Beneath the open-sided tent, the heat of a summer morning mellowed under the influence of a light breeze. Dr. Wyeth Rao collected the documents she had been examining. She was a dark, lean woman in her early sixties, but most people mistook her for twenty years younger.
“Studying that boy’s files again?” said the other occupant of the tent, one Lieutenant Ietta Knox. She was deeply tanned and black-haired, with dark eyes. “You must have seen plenty of outstanding energy sympathists in your time as Father’s staff adjuster. What is it about this kid that so fascinates you, Doc?”
“It’s rarer than you would think, the chance to examine a broad-based energy sympathist. I have met only two who could use three types of energy, and several more who could use two types, but even I have never before seen one who could use four types. Active principle, mind you, in all four types. He is a rare boy.”
“Which four types?”
Dr. Rao counted them off on her fingers as she said, “Thermal–hot and cold, though he has more affinity for heat; electromagnetic; radiant– visible light and certain segments of the invisible spectrum; and mechanical energy as well, which is rare enough by itself.”
Ietta whistled softly. “That does sound impressive, when you say it that way. I thought he was just a hyperactive kid with a couple energies at his disposal.”
Dr. Rao laughed quietly. “Substitute ‘several’ for ‘a couple’ in that description, and you won’t be far off the mark. I wonder what Father will decide to do with him.”
“He’s great fun to have around,” said Ietta.
“I wonder,” Dr. Rao remarked, “if Jock would agree with you on that.”
Ietta grinned. “Jock is just so adorable when he’s jealous. I can’t resist teasing him.”
“Don’t take it too far,” the older woman warned. Her attention veered. “Here they come.” From the eastward path, three men were walking toward the tent.
Each was distinctive in his own right. On the left, the ginger head and stringy figure of the boy she had just been discussing with Ietta: Rusza Tate, aged eighteen, as buoyant in stride as in personality. On the right, a similar figure with faded ginger hair and a more solid build and dignified stride: the boy’s father, Archet Tate, chief researcher at the central military hospital. In the middle, framed by these two redheads, a swarthy man with a face sometimes likened to a sad monkey: “Father” Everard Locke, the elder charged with managing army training and discipline. A fourth man came into view several respectful steps behind them: Father’s other lieutenant, Jokulle Knox.
“I wish you would share your thoughts with me on this,” Archet Tate was saying as they drew near.
“My first thought is that you spend too much time sitting at your laboratory tables. You ought to go out running with the service trainees once in a while,” said Everard. “I share that thought willingly.”
“Too willingly,” Archet grumbled, ”even though you’re right, as usual.”
“My second thought is that you’ve fathered your own duplicate. I could keep up with you when you were his age because I was young too, but the current me looks at this duplicate past you and feels overwhelmingly tired.”
“I was never that troublesome!”
“And, just like him, you never were able to grasp just how problematic you could be,” Everard replied. “The likeness is eerie.” They arrived beneath the shade of the tent, whereupon Everard turned his attention to Dr. Rao. “I warmed him up for you, Wyeth. Have at him.”
Dr. Rao bid Rusza sit on a footstool and take off his shirt. In spite of herself, she smiled, “I sense that you’re bursting to say something, Rusza Tate.”
“I am,” the boy said, “but I always get told not to interrupt my elders. Am I really just like Dad, Uncle Everard?” he asked. “I can’t see it at all.”
“And that may be the most obvious symptom,” Everard replied. “But you haven’t known him long enough to see the likeness. Added to that difficulty is the fact that your father changed radically after he fell in love with your mother. She held him to a much stricter standard than he did for himself.”
“Now that that’s out of your system,” said Dr. Rao, “pay attention.” She directed him through a series of uses of his sympathy as her hands hovered over his shoulders. As she read the movement of his sympathy with her own, she noted, “I suppose your sympathy started stirring early. How old were you when it began to show?”
Rusza shrugged and looked to Archet, who answered, “We first noticed it when he was three. That year’s winter was unusually chilly and damp, and we were driving back from South Territory. When Nirva checked on the younger boys, she found them all huddled together in the back seat, and Rusza was radiating enough heat for them all.”
“So heat first,” mused Dr. Rao. “That’s no surprise. It’s the one you control the best. The other types?”
