[Fic] The Perception (Sequel to "The Parallel")

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Qoheleth
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[Fic] The Perception (Sequel to "The Parallel")

Post by Qoheleth » Tue Dec 15, 2015 1:46 pm

Author's note: This story, as noted above, is set in the same world as my story "The Parallel", and its plot is consequent upon the events of that story. This doesn't mean, of course, that I expect everyone who reads this story to have read that one, or that I don't seek to make what follows perfectly comprehensible to those who haven't. Still, I would like to remind everyone that the original story is out there, and that acquainting or re-acquainting oneself with it would doubtless make the reading of this one a richer and more rewarding experience. (Hint, hint.)

Disclaimer: What I said last time pretty much stands, I think.
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Chapter 1 - Idiom

My name is Anifal-Mekelial-Worrann.

My fellow members of the Morph Force believe that we ought to begin all our testimonies with such statements. It is comforting, they say, to know the name of the person whose experiences you are about to share. And it is, apparently, a literary tradition on Earth; both Prince Josh and Richard have alluded, in this connection, to a certain hunter of marine beasts who began his memoirs by inviting his readers to call him Ishmael.

So, then, my name is Anifal-Mekelial-Worrann. But what does this mean? First and foremost, it means that I am not human. I am an Andalite, bearing an Andalite name – a name given to me as I stood, shaky on my four legs, beneath the crimson sky of a world many hundreds of light-years from Earth.

But, though I am not a native of Earth, yet I am living on Earth as I write this, nor do I expect soon to return to my native world. Indeed, I question whether I would return even if I could; Earth is my battlefield, now, and so it shall remain until the Yeerks who threaten it are defeated. For how could I, having defended the humans so long from the malevolent slugs who seek to steal and control their very bodies, lower my tail and fly for home while the conflict yet raged? No, I shall continue to fight here, alongside the four young humans – Prince Josh, his sister Elly, Abby whom he has long courted, and their poorer neighbor Richard – to whom my late commander, War-Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul, gave the morphing power just before his death.

Of course, because my friends are humans rather than Andalites, we do not fight in the ordinary fashion, with tail-blades and beam weapons. My friends do not have tails, let alone tail-blades, and they and their loved ones would be in great peril if they appeared in the Yeerk pool with shredders blazing. Ours is of necessity a more subtle warfare, and relies above all on the marvelous power of morphing – the ability to become any creature we have touched, and to remain in that form for as much as two hours. It is not lawful for any non-Andalite to have this power, but Prince Josh and the others have used it so well, and to such effect, that I can only admire Prince Elfangor's wisdom in choosing to die a criminal.

It remains true, however, that Earth is an alien world, and that, though my human friends and I can see the same truths, and cherish and defend the same ideals, there are some moods of theirs that I suppose I shall never be able to enter into. A case in point is their humor – and, in particular, that form of it practiced by the human artisan known as "Monty Python".

<All right,> I said to Prince Josh and Abby and Elly, as I stood, in spider morph, on the arm of a chair in the den of Abby's dwelling. (I should have preferred to be in my natural form, but it would have created difficulties if Abby's grandmother should glance into the room and see an Andalite watching her primitive televisual device.) <I have come to understand, I think, what the general purpose is for which humans create humor. Every sentient being desires things to be rational and harmonious, yet life presents us all with much that seems absurd or discordant. Each race, then, must find some way of rendering this tolerable, and your way – which is, I readily admit, far from the worst – is to artfully exaggerate the absurdities of life and the logical lapses of your fellows until their very incongruity becomes pleasurable. All that is clear enough. But how is this purpose served by portraying a group of giant warriors who desire shrubberies and torment others by saying Nee?>

I do not know why this question should have caused Elly to dissolve into giggles. Perhaps the film had put her in a generally humorous mood, so that even the most sensible comments seemed incongruous. Or perhaps sense itself seems incongruous after so much absurdity.

Prince Josh, meanwhile, put a hand to his chin and stroked it thoughtfully. "Let's see," he said. "Wit and its relation to the unconscious, as illustrated by the Knights Who Say Nee. I don't suppose you'd buy the notion that they're a devastating satire on modern consumerism?"

Abby turned to him, and wrinkled the flesh on her forehead. "They are?"

"I'm sure there's an English professor somewhere who's said so," Prince Josh replied. "But that's not the question. The question is, will Anifal buy it?"

