“Are you feeling steadier now?” Dr. Rao rubbed Lily’s back between the shoulders with a maternal touch.

Lily nodded. She was gazing blankly at the ground, so she missed noticing the quick wave of the hand by which the doctor summoned a second woman to them. Lily only noticed when the other woman was just feet away. Then she looked up to see who had approached. 

“Chii,” said Dr. Rao, “would you spare a few minutes for Miss Lilias Allen? She has just come from a distressing scene and could use a little counsel, I believe. Lily, this is Dr. Chinara Zuma.”

Lily nodded again, but her attention was no longer absent. “How did you know, Dr. Rao?”

“Experience, dear. I’ll leave you two to talk. Remember, the next simulation is in ten minutes, so don’t dawdle.”

“Dr. Rao called you ‘Chii,’” Lily said. “That’s a cute nickname. Have you known her long?”

“Since I was a trainee like you,” Dr. Zuma replied. “Now tell me all about what happened over there. I was too far away to see more than Sanna getting angry.”

Lily shivered. “I’m not at all surprised you could see that from far away. It… it frightened me a little.” She explained the bare events of the conflict.

“And that was enough to provoke her to such anger? That isn’t in her character, don’t you think?”

“There was something other than anger,” Lily mused. “I’m not sure what exactly it was, but it made me feel cold. Not physically. She had her sympathy under control. It felt like… I don’t know how to describe it. I’m scared that I maybe did something to make her angry with me.”

“Did it feel directed? From my vantage point, it felt generalized.” Dr. Zuma looked at Lily kindly. “You haven’t reached that point in your development yet, have you? With practice, it’s possible to distinguish between directed emotions and generalized emotions. Not everything is personal. And I have talked with Sanna often enough to know that she is fond of you. Even if you were part of the cause, she will forgive you.” 

A shrill whistle interrupted them. Dr. Zuma said, “They’re beginning. I’d like for you to keep watch over Sanna’s emotional state during this simulation. There are things about her past that put her in a precarious position, and I worry that this sim might be traumatic for her.”

“I’ll try,” Lily promised. She thanked the doctor and loped down the field to where she saw Lieutenant Ietta waving to her.

“Next sim’s on the obstacle course,” the lieutenant told her. “This way.”

They arrived at the edge of the training field dedicated to an obstacle course. Lily had been put through the course once already, but noticeable alterations had been made to the field. Some of the obstacles had been shrouded in camouflage netting and one section had a rough shed built over it. She came up behind her group in time to hear Captain Yeardley call out, “Fourth rotation, Father Everard’s students!”

“What about us?” Lily whispered to Anion Cooper.

“We’re going through the obstacle course,” the boy whispered back. “Just like the rest of them!” He fairly bubbled over with excitement.

The introduction to the obstacle course, which Lily had missed entirely, finished then. The different squads started to move toward a cordoned area alongside the training field. Lily followed her group in the same direction. 

Father Locke started to speak just above the hum of the crowd. “I will observe from the platform. Take advantage of the first three run-throughs to make your plans. Cooper, you may want to sit this one out.”

“No, sir, I want to try.”

Father Locke paused to give Anion a long look. “So be it. I’ll let the medics on standby know to prep you for it, if that’s your decision.” He strode away in the direction of a tent at the head of the field.

“What did he mean by that?” Anion mused aloud.

Maccani looked him up and down in a pointed way. “This is an obstacle course,” he said as if speaking to a small child, “and you are on crutches. What do you think he meant?”

“Oh.”

In a few minutes, two medics approached them. Without a word, they seized Anion, laid him out on the ground, and started wrapping him, first in a pelvic stabilization belt and then in a broad bandage that splinted his thighs together. “What’s this?” Anion asked them.

“To make the sim safer for you,” said one of them, “and more realistic for your teammates, we’re immobilizing your injury for rough-terrain travel. This is how you prep a casualty for unavoidable transport where there won’t be any vehicle,” she finished, but she was speaking to Maccani at that point. 