“Visible light when he was just short of six years old,” said Archet, “and was imitating Michael; mechanical when he was eleven, to get back a toy Finn had thrown on the roof. It was so hard to keep him off the roof after that,” added the boy’s father as an aside. “And electromagnetic showed up just a few years ago. You were fifteen, weren’t you?”
Rusza confirmed this. “I just felt all buzzy and zippy one morning, and I gave Lyndon a terrific shock.”
“I would like to see how you use mechanical energy,” said the doctor, “because it’s the rarest. You apply it to your own person, don’t you? That is unusual by itself.”
“We’ll have to go out in the open for that,” Rusza warned. “And it’s hard to stop once I get going.”
“I’ll handle that, so don’t let it worry you.”
They walked together into the sunshine, the boy and Dr. Rao and Father Locke. Archet stayed in the tent’s shade. The village around them was the smallest and farthest of the satellite villages belonging to East Territory’s main city, Beeches. As befit a frontier settlement that saw considerable fighting, the village’s land was divided by six-foot-high defensive walls. Rusza went to one of these walls and stood next to it. He was himself about two inches short of six feet tall. He started to hop in place, lightly at first but increasing in effort. After four hops, he jumped hard to stand atop the wall and down again, up onto the wall and down again, as if he were jumping on and off a street curb.
Other people drifted toward this spectacle, locals and Father Locke’s trainees alike.
“You may stop at any time,” called Everard.
“That’s the trouble,” Rusza called back. “I don’t know if I can, now that I’ve built up so much momentum. Mechanical energy builds up really easily.”
Dr. Rao stepped forward. The next time Rusza touched down on the ground, she tapped his bare arm with her fingertips. Rusza suddenly collapsed. “I told you I would handle it,” she reminded him.
The boy looked up at her with an engaging grin. “Thanks. I wish I had you around all the time, Dr. Rao.”
“I second that,” Archet called out from the tent. “Sometimes it takes more than an hour to wind him down.”
The onlookers laughed, but Dr. Rao shook her head and replied, “That isn’t good. He stands a definite risk of having his sympathy cycle out of control. I can’t imagine how it hasn’t happened already.”
Everard said, “I suspect that Elder Tate and his good lady have something to do with that. Rusza, does your grandmother or grandfather ever ask you to put your energies to work around the house?”
“All the time,” Rusza responded. “One of my regular chores is refilling the battery banks in the shed, and I always have to cut the grass with the garden shears. If I go too fast, Grandma makes me go back and even it out with a yardstick. She likes a smooth lawn. And there’s always more farm work to do.”
“Basic depletion and physical control training,” said Everard. “I guessed as much.”
Dr. Rao walked the boy back to the tent for more testing. This time, instead of merely observing, she adjusted his energy levels with her sympathy, until she could announce, “That should keep you relatively safe for a few days. You ought to have an adjustment once a week at the least. You’re growing into your sympathy, which means it will continue getting stronger as you keep growing.” She looked up and down his skinny frame. “Have you gone into a growth spurt recently?”
“I grew three inches taller just this last month,” Rusza declared proudly.
“Sympathies are unstable during growth spurts. You need to be careful in using energy of any kind, but especially the kinds you have more difficulty controlling.”
The boy slipped his arms back into his shirt and started fastening the buttons. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Dr. Rao,” said Archet, “thank you. There aren’t many adjusters as skilled as you.”
“There are few who have had as much experience,” she replied, “and even at that, I can still find something that astonishes me. I’d like to know how you came up with that method of using mechanical energy on your own body, Rusza Tate. It’s most unusual.”
“Is it?” The boy started talking about the first time he had felt that type of energy, but he hadn’t said twenty words before everyone noticed a truck pulling up near the tent.
Everard and Lieutenant Jokulle Knox went to meet it. Its back door opened, and a gnarled old man climbed down to the ground. As he turned around to reach back into the truck, Everard hailed him. “Conneran? Why are you here?”
Quiet conversation began as the two army men reached the truck. Father Locke’s face, never very expressive, went blank.
“He’s angry,” Archet observed. “That isn’t a good sign.”
“How can you tell?” asked Lieutenant Ietta Knox.
“Practice, Lieutenant,” replied Archet. “I think I should find out what happened.” He jogged forward to join the group at the truck.