<If you mean, do I find the suggestion compelling,> I said, <I must answer in the negative. The Nee-saying warriors do not express recognizable consumerist principles in an inappropriate fashion; they merely demand that King Arthur bring them a shrubbery, without having even a funny reason for doing so.>

"Yes, but Anifal," said Abby, exhaling heavily as she spoke, "that's what is funny about them. Like you said, absurdity. When people do things without having a reason, it's absurd, and the absurdity makes it funny. Isn't that obvious?"

<On a four-moon night, a bloody hoofprint gleamed,> I said.

"What?" Abby demanded.

<Why are you not laughing?> I said. <I have just quoted the first line of the Lay of Menelmacar when I had no reason to do so. If what you have said is true, that should make me at least as funny as the Warriors Who Say Nee.>

From Elly's point of view, it seemed that it had; her convulsions of giggling, which had begun to subside, renewed themselves at this point, and I began to be concerned for the integrity of her breathing mechanism. Abby, however, was evidently less amused; she turned to Prince Josh with an exaggeratedly plaintive expression, and inquired whether he "really thought it was fair of him to make her put up with this".

"Fair of me?" Prince Josh repeated. "What am I doing to you?"

"Oh, come on, Josh," said Abby. "You think Anifal would be here if you hadn't told him that he needed to learn about this 'cornerstone of human culture'? Any of the rest of us he would have ignored, but you're his prince, don't you know. And so now I'm going to have to spend the rest of my life listening to him talk about how irrational it is for witches to be made of wood."

<No, you won't,> I said. <I understood that scene. There are plenty of Andalites who fancy themselves very logical though they are really nothing of the sort, and Bedivere is a quite appropriate and skillful exaggeration of these – an admirable conception, in fact. But cleverness in one aspect of an artifice hardly compensates for incoherency in another.>

"Oh!" said Abby, her mouth-sounds becoming curiously full and orotund. "Oh, incoherency! I say, we are grand, aren't we? Pardon me, Prince Joshua, I'm off to play the grand piano!"

<Do you play the piano, Abby?> I said, surprised. <I knew you sang, but I had not realized…>

"Oh, for the love of…"

"Abby, let me try," Elly interposed, her voice faint from the effort of laughter, but still quite steady. "Anifal, suppose you think of it not as humor itself, but as part of that place in the human mind that humor comes from. I mean, you said every race has its own way of dealing with absurdity, right?"

<Naturally,> I said.

"And each race picks its way based on something basic in the way it thinks, doesn't it?"

<I suppose so, yes.>

"So if we choose to exaggerate the silliness in things, it's because we naturally like silliness," Elly said. "And if we like it, of course we'll put it in our movies – and especially our humorous movies – even if there's nothing especially clever about it. There doesn't need to be; the silliness by itself will make us happy enough."

I considered this. <Then it is like the rule about putting a female character in every story?> I said. <One does it, not because artistry requires it, but because male humans will enjoy looking at the female?>

The pinkness of Elly's cheeks deepened slightly, as she tells me is wont to happen, now and then, to female humans of her temperament. "Well… yeah," she said. "Yeah, I guess it's a little like that."

<I see,> I said. <In that case, I suppose I can scarcely criticize it. Diversity is the glory of the galaxy, and uniquely human delights are not less worthy because my people cannot share them. I only hope that I have not spoiled your enjoyment of the scene by pointing out its objective logical inadequacy.>

"Unbelievable," Abby muttered.

Prince Josh reached out and stroked her long, red-brown hair. "Oh, give Anifal a break, Abby," he said. "He's doing the best he can, I'm sure. And I might remind you that you're the one who raised the subject of this movie during our last mission in the first place."

"Well, duh," said Abby. "We were in swallow morph, and you were asking about our air-speed velocity. What did you expect me to do? It didn't mean I was expecting five hours of Andalite philosophy."

"Ha-ha!" came an unexpected voice from behind us. The four of us all rotated our bodies sharply (since none of us, at that moment, had stalk eyes), and saw what appeared to be a male Andalite – though of no regional sub-lineage that I could plausibly recognize – with a white sheet draped around his upper body, and a woven ring of leaves encircling the eyestalks atop his head.

"Nobody expects Andalite philosophy!" said this apparition – speaking, strangely enough, not in thought-speak, but in the audible speech of the humans. "Our chief weapon is surprise – and morphing; morphing and surprise. Our two weapons are morphing and surprise – and dialectical materialism. Three!"

