Chinara Zuma leaned aside and whispered to Dr. Rao, “I don’t know how Father can hold a conversation with us while he gets input from two earpieces. Is it his sympathy?”

Dr. Rao nodded in the way that usually meant that she wouldn’t explain until later. But Chinara’s hypothesis was practically confirmed by the arrival of Father Everard’s other permanent staff, particularly Jokulle Knox. He too wore two earpieces, although he removed one of them when he arrived. He handed his clipboard of notes to Father Everard. 

“Good,” Father muttered. He touched his left earpiece to activate the microphone. “One more obstacle to go,” he told the students. “Tarbengar, how are you holding up?” He nodded. “Don’t hesitate to share responsibility for transporting Cooper.”

“He’s remarkably durable,” Chinara said to Jokulle Knox, who had taken up his station next to her.

“He is,” the northerner replied quietly. “I find that true of many westerners. They live rigorous lives, and that has developed them into a sturdy, hardworking breed.”

“He also has a strict sense of responsibility,” Dr. Rao added. “Can’t you see it in him, Chii? He was the one who injured Cooper, so he feels responsible for him.”

“Was he? That makes sense of that. I wondered where that came from.”

The other man in the room spoke for the first time. “How long have you had these kids, Everard?”

Father Everard turned off his microphone before saying, “Warhite and Moor have been with me seven months now. The rest, not quite three months. But Taivas, as you know, was trained in most of this before she left her village, and Rusza Tate has turned out to be a complete prodigy at tactics. I can’t take any credit for them, Emmett.”

“Oh, can’t you? You have an eye for talent, no denying that. And from what you tell me, most of the Tate boy’s understanding of tactics comes from listening to you talking with his father.”

“I had no idea that he was ever listening,” Father Everard admitted. “He never seems to be listening. I’m intrigued by the triangle that has formed between Moor, Tate, and Taivas. They keep learning from one another and amplifying each other’s thoughts where one or two alone would have stopped short. They have a remarkable compatibility of personality and thinking style. I have had Moor working on body mechanics fighting with Taivas, and Tate never seems far away at those times. He has practically imprinted on Taivas.”

“So she’s his girl? I wondered, after what passed between him and Hilston.”

Chinara saw a look pass between Father Everard and Dr. Rao. “We’re not sure that’s the direction of his feelings,” Father Everard said carefully. “He’s one of your indiscriminate types, always after female attention. There seems to be a difference with Taivas, but if she were fifteen to twenty years older, I would swear he saw her as a mother figure.”

Dr. Rao agreed. “He may have retaliated against Hilston just like a boy might retaliate against any man who insulted his mom. It’s hard to know. Even he isn’t sure how he feels about her, as far as any of us can tell.”

“That sounds too complicated for me,” Drill Sergeant Brook complained. 

“It is for me,” agreed Lieutenant Jokulle Knox. 

Father Everard leaned across the railing to scan the end of the course. He turned on his microphone and said, “Good job, all of you. Lieutenant Ietta will take you through your review. Meet up at the mess hall afterward for lunch.” He removed his lens and both earpieces after that. “Assessments. Emmett, you’ve trained hundreds of soldiers. I would be obliged if you would give your thoughts on their performance.”

“General thoughts: slow, disorganized, clumsy,” said the old man. “That’s if they were a real squad. For trainees, spectacular. They made it through without losing anyone, even with one injured and one noncombatant slowing them down.”

“Noncombatant?” Dr. Rao asked.

“The Allen girl. She’s no soldier. If not for the obligatory four years, she would never be here. She’ll do her four years and then go civilian.”

“She’s a candidate to join Cora’s staff,” Father Everard noted.

Drill Sergeant Brook snorted. “She won’t be, once she knows how little glamour is in it. Give your missus Taivas instead.”

“And she doesn’t want to be on Cora’s staff,” said Father Everard with a hint of amusement. “I thought you wanted Taivas for Company G.”

“I do, but I’m not fool enough to expect that she’ll be there permanently. I don’t expect she can settle anywhere permanently,” the old man said shrewdly, “not if all I’ve heard about her is true.”

Father Everard mused over this. “The climate effect,” he said at last. 

“You’ve been busy looking at them in the now,” said Brook kindly. “I’m an old man with more time on his hands. I can look at them in the future easier from where I stand.”

