Renee didn’t know what she wanted, but she knew she wanted it. And right now Carl Grady was keeping her from it. People who didn’t understand always seemed to be in the way.

She planted her foot into the ground and balled her fists. For as possible as it was for a nine year old to look intimidating, Renee looked intimidating.

“You say that again, Carl Grady,” she threatened, “and you’ll need more than a school nurse to stop the bleeding.” She’d heard that from an older kid the previous year and thought it very dangerous sounding.

Her classmate was unimpressed. Neither were his three friends.

“Oh, yeah?” he sneered. “And what are YOU going to do about it Renee Runaway? Cast a spell on me?” He giggled and Renee’s eyes - already pitch black, the flecks of blue in them only accenting the depth of obsidian they were - flared and narrowed. Carl didn’t notice.

“Oh, yeah!” he repeated. “You can’t cast a spell on me, can you? ‘Cause that’s against the rules!” He and his friends continued to laugh.

Renee smiled and touched her fingers together. In her mind’s eye, she quickly split the difference between the cube root of i and added it to a perfect eleven sided cube.

“Who said it was against the rules?” she replied nastily and coded in seventeen fives, eleven threes and twenty-three zeros.

Carl’s face went blank, then shifted to terror as a ball of crackling energy formed at Renee’s hands.

“Lightning Ball!” she shouted and threw it at the boys.

They yelled and backed up. The ball hit Carl square in the chest, making him scream as it exploded.

Nothing happened. Renee had cast an ordinary light spell, adding a couple harmless flourishes.

Renee followed the ball in and tackle Carl in the same spot the ball had hit. Carl went down with an oof!, Renee seated on his chest, pinning his arms to the ground.

“Take it back!” she yelled at him.

Realizing he’d been made a fool of, Carl’s will only firmed.

“No! You’re a freak!” he yelled back, squirming in a futile attempt to free himself. “Your mom and dad never come here and you don’t have any friends! Freak!”

“Take it back!” she screamed again. Around them, the rest of the school was gathering around to watch silently.

“Renee Runaway!” he taunted. “Renee Runaway! Why don’t you runaway, Renee? Nobody wants you here. Maybe they’ll want you somewhere else.” He laughed. “Like on a garbage planet!”

Anger surged up in Renee and she released Carl’s hands and started hitting him in the face and chest.

“Take it back!” she repeated, hot tears rising up. “Take it back!”

“That’s enough!” Mr. Norris, the principal, burst in. Renee felt herself being lifted off Carl’s chest and set aside. Instantly, Carl’s three friends ganged up on Renee, hitting her as best they could.

Renee went wild. Yelling, she began hitting at everything and everyone. She connected many times, but finally had her wrists seized by Mr. Norris.

“Renee!” he said firmly, holding her firmly but not to hurt. “Calm down, Miss Goletsuki! Calm down!” She tried to put her hands together to cast a BeThere spell to free herself, but he easily kept her hands apart. “Calm down,” he repeated in a softer tone this time.

She opened her eyes and looked into his concerned face, then burst into crying. He pulled her close and comforted her while the other teachers gathered their classes and went returned to their portion of the large clearing. Mr. Norris held onto her until the last one was gone, then led the still sobbing girl to his office.

 

“Something must be done. And soon.”

Mr. Norris was looking sternly at Miss Kelm. Renee sat beside her staring into nothing at all, utterly disinterested.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Norris,” Miss Kelm replied. “I’m just the nanny. Only her parents can control her.”

“And where are her parents?”

“Like I told you before. Renee’s father is engaged in business back on his home planet of Centaur’s Hoof. And her mother was called up for duty on The Ranger, which won’t be back for another three months.”

He sighed and consulted the gently glowing air to his right.

“I wish I could say this is highly unusual, but this is the fifth time in two years that Renee’s parents have both been away, leaving her behind.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Norris,” Miss Kelm replied. “But I can’t control her. She’s been a troublemaker ever since she was two and began to use her magic.”

“A troublemaker?” Mr. Norris frowned. Renee snuck a quick glance up at him. He was the only adult she really respected. “I don’t think Renee is a troublemaker, Miss Kelm.”

“But the fight she was just in...”

“Was not her doing. Nor have all the other... disruptions been her responsibility. Certainly she could have tolerated their taunts more and been more restrained. But even in the best of cases, I find myself unable to believe anyone should have to tolerate the abuse Miss Goletsuki has.”