Maccani crouched down by Anion. “I see.”

“Do it while they’re laid out horizontal, to help ensure the pelvis is straight.”

“Right.”

Speaking again to Anion, the medic said, “If you try to use your legs independently for this, there’s every chance you’ll reinjure or additionally injure yourself. Don’t mess with this.” He tapped the bandage at Anion’s thigh.

“So I have to wear a… a girdle for this?” Anion looked comically plaintive. “In front of everyone?”

The medics righted him and returned his crutches to him. “You could’ve opted out. Good luck.”

Anion took an experimental step forward on his crutches. “Not bad,” he said. “I can handle this.”

Lily shifted her attention to Sanna. She found her standing at the front of the cordon, arms folded, staring intently at the training field. Rusza was beside her, but his attention kept moving between the first squad to attempt the course and the silent woman at his side. Lily sidled up and squeezed between them. She hugged Sanna. “Thanks for helping me earlier.”

“He was entirely out of line,” Sanna responded. “You aren’t hurt, are you?”

Lily shook her head. She kept her arms around the older girl, even knowing that it made Sanna feel awkward.

“I helped too,” Rusza protested.

“Just barely,” retorted Lily. “You were almost useless, but thanks for being concerned.  Sanna is still my hero, though.”

“Mine too,” Rusza laughed, but with a nervous look at Sanna. “I want to be just like her when I grow up.”

“I often wonder if you ever will grow up,” Sanna said. She seemed mollified by the conversation. When she looked in Anion’s direction, she unfolded her arms. “How are we supposed to get that through the course?”

That? That’s a nice way to talk about me.” Anion hobbled forward.

“In your condition, you qualify more as luggage,” Sanna retorted. “You haven’t been watching.” 

Rusza nodded, studying Anion’s immobilizing wraps. Then he looked at the other faces around him. “We’re at a disadvantage, no doubt about that. At least they aren’t timing us. We just have to get through however we can, without losing anyone.” He glanced back toward the field. “Here are my ideas so far. You can tell me if you all agree. We have two human soul sympathists and a human thought sympathist who— sorry if this sounds harsh, but you three aren’t the strongest.”

“That’s a fair assessment.” Mica Locke spoke so rarely than everyone paused to look at him.

“Right, so I think Moor should be your leader. His sympathy can tell right away if you get hurt or if you physically can’t handle an obstacle on your own, am I right?”

Maccani confirmed this with a nod.

“Good. As for you, Kumquat,” he said to Anion, “Mica and Waeber are going to have to brace you up. Good thing you’re so small,” he teased. He dodged the playful swing of Anion’s crutch before going back to his plans. “From what I’ve seen, we’ll be carrying you through most of the obstacles. We’ll take turns on that, so nobody gets too worn out. So that’s the middle group. That leaves us four fighters to cover the perimeter of the group. I think we need two to go in front and two to go in back.”

Over the earpiece, Father Locke spoke suddenly. “The terminology you want, Rusza, is vanguard and rearguard.”

“Ah, thanks, sir. I think the front, the vanguard, should be Tarbengar and Sanna Taivas. That leaves Gretta and me for rearguard.”

Lily shook her head. “I think Gretta should be in the vanguard position.”

Gretta looked hard at her. “Why?”

“Sanna is a strategist too, like Rusza, and it’s easier to see what’s going on from the back, isn’t it?” She appealed to Rusza.

“That’s how I figure it,” he agreed.

“But you’re fearless at charging ahead,” Lily said to Gretta, “and you have plenty of strength and agility to test out the obstacles first and tell us how hard they are.”

Gretta still wasn’t convinced that Lily’s comments weren’t personally motivated, but she agreed enough with the last point that she didn’t argue. “I can be a scout, sure.”

“Then if we all agree…” Rusza looked back at the course. “I think we should all watch close to see what we’re supposed to do.”

