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by Miriam English

4 - reality

She moaned and lay back on the bed again. Was she still asleep? As far as she knew she'd never had a dream within a dream before. And if it was a dream it seemed very long and self-consistent... but how would she know? Dreams always feel long, and no-one ever sees the inconsistencies until they wake. She gave an annoyed sigh and stared at the ceiling's patterns of morning light fanning out from the curtains, not knowing what to do or what to think.

It was Sunday. She had to get ready for church. For perhaps the first time in her life she found herself reluctant to go -- not because she was still tired, but because she was confused about the whole flying dream problem. She needed to talk with Betty again and work out what was happening. And how is talking to a dream character going to help? She covered her face with her hands and lay on her back like that, feeling sorry for herself for several breaths, until it occurred to her that if this was instead reality then Betty might be the only person that she could talk to about it. She took her hands from her face and frowned at the ceiling. Yes. That was what she had to do; she had to discuss this with Betty.

Now that some sort of plan had formed -- well, the first step of a plan -- she sat up, feeling a little better. She would shower, dress in her Sunday best, go to church, and be normal until she could meet Betty afterward.

Christine drifted through the service, not really hearing anything; not even enjoying the singing, which normally thrilled her to her bones.

She was preoccupied with the worry that it would not be good news whichever way her problem resolved itself. If she was stuck in some kind of long, convoluted dream, how could she break it and wake up? If, on the other hand, this was all real then something was very, very wrong. The simple impossibility of unaided flight and the preposterousness of moving through solid objects weighted the evidence more toward this being some lengthy dream, but the longer things continued like this, the more unlikely that explanation seemed. Back and forth she ping-ponged, unable to reach any firm result and unable to concentrate at all on the church service.

Early in the service her mother noticed how distracted she was and put her hand on Christine's forehead to feel her temperature, then placing an arm around Christine's shoulders whispered, "Are you alright, sweetie?"

At first Christine shook her head. She felt miserable and sorry for herself because of the plight she found herself in. That was bad enough, but her mother's concern somehow triggered tears to well in her eyes and she looked down to hide them. She managed to whisper back, "I'm okay Mum." Her cheeks reddened in embarrassment. She was surprised and annoyed at how her body betrayed her.

The service seemed to drag on for much longer than normal, even though, checking her watch, she could see it ran for the usual three hours. She felt immense relief at the end when they, and the rest of the congregation, were finally exiting from the church. Her parents shook hands with, hugged, and chatted with friends, moving much more slowly than Christine liked, inching toward their car. Eventually they got into the car to drive back home. On the way at last, her mother turned her head to look at Christine, worry in her eyes. She asked softly, "What's wrong Christine?"

She answered honestly, "I don't know, Mum."

Dad asked, "Do you need to go to the doctor?"

"No." She shook her head. "I think I just need to... um... rest, or something." She really needed to talk with Betty, but for some reason she was reluctant to give voice to that. She felt a little alarmed and guilty that she wasn't confiding in her parents. She always told them everything. But somehow she couldn't tell them yet... at least not until she worked out what was happening. If this was still a dream then not telling them wouldn't matter. If it was reality...? Well, she'd been warned... and she didn't want to think about that just yet.

When they arrived home Christine tried very hard not to hurry, but to walk with an even pace to her room. As soon as she was inside, with the door closed, she hurriedly changed into her casual clothes, grabbed her thumb-sized phone, popped it into her pocket and picked up her book. She checked that she'd saved what she'd been writing last night on the book's screen, then reloaded the ancient, pre-unification novel she'd been reading for school -- Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". Taking a deep breath she opened the door and walked out into the sunroom. Her mother was removing the flowers from the vase on the dining table and her father was sitting on the lounge, beyond, in the livingroom. They both looked up at her. They were still dressed in their Sunday clothes.

"That was quick," her mother said.

Christine shrugged in what she hoped was a casual way. "I felt like I needed to get some sun so I thought I'd take my book outside." Privately, she was horrified. She couldn't believe how easily she was now lying to her wonderful parents.

