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Don't be afraid to lend a hand

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“Let’s go into the city,” Nita said.

Kit tucked his chin into his chest, picked up A Midsummer Night’s Dream from where it was propped on his sternum, and looked under it to where Nita, her head resting on his stomach, had turned her face towards him.

“Sure,” he said. “Why?”

She shrugged, dropping her manual and wriggling up and over to lie next to him. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just have a feeling.”

“A – you know – feeling-feeling?”

“Hm. Well, I think so. Not a dream, nothing solid. Just a feeling.”

“I like that a dream is solid information now.” He flipped his book shut and dropped it on the blanket they shared, sitting up. “Okay, I’ll call Papi and let him know where we are,” he said, before leaning over to kiss Nita briefly.

She ran her hands through his hair a little as he pulled away, smiling up at him. “You’re so smooth.”

Kit rolled his eyes a little. “Count your blessings I didn’t bite your lip again,” he said, and she laughed and sat up, shoving him off the blanket.

“Call your dad,” she said, picking the blanket and their books up and heading across the yard back to the house.

“Mm.” He watched as Nita paused beneath the old rowan to pat its trunk, and then dug in his pocket for his phone. “Hola, Papi,” he said, as his father picked up. “Do you mind if Neets and I head into the city?”

 

***

 

An hour later, they popped out of the Grand Central Station worldgate, to a non-wizard’s eye appearing to walk right out of a vending machine. Or they would have, if they’d been visible. Kit propped himself against the platform wall and watched as Nita frayed away at the wizard’s knot on their somebody-else’s-problem field, getting it undone and tucking it into her backpack as casually as if it were a sweatshirt. She shouldered it up onto her back, and he pushed himself off the wall and stuck out his hand, wiggling his fingers. She smiled back at him, and took it easily.

“Where are we going?” Kit asked as they walked up through the concourse. “What does your heart tell you?”

Nita laughed. “Please, I get enough of that from Dairine,” she said. “Uh ... not sure.” She took in a breath and let it out thoughtfully. “Maybe just walk around a bit?”

“Okay. Let’s go this way,” he added as they stepped out into the sun, blinking a little in the light. “I could eat, and ’Mela came home last week raving about some Thai place down here.”

“She likes it spicy, huh? Why doesn’t that surprise me?” They wandered for a few feet before Nita pulled up short. “Actually, I think maybe the other direction?”

As they turned around, Kit dropped Nita’s hand and dug around in his pocket, finding the tab of hardened air that led to his personal otherspace pocket and fossicking through that in turn. “Are you starting to get a feel for what we’re up against?” he asked, catching hold of his manual (currently in the shape of a slim paperback perfectly sized to shove into the back pocket of his jeans). “Good? Bad? Will we need firepower?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “I’m pretty sure the two of us will be fine, but I’m not getting any hints.”

“Reassuring.”

“Mm.” Nita shook her wrist slightly and grabbed the small shield on her charm bracelet. At Kit’s glance she said, “Better prepared than not.”

They headed down the street, dodging through the crowds building up around them, turning down a few side streets and gathering speed as Nita grew more confident. Finally, they turned a corner and pulled up short.

Before them was a perfectly ordinary section of a Manhattan street – a newsstand, a hotdog cart, a truck parked up by the deli, a couple of straggly trees doing their best in little wire cages – but deserted. Which at 3pm on a summer’s day was decidedly extraordinary.

Kit glanced at Nita. “Is it just me, or...?”

“Not just you. This is creepy.”

Kit turned to look behind him. Traffic flowed as usual down the avenue running perpendicularly; a young African-American guy loped past, never glancing towards them. He turned back, and saw a yellow cab go by at the far end of the block. The rest was still.

“You want a hotdog?”

They both jumped, Nita’s hand going back to her charm bracelet and Kit’s to his pocket.

The guy at the hotdog cart gave them a bored look.

They exchanged glances. Kit raised his eyebrow; Nita shrugged.

This is still weird, but ... Kit fumbled around in his pocket, pulling out a handful of change. “Got a dollar?”

