Going Stag

by Lynx-Eye


-Chapter 4-



            When we got home that afternoon, I settled in for some studying.  It seemed like a good idea to have a basic familiarity with the contents of the booklet when the instructor arrived.  It was written in the usual dry, bureaucratic style, but I knew it was important, so I slogged through it.


            To reward myself for getting through the main portion of it, I practiced my archery until supper.  My accuracy was beginning to resemble something I was willing to admit to.


            After supper, I went back to the booklet and read the section on commercial teleporters.  I had to interrupt my reading several times while Mom checked the fit of the garb she was modifying for me to wear on Wednesday.


            Eventually, it was time for bed, and we all said our goodnights.  After I finally got to sleep, it seemed like only a moment before my alarm clock was buzzing at me.


            Out of habit, I threw on a robe and headed for the kitchen to mainline some caffeine.  I was surprised to realize I was clear-headed and sure-footed instead of bleary and staggering.  I remembered that deer are especially active at dawn and dusk, and was disgusted to think that I would be following that pattern myself.  I went ahead and brewed a cup of yerba maté because I like it.


            Then, with what I still called the elixir of sapience in hand, I went back to my room to prepare for a day that was starting way too early for my tastes.  Mom felt that she and Dad should meet the teleport instructor, so the first day had to start before they left for work.


            Before I went through MORFS, I would have emptied the mug as quickly as I could without burning myself, and hoped I felt sentient by the time I'd finished my shower.  Instead, I savored the taste, finishing it after my shower.


            On a different topic, it occurred to me that, while it was a nuisance to have to do a full-body shampoo and blow dry, I wasn't going to spend any more time shaving.  I had just gotten to where I was shaving a couple times a week, and come to the conclusion that it was overrated, symbol of manhood or not.


            The T-shirt I put on with my shorts had a picture of a rude two-finger gesture that dates back to  Agincourt, and a caption that said, "They can have my bow when they pry it from my cold dead hand."


            After a good-size breakfast, it turned out I had some time to kill before he got there.  I spent it on target practice.  That's what I was doing when the doorbell rang, and I heard Dad answer the door.  Stu Norstrander introduced himself to my parents, and showed them his credentials with the Worldwide Association of Commercial Teleporters.  I tried not to listen as they grilled him.  Then I heard them approach the patio door, but they waited while I finished that end of arrows before opening it.


            I loosed the sixth arrow, and turned around to see my parents step out onto the patio with a young man who wasn't much bigger than my cousin Howie, but looked about as old as the telepath, Alex.  He was a gray squirrel hybrid, with a big bushy tail arched up over his head, dressed in shorts and a pocket-covered bush vest.  There was a black lapel pin in his collar, marked with the letters WACT inside an oval.  Above the oval was a starburst with a tiny zircon at its center.  A pin on the other lapel combined a Greek psi with the letters TEEPS.  I knew from Aunt Melissa that it stood for the Telepaths', Empaths', and Extra-sensors' Protective Society.


            He had a big toothy grin as he enthused, "Excellent!"


            I shrugged.  "I've done better, and I will again."


            He waved that off.  "Your archery is fine, but that's not what I meant.  I was referring to this place, and the attitude you're displaying.  This is a very distinctive yard, and you obviously spend a lot of time here.  It will be an excellent base to return to.  Your self-discipline, and your pursuit of accuracy, will be very helpful when teleporting."


            While he spoke, he had his hand on the rail of the low gazebo I was shooting from.  Dad and Keith and I had built it a couple years before, and –– purely by coincidence, I swear! –– it just happened to be positioned exactly forty yards from the target butt.  There was a shelter over the target butt, with the hill as its back and open in front.  The roof and sides of the target shelter were made with corrugated fiberglass salvaged from an old greenhouse.  A gravel path led from the gazebo to the target, with twenty- and thirty-yard shooting lines alongside.  Those happen to be the three distances shot from in the Inter-Kingdom Archery Competition, or IKAC.


            Mom and Dad rushed off to work, leaving me their best wishes for a productive lesson.


