Gene was floating peacefully several feet above the rug. “I could get used to this,” he beamed. “I may never come down.”
“That’s good,” Alec said, “because Jill is right below you.”
Gene looked down, did a double take, and wobbled in the air, nearly losing his balance. “I didn’t see you down there.”
Jill hurriedly scurried out from under him and grew back to full size.
“Did you discover anything down there?” Bob asked.
“Yes, I discovered that your rugs are filthy. Don’t you ever have them cleaned?”
Bob shrugged. “I’m an academic. We can’t be bothered with things like that.”
“I think he’s saying,” Alec chimed in, “that rugs are beneath him. Cool power, by the way. How small can you get?”
“I don’t think there’s any limit,” Jill said, “but I was afraid that beyond some point I would get sucked in by London dispersion forces, and spend eternity stuck to the fibers of a dirty rug.”
“But LDF attraction is only dominant if the other atom is really big…” Bob began. “Oh right, I get it. When you get smaller, all the other atoms seem bigger.”
“Very good, you get an A.” Jill was grinning. “Guess you can keep being our academic advisor.”
“But that’s not the real question.” Alec was standing over the fruit bowl on the coffee table, where he had been practicing turning a banana into an apple and then back again. But now he looked up. “Jill’s point is that there are rules, even if we don’t know them. It’s like any game, like Macbeth.”
“Macbeth is a play,” Gene said. “You know, ambitious Scottish king with bossy wife becomes overconfident, is defeated by rebellious trees. Or that’s the short form, anyway.”
“Well yeah, but that’s not the interesting part,” Alec said. “The interesting part are the weird sisters. They’re playing a game, which means they need to play by game rules.”
Gene looked genuinely intrigued. “What rules?”
“The witches are only allowed to tell Macbeth the truth, even when they’re trying to create illusions. You see?”
“Oh, I get it,” Gene said. “It’s ‘Oracle of Delphi meets the Talosians.'”
“I’m sorry,” Bob said, “that last bit was all Greek to me.”
“Technically,” Jill said, “only half of it was. But I see Alec’s point. We think we can do anything we want, but on some level Anna is playing by inviolable rules. We just don’t know what those rules are.”
“When I was a kid, they were printed on the back of the box,” Bob said helpfully.