Read an Excerpt
October 12, 2953
Miss Hennessy had always been pretty, Kerri decided on the first day of school. She was pretty in their normal classroom in the puterverse, where her brilliant pinks and glowing blacks always excited the children with the way the colors wrapped and floated around her body. And now that Kerri was seeing her in real life for the first time since school started two months ago, she was even more pretty than in the puterverse. With a keen child's sense, Kerri could see Miss Hennessy as she looked when she was a little girl like her: small frame, brown hair, blue eyes and even the same smile, with the same missing front tooth, the grownup tooth not quite ready to show.
Kerri Marks had only been in school for two years; but at the age of six, she was quite certain no one was as nice and wonderful and pretty as her teacher, Miss Hennessy. And now they were in the same room!
"All right, children!" Miss Hennessy said in a firm voice that she softened by a smile. "Let's all have a seat on the floor and introduce ourselves properly. I'm just as eager to know you as you are to see me." She sat down on the floor and carefully spread her long skirt out just perfect. The nine children; bouncing around only seconds before, hurriedly settled down, sitting on the soft, warm floor around her. Kerri was very happy to see that she got the spot next to Miss Hennessy, on her left. Miss Hennessy gave her a warm smile that made Kerri want to tell her absolutely everything about herself; but she did not, knowing her teacher always did things just so. The last of them quieted, and all bright eyes looked up at her.
"Very good!" Miss Hennessy saidhappily. She looked them over carefully, and if anything, she was even happier with what she saw. "My! What lovely children you are! Bret, stop poking Maggie." Bret's hand immediately jerked back, and Maggie gave him a quick smirk. "Maggie, you don't need to do that. Well! I know you've been my pupils for two months now, but we've only met in the puterverse. Since I'll be here on Coda for the next three weeks, we can do this properly. Please stand up and introduce yourself. Tell me how old you are, what you like the most, what you don't like the most, and what you'd like to be when you grow up. Victor," she said to the boy on her right, "we'll start with you."
Victor jumped to his feet and looked at his classmates, then at Miss Hennessy.
"My name is Victor Lu and I'm six and I like wiener dogs an' Codan jump birds an' I don' like girls!" he said proudly, then blushed, "'cept you, Miss Hennessy. An' my mom. An' my sister, too, but only 'cause my mom says I have to. An' when I grow up, I'm gonna be a ball chaser pilot like my dad!" He sat down, certain no one could top his performance. The girl beside him stood.
"My name is Hana Yoshigawa. Hana means 'flower' in the language of my ancestors," she said proudly. "An' I like flowers and the color blue and I don't like boys!" she said sternly, stomping a foot at Victor, who laughed and buried his face in his hands. "And when I grow up, I wanna be an astro-namener, like my mom AND dad!" she concluded, satisfied Victor had been bested and seated herself with a flounce on the floor. Suddenly remembering, she jumped to her feet. "And I'm six years old!" she shouted and then sat down again.
One by one the others took their turn until at last Kerri stood up. She had her hands folded behind her jumper and twirled back and forth, her pigtails flopping against her small back.
"Hi. My name is Kerri Marks and I'm six years old. Umm..." She giggled and looked at Miss Hennessy, who smiled reassuringly. "Oh, yeah! I like my Uncle Paul and I like being in school and I like making things pretty. I don't know what I don't like. Broccoli, I suppose, only just a little. And I want to be a muser when I grow up, like my great grampa Marks was. Only maybe I want to be a teacher, too." She sat down.
"Thank you, very much, children. That was nicely done. Shall we get started with today's lesson?"
"But you didn't say anything about yourself, Miss Hennessy!" Victor accused.
"You're right, Victor. I shall take care of that right now. My name is Deborah Hennessy and I'm..."
"You gotta stand up, Miss Hennessy!" Megan and Donny both said.
"All right!" she laughed and stood up. She bowed to them. "My name is Deborah Hennessy and I'm twenty-six years old. I like children and I like teaching and I like Begorian soul music. I don't like broccoli, either." Kerri's heart jumped, and she suddenly thought that being a teacher was better than being a muser. "And since I'm already grown up, I'll say that I'm happy to be a teacher and very happy to be your teacher." She clapped her hands. "Now! Who knows why we're meeting here today, instead of in the puterverse classroom?" Hands shot up excitedly. "Yes, Donny?"