"Chester!" Prince Josh hissed through his teeth. "For Pete's sake, have you forgotten there's a war on? You can't go around playing monkey tricks like this!"

The bizarre figure obligingly flickered and vanished, to be replaced by a human youth of nondescript appearance, grinning broadly. I then realized that the image had been a hologram, and that the being behind it was the ancient android who had long been one of our most valued allies.

"Sorry," he said. "Couldn't resist."

Abby cocked her head. "Tell me something, Chester," she said. "What would that first-do-no-harm Chee programming of yours have done if one of us had had a heart attack just now? Or haven't you heard what shock can do to people with high-stress lives like ours?"

Chester shrugged. "If you've lasted this long against the Yeerks, I figure you must be pretty sturdy specimens," he said. "And I don't think Josh needs to get his pants in a wad, either. You can say what you like about Controllers lurking under every rock, but I can't imagine that one's lurking in your grandmother; the Empire picks all its hosts at least partially for physical vigor, and the fine old lady I just snuck past doesn't have enough of that left to interest the meanest izcot."

Prince Josh made a non-committal sound, evidently unconvinced. I thought that wise of him; it has often seemed to me that Chester – who was, of course, originally made as a plaything by the utterly non-violent race of the Pemalites – does not regard our war or the Yeerk peril with all the gravity that it merits.

"Not that it wasn't a pretty dumb sketch, really," Chester continued thoughtfully. "I was in Rome when the Spanish Inquisition was going on, and the one thing no-one ever called it was fanatically loyal to the Pope. Despicably subservient to the secular power, more like."

"I dare say," said Prince Josh. "Now, what was it you…"

"Also, whelks aren't lamellibranchs," Chester added.

"Really? That's a…"

"And Aldebaran is in Taurus, not Sagittarius."

"Chester," said Prince Josh sternly. "Call me an alarmist, but, when you sneak into Abby's house under holographic camouflage instead of waiting to meet us on the way home, the little man in my stomach tells me that you didn't just come to itemize the factual errors of Monty Python. Why don't you just tell us what hideous peril is facing our planet, and get it over with?"

Chester sighed. "If only it were that simple," he said.

Prince Josh frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, just hang on a second," said Chester. "I want you to all be here for this. I brought Richard along, but we split up at the door to try and find you guys faster; hopefully, he'll hear my signal soon and…"

<I'm right here,> said Richard's thought-speak voice, and a tiny insect, of the sort the humans call no-see-ums, flew into the visual range of my spider's eyes and alighted on the chair's arm in front of me.

Chester nodded. "Okay, good," he said. "You and Anifal get yourselves demorphed, then; I'll throw an extended hologram around the room, and then we can go into…" Here he momentarily flickered into another human form, which distinctly resembled that of the movie's Sir Galahad, and finished, "…the whole vexed question of What Is Going On."

Qoheleth
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Re: [Fic] The Perception (Sequel to "The Parallel")

Post by Qoheleth » Sun Jul 10, 2016 9:21 am

Chapter 2 - Anomaly

"So I got this message over the Chee-net a couple hours ago," said Chester, who now appeared to us as a gleaming, metallic effigy of his Pemalite fabricators – short-legged, square-muzzled, and lop-eared. (The Pemalites, it seems, were the ancestors of Earth's dogs.) "Nothing wholesome or uplifting, of course. You know, Elly, I'm starting to regret having rescued you that night at the ice-cream social; ever since word got out that I'd made friends with the Andalite bandits, it's like I've become the Chee-net clearinghouse for News of the Ominous and Inexplicable."

Elly rotated her shoulders in a human shrug. "Take it up with God," she said. "It sure wasn't my idea to have you and Andrea come walking past while I was crouching half-demorphed in the bushes."

"No, I suppose not," said Chester. "Still, you could have planned your espionage a little better."

Prince Josh cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he said, "but could we cut the Monday-morning quarterbacking of missions from nine months ago, and focus on this current crisis that the five of us still know nothing about?"

Chester turned to him, and cocked his head. "Well, someone's in a grouch today," he said. "All right, fine. The message was from a Chee on the other side of the country, real name Chee-sendo, currently goes by Erek King. Like myself, he's a member of the Sharing, but he doesn't seem to have heard this bit of gossip through their grapevine; rather, he got it directly from the boyfriend of the girl in question. Which is probably just as well, since it means that the Yeerks themselves may not have heard about it yet."

