Chapter 2

Official move-in day was Wednesday, and Kayla set an alarm to make sure she could be ready by eight in case her roommate got there at the beginning of the day. She was preoccupied by the new Operating System she'd set up on a partition of her hard drive to play around with three hours later when there was a knock on the door. She frowned and pushed a few keys so it could run a few more minutes without her babysitting, then skipped to the door and opened it.

"Kayla?" the girl asked, looking into the room over her shoulder.

"Yeah…?" she said, not sure how to react to a random girl showing up knowing her name.

"I'm Ashley, your roommate?" the girl said, holding her hand out.

Kayla took her hand, frowning slightly. "Why didn't you just come in if you live here?"

Ashley grinned. "I won't actually be living here – my parents just think that. Didn't want to get used to letting myself in when you won't be seeing much of me."

"Um," Kayla murmured, stepping aside so Ashley could come in. "Why?"

"Oh, no worries – I mostly moved in with my boyfriend last year, and I'm really moving in with him this year. But my parents would never approve, so I'm still technically in a dorm. So you, lucky girl, get to have a doub-single without having to pay for it. Now, I'm here to catch you up on what will happen if my parents ever come to visit – it has to look like I live here, after all."

And that's what they proceeded to do. The girl really had thought of everything, Kayla thought, and by the time Ashley had left again, it really did look like she lived there, and Kayla had a feeling she wasn't going to spend much time in her room since she'd never have any company.

She was going to hate her composition class, she decided the first day. Writing didn't generally bother her, but having a specific form for everything did. Hopefully math went better for her.

She was early to class and the first one there, so she figured she might as well make herself comfortable and pull everything out for class. She hadn't used her calculator in ages, so she poked the buttons to make sure it was working.

Hey, that tickles!

"What?" she asked, looking around.

I said that tickles. You know if you actually used me more often, you wouldn't need to do that.

Kayla looked down at her calculator. "Are you actually talking?" she asked.

Of course I am. Nice of you to finally notice. I've been trying to get through to you for years.

"But you're a calculator."

Yeah, and you're a human, but I can still understand you.

"But you're a calculator. And you're talking."

What, would you prefer I be silent?

"Yes! Yes, I would! That would be normal!"

She could have sworn she heard it sigh. What was going on? Calculators weren't supposed to talk. What if someone walked in and saw her conversing away with it?

Well, you're not normal, it said. You can talk to electronics.

"What do you mean, I can talk to electronics? That doesn't make any sense. People can't talk to their things. Well, with their things. Not with responses. I shouldn't be having a conversation with my calculator."

All right, let's start over. Hi Kayla, my name's Rex. How nice to finally be meeting you.

"My calculator's name is Rex?" she repeated, skeptical.

It sighed. Maybe you'd better have this conversation with your computer. Then you'll at least have internet.

She snorted a laugh. "I'm sure Google will be able to help so much with understanding the fact that my calculator is talking to me and thinking its name is Rex. Yeah, Google's sure to have an answer to that one."

Another voice chimed out, this time from an older woman. "Can I help you dear?"

Kayla spun in her seat to see the woman coming down the aisle toward the front of the room. She was dressed professionally in a business skirt and blouse, with her hair pulled up into a very neat bun.

Kayla blushed, embarrassed at having been overheard yelling at her calculator. "Sorry, I –"

The woman smiled, but it didn't look like she meant it. "It's all right, dear. We all have our moments. I'm Professor Silano. And you are …?"

Kayla hesitated, not sure that she wanted her calc teacher to know her name on the first day. Of course, she'd been asked – there wasn't really a way to easily avoid answering. The lights flickered momentarily, and they both looked up, distracted.

Professor Silano fixed her gaze on Kayla and sharpened it, her suspicion obvious. Suspicion of what, Kayla had no idea. "Your name," she snapped.

"K-Kayla," she stuttered. "Kayla Manor."

She smiled again and this time it creeped Kayla out enough that she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Then the door opened and a group of babbling girls came in, chattering almost loud enough to hurt her ears. The tension broke, and Kayla busied herself glaring at Rex until the end of class.

They went through the syllabus and went over review stuff from high school, then Professor Silano declared that class was over for the day. They were ending early, and Kayla was packing up her bag when she heard her name again. "Kayla Manor, come see me before you leave."

