“That should be everything,” Coralie concluded. “Gemi will be so pleased to get an assistant at last. Since she broke her foot, she’s been hard put to it to make the rounds to all the research stations, and there just isn’t anyone in Oasis free to help her.”
“Southwest Territory is designed to live close to its limits,” Everard agreed. “They can’t afford any superfluous population. Miss Aldine will earn her keep there, certainly.”
“Do you need anything else for the documentation, Zed?”
“No, you’ve been very clear and concise,” said the court transcriptionist, “not at all like your usual self, Coralie.”
Coralie returned her gaze to her files in some haste. To her lieutenant, she said, “Can I leave it up to you to contact the three elders in question and inform them of their new responsibilities, Perdita?”
“Since we have to head to the same destination, Lieutenant Jasper, shall we go together?” asked Zedekiah Katz.
“No, thank you.” Perdita left without a glance at the court transcriptionist.
“Still hasn’t forgiven me, I see.” Zedekiah stood.
“I’m sure that isn’t the case, Zed,” Coralie protested.
Everard shook his head. “Even if she forgives, Perdita rarely forgets and never leaves herself open to a second offense. At least, that has been my experience with her.”
“With regard to my offense,” remarked Zedekiah, “that’s probably wise, since I would ask her out to dinner again in an instant, if I saw an opening.” The thin, erudite-looking man gave the couple a dry smile. “I’ll take my leave, now that she has her head start.”
After Zedekiah has left, a painful silence occupied the office. Only the occasional crackle of electrical discharge broke that silence as Rusza Tate gathered sparks on the pad of his right index finger. As the silence grew prolonged, Rusza jabbed that same index finger into Mica’s side.
The other young man stifled his yelp of pain the best he could. His gaze shot sideways, only to be arrested by an undisguised glare from the normally good-natured boy. Mica looked away.
“Dr. Rao, Shy, escort our newest trainee to the main depot for outfitting,” said Everard. “It shouldn’t take much time. You’re both invited to join us for lunch at the Tate house, of course.”
Dr. Rao walked beside Mica, with Shyam Calder behind them, until they exited onto the front steps of the Government Center. In the street, Sergeant Major Calder moved to Mica’s other side, but a full arm’s-length away. “Are you familiar with the depot?” asked Calder.
“No… Sergeant Major,” Mica replied, stumbling slightly over the second part of his reply.
“Then we will steer you through,” said Dr. Rao, “and answer any questions you have.”
Mica glanced toward her, as if the word questions had triggered a line of thought that he was reluctant to speak.
“You’ll need to learn to ask questions,” she continued, “because my orders are to continue to suppress your sympathy until further notice. In order to learn, you’ll need to ask others for help.”
Mica glanced to his other side. “Then, Sergeant Major, what does that armband signify? I’ve seen one other similar to it– black and white instead of black and red– but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any others.”
Calder was slow to answer. Then he spoke in a soft, low voice. “It indicates that the wearer has, at some point in the past, had his or her sympathy cycle out of control, with the result that innocent bystanders were permanently damaged. There are three categories of armband. The first is black-and-black, meaning the bystander or bystanders were moderately to seriously injured. Black-and-white is the second, indicating critical injuries were caused. Then there’s the third, black-and-red. That indicates that someone died.”
Mica swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, Sergeant Major. I didn’t mean to–”
“I don’t mind telling anyone,” the older man said in the same soft voice. “It happened when I was a kid. Bound to happen sooner or later. I have what some people call death sympathy. Most who have it, have it with the passive principle. That means it helps sense the presence of living and dead things, and senses the difference between them. Active principle death sympathy is very rare.” Calder smiled suddenly. “Doc doesn’t like hearing it called ‘death sympathy,’ but that’s the sum of it. In the passive principle, it can be called ‘life sense sympathy,’ because that’s all it does– sense the level of life inside a living creature. But active principle draws life wherever it senses life; it doesn’t give life back. That’s why I avoid touching people, or even being in situations where I might accidentally touch someone.”