Her shame mustn't have shown because her mother looked back to the flowers. "Okay possum. Don't go far; lunch will be soon."

Sweating, she turned away, "Okay," and left.

As soon as she was out of sight, obscured by bush, she rang Betty and told her, "We need to talk."

"Yes, we do. Where shall we meet?"

"I can't go anywhere til after lunch."

"We've already eaten. I can get my older brother to drive me out to your place. I'll be there in about ten minutes."

"Okay, I'll wait at our front gate."

It only took Christine a few minutes to walk though the trees to the end of their long driveway. She was feeling very tense and uneasy, so in an attempt to distract herself, she sat on the ground at the base of one of the gateposts, leaning back against it, and switched on her book, but after a while of her eyes traversing the same paragraph over and over again and still having no idea of what it said, she switched it off and lay it in her lap. She tried to relax her shoulders and neck, and breathe slowly, the way she always did before singing at morning prayer in school. It began to work. Her body was losing its tension and her mind was no longer racing. Sitting in the warm sun with her eyes almost closed, she let herself take in the background fragrance of eucalypts, the soft hiss of their leaves rustling in the gentle breeze and the tumbling, warbling currawong calls. By the time Betty arrived, Christine was feeling almost normal again.

The tyres crunched and popped on the dirt road as the car drew to a stop. Betty got out, her door thumped closed, and she gave a quick wave to her brother as the car drove away again. Christine stood, brushing herself off, as Betty walked over.

A concerned look on her face, Betty asked, "You haven't told anyone have you?"

When Christine shook her head Betty breathed a sigh of relief.

Christine said, "I'm still trying to decide if this is real or a dream."

"Still? There is a simple solution, you know."

She gave a skeptical look. "What?"

"Treat it as if it is real. If it turns out to be a dream you're no worse off, but if it's real -- which it is, by the way -- then you'll ensure you act as safely as possible."

"But flying? Moving through things? That's physically impossible!"

"Irrelevant. For the moment, act as if it is real. Use caution to keep yourself safe, in case this is the real world. If it's just a dream then there's no harm done, right?"

"I guess."

"Good," with a tone of that settling it.

"I need to go back in for lunch. Can we can talk more when I've eaten?" Christine pointed to a tall eucalypt not far from the house. "Under that tree is a swing my Dad made for me. You can't see it from the road or the house. You could wait there if you want."

Together they walked through the driveway gate. Betty said, "Remember, don't tell anybody -- not even your parents. This is very important! It isn't just your life. You'd be putting me in danger too."

Christine nodded unhappily. "I haven't said anything to anyone. I don't want people thinking I'm crazy."

When Christine had eaten a small lunch she excused herself, telling her parents she wanted to walk for a few hours out along the ridge, and perhaps down to the waterfall. Then she went back outside to Betty at the swing and they headed off along one of the tracks Christine liked to walk. It was not much more than a slightly less-tangled way through the scrub. Walking in single file and constantly watching where they walked was a bit of an impediment to conversation. Christine, leading the way, was used to ducking under branches, and stepping around and over them, and was usually alone out here anyway so it seemed normal to her. Betty, on the other hand, was used to more open bush with clearly defined paths and was wearing herself out pushing her way through the brush, so had little breath to spare for talk.

When they reached one of Christine's favorite rocks they stopped and, taking advantage of the shade from an overhanging gumtree, they lay out on the rock's wide, flat, dark gray, mottled surface and stared for a while at the small, scattered, high clouds in the pale blue sky. Christine always felt great satisfaction out here. Even her fears about this being dream or reality didn't really penetrate the comfort she felt stretched out in this peaceful landscape.

Betty was enjoying it too. At first she was catching her breath and getting her energy back, but after a couple of minutes she found herself drowsing under the protection of the shade in the pleasant midday warmth. After a while however, she forced herself to sit up, propping her arms out behind her. "We need to talk about it."