Kayla sighed and finished packing up, then, muscles tense with irritation and nerves, made her way to the front of the lecture hall while everyone else was going up and out the back. She set her bag down in the front of the room and walked up to the desk her professor was busy shuffling books around at. A few stragglers were asking her questions, but soon even they'd left, and Kayla was the only student remaining.

Professor Silano fixed a steely gaze on Kayla and studied her for a moment, her lips pursed as she thought whatever it was she was thinking. Kayla was sure the woman thought she was crazy – she had walked in on her shouting at her calculator. This was all just too weird.

"Is that the first …" the professor paused to search for the right word. "Is that the first unusual thing that's happened around you?"

Kayla frowned, not sure she understood what she was being asked. Sure, it was weird to talk to your calculator, but Professor Silano made it sound like she knew the calculator had been talking back, and that was just eerie. "I'm – I'm not sure I understand your question," Kayla said then, and she felt like it was a less honest answer than it really was.

Professor Silano sighed. "Kayla dear, I walked in here to find you arguing with your calculator. I heard a fair amount of this end of that conversation – I know it wasn't just you talking to yourself. The lights flickered when you were unsettled by me talking to you about it."

And just like that, as if the professor's words had caused it, the lights flickered again, and Kayla suppressed a shudder.

"I'm not doing that," Kayla said, rubbing her hands up and down her arms as if to warm herself.

The older woman smiled, and it actually looked like she meant for it to be a comforting gesture, but Kayla was too unnerved to feel relaxed by it. "I know you don't mean to," Professor Silano said, "But that is you, Kayla. I can feel it when it happens."

"Sure," Kayla said, skeptical. She really wanted to make a smart-ass comment, but this was her professor, and she would have to deal with the woman for the whole semester. Best not to get on her bad side now.

"Kayla," her professor insisted. "I know you don't believe this, but magic is real. You have a gift with electricity. I've seen this before."

Sure, Kayla thought, and wanted desperately to say something biting and sarcastic, but knew she shouldn't start the semester off by snapping at her teacher who was obviously as insane as Kayla.

Professor Silano sighed when she saw the disbelief on Kayla's face. "Listen, take the day. Think about what I said and what's happened." She pulled out a scrap of paper and started writing on it. "This is my personal phone number," she said, handing the scrap to Kayla. "Call me when you have questions."

Not if, Kayla thought. When. This woman really was serious about magic and the lights and everything. She took the slip of paper and shoved it in her pocket. "Right, well," she said, unsure of what she should do. "If that's all …?"

Professor Silano nodded. "That's all I have for you. But Kayla? Promise me you really will think about this. It's a serious issue."

"Sure," she said, picking up her bag. "I'll, uh, see you later then, I guess." Then she rushed through the classroom and out the door, anxious to get as far away from her crazy math teacher as possible.

Her next class went much better. It was her Technology in Business class, and, as Tucker had promised on Sunday, he was in the classroom with her. He was sitting in the back of the computer lab when she walked in, and she grinned at him as she sat at the station next to him. "Hey Tucker."

He'd been absorbed in whatever it was he was doing, and he looked up, startled, then grinned when he saw who it was. "Kayla! How you doing?"

She shrugged, remembering her math class, but said "Good," anyway. People never really wanted a real answer to that question anyway.

He nodded. "Welcome to Technology in Business, world of boredom."

She chuckled. "It can't be as bad as my composition class. Or my calc class."

He gave her one of those knowing looks, the kind where the other person thinks they know something you don't, and he shook his head. "I give up. You'll learn for yourself. You'd better not sit right next to me though," he said, eyeing the group of girls who came in together. "It might not look to good with you being friendly to the TA on the first day of class."

Her eyes widened, and she stood up with a start. "Right," she said, surprising even herself with her abruptness. "I hadn't thought of that. I should –," she looked over her shoulder toward the front of the room, "go sit up there somewhere I guess." She turned to leave.

"Kayla?" he asked, and she turned back to look at him.

"Yeah?"

"You doing anything after this class? Maybe we could grab a bite to eat or something?"

She grinned. "I'd like that. This is my last class of the day, so I'm as free as can be."

Then she really did walk toward the front of the room, and she sat down at a random computer to login for class. She was worried for a while that the computer was going to start talking to her the way her calculator had, but nothing strange happened at all, and she decided to write off the calculator incident as her going crazy for a few moments. She was just starting college, after all. There were a lot of things in her life changing, and that took an adjustment period. She'd stop thinking her calculator was talking to her soon enough and things would go back to normal.