“Sure,” she said, digging in her own pocket and adding a crumpled bill.

“Thanks. Yeah, okay,” he said, turning back to the cart. “Everything on it, please.”

“Coming right up,” the guy said, taking the money and spiriting it away somewhere before expertly fishing up a hotdog and dropping it into a bun.

“Quiet around here,” said Kit.

“Yup.”

“Is it usually this quiet around here?”

“Nope,” the guy said, squirting a ribbon of mustard onto the dog. “Just since this morning,” adding a matching stripe of ketchup and passing it over.

“Did something happen this morning?” Nita came up beside Kit, eyeing the hotdog suspiciously. “Something weird?”

Subtle, Kit thought sardonically.

Shut up and eat your hotdog.

He shrugged and did so.

“Since that truck showed up,” the guy said, indicating a truck parked down the street by the deli. “Been pretty quiet since then. You want a hotdog, ma’am?”

“No, thanks,” said Nita.

“It’s good,” said Kit through his mouthful. “Really.” Really, he added.

Nita paused. I can always twiddle my fingers if I do get food poisoning, I guess. “Okay, why not,” she said. “Everything on it, please.”

 

***

 

Soon they were wandering down the street, stuffing their faces with hotdog, sauerkraut, bacon bits and ketchup spilling out the sides.

“So,” said Kit, mouth still full, before chewing rapidly and swallowing. “Truck?”

“Truck. We’re definitely in the right place. No more hints, though.”

“They can’t make it too easy for us, right? We’d get bored.”

“Sometimes boring would be nice, wouldn’t it?”

Kit pulled a horrified face, which Nita returned.

“I guess not,” she said.

They approached the truck as casually as they could, Kit bending down to pretend to tie a shoe and Nita waiting for him as they reached the far side.

“See anything?” he asked, as Nita surveyed the truck.

“Nope. You?”

Kit squinted over at the truck’s underbelly, its chipped white paintjob and the logo for a goods warehouse on its flank. “Not really.” He glanced around quickly. Retying his laces for verisimilitude, he stood up. “No-one around,” he said, checking back down the street. “Hey, even the hotdog guy’s gone. We can get a closer look.”

Nita shook her head. “This is getting weirder.”

“Is it? Or does it just feel weird? We’ve been a whole lot weirder places than this. But something about this street feels off.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I was so sure I had to come here, but now that I’m here, I just feel like I should turn around again.”

He frowned, and turned back to the truck. “I get the feeling someone really doesn’t want us to look at this.”

She turned with him. “Me too. And I don’t respond well to being manipulated.”

Kit frowned, and abruptly plopped down in front of the truck and rested his chin in his hands. He looked the truck over, carefully, and then again, stretching out his wizardly senses, listening and looking with more than just his ears. Beside him, he felt Nita doing the same, the familiar feel of her wizardry wrapping around him as they focused on the truck.

Feels normal, doesn't it? But ... not.

Yeah, Kit said. Windows, engine, all the usual pieces, but – wait. This is stupid.

Huh?

He shook his head and stood up again, stomping over to the truck and reaching out to press his hand against the engine.

"Hey there, buddy," he said, in the Speech. "What's up with you?"

The truck was silent.

"Come on," he said. "I'm nice, promise. I just want to know why you don't want me to look at you. I won't do anything to hurt you."

More silence.

He frowned. "Don't make me get serious with you, now."

Another long pause.

Not s'posed to, said the truck, finally, and Kit grinned in relief – and then furrowed his brow a little, because something was...

Not s'posed to talk to aliens, said the truck, and Kit's eyebrows went right to the top of his forehead as Nita made a choked sound. Aliens?

But even as he thought it, the odd flavour of the truck's presence in his mind clicked right into place. Of course it felt odd. He said, hurriedly, "Hey, buddy, do you normally look like this?"

Not s'posed to show anyone, it said grouchily. S'posed to stay here and still and look like the ground-rollers until the boss gets back.

