Is one year long or short?
Author notes: this Campfire Story has been written to answer a question of jimk and because handwaving is not my thing. It takes place shortly after chapter 23 The character list and links can be found here
Ok, I think I’ve got everything… strange to be a student again.
Samantha Carter made her schedule scroll on her brand-new datapad’s screen. Her return to the university was only partially voluntary. The Muvian authorities had been pretty clear on the fact that if she wanted to use magic, she needed a license. And as I’m merely a dabbler now, that means courses.
She had several other courses that were aimed at making her catch up with the standard knowledge level. From what the orientation counselor had told her, her schedule would be re-evaluated every week depending on her progress. Again that demented micro-managing…
She knocked on the door of the office of her first appointment. The door opened silently and she felt black magic covering her like a blanket. A woman in her twenties, dressed in an impeccable Chanel trouser suit, with black hair reminiscent of the ‘garçonnes’ of the 1920s’ was consulting an ancient book. She raised lavender eyes towards her. It was only then that Sam noticed the two small, ram-like horns coming out of her temples and the slender tail quietly swaying around.
“Hmm… Professor Delacroix?”
“Indeed, but call me Paymon. I can already feel that you will be far more agreeable than the brats I usually teach to.”
“Hm… does your magic…”
“I’m a half-demon - half-devil to be precise - and Daddy is a kind of traditionalist, you know the ‘fire and brimstone’ and ‘let’s con evildoers into pacts that will bite their ass in ironic ways’ kind. This is why I inherited a first name straight out of the Goetia. All that Halloween and the mage training brought me is a better comprehension of the underneath… as well as not having to use a glamour to go in public.”
“I have a stupid question to ask: are you evil?”
Paymon smiled bemusedly.
“This is not a stupid question, Samantha, but a complex one as we would have to define what is evil first. As a LaVeyan Satanist, my opinion on the matter is sure to differ from yours, as you were probably raised as a Christian. Coffee?”
“Yes, please. I must say my own values were rather shaken recently, since I… you certainly know about the dragon issue.”
“Yes and I must say I am flattered. It’s not every day that I have to teach a half-goddess.”
“Hem… I don’t know much about your… philosophy, but aren’t you supposed to be an atheist?”
“I don’t believe in gods. I know they exist and I don’t worship them. To me a god is just a name for a very powerful magical being. Echidna belongs to that class so you are a half-goddess, Samantha, but that’s not the point. What is important is that your nature gives you more raw power than a mortal can hope to possess. Our problem will be to teach you how to tap into it without losing control or ending with owing too many favors to your ‘mother’. Now, I have another question. You have been thrown an awful lot of changes in a very short time, so: how do you feel?”
“I don’t know. Before coming here, I was feeling like if I was about to fall apart. Now that I had a few days to rest and an appointment with a counselor, I feel a lot better, particularly with all there is to learn here. I… I know I’m not human anymore, but I try not to think too much about it.”
“What do you know about Sunnydale?”
“Only that it was a standard Californian town… with some very strange crime statistics.”
“Sunnydale was sitting on the Mouth of Hell. It was a playground for demons. To prevent the population from noticing they were cattle, a very powerful spell had been woven into the town. Its effects were complex, but the most prevalent one was to create apathy regarding the supernatural. Now, what I am going to tell you is a secret and I want you to swear you will not reveal it.”
“Then why telling me?”
“Because, sooner or later, your nature will clash with it. If you are not prepared, things may get ugly.”
“Very well, I promise, but only if the information is true.”
“Caution? I like that. You have certainly noticed what we built in only one year and told yourself: it’s just too short.”
“Yes but I have no explanation for it.”
“When you look better, you realize that even with some rationalizations like AI efficiency, things just went too well. We may argue that the traumatism we suffered was so deep that drastic changes were made easier but again, how could we come up with a common project so fast? Why did it not spiral into utter chaos? Logic dictates that the smaller the probability of an event, the higher it becomes that an unknown factor, for example someone, loaded the dices.
“The questions are then how, why and who?”
“I have some facts and a lot of speculation. There are two main factors. The initial one is that a lot of people believe that only those with memories of alternate timelines, those we call Changed Ones, have effectively been touched by the Halloween Effect. That’s bullshit. Washu reprogrammed the whole Sunnydale population and I’m not sure even Joyce knows the extent of her manipulations. We know for sure our biology has been altered a little bit, which is why psionic talents went from laughable to powerhouses for example. I think Washu also made us… more reasonable. This part will not touch you, but the second already is.”
“What is it, some kind of empathic field on the town? You spoke of a spell generating apathy in Sunnydale.”
“I was right, teaching you will be a pleasure. Yes, but instead of creating apathy and poisoning the soul, it generates… unity and makes people strive to be better. I don’t know what powers it and it’s so subtle you really have to be paranoid – or very lucky – to detect it. I am the latter by the way. The effects are profound. Opportunities that would have been missed were taken, difficult decisions suddenly saw concepts like honor and tolerance win over fear or personal gain. Some things went wrong, but we were not allowed to feel discouraged. We just learnt from the mistake and improved again, making more and more choices that Terrans would not even consider.”
“Like implanting nanites in the whole population after a single day of debate and a vote?”
“Exactly. At that point, our mindset had already sufficiently evolved that we only considered the fact that the technology was reliable and that it would better our quality of life. There was no need for… palavers like we too often see on Terra.”
Sam took a little while to consider how her own mindset was evolving since she arrived here.
“That’s what’s happening to me… I see what my transformation will bring me and fear becomes irrelevant… morally speaking…”
“This is the reason why people who know about it decided to shut up. On one hand, you have an effect screwing with free will, which is morally bad. On the other, it kept us sane and allowed us to become a prosperous civilization with fair laws anyone can understand and a strong military force to defend itself. Without that… we would probably all be dead or slaves to the Goa’uld, or perhaps hollow, afraid shells starving in wrecks drifting in the void. At that point… I just think the trade-off is worth it, because all societies restrict free will. In that perspective, morality becomes… overrated.”
The half-dragon felt the headache coming. Humans had done far worse when pitting survival against morality than accepting to be mentally influenced. There was also this old ethical dilemma: was a benevolent dictatorship better than a mediocre democracy? Yet it always starts with the best of intentions…
“Anyway,” continued the black magic professor, “the field is losing power regularly. It’s not needed anymore you see. We have been well drilled and teaching this mindset is now part of our education methods.”
“I don’t say I agree, but I understand why you took that choice. We have talked about the how. What about why and by whom?”
“It’s where speculation begins. There is little doubt that this has been organized. We likewise know the three Sovereign Sisters, cosmic entities older than the universe, interfered, as well as the Olympian Janus. Further than that? Only theories. Some of us think that if Ahriman gained an avatar in this universe because of Halloween, then Ahura Mazda must be acting too and could be preparing us to thwart him. Amy Madison - our resident Seer - says that the Key and the Seed are steering us but her vision on it is obscure.”
“So you are a dragon and dragons don’t like to be manipulated. But as you know, you can decide to play along. Personally, I do because I think that this galaxy is overdue on some serious house cleaning and that we have the power to change things.”
“Also on Terra?”
“Particularly on Terra.”