“Then why are you asking me to do something, Mr. Norris?” she countered. “If Renee isn’t the problem, then...”

“Renee is not the problem,” he insisted. He caught Renee’s up-from-under glance and he smiled quickly at her. “The problem is Renee’s situation. She needs guidance. Parental guidance is best. Your guidance otherwise.”

“I can contact her mother,” Miss Kelm said slowly, “but it’s unlikely that she’ll return from duty. To do so would put her commission at risk.

“I can attempt to contact Mr. Goletsuki, but I can tell you now that I will fail. Once a business trip starts, it is impossible to find him.”

“Even when it involves the welfare of his daughter?”

Miss Kelm simply stared at him and said nothing.

Mr. Norris sighed and looked at Renee.

“Miss Goletsuki?” he said. Renee looked up again. “I’m sorry, Renee. I have only one course of action open to me, and that is to contact the Hinman Children’s Advocate and recommend you be removed from your parents’ care. If you say, yes, I will.”

“It doesn’t matter what she says,” Mill Kelm cut in before Renee could respond. She produced a small tabinal from her bag and passed it over to Mr. Norris.

He studied it for a moment only, then returned the tabinal.

“Renee, I can’t even do that. It seems your parents have anticipated this action and have secured guarantees from the Codan government that you will remain in their custody.”

“Renee Runaway.”

“Eh?” His head came up at Renee’s soft voice. “What was that, Miss Goletsuki?”

“Renee Runaway,” she said. “That’s what the other kids call me, Mr. Norris. ‘Renee Runaway’ and ‘freak’, ‘cause my dad’s a Marks and mom’s a human. So I’m a freak.”

“That’s not true!” Mr. Norris said sharply. “You’ve been at Hinman Education for four years now, and when you’re not in trouble, you’re polite, highly intelligent, friendly...”

“But I’m still a freak,” she interrupted. “I never really ran away, you know.”

“I know, Renee.”

“Maybe I should.” Her eyes became still and her lips moved every so slightly. Mr. Norris took a sharp breath in as he realized what she was doing.

“Renee! Don’t!” he shouted, lunging from his chair toward the little black-haired girl.

He was too late. Her fingers came together and there was a flash of light.

Mr. Norris and Miss Kelm, momentarily dazzled, instinctively threw there arms up in front of their eyes. Nonetheless, it was only a few seconds before they could see clearly enough to know that the situation had gone from bad to worse.

Renee was gone.

 

Renee appeared with another flash of light on the far side of the campus, just on the edge of the forest that abutted the east side. Without even looking to see if she’d been detected, she again cast Teleport and vanished.

She appeared forty-three kilometers further east, still in the forest. She looked quickly around to orient herself, then quickly coded a BeThere spell and made one final movement, this time to a small building two hundred meters to the north.

It was her Hide Away. Since she could easily teleport, something only Marks people could do, her strolls often began and ended in different locations. She would spend hours - and sometimes overnight - hiking and exploring and thinking and just being alone. Renee had come upon the Hide Away during one of her many solitary walks. At least a hundred years old, it was built entirely of physical materials; it had no energy based support at all. It could be even more than a hundred years. Maybe two hundred. Maybe it went all the way back to 2680, when Coda was first settled. Maybe...

Renee enjoyed playing guessing games. A simple Date program would tell her the age of the structure. She could even use a new See program she’d discovered to watch the Hide Away being built. But where was the fun in that? Much better to guess and imagine!

She opened the smooth faced door and entered. The next ten minutes were spent inspecting all three rooms, looking for signs that anyone had been there. Only when she was certain that her Hide Away was still all hers did she cast Power and bring the home systems to life.

There was little to activate. Several small lights in the main room that also doubled as a kitchen, a solitary light in the tiny bedroom, and one light and the plumbing in the bathroom.

Food she had. Renee still had enough from her previous trip a week earlier. What she needed was firewood for the fireplaces in the main room and bedroom. It would get chilly tonight and Renee knew that she was not going back to her parents’ home.

Not tonight.

 

The fire crackled cheerfully, casting shadows that danced on the walls without trouble or worry. Renee stared into the flames and wiped the tears from her eyes. Beside her on the floor, tipped over, were the contents of the ceramic plate she’d made. It was dinner. Cheese, bread, a few nuts. She’d only gotten halfway through when uncontrollable crying wracked her body.

