Lillias Allen waited in the corridor until the door to the doctor’s office opened to release Sanna Taivas. “Private Taivas?”
The young woman stopped short as if startled. “Allen, isn’t it?”
“Lillias Allen, yes, but do call me Lily,” said the girl, “it’s what all my friends call me. I’m so glad you’re feeling better. I requested that you and I be partners for the next round of training activities. Do you mind at all? I have human soul sympathy, so I’m not much use for physical activities, I’m afraid, but I’ll do my best not to drag you down.”
Sanna Taivas looked at her for another few seconds before saying, “I don’t worry about that. I’m not so competitive, and I’ve grown used to my cousin Fiola, who is the same way as you about exercise.”
“How old is she?”
“I’m a little bit older than her. What training are you here for?”
“Sympathy control,” Sanna answered, “to qualify for a specialist disposal squad. And you?”
“Leadership training,” Lily said. “Human soul sympathy is rare where I come from, and they want to see if I have in me the makings of a possible elder. Actually, they wanted me to join Mother Locke’s staff, but Father Locke always insists on screening new staff who apply for a spot with her. I think that’s sweet of him, don’t you?”
“Sweet?” Sanna pondered that for a time, as if she had trouble reconciling the word sweet with what she knew of Everard Locke. “It’s practical, at least. I never thought of human thought sympathists as very practical, but I never thought of them as skilled fighters either. He’s both, and that surprised me greatly when I first met him.”
“I know what you mean. But let’s get back to the group. I said I’d bring you, since you weren’t there to hear where we would need to be.” Lily took the lead and brought Sanna down to the subterranean levels of the depot. Trucks of varying sizes drove along the street that passed down the length of the huge building at the second subterranean level. Two broad elevated walkways ran, one on each side of the street, as access-ways to doors at the first subterranean level. A strong draft blew through the tunnel. Lily held onto to the railing. “So windy!” she shouted. “Almost there!”
She headed for a door within an alcove. When she pulled at the handle, Lily was barely able to open the heavy door.
Sanna grabbed the edge of the door and pulled the door open the rest of the way.
“Thanks,” said Lily, rubbing her hands. “So heavy!”
Inside, they rejoined their training group in a long, low room full of equipment. Father Locke said, “Now that we’re all present, let’s begin. You need to familiarize yourselves with the standard equipment that is used by military personnel on the front lines. Even if you aren’t training for a combat position, you will be traveling with me for some months, some of you for longer. The knowledge will be necessary. These are my lieutenants,” he added with a gesture toward the two soldiers standing unobtrusively to the side. “Moor and Warhite, since you have already been through some of this training, I expect you to assist the others at the beginning.”
They split into pairs and trios. One of the lieutenants, the woman, came to introduce herself to Lily. “I’m Lieutenant Ietta Knox. Your name is Lillias Allen, right?”
“But everyone just calls me Lily,” the girl replied.
“You’re from South Territory, right? Have you ever been shown the environmental hazard gear?”
Lily shook her head. “I’ve seen plenty of people wearing it when they go out and come back from patrols.”
“Then you know what it should look like when we’re finished.” She began with the underlayer, a one-piece bodysuit formed of a tough, membranous material.
They were distracted by a sharp exclamation of disgust from Gretta Warhite beside them. “You’re as cold as a corpse,” she said, drawing back her hand from Sanna’s shoulder.
“I apologize for distressing you.” Sanna continued to climb into her own underlayer. “If you would just model the right way for me, it won’t be as unpleasant for you, I hope.”
“I thought Dr. Rao was supposed to get your sympathy under control.”
“But this is under control,” Sanna replied. “It goes no farther than my skin. If it were dangerous, then I wouldn’t let you come near me.”
“Gretta.” Lieutenant Ietta Knox gestured for the young woman to switch places with her.
When Gretta came to stand in front of Lily instead, she said to Lily, “What’s wrong with you?”
Lily continued just looking at her. Then she said, “What comes after the underlayer?”
They practiced putting on the environmental hazard gear until even Sora could do it without prompting. From there, they learned how to use alkaline powder grenades to neutralize the Decay for short periods of time, how to operate small remote-controlled observation robots to check suspicious areas safely, and even how to drive some of the military vehicles. Lily looked childlike behind the wheel of the personnel carrier. Her toes could only just press the pedals.
Everard dismissed them to wash for lunch. Lily kept close behind Sanna en route to the women’s washroom. When they were by themselves at the long sink, Lily whispered, “Don’t let Gretta make you feel bad. She’s just jealous.”
“I don’t,” said Sanna, “and why should she feel jealous?”