“Is this the first group?” asked Lily.

“The second,” Sanna replied. “And you’ve missed the first two obstacles.”

“I can handle that one,” said Anion as he watched the second squad clamber up a trio of giant steps. 

Sanna gave him a smirk. “And that?” She pointed to the next obstacle, a high ledge.

“Probably,” Anion said defensively. “I probably can.”

Sanna just shook her head.

Lieutenant Ietta came back. “Let’s go get your gear on.”

By the time the group was prepped and ready, the third squad was just reaching the end of the course. Lily perked up at the shouting she heard. “That third squad must be having some trouble.”

Ietta also lifted her head to listen. “Sounds to me like they’re doing pretty well. You don’t hear that kind of yelling unless they’re giving the ambush squad a hard time.”

“There’s an ambush?” said Anion.

“Yes, and they always target the weakest member of the squad first,” Ietta told him, “so be ready. Father told them not to go easy on you just because you’re students. You’re getting the real experience here.”

Anion looked toward the course entrance. “Oh good,” he said faintly, “the real experience.”

Ietta gripped Sanna by one shoulder. “Dr. Rao and Dr. Zuma are up on the platform, watching. They said for you not to take this too seriously.”

Sanna nodded. “I’ll do my best not to hurt anyone.”

“That isn’t what they meant,” Ietta began, but then the whistle blew for the next round. “Take it easy,” she said before she retreated. 

The group moved forward in their agreed-upon formation. Lily walked behind Maccani and Anion, who kept behind Mica and Sora Waeber. Sanna and Rusza were talking softly behind Lily. Their vanguard charged forward, and Gretta was first to climb the upward-sloped log that was their first obstacle. “It isn’t anchored at all,” she called down from the top. “I doubt crutches can navigate it.”

“Who are you calling ‘Crutches,’” Anion muttered.

Elfric clambered up. “We can lift him, if you hoist him partway,” he offered.

But Mica said, “There’s only one safe way to do this.” He took the crutches from Anion and bent down to sling the injured student across his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

“Are you sure?” Maccani asked.

“There’s harder yet to come. I can do this much.” Mica’s voice showed the strain. He centered his load on his shoulders and set one foot on the base of the log.

Maccani and Sora hurried to brace the log between them, and at the top, Gretta and Elfric reached down, ready to grab Mica as soon as he came into range.

“Oof, this feels weird,” said Anion.

“Luggage should keep quiet and stay still,” Sanna called out after him.

“If anyone else said that,” Anion replied breathlessly, “I would come up with a crushing retort, but… but since you could easily kick in my teeth… I shall refrain.”

Sanna laughed.

Rusza said, “Don’t let that stop you, Kumquat. I’d kind of like to see her pulverize you.” Then he said, “Ow…” plaintively after Sanna swatted the back of his head.

Anion laughed. “Serves you right, Runner Bean.”

Mica arrived at the top without incident and bent to set Anion back on his feet. Maccani was next up, bringing the crutches, but Mica said, “Might as well keep hold of those.”

Lily ran up the log. With no one to steady it, she felt it rock side to side under her, but she was up to the next level before it could do worse. She saw immediately why Mica had spoken as he had. The next obstacle was a belly crawl under heavy camouflage netting.

Only Gretta’s lower half showed as she squirmed under the netting. Sanna shouted, “Gretta! Wait! Light!” Only three words, but Sanna’s tone was sharp enough that Gretta reversed back into the opening to say, “What?”

Rusza hurried forward and knelt beside her. He peered under the netting. “Covered places like this might be an ambush,” he explained. “It happened to the first squad that went through. They lost the first person to go through.” He thrust his hand under the netting. Collected sunlight glowed strongly enough from under his skin to illuminate the obstacle from beneath. “See, there’s Private Manou Breton-Padbury, just waiting to take you captive. Hi, Private!”

