Valorie dragged her feet along most of the way home, not looking forward to what she had to do. This was the only way she could think of to contact other Wizards...
Telling her Dad that she was a Wizard... the nerves were killing her.
Valorie stopped walking and leaned against a tree. There'd be too many questions to answer if she told. She couldn't do it. It was too much; she couldn't do it.
Valorie knew she was going to be sick, so she held her hair out of the way before her head came rushing forwards. She was expecting an empty retch, but foul tasting stuff flooded into her mouth. She let it out and then spat furiously.
Valorie hated the taste of vomit. It was like gone-off orange juice.
More spitting. She wished she could take a swig of water or something to get rid of the taste. The only things she had with her were her keys and a few toffees in her pockets. She figured eating the toffees would make her feel worse, so she just kept spitting until it was gone.
Valorie straightened up. Suddenly not wanting to drag along anymore, she broke into a run. The houses whizzed past in a blur. Normally, she took some comfort in counting off all the houses she passed on the way home, but now she took no notice.
She slammed into her own front door. The key turned. She went inside.
'Dad? Are you there?'
'Yeah, I'm upstairs. Are you alright?'
Valorie was bent over double, trying to catch her breath.
'Yeah, I'm fine. I'll be up in a minute!'
She trotted into the kitchen, took a still soapy mug from the draining board near the sink, and filled it with water.
She drank. Her mouth still tasted sour, but not as much so.
Valorie took the mug with her as she climbed the stairs, wishing someone were there to help her. What if there was a Wizard out there who could hypnotise her dad? That way, she could get him to do the computer stuff easily, without any questions asked, and he’d never remember a thing. Maybe such Wizards don’t exist, she thought glumly. Maybe magic doesn’t solve all your problems after all.
She reached her father’s computer room. He was sitting at his desk, playing a game called ‘Buddy’, which involved dropping little explosives and things on a little person.
He swivelled around on the chair to meet her and smiled.
‘Hello, Val,’ he said cheerfully. ‘How was your day?’
‘Dad,’ Valorie said nervously. ‘Can we talk?’
The smile faltered. ‘Sure.’
Valorie took a stool under the window.
‘OK,’ she said. She breathed out. ‘OK, Dad… I think… well, I know… well, I’m a Wizard. Too, I mean. I mean, you’re one and so am I. Genetics.’
‘Oh,’ her dad said. He breathed out heavily too. ‘Wow, Val. That’s, er, that’s brilliant. I’m really pleased.’
‘Are you sure?’
Mr Morse thought about it, and then the smile returned, and this time it was genuine.
‘Of course I am, sweetheart. I’m really proud, and I’m really pleased you told me as well. Thank you.’
Valorie looked down at her knees for a bit, and said ‘It’s OK. Could you not tell Mum just yet, though? She might…’
‘Oh Val, your mum’s going to love you whether you’re a Wizard or not. And I think it’s really great that you’ve told me first. It’s not an easy thing to do.’
‘Dad,’ Valorie said again. ‘There’s something else.’
‘Sure, fire away. Anything else you want to get off your chest?’ he grinned. ‘You’re secretly married? You’ve torched a house down?’
He tickled her and she squealed.
‘Get off! No! It’s serious, actually.’
Valorie was beginning to feel more at ease. When she’d entered the room, her shoulders had been tensed, but now she let them drop.
‘Well what is it then?’
Valorie knew she’d have to mention it.
‘That thing on the news? You know, the, er, ‘all wizards must register’ thing?’
‘Well, I’m putting together a group on Thoughts.com, and it’s against the whole thing. I think it’s really wrong.’
‘So I need to make sure that… Mortals, non-Wizards… can’t get onto the group and send hate messages.’
There. She had done it. She had explained the whole predicament without mentioning Charley, Eddie or O’Hanlon.
‘You’re that girl I was emailing,’ Mr Morse said, realising. ‘I’ve been searching all over the internet for other people who were against that Government nonsense. Imagine finding your group!’
‘But Valorie, that’s really dangerous, you know that? I could have been anybody – a paedophile or a murderer. It’s not safe to arrange to meet up with people on the internet.’
Valorie was suddenly indignant. ‘But this is important!’ she said. ‘More important than you realise – and even if I was arranging to meet a stranger at their house, you were the one inviting a stranger in!’
Mr Morse frowned, leaning on the desk.
‘That’s a very good point.’
‘And besides, I wasn’t going to meet them there alone. I was going to take some adults with -’
‘Adults? What adults?’
‘Er… people I met around school.’
Her dad looked at her, about to tell her off.
‘Er, staff. Teachers, you know.’