“I’m not sure why, but she really didn’t like all the attention you got after the run this morning.”
“Neither did I. It isn’t the sort of attention anyone sane would like.” Sanna hesitated. “Is this from your sympathy? If so, it is better not to discuss what you sense inside another person without that person’s permission. It goes too near to gossip for my liking. I’ll take your warning as well-meant, but be careful in the future. “
Lily’s head drooped. “I guess you’re right. I don’t like the way she talked to you, though.”
Sanna hesitated again, this time before setting her hand on the top of Lily’s head. “You are a good girl, Lily Allen. Thanks for taking my part.”
They ate in the common mess hall. It was crowded with soldiers and other trainees. A table opened up just as Father Locke came through the line with his tray, so he claimed it and waved his students over to join him. He sat at the end of one bench. Mica, close at his heels, sat obediently beside him in the next spot. Sora, having followed Mica through the line in his usual blind abstraction, overshot the table entirely and would have kept walking, had Maccani not reached out to snag the back of his shirt and stop him.
Lily was the first woman of the group to arrive at the table, and she claimed the seat opposite Father Locke. “Sanna, sit by me,” she said, when it looked as though Sanna would sit in the most distant place.
Sanna only hesitated for part of a second before replying, “If you want me to,” and sitting opposite Mica.
Another tray clattered down onto the table at Sanna’s other side. Rusza sat down in the spot he had claimed. His eyes met Father Locke’s. “I’m just being a… a… a buffer, that’s the word.” He sat close enough that his arm pressed against Sanna’s. “It’s nice and cool right here,” Rusza declared. Then he saw Sanna’s gaze directed at him, and he scooted a few centimeters away, until they no longer were touching. “Nice and cold,” he repeated.
One of Father Locke’s lieutenants, Jokulle Knox, sat on Rusza’s right. He too gave Rusza a hard look, which Rusza missed entirely.
When the other lieutenant, Ietta, came and claimed the next spot, Father Locke murmured, “Another buffer, Jock?”
Rusza turned to his male seatmate. “Lieutenant Jock, I wanted to ask you, how long have you been on Unc– Father Locke’s staff?”
Jokulle raised an eyebrow.
Rusza immediately said, “Sorry, is that something I shouldn’t ask?”
“Not at all, but I didn’t suppose you were curious about me. No, it’s no secret. I’ve been working with Father eight years now.”
“How did you get to where you are?”
“As a human thought sympathist, I had a strong admiration for Father Locke, so I applied to train with him. I’ve been here since then.”
Gretta spoke from beyond Ietta. “I’m just the same. I applied for a place with Mother Locke because I’ve always looked up to her as a fellow mineral sympathist.”
“I’m not a mineral sympathist,” said Lily, “but from the first time I met Mother Locke, I was so impressed by her strength of heart. That’s why I applied to train with her.”
Everyone looked to Sanna. Lily prompted, “What do you think, Sanna?”
“About Mother Locke? I haven’t met her more than the once, but from reputation and our one meeting, I consider her estimable. That isn’t why I sought this training, however. I came because of Dr. Rao.”
An uncomfortable pause followed. Jock looked around and then turned to his wife. “I don’t understand. The girl said nothing wrong.”
Ietta laughed. “That’s because you’re a North Territorial yourself and just as blunt. But Father knows that better than any of us. See,” she said to the other students, “he didn’t take offense, and neither should you.”
Father Locke looked up from his food. “Offense? What she said was more accurate than what Warhite and Allen said. I like Northern speech for its clarity and its brevity. They have the habit of saying only what needs to be said, without adornment or evasion. Coralie is estimable, highly so. I hope you get many chances to confirm that for yourself, Taivas.”
“My ambitions aren’t as extravagant as to seek a place on her staff, sir, or on yours. I could never do all that Mother Locke does. My aim is only to find a place for myself where my sympathy is useful, not harmful.”
“Almost her very words,” Father Locke murmured. “‘I could never do all that Mother does.’ That is what Cora said when her name was put forward as a candidate to replace Mother Kreug. She’s tenderhearted by nature, ridiculously so. Her most extravagant ambition, when I first met her, was to build a little museum to house her rock collection, for the benefit of other mineral enthusiasts. Now she travels eight months out of the year, bringing to the different territories whatever supplies and support they need. When she isn’t traveling, she manages the local production and supply system. It is hard on her, so she needs the best staff she can get. That’s one reason why I scrutinize all applications to join her staff or receive training from her.”
Sanna said, “She has a valuable partner in you, sir.”