Everard began giving orders as soon as his childhood friend arrived at his side. Then he left the truck and returned to the onlookers, with his lieutenant attentive beside him. “I am needed back at the capital. The Lieutenants Knox will stay here in command,” he announced to his students, “and I hope I need not tell you to obey them as you would me.”
“Yes, sir,” came their reply in disciplined unison.
“Corporal Wingate,” Everard continued, “you’re with me. Dr. Rao, get Shy to bring the staff car around. We leave in ten.”
Dr. Rao hurried to the local garage, where she knew she would find Sergeant Major Shyam Calder. He was, in fact, seated on a large rock behind the garage. “Shy, bring the car around front. Father wants to be on the road back to the capital in five minutes.”
“Yes, Doc.” Shyam never asked for explanations. He straightened the red and black armband around his right sleeve, pulled up his hood, and went inside the garage.
Wyeth Rao waited until he drove the staff car, a long armored limousine, out onto the gravel driveway. She climbed into the front seat beside him. “I anticipate extra passengers,” she explained, although he had not asked, “and who better to sit next to you than me?”
When they pulled up in front of the tent, they found Everard waiting. With him were the Tate father and son pair, Conneran Stone, and two others. One was the Corporal Wingate whom Everard had summoned; the other, bent with pain and barely recognizable through a multiplicity of bandages, was his older brother, Elder Charles Wingate. The younger brother propped up the older, and Archet Tate helped move the wounded man into the car.
“Rusza,” Everard commanded, “take the front seat next to Dr. Rao.” He gave Wyeth a significant glance.
Dr. Rao glanced in her turn at Shy. He looked uneasy. Wyeth said, “I can manage both of you.” She turned to Rusza. “Are you acquainted with Sergeant Major Calder?”
“Heard of,” said Rusza, “but never met. Hello, Sergeant Major.” He gave a little wave across the doctor. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful not to touch you. Must be tough in a crowd, though.”
“I avoid crowds.” Shy Calder had a soft voice that barely reached past Dr. Rao.
From the back, Everard was saying, “Charles, let’s hear your testimony.”
“Testimony?” The youngest of the capital elders spoke as if taken aback by the word.
“Without question, this is a judicial matter, so yes, I use the term advisedly. Go on.”
“It started simply enough. I was concerned about how much authority the Glazmere children were taking upon themselves, so I talked with Elder Cram about my concerns. Afterward, I felt I should speak with the Glazmere children directly, to be fair to them.”
Conneran Stone grunted at this.
“It was just possible,” emphasized Charles Wingate,”that they were simply doing as Milla told them. I wanted to be sure.”
“You’re sure now?”
Charles looked at Everard carefully, as if he suspected sarcasm. “Yes. Worth Glazmere left me in no doubt at all. I went to his apartment to speak with him, and there I met several young men who were obviously strangers.”
“Outsiders?” Everard asked.
“Yes, Outsiders. It isn’t too uncommon for Outsiders to visit the capital peaceably, so that didn’t suggest anything to me immediately. It wasn’t until I asked Worth outright as to his intentions that the meeting turned ugly. Worth excused himself, said he had more important business elsewhere, and left me with his guests. No, not guests. From their remarks, I understood that they were settled in and inclined to stay in our district. I have them to thank for all this.” Charles gestured toward his face and body. “I got away from them once, and they chased me down for more. They left me for dead in an alley just off the main street.”
“How do you know for certain that they left you for dead,” asked Everard, “and didn’t just tire of their labors?”
“I heard them say Worth couldn’t blame them for my death,” was Charles’ answer.
Everard nodded pensively. “Go on.”
“I can’t remember much of what followed,” said Charles. “Elder Stone must fill in the next several hours.”
Thus appealed to, Conneran took up the testimony. “A friend found him and sent me word.”
“A friend,” Everard repeated.
“Who dislikes attention,” stressed the older man, “so I leave him for now as just ‘friend.’ You can meet him, but I won’t name him in company. So I came to collect my junior, much worse for wear, concealed him where no one would look, started nosing around the capital for rumors, and heard enough to tell me the capital was no safe place to be an elder. I sent my message to Coralie, sent my assistants into hiding, and removed young Charles as far from danger as possible— in short, into your custody. And you need not try again to make me feel like an erring child, just because I notified Coralie before you. Mother is in charge of support and supply, so she can support the other elders. You are in charge of training and discipline, so I wanted to make you ready for what awaits you.”