Christine exhaled, feeling reluctant. "Yes."

"You should experiment and find out more about your flying ability."

Christine sat up and felt a breeze on her face. She hadn't noticed it earlier when she'd arrived at the rock. She stood and walked to the edge which curved down to a thick tangle of ferns and grasses just a couple of meters below. The wind was stronger here. Spreading her arms, she felt the wind on her front, and leaned tentatively into it. "I don't think it's windy enough."

"Try anyway."

She stood on her tippy-toes and closed her eyes, feeling the wind as it pushed steadily, but gently against her. So absorbed had she become in feeling it along her arms and her body that she didn't realise how far she was leaning out until she heard Betty gasp and say softly, "Oh, wow."

Christine opened her eyes to see that she was drifting sideways across the rock and was nearly horizontal. She hadn't even realised her toes had left the ground. "Oh! I had no idea I could lift off in such a gentle wind."

"Excellent! This is what you need to do. Experiment. Find out what you can do -- what are your limitations." Betty was walking along the rock keeping pace with her.

Christine corrected her arm positions to move slowly back across the rock, dipping down a little when the wind eased and rising when it picked up again, but she had great difficulty gaining any real height. She was struggling to keep more than arm's reach from the ground. Eventually at a lull in the wind she was deposited gently on her belly on the rock. She quickly got to her feet, excited and energised, her "problems" forgotten, eyes flashing, cheeks flushed.

Betty suggested, "Try running into the wind and launching yourself off the edge." When Christine hesitated, "You know you won't fall. At worst you'll glide down to the ferns and stuff."

That sounded reasonable to Christine, so she strode quickly into the wind and jumped up and out. This time she gained height more easily and soared out over the rock edge, high above the vegetation. The wind was stronger up here and she gained lift more easily. Then, angling up, she let it blow her back over the rock. She laughed delightedly, then settled gently toward the surface near Betty. It would have been a perfect landing except that the wind dropped briefly at the last moment and she stumbled forward, grazing her left knee and the heel of her left hand. But she barely felt it, so charged did she feel. "This is even easier than other times."

She crouched down and sprang upwards into the wind and was instantly airborne. In her excitement she didn't take care to control properly with her arms though and she slipped suddenly sideways toward a young tree and struck it with her full weight, breaking a thin branch and scratching her upper arm. "Ow!" She grabbed the sapling, anchoring herself and letting herself down to stand on the crunchy, leafy ground beside it so she could examine her arm.

Betty had a handkerchief out which she wet with saliva and cleaned the blood from the scratch. "It's not too bad. It must hurt though."

Grinning, Christine said, "Hardly at all. This is wonderful!"

Folding the handkerchief and putting it in her cardigan pocket, Betty said, "That crash was interesting. You're light enough to be lifted by the wind, yet you have what looks like normal mass, with enough inertia to break that branch and hurt your arm. What conclusions can we draw from that?"

Christine shrugged, a blank look on her face.

"My guess is that when you fly you decrease your weight, but your mass stays the same. I think you are somehow changing the way gravity affects you."

"Which is impossible." Christine frowned. "So this must be a dream."

Betty shook her head. "This is no dream. I know it sounds impossible, but you are doing it... somehow. We'll try to work out the how later. Just now let's stick with finding out the what."


"You know. Find out what you can do -- what the characteristics are. We've already found out one thing. Let's see what else we can find out."

Christine nodded and walked back up onto the wide rock. "Okay then. What should I do next?"

Betty followed, looking at Christine and thinking. Her eyes stopped at her friend's feet and she put her head on an angle.

"What? My sneakers? What about them?"

"How heavy would you say they are?"

Christine held her hands out, palms up. "Lighter than some, heavier than others... my parents don't buy the most expensive, really light ones, but they aren't as heavy as boots."

"Interesting. When you fly, it doesn't look like your feet drag you down. How does it feel to you?"

