The Young Wizards Advent Calendar is up again

by Diane Duane
Young Wizards advent calendar

Each day from the first to the twenty-fifth of December 2015, the Advent calendar based at this page over at the Young Wizards: Interim Errantry site showed scraps of previously-unheard conversation from the memorable Christmas party in How Lovely Are Thy Branches.

Now that the holiday season has rolled around again, we’ve promoted the post to the front page of the YW:IE site once more, and extended the range of the calendar a little; every page at YW:IE now displays a Santa Tab on the right-hand side. Just click on it to get the Advent calendar to pop up. Please bear in mind that if you haven’t read HLATB, the amount of sense these calendar entries / chunks of dialogue make to you is likely to vary widely.

Also: as a sample for those who might be interested, under the cut on this page you’ll find the full text of day 3, “Ritual Practices”: a discussion between a wizard’s mom and the Master of the Crossings Intercontinual Gating Facility regarding the logistics and technology of cleaning up during and after parties.


(FYI: How Lovely Are Thy Branches is one of the three texts included in Interim Errantry. If you have that already, no need to acquire HLATB.)

Ritual Practices

(A snatch of previously unreported dialogue from the party in How Lovely Are Thy Branches)

“Nurse Mrs. Rodriguez…”

“No, sweetie, just Mrs. Or Nurse, but seriously there’s no need for that here, I’m off duty…”

“All right. Anyway, is there a way this toggles?”


“This serving object. I can’t seem to find a toggle.”

The sound of running water stops. “Sorry, couldn’t hear you there for a moment, sweetie, the water’s closer than you are. What needs a toggle?”

“This— Forgive me, I don’t know the local terminology, sometimes the broader Speech recensions need augmentation on local object terminology, and for some reason or other the catering end seems particularly badly served—”

“If you’re trying to tell me that nothing ever works the way it should, stop right there because you’re preaching to the choir. What’s the problem exactly?”

“Well, to start with, what’s this called?”

“That? It’s a platter.”

“Platter, all right, thank you. How does it disintegrate?”

A pause. “¿Que?”

“Normally there’s a toggle, it might be submolecular but I wasn’t seeing anything obvious, often there’s a little here-it-is light or a trailing macromolecular tag that you can feel, or…”

“Um, wait. No, I hate to disappoint you but that one’s not built to disintegrate. Except possibly under normal wear and tear.” A pause, then muttered under the breath: “Not that I don’t wish that one would disintegrate, I’ve never really cared for the pattern, but it was a present from my mother-in-law, and sooooo…”

“Ah. Well, how does it get cleaned, then?”

“Here, I’ll do it.”

The sound of the faucet running again.

Followed by a pause simply festooned with polite disbelief. “You mean you actually clean your eating utensils… with water?”

“Around here? Yes.”

“If ‘clean’ is really the word we’re looking for. Certainly that water’s not hot enough to do anything but annoy the microorganisms a little. I assumed it was something ritual. Perhaps having to do with the holiday…”

A sudden fit of snickering. “If you mean it looks like all some people do this time of year is wash the dishes, believe me, we have common ground. And yeah, I bet it looks like there’s a ritual component, but no, this is just to get the top layer of crud off them before they go in the dishwasher…”

The sound of a pull-down door squeaking open.

“Powers above us, will you look at this! What’s that little thing in the tray?”

“Oh. Dishwasher soap.”

“So this mechanism has to be… ritually cleansed before use, perhaps?”

“No, sorry, I was being slangy. That dissolves in hot water and washes the dishes.”


Two heads, one human and one Rirhait, lean a little way into the dishwasher, and the voices are accordingly muffled. “Yes. I wouldn’t be strong on this particular tech, autoclaving is more what I deal with at work… but see that propellery thing? Water sprays out of that onto the dishes… they all sit in these racks. And then the soap dissolves in the water that runs off, and it cycles around again, and gets blasted all over things until they’re clean. After that there’s a rinse cycle to get the soap off them, and finally a hot air cycle to dry everything.”

“That… is fascinating! So quirky, so unusual!”

“And a timesaver for events like this. Sometimes I wish I had two of them. In fact sometimes I wish I had two of them just for everyday, the way some people around here eat and don’t clean up after themselves…”

“Guilt,” says a resigned voice from the far side of the passthrough, “only works if the party it’s intended for actually takes delivery…”

“Which I’ve noticed, Juan. Any more dishes to come back from out there?”

“Just this one from off site.” Another broad oval platter, apparently made of clear glass and now completely denuded of everything but what looks like blue whipped cream, comes through the passthrough.