He relaxed back. ‘Well, even so, it’s still a very silly thing to do.’
‘I’m sorry Dad. So will you do this for me? Please?’
There was a long pause.
‘Let me think about it.’
There was a longer pause. Valorie looked around the room. There was that old yellow-grey computer monitor from years ago; there was her father’s collection of guitar plectrums (though he didn’t own a single guitar); there were the earphones nobody had ever used…
Then her father spoke.
‘I’ll do what you need me to do,’ he said, and Valorie’s heart leapt, ‘but you have to solemnly swear that you never promise to meet people from the internet on your own. If you want to meet someone, you ask me about it, and we can meet them together. Are we agreed?’
‘Agreed.’ Valorie shook his hand and smiled.
‘OK.’ Mr Morse turned on the computer. It made the usual starting up noises, and asked for the password.
The computer was soon ready.
‘OK,’ Mr Morse said again. ‘Now I need to talk to it. Luckily I’ve had a special attachment made.’
He reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out a key. He used the key to open another drawer, which had been locked shut.
Valorie’s dad drew out a strange looking thing. One end appeared to be a standard USB port, then wire for a bit, and then a strange clip, and a band made of metal.
Her father clipped the contraption end onto his ear, and fastened the band around his head. Then he inserted the USB into the computer’s drive. Following that, he opened up a file on the desktop marked ‘Invoices.’ The file did not contain his invoices, but held a strange looking translator, built for transferring machine language into English and vice versa.
‘This helps me remember the conversation, but I can talk to computers without it,’ he explained to his daughter.
Valorie watched, fascinated.
Finally he slipped on a pair of headphones and slid the microphone towards his mouth.
‘Requesting permission to interface with Pandora,’ Mr Morse said.
‘It’s the computer’s nickname.’
‘So it’s female?’
‘Actually, they’re androgynous.’
A box flicked up on the screen, and the computer started to talk back.
‘Pandora, this is CarlM. Proceed to handshake?’
‘Handshake complete. What is your request?’
Then Mr Morse slipped into saying something else, something Valorie didn’t understand, but the computer took it all in. Reams of numbers and letters and other symbols flew down the box on the screen.
He finished in English. ‘Opening portalWU now.’
The computer stopped taking notes.
He opened up the Internet.
‘OK, now you just open up your account, and find your group page.’
‘It got deleted, Dad. I’ll have to recreate it.’
‘Well, do that now, then.’
Valorie did as he said.
‘Pandora, portalWU is now open.’
Then something inconceivable happened.
The box on the screen was suddenly alive with numbers, spilling down, down, down…
Mr Morse’s eyes were fixed on the screen. His face contorted with the effort of thinking what he wanted to do. Occasionally he muttered the odd code or person’s name, but too fast for Valorie to pick up on.
Her father’s concentration never wavered. It was as if he had become locked into the computer…
Two hours later, and he was still locked in. His eyes never moved from the screen, but behind the stare he looked wild and, at the same time, extremely drained.
‘Er, Dad?’ Valorie asked.
He didn’t answer.
‘Do you want a cup of tea, or…’
He didn’t turn round, so Valorie got one for him anyway.
By the time she returned, carrying the mug of tea and some ginger biscuits, he was asleep.
Onscreen, the box had gone, and a smaller message said ‘Operation successfully completed.’
Valorie smiled, and looked down at the snoozing lump that was her father. She left the tea and biscuits on his desk. Let him sleep. He deserved that much at least.
Valorie made her way quietly back downstairs, making a mental note to buy her Dad something really, really, really nice the next time she went out shopping. Like a flat-screen TV, perhaps.
Valorie phoned Eddie immediately with the good news.
‘Hi, Valorie,’ she said.
‘Good news, Ed. My dad managed to Mortal-proof the new Thoughts.com group!’
Squeals erupted from the other end of the phone.
‘That is brilliant, Valorie! Fantastic! I’m going to invite all my friends to join as soon as I can get to a computer.’
‘How many friends do you have?’
‘About twenty of them are Wizards.’
‘You have twenty friends?’ Valorie exclaimed, disbelieving. ‘I have one, just about!’
‘Well, they’re not all my closest friends,’ Eddie explained. ‘In fact, I haven’t talked to some of them in years. Most of them, if I’m honest. Feel better?’
‘Yeah, I suppose. Do you think I should go and see Charley now? School’s over and everything.’
‘Why not? I’m popping round to see him later.’
Eddie coughed on the other end. ‘Yeah, we still have some, er, practising to do.’
‘OK. I’ll speak to you soon.’
Valorie hung up, excused herself from the house, and walked to Charley’s house.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to be there.