Now we go back to what Wish and Tommy told me of events that transpired outside of my personal experience:
The following afternoon, Tommy was lazing on the couch in his hotel room, back in Providence, listening to a tape of a practice session his own band, "Vortex", had made; he was making mental notes on changes that needed to be made in the routine. Right in the middle of this, he stopped and picked up the phone, even though it hadn't yet rung. "Everythin' okay, Prof?"
I don't doubt what they told me about this part of things; I've seen Tommy do exactly the same thing time and again, over the years. His record's not perfect, but on those occasions when I've been around him, more than ninety percent of the time he'll answer a phone before it rings, and know who's on the other end. It can be unsettling even to people who are accustomed to him; it can be downright spooky to everyone else.
The Professor sighed, "I wish for once you'd humor me, and say 'hello' when you answer the phone, and---"
Tommy laughed, "---and wait for you to identify yourself? It just wastes time!"
The Professor sounded irritated. "It's annoying, Tommy, and it borders on the outright rude! And stop--"
Tommy grinned wickedly. "---finishin' your sentences for you?"
The Professor sighed grimly. "Very droll! How's the tour going?"
Tommy's mood shifted from teasing to a more businesslike air. "Pretty dull. Damn's only gotten himself arrested once so far."
The Professor's tone grew sardonic. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Now, listen; I've made contact with Rain. He came to the lecture in California; he's staying in Malibu. We don't have to fret about him quite so much, now; however, we still need to locate Nic's base of operations; until we can pin it down and neutralize it, defeating him is going to be too great a task for us to cope with."
Tommy's tone acquired an edge of indignation. "Hey! Why didn't you warn me about him, anyway?"
The Professor sounded a bit taken aback. "Hasn't Wish explained that to you, yet? She promised me she would."
Tommy's tone and expression were both sour. "Yeah, she did---but I resent the fact you didn't warn me before I went and made a complete ass of myself!"
The Professor sighed wearily. "Tommy, my boy, if you'd been warned, he would have known it before you would have even knocked on his front door. You're not going to want to hear this, but the sad truth of the matter is that sometimes ignorance is the best protection one can have."
Tommy was beginning to develop a major case of indignation. "Whaddaya mean by that? I can shield my thoughts just as well as you can!"
The Professor sighed wearily. "This is true enough, son; when it comes to keeping someone out of your mind, you can match defenses with me any day of the week...but yours is a pure, brute-force approach; it lacks subtlety, finesse, and misdirection. When you shield your thoughts, it's as obvious as a brick wall; no thoughts leak out. It's like there's no mind there at all. Approaching Nic in that state would have alerted him as much as if you were wearing a blinking neon sign attesting to the fact that you have a mental shield. Wish may not be as good as you at shielding her thoughts, in the final analysis, but she has one characteristic that you lack, as yet; she can camouflage the fact that she's shielding them."
Tommy's expression went blank. "Huh? What's that mean?"
The Professor sighed again. "Have you never wondered why Wish turned into such an airhead so suddenly, a few years ago?"
Baffled, Tommy admitted, "Well---yeah, I did. She'd shown all the signs of gettin' her head together pretty good, there, for a while....and then she did everythin' but go Valley Girl on us!"
The Professor chuckled grimly. "No, son, she didn't; she learned how to shield her true thoughts, and put up a 'blind' of inconsequential thoughts around them that keep other telepaths from even suspecting that there's anything deeper in there than the ditzy-airhead image she's projecting. I had to teach her how to do it because it was the only way she could enter Nic's immediate presence without him realizing who and what she was, and attacking her on the spot. Without that camouflage she wouldn't have been able to contact Rain and begin the recruiting process."
Tommy looked as if he wanted to get indignant all over again, but didn't quite have it in him. "Well, for krisesakes, why didn't'cha teach me how to do that camouflage-shield thing, too?"
The Professor sighed tiredly; a strong impression of him shaking his head came over the phone. "You simply don't have the mental equipment for it, son. No two people have exactly the same Gifts; Wish and I can camouflage-shield, and you can't; Nic can send dreams, and none of us can; you can hide behind that rock-solid shield of yours and hit another mind with a mental scream that can fry a person's mental circuits for days---without harming yourself or anyone else but the person you're attacking---and none of the rest of us can do that. Each according to his own gifts, as the saying goes; you had to go into the spider's lair, innocent and ignorant, for the plan to work. Wish had to go in wearing a surface shield that made her seem like a totally infatuated little ditz trying to get the man of her dreams to fall in love with her through Dream-Sendings. Anything else would have tipped Nic off to who you were and what you were up to. The fact that he already knew about Rain and was interested in him for his own ends was the only way to insure that he'd cooperate with our plan."