"That's okay," said Kit. "We just want to know what you look like. I mean," he said, in a flash of brilliance, "I bet you look cooler than this normally, don't you? Trucks – I mean ground-rollers – they're not too slick-looking, right?"

I don't think so, it said. I guess.... You're a wizard, huh?

"Yep," Kit agreed. "And that's my partner over there; she's a wizard too, right, Nita?"

“I am," she agreed.

I like wizards, the truck said. A wizard fixed me the last time I was broken. I guess I can show you.

There was a pause, and the whole truck seemed to ripple, as if it were a reflection in a bowl of water that someone had just tossed a pebble into. Then it vanished, and in its place stood a shiny, green machine that was, undeniably, a spacecraft.

"Whoa," said Nita, coming up beside Kit.

"Whoa is right," he said. "I couldn't even tell that was under there. That's a seriously effective glamour."

Top of the line camouflage circuit, it said, a little indignantly. Mark XIV, straight out of the Gallifrey shipyards, built-in psychological discomfort field. You don't get better than that this side of the galaxy.

"I can see that!" Kit said. "I'm impressed. You really had us fooled. Now, you're a slick piece of spacecraft."

Thank you, it said. I am.

“So where’s your boss?”

The ship paused. Can’t tell you that.

Kit sighed. Of course not. Hey, Neets, you recognise this thing? It’d be nice to know what we’re looking for.

Not even a little. I hate to say it, but the only person around who might be able to tell us is...

Oh, no.

... Carmela, Nita finished.

Oh, no, he repeated. Surely the manual will know. He fumbled in his pocket and dragged out his book again, flipping it open. “Hey,” he said to it. “You recognise this thing?”

His manual’s pages riffled back and forth, then flattened themselves out on a chapter page. He groaned, and started flicking through the pages. Short-Distance Light Interstellar Spacecraft Common to the Milky Way: Part 1? There’s like a hundred pages here – and four models a page.

There’s a solution, said Nita.

Kit sighed. I know.

I’ll go and get her. You keep on trucking. So to speak.

Funny, he said. But fine.

Nita pulled a string of characters out of her pocket, tweaked a set of coordinates, and dropped them in a circle around her. She read the familiar transport spell in a breathless rush and was gone with a genteel bang that Kit, morosely turning pages, barely looked up at.

 

***

 

Kit had barely gotten through twenty fruitless pages, and not another peep out of the ship, when Nita popped back with Carmela beside her.

"Hola, Kit," Carmela said. "I hear you need me to save your butt again."

Kit rolled his eyes. "No, you're just a walking, talking, alien nerd, 'Mela, and it's faster to ask you than the book."

"He's always trying to keep me humble," Carmela said to Nita in confiding tones. "Of course, little brothers aren't that great at it."

Nita grinned. "Keep me out of it, 'Mela," she said.

"Oh, well, if I must. So, what are we doing?"

Kit pointed behind her, and Carmela spun around. "Recognise that?"

"Well, of course I do!"

Told you.

Smug is not a good look on you, Neets. "You do?"

"Duh," said Carmela. "This is a Class αθ Twinchel ship, probably out of, oh ... Epsilon Eridani? Tau Ceti? You can tell me, cutie," she went on in the Speech. "You're a sweet little ride, although they sacrificed fuel storage and engine size to keep it so compact, so you're talking strictly a 30 light year round trip."

“How do you even know that?”

“Advertising. Duh.”

"I'm extremely fuel efficient, thank you," said the ship. "I can do an Earth– Tau Ceti E roundtrip in fifteen arns and still have fuel!"

Carmela grinned. "There you go," she said. "Tau Ceti E. Part of the Twinchel Empire. Nice people, bit more advanced than humanity but pretty close neighbours; still, not too many reasons to come to Earth. And even fewer of those reasons are on Manhattan. If I had to guess..." She looked around. "Isn't Godiva just round the corner from here?"

"What is it with chocolate?" Nita asked, raising her eyes to the heavens. "No, don't tell me. Aphrodisiac, blah blah - I really don't want to know."

"So," said Kit a bit uncertainly. "Do we go to Godiva? Are we going to find an alien holding up a luxury chocolate store?"