"You're gonna show us penters... prentis... you know! Magic!"
"That's right, Donny. But who knows the name? Kerri?"
"It's called Pentrinsic code, Miss Hennessy," she said precisely.
"That's right. And do you know why we're not in the puterverse?"
"Uh-huh," Kerri said eagerly, happy to be the font of wisdom. "'Cause the puterverse is binary and trinary code, an' pentrinsic codes gots threes an' fives in it, sorta, so it won't work there!"
"Well, I'm impressed, Kerri!" Miss Hennessy exclaimed. Kerri beamed. "How is it that you know so much about pentrinsic?"
"That's because I like it and my dad does it and so does my grampa and gramma." She took a deep breath, then burst out, "I can do some, too!"
Miss Hennessy blinked a couple times, then nodded for her to sit down, which Kerri did, still glowing with pride.
"I'm sure one day you will do some, Kerri. But that's only for older people, who study very hard. In fact, that's why we're going to talk about it today. Even though it might be ten years, each of you could one day code magic!" They all stared wide-eyed at her, not so much at the thought of becoming musers as much as at the incredible amount of time she'd said. Ten years! She smiled understandingly and tapped an access button, raising up a hologram of a blue and green planet in their midst.
"Who can tell me what planet this is?"
"No, it's not! Where's the rings? That's Deerkin!"
"Huh-uh! That's Nojura!"
"Wait! Children! Wait!" Miss Hennessy held her hands up, only narrowly averting open hostilities. "Someone was right, though I suspect it was a guess. That's Earth. Let me tell you about it.
"A long time ago, almost a thousand years, Earth was the only place that humans lived. Then we learned how to travel through space and started finding planets like the ones you called out and started living on them. The planets are all different. Halo has eight rings. Mant is a very hot planet, and Nojura is almost all water. Soso has no moons, and Imdlemodin has five. And our planet, Coda, has such clear air that we can see stars even after the sun comes up.
"But they all have things in common, too. They all have air we can breathe and plants we can eat. They all have animals, both wild and tame. They all have weiner dogs." Victor shouted yay! causing Miss Hennessy to force down a smile. "And one other thing, too, children, they all have magic. In fact, the entire universe has magic. Except Earth."
They all looked suddenly sad and gazed in pity at the solid hologram that rotated slowly inside their circle.
"How come?" Hana said in a quiet voice.
"We don't know, Hana. That's just the way it is. Scientists keep trying to understand why, but haven't found the answer." She nodded her head and the hologram flashed out.
"What we do, know, however," she added with a cheerful note, "is that pentrinsic code does work here. A muser can write code on reality, changing it. Some use it for healing. Others use it for fixing and working with machines. Some use it to protect us in case we are attacked, though that hasn't happened for almost a hundred years now. And some use magic for teaching it to others." She fell silent.
What she said slowly dawned on the children. They began gasping and smiling, their eyes widening even further as they stared at Miss Hennessy, the absolute center of all their attention.
She moved her hands close together and made an imaginary ball. The children watched in stunned fascination as Miss Hennessy's hands moved faster and faster. Within her hands, they imagined they could see the ball. She whispered a brief word that they didn't understand and suddenly moved her hands apart. Their faces went from wide-eyed to bug-eyed.
Floating in the air where her hands had been was a flashing blue and red ball! It smelled like chocolate and bright white flowers. It hummed and sang a soft song, tickling their insides lightly and making them feel safe and happy.
"This is called a Haven spell, children," Miss Hennessy explained, not at all perturbed that they continued to stare at her glowing ball instead of her. "It can be used to make you feel better when you're sad or if you're a little sick. There are stronger and larger haven spells that will do even more. And the Haven spell is one of only hundreds of other spells. One day, if you work and study and practice, you might be able to cast this same spell and make your friends feel better."
Kerri stared at it, mouth opened. She'd seen her Daddy do magic all the time, but he was the town muser. He was supposed to do magic. But Miss Hennessy was a teacher! And she could muse! Kerri didn't have to choose between being a teacher or a muser. She could be both, like Miss Hennessy! To Kerri, the world suddenly became an even brighter place than it had been before.
Miss Hennessy moved a gentle hand across the ball, and it faded out, causing the children to immediately ask for her to do it again. She laughed but shook her head.