"I haven't really noticed. They don't seem heavy. I'm more concentrating on the angle of the wind." She looked uncertain. "What do you mean?"

"Maybe you make your clothes and footwear lighter. I was thinking maybe you could carry something heavy and see if you can still fly."

"I could put stones in my pockets..."

Betty took off her own cardigan. "This might be better." She laid it out on the rock and looked around for small rocks that she put in the middle of her cardigan, then buttoned it, folded the bottom up, and crossed the arms over. Carefully lifting it she tied the arms around Christine's waist, with the weight at her front. "I think that'll hold. Move gently so the rocks don't fall out, and try to fly."

Christine didn't think this would work, but she walked carefully to the edge and spread her arms. Then, concentrating, she leaned into the wind. It really didn't feel strong enough to lift her with the rocks, but she felt for the wind and how it pressed. She tried to imagine gliding on the wind again, straining upward on her tiptoes... and she was off the ground. "Oh!" She let herself be carried backwards to where Betty was, and landed softly again.

"Did you notice the way the rocks in my cardigan sagged more after you landed?"

"Yes! I felt it. They definitely get lighter when I fly. Wow! This is really interesting. How do you know all this?" She undid the cardigan from around her waist, lowering it and the stones to the ground.

Betty smiled. "I don't. I just like to question and think about things from different angles. It's fun." She was taking the rocks out of the cardigan and pitching them into the bush.

"You are a strange kid." Christine grinned.

"Hey! I'm only a year younger than you!"

"Relax. I'm a kid too." She gave Betty a playful shove on her shoulder.

Betty shook out her cardigan and put it on again.

"Any more ideas?" She beamed. "This is great fun."

Betty looked thoughtful for a moment. "Here's an idea. Do you think you could fly, and lift me up?"

"We could give it a try." Christine jumped up into the air and lay out flat into the wind and reached down to Betty, who grabbed her hand with both of her own. For a while nothing happened. Christine was like a tethered balloon bobbing on the wind. Then she concentrated -- thinking of Betty as being light too, like a companion balloon, and soon Betty began to lift off the ground. They immediately began to drift backwards, carried along by the wind.

Betty laughed, nervous, but thrilled. "This is amazing! It's like being in water -- similar weightless feeling."

Christine was starting to feel more in control of this now and she tried to push her arm out sideways, with Betty on the end of it. "Lie flat like me, to make yourself able to use the wind, otherwise we'll have to land again to avoid getting tangled up in the shrubbery behind us." Unfortunately, Betty couldn't get the hang of it so Christine landed them, Christine on hands and knees, Betty on her side, before they drifted into the scrub.

Betty wanted try it again, so Christine explained how she used the wind to navigate. They stood apart, both facing the edge, Christine's left hand holding Betty's right hand, and Christine tried a more gradual approach. She concentrated on making them light and gradually leaned into the breeze. Betty leaned too, copying Christine. By the time they were leaning out almost horizonally, with their shoulders only a couple of hand-spans from the rock, their toes were only barely touching the ground.

"Okay push off, forward," Christine said.

At first it seemed to work, but after a few seconds the wind began turning them. It seemed to be dragging against Betty and they started heading once more toward the scrappy growth at the rear of the large rock slab. Christine was helpless to control it.

Christine curled her legs under her and landed gently again in a crouching position. Betty was softly deposited, lying on her side again.

Christine pondered the problem. "I don't know what's going wrong. I react instinctively, perhaps because of all my flying dreams. I'm not sure how I maneuver -- I just do. I can't really explain."

"Maybe it's just practice," suggested Betty.

Christine doubted that, but didn't want to throw cold water on the situation. "Okay, let's try again."

Over the next hour they tried numerous times to fly in tandem. In the end they did manage some degree of control. Christine found that she could fly them both if she got Betty to simply keep her arms out rigidly, then Christine could act as if she was flying from the position of her left hand and she was one wing, and Betty the other wing. It wasn't very manueverable, but it worked.