Tommy sounded a little lost, now. "B-but, how come Nic didn't pick the plan to recruit Rain out of my mind when we went to him to send the dreams? Even if I didn't know everything that was goin' on then, he might've been able to dope it out from what I did know!"
The Professor's responding laugh was grim. "That was a calculated risk, I'll admit, but I've known Nic for a long, long time; I know how he thinks, what he likes, and what he can't stand.....and one of the things he can't tolerate is hard rock; he hasn?t been able to stand any kind of human music since the advent of the madrigal; modern-day rock gives him the hives, and hard rock frays his nerves mercilessly. Your mind is saturated with that music; it probably took every bit of concentration he had to his name to keep that filtered out of his consciousness while he sent the dreams to Rain for you. If he hadn't, the racket would probably have driven him starkers---and that loss of control would have been disastrous for him; he would have lost control of his appearance, and shown at least some of his true nature to you....and that would have meant an automatic end to the contacts with Rain, because you would logically have never come back to him. Nic can't initiate Dream-Sendings on his own, thank God; he needs the catalyst of a living human mind to work through in order to do it, and he needs to do at least a dozen Dream-Sendings through the minds of others in order to develop enough of a link with a given subject's mind in order to reestablish that link on his own and take advantage of it in private; if he had revealed himself before he'd gotten that far, all his work would have been for nothing...and while Nic can't be accused of having anything resembling virtues, he is capable of inhuman patience!"
Tommy looked and sounded a bit lost. "Oh. Wish's got a lot more nerve than I thought, to go into his clutches like that, knowin' what she knew."
The impression of an emphatic nod came over the phone. "Never sell Wish short, son; she's a lot tougher and smarter than she lets on. If something had gone wrong during Nic's Dream-Sendings, if he'd discovered who the two of you really are, I don't doubt that she could have held him off long enough for you to hit him with that banshee-scream of yours; while it wouldn't be powerful enough to knock him out, the way it would with a normal human being, it would probably have shaken him up long enough to allow the two of you to get away from him. Nic may remember what the two of you look like from your last incarnations, but by now the memories are more than a century old, and very probably correspondingly blurred by time and the accumulation of subsequent memories. He may not be able to make the connection between the Bridget and Dennis of then and the Wish and Tommy of now unless he gets mental corroboration; as long as you can withhold that, he may never even suspect who you are....or he may already know, and he may be playing a hidden game with us for reasons of his own. I have no way of knowing, at this point. Therefore, it's vital that you remember this point for the future; if you ever have to go head-to-head with Nic, don't hesitate to hit him just as hard as you can with the scream; it may be your only hope of survival."
Tommy shook his head dazedly. "Gotcha. We were damn lucky in one other way, too; Nic moves those bogus storefront-psychic operations of his around so much that they're almost impossible to track. If we hadn't stumbled across one by dumb luck, we'd never have gotten in touch with Rain in the first place."
The Professor's tone went a little odd. "Don't count on it being dumb luck, son; we're being aided by an agency you don't know about yet."
Tommy's expression went a little feverish. "We are? Who are they? Or should I be asking, what are they?"
The Professor's headshake came over the connection clearly. "No, son---you're not ready for the knowledge yet. And it will do no good to ask Wish; she doesn't know, either. Suffice it to say that it's a force for good; it only manifests itself when we find ourselves at an impasse, so the fact that you stumbled across Nic when you did indicates quite clearly that you and Wish were lent a helping hand in locating Nic's storefront operation in Boston."
Tommy shuddered a little. "Damn, there are times when I wish I was a Normal! Sometimes all this just gets too spooky for me to handle!!"
He shook himself out of it and changed subjects. "Okay, on to other stuff. Did you warn Rain about Nic?"
The Professor chuckled grimly. "No; it wasn't necessary."
Tommy's eyebrows rose. "Why not?"
The feel of a grim smile came over the line. "He's already encountered Nic---and he fended him off without appreciable effort. I took the liberty of sampling the surface flow of his thoughts while he recounted the incidents, and it looks like the lessons you gave him in the Dream-Sendings have taken good effect; I discovered that he has a natural mental shield, and I think that confused Nic considerably...enough that he made no overt moves on Rain during their first encounter. Apparently he decided to just drain Rain the night after their encounter, throw him away and then move on, because he made a try for him from the dream plane; Rain blasted him clear out of the dream plane without even realizing what he was doing. Nic hasn't made another try for him since. I think he can take care of himself. But we did get one potentially useful bit of information from the encounter."