It was over now. Time to stop looking back. But what was there in front of her? Renee was all of nine years old. Despite her being far, far advanced in mathematics and pentrinsic programming than any full-blooded human, she was still nine years old. Grown up too soon in taking care of herself because of absent parents and indifferent nannies, she was still nine years old. She had a home, could provide for herself, even fight for herself. She knew herself to be clever, inventive and resourceful. She had to be, since she was alone so often.

But she was still just nine years old.

Silently she picked up her spilled food and plate and returned them to the cooling field for tomorrow’s breakfast. She then carefully swept up the crumbs and put them in her hand. Stepping outside into the night, she tossed them on the ground beside her bedroom window. Sometimes the birds would come in the morning to eat the crumbs and Renee could watch from her bed.

Turning to the west, Renee began to walk, her mind full of whirling thoughts. Ahead of her, Hinman lit the distant sky ever so faintly, a gentle glow in a sky dotted with countless millions of stars. Of all her walks, Renee loved the night ones most, for she could stare up at the stars and imagine herself among them.

Where were her parents now? she wondered. She moved her hands apart and opened two rifts into ireality. Light flooded the surrounding forest, silencing the peaceful sounds of the dark. It took no effort to code a FindLovedOne spell and quickly...

She stopped her coding and collapsed the portals. The night and forest returned to black. Renee didn’t want to know where they were. They certainly didn’t know where she was. Or care. Because if they cared, they would know she was lost. Utterly lost. Not in body but in soul. With empty sadness, Renee realized that she did not care for them either. Not anymore.

And yet... With that melancholy understanding also came the awareness that there was no longer anything holding her to Coda. And with that awareness there also came a relief and peacefulness she’d never experienced before. She was free! Nothing held her here! Not her parents, not her home, not her school...

Mr. Norris.

She should tell him. But he might stop her. Or convince her to stay. Renee almost wished he would, for that meant there was still some hope that she could yet have a normal life, with loving parents, friends and even, maybe even, a chance to be treated like everyone else and not called freak.

Filled with new hope that she could still stay and her parents could still love her, Renee laid down on a small hummock and stared up at the stars until she drifted to sleep.

 

When Renee awoke, the black of night had faded and morning’s first light had painted the skies to the east a soft velvet and pink. Yawning, she sat up, breaking the Haven spell she must have cast before falling asleep. A look at the rich green grass she had slept on proved it. No dew, for the Haven spell acted like a comfortable invisible tent, complete with warmth and protection from animals and elements.

Standing, she stretched, yawning again. The hope she’d had the previous night was still with her, only more so. She would go back and make her parents see how much she loved them!

Almost running, she made her way back. Approaching the Hide Away, Renee had a sudden idea. Maybe, once her parents decided to finally, finally stay on Coda and be her mom and dad, she could show them this place. How proud they’d be that she learned to clean and care for herself!

Clean! She should probably wash up before going back to town. Thinking that, she opened the door and made for the sink in her small kitchenette. Maybe she should also Alter her clothes, so they’d be clean and new. After all, Renee thought, it isn’t often you get to start a life over again. Her hands moved together and she opened two portals. They flashed and grew...

Her hands were suddenly seized and pulled apart.

“No!” she shouted. “The portals! I have to close...”

“I have them, Renee,” came a soft male voice from near the fireplace. Still held by a much larger man, Renee squirmed to see who had spoken. There was quiet movement and a second man stood and walked to her, canceling her portals. He was short and young, with long blonde hair and... and... his eyes.

He was Marks.

He smiled quietly and bowed to her. His eyes glanced briefly over her head, undoubtedly to the man holding Renee.

“Be extremely careful with her, Mr. Conway. Absolutely no harm should befall her. Just be certain to keep her hands apart.” His eyes flickered back down to hers and he smiled thinly again. “We’ve been watching you intently for nine years now, Renee, and know you cannot cast without touching your hands together first.”

“You’ve been spying on me?” she whispered, terrified. “Why?”

He raised a hand and waved vaguely.

“Oh, a number of reasons, most of which are boring and inappropriate to discuss at this moment. But please feel at ease! It is only with the best intentions that we have done this.”

“Do my parents know you’ve been spying on me?”

“Ah!” he chuckled. “The refreshing innocence of youth! Sweet Renee, your mother and father have been the ones providing us with most the our information. You have a great many people interested in you, Renee.”

