Ten other teenage witches attended the party: about half of the monthly support group. When Laura and Matthew walked in, Jeremy leapt to introduce everyone. Then the party got under way. The host’s family had provided the perfect teen spread for New Years Eve, with pizza, fruit, popcorn, sodas, and brownies. Like any group of teens, they focused first on the food. Loud rap and reggae forbade group conversation until Jeremy turned it down.
Then, their mouths full, the teens turned to the newcomers and barraged them with questions. What did they used to wear? Was life in their village as difficult as they’d been taught in history classes? When Matthew told them about working in the forge, they became very excited. “I can’t believe you worked with hot metal,” one girl squealed. The boys wanted to feel his muscles. How did the forge work? Was it hard to pound metal?
Listening to their excited questions, and the reverence with which they listened, Laura realized that not all modern kids suffered from the selfishness of Wendy’s set. Long after the food had disappeared, the questions continued. What was the time walk like? How had Laura managed? They’d heard that only experienced witches could survive moving through time and space.
Around midnight, they broached the topic that Laura had dreaded.
“You’re both witch and reptile,” a rather fat boy said to Matthew.
“I am,” he admitted. “So I’ve been told.”
“Can you track game? Could you find my lost sweater?” The questions came fast and furious. He held up his hand and laughed. “Enough,” he said. “Yes and probably not.”
They all laughed at that. The girl who asked about her sweater apparently was well-known for forgetting her belongings everywhere she went.
“It’s not that wonderful, you know, to be able to smell a thousand times better than you,” Matthew said. “This world stinks. Everything tastes of pesticides. It’s horrible.”
“I’m part wolf,” one girl said. “I smell them, too.”
“Me, too,” a boy said. “Sometimes I wish that I couldn’t smell so many details.”
“I’m part troll,” an older boy said. He demonstrated by easily lifting the couch with four girls sitting on it. “I don’t need magic for that,” he explained, his short, stocky frame clearly strong enough to lift much more.
“How did all of these bloodlines mix?” Laura asked.
They rushed to explain. Wolf blood came because beings from the Dog Star had integrated well into the beings already on the planet when they’d landed. Most mated with the wolves already here, but some mated with early witches. Wolves were handy ancestors to have, you only had to look at dogs, who were directly descended from wolves, to see their loyalty and varied skills. Reptiles mated with humans when their ships arrived. Fairies and trolls were native to the planet, but they mostly kept to themselves and skied away from humans and witches. Witch-fairy blends were really rare, despite the alliance between witches and fairies. That combination usually led to madness and early death.
“Why do we always have human in us?” Laura asked. “Do any pure witches exist?”
Jeremy and the others looked uncomfortable, then one of the girls piped up: “No one really knew until recently. Then some genetics researchers -“
“who are witches-” one of the boys clarified.
“compared the DNA of a variety of witches and humans,” the first girl continued.
“They found,” the boy said, “that there are about twenty loci that seem to determine magic powers.”
“At least two mutations determine whether or not a person turns witch at sixteen,” the girl said.
“The answer,” Jeremy said, “is that we are mutated humans.”
They explained that no single witch had all of the mutations, and that many humans without the two specific witch genes had the other mutations. Those pseudo witches were often psychic or clairvoyant. Most were healers of some kind. The more of these mutations, the more magic you could do, whether you were witch or not. However, they hadn’t been able to link specific mutations to specific powers, except for time and space travel, which were single point mutations.
During this discussion, Laura noticed a number of the younger teens yawning. She glanced at her watch. It was already one in the morning. Jeremy announced that it was time to call it a night. She joined everyone as they found their sleeping bags and mats, and found spots to sleep, but she lay, with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Her mind churned with questions. Did she and David have most of the mutations? Was that why the twenty-first century council wanted them so badly? How many did her uncle Thomas have? Did Matthew have any beside the turn genes? Would he ever be able to do any magic?