As the group approached the mage's mansion, they could hear voices chanting and shouting. They rounded the corner and saw a huge number of protesters outside, waving signs. The protesters seemed to be split into two groups – those with signs that said "Fix our Towns!" and those with signs that read "Magic is the Devil's Work!"
Sherri could understand the protesters who wanted the mage to rebuild their destroyed homes. She'd seen what powerful mages could do when it came to building and rebuilding, but she knew it took huge amounts of resources. It wasn't as simple as just waving their arms and whole towns are repaired.
What scared her were the religious zealots. During the last five years, there had been numerous news reports of mobs breaking into people's homes, dragging them outside, and beating them to death simply on the suspicion of being able to use magic. "Witch hunts" had become common in some communities in the southern states, and sometimes, police just let them happen. She remembered that she and Caera had kept their power a secret, even from each other, for quite some time out of pure fear. Sherri guessed that the only reason why Bornel could safely offer his services as a mage was because he had the money to surround himself with high-tech security and bodyguards.
The group had to fight their way through the crowds to get to the gated property. As a precaution, Sherri cast a few spells to protect her from the mob groping at them. Jerick hit the intercom button and said, "This is Jerick Lucas. I called two days ago and made an appointment."
There was silence for a moment, then a voice said, "Stand away from the gate." Several security officers came from around the building and stood guard while the gate swung open. Several of the protesters tried to get in, but were held back as Sherri and her group ran in.
The gate closed behind them, and one of the security officers approached. "I'm afraid I need to confiscate all wireless devices," he said. The group turned in their cell phones as the guard explained, "Last year, there was an incident in which a suicide bomber made an appointment, then blew himself up using a cell phone as a detonation device. Mr. Bornel survived, but we can't take any chances."
The security officer led the group inside and through a metal detector. With their weapons secured in their hotel suite, no one set it off. They went through another similar device, and the security officer turned and stopped Sherri. "It's very important that you surrender all wireless devices," he insisted.
"I don't have anything else on me," Sherri said.
The guard pulled out a hand-held detector and put Sherri's arms out to the sides. He ran the device up and down Sherri's body, but found nothing. Looking strangely at the device, he ran it over her again, slowly. It seemed to react slightly to her neck. The guard ran the device up further, and the electronic whine reached its peak when it was over Sherri's head.
Jerick walked over. "Do that again," he said.
The guard ran the detector over Sherri's head again, and it reacted the same.
"That is so cool," Jerick said with his big, goofy smile.
Gia walked up. "What is?"
Sherri couldn't believe it. "Are you telling me..."
"That your brain is its own Wi-Fi device, connected to the Internet?" Jerick interrupted. "Yes."
"Well, that explains the 'noise' I've been hearing," Sherri muttered.
The security guard glanced around, obviously confused. "I... um..." He pulled out a walkie-talkie and said, "Mr. Bornel, sir, we have an... interesting case here..."
"What is it?" came a voice with a heavy elven accent.
Jerick was covering his mouth, trying to keep himself from laughing.
"It seems... one of our guests..."
Jerick grabbed the walkie-talkie and said, "Mr. Bornel, my technomancer's brain is connected to the Internet. I don't think she can turn it off. Can we still come in?"
"Fascinating!" came the voice. "Yes, yes, please! Come up to my study on the second floor. I've theorized that this might happen, with the blending of magic and technology..."
Jerick smiled at the security guard. "We'll just show ourselves up, then."
The elven mage was standing by the bookcase when the group walked in, but he immediately crossed the room and stood by them. His eyes were a slightly lighter shade of gray than his hair, and for a two-century-old man, he was still extremely good-looking – probably owing to the fact that he was an elf. "Which is the technomancer, please?" he said excitedly, his eyes quickly and enthusiastically shifting from one person to the next.
"I am," Sherri said. "And if you want to dissect my brain, the answer is no."
Bornel stared at her for a moment. "Magic, like the soul, leaves the body after death. What good would your brain be to me dead? No, no, I just want to talk to you." He led her to the couch and sat her down, holding both of her hands and looking directly into her eyes.
Sherri felt extremely uncomfortable with this. "What... what do you expect to see?" she said, looking away.
"I want to see if there is any physical manifestation when you 'connect.' Do so now, please."
Sherri looked at him. "Aren't I already?"
The elf looked at her blankly for a moment.
A thought occurred to her. Computers and cell phones could detect a wireless network signal without being connected to it. That must be what the "noise" in her head was. She still needed to connect to the network. "I'm... not sure I know how to," she said.