Tommy's ears pricked up. "Yeah? What?"
The Professor's tone was one of grim satisfaction. "He introduced himself to Rain formally when they met; we finally have a last name to work with. He obviously didn't expect Rain to be able to make use of it, or he wouldn't have given the information away; he may be a patently supernatural being, but he still has to work within the framework of our human society, and that means he has to have an official identity of some sort....without a name - and just possibly, things like a Social Security number, bank accounts, credit cards and other such necessary official documentation - he can't operate effectively in this modern world. He can do a tremendous number of genuinely superhuman things, but he has to live in the human world, and that forces him to bow to human convention - no matter how much he might despise all things human - if he wants to be able to function inside our society at all. That means there's a very good chance he owns property, or a business; wherever and whatever his base of power happens to be, he'd logically take legal steps to insure that it couldnt be taken away from him unexpectedly, and deprive him of his power source. If so, it may be possible to track that property down, now that we have a last name on him; if we can locate his power base, we may be able to destroy it, and weaken him enough to be defeatable. I've already set Sam to searching the Internet for any applicable references to a Nicodemus Castevet."
He paused and chuckled. "Nic is such a creature of habit."
Tommy pulled back a bit and looked at the handset askance. "Say what?"
Dryly, the Professor explained, "In every lifetime during which I've locked horns with him, he's taken a name that reflects his true nature in some way. In one lifetime, he took the name 'Stygion'---which translates loosely into 'dark one'. In another he took the name 'Sanguinarius'---which translated approximately into 'he who is covered in blood'. In Alex and Bridget's lifetime, he took the first name of 'Eldrich', which is a variation on 'eldritch', which means 'magical', or 'sorcerous'; he took the last name of Sable, which is a type of black fur; and he took the title of the Lord of Swarthmoore. 'Swarthy' means 'dark-complected'. His hair---and demeanor---are dark, and the Moors were a dark-complected people. He must have gotten lazy this time, because he's borrowed from, of all things, the film 'Rosemary's Baby'. Roman and Minnie Castevet were Rosemary's devil-worshipping neighbors. He may not be human, but he displays characteristics and predictable behaviors that are just as human as anything you or I might ever display. Nic has to have some stable base of operations---someplace from which to tap the power he needs to sustain himself. That name just may lead us to it, now. He's been careful to keep his identity in this lifetime as much a secret as possible; it took me forty years just to get a first name on him, this lifetime around. But he was eager to get his claws into Rain and he may have slipped up and used his legal last name; it just might give us the advantage we need."
Tommy sounded dubious. "And what if you're wrong about that?"
The Professor sighed miserably. "We have to pray that I'm not. If we have to take Nic on while he's able to draw energy from his power base, we are most certainly going to lose; but if we can destroy his power source before the conflict is joined, we have a chance to stop him for a long, long time---possibly for eons."
Tommy shook his head glumly. "Then, if we don't get Rain on our side, we're sunk. And if Nic can't get him on his side, he'll do his best to kill him before he can join forces with us."
"Take it easy, son; I'm far more familiar with Nic's methods than you are. He would kill Rain only if there were no hope whatsoever of him being of any use to him; you see, Rain's Psi energy would be useless to Nic if Rain were dead."
Tommy hesitated. "What? I don't get it."
The impression of a patient smile came over the line. "Think of a person's psychic energy as being his life-force, and vice-versa. I don't think they're actually the same thing, but they seem to be inextricably bound together. When a person dies, his Psi energy fades from his plane of existence, and it's no longer available to anyone here. Even people who've died wrongful deaths, and who therefore refuse to return to the etheric plane as they should - or who are being held here for some reason, or they simply can't find their way back to the etheric plane - have almost no power left to them; ghosts have so little power left to their names that they have terrible difficulty manifesting themselves in any manner detectable to the living, in most instances. A few strike it lucky and find that the place they haunt is located inside - or at least near - a minor Vortex, and they are able to draw limited quantities of power to use for manifestation---but they are the exceptions to the general rule. It equates to life being Psi energy, for all practical purposes---and if Nic were to kill Rain, Rain's Psi energy would leave the physical plane; Nic would be denied all access to it. No---once Nic realizes that Rain isn't essentially brainless, he will seek to corrupt him, and thereby convince Rain to voluntarily dedicate his power to Nic's service; should that fail, he might attempt to capture Rain and use him as a living power source, but that would be hazardous, at best, considering Rain's current defenses; still, it's very unlikely that he would try to kill him, except as an absolute last resort, in order to keep Rain's power from being used against him. As long as Rain is properly protected, that's a very small probability, at best."