When they reached the multistory complex that housed the military’s services and supply depot, Calder fell back so that Dr. Rao and Mica became his shield against the steady foot traffic. Dr. Rao led the way down the right-hand corridor and into a warehouse. Its ceiling was four stories high. One wall was all windows. The other was four floors of storage, connected by utility stairs and occasionally punctuated by service elevators. The ground floor appeared to be a parking garage for military vehicles of all kinds. At the far end, barely visible from the entrance, three large garage doors stood open to welcome any passing breeze.
“This way.” A young man gestured to them from the doorway of a crowded office just inside the entrance. He turned back to speak to someone still within: “I’ll handle this.” Then he stepped forward to join the trio of new arrivals. “Good day, Dr. Rao, Sergeant Major Calder.” To the third member of the group, he said nothing.
“Hello, Slate. We need to outfit your brother for his duties,” said Dr. Rao.
“Dad told me. Let’s go.” Slate Locke, second son of Everard and Coralie, walked at a pace that made conversation difficult. He showed no inclination to speak beyond cutting Mica off the one time the older Locke son made an attempt. “This is my workplace,” he said. “I want you out of here as quickly as possible.” He grabbed a backpack and a duffle bag. With the duffle bag pinned to his side by his elbow, Slate started climbing a ladder here and a step stool there, grabbing items out of bins and stuffing them into the backpack. He had a clipboard with a list, but he knew his business so well that he barely had to consult it.
When the backpack was full, Slate thrust it into Mica’s arms and started up the nearest stairs to the second level. There the shelves were full of larger textiles and pieces of equipment. Slate moved faster here than below. He had the duffle bag filled in under five minutes. “That is everything allotted to trainees. Take it and get out.” He glared at his older brother.
Dr. Rao said, “Are you lunching with us at the Tate house?”
“No. Eating anything in the same room as him would just make the food taste bad.” To Mica, he added in a low, fervent voice, “I can’t stand the sight of you right now.” He said his curt farewells to Dr. Rao and Sergeant Major Calder before he pivoted on his heel and marched away from them, ostensibly to inventory a shelf full of tightly-rolled sleeping bags.
“Dr. Rao, maybe I shouldn’t go,” Mica began.
“That is not your choice. Your orders are to attend this luncheon.”
Thus Mica came to the comfortably large Tate house, up the familiar front steps and through the open doorway. Inside, everyone paused at the sight of him. Michael and Fineas, Mica’s nearest peers in the Tate family, recovered swiftly to give him hard stares before turning away from him deliberately.
Sergeant Major Calder spoke to Apple Tate. “Ma’am, I appreciate your invitation, but it’s better if I don’t.”
The Tate family matriarch exclaimed, “I knew you would say that.” She held out a little box wrapped in a linen napkin. “At least you can eat.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.” The sergeant major departed with Apple’s packed lunch in hand.
With this distraction now past, attention returned to Mica. Everard said, “I should let everyone know that I have decided to ask Dr. Rao to suppress Mica’s sympathy for the time being. This means that anyone who wants Mica to understand his or her thoughts must say them outright. I encourage you to do so, for his edification. He needs to understand.”
An uneasy moment passed in a hush. Lyndon, the youngest Tate and the one who spoke the least in general, was the first to respond. He spoke with crisp diction: “Then I want to say that I always thought you were an ass, but this went beyond all limits.” Then he put his arm around Crystallin’s shoulders and escorted her to the table. As he passed Fineas, Fineas ruffled his hair with a crooked smile.
“Let’s eat,” said Gar dryly.
Michael Tate took great care to seat his guest, Helena, before sitting opposite her. “I don’t understand, Uncle Everard, why you decided to handle it this way,” he said. “I mean, it’s not my business, I know, but… the other three got sent to the territories, and the rest got split up among the capital districts for their service. Isn’t it harder on you, doing it this way?”
“Harder on me?” Everard gazed at Michael in mild surprise, as if the idea had never entered into his thoughts. “Not at all.”