            While I retrieved my arrows and put away my archery gear, Stu told me about himself and the lesson plan.  He was a strong teleporter and a weaker telepath, able to 'port significant masses long distances, but requiring contact to 'path.  He would start with a telepathic exam, then unlock my power and get me familiar with a couple places before having me try to 'port.  After that, we'd be exploring my limits, refining my control, and adding to the list of teleportation points I could 'port to with confidence.  He pointed out that, while certain aspects of teleport power were common, there was a great deal of variety in the details of how it worked for each individual 'porter.  Still, a universal safety rule was that every teleport destination must be known or seen.


            We sat on a bench in the gazebo, and he held my hand to look into my head.  Once again, I thought I felt a gentle brushing in my head, like strands of spider web across a game trail would brush against my face.  He said he was glad to see that I'd studied, and confirmed Alex's assessment that my 'porting power was rather low.  He also confirmed the identification of the basic "flavor" of my teleportation.  Then he fiddled around for a minute or so and did something.  Suddenly, it was as if somebody had turned on a light.


            I could sense everything within about ten feet in terms of mass, density, and location on the planet.  Fine detail faded rapidly with distance, but I thought it might be a dim and murky hint of what psychoperception would be like.  "Wow, man, what a rush!" I quipped.


            "Now," he said, "I want you to examine your surroundings with all your senses, until you know this gazebo thoroughly."  He gave me a few minutes, then put his hand on my arm.  "You have it?  Now let's go over to your archery target," and, with a >pop<, we were there.


            "Okay.  Now, scan this location with all your senses; you'll be 'porting to it in a bit."  He gave me a moment, then had me look back to the gazebo.  "You can see that it's empty.  Now reach out and feel it.  Think about teleporting, but don't try to."


            I did as he said, and my new mass perception was suddenly twinned to the gazebo.  In addition to what my eyes were telling me, I was scanning the gazebo as well as the target shelter I was standing in.  It almost made my head spin.  "Whoa! It's almost like triple vision!"


            Stu nodded.  "You'll be surprised at how quickly you get used to it.  And, it should only happen while you're scanning a potential destination point.  Now, put yourself into that empty spot that you can see and feel.  I'll be right behind you."


            Before he let go of my arm, he did something more in my head.  It was as if he were shining a flashlight on the steps I had to take.  Then I just took them.  A part of my mind reached out to a tiny point in the gazebo and rapidly expanded it, pushing the air out of the way before transferring  my body into the vacant space.  I had teleported from the target butt to the gazebo.  A moment later, I heard a >pa-pop<, and there was Stu, right behind me like he’d said.


            I’d never felt so alive.  "Now, that is a rush!"


            Stu had me 'port back and forth several more times, until he was satisfied that I had that basic move down.  Then he said it was time to expand my itinerary.


            He took hold of my arm and popped us into the 'porting booth just outside the emergency room at Silverton Hospital.  After giving me time to memorize the place, he said, "Now, reach back to the gazebo.  Don't 'port to it just yet.  I only want you to feel it there, empty and ready for you."


            I did as he asked, and I was hit with that same triple vision sensation again.  It was even more pronounced, since I couldn't see the additional place I was sensing.  I could see and feel the hospital teleport booth, but I  could also feel the gazebo, within reach and safely empty.  Stu was still holding my arm, and looked through my senses to see what I perceived in the gazebo.


            "Good," he said, releasing my arm.  "Let's go back now."


            Once again, I pushed aside a pocket of air and slid myself into that empty pocket.  A moment later, Stu popped in next to me.  Then we went to the hospital and back a few more times before he started taking me to various other publicly accessible teleportation points around town.  Starting with points outside the police station and city hall, we went on to such places as the library, the high school, and some parks and shopping areas.  A couple of times, I had to wait for somebody to get out of the way.


            He would teleport me to each new spot, give me a moment to scan it, then have me 'port back and forth a few times before moving on.  Every new jaunt radiated from the gazebo.  I had already been to each of those places around my home town, but never studied them like I was doing under Stu's guidance.  It was solidifying my grasp of local geography.  In the course of this, I also found that I could project my mass density sense to any spot that I could clearly see, or that I’d already scanned.  And, while I could turn myself to face any chosen direction at my destination, I couldn’t change my position or posture by teleporting.


