They shared a look among them. Cataleb stepped forward to speak when nobody else did. “Kayay got angry and stormed off. I’m sure she’ll be back when nobody goes after her.”
“Of course. Well, welcome to Force and Force-fields, a class you will be taking every year of your education here, or until you can hold off a tsunami with nothing but your mind and your collar. And you may very well need to, so I’d suggest you pay attention. Now. I am Professor Smiff. I prefer neutral or feminine pronouns when socializing, and neutral pronouns when working. The collar has no gender; the magic has no gender; we have no gender, just as that tsunami has no gender. Now. We’re going to start with very basic exercises and move on. Please join with a partner and face each other, just far enough apart that your arms stretched in front of you do not touch.”
Desmond looked around and quickly moved towards Jefshan, but Wesley had beaten him to it, which left him facing Talia.
It could have been far worse, he considered, and from the expression on her face, she probably thought similarly. He bowed to her, a careful bow his sisters would have been proud of, and she bowed back tidily.
“Very good. Now, here.” Professor Smiff moved around, arranging pairs until they were positioned satisfactorily. “The first exercise is a push. You are all going to concentrate on making a circular force-shield, like the bottom of a market basket, and pushing it towards your partner, trying to push your partner backwards while they, in turn, will be doing the same thing to you. Understood? All right, then. Everyone talk to your collar and concentrate on making a shield.”
With Kayay out, they had equal pairs. “Ready?” Desmond murmured to his collar.
::This is going to be fun,:: the collar whispered in turn. “Ready? Focus.”
Desmond focused on his shield the way he had on the stairs, but instead of pushing himself up the stairs, he was trying to nudge Talia backwards. Her shield came up as he was getting his moving, a purple shape like the side of a bubble, almost soapy in its appearance.
She pushed back at him, and he pushed at her. After a moment, her shield burst and she took a surprised step backwards.
Des pulled his shield back towards him. “Okay, try again?” he offered. “I won’t push this time.” He held up his shield again.
This time she manages to get to push at him a little before her shield burst. She took a step back, sighing loudly.
He looked around the room. Doria was paired with Poiy, and both of their bubbles kept exploding. Cataleb was sitting down, refusing to participate, so Lufet was just pushing them around the room with a shield. Over in another corner, Jefshan and Wesley were doing all right, but they didn’t seem to be able to move each other; their bubbles kept warping around each other’s.
In the middle of all this, Professor Smiff was wandering around, making comments, pulling up little shields and pushing them at people, encouraging and criticizing.
“Desmond.” The professor stopped near him and Talia. “Why aren’t you pushing?”
“Because I pushed already. Now it’s her turn to figure out how to push.” It seemed reasonable and fair to him.
“Turns? Who said anything about turns?”
Something about the quirk of the Professor’s eyebrow made this slightly less of an intimidating question than it might have been otherwise.
“Nobody, Professor, but I can already handle a basic shield and Talia can’t. As sh- as Talia is my partner right now, it behooves us both to be able to do the task at hand.”
Now where had that come from? The word behooves was a whisper in his mind from his collar, but the rest –
Something his father had said, about a co-worker who just wanted to step on everyone else’s head to get to the top. Hunh. Desmond hadn’t realized he’d been listening.
::You weren’t, exactly, but when you started helping Talia, it was percolating around in your mind, so I, ah, helped.::
That was a little creepy. Desmond bowed to Professor Smiff again. “Was that wrong, Professor?”
“No.” Professor Smiff raised eyebrows at Desmond and appeared to be considering something. “That was outside the bounds of the assignment, but not wrong. Tell me, can either of you figure out what you, Desmond are doing that you, Talia, are not?”
“He’s – Desmond’s making a shield that works and I’m not,” Talia answered despondently.
“Well, yes, that is the result. Desmond, what are you doing?”
“I’m asking my collar to help me make a shield, like we did on the stairs. The collar asks me to focus, and I think about a shape I want.”
“That’s a good start, yes. Talia?”
“My collar doesn’t like to talk to me,” she admitted, hanging her head. “So I’m supposed to ask it for help?”
“Well, your collar is there to focus the magic, to control it, and to help you steer it. So, close your eyes and ask your collar for a shield. Desmond, shield up.”
Ready? he thought loudly.
::No need to shout. Here we go.::
This time, the shield was the same color as Desmond’s cravat. Had he done that or had the collar?
::Little of A, little of B… watch out!::
Desmond’s shield expanded to cover both him and Professor Smiff as Talia’s shield exploded in something like lavender goo. The goo smeared down the outside of Desmond’s shield and landed with a plop on the floor.
“Interesting.” Professor Smiff nodded at Desmond. “Good instincts there, Desmond, and, Talia, can you tell us what happened?”
“My collar yelled at me, and then … splat?” Talia offered helpfully. “More or less.”
“Interesting. I’d suggest you pay extra-close attention during Collar Rapport classes. Continue to work on this for the rest of class, and do tell me if you two get it settled.”
“Well… that was interesting.” Desmond brought up a smaller shield as Professor Smiff walked away.
“That’s one word for it. At least the goo is going away.” She nudged at it with her toe. “So. Let me try again, asking my collar nicely maybe?”
“What did you ask it?”
“I told it I wanted a forceshield, but stronger.”
“Okay, so let’s see.” How did you teach someone how to do something you’d just figured out how to do yourself?
::Visualization:: his collar whispered.
“Okay,” he repeated. “So here… can I have a shield that’s mostly just visible?”
::Here we go.:: The collar produced a glowing shield-shape in Desmond’s hands.
“Thanks. So you need to have a clear picture of what you want to do. See this and think about making one like it, I think.”
She squinted at the shield, walked around it a bit, and then closed her eyes and made a shield.
“Good, good. Now push?”
This time, they pushed against each other, like a shoving match, only with a cushion of air and magic between them. They ended up collapsing on the floor laughing, almost tripping JEfshan as she worked on her own shield.
“Good, good. Practice these in your dormitory this evening. And now, on to your next class, children. Go on now.”
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