Tommy thought that over for a moment. Finally, he grunted, "Okay---next question: Is Rain aware of his power?"
The Professor's tone was positively arid. "Do try to be a bit more ambiguous, won't you? That question could be interpreted to mean either, 'is Rain aware of Nic's power?' or 'is Rain aware of his own power?'; both logic and intuition indicate that it's the latter, in this case."
Tommy chuckled sourly. "Bingo. Well, is he?"
The impression of a nod came across the line. "He's partially aware; he knows he has some limited telepathic abilities, and he's very aware of his precognitive dreams."
Tommy sighed grimly. "I'd worry a lot less if he had more training."
Again that impression of a nod---a very emphatic one, this time. "Yes, that's best. But I'm booked solid for months, yet. You'll---"
Tommy finished the thought for him: "---have to train him for you---at least, until you're free. Wish can help out---now that I know she's not really an airhead. We'll watch Rain; you track down Nic's home base."
The Professor sounded a bit dubious. "The training will require your fairly constant physical presence in his life, now that the dream-training is no longer an option. How do you propose to accomplish that?"
Tommy chuckled slyly. "Simple; I've got contacts all over the rock scene. The lead guitarist in Rain's band came down with appendicitis last week, and they're on hiatus. That's how come he was out in Malibu when you were lecturin' there; he was tryin' to kick back and vacation a little. But everythin' I've picked up about him says he doesn't take to sittin' around very well; he's probably ready to jump out of his skin by now. I'll have our manager give his agent a call and offer him a temporary gig with us while his group's out of action; we could use another rhythm guitarist, and it'll be a lot easier to work up a back-up rhythm guitar into the group on short notice than a lead guitarist. He'll probably jump at the chance to get back into action. Wish and I can train him while we're all on tour together."
The Professor chuckled. "Good thinking. It just might work---if you'll ease up on that bulldozer attitude of yours somewhat. Everything I got from my face-to-face encounter with him says that he digs his heels in when he's pressured. If you dump the lessons on him the way you have with others, he's going to lay his ears back and fight you tooth and nail. Go easy on him, or you'll ruin everything for us all."
Tommy grunted sourly. "I'll think about it. Talk to you next week."
He hung up; he was on his feet and heading for the door before the phone was properly down in its cradle. He opened the door with a jerk and reached out into the hallway outside, catching Wish by her upraised hand. She'd been in the act of knocking on the door when it'd opened; his actions had taken her completely by surprise. He pulled her inside with a big, playful grin, nearly toppling her off her feet with the force of the yank.
She regained her balance just inside the room and whirled to face him as he closed the door, eyes blazing. "What the...?"
His grin grew even bigger for an instant---then dimmed down to almost nothing. "Just a little payback for the way you've been yankin' me around for the past few years."
She stopped dead, the fire in her eyes guttering out in astonishment and bafflement. "What---? I don't..."
Tommy cut her off. "I just got off the phone with the Prof; he told me about your shield. You've been lettin' me think you turned into some kinda ditz airhead for how many years, now....?"
Wish's entire manner changed completely on the instant; she went from baffled-little-girl-without-a-clue to a strong, confident, self-assured woman in one quantum leap. Her outward appearance remained the same, but everything else about her - her overall expression, the way she carried herself, the very air about her - changed as completely as if another person had stepped into her shoes. She let out a sigh of relief and settled onto the sofa behind her slowly.
"I'm sorry, Tommy. I hated to have to deceive you like that, but it was vital that everyone think I was just what I was pretending to be---even you. If you'd had any idea that I had the kind of smarts and power I really do, you would have given it away to Nic without even knowing what you were doing. We knew it would hurt your feelings when you finally found out, but Dad and I had no choice; there's no way to give away secrets you don't know."
Tommy growled something unrepeatable and settled into the chair across from her. "I know, kid---the Prof explained it all to me. Now, will you show me this shield of yours? The Prof says I don't have the Gift for it, but maybe he's wrong. Even if he's right, I'd still like to see it in action."
Wish nodded, once, just a little, and her expression changed again...a subtle thing, but profound enough in its own way. It was as if she'd opened a door, somehow, even though she'd made no overt physical movement of any sort.
Tommy's reaction to what she did was far more profound; his eyes widened, his jaw dropped. He gulped several times, finally managed to find his voice, and quavered, "Ho-lee....! This is gonna blow Rain away.....!"
Wish nodded a little sadly and then reestablished her shield; her manner and hearing immediately returned to that of the Wish Tommy had been so long familiar with. "I know. I'm going to have to break it to him carefully, to keep from traumatizing him. I just hope he's strong enough to accept it...."