“I understand.” After a few more seconds of blank stare, Father Everard’s eyes focused on the clipboard he held. “Since we’ve brought up Allen already, what are your thoughts on her performance, everyone?”

“She put in more effort than I expected,” Lieutenant Knox offered. “She didn’t give up.”

“Yes,” said Drill Sergeant Brook, “for a born noncombatant, she was game. She didn’t take the course seriously, though. You saw her,” he said with his eyes on Father Everard, “hanging on the Tate boy’s arm and chatting with him after the pit obstacle. You’d think they were walking out on a fine spring evening! No tension at all.”

Dr. Rao laughed. “Those two! But she calmed him down by doing just that. A calm Rusza is a Rusza less likely to lose control of his sympathy. She may not have intended it like that, but it worked out in the end.”

“Was he wavering again?” Father Everard asked.

“Not wavering,” Dr. Rao replied, “but there was a definite dampening in his sympathy that usually indicates a spike to follow. A little like what had happened with Sanna just before the obstacle.”

“That,” said the old man. “What was that?”

Father Everard turned his attention to Chinara. “That is why I asked Dr. Zuma to stay for the assessment. What made her destabilize just then? Waeber said something vague about darkness and fire.”

“Darkness, fire, and a pit,” Chinara confirmed. “It’s the one thing Sanna hasn’t been able to talk about yet. I don’t know how much Drill Sergeant Brook knows about her story…”

“Basic facts,” he said. “Grew up in Sky-wind Village, of tragic memory; trained to fight with the usual Northern strictness; sympathy went into cycle and hurt folks badly; moved to the capital after that, and the climate around her village changed drastically in her absence, leading to a surge in Decay activity and the destruction of the village.”

“She went back that night,” Chinara said. “She found her uncle being devoured by the Decay and chopped off the affected leg with her camping axe. She and her chaperone were carrying him down the mountain when they met a disposal company heading to the village’s assistance. Sanna left her uncle and the children with the disposal company’s medics and went back to the village. She saw the bodies. That much I got her to say, but as to what else she saw… I can only guess.”

Drill Sergeant Brook was motionless through Chinara’s speech, but he radiated compassion to the eyes of her sympathy. “And her even younger than Louisa,” he muttered. “Sky-wind already made it into the training curriculum. Textbook worst-case scenario: sinkhole collapse in a small community without its own disposal squad. She saw the cleanup?”

Chinara nodded. “She stayed until all the dead were decently interred. If my guess is correct, she was at every burial as a representative of the village.”

“How old?”

“She was about fifteen at the time.”

Brook wagged his head. “Poor child. Family?”

“The uncle she saved. Two younger cousins by marriage. No one else survived.”

The old man fished a tissue out of his hip pocket and blew his nose. Then, gruffly, he said, “She’ll get along with Edmund and Maggie.”

“She seems to be getting along well with Edmund already,” Dr. Rao noted.

“And doesn’t it annoy Tate,” added Lieutenant Knox with a glint of pleased reprisal in his eyes.

“Honestly,” Dr. Rao said, “to go so far as to misbehave just to get her attention— he still has a lot of immaturity to work through.”

“What’s this?” asked Drill Sergeant Brook. 

“This morning,” Lieutenant Knox said. “Taivas went out with Company G for their morning hike. I don’t know if I would have noticed it myself, but Ietta happened to be looking at just the right time. She says that the boy only started chatting with her, friendly-like, after he saw Taivas and Captain Haigh chatting. He seemed distracted, she said. Then Taivas took him from behind and threw him on the ground to give him one of her rebukes. Ietta couldn’t stop laughing. I struggled not to laugh when he apologized later. I thought he had the air of one who had had an epiphany of sorts. As if he suddenly understood what jealousy was.”

“Is that what was going on?” Father Everard said. “I was preoccupied at the time. Too bad. I’d like to have seen that.”

“Maccani Moor noticed,” Dr. Rao said.

“Tell me about him,” Brook said. “He strikes me as an odd one.”

“He’s hard to read,” Father Everard agreed. “His family is here, except for his immediate family. I understand that his grandfather’s plan is to have him trained as a full medic so that he can work as a certified massage therapist at the family business here in Leeward. What Maccani has in mind may well be entirely different. He doesn’t engage in direct confrontation, but he has a distinctly subversive streak in his character. I’ve gotten a sense from him that he wants to go full military.”