Lunch went well, and, per Tucker's suggestion, Kayla had taken an hour to go to the computer shop in town and apply for a job fixing computers. Tucker seemed sure that they'd hire her, and he assured her it was a decent job for a college student. He didn't work there, but one of his friends had for a while before he graduated, and it was an easier job than IT consulting on campus where hours were really strict.

Now she was sitting in her room poking around on the internet while she idled away the time. There was nothing much to do, and she didn't particularly care for being bored.

You could call Professor Silano. There are some things she needs to talk to you about.

Kayla jumped and looked around, wondering what was talking now. She'd finally convinced herself that this morning had never really happened, and now she was hearing voices again. "What in the world is going on with me?" she asked no one in particular.

You're coming into your power, the voice said again, and this time she knew where it was coming from.

"Great. Now my computer is talking to me too. First the calculator – now this."

Kayla, try to be calm about this. I know it's not normal to be able to talk to your electronics, but I assure you you're not crazy. The internet browser on her computer opened, and the page showed a website about magic. This is an encrypted page from the local Council of Magic. There's a whole society of magic-users, Kayla. You'll fit right in.

She stared at her computer, shocked at the image on the screen. It had just opened a page completely on its own, without any help from her. She hadn't done a thing, and yet there was a browser window open that hadn't been there before. She'd watched it open itself. That just couldn't happen.

She looked at the web page more closely, and debated about closing it without a thought when she realized that her computer had been right – this screen was from an encrypted page. She was showing up as having logged in to a secure site, and when she followed the directory to the home page of the site in a different tab, she discovered the welcome screen of the mom and pop bookstore in town. "What is this?" she asked, and, in spite of everything, she was still surprised to get a response.

Magic, Kayla. You can do magic. You have a talent with electricity – it's why you're so good with me and Hanni.

"Hanni?"

Your cell phone. Will you tell her I say hi? It's been a while since we've gotten to talk. You really should synch her with me more often.

"How did you get into a protected site?" she asked, choosing to ignore what might otherwise be an awkward conversation. She did not want to think about her electronic devices having crushes on each other. That was just too weird.

I'm a computer, Kayla. I'm good with encryption.

There was a knock on the door, and Kayla yelped, startled. The lights flickered and went out, and her laptop glowed dimly in front of her.

You'd best get better about that, Kayla, it said. Putting out the lights in the building every time you get startled isn't a very healthy habit.

"Neither is talking to my computer," she muttered, standing up to answer the door.

It was Tucker, and he looked nervous. "Hey Tucker," she said.

He nodded. "Hey. Didn't expect the lights to go out. I was going to ask if you wanted to watch a movie or something, but I guess with no power, that won't work too well."

She smiled uncomfortably, not sure she wanted to sit with someone else while she was surrounded by electronics anyway. It sounded like the kind of thing she might want to avoid for a little while if they were going to start talking to her all the time. "Yeah, maybe some other time?" she said, fidgeting with the doorknob. "I was in the middle of something anyway."

"Sure," he said. "You know where to find me if you need anything.

"Thanks," she said.

"Anytime."

And then he started walking back down the hall toward his own room. She sighed and shut the door, then leaned against it while she stared at her computer.

"All right, fine," she said, shaking her head. "Apparently I have this thing with electricity that's just now acting up. This has to stop happening. I can't have the lights go out every time someone knocks on the door."

You need someone to teach you control, her computer said. She wondered briefly what its name was, then decided it wasn't important right now. She was barely comprehending the idea that it was talking to her. She didn't think she was quite ready to use strange names for her electronics.

"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" she asked, sitting back in front of the screen.

Rex told me about Professor Silano, it said. You should call her.

That was a fair idea, she thought. If nothing else, it was a starting point, and that was better than what she had by herself. She nodded. "Maybe I should do that. But first … Do you know how to fix the lights?"

She was asking her computer to fix the lights. She really was going crazy.

You're the one who turned them off, it said. Try to turn them back on.

She thought about it, really thought about turning the lights back on, but nothing happened. She even got up and flicked the switch off and back on, wondering if the physical motion would help, but it didn't. Her room stayed dark.

So she gave up on trying to get the lights to work and called the number Professor Silano had given her.