"Don't be ridiculous," said Carmela. "They've probably got a local contact. It's perfectly legal. Legal-ish. Usually how these things happen is the local contact uses local currency to acquire a certain amount of the product – surprisingly little, really, that's how come these small ships can get in on it – and trades it to the alien buyer. Usually for something elemental: gold is still pretty popular, and platinum. Compact heavy metals don't take up too much space." She paused. "Of course, sometimes it might also be refined weapons-grade plutonium."

"Are you telling me someone is trading chocolate for nuclear bombs somewhere around here?"

"Not the actual bombs, obviously," said Carmela. "And that's not really very common. Gold is much more likely."

"Great," said Kit. "How often does this happen?"

Carmela shrugged. "A couple of times a week, probably?"

"A couple of times a week?"

“Mostly gold. Honestly.”

“Hang on,” said Nita. “If this happens regularly – wizards don’t typically intervene?”

Carmela shrugged. "I don't think so. I don't talk to many wizards, but I've chatted with a lot of smugglers and I get the feeling that wizards typically look the other way."

"So ... why are we here? This is definitely what the Force was telling you to do, right?" Kit asked Nita.

"I'm positive." Nita frowned. "And I don't get the feeling it's about chocolate."

"Maybe it's a plutonium situation and the Powers aren't looking the other way about this one."

"Maybe?" Nita sighed.

"So how are you gonna find the smuggler?" Carmela asked.

Kit pulled a face. "Generalised location spell?" he said to Nita. "What species are we looking for again?"

Nita slung her bag off her shoulder and began looking through it.

"Twinchel from Tau Ceti E," said Carmela, going to peer over Nita's shoulder.

"Catch that?" Kit asked his manual, then flipped it open.

Nita pulled out a stick of chalk and started scribbling on the ground in the familiar, flowing characters of the Speech. Taking his book with him, Kit grabbed his own chalk out of his pocket and began to follow her round the circle, carefully filling in the unfamiliar details belonging to their mystery Twinchel in the gaps she left behind her. With the ease of long practice, they worked quickly to close the circle. As they finished and rose, dusting their hands off on their shorts, Kit said, "This was the first spell we ever did together, remember?"

Nita smiled over at him. "A lot’s changed since then, huh?" she said.

"And a lot hasn't. Some of the best bits haven't, actually," he said, looking down at their handiwork. He caught Nita’s gaze as she looked over and held it. I like the changes, though, he thought, before going on aloud: “Hopefully, we find something more like Fred and less like weapons-grade plutonium."

I do too,, she replied, and he felt a wave of affection from her, steady and familiar, but overlaid with a heat that was still new to their partnership. "From your lips to the Powers' ears. Ready?"

Kit took a deep breath, and carefully pushed aside desire to focus on the task at hand. "Ready," he said, confidently, and began to read the familiar words.

 

***

 

Nita's voice rose up and wound around Kit's in harmony as they read through the spell, gathering speed in perfect time. External noises dampened, and Kit felt the world begin to listen in to wizards using the Speech to shape their will. Abruptly, light flashed through the spell and they found themselves hovering above a visualisation of the street they stood on, looking down on Manhattan.

Looks a little familiar, said Kit. What is it with us losing things in the city?

Nita laughed, then caught his attention. Look, there. He followed to where he felt her looking, and saw a politely pulsing blue light hovering over one of the buildings.

That's close! he said. Right on the same street.

What is it, a parking building?

I think so. Can we get a better look?

They brought their combined will to bear on the spell, and then fell, or felt as if they fell, towards the building as the spell zoomed in. Before them, the building's walls thinned and a schematic superimposed itself.

Third floor, said Nita, pointing to where the blue light pulsed on the schematic.

Better view?

They tried once more to bring the spell in closer, but broke off, gasping. It doesn’t want us to get in, Nita said. Some kind of resistance. Maybe the camouflage circuit again? It must have a wizardry component.

I guess we’ll have to do it ourselves. Is that all we can see?