Jerick and Bornel looked at each other. "What if you close your eyes and concentrate on the 'noise' you've been hearing?" Jerick suggested.
Sherri tried this, but nothing happened. She started searching her mind for some kind of change, in case the realization of the "noise" awoke her power to something.
Suddenly, she came across a new sort of "feeling." It was like a new, insubstantial arm. She found that she could control it, and with it, she "felt out" the "noise."
She could almost "see" it now, a cylindrical current through the air around her. She reached out with her new "arm" and touched it.
Her mind filled with an impossibly huge amount of information all at once. She tried to calm the flow, to channel it into something comprehensible. It was surprisingly easy. With a deep breath, she opened her eyes.
Bornel was still staring straight at her. "Did you do it?" he asked.
Sherri nodded. "This is really weird," she said with an awkward laugh. "It's like I know everything."
Jerick laughed at this. "Now you know how I feel, all the time," he joked.
Kori rolled her eyes and Gia sighed. Melo slid between Bornel and Sherri (the only one in the room who could have fit in such a tiny space) and looked up at her. "So, I've been wondering this over the past two years, since I joined the human world. What exactly is the Internet?"
Sherri stared at him, not quite knowing what to say. It had been such a big part of her life since she was a child that she'd just taken for granted, and being asked to explain it to a complete outsider took her by surprise. "Well, it..."
Melo looked up at her with expectant eyes. He almost looked like a curious child.
"The Internet is basically a network... well, basically, all of the computers in the world are connected together, and they can share information between them. The connection is called the Internet."
Melo looked down for a moment. "So it's kind of like a giant invisible spider web over the entire world," he said.
Sherri smiled at Melo's quick understanding. "Exactly."
Melo smiled back at her. "Thanks! I was just curious."
Bornel hadn't taken his eyes off her. "So you are now connected to all of the computers in the world, Technomancer. What will you do with that power?"
Bornel's question made Sherri realize that, as long as there was a wireless network for her to connect to, she no longer needed direct physical contact with Internet- or network-enabled devices to control them. Security cameras, bank computers, credit card machines... the amount of power she now had scared her.
Bornel must have seen it in her eyes, because he gently squeezed her hands and said, "I had my home's wireless router's password taken down to allow you access. I doubt you can just 'walk in' to secure networks without any trouble. In fact, I should think you'd be in more danger than regular hackers – security programs that protect high-security computers might damage your brain directly."
Sherri nodded. She didn't know much about circumventing network security measures, so she'd probably be better off sticking to public networks.
"It would be enormously useful if you did learn to hack," Jerick said, "but I don't want you in any unnecessary danger. We can talk about it later."
Bornel stood and turned his attention to Jerick. "So what was it, exactly, that you wanted to talk to me about?"
Jerick plopped down on the couch next to Sherri, stretching out sideways to cover the remaining space. "Supplies," he said. "We need consumable resources. Scrolls, wands, potions..."
Bornel smiled. "If you have the money, I can certainly provide."
Several hours later, the group left the mansion, laden with clinking glass vials, three-foot-long magically-empowered wands, and spells printed by hand on fine Elven parchment. They made their way through the crowds again, forced to shove protesters aside to get by.
Sherri, her arms full, smiled up at Jerick. "I can't believe how much these cost!" she said. "Are you sure some of this stuff will even come up?"
Jerick was about to answer when a voice shouted from behind them, "Satan's pawns!" They turned around and saw a man pointing a gun straight at Sherri. She gasped, dropping her armload. Her body froze in fear.
It seemed to happen in slow-motion. The man pulled the trigger, and Sherri felt Jerick grab her arm and spin her around, shielding her with his own body. Kori cast a spell, and a bright light shone from her fingertips as the gun fell to pieces in their attacker's hands. Gia slipped past the rest of the group and tripped the man, bringing him down.
Sherri sighed in relief. "Thanks, Jerick. At least he missed," she said.
Jerick smiled back at her, but then dropped to his knees and fell over forward. A dark stain surrounded a hole in his black T-shirt right below his left shoulder blade.
"Jerick!" Sherri screamed, dropping to her knees beside him. She felt tears starting to form as she began to panic.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up to see Kori smiling at her. She cast a minor conjuration, and Jerick's bullet wound closed, pushing the slug out of his body.
Sherri laughed in relief. "Jerick, you idiot!" she said, hugging him as he sat up. "Why did you bother protecting me, if Kori could just heal it so easily?"