“I understand your reasoning, Conneran, but I still wish you had reversed your choice. You know how she is.”
The men in the back of the car fell into a weighty silence that lasted until their first stop, which was in the frontier city of Beeches. Everard Locke left the others to the ministrations of the local military hostel workers for food, rest, and bandage changes in Charles Wingate’s case. When he returned, he asked Shy Calder, “Can you hold out for the rest of the drive, or would you rather I asked for another driver?”
“I’ll hold,” said the dark-haired, soft-spoken sergeant major.
“Good man. Charles, how are you?”
“Much better than I was two days ago, though you’d never know it by my looks,” said the young elder. “I’ll be fine for the drive.”
“We’ll let you sleep as much as possible. Wyeth?”
“We’re in good condition.” The doctor glanced at Rusza, despite the fact that nothing in Everard’s demeanor had suggested that his question was about the boy. “You’re very calm, Rusza Tate.”
“Whatever’s happening, I know Grandfather and the other elders can handle it.”
Wyeth turned back to Everard. “There you have it.”
They stopped once more in the late afternoon at the westernmost satellite village of East Territory. The drive had been silent for the most part, except once when Archet had said without warning, “Corporal, switch seats with me.” The two men had exchanged sides so that Archet sat on Charles Wingate’s left and Charles’ brother John sat on the right.
“What was that for?” Everard asked.
“You were staring through him, and most people can’t endure that for very long.”
“Was I? I apologize, Corporal.” Everard flexed his shoulders restlessly. “I would like to hear your thoughts on your next move, though. You had been talking about a transfer to North for further experience. Are you still planning in that direction?”
“Yes, Father,” the soldier said, “but I want to delay it now, until I can help Charles through this current trouble.”
Everard nodded his satisfaction. “I made a guess that your thoughts would turn in that direction. We’ll see to the documentation as soon as we know the capital is stable.”
At the westernmost village, they got out of the car and stretched. “One hour,” Everard said. “Eat, rest, do whatever you need.” He went directly to the local communications office, and Dr. Rao followed him.
The local officer in charge there saluted and began to establish the necessary connection at the same time. She asked no questions and left the room as soon as she finished getting Everard set up for the call.
The small, square screen showed a dingy room about the size of a utility closet. Three people crowded near the screen: Gerhope Tate, Kerran Magire, and Everard’s wife Coralie. Kerran was saying, “I told you I still remembered how to connect a call.”
Coralie exclaimed, “Everard! It’s so good to see your face.”
His monkey-ish face eased into a hint of a smile. A moment passed before he responded. “And yours, Cora. How do matters stand where you are?”
Elder Tate spoke first. “All the children connected with this incident have been caught at last. Thanks to your advice, we collected the young Outsiders who assaulted Charles before they could flee the area. There was some trouble with one of the insurrectionists, but Rosamund saw to that.”
“Rosamund Fulke?” said Everard, as if confirming something he had misheard.
“She’s a fast runner,” said Coralie, “and she had Fineas and Michael as her helpers. Helena Jeru was involved too. She says that Skye Taorri, not the Outsiders, is the one behind the attempted infection. She can sense it through her sympathy, she says.”
“I know no reason why she couldn’t. We’ve known for centuries that contact with the Decay can alter a person’s character radically. Why shouldn’t a human soul sympathist be able to sense the warping of a soul?” Everard turned his attention to Kerran Magire. “That still doesn’t mean the most pressing danger has been averted. Any progress on finding his source?”
“He is incoherent still, so we’ve been searching the district for places he has been known to frequent.”
“Are Haigh and Yeardley still around?”
“They volunteered to stay and help with the hunt,” Coralie answered.
“The capital has no one as experienced in disposal as those two,” said Everard with a shade of relief in his tone. “Keep them at it. The possibilities are unthinkable, should we fail.”
“How long until you return?” asked Coralie.
“We’re just at the eastern end of the main road,” Everard said, “so we should be able to cover half the remaining distance yet today. I don’t dare push Shy through a nonstop drive, but a short night’s rest and a very early start will put us in the capital by midday tomorrow.”
“We’ll watch for you then,” said Gerhope Tate. “How is Rusza?”