They looked around, but no more blue lights revealed themselves. Okay, Kit said, Let's go. I told Papi I'd be home for dinner.

Together, they spoke the word to end the spell, and found themselves blinking back in the light, with Carmela, leaning against a wall, watching them curiously.

"Are you done mindmelding?"

 

***

 

“So to sum up,” Carmela said, “You’re just going to head into a dark parking building, no idea what’s in there really, could be anything, could be a bomb or terrorists or fifteen Twinchel Emperor Guards with machine guns –“

“On this ship?” Kit said.

“– shut up – and your plan is to just walk in there and say hi?”

“We’re on errantry and we greet you, probably,” Nita said. “Hi’s a bit informal.”

Carmela made a face. “I’m coming with you, obviously.”

“Wouldn’t dream of stopping you,” Kit said. “You might have cultural context we’re missing. It’s been helpful in the past. But would you please stay behind our shields?”

She gave him an impatient look. “Duh.”

“Okay then,” said Kit. “Hey,” he added to the ship, “Do you feel like telling us what the boss is up to? Maybe save us some trouble?”

“Nope,” said the ship. “Definitely not s’posed to do that. Even for wizards. Sorry.”

“That’s okay, buddy,” Kit said. “We can’t help how we’re made.”

KIt looked around at Carmela and Nita. Nita’s charm bracelet was dangling down, charged and glowing, the shield charm in her hand and ready to be deployed. Her hair was tucked behind her ears and she had a familiar look on her face, the determined one that told Kit that anything getting between Nita and saving the world was going to find itself in trouble pretty quickly. Carmela had pulled her laser-eggbeater-hair curler out of her bag and had it holstered – “On stun, I promise,” she said as she caught Kit looking – on her hip, and her arms folded in front of her chest. She looked sceptical and scornful and nervous all at once.

Kit himself held a favourite old tool, a gimbal from an old car, and readied in his pocket a few of his preferred offensive and defensive spells, set to unleash as he deemed necessary.

“This isn’t the most prepared we’ve ever been,” he said. “But I think we’ve got it. Shall we?”

“Let’s.”

The three of them turned and walked towards the parking garage. As they came up on it, Nita wandered over and looked into the attendant’s booth. “No-one there,” she reported. “Keep-away must still be working.”

They kept moving forward, into the first floor.

It was packed with empty cars, and Kit felt uneasy despite himself; it was too easy to imagine someone, or something, watching them from behind that unwashed truck, or from the backseat of the big sedan with tinted windows.

But nothing moved, and eventually, after walking up and down the rows of parked cars, they came to the ramp and the stairs to the second floor.

“Stairs or ramp?” said Nita.

“Ramp,” said Kit. “Better visibility.”

“Stairs might give us the element of surprise,” pointed out Carmela. “And better cover.”

Kit made a face, and Nita said, “Maybe we should split up.”

“Never split up! It’s like you’ve never seen a movie before.”

Nita laughed a little. “Okay, ramp it is then. I want to see whatever we can.”

They trotted up the ramp in single file, sticking close to the side. As they reached the second floor everything was still, but Kit frowned. “Do you hear that?” he said. From the floor above, he could hear a tearing, shrieking sound, like metal being ripped apart, and loud crashes.

“Hard to miss it,” Nita said. Carmela was silent. Kit looked over and found her holding her eggbeater and looking a little nervous.

“It’s okay,” he said to her, and she gave him a scornful glance.

“I know.”

“That thing’s still on stun, right?”

“Yes, baby brother, I promise not to go in guns blazing and take a chunk out of whoever this is.”

“You better not,” said Kit, feeling relieved.

That was nice, Nita said. She’ll be fine.

I know she will. And I don’t know what you mean, I’m sure, said Kit. “Okay, let’s not mess around. The third floor was what the spell said, anyway.”

Picking up the pace, the three of them kept right on moving up the ramp. The screeching noises just got louder and, without discussing it, they found themselves hugging the wall as they moved up, single file, sticking to the shadows.