"Sorry, but I'm much more a teacher than a muser. I can only cast one or two small spells a day before I'm too tired. Now, let's see what we've learned. Who can remember the name of the code?" Hands shot up. "Greg?"
"Peterisic. I mean... Pen trin sic," he answered, nodding his head with each syllable.
"Very good. And what can it..."
"You can call it magic, too," Hana pointed out.
"Yes, you can, Hana. Pentrinsic code and magic are the same thing." Miss Hennessy eyed her with a brief stare, only slightly less soft than normal. "But you should not interrupt."
Hana slapped her hands over her mouth. "I'm sorry, Miss Hennessy!" she exclaimed through her fingers.
"That's all right, Hana. So, children, what can Pentrinsic code -- or magic -- be used for? Megan?"
"For working on machines."
"That's correct. Victor?"
"For blowin' stuff up!" He emphasized his point with several sound effects.
"Almost, Victor. We use it for defense, but only when necessary. Good! Now, answer this question: where is the one place you cannot use magic?"
"Earth!" three or four of them shouted.
"Good! And for the last question: which of these three planets is Earth?"
The children looked at the center of their area, waiting for the three solid holos to appear, but it remained empty. Miss Hennessy frowned, then turned her head slightly, quickly accessing the puterverse.
"Hello? Yes. This is Miss Hennessy from the Itinerant Teachers Association. I'm conducting a class on Coda and seem to have lost partial phased access. Could you... thank you so much!" She turned her head back to them, ending access and smiled.
"Sorry, children, but the building's access grid is acting up again. Puterverse repair says it'll be about five minutes until I can bring up the holos. In the meantime... " she broke off. "My! That was quick! And such incredible quality, too!"
Floating in front of them were three planets: one more blue than green, another more green than blue, and another almost entirely blue and sporting a thin ring. Each had moving clouds patterns and even showed the glistening of their respective, unseen suns reflecting off the water surfaces. The hemispheres removed from the light were cast in the dark of night. Everyone could see the pinpoints of light that indicated cities.
The kids started chattering, pointing at the vibrant and highly detailed images, but Miss Hennessy shushed them.
"These are the best constructs I've ever seen! I still need someone to tell me which one is Earth, however. Victor?"
"Ummm... it's this one!" He pointed to the blue planet with the thin ring.
"No, Victor. That's Nojura. Why don't you try, Kerri?"
"I can't, Miss Hennessy," Kerri said.
"Yes, you can, Kerri. Try to remember what I said about Earth; then use that knowledge to pick the correct planet."
"No," Kerri said, shaking her head, "I mean I can't pick 'cause it wouldn't be fair."
"Why not, Kerri?"
"'Cause I made the planets appear, an' so I know which one is Earth already," she said simply.
The children giggled, but Miss Hennessy suddenly looked thoughtful. Still looking at young girl, she accessed again.
"Yes... this is Miss... no, no, I'm not complaining. Yes, I'm sure you're working as quickly as possible. I hate to sound silly, but is the interface already up by chance? No? I see. Thank you." Her eyes readjusted to real light, and she took Kerri by the hands. The others were quiet.
"Kerri. Child. Listen very closely. Did you make these planets?"
"Uh-huh," she nodded, now not at all certain she should have. She suddenly burst out, upset at displeasing her most favorite, favorite teacher. "I'm sorry, Miss Hennessy! I just wanted to help! I'll make them go away! I promise!"
She turned back to the images and motioned her hands in stuttered rhythm. One by one the planets popped out of sight, leaving behind a gentle aroma of baked bread and fresh grass.
She turned back to her teacher, feeling very guilty. Miss Hennessy, seeing the girl's distress, smiled at her.
"Don't be sad, Kerri. What you just did is impossible. Hopelessly, incredibly, wonderfully impossible!" Kerri's eyes began to brighten in realization that she'd done something very good. She began twirling back and forth with embarrassed pride.
"I just wanted to be like a teacher, like you, Miss Hennessy. And a muser, too," she said. "And I want to be just like you, too!" she blurted out.
Miss Hennessy, her view of the world abruptly and joyously jarred, gave a happy laugh and held her arms out to her pupil, who ran into them.
"Kerri, I think you'll be a very good teacher some day." She patted Kerri's head and straightened her pigtails. "And I think your students are going to learn more than they ever dreamed possible!"
Copyright © 2004 by Peter W. Prellwitz