“Confident in your ability to settle the incident yourselves,” Everard retorted with sudden dry humor, “and on the verge of destabilizing my lieutenants’ marriage.”
Elder Tate sighed. “That sounds like our Rusza. Have you decided what you think should be done with him?”
“I’ll take him on,” Everard said. “Archet is fretting, and I can’t think of anyone I dare entrust the boy to right now. You and Apple have done an almost miraculous job of keeping the boy safe from cycling out of control, Gar.”
“I don’t deny, we’ve been worried more and more about that during the past two years,” Elder Tate admitted.
Everard glanced back over his shoulder at Dr. Rao, who took the cue to add her own remarks. “I have a training schedule for just such a case. We can teach him how to monitor himself.”
“If you can teach him that,” said Elder Tate wryly, “then you’ll have done something no one else has yet achieved, though many have tried.”
“We’ll sign off now,” Everard announced. “See you tomorrow, if all goes well.”
Coralie suddenly touched the screen with her fingertips. “Be careful.”
The connection ended. Everard led the way out of the room, said a few words to the communications station officer, and returned to the waystation. “The capital is stabilizing,” he said to Archet, “but they haven’t located the source of the Decay yet. Aug Yeardley and his friend are staying on until it’s found.”
“The longer it goes undiscovered…” Archet stopped himself from finishing the sentence. “What is Dad’s assessment?”
“He should know. Did he say anything about Michael?”
“Only that he— and Fineas— helped Rosamund catch the man responsible for the attempted infection.”
Archet raised his eyebrows. “What an unlikely combination for arresting a would-be murderer!”
“I know. I thought I must have misheard at first.”
The rest of their group returned: the two Wingate brothers first, back from the first aid station; Conneran and Rusza, the former listening amusedly to the latter’s lively one-sided conversation; and Shyam Calder, alone as usual. Everard addressed them with only one word. “Ready?”
The rest of the daylight hours passed in travel. Shy insisted that he had enough control over his sympathy to keep driving without a break until they arrived just after sundown at a tiny, isolated waystation. The first aid room, no more than a long closet in reality, had two hospital beds along one wall, so the Wingate brothers lodged there. Dr. Rao, as the only female in the group, found a spare bed in the women’s cabin next door. That left Everard, Conneran, Archet, Shy, and Rusza crowded into the only spare sleeping quarters. Rusza took a spare blanket and stretched out on the floor before anyone spoke. The other four men claimed the four austere bunks.
Archet said, “Rusza, can you wake up at half past four?”
“Then wake us up then.”
“Remember not to touch Shy,” Everard warned him.
And just as requested, Rusza sat straight upright at 4:30 in the morning. He rubbed his right eye with the heel of his hand. “It’s half past four,” he announced loudly.
Conneran groaned. “I still call that uncanny.”
“Michael can do it too,” said Archet. “So can Mom.”
“If you intend to enlist,” said Everard, “you need to learn to say ‘0430,’ Rusza.”
“Oh-four-thirty,” Rusza repeated. “Got it, Uncle Everard.”
“You’re also going to have to learn not to call Father ‘Uncle Everard,’” noted Shyam Calder, “or the other members of the company won’t take you seriously.” He yawned.
“How is it?” Everard asked him.
“I slept well. It’s good.”
“I have no idea how anyone can sleep well in these army bunks,” grumbled Archet.
They had almost nothing in terms of luggage, so it took them little time to gather in front of the waystation. Everard went to tap three times at the door of the women’s cabin before heading to the first aid room to wake the Wingate brothers. The waystation’s medic was also awake early. He passed Charles as fit to travel.
“That’s just as well,” said the young elder, “since I have no choice but to travel.”
When they rejoined the rest, they arrived at the same time as Dr. Rao, who first laid a hand on Shy’s forehead and then the other hand on the back of Rusza’s neck. “Good,” she declared, “both of you.”
“Then we can take off,” Everard said.
The sun rose over their shoulders while they were heading west toward the capital. Rusza became fidgety when the first of the outskirts came into view at midmorning. Dr. Rao exerted her sympathy’s active principle, and the young man drooped in his seat. “Why did you do that, Dr. Rao?” Rusza asked.
“Couldn’t you feel your sympathy beginning to accumulate? I could sense it through your sleeve. You need to become more aware of things like that, Rusza Tate. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to suppress yourself when you need to most.” She began to talk him through a self-assessment exercise.