Kit reached the top first, and stepped out onto the third floor – then ducked back, saying a word that made Carmela tut, as a car door whistled past his head. Nita, beside him, shook her wrist and muttered the word that activated her shield charm, then hissed, “Are you okay? What’s out there?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I didn’t get a good look, but there’s something to the right, not far down the aisle. ’Mela, what do Twinchel look like, again?”

“Around human height,” she said promptly, “Quadrupedal, two arms and a mobile tail, colouration usually overall green or yellow, big teeth. Pretty strong on most planets; [planet] is high-gravity. But sociable, usually.”

“This one didn’t look that friendly,” Kit said. “It nearly took my head off – although it might not have known I was here.”

“Hm,” said Nita a bit doubtfully. “Or it might have, and wanted to get rid of you.”

Kit shrugged. “It didn’t.”

“Why are we just sitting here talking about it?” said Carmela. “If it doesn’t know we’re here, it should; and if it does, where is it and what’s it doing?

As she spoke, Kit realised uneasily that the floor had fallen silent, the rending-metal noises ceasing. He froze, listening carefully, but heard nothing. Oh well, he thought, ’Mela’s right – let’s not sit around.

“Have you got all three of us under the shield?” he asked Nita.

“I’ve got us covered for anything up to a neutron bomb,” she said. “If there’s one of those in a Manhattan parking garage we’ve got a whole new set of problems. But if it’s flying car parts you’re good.”

“Great.” Kit gulped a little, then strode forward to the corner, took a deep breath, and said as loudly as he could: “Could you quit ripping up cars, please?”

His voice echoed in the garage and fell silent. Kit stuck his head around the corner and saw the alien look directly at him before reaching sideways, ripping off another car door, and hurling it at him.

It bounced harmlessly off Nita’s shield, but the alien had already turned back to the car before it. It had ripped the hood off the front of the car and seemed to be dismantling the engine.

“What’s it doing?” Carmela asked, coming up behind him and peering over his shoulder.

“I have no idea,” Kit replied.

Nita frowned as she joined them. “Is it ... working on the engine?”

It kind of looked like it was. “That’s absurd,” said Carmela.

“You’re telling me,” said Kit.

“You didn’t want boring,” said Nita, as they withdrew back around the corner. “So what are we supposed to do about it? Move it back to its ship somehow? Chuck it off the planet?”

“You’re the one with the funny feeling,” said Kit. “Getting any hints?”

Nita shook her head. “This was easier when we had a precognitive parrot telling us what to do.”

“A what?” said Carmela.

“Tell you later,” said Kit. “Meantime ... maybe we’ll just ask.” He took another deep breath, and shouted, “We are on errantry and we greet you! Stop busting up cars, or we’ll make you!”

“Not exactly orthodox,” Nita mumbled.

“I’ll save the fancy language for when we’re not getting oil stains on our jeans in a parking garage,” said Kit. He stuck his head around the corner again. The alien had paused and was looking up. Kit readied himself behind the shield ... and then the alien spoke.

It was a stuttery, clattering kind of noise that Kit didn’t understand until, all of a sudden, he recognised the familiar cadences of the Speech.

“Wizards?” the alien had said.

“Yes, we are,” said Kit. “So be warned by me, and desist.”

The alien turned and came trotting towards Kit. He swallowed, and held his ground. Nita and Carmela came up beside him and Kit felt Nita pour a little extra energy into the shield ... but the alien stopped before it reached them, and said, “Wizards, in Life’s name I ask your forgiveness and formally request your assistance.”

Kit blinked. Nita’s eyebrows shot up. And Carmela ... Well.

“Why should we help you? You’ve just done a lot of property damage, and your ship is parked on the street freaking everyone out. And I bet you didn’t pay parking, either.”

Kit sighed. “It doesn’t matter. We have to help when we’re asked like that. What can we do for you?”

The alien shifted a little. To Kit’s eye – although it was never easy to read alien body language – it looked almost sheepish. “I’m sorry about the property damage,” it said. “I’m just trying to get home.”