“Thank you. Here, Legs, let me rinse this for you.”

“Oh, no need!”

“But I can’t let you take stuff back dirty! That would be so slovenly.”

“No, no, not at all! Besides, it won’t go back dirty. Here, watch.”

There follows a faint fizzing noise lasting three point six seconds, followed by a rather prolonged pause.

“Are you all right, Mrs. Nurse Rodriguez?”

“Legs, sweetheart, I’ve got to ask you to stop doing that. We’re sharing a kitchen, we’re doing the dishes together, for certain values of ‘doing’, you are more than qualified to call me Reena. But, listen… the platter. Do you usually destroy your stuff like that? Your people are so advanced, don’t you have recycling or something?”

“That was the recycling.”

“Um, okay. Or wait! Is this like Kit’s little pocket in the air?”

“What, like a portable claudication? Oh, no, that’s much more advanced technology. And wizardly to boot. This is just cheap pre-transmutation tech, stopped a step or two before the protocols we use at the Crossings for rawmat food fabrication. Not that we overdo that—there are always species who claim rawmatted food just doesn’t taste the same as naturally grown or sourced ingredients, even though they’re chemically identical.”

“Um. All right. So if you recycled that, where did it go?”

“It didn’t go anywhere. It’s right here.”

A blink. “You could have fooled me.”

A chuckle. “Well, I said disintegrate, but that doesn’t necessarily imply there’s not going to be reintegration, does it? I mean, what would be the point in wasting perfectly good plasma?”


“Yes, of course, the disintegration just acts to rid the serving object of any contaminants. A trivial amount of the cold plasma from the triggered disintegration is allowed to go hot in a very controlled reaction with the waste, and scavenged energy from the fusion powers the reintegration; the whole business is very power-conserving.”

“That still sounds… vaguely dangerous.”

A chuckle. “Oh, it’d be a lot more than vaguely dangerous if it got into the wrong hands, believe me! There are species who would love to use this as weapons technology, which means we have to be ever so careful about where our decommissioned catering equipment goes…”

“Um. Yes, yes I imagine that would be the case.”

“But the basic configuration matrix for the item remains encoded in the plasma, you see, and all that’s needed to reconstitute it is for the person who did the disintegration to make contact with it, with intent. The plasma manifests a tagged reintegration zone, because naturally you wouldn’t want any of yourself to accidentally get incorporated into the reintegration, that would get awfully messy, but you’re careful to keep your manipulating instrumentalities out of the tagged zone, and…”

Another three point six second fizz.

“Here you go. See? Perfectly clean. In fact, molecularly identical with its new-from-the-factory state, which is what’s encoded in the plasma.”


“And of course you don’t have to keep it in this shape if you don’t want to! After all, what use would a thing be if it can only be one thing? The cold plasma sequence can be reprogrammed to reintegrate the item into another shape on demand. It’s very simple, there’s an app for that. All the Crossings catering supplies are structured this way, so we can flexibly reconfigure utensils and dining ware on the fly for unexpected numbers of a given species coming through, or special requirements…”

“Um. Legs. If it wouldn’t be against the rules… like, I don’t know, leaving advanced weapons technologies with less advanced species… could I prevail on you to leave me a few of these?”

“A few? I’ll get you a whole set. Carmela’s advanced-tech waiver can easily be extended to cover the whole household—it’s merely a clerical issue. I mean, you’ve got a worldgate portal on site, what’s some catering equipment to that?”

A thoughtful pause. “Um… good question.”

“And as for this platter that you don’t like…”


“Is it possible that it might have… an accident?”


“Accidents do happen.”

“Yes, they do, don’t they. House full of guests… Foreign guests…”

“Very foreign guests,” says an amused German-accented voice from the direction of the passthrough, its owner peering in amiably at the Rirhait.

“Quite. And when your new serving ware comes through, it’d be quite simple to program one piece to look like this one when it had to. Only on demand, mind you…”

There is a very soft clunk as a large platter bedizened with a desperately ugly folk-art sponge painting of an apparently dyspeptic turkey is placed carefully on the floor.


“Oh goodness me Juan, will you look at what’s happened to your Mama’s platter,” announces one of the people in the kitchen in a tone totally bereft of either shock or dismay. “Whatever will we tell her.”

A glance through the passthrough. “That there was a terrible accident?”

“You’re on.”

And after a thoughtful moment:

“Sweet Powers, is that lead in this glaze? You people may not be much at the technology end but you are such gourmets…”






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