            Then we moved on to the nearest actual city, the state capital.  Our first stop was again right outside the emergency room of a hospital, Salem General.  I scanned it, but when I reached out for the gazebo at home, I found nothing.


            Stu touched my arm to check my perception, then nodded.  "Okay, now we know that your range is less than fifteen miles."  He looked at his watch.  "After lunch, we can find out how much less.  Let's head back to Silverton."


            During lunch, I commented to Stu that I could hear a pop when he teleported, but not when I did.  He told me that was one of the little differences between teleporters.  Some made a loud crack, while others faded in silently.  He made a pop.  I made a poof.  He knew of one 'porter who made a small cloud of sulfur smoke, and another who liked to create an illusionary cloud of smoke.  Several others generated bursts of wind that scattered dust, paper, and other light objects.


            Regardless of the standard star-above-oval symbol for a teleportation ring or booth, most teleporters have no particular visual effect except sudden appearance and disappearance.  A fair number fade in and out.  Some create light flashes of one sort or another when they appear or disappear.  Stu swore he knew one teleporter who faded in and out as a shimmering figure.


            He also told me that a significant minority of teleporters had to learn how to take their clothes along, and not 'port out of them.  A few never could.  That's why it was standard procedure to match the gender of the instructor with the student, and to start in a place with privacy.


            On the other hand, he said he knew a teleporter who always exchanged a sphere of matter between his exit and entry points.  That would include a divot, if he was standing on something like loose sand.  If the ground was solid, he'd be anchored to it unless he jumped up as he teleported.  By the same token, he had to routinely arrive with his feet a foot or so off the ground.  The limit of the sphere was only about arms' reach.


            We spent the afternoon ranging more gradually out from Silverton.  Mount Angel was easily within my reach, but I could only reach the northeastern outskirts of Salem, as well as the southern portion of Woodburn and the northern edge of Silver Falls State Park.  That established my range at about ten miles.  To go any further, I'd have to chain 'port.  Experience would show how quickly I could do that, and how many times without rest.


            After the early start, we finished for the day before the afternoon got too old.  Stu cautioned me not to push myself too hard, and to stay well within my limits.  He'd be back at nine the next morning, and we'd see how much mass I could teleport along with myself.  Until I knew my transport capacity, it would be a really bad idea to try taking anyone else along on a teleport.


            Once he cut me loose, I went straight to the house.  I started to dig my keys out of my pocket, but said, "Screw it!" and teleported to the spot I could see through the glass door.  Right then and there, I decided that I was not going to hit my antlers on anymore doorframes.  I wouldn't even open a door except out of courtesy or to see if it was clear on the other side.


            After that, the first thing I did was to thoroughly scan my bedroom and the common areas of the house, including the front step, with all my senses.  Then, I pulled out my mobile and speed-dialed Tabitha.  As soon as she answered and our phones shook hands, the screen of mine displayed her call code and avatar.  I saw she'd already updated her avatar, and I thought about what I might do with mine.


            I found out where she was, and 'ported to the point I'd just learned which was nearest to her location.  Then, I went in a leap-frog fashion toward her, picking and scanning each 'port point along the way.  It seemed terribly slow, but I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks.  It wasn't really all that long before I saw her ahead of me, with Bambi standing next to her.


            I scanned a patch of sidewalk, poofed in right behind her, and casually said,  "Hello."


            She whirled around and poked a finger in my chest.  "You're lucky you approached me from upwind, so I could smell you coming and figure out what I was hearing!"  She kept poking me, in sync with her words.  "It's a bad idea to try to sneak up on somebody who's as likely to kick you where it hurts as to jump across the street!"


            In an aside to Bambi, she said, "For future reference, he makes a 'poof' sound when he teleports," and got a nod in reply.  Turning back to me, she asked, "What do you have to say for yourself?"


            Backing up a few steps, I bowed low.  "I won't do it again, Mistress!"  Then I looked up and grinned.  "How abjectly do you want me to grovel?"


            Bambi commented, "He almost sounds like you have him half trained."


            "Yeah.  Almost."


            I stood up.  "My Lady, would you care to join me in an ice cream as a way for me to make amends?"