A voice spoke from under the netting. “We meet again, Rusza Tate. I represent the Decay. Light buys you time to get through the obstacle. I can’t get near you as long as a light is shining on me. After the light goes out, you have three seconds, four max, to get past me before I recover.”

“I’ll stay here until the vanguard is through,” Rusza said, “so when you two get to the other end, shine your flashlights back toward the next two. It’s only wide enough for two at a time.”

With light at both ends of the obstacle, the next two crawled through: Maccani and Sora. Rusza waved for Lily to approach. To Anion, he said, “If you’re sure you can handle this on your own, go on the near side and give off enough light to keep the attack away from Lily.”

“Always a gentleman, Runner Bean.” Anion dropped to his knees and then to his stomach. He started to glow gently. “Never tried this without my legs before,” he grunted as he inched forward, digging his toes into the dirt for propulsion.

Under the netting, Lily saw that the Company G soldier was in the darkest corner, watching them pass. “Hey, Allen girl,” she said with a little wave.

Lily smiled, but she was too busy wriggling across the sand to wave back. She could tell that Anion was struggling without the freedom to use his legs. She passed him easily. When she emerged at the far end, she said, “Someone needs to help Anion. He’s having a hard time.”

Gretta and Elfric ducked halfway under the netting and each grabbed Anion by a wrist to drag him the last few feet. The injured student looked disheveled and chagrined. “I was doing fine,” he protested.

Rusza’s face appeared right behind him. “You were doing slow,” he corrected.

Sanna slid out from under the netting as if she had done these obstacles for years. “They might not be timing us, but it isn’t to our advantage to drag this out.”

“I’m getting nagged in stereo now,” muttered Anion.

“Keep this up,” Maccani warned him, “and you’ll be getting nagged in choral round. Let’s keep moving.”

They reached the giant steps. Gretta and Elfric were up them in seconds, but Anion said, “This one I do have under control.” He sat on the first, lowest step and lifted his feet after him. “Hold these.” He handed his crutches to Maccani. Like a contortionist, Anion bent his knees, got his feet under him, and stood up in one wobbly motion. He hopped to the next step and repeated this performance, only to come up short at the third step. “Whoa, this one’s a lot higher.”

Maccani and Mica were right behind him, however, and hoisted him by his armpits so that Elfric and Gretta could haul him up. They climbed up after him, making room for Sora and Lily to follow. Lily also needed a hoist over the last step edge, since she lacked the upper body strength to hoist herself.

This time, it was Mica who stopped Gretta and Elfric from pushing ahead across the next obstacle, a long ledge. “Stand over here and look first,” he said. “There are holes along the ledge, and people will try to grab you through the holes. You need to shine light into each before you pass.”

“That’s creepy,” Gretta declared.

“But true,” said Sanna. “Looking from below, it seemed like the holes are hard to see when you’re on the ledge.”

Rusza gazed at the wall. “I think I can remember where they are, but that doesn’t matter, since I can just light myself up the whole way across.”

“I can remember,” Mica said.

Sora spoke unexpectedly. “I can sense where the people are behind the wall.”

“Without seeing them?” Lily exclaimed. “That’s amazing.”

“Kumquat, do you want to try this one without help?” Rusza asked.

Anion looked down at the nearly 20-foot drop. “No, thanks.”

“So let’s try this,” Rusza continued. “Mica, go first with your flashlight. You have three seconds to pass each hole after you shine light into it. That’ll be enough to get you and Tarbengar across. Waeber, go next with your flashlight. Gretta and Moor, you hang Kumquat over your shoulders between you. If he shines light the whole time, you’ll all three be safe. I’ll escort Lily and Sanna Taivas across at the end with my light.”

“What a hardship for you,” Gretta mocked.

“I do what I need to do,” Rusza quipped. “Let’s go.”