Kori knelt down with them. "If Jerick hadn't protected you, the bullet would have lodged in your head. Assuming you'd survived, you would probably never fully recover."
Jerick pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Besides, if either one of us has to feel the kiss of a bullet, I mean, I'm the annoying one, so better me than you, right?"
Sherri laughed again, snorting a couple of times, feeling a lot safer with the group. They looked over and watched as Bornel's security guards ran up, weapons drawn, and escorted their assailant to the gates to be held until the police arrived.
After a series of interviews with the police, they finally got back to their hotel. "I gave them the address of my post office box in Boston, and we'll probably be summoned to court here in a couple of months to testify," Jerick had said.
Jerick had given Sherri some of the scrolls to copy into her spellbook. She didn't feel much like working on that; it being so late at night, all she wanted to do was sleep. Jerick had reserved a suite for them, and Sherri thanked the powers that be for it as she sleepily flopped down on the bed in her room, letting the scrolls roll out of her arms onto the floor.
As she slowly lost consciousness, she toyed with her new mental "arm," connecting to and disconnecting from the hotel's free Wi-Fi service. She must have fallen asleep while she was connected, because she had a number of strange dreams. She didn't remember most of them, but one of them stood out in her memory when she awoke the next morning. She'd happened across a forum discussing the possibility of the existence of her new ability and what people would do with the power. Of course, she wasn't sure if it was real or if it was just a construct of her own subconscious mind, but the discussions she'd read gave her an idea.
She sat up in bed, still wearing the clothes she'd worn the night before, and downloaded a small amount of information in the form of an MP3. As expected, it took about a minute to download. She felt the data wander around her head, looking for a place to settle. Mentally, she grabbed it and began toying with it, reordering it and even renaming it. Not that it matters much, for what I'm about to try, Sherri thought. She tapped into the flow of her personal arcane energy (a trick she'd learned to do years ago when her powers had first manifested) and tried "dipping" the MP3 into it. As she'd hypothesized, the data almost immediately converted, adding itself to her energy. She smiled as she felt one of the weaker protection spells she'd cast on herself the day before remanifest itself in her mind.
She grabbed her spellbook and made a note – "Can convert downloaded files to arcane energy to recover spells I've cast – bigger files for more powerful spells?" Feeling good about herself, she jumped in the shower and got ready for the day.
Her hair still wet, Sherri walked into the "common area" of the suite to meet up with the rest of her party members. She was beaming, excited to tell everyone else about the power she'd discovered. She was mildly annoyed to see she was the only one in the room.
Shortly, Jerick walked out of his room looking at his phone. He looked up at Sherri and smiled. "Hey, Sherri. Happy birthday!" he said.
Sherri was a little surprised by this. With everything that had happened over the past two weeks, she'd completely forgotten. "What... is it really my birthday?"
Gia walked in, her hair also wet, and smiled at Sherri. "Trust me, if it wasn't for Facebook, Jerick would have forgotten, too."
"Breakfast is on me today," Jerick said, ignoring Gia.
Kori walked in. "Isn't breakfast complimentary because we stayed the night?" she said.
"Details," Jerick said with a shrug.
Melo walked out of his room. "What about free food?"
Sherri laughed. The more time she spent with her new friends, the more she loved them. "Guys, guess what? I learned a new trick!"
"I'd love to hear about it, Sherri, but my interest is competing with my hunger. Let's talk about it over breakfast, okay?" Jerick said, stretching.
As they sat down at the table with their plates heaped with food from the buffet, Sherri could no longer contain herself. "I found out that I can download stuff and get back spells I've cast!" she said excitedly.
Jerick smiled. "That's amazing!"
"So you can just download your spells?" Melo said.
Sherri nodded emphatically.
"How long does it take?" Kori asked.
"How long does it take to download a spell?" Kori asked again.
Sherri thought for a moment. "Well, I can get one of my weaker spells from something like an MP3, and that takes about a minute..."
"Do you think it would take longer for something big enough for one of your stronger spells?" Jerick asked, obviously trying not to spoil Sherri's excitement.
The technomancer looked at him. "Probably..."
"So it isn't that reliable, especially in combat," Kori said bluntly.
"And you can really only do it when you have a Wi-Fi signal," Gia added.
Sherri was starting to get annoyed.
"It's still an unheard-of ability," Jerick cut in. "I mean, who else can replenish their spell selection spontaneously?"
"And who's to say I can't just download a bunch of things at once and hold on to them until I need them?" Sherri said tersely.
The group finished eating in silence, Sherri mulling things around in her head. Why was it that her friends had to rain on her parade?