as the long hair I had grown a sturdy pair of sideburns and a mustache, both in concession to the Arborian penchant for facial hair, especially amongst Wizards. I had avoided committing to the full beard that most Wizards sported though. Physically, I had muscled up quite a bit. My shoulders had broadened, my chest had thickened, and I had a definite but not 'chiseled' set of abdominal muscles showing.

"Do we dress to minimize or maximize the differences?" I asked.

"I say we blow their minds." Cor answered.

So we did. Cor wore a tight half-T shirt that really showed her taught stomach, and a pair of tight, clinging slacks, and of course she wore her hair loose. I wore a T-shirt as well, just one of my usuals, but it was very much tighter across the shoulders and everywhere else. Where it had been loose before it was definitely form-fitting now. I wore a pair of black slacks, though mine were mercifully looser than Cor's.

We really did look quite the pair when we walked into Lobdells.

Arne Walker Was already there, and he had Morrie Scheufelt, Yuri Stepanovich and Kioshi Shimizu with him.

"My God! Look at the two of you!" Arne exclaimed. "Wrap you two up in some leather and a cape or two and you could pose for one of those romance novel covers!"

Morrie and Yuri had been on the basketball court with Cor, so they knew she had a fine figure already, but they could really see the differences in her. Cor had never met 'Zoo' before, so we introduced them.

"Zoo, this is my fiancé Corycia Caldwell. Cor, this is my friend and chart member of the Gravy Geeks, Kioshi Shimizu."

Zoo and Cor were still getting acquainted when Traci and Audra arrived, with three other women in tow, two of whom I thought I remembered from Cor's moving day. Introductions were being made between the two groups when Dave Hamlin showed up with Chester Magill and Rich 'stretch' Reeder. Stretch was not tall, but had gotten his nickname because of the instant geek comparison of his name with that of Reed Richards, the stretchy member of the Fantastic Four. We're geeks, forgive us, but its just the way we think.

If the chorus of 'Whoa dude!'s and 'Wow!'s that Cor and I had received from the guys was embarrassing, the fuss the ladies made over us was over the top. We finally had to sit down and start eating to get everyone to settle down into normal excitement.

The chatter was interesting. For the Gravy Geeks, it was probably the first time they'd been in a completely casual coed setting that wasn't part of some prearranged school activity. Cor's crew seemed much better prepared for the sudden social situation.

I spent some time visiting with Arne and Yuri, getting caught up on where everyone was at the start of the new year, the rest of the group wasn't idle; we talked about the chances that the graduate degree candidates might have in getting involved in the upcoming International Mars Expedition.

"Andy, this is cutting edge gravity work. The Request for Proposals mention gravity drive, environmental microgravity control systems, microgravity g-force compensators, attitude controls, docking and landing systems, you name it!"

Arne, Yuri and I grabbed several stacks of dirty trays and garbage and walked them over to one of the refuse centers, pitching everything into the appropriate bins and stacking the trays in their designated spot.

"It is a colossal opportunity!" Yuri said with enthusiasm. "Cutting edge application of everything we study!"

"There are only a handful of schools in the world graduating people who can call themselves competent Gravitic Engineers, and MIT is one of them," Arne said.

"And we are those people," Yuri added.

We were still tossing that topic back and forth when we got back to the table and discovered that while we had been busy, the rest of the table had not exactly been idle themselves.

"Its settled." Cor announced to us as we sat down. "We are officially scheduled to have a pub crawl tomorrow night."

"Pub crawl?"

"It has been pointed out to us, Andy, that you are now old enough to participate in the more alcohol-oriented escapades of your fellow students that you have had to skip in the past." Traci said.

"Curses! Calendared again!" I said. Looks like I'll have to tie Cor to the railroad tracks again tonight! Mwahahahaha!" I offered up my best dastardly villain impression. Okay, It was overboard. But these guys appreciated overboard.

"Excuse me?" Cor countered. "I believe You are the one being railroaded here mister!"

Kioshi Shimizu and Audra Brooks had been appointed co-chairs of the route committee, and they were being joined by Chester Magill and Daria Kensington, one of the girls I didn't know. Zoo claimed to know every pub within 50 miles of the Charles River. Audra announced that she would not allow Arne and Zoo to plan a route that covered them all. There was much mock opposition to this announcement and demands that all be allowed to join the '50 mile club'. Cor and I quickly volunteered to be the transportation committee.