The ledge was narrow enough that Elfric looked impossibly huge and likely to fall at any moment, but with Mica’s memory guiding them safely past the hidden nooks, they reached the far end without incident. Sora made it look easy, shining his flashlight into only certain nooks and shuffling past the others carelessly. When he too was safely at the end, Gretta and Maccani took Anion’s arms over their shoulders. They were a good match in height, and light radiating from Anion’s arms created halos behind their heads. They had a more difficult crossing, with Anion’s weight slowing them, but his light kept them from being attacked. 

Then Rusza said, “Our turn.”

Lily picked up the crutches and carried them as she shuffled sideways onto the ledge with her back to the rough wall. She noticed that Rusza had removed his boots and tied them together and rolled up his pants legs to the knee. His bare feet began to glow brightly, as did his hands. He laid one arm across Lily’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”

Over the earpiece Lily heard Father Locke’s voice. “Only you, Rusza Tate, would come up with a strategy against the Decay that involves you having your arms around two girls.”

“Sir, I’m more scared of having an arm around Sanna Taivas,” Rusza laughed. “All my vital points are totally exposed, if she wants to attack me. You’d better believe that I’m on my best behavior right now.”

They sidled along the ledge, which curved outward for a distance before taking a slightly concave turn. “Hold on here,” Rusza said suddenly. “There’s a hole right at the level of your hip just ahead, Lily. Shine your flashlight in it, just in case.” His own illumination increased until the glow was just perceptible even through his layers of protective gear.

“You can’t shine into it yourself?”

“Are you joking? I don’t dare put my hand down that low,” Rusza said. “Sanna Taivas will kill me.”

A voice on the other side of the wall erupted in a quick laugh.

“You can laugh, Aug,” Rusza said, raising his voice. “But you saw what she did to that other guy when he was out of line. I’m being professional. Aren’t I being professional?” he appealed to Sanna.

“You’re doing very well,” she agreed.

They crossed to the far end of the ledge where the rest of the group was backed up against a climbing wall. Elfric was already at the top, and Mica had just clambered over the lip of the wall when they arrived. Gretta took a firm grip on one of the knobs and started up the wall. Lily handed Anion’s crutches forward.

“Pass them up,” Maccani said. “Are you planning to try the climb yourself?”

“No,” Anion said grudgingly. “I’ve learned my lesson. How are we doing this?”

“How high can you reach?”

As soon as Sora was up the wall, Anion stretched up his right arm and closed his fingers around a knob a little more than six feet up.

“Lift yourself the best you can,” Maccani continued, “while I boost you up. Those already up can grab you and pull as soon as you’re in range.”

Anion gripped the handhold and raised his left hand. Elfric was able to catch him by the wrist and start to lift him. As soon as Anion’s other hand no longer supported his weight, Gretta reached down. Anion flailed his right arm, and she caught it. With Maccani lifting from below, the two vanguard members were able to pull Anion to the top easily.

Maccani followed like a squirrel up a tree. Lily giggled as she watched him go. “I hope I can make it half as quick as that. No, scratch that— I just hope I don’t fall off.”

“We’ll spot you from down here,” Rusza assured her. He lifted his hands behind her, hesitated,  and said, “Correction: Sanna Taivas will spot you from down here.”

Lily looked back in time to see Rusza retreat a step back along the ledge. Sanna grabbed him by the shoulder with her right hand. In a quick, dexterous move, she swung across him so that, for a brief moment, they were face to face, and then she moved her other foot, pivoting at the same time, so that she was between Lily and Rusza with her back again to the wall. “Wow,” said Lily.

Lily picked her way cautiously up the wall, trembling with the effort, until Maccani and Mica pulled her over the top. Lily turned to look back down. “Okay up here,” she called.

Sanna started up the wall. After a moment, she said, “Rusza Tate, what are you looking at?”

“Nothing,” he said hastily. “I’m not looking at anything.”

“You two are like a comedy duo sometimes,” Lily remarked as Sanna swung her leg over the top of the wall to lever herself onto the platform. 