            "Eeww, kinky!"  quipped Bambi, "That sounds even messier than jell-o wrestling, and a lot more expensive!"


            Tabitha smiled at her and said, "You say 'kinky' like it's a bad thing," at which point Bambi made a display of fanning herself and holding a hand over her heart.


            Then Tabitha got serious and asked me, "Do you even know yet whether your new body can tolerate dairy products?  I don't know if mine can."


            "That's what I partly want to test.  I've eaten nothing but vegan since I morfed, as if I'm the absolute herbivore I look like.  I want to start experimenting.  Besides, would you consider life worth living without triple fudge sundaes?"


            "Just barely.  That is, if somebody were to provide other incentives to compensate."


            Bambi mumbled, "Do you two want me to leave you alone somewhere?"


            Tabitha replied, "Not at the moment, Bambi, and only if you're chicken.  So, My Lord, what did you have in mind?"


            "I thought I'd buy us each a single scoop to try.  You, too, Bambi, if you want."


            "Oh, you're twisting my arm!  You're forcing me to eat ice cream!"

            "I'm only buying single scoops, so if you want more you'll have to pay the difference yourself."


            "I can live with that."


            We were within a couple blocks of our favorite ice cream place, and I bought single scoops around.  When they were nothing but pleasant after-tastes, we decided that we could probably get away with including dairy products in our diets unless unpleasantries showed up later.


            "I'm glad," I said, "it'll make things a lot easier tomorrow night."


            Bambi said, "Oh, yeah, that medieval thing you guys do."


            Tabitha sighed.  "You know very well that it's called the Society for Creative Anachronism, or S.C.A.  Our canton is having its monthly populace meeting tomorrow at Mama Giovanna's Pizza in Woodburn."


            "And a canton is, again?"


            "It's a smallish local group, operating under the wing of a nearby barony.  That's a larger local group, with a ruling baron or baroness, if not both.  They're usually in major cities.  In this case, the barony is Terra Pomaria, mundanely known as Salem.  You're more than welcome to come along to the meeting.  I'm sure I can find some garb for you to borrow.  Jason, don't you think she'd look good in some of my garb?"


            "A curvy, blue-eyed blonde, look good in late-medieval German garb?  You bet she would.  Especially the Gates of Hell."


            That one earned me an elbow in the ribs.


            When she saw Bambi's puzzled expression, Tabitha explained.  "A sideless surcoat is an overdress with the sides cut out to show the  underdress.  Which is how I wear it!  Apparently, there were some naughty ladies way back when who didn't always wear the underdress, because we have records of sermons on the subject.  At least one preacher called it. . ."


            ". . .the Gates of Hell," finished Bambi.  She added her own punch to my shoulder.  "As if I'd wear any such thing in public!"


            "Ow!  In private?  Ow!  Okay, Tabitha, how about the tavern wench outfit, with the laced bodice?"


            "Actually, that could work.  It's comfortable in the summer heat with the right blouse, and I could loan her one of mine while I wear the other.  I was already planning to wear one, and had your mother put a tail hole in one of my skirts.  What do you say, Bambi?  Try on some outfits at my place tomorrow, and then you can decide if you want to go to the meeting."


            "Don't forget," I inserted, "my Lady mother is Gold Key."


            "Turn down a chance to play dress-up?  As if!  But do I have to put on a costume to attend?  And what's Gold Key?"


            Tabitha answered, "Gold Key is the title of her office.  It means she has custody of the canton's collection of loaner garb for guests and newbies.  We don't call it costume; we call it garb, as if it's ordinary clothing.  It's not required at meetings, but we do encourage it.  And at full-blown events like tourneys and feasts, we want to avoid –– what's that phrase?"


            "'Blatant modernities'," I supplied.


            Bambi said, "Of course I'll try on your stuff.  I might enjoy looking like I belong on a beer poster.  But no promises about anything else."


            "Fair enough.  If you do decide to go, I'm sure the Buchannons can give you a ride, along with me.  They stop at my place on the way north."


            "What?  Mr. Wonderful the teleporter won't take us there?"