“You threw a car door at my brother,” Carmela snapped. “Don’t get grumpy with me, Kit, I’m not a wizard, I can be rude if I want to.” She turned back to the alien. “Now explain to me why I shouldn’t vaporise you and keep your ship?”

“I’m sorry about that, too,” it said. “I didn’t want to be disturbed. I know this planet is sevarfrith. My ship broke down and I need a spare part. I was just trying to get what I needed out of this machine and get home without being noticed.” It broke off, and looked distressed. “I was going to leave this behind.” It produced a squared-off, yellowy bar that it handed to Nita – who almost dropped it.

“It’s heavy!” she said in surprise. She brought it up to her nose and squinted at it, then said, “I think it’s solid gold.”

“I understood that gold is a valuable commodity on Earth,” said the alien uncertainly. “I have been engaged in ...” it paused for a second ... “commerce ... on Earth, and that was the currency.”

“You’re a smuggler,” Carmela said.

“It’s okay,” said Nita. “We’re just glad it wasn’t plutonium.”

“What kind of part are you looking for?” said Kit. “I know a bit about cars – that’s what these machines are. I can pull something out for you.”

“Thank you, wizard,” it said, in tones of great relief, and tried to hand Kit another gold bar. Kit fended it off.

“Call me Kit,” he suggested. “And why don’t you leave those with some of the cars you’ve busted up? I’ll get stuck in if you tell me what you need.”

“My name is Olinnin. I seek a small part,” it said, then paused, and said something complicated in the Speech, describing what it needed.

Kit squinted, turning the unfamiliar words over in his mind, and almost laughed when he realised what it came out to. “An old spark plug should do it. I can get that easily.” He rolled up his sleeves, and Nita said, “Why don’t I come with you and do what I can for the cars, Olinnin.”

They headed off towards the battered car doors lying past the entrance ramp, and Kit turned to the car with its innards gaping open. He ducked his head under the hood.

Behind him, he felt Carmela frown. “Spit it out,” he said, without looking up.

“You have to help?” she burst out. “Why?”

“Part of being a wizard,” Kit said. “For one thing, it’s easier. We could kill it, wipe up all the mess and evidence of alien DNA so the cops don’t find anything, then get rid of its ship ... or we can give it what it needs, let it pay for its damages and get out of here. Plus, it seems like it didn’t mean any harm, and Earth doesn’t need to make any enemies – you probably know more about that than I do.”

“True,” she said. “We’re pretty far back, technologically speaking. It wouldn’t be the best idea to go around ticking off the neighbours.”

“Right. But mostly it’s what a wizard does. We help people. If someone asks for our help and we can reasonably give it to them, we should. We want to.”

Carmela sighed. “I get it. But you do so much. It must get tiring.”

Kit shrugged. “The Powers only send us what we can handle. Hah!” He straightened, holding the spark plug up triumphantly, and yelled out, “Hey, Olinnin! I have what you need.”

 

***

 

An hour later, Kit was cleaning weird alien grease off his hands and watching as the small green ship took off carefully, weaving its way through a field of sky scrapers before reaching open air and flaring up, blasting off into space.

“Job well done,” Nita said, holding her hand up for a high-five, which Kit gave her. She grabbed his hand as he went to take it away and dragged him in for a celebratory kiss. “Nice work on the engine.”

“It was fun,” Kit admitted. “Papi and I’ve been neglecting the Edsel at home ... maybe I’ll try to work on it a bit this summer.”

“Fun and profitable,” said Carmela. “Maybe Olinnin wasn’t so bad after all.”

Kit eyed her. “Don’t tell me you took some of that gold.”

She smiled beatifically. “I couldn’t possibly tell you that. But I did talk over supply arrangements. I may have pointed out to him how useful it would be to have a contact on such good terms with the local wizards.”

“This is only the first step towards your eventual intergalactic domination, isn’t it?” said Nita, and Kit yelped.

“Don’t give her ideas! And you,” he said, sternly, “No plutonium.

“I wouldn’t dream of it, brother dear,” said Carmela. “Now, I’m hungry. Let’s get Thai before we go home. There’s a little place round here...”