“And I’m the clown,” Rusza said as his head appeared above the wall’s edge.

“There are worse things you could be,” Sanna noted. “What’s holding us up?”

Maccani said, “Guess.”

Ahead, a zigzag path of narrow planks formed the next obstacle. Anion Cooper was slowly, warily edging his way along on his crutches, leaving the small platform atop the climbing wall very crowded.

“It’s easy to get annoyed with him,” Sanna said, “but this is broad daylight in a safe area. Think how hard it would be if we were really crossing high, rough ground with an injured man who couldn’t move any faster?”

Lily glanced back on an impulse to look at Sanna’s face. The older girl looked solemn, almost sad. Lily touched her cheek. “Sanna?”

“I’m fine,” Sanna replied. She brushed off Lily’s touch casually, but she still looked sad.

The zigzag path had a safety net below it, but Lily still shivered when she set foot on the first board. “I don’t like heights.”

“South Territory is mostly flat, isn’t it?” Sanna said.

“Just how I like it,” Lily declared.

From the back, Rusza said, “When you get far enough into the country, there are some deep rifts in the jungle, though. It’s beautiful landscape.”

“Have you spent time in South?” Lily asked.

“When I was little. My mom was a South Territorial, born and bred. We went visiting every winter.”

“I thought there was something familiar about you. You act a little like a southern boy.”

“Do I?”

Up ahead, Anion was just arriving at the end of the obstacle. Gretta hooked a supporting hand under his elbow to help him, but Anion put one of his crutches wrong, missing the edge of the path by millimeters. He went over sideways and his elbow slipped out of Gretta’s hold. For half a heart-stopping moment, it looked like he would fall. Then Elfric grabbed him by the jacket and heaved him back to safety.

The echo of their united outcry rang across the training field. “My heart is just racing,” Lily confessed.

“Mine too,” said Anion. He craned his neck around. “Thanks, Tarbengar. You saved my butt.” Then he looked down. “Well, there’s no getting that back.” His right-hand crutch lay on the safety net several feet below. “Now what do we do?”

Elfric crouched down and hefted Anion over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry. “After this next obstacle, we’ll be on level ground, it looks like,” he said.

“This is even weirder going downhill,” Anion said. “Whoop!” His startled outcry as Elfric began jumping from post to post down the next obstacle made the others smile.

“I wouldn’t want to go down there like that,” Gretta said. She hopped from the platform to the first post, an eight-inch-diameter log planted vertically in the ground. Lightly she jumped from post to post, descending by increments to ground level.

Third from last to try this obstacle, Lily groaned as she looked over the edge. “I don’t like this…”

“Should I carry you down?” Sanna asked.

“That would be scarier. I’ll try.” Lily aimed for a wider post and landed squarely.

“You’re doing good,” Rusza called down after her.

Sanna landed atop a post near her. “Keep going; you can do this.”

“You guys make it look so easy.”

“Just one at a time.”

And one post at a time, with a good deal of flailing and squealing, Lily reached solid ground. “Oh, am I glad that’s over!”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but it only gets worse from here.” Rusza patted her head. “From this point, any obstacle could be an ambush. We need to keep close together and watch our surroundings closer.” He pointed to Elfric and Gretta, the vanguard members.

They nodded back and led off. The obstacle course doubled back against itself, but this second side followed a downward slope that entered the shade of a long, rough-built shed. A pair of flaming torches bracketed the path ahead. Beyond them, it looked like the path disappeared.

Lily saw her walking partner Sora look backwards more than once as the group warily approached the torch-lit area. Then Lily herself, alarmed, turned back to face Sanna. She stretched out her hand, just as Sora did.

With a sweep of his arm, Rusza blocked them from touching Sanna. He wrapped his arms around her with his body between her and the rest of the group. “You can hit me later for being overly familiar,” he said, “but I’m not, really. You’re remembering, aren’t you? Something about back then.”