When they'd finally managed to get controllable tandem flight working, Betty suggested a longer test, like flying down to the valley.

Christine thought that was a good idea. She'd begun to feel rather exposed out here on this wide rock, surrounded only by low vegetation. A little further down the valley than where Betty had pointed was a lovely waterfall -- another of her favorite places. They would be more hidden there.

So they pushed off together and flew down the slope, skimming just above the low scrub. Betty was giggling with pure delight. Christine was enjoying it too, but was having to concentrate on steering them around trees. It was difficult, and because she was moving her left arm and wrist to change the angle between them, that arm was getting tired and starting to ache. When they approached the steeper sides of the gully where the small waterfall was, she slowed and curved their path down between the trees, which were much taller here. Hardly moving forward at all now, they settled slowly into the still, dimmer, damper air as the sound of the waterfall grew. Under the tree canopy their eyes adjusted and Betty gasped at the beauty of the sight below them. Christine aimed to land them gently on a large, relatively flat, moss-covered boulder almost in the middle of the wide area below and several meters away from the waterfall. They landed gradually, softly as feathers. Unfortunately the rock was very slippery and they both promptly slid off in different directions. Betty landed gracelessly in the cold, clear stream with a great splash and a shriek. Christine would have ended up in a darkly stagnant, debris-covered pool on her side, except that she caught herself barely in time and hovered just above it.

Betty was trying to clamber out of the nearly waist-deep, cold water, but kept slipping on the large, rounded rocks and falling in again. Christine flew around to her friend, extended her arm, and lifted her out, then landed them both on a small bank of sand and pebbles.

Betty was saturated, but was laughing. "That water is freezing!"

"Sorry about that. I should have landed us here. There is an open area above the waterfall that should be sunny and warm. Let's go there." She held out her hand to Betty.

"Sounds good."

As soon as they were holding hands Christine lifted them up, and flew them almost vertically past the top of the waterfall, then curving over to a grassy patch on the side of the wide pond above the waterfall. The grass was about knee deep, but Christine tramped it down to make an area where they could sit and bask in the warm sun.

After a few moments of sitting, absorbing the warmth, Betty said, "Did you notice the way you flew us here. There was not a breath of wind down there below the waterfall, yet you easily moved in the direction you wanted. How did you do that?"

Christine looked blank. "I have absolutely no idea."

"I have a thought. Like I said before, I think you change the way gravity affects you. Maybe you can select not only how much it can pull, but from what direction it pulls. We get pulled by all the things around us, but because most of the close mass is on one side it resolves into a generalised pull downwards. What if you can tune that? What if you lessen the pull from the Earth so that you become lighter than the air? Then you float up like a helium balloon. What if you also allow some small amount of pull from the hills on one side of you? That would tug you away in a certain direction."

Christine shrugged. "It could be what's happening, but to me I just want to move, so I make myself feel a certain way -- I can't describe it -- and I just start moving."

Betty nodded. "Most people don't realise that when they move their fingers they're not actually sending messages to their fingers to move. The muscles that move them are located in their arms above their wrists. All they know is that when they intend for their fingers to move, they do."

Christine looked down at her arm and wrapped one hand around her arm a little above her wrist then wiggled the fingers of the free hand. Her eyebrows went up with surprise. "Huh! I never knew that. How do you know this kind of thing?"

"I read a lot. I think a lot. My brother tells me that if I'd lived in Pre-Unification times I would have been a scientist. Of course he means it as an insult, but I like it." She chuckled.

"Have you had any ideas about your ability to move through things?"

"Some... not many. I only started be able to do it recently -- about a week ago." She held out her hand and moved it through some long grass without disturbing the blades at all.

Christine was amazed. She shook her head as if clearing it.

Betty laughed. "Strange, isn't it."

Christine asked, "What does it feel like?"

"Same as you. I just think it, and I can do it."

"No, I mean can you feel the grass or whatever you move through?"