"Heard about what?" Prince Josh snapped.

"Heard," said Chester coolly, "that there's a young lady on the other side of the country who's been dreaming lately of turning into animals and fighting brain-stealing aliens called Yeerks."
-------------------------------------
A cold thrill ran down my tail, and I instinctively cocked it into fighting position. Irrational, of course, since there was no actual enemy present, but one must have some physical reaction to peril – and here, it was plain, was a peril of the first magnitude. My human friends have put great effort into convincing the Yeerks that they are all stranded Andalites like myself, and the Yeerks, for the most part, do indeed think so – but there is always a minority willing to challenge conventional wisdom, and we know that it has been suggested in Visser Seven's presence that he is actually fighting humans who can morph. Should he come to believe this, or even to regard it as a possibility worth investigating, the consequences could scarcely fail to be horrific – and so, upon hearing of this human female who dreamed of being one of us, I cocked my tail to face peril.

At the same time, I swept my stalk eyes over the faces of the others, to gauge their own reactions to this news. Richard's was similar to my own: his hands were clenched into fists, and his slender frame seemed on the verge of bursting into his Cape buffalo battle morph. Abby, meanwhile, gripped the arms of her chair with such force that her knuckles turned white, and her eyes turned anxiously toward the door of the den – a quite natural reaction for Abby, whose first concern throughout this war has always been for her aged grandmother's well-being.

It was Elly's reaction that puzzled me. She was staring fixedly at Chester, not moving the slightest muscle; her mouth was pressed shut, her eyes wide behind their therapeutic lenses, and her already light-colored skin yet paler from sudden loss of blood. To many, this might have seemed a standard human posture of fear, but I had been observing Elly too long to think so: when Elly was frightened, she curled up her limbs into a sort of defensive huddle, and her eyes became narrow and wary. Her attitude now suggested rather a feeling of barely credulous devastation, such as a child feels when something long promised him is suddenly denied, or a noble warrior upon realizing that he has been guilty of great dishonor. Yet I could not see any reason for her to respond thus to Chester's news.

As for Prince Josh, he responded as anyone might have foreseen. All the impatience left his face; he raised his brows, brought his fingers together, and leaned back in his chair with an air of grave concentration. "Indeed," he said. "Not Isaac, is it?"

Chester shook his head. "No, this one's legitimately a girl," he said. "A local veterinarian's daughter, by name Cassie Freeman. Age fourteen and some months, race whatever you're calling Negroes these days, height about five feet and a half, weight a gentleman never tells."

"You're an android," Abby pointed out.

"And a samurai by adoption," Chester replied. "Anyway, this girl. It seems that, a couple weeks ago, she stopped at her boyfriend Jake's house, ostensibly to return a video, but really for the reason girls do stop at their boyfriends' houses." (Here he glanced meaningfully at Abby, who nodded.) "Only, as it happened, Jake was out of the house for some reason, and it was his older brother Tom who answered the door. He invited Cassie in, offered her a beverage, tried to make small talk, and generally exerted himself to show her fair welcome – with the rather curious result that, when Jake at length returned and Tom left the two of them alone, Cassie fell into Jake's arms, trembling like a leaf, and pleaded with him never to leave her alone at his house again."

"Why not?" said Prince Josh.

"Just what Jake wanted to know," said Chester. "He asked her a few discreet questions, and it developed that Cassie suspected Tom of not really being Tom, but a ruthless alien parasite who sought the enslavement of the human race. Her basis was that, for the past three weeks or so, she had been growing progressively more and more aware of another life she could have lived – a life that would have begun, she thought, about a year before, when the two of them and three others were passing through a certain construction site late at night, and a blue, centaur-like alien came down from the sky, told them of the Yeerk invasion, and had them touch their hands to a blue box that gave them the power to turn into any animal they touched." Chester paused, and then added, "The alien's name, by the way, was Elfangor."

Silence. Not one of the five of us spoke or moved – except that Elly seemed, very faintly, to be either trembling or nodding to herself. Chester looked at each of us in turn, and then continued. "Jake's first thought, naturally enough, was of psychotic delusion. He didn't like to say so, of course, but Cassie seemed to know that he was thinking it – partially, apparently, because she had thought it herself. She said it seemed very likely to her that she was going mad, and the only reason she hadn't seen someone about it was that, if she wasn't – if the information she was getting actually was as real as it seemed – then whoever she saw might be a Controller himself, and there were worse things than being crazy."

