“I think I speak for everybody when I say that bringing this curse into the Council Hall is a disrespectful and irresponsible act one hoped not to expect from a member of your standing!” Rosemary hissed at Lucille, who had just walked in, holding the object of contention.
‘Naturally,’ she thought, ‘who else would be the first to find out about the black mirror but our sweet Rosemary! On second thought, I wonder how she knew what I was holding?’ Then she said out loud:
“Actually, I’m not the person who brought the black mirror into the Council Hall, I’m the one who returned it. Mary found it in the in-basket yesterday, dear child! I asked her to fetch me the contents and she obliged. Fathom my surprise to learn what the contents of the basket were,” she joked.
“So,” Mrs. Eberhart calmly evaluated the situation, “you’ve been in possession of this object since early yesterday and seem not to be harmed, at least not that we can see. Have you managed to learn anything about its purpose?”
“Not entirely. From what Mary and I gathered so far, it seems to be a means for divination.” The audience gasped in horror, then a growing murmur started among the ranks. Mrs. Eberhart raised her hand, demanding silence, then addressed Lucille again.
“Is there a safe way to show us how it works? I understand some of our esteemed Council members’ reluctance to be here during the demonstration, so if anybody wants to leave the room, they are free to do so.” Rosemary got up, as if to to leave, but only moved to the back of the room where she remained standing, in protest, her arms crossed and a resentful stare in her eyes. The Council leader continued, looking at Lucille. “Please proceed, my dear, I think everybody is ready now.”
Lucille placed the black mirror on the table in front of Lucille and pressed against its frame. The mirror lit up, prompting Mrs. Eberhart to defensively lean back.
“Good morning, Mary,” the mirror said. “How can I help you?”
“It thinks she’s Mary!” Mrs. Gentry whispered in the ear of the person closest to her. “The girl must have spelled the thing, I told you that child was up to no good! All those stories we’ve heard recently, my goodness, and now this!” she objected, more revolted than scared. One would have thought that a person whose entire life philosophy was centered on the fact that mirrors were an abomination darkness itself had forced on people of good faith would be somewhat startled by seeing one. Lucille continued her demonstration.
“Would you like to ask it a question?” Lucille offered to Mrs. Eberhart courteously, in deference to the Council leader’s impeccable standing. Mrs. Eberhart thought for a second, then asked the mirror directly.
“What are you?”
“I’m just a humble virtual assistant”, the mirror replied.
“What does it mean, virtual?” one of the ladies in the back whispered, disturbing the silence that had descended upon the Council Hall.
“It must have something to do with morality,” her companion whispered back.
“Aren’t they supposed to be evil?” the first lady expressed her confusion.
“How should I know, dear? Maybe it’s trying to deceive us.”
Mrs. Eberhart looked at the two hard, trying to make them understand their private shushing was distracting. When order was restored, she continued quizzing the mirror.
“Are you a mirror?” she asked, for the record.
“Who, me?” the mirror replied. The Council leader hesitated for a second, taken back by the bluntness of the strange talking object.
“Yes,” she finally answered.
“That’s what I figured,” the mirror said and didn’t continue with the rest of the answer. The Council waited for a few seconds, literally holding their breaths, but the forbidden object remained stubbornly silent.
“Maybe we should ask it what a mirror is, first, after all we don’t really know,” one of the council members offered, not realizing that Lucille’s hand was still pressing against the mirror frame.
“A mirror,” the device recited, “is an object that reflects light in such a way that, for incident light in some range of wavelengths, the reflected light preserves many or most of the detailed physical characteristics of the original light.”*
A deluge of stories followed the definition, all of them about mirrors, spanning the whole range from the trivial to the esoteric, to the shock of the respected Council members, who weren’t used to uttering the forbidden noun, not to mention being drenched in information about it, all of it bizarre and unsuitable for public debate.
The Council paused for a second, not knowing where to go from there. Finally, Mrs. Gentry decided to break the silence.
“I know I’ll live to regret this, but why don’t we ask it something we already know, just to get an idea of how reliable its information is. What is a loom, for instance.”
The ladies nodded in agreement, given the fact that her suggestion seemed both sensible and practical, but didn’t have time to put the decision to a quick vote before the mirror spilled out the requested information.
“A loom is a device used to weave fabric.”*
“Lucille, dear, would you be so kind and remove your hand from the frame? It seems that is required for the mirror to talk to us, I’d like to evaluate our options first, without it volunteering information,” Mrs. Eberhart asked, without losing her composure. Lucille obliged.
“It seems accurate to me,” Mrs. Gentry noted, “although all that talk about wavelengths and incident light is giving me the shivers,” she said very loudly, turning towards the mirror to see if it would start reciting definitions for any of the terms. The mirror remained silent.
“Aha! Got you!” Mrs. Gentry exclaimed, triumphantly. “It also needs its frame touched in order to hear us! At least we learned something today!”
“I wouldn’t count my blessings just yet,” Rosemary intervened in the conversation. “Are you sure it’s not just deceiving us? It is a cursed object after all, none of us knows what it can do.”
“Maybe we could ask?” one of the Council ladies replied.
“By all means,” Rosemary condescended. “What makes you think it’s not going to lie to you?”
“What can you do?” the lady asked the mirror. The object immediately listed a sequence of tasks whose pictograms were just as foreign to the Council as the written descriptions that accompanied them.
“We can’t understand any of this stuff! I’m telling you it’s mocking us, throwing gibberish at us to make us run in circles around nothing!” Rosemary raised her voice, irate.
“Or maybe its knowledge is more advanced than ours, dear,” Mrs. Eberhart. “Just because we don’t understand something, it doesn’t make it untrue. Let’s test it some more and find out if we’re on the same page about the things we already know.” For the next half hour they asked and verified the shared meanings of the words village, council, harvest, faith, and a whole host of others, including appalling and reckless, at Rosemary’s request.
“Well, that pretty much covers it,” Mrs. Gentry concluded. “What I don’t understand is what this has to do with the Que’d, the mirror was supposed to be answering that question for us, and there doesn’t seem to be any connection. Are you sure it is the right mirror?”
“How many different versions of this torment do you think the Scholars cursed us with?” Rosemary asked emphatically. “It’s got to be it. So,” she asked hopefully, “when are we going to destroy this abomination?”
The whole Council looked at her like they didn’t understand the question.