Betty shook her head. "It doesn't feel like anything. Well that's not true. It feels cold, but I don't have the feeling of touching anything."

"Are you moving through them or are you becoming insubstantial and they moving through you?"

"I don't know. I feel like both are solid, but somehow don't touch. I don't understand it at all."

"Oh! I just had a thought! Why can light still bounce off you when other things don't?"

Betty frowned. "You know, that's a really good question. I wonder if I can do it harder so that light passes through too." She held her hand out before her and concentrated hard. At first nothing happened, but after a little while her hand started to become transparent, and then gradually to fade away towards invisibility. Betty suddenly exhaled, her hand returned to normal with an audible thud, and she lay down, panting. "Oh! That was hard!"

"You did it though! You turned your hand invisible! That was amazing!"

"Not quite invisible, but with practice I might be able to."

They were both grinning.

Christine raised an eyebrow, "Hey, have you ever tried to walk through something?"

"Like a wall? No. I have thought about it, but haven't really had a chance to try it -- there always seems to be someone around. Also I'm a little scared of losing my concentration part way and getting stuck."

Christine said, "I'd be more worried about falling into the center of the Earth. If you can become completely insubstantial, the ground wouldn't support you."

Betty looked horrified. "Oh! I never thought of that!"

They both fell silent, thinking.

Betty said, "Maybe if I made one foot pass through the wall and when it was out the other side made it solid, stood on it, and brought the other foot through after me. Or I could jump through and make myself solid when I came out the other side."

"You'd have to get the timing just right if jumping through a wall. If you changed a little late you'd smack into it instead of passing through." She chuckled.

Betty laughed too and mimicked herself, her two fingers as legs, running along towards a wall (her other hand held up flat), jumping at it. The two hands smacked together, and the caricature of her rebounded to fall backwards.

Their laughing tapered off and Christine lay back on the grass, thinking. Betty was sitting, cross-legged, eyes closed, soaking up the sun.

Christine turned on her side. "You know, before, when your hand suddenly became visible and solid again... What was that thump sound?"

"I think it's the air being displaced. If I let my hand become solid faster than that it's much louder and feels like someone stomped on it -- especially my fingers. It can really hurt."

They fell quiet again for a while, until Christine asked, "Can you make things you're holding pass through other things? -- like I make things weightless when holding them."

Betty looked thoughtful and picked a piece of grass, then holding it between thumb and finger waved it through other grass stems without any disturbance. "Wow. I can!" She was amazed.

Christine said, "Then that's the solution to the danger of falling into the ground. I can lift you up and you can make us both move through things."

"I don't know if I can make a whole other person do it. It's easy enough with small things -- like just my hand... I think I need to practice more."

"Just don't try walking through any walls unless I'm around."

"I won't."

Christine looked serious. "I just had a disturbing thought. What would happen if you became solid inside something?"

"I don't know. It would get stuck there, I guess."

"That blade of grass -- what happens if you make it solid when it's in another blade?"

Betty picked another piece of grass, moved it into a stem, and made it solid. There was a loud pop! and both girls jumped. The bits of grass had vaporised where they'd intersected. Betty gulped, "That can't be good."

They were silent for a while as the awfulness of what they had just seen sank in.

Betty was the first to speak. "I definitely need to practice more. Maybe I'll get as good as you as quickly as you have."

"I've been practicing flying in my dreams long before I found I could actually fly. Do you have dreams where you can move through things?"

Betty shook her head. "But I think everybody has flying dreams, including me." She stood. "How much time is left before you have to be home?"

Christine looked at her watch. "About two hours." She stood too, brushing herself off.

"I'm trying to think of the best way to do this... Maybe I should begin with making all my arm insubstantial, then both arms, then my upper body to my waist, while keeping my feet solid."

"Is that such a good idea? What if you make a mistake and start to sink into the ground? You can't just make yourself solid to climb out again or both your feet will explode along with the ground they're in."