            "I'm probably not strong enough for that," I said, "In tomorrow's lesson, I'll find out my transport capacity.  I doubt it's enough to transport four people along with myself.  Until I know my limit, it's a bad idea to even try to take just one person.  Starting tomorrow, I can probably 'port Tabitha around town.  But, today I'll just walk her home the old-fashioned way."


            Bambi huffed, "Just around town?  You're not going to poof her away to Paris?"


            "Going ten miles at a time, it'd take a while to get even as far as Paris, Idaho, let alone any other Paris!"


            "Ten miles?" she asked, "That's your limit?"


            "The examining telepath did say it's a pretty low-level power," Tabitha said.


            "No kidding!  Ten miles is almost not worth teleporting!"


            "This from the person who was helping Brother Wiley figure out how to make the most of his feeble levitation!" Tabitha reposted.  "Speaking of which, how did things go at the reservoir?"


            "It was an interesting day.  He worked at it for a while, and finally got to where he could run laps around the swimming area.  Then, he got ambitious and ran across the reservoir.  He made it okay, then headed back after waiting only a few minutes.  By then, he was too tired to make it all the way back, and sank into the water.  Guess who jumped in to pull him out?"


            Tabitha's expression was one of gleeful surprise.  "Not . . . ?"


            Bambi nodded, grinning.  "Yes, it was Barbara.  We were starting to get worried when his head kept going under water, but it wasn't as bad as it looked.  When she got to him, he was doing something he called 'drown-proofing'."


            "Of course," I said, "He's counter-buoyant.  If he relaxes in the water, he'll sink unless his lungs are just about fully inflated.  Treading water would just tire him out even faster.  With drown-proofing, he only puts his face out of the water to inhale, instead of wasting energy keeping his head up all the time.  The downside is that it leaves him more vulnerable to hypothermia."


            "That's what he said.  He wasn't as desperate as he seemed, but he didn't turn down the help getting to shore.  She's been sticking pretty close to him the last few days."


            Tabitha was looking annoyed.  "So, he was fully aware that he floats like a rock, but he ran across the reservoir without a life jacket, just to prove that he's a 'super genius' like his name-sake."


            Bambi shrugged.  "A classic case of testosterone poisoning.  You should have heard Barbara tearing into him about it."


            I said, "That takes care of Wednesday, but I can't imagine that being the end of the experiments.  There are sure to be more applications of that power."


            "Ohhh, yeah!  To start with, do you remember his first boosted jump from a diving board?"  When we nodded, she went on.  "If he times it just right, he can give literal meaning to the old phrase, 'able to leap tall buildings in a single bound'.  Well, maybe not 'tall buildings'.  Air resistance and high winds aloft would probably mess him up if he tried.  But, if he starts boosting just as he kicks off from the ground, he gets the full lifting force of his legs without gravity dragging him back down until he stops boosting at the halfway point.  Then, he starts falling back down, and uses his power to keep from going splat."


            "Sounds impressive," I said, and Tabitha agreed.


            "Yeah," Bambi continued, "he had no problem jumping over fences and hedges, or across a field.  He did a face plant the first time, though, because he forgot to allow for his horizontal velocity when he landed.  He got that under control with a few more attempts.  Then, he insisted on making a broad jump across the reservoir.  He made it alright, but Barbara was not happy about it.  At least he was smart enough to stay there and not turn right around to jump back.  Barbara would have ripped him a new one."


            "That sounds pretty neat," Tabitha said, "but what else?  You did say, 'to start with'."


            Bambi nodded.  "You remember that his thrust is in line with his body?  Well, he doesn't have to worry about staying up if something is supporting him.  Even his partial buoyancy is enough to let him use his levitation to swim rapidly.  Floating on his back, he can go fast enough to cut a wake.  He stopped that in a hurry, though, 'cause it's just asking for a cracked skull and a broken neck.  His best stroke is actually a dolphin kick, underwater with goggles and fins.  And you should see him move when he's lying on a surfboard!  It was as if he was falling across the surface of the water."


            I put in, "He must have had to ease off before he got going too fast, or he could have a spectacular high-speed wipe-out."  An image flashed through my mind, of how someone like Charles Schultz might have drawn such a wipe-out.  "Besides, the reservoir probably isn't big enough to let him get up to full speed or maneuver at speed."