“Not nearly as valuable as she is to me,” he replied. “Besides that, if I didn’t vet the applications, Perdita would do it, and she isn’t as lenient as I am.”
His lieutenants laughed at this.
“I wouldn’t call you lenient, sir,” said Maccani Moor.
“That’s what makes it funny,” Ietta said. “He’s right, though. Lieutenant Jasper would make short work of you two girls if Father didn’t prepare you first.”
“On that note,” Father Locke said, “this afternoon will be dedicated to more equipment familiarization. I have arranged for another assistant to join us, to even out the imbalance on the men’s side.”
So it turned out that they found a young man waiting for them at the door to another equipment storage room, this one on the third floor of the depot. “This is my second son, Slate Locke,” Father said. “He is one of the senior apprentices here at the depot and knows the equipment well.”
Lily looked thoughtfully from Slate to Mica, but Sora, also a human soul sympathist, said aloud, “You’re too angry.”
Slate’s eyes opened wide. For the first time since the group had entered, he looked at his elder brother. “What do you have to be angry about?”
“Not you,” Mica answered. “That’s all you wanted to know, wasn’t it?”
“We will settle this later,” their father interrupted, “at home. Right now, we focus on our training session.”
They divided into pairs and threes again. This time, Dr. Rao had joined them and took charge of Sanna and Lily, while Ietta took charge of Gretta. “Because our names match,” the lieutenant said with a grin.
While Dr. Rao showed Sanna how to wear the headset with monocular lens and earpiece, Lily continued observing the Locke brothers quietly. Mica worked with his father, as before, while Slate had been given charge of Sora the daydreamer. They weren’t far apart in the room, but they had turned their backs on each other. “Dr. Rao,” Lily began.
“What?” replied the doctor amiably.
“I know this isn’t really my concern, but I can’t stop being concerned anyway. Is Mother Locke all right with… with the way things are between those two? Father said she’s so tenderhearted, and that has to be heartbreaking for her to see.”
Dr. Rao glanced at the brothers. “I don’t pretend to know how Coralie feels about those two, but I know she was anything but all right after she had to arrest her son. I expect it is very hard for her.”
“Whoa,” Rusza exclaimed. “That’s amazing! I can see all the way to the end down there. I can read the shelf labels!”
“Raise the magnification one factor higher,” said Father Locke, “and look again.”
“Whoa!” Rusza laughed a delighted laugh.
“The lens enables its user to magnify objects up to half a mile away. The disadvantage is that you can sometimes get a headache from the strain of wearing it too long. Touch the other button,” he directed. “Now you have it set to ‘broadcast,’ and anyone connected with your headset can see what you see through the lens.”
Mica, stumbling suddenly, inadvertently echoed Rusza. “Whoa.”
“It’s best to warn the other person before you select him to broadcast to,” Father added wryly. “You essentially just hijacked one of Mica’s eyes.”
“Sorry,” Rusza laughed. “How is the broadcast function usually used?”
“When you first start out on the front, it’s as a trainee observer. You’ll be paired with a frontline soldier who will explain to you what you’re seeing through the broadcast function. Later, as a full observer, if you notice something significant that can’t be seen easily from the front, you can broadcast it to your supervising officer.”
Dr. Rao helped Lily put on her headset the right way. “You can also focus your sympathy more precisely through the lens,” the doctor explained. “It’s something we’ve noticed with sight-activated sympathies. My sympathy, for instance, uses touch to identify and affect other sympathies, so the lens doesn’t have any effect on it. Yours, though, since yours is sight-activated, should be able to use the lens for closer focus.” The older woman met Lily’s gaze with a hint of conspiracy in her eyes. “Give it a try,” she said.
Lily turned her lens on Mica Locke. “Ah,” was all she said at first. She adjusted the magnification factor once, then twice. “That’s…” she faltered.
Dr. Rao whispered, “What did you see?”
“He’s so angry at himself,” Lily whispered back. “He’s so envious. I think it’s Lieutenant Jock he envies. Is it because of what Lieutenant Jock said at lunch?”
“Who can say? That’s interesting, though, don’t you think, Sanna?”
“Yes,” Sanna admitted, “but I’m not sure it’s something I should know.”
“Does it alter how you think of Mica?” Dr. Rao challenged her.
“For the better?” pressed the doctor.
“A little,” Sanna repeated.
“Then it is worth knowing. That, my girls, is the difference between this confidence and the one you two shared in the washroom before lunch. You should be careful about exchanging confidences in that washroom, you see, because you never know who might be listening.” The doctor’s smile was pure impishness.
Lily blushed. “Oh.”