“Why?”

“As I mentioned, now is not the time.” He saw the worry and fear in her eyes and added, “Let’s just say that we’re not... Unaware of the problems you’ve been having adjusting to life, being the kind of person you are.”

“You mean a troublemaker?”

“Hmm... Yes, that’s one way to put it,” he nodded in agreement, not realizing how it hurt her. “But I’m here to offer you a new freedom. I want you to accompany me to the Centaur system - to Heart, to be precise. There you’ll find Marks people willing to train you in the Marks’ ways.”

“But I’m only half-Marks,” she said. “And I like bein’ with my mom’s people. I.. I grew up with them.”

“Yes, you did, Renee,” he agreed. “And we now know it was a mistake. Our original plan was to have you begin with humans, then join our people when you were ready.” He sighed. “Sadly, we have mishandled the situation entirely and instead of being prepared to join the Marks race, you’ve become, well, a troublemaker among the humans.”

“Will my mom ‘n dad be on Heart?” she asked in a small voice, already knowing the answer in her heavy heart.

“You may see your father from time to time. Your mother wishes to continue her career with Codan Exploratory Services, however, and Heart is many thousands of light years from here.”

“My mom...” Hot tears welled up.

“Sweetheart,” he said in genuine sadness as he stroked her hair. “There’s much more to this than you can understand or bear right now. When you’re older, and properly trained, then...”

“I don’t want to go to Heart. I want to stay here. With humans.” She began crying.

“You can’t, Renee. You don’t belong here.”

“I don’t belong on Heart, either.”

“True,” he agreed. “But you’ll be more accepted there.”

“No!” she said, squirming again. “I don’t want to! Let me go!”

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice somewhat firmer. “The decision isn’t yours to make.” He turned away from her and opened two portals. “We’ll teleport to our ship in orbit now. Just relax, Renee, and trust me.”

“NO!” she shouted again. Bending her head back, she looked with tear-filled eyes at Mr. Conway, the human who was holding her. “I’m sorry Mr. Conway. I hope this doesn’t hurt.”

“Eh?” The Marks man stopped in mid-coding and turned. “What are you..?”

Renee straightened and smiled at him. It was not a nice smile. “My daddy always told me to not trust someone who doesn’t introduce themselves. And you never told my your name.

“Boom-boom, Marks man,” she said, and snapped her fingers.

From all around the room came small explosions, shattering stone work, dishes and anything nearby. Shrapnel flew around the room. The Marks raised his hands, but was hit by a piece of the fireplace stone before completing a Shield spell. Another piece hit Mr. Conway, forcing him to release Renee. Quickly she cast a sleep on him and he dropped to the floor, covered by a Shield spell of Renee’s casting.

The Marks was struggling to his feet, and Renee knew she had to act fast. She smacked her hands together and pointed extended fingers at him, making a popping noise with her mouth.

Ignoring her, he cast a Sleep spell on Renee in return.

Nothing happened.

He frowned a moment, then fell back to the floor, shaking his head and gasping. Renee approached him and knelt beside him.

“I’m sorry I had to make you feel like that,” she said. “But you were going to take me away.”

“What... What...” his gasps turned into moans as he rolled to his sides and put both hands on the floor.

“I turned off your access to ireality,” she explained. “You’re all the way in Spectral Reality now. It’s like bein’ on Earth, where no magic works.” She stood. “I told it to wear off in about twenty minutes. You better not go too fast after that, though, ‘cause I heard goin’ back into ireality is trip happy wicked.”

“You.. Cast.. An... Aggressive.. Sp..spell,” he accused. “Renee! The ni..nightmares! The pain you’ll h..have!”

“Doesn’t work that way for me,” she said, opening two portals and initiating the Teleport code. She paused and looked at the man. “That’s why you want me, isn’t it? Not to take care of me, but to make sure I can’t go anywhere. You’re mean! I’m glad you don’t feel well!” She said, then shook her head. “No, I’m not glad. I’m sorry. But I’m not sad, either.” The portals were opened fully and the program was ready to run. “I gotta go, now.”

“We’ll follow you, Renee,” he said, his voice a little stronger. “And we’ll find you. Is..is that really what you want?”

“No,” she said and triggered the program. The rifts collapsed and Renee disappeared.

“But it’s all I’ve got.”