<Indeed there are,> I muttered, not trusting myself to say more.

Chester nodded. "Cassie's calm frankness impressed Jake," he said, "and he decided to see if he couldn't overcome her reluctance and persuade her to commit herself voluntarily. To that end, he asked her a few more questions about how the shape-shifting power worked, whether there were any other Andalites on Earth, who the major Controllers were, and so on. This, by the way, produced several very interesting tidbits, which I won't go into just now, or we'll be here all afternoon. Suffice it to say that Miss Freeman seems to have a knack both for knowing about people and things that she couldn't ever have heard of, and for getting the details about them more bizarrely wrong than one would think possible."

"Details?" said Richard, with a queer sort of nervous smirk. "You mean, she says Visser Seven infests a sheep instead of a sheepdog?"

"Had she gotten to Visser Seven, she well might have," said Chester coolly. "Certainly, she had some interestingly wrong ideas about Visser One's choice of hosts. But, as I say, there will be time for that later. The point now is that Cassie spent about half an hour lying on the Berenson couch with Jake's arm around her, telling him all the things she knew without knowing how, or even if, she knew them."

I felt my hooves tingle with apprehension. If the point was the fact that a human had said things, rather than any of the things she had said, then something momentous must have happened while she was speaking. It seemed that Prince Josh recognized this as well, for he cocked his head and said, "And then?"

"And then," said Chester, "as Cassie was describing their first meeting with a Hork-Bajir named Toby, and Jake was beginning to wonder how complex this delusion of hers could be, he suddenly felt, in an odd, far-off way, a strange numbing sensation – as though, he said, his body was being pumped full of Novocain – which was followed, almost immediately, by the sensation of shrinking and growing feathers."

"What?" Abby demanded.

Chester raised his metal paws. "Hey, don't blame me," he said. "I'm just the messenger."

<But your message is irrational, Chester,> I said. <If the human Jake had, as you imply, no acquaintance with the things Cassie was describing, then there is no way that he could have acquired the power to morph. Yet you ask us to believe that he suddenly and involuntarily began to morph to a bird form there on the sofa. You cannot…>

"When did I say that he morphed?" said Chester.

I blinked. <Well… you just said that he began to shrink and grow feathers…>

"I said that he felt himself shrinking and growing feathers," said Chester. "He wasn't really doing it, and he knew that he wasn't, but he felt the sensations that a person would who was doing it. Or he did, until he let go of Cassie and jumped up from the couch in terror; then the whole experienced faded instantly, as though he'd flipped a switch."

<Oh,> I said slowly. <Then… it was his contact with Cassie that made him feel this?>

"So it would seem," said Chester. "Anyway, when he sat back down and touched her again, the sensation returned to him – not of morphing to seagull, that time, but simply of being a seagull, and yet also being a human at the same time."

"Did he say anything to Cassie about it?" said Prince Josh.

"He tried not to," said Chester, with a grin, "but Cassie is apparently one of those people it's very hard to hide things from – and Jake, I gather, is generally putty in her hands in any case. So it wasn't long before she found out – whereupon, it seems, she pulled away from Jake and leaped up from the couch herself, trembling. Jake reached out a hand to reassure her, but she jerked her own hand away and told him not to touch her; she could bear, she said, to go mad herself, but not to infect him with her delusion. With which words – and apparently a few others, which Jake declined to relate – she fled from both the room and the house, and since that time has neither seen nor spoken to Jake, or possibly anyone else. She won't answer phone calls, and, the one time he visited her house, he…" He stopped, and glanced quizzically at me. "Something wrong, Anifal?"

With an effort, I quieted my breathing, which had become stertorous, and composed my face so as to be once again unreadable by alien eyes; it was not my wish that the others should know why such a story should affect me strongly. <If what you say is true, Chester,> I said, <obviously there is something wrong – something deeply abnormal – occurring on the other side of the country. The question is, what is it?>

"Oh." It seemed to me that Chester wasn't fully convinced by my evasion, but, being an android, he did not pursue the matter. "Well, yes, I'll admit that's the $64,000 question. I've been kicking around a good long while, and I've never heard of anything remotely like this; I can't even think of anything that could theoretically cause it, except…" He trailed off.