Michael’s father Archet chuckled. “I see. Coralie, you poor woman. How do you put up with him?”
“I’ve gotten used to it,” said Coralie.
Michael looked from one face to the next. “What?”
Dr. Rao took pity on him. “Everard chose this path because it would be the most difficult for Mica. That’s the difference between his way of thinking and yours, Michael Tate.”
From the far end of the table, Gar asked, “What is the plan, Everard?”
“Begin at the most basic of basics,” replied Everard. “Learn a new way of living, but learn it the slow way, without recourse to human thought sympathy. See the entirety of Haazak, the good and the bad, the familiar and the frightening. In time, if all goes well, understand how the various kinds of sympathies work together to one end.”
“That does sound tough,” said Archet. “How long do you expect this to take?”
“I don’t care. It will continue until I am satisfied that history has no chance of repeating itself.”
Helena Jeru covered a laugh behind her hand. “Pardon my speaking out of turn, but this conversation is just odd. You speak as if he weren’t there.” She nodded toward Mica.
Rusza said, “You talk as if he never did you any harm, Miss Helena.”
“To be accurate,” said Helena, “he hasn’t. I know what you did, Mica Locke.” Again she nodded toward him. “Maybe it’s because I’m an Outsider, but I don’t really feel any personal offense. On the contrary, I received blessing upon blessing out of that incident, so all I feel right now is grateful. If I hadn’t been in danger, I wouldn’t have been able to stay here and get to know everyone.”
“And I guess it would have taken longer for me to see how well-matched we are and ask you to marry me,” admitted Michael.
“Did you already?” exclaimed Coralie. “I congratulate you both!” She rose from her chair and edged around the table to hug Helena, who blushed with happiness.
“Nice,” said Rusza in a voice tinged with envy.
“Rusza,” said Helena, “if you really want to find your life’s mate, you’ve been going about it the wrong way. No woman wants to be one of many.”
“What many? I’ve never got as far as one– forget about many,” the boy retorted.
“You could have fooled us,” said Everard.
Even Archet’s quiet younger brother Kent joined in as the family chaffed Rusza about his apparently numerous girlfriends, whom he claimed heatedly were not girlfriends. Again, it was Helena who pulled the conversation back to a less provoking topic. “I’m relieved that you are so happy to welcome me as an older sister, Rusza,” she remarked, smiling. “I only wish everyone could be so accepting. I feel rather distressed to think I might cause others to think less of the Tates for taking in a former Outsider as a daughter-in-law.”
Gar laughed. “You aren’t the first, Helena, and even if you were, it won’t be like what you experienced recently. Tell her, Everard.”
“The attitude toward Outsiders espoused by Mica’s friends is a minority attitude, and a tiny minority at that. They would have known that, had they heeded any other ways of thought besides their own.” Everard looked full into Mica’s eyes as he said this. Then, returning his attention to Helena, he continued, “You’ll find most people in Haazak will take a sort of pride in you, since your presence among us proves the truth of the decrees given us by the Only One. You are a success story. That is how most people will think of you.”
“He speaks from experience,” Archet added, “since he came to us as an Outsider himself.”
Every member of the younger generation turned to gape at Everard. “You, Uncle?” said Fineas in astonishment.
“Is that so shocking?” Everard asked. “My circumstances were nowhere near as traumatic as Helena’s. When I was thirteen, my mother decided it was time I became independent and saw the world. She gave me money and supplies and advice, and then she sent me off to see the many ways people think. She had human thought sympathy too.”
“He showed up at the farm,” said Gar, “looking for seasonal work. I took him for much older than he was and hired him for the summer. He never really left after that point.”
“I had seen a representative sample of the many different ways of thinking that can be found in the world by that point,” Everard went on. “None struck me as being as beautiful as the decrees of the Only One. I wanted to stay and learn more, so I did.”
“Hardly anyone remembers now that Everard wasn’t originally one of ours,” Gar finished, “and in time, the same will be true of you, Helena. I’m sure of it.”