Betty frowned. "Mmmm. Maybe I should be a little less ambitious. I'll practice making my hands and arms insubstantial, until I can do it easily. Then I'll try do it with my arms but not my hands. If I can keep my hands solid I can pull myself out of trouble."

"That sounds good to me. If you make your hand solid I can grab it and lift you up too."

"Okay then." She held both her arms out before her and concentrated for a little while. "Now touch my arms and hands."

Christine felt a little reluctant, but stepped forward and put her hand out to touch Betty's arm. Her hand went right through, feeling nothing at all.

"Now I'll try to make my hand solid while keeping my arm insubstantial." She grunted. "There's got to be a better word than 'insubstantial'."


"Good word. So, I'll fade my arm, but not my hand."

After a few tries Betty managed to do it and was very relieved.

Christine said, "There's your safety margin. Can you fade your whole arm, then quickly make your hand solid?"

"I think so." It worked. "Okay just let me warm up for a little bit and I'll try some more."

"Are you still wet from the dunking?"

"Only a little, but it's not that. Whenever I fade a part of my body it gets very cold, as if it's in a refrigerator. I have no idea why."

Christine looked puzzled too. "How strange. I wonder what it means."

Betty shrugged and started vigorously rubbing her arms and running on the spot. After a little while she was warm enough to try more experiments. She put both arms out before her and concentrated. A moment later she anounced that they were 'faded' and Christine checked. They were, indeed, untouchable. When Christine was safely clear of Betty's arms there was a soft sound like dropping a pillow onto a floor and she was able to touch Betty's hand again. A moment later, at a nod from Betty, Christine confirmed that the hand was faded again. Then 'foomp!' it was back and Christine verified it.

They continued like this for some minutes.

"This is so odd," Christine said, waving her hand through Betty's arm then tapping her solid hand at the end of the phantom arm.

"Very," Betty said. "I'm going to have to stop for a little bit. It's getting easier with practice, but it's still tiring, and my arms are getting really cold."

"You seem to have the gist of turning it on and off for your arms and hands. What do you want to try next?"

Betty was rubbing her arms and jogging in one spot. "I was thinking I'd make the upper half of my body fade, leaving myself solid from the waist down. I've never made more than my hands or arms fade before."

After a few minutes warming up she said, "Okay, here goes."

Christine saw Betty concentrate, then suddenly look surprised. Immediately, with a whomp! she was back, gasping and blinking and Christine reached for her. "What's the matter?"

"I know now why my arms and hands get cold. There's no air or heat -- it's like outer space. I couldn't breathe, my ears popped and hurt, and my eyes suddenly went dry."

"Do you go somewhere else?"

"No, think about it. Nothing can touch me when I'm like that, so it's the same as having no air around me -- I mean it is around me, but it can't touch me anymore. And that's why it's cold too. I radiate heat but nothing is conducting heat back to me. I can feel the warm sunlight, but not the air. In a sense I'm in a vacuum."

"It sounds dangerous."

"Yes, it feels dangerous. I have some swimming goggles at home. I'll see if they stop my eyes drying out. Otherwise I'll need to close my eyes if I fade my head out. And I wonder if earplugs will help with the painful ears."

"You won't be able to hear properly."

"I can't hear anything when I've faded. The air doesn't push against my eardrums -- it passes through me."

"Oh. Of course."

"Some warm clothes and gloves would be useful. For you too."

"Me? Why?"

"If I'm going to try fading completely I'll need you to lift me so I don't fall into the Earth, like you said, and that means we'll need to experiment with fading you too -- well, your hand or arm, at least."

"Uh... yes." She didn't look thrilled at the thought. "Maybe we should continue this another day when we have those things. I should probably be getting home anyway."

"Okay. We got a lot done today. School tomorrow. I don't know if I can bear to wait til next weekend."

"You can practice some at home alone. Just be careful. I'll practice more too."

Betty nodded and held out her hand. "Want to fly us back?"

"Just to my place. I'm not going to fly us over the town. You'll have to call your brother to pick you up."

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