Our lunchtime get together quickly dissolved into small groups of people, all with various arrangements to make, items to check on, or classes to get to.

I tossed the StarLight's activator to Cor and gave her a kiss. If we were making that pub crawl, there were things she wanted to get done as well. I needed to go visit a few people on campus.

<Don't worry about picking me up. I'll meet you back at the apartment sometime after four, > I thought.

"See ya later sweetie!" Cor said out loud, following it with a kiss.

<Dinner?> Came the thought.

<My parents?> I thought back.

<Sounds good, later Wizard!>

I checked in quickly with Mom. Yes they were having dinner at home tonight, and Grandma and Grandpa McKesson were going to be there, and we were more than welcome to join them. I offered to bring the wine, and of course there was no objection. They had already sampled several offerings I'd brought back with me from Arbor.

With that new detail taken care of, I ran around taking care of some odds and ends. Paying for another year of locker rental, getting my new credentials for this academic year, checking for anything the school might have received for me, requests for time, money. The usual sort of unsolicited things people with money get.

I did have a stack of mail, though not too much. Now that I was not a student, MIT was less of a magnet for those kinds of things. I made a mental note to check with the folks over at JFK. Their mail bins were probably still fairly full of my stuff. I filled out the required paperwork needed to have anything forwarded to the McKesson offices in Boston.

I walked over to Professor Carmody's office on the off chance he was in, and of course he wasn't. His secretary said he was on campus though, and offered to ask him if he had some time for me. I agreed, and she made a couple of quick phone calls.

"Professor Carmody says he is in the pixel bin at the Fusion Lab, if you want to meet him there," the secretary told me. I headed over immediately, stopping on the way at Forbes to pick up a couple of coffee- chocolate-whipped cream concoctions at the nearby espresso stand, a particular weakness of the professor's. His had to be a triple shot – twenty ounce special, but I made mine a single shot in a more mundane size.

These days the Fusion Center was officially the Fusion and Gravitics Center. The pixel bin was just a nickname everyone used for the central instrument monitoring and data recording center. All of the remote instrumentation readouts were done on digital displays these days. The monitoring station had probably twenty large monitors circling the room high and low, and several dozen smaller units of various sizes.

I walked backwards through the door, protecting the two cups I was carrying, and saw Professor Carmody sitting in one of the desk chairs with his feet up, reading a thick stack of something. It looked like it had been bound on campus, so it was probably a departmental report of some kind.

"Good afternoon professor." I called from the door.

"Andy! Come sit down!" He called, looking up from his reading. "What's this?" he said, spotting the drinks in my hand. "You were never the type of student to suck up like this!"

"I'm not a student anymore Professor, so this isn't sucking up, its schmoozing," I answered.

"Of course, I should have realized. Schmooze that nectar of the gods over here and pull up a chair," he said with a laugh.

I pulled a chair from one of the other desks and rolled it to the opposite corner of the Professor's desk, and sat down. I took a sip of my drink. The chocolate-coffee mixture was pleasant tasting, but I couldn't handle drinking them very often. While I took my sip the professor took a long drink of his.

"Since you aren't a student anymore, and mostly because I learned most of what I know about gravitics theory and the Gravity Engine from you, you will please start using my first name; Phillip. I believe you may have seen it on the letterhead from my office. But Phil when the microphones and cameras aren't rolling, Okay?"

"Of course, thank you," I said, meaning it.

"So, what manner of schmooze are you about?" He asked, mid-slurp.

"You're the front man for the Gravitics Research and engineering units. What kind of feel do you have for the International Mars Expedition?"

"Oh, I've got more that a feel, I'd say," he answered. "I've read the full RFP from the joint study group, and have had several follow up video conferences with both the NASA and ESA liaisons to the joint study group. I've exchanged documents with Chen Hsu, the director of the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing, who's the official Chinese representative from the CNSA on the joint study group. I've also been exchanging emails and faxes from the RKA in Russia. I haven't spoken to Perminov himself, but he is due to visit the US in mid October, and I expect I'll get a meeting sometime then."

"Wow!" I said. "I expected that you'd get inquiries, but that sounds pretty high level!"

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