Whatever Sanna said in reply didn’t travel farther than Rusza’s ears.

“That’s okay. You do what you have to do. I can take it. I’ll protect them— and you.” 

Thick fog billowed around them. Gretta turned back and snapped, “What’s the holdup now? A new comedy routine?”

Surprisingly, it was Sora who answered her. “It’s nothing funny. The darkness, the fire, the pit— her soul is deeply troubled.” He spoke in his usual vague way, but this time no one brushed him off. “Something past is still present to her.”

Maccani spoke softly. “She has seen people die. It looks like this is bringing it back to her.”

The fog thickened, obscuring Rusza’s back, before it finally dissipated. Sanna pushed Rusza firmly to a more appropriate distance. “Thanks.”

“My pl— You’re welcome,” Rusza said. Even he looked a little flustered. When he turned, he had a thick layer of frost melting across the front of his chest.

Sanna laughed unexpectedly as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. “You’re learning to censor yourself. That’s progress.” To the others, she said, “I’m sorry. Let’s continue.”

Gretta replied, “You’re going to have to explain all that to me later. Cooper, what do you see in the hole?”

“Nothing,” Anion said. “It’s empty.”

“Just an obstacle, then.” Gretta took a long run up and leaped over the pit. “There’s a bridge over here. It isn’t much of a bridge, but it’ll get the rest of you across.” She started dragging a long wooden construction toward the pit.

Sanna went from standing still to running in an instant. She too had no trouble hurtling the ten-foot pit, but when she landed, she threw herself at a vague movement in the shadows behind Gretta. “Hurry,” she shouted to the rest of the group.

Lily was startled into immobility. Rusza dragged her forward by the hand as Maccani ran back along the path. Then he too was grappling with someone in the shadows while Rusza herded the more vulnerable members of the group toward the pit edge.

Elfric and Mica reached together across the void for the end of the unwieldy bridge. Anion was shining brightly, revealing the two attackers as the Hilston cousins of Company G. Elfric went first over the bridge. Mica and Sora went next, sideways, with Anion between them. Sanna had downed her opponent and was pinning him to the ground, but he clearly was not giving up yet. As Lily ran across the bridge, not looking down, Sanna’s opponent broke free and tackled Sanna to the ground, trying to subdue her. Sanna exclaimed, “You!” 

Then Private Hilston yelped and stumbled back from her, cradling his hand to his chest. “Broke my thumb,” he complained.

“You need to be more particular where you grab,” Sanna retorted.

Private Hilston’s answering smile was unrepentant. 

“That’s a South Territory boy for you,” Lily said. “All hands.”

“Is that what you meant? I’m hurt,” said Rusza as he helped Maccani carry the other Private Hilston over the bridge.

“What did you do to Murdoch?” said the first Private Hilston. 

“I just shocked him a little,” Rusza said. “He’s only stunned.”

“We’re used to that. Captain Haigh gives us that regular.”

“And broken fingers? Is that a regular thing too?”

Sanna said briskly, “We need to keep moving.” She strode away.

Private Falgrim Hilston said, “Listen, capital cousin. Sometimes the fun is worth the injury.”

Rusza stood for a few moments, looking from Sanna’s back to Private Hilston’s grin. Then he said, “Not this time. Don’t do it again” He reached down. Electricity crackled, and Private Hilston uttered a strangled whine. Rusza straightened and walked away. He looked a little flustered when he found Lily waiting for him.

“That was a gentlemanly thing you did just then,” she said. “I have to take back what I said about you before.”

“Gentlem— no,” Rusza said, “I’m pretty sure that shocking him when he was already injured can’t be called gentlemanly. I’ll definitely get in trouble for it.”

“Not that. You got angry on Sanna’s behalf.” When Rusza tried to deny it, Lily took hold of his arm. “Don’t lie to a soul sympathist, Rusza Tate. I know what I saw.”

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