            "Exactly.  There was one other thing he wanted to try, but it was absolutely vetoed by Barbara.  He was actually wise enough to bow to her wisdom, if not to choose the path of wisdom on his own."


            "Oh?  What stupid risk did he want to take?" Tabitha asked.


            "He wanted to go sky divng."


            "That's a stupid risk, alright."


            "No kidding!"  I put in.  "He could safely use his levitation to ease his actual landing, and as a back-up.  If he used it at any other time, he would probably foul his parachute and get wrapped up in it.  He could end up needing his levitation to survive the fall, without being able to tell up from down."


            Just then, Bambi's mobile phone rang, and she looked at the caller ID display.  "Speak of the devil.  Hello, Barbara.  What's up? . . . Okay, we'll be there in a few."


            Looking up to Tabitha, she said, "Brother Wiley just called Barbara and asked her to meet him at the reservoir.  He has a surprise for her.  She wants back-up.  Let's go."


            They started for Bambi's car, parked at a nearby curb.  I took one look at her tiny little subcompact, and balked.  "You expect me to fit into that pregnant roller skate?  I don't think so.  I'll meet you there."


            They both looked back and forth between me and the car, then up at my antlers, and laughed.  Tabitha said, "Right."


            After a quick kiss while Bambi was starting the car, Tabitha got in and fastened her belt.  As they left the curb, I did a remote scan of the teleport ring at the reservoir, then, with a >poof<, I was there.


            I strolled around a tree, following the walkway to the parking area.  Morning Glory, Jenny, and Barbara were already there, watching for incoming traffic.  I hollered a greeting, and Barbara looked around.


            "Oh, hi, Bucky.  I didn't hear your bike.  Where's Tabitha?"


            "You didn't hear it because I didn't ride it.  When I got word, I was close enough to get here on my own two hooves.  Tabitha's with Bambi, and they'll be here in a few minutes."


            They were, and they were just getting out of Bambi's car when Wiley and Tacitus pulled in with a canoe fastened on top of the Strathclydes' SUV.  That aroused our curiosity, which they increased with their smug silence.


            "It'll be obvious enough in a few more minutes," Brother Wiley said.  "And, hey, Bucky!"




            "Nice rack!"




            Tacitus was starting to unstrap the canoe.  I poofed in right behind him and asked, "Can I help?"  I realized my mistake in the fraction of a second that it took me to see him reflexively pointing a hand at me.  I suddenly remembered what his reaction to being startled could be, and tried to dodge away from his hand.


            I wasn't quite fast enough, and his defensive zap caught my right shoulder.  The nerves lit up as if I'd leaned against an electric livestock fence.  But unlike the fence, the zap's effects were very slow to fade away.  Either way, that arm was useless for a while.


            His defensive zap had an extremely short range, and couldn't be used very often, but it packed a wallop within its limits.  If he'd caught me square on the head or chest, I could have been knocked unconscious for a few minutes.  Even a limb shot caused painful spasms that could linger for half an hour or longer.  "Gyahh!  Damn, that hurts!"


            Tabitha wasn't displaying any sympathy.  She loudly asked the other gals, "Is it a guy thing to think up stupid ways to show off abilities?"


            Jenny just stood there, shaking her head dismissively.


            Barbara said, "Damn straight, girlfriend!  But sometimes they do eventually show signs of being able to learn better.  Just not very often."


            Glory chipped in with, "Pain can be quite instructive, you know.  If you think he's maybe learned his lesson, I can kiss it and make it better."


            I had no idea what she was talking about.  Tabitha didn't seem puzzled at all.  She grudgingly allowed as how the lesson might have found its way through my thick skull, and nodded that Glory should go ahead with whatever they were talking about.


            She walked over to me, gently took hold of my shoulder, and started massaging the spasming muscles.  Amazingly, the spasms eased.  Then, she rolled my T-shirt sleeve up and lightly kissed my shoulder in a few places.  A soothing numbness began to spread from those places.  A few more moments of massage had all of the spasms relaxed out of the muscles.