In the back seat, Archet leaned forward so say in Everard’s ear, “She does that so naturally, and he’s really listening.”
“Mm?” Everard snapped out of his inattention. After his friend repeated the remark, he said, “She has the experience and one other advantage. She’s a woman. Have you never noticed that he listens more readily to women?”
When the staff car rolled to a halt at the base of the Government Center steps, Everard twisted around to scan the faces within his range of vision. “Perdita,” he said under his breath, as if speaking only to himself. Leaving the rest of the group behind, he climbed out of the staff car and took the steps three at a time until he came to a halt in front of a middle-aged woman in uniform. “Where is she?”
Perdita Jasper, Coralie’s adjutant and lifelong friend, led him inside the Government Center to an alcove off the council chamber. There, startled, Coralie stood like a jack-in-the-box released. “Everard!”
Lieutenant Jasper backed away a few steps as Everard raised his hands to shoulder height, palms toward Coralie, and Coralie responded by grasping those hands and leaning her forehead against his chest. Wyeth Rao was the first to find them thus. She too stopped at a distance and murmured to Lieutenant Jasper, “I’m glad we made it as quickly as we did. I wasn’t sure he would make it.”
“Him?” Perdita Jasper gave the older woman a disbelieving look. “I was thinking the same about her. This has been terribly hard on her.”
Everard was speaking then, with his voice uncharacteristically gentle and his words clear enough to hear even at that distance: “You are ridiculously tenderhearted.” He dropped his hands and coiled his arms around his wife. “I keep telling you, you shouldn’t try to be like me. It isn’t in you. Yes, I understand why you felt you had to do it. I do. Give it over to me now. Let me be me, and you simply be yourself, as you should be.” Without raising his voice, he turned his attention to the side, where the two women waited. “Is it possible to have my son brought to one of the private interview rooms? I wish very much to speak with him.”
This sent Lieutenant Jasper hastening away, but Wyeth remained. Meeting his gaze squarely, she said, “You’re still on the verge, you know.”
“I know. It will clear once I have expressed my thoughts… all my thoughts.”
Some minutes later, Lieutenant Jasper returned to announce that Mica had been escorted to one of the small interview rooms on the second floor. Everard tightened his hold on Coralie for a few more seconds. Then he said, “I have this one task left, and afterward you may have the rest of my day. Mm?” He kissed Coralie’s forehead and rubbed a thumb across the damp track that a tear had left on her cheek. “I’ll return shortly.”
Perdita led the way up a side stairway, with Everard behind her and Wyeth behind him. The door to the interview room in question stood open, showing a slightly heavy-set male version of Coralie seated within, his hands fastened with manacles looped through a ring in the table. Everard entered and shut the door behind himself. He began to speak, but the closed door did not permit his words to escape— only his flat tone.
Perdita sighed. “I’ll never get used to how he does that,” she said. “Like someone flipped a switch. One moment, he’s one way, the next he’s something totally different.”
“He is far more active inside his mind than people realize,” said Wyeth. “He only shows it rarely, so I suppose it does seem like he switches back and forth sometimes. He has been so worried about her, so angry about him,” she tilted her head towards the closed door, “that I don’t think he has heard half of what people said to him all the way here.”
“I thought that was the sort of thing only human soul sympathists could sense.”
“I can sense it with him because of the effect his sympathy has on him. Human thought sympathists are a strange bunch. They take in the thoughts of others, and I can sense the sort of reactions they have about those thoughts. It is difficult to explain.”
Suddenly, the two women jumped as Everard’s voice rose to a roar. Even with the muffling effect of the closed door, it was easy to make out what he said then: “How dare you make your mother cry! How dare you push her so far! I wish she hadn’t hit you, because I want to hit you myself, but she already did it, so I can’t!”
Perdita and Wyeth glanced at each other. The older woman smiled a little. “You’ve never heard him give a soldier a reprimand before? It’s a bit startling if you’re used to him as he usually is. People who say he has hardly any emotions have no notion of the truth. That self-control of his is truly amazing. He only releases it when he believes it will do more benefit than harm, which isn’t often— or when he is pushed past his limits, like now.”
“Father Enigma,” said Perdita with a smirk. “I never have understood him.”