"Yes?" said Prince Josh.

"Well, this is ridiculous," said Chester, "but, since it's just us… I mean, I'm guessing everyone remembers our little escapade last month, when the six of us got shifted into another universe in which you four (he gestured to the humans) had never met Elfangor on Timber Lane?"

"Yes," said Elly, an instant before the others nodded.

"Well, when we came back," said Chester, "of course we brought a little bit of that other universe back with us: the air in the hold, the food and water you five had consumed, the morphs you'd acquired, that sort of thing. That wouldn't be enough to significantly alter the internal dynamics of this universe, but it would introduce a rival vibratory structure into the harmonics of our space-time – like one fiddler playing the Cotton-Eyed Joe, in the midst of a million all playing 'The Irish Washerwoman'."

"Hear, hear," said Abby with a little smile. (The Cotton-Eyed Joe is a popular dance in my friends' region of Earth, of which Abby is especially fond.)

"Now, when Vat Diglee outlined his theory of the Echo Chamber," Chester continued, referring to the great Pemalite scientist who had first proposed the existence of many similar universes, "there were certain recurring terms in his equations for the resonance distribution of matter that he could never interpret to his satisfaction – and one of his students, Sen Mattu, subsequently proposed that these might have to do with the degree to which different matter-structures were… um… embedded, I guess you'd have to say, into the broader fabric of the Z-spatial medium. The idea was that, when a universe divides as the result of a momentous choice, everything in that universe leaves a certain residue of itself in Z-space, and some residues are, so to speak, firmer than others – never mind why," he added, and Richard shut his mouth with a snap. "There is a reason, but it's not important now. The point is that, the firmer a thing's Z-space residue was, the more sensitive it would be to vibratory variations in the matter around it, because it would have a general attunement to the whole Echo Chamber through this remote linkage with its medium."

<A sort of sub-temporal grounding, in fact,> I commented.

"You could call it that, sure," Chester agreed. "Of course, it was purely theoretical at the time, since nobody that Sen Mattu knew of had ever brought a bit of one universe into another and watched the two vibratory patterns interact. But now, at this moment, there are somewhere between two and three thousand moles of extra-spatial matter locally concentrated on this planet; if Sen Mattu's right, there should be maybe half a dozen entities on Earth that are sub-temporally grounded enough to have their resonances perceptibly affected by that. And if one of them, by some absurd coincidence, should happen to be a human being whose analogue in that other world is the equivalent of one of you five… you see what would happen?"

I rather doubt that any of the humans would have, had Chester given his speech in some other connection. Pemalite physics is far more sophisticated than anything humans have approached; even I, despite my lifelong training in the Andalite scientific tradition, could only just follow the line of thought. But what my friends lack in learning, they make up for in native shrewdness, and it surprised me not at all to hear Richard say, mildly, "Given what made you tell us all this, I'm guessing it'd be something like what's happening with this Cassie girl."

"Bingo," said Chester. "The element of consciousness, combined with the disparity between what she is there and what she is here, would aggravate the resonance conflict until it was impossible to overlook. Every time her analogue morphed in that other world, she would be aware of it; every time she thought about that awareness, her mind would seek out and amplify the resonance variation, thereby making her more aware of her other self – which, in turn, would cause her to think more about it, and so on in a vicious cycle. After three weeks, the wall between her two selves would be essentially translucent, making her continually aware of the actions of her other self down to the smallest details; indeed, the boundary might even become so frail that she herself would begin to affect the resonances of others, so that someone she was touching would perceive it if his other self suddenly had a significant state change."

"Such as morphing to seagull," said Prince Josh.

"Such, as you very truly say, as morphing to seagull."
-------------------------------------------
There was a moment's pause while we five assimilated this idea. (Or, at least, four of us did; Elly's expression, with her eyes shut and her face screwed up as if in pain, suggested that her thoughts were, for whatever reason, quite remote from sub-temporal physics.) Then Abby cleared her throat. "Well, Chester," she said, "I'm sure we're all very glad that you saw fit to tell us about this, and I daresay that your solution to the Great Cassie Mystery is a very clever one. But it seems to me that there's another mystery about what you've said just now – a dark, dreadful, utterly inexplicable mystery, which no amount of cleverness can possibly solve."

"What's that?" said Chester, sounding nervous.

"How the ever-loving marzipan," said Abby, "does someone who can't fight get adopted as a samurai?"

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