            "How does that feel?" she asked.


            I tried flexing and rotating my shoulder, and said, "It feels sorta strange.  Now it doesn't exactly hurt, but there is an odd discomfort.  I have a hunch that it'll be a little while before I can get these muscles to exert their full strength."


            Glory nodded.  "I had to balance pain relief against usability of the arm.  I could have made the entire arm go totally numb for the rest of the day, but that wouldn't do you any good.  I could also relax the muscles to the point of complete lassitude.  They'd be limp and unresponsive for hours, and I didn't think you wanted that, either."


            I agreed with her judgment, and thanked her for her help.


            By that time, Tacitus and Brother Wiley had finished unloading the canoe.  Then, Wiley reached into the back of the rig and came out with a patio lounger cushion and a strange little framework made of short two-by-fours, padded in parts.  They snugged the frame tightly into the bow, with the lounger cushion laid out in the bottom of the hull, abaft from it.


            Bambi released a little "oh!" of dawning comprehension, and a moment later my own little gray cells caught up.  I turned to Barbara and asked her if she knew how to paddle a canoe from the stern position.  She nodded, and I told her that she'd be using the paddle mostly as a tiller, and I saw the proverbial light go on over her head.


            With my good left arm, I helped maneuver the canoe into the water at the little dock, then Barbara and Brother Wiley put on  life jackets before he lay down in the bow with his head on a cushion and his shoulders against a pair of padded posts that were part of the frame (okay, I'll call it what it was: a yoke).  His legs were stretched out under the seat that he wasn't using.  A flotation cushion was placed in the stern for Barbara to kneel on.  As soon as she climbed in and settled into place, Tacitus handed them each a paddle.


            From where he lay in the bow, Brother Wiley saluted Barbara and said, "You have the helm."


            She chuckled and said, in her best dour captain's voice, "Ahead one quarter."


            As they pulled away from the dock, Glory asked Tacitus, "Why did you give Wiley a paddle?  He's propelling the canoe without one, and it would be awkward for him to use one from that position."


            Tacitus responded, "She may want his help on some steering maneuvers.  It's possible he won't need it at all.  But, it's better to have it and not need it . . ."


            "Than to need it and not have it," Glory finished the line.  "I understand."


            We found a bench to sit on while we watched the two of them learning to coordinate their efforts to maneuver the canoe.  For the first little while, Barbara seemed to be cautiously exploring the handling characteristics of her Wiley-powered canoe.  She tested how much steering control she had at different speeds, and how far it would glide when she called, "All stop!" from those different speeds.  While the canoe was stationary in the water, Brother Wiley sat up and they practiced using both paddles together to abruptly turn at right angles or one hundred eighty degrees about.


            After that preliminary stage, she started working on what I can only call aquabatic maneuvers.  Perhaps the flashiest was when she took them to one end of the reservoir, pointed the bow toward the opposite end, and ordered, "Full speed ahead!"  About halfway across, she called, "All stop, full about!"  Wiley cut the boost, sat up and helped turn the canoe, then lay back down for "Full speed!"  It was the nautical version of a bootlegger U-turn, a popular road maneuver in movies and TV shows.


            About that time, I was moved to comment, "He provides the driving force, and she provides the guidance.  Am I the only one to see a metaphor in that?"




            Eventually, she brought the canoe to a smooth stop at the dock, with the faintest of bumps.  By then, my shoulder was getting the tingly feeling you get as local anesthetic is wearing off.  I helped shlep the canoe back to Arthur's rig, then we said our goodbyes for the day.  Bambi offered Tabitha a ride, but Tabitha turned it down.  She preferred a stroll through the park with me.


            Weather permitting, she was in the habit of walking the path around the reservoir every afternoon.  We followed the portion of the path that passed through the park toward the main part of town.  The park was a scattered mixture of clearings, flower beds, and areas grown up with trees and bushes.  We were walking hand in hand, sometimes chatting, sometimes quiet, sometimes stopping to cuddle and smooch.  To put it simply, we were enjoying the early evening.  I told her how the first part of my day had gone, and she started to tell me about a bit of midday excitement she'd had.


            The story was cut short when I realized we were in trouble.


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