“He did well in this sim,” the old man said, “and he’s one of the triad who disrupted the prior sim. You ought to keep a close eye on him.”

“I already do,” Father Everard assured him.

Dr. Rao added, “He influenced Cooper for the better in this sim. That took part of the burden off his younger teammates.”

“Jock, you have him noted as meets expectations. Nothing more?”

“He wasn’t exerting himself in the first half. Mica did more than he did.”

“His primary weakness,” Father Everard noted. “A lazy streak. It happens so often with those children for whom everything comes too easily. What would you give Mica? You didn’t write anything down except this.” He tapped a fingertip on the clipboard. 

“‘Fair assessment,’” Lieutenant Knox quoted from memory. “That was his first remark during the sim. He said that to a boy who has been like a little brother or cousin to him. Then he said nothing more during the planning phase. He left it entirely to Tate. He listened to everyone else give their thoughts, and when they started, he acted to lift some of their burden. I thought that showed maturity.”

“No assessment rank, though?” asked Father Everard quietly. 

“I was conflicted. How do I give an assessment like meets expectations or exceeds expectations if I’m no longer sure what I expect from him?”

Drill Sergeant Brook barked a laugh. “Thought sympathists: you overthink everything, every last one of you. He did a good job, Everard. You can be proud of him.”

Father Everard gave the old soldier a hint of a smile, but his next words were for his lieutenant. “I was remiss in that. I’ll create a rubric of what I expect of him. You can follow that.”

Chinara ventured to say softly, “But you are proud of his performance today, Father.”

“Of course I am. He shows startling progress.”

“Will you tell him so?”

Father Everard studied her face. “Is it important for his soul, Dr. Zuma?”

“Very.”

“I planned to commend him for this performance,” Father Everard said, “but I will make sure to do it thoroughly, if it will do him good.”

“You’re so earnest about these things,” Chinara commented. “I wonder if he knows how earnest you are? Neither of you seems able to understand how the other feels.”

“Coralie has such a hard time between the two of you,” Dr. Rao added.

“I’ll take that under consideration, doctors.” This time, the twinkle was evident in his deep brown eyes. “We’ve covered Allen, Moor, and Mica. What about Cooper?”

“He did well,” said Dr. Rao, “for luggage.”

Brook grinned. “But he probably learned a better lesson than any of the rest. He went in, full of the intent to show off what he could do, and he came out looking for something, anything he could do for his squad. That’s growth if ever I saw it.”

Father Everard nodded and made a note on the clipboard. “I saw that, and I rejoiced to see it. He always makes things into a competition he can’t win. Maybe he’ll think twice about that now. I need to find a way to follow up on that. Exceeds expectations, certainly. And Waeber?”

“What is that kid?” Brook demanded.

The always impassive Father Everard went so far as to chuckle at that. “I received Sora Waeber less as a recommendation and more as a plea for help. One of the elders in his district had despaired of getting Waeber to take up any practical work, and he asked me if I would try my hand at getting the boy to engage with the world around him. Waeber knows the statutes by heart. He spends most of his time lost in contemplation of the Divine will. He just doesn’t do anything about what he knows. You saw how strong his soul sympathy is: beyond sight-activation. He knew exactly where Company G was hiding for each of the ambushes. He reacted to Taivas’ distress sooner than anyone, and she was six feet behind him in a blind spot. If he learned to act on what he knows and senses, I cannot begin to imagine what he would become.”

“He’ll never be proper army,” Brook grumbled, “but you’ve made me curious now too.”

“I see that you agreed with my thoughts on Waeber, Jock,” continued Father Everard. “He too exceeded expectations. Remarkable focus he showed during this sim. It proves he can do it. What do you think about Warhite?” he asked the drill sergeant.

Emmett Brook considered the question without answering for a while. “Is she another of your missus’ admirers?” he said at last.

“So she says,” Father Everard answered.

“She’s strong enough. She has the courage. I’d call her good infantry material, if the capital has such a thing.”

Father Everard looked closely at the older man. “But you aren’t satisfied?”

“She doesn’t fit in this group. Did she fit before? You said she was with you longer, so she must have come late to your last group.”

This made Father Everard pause to consider. He said eventually, “I believe there was less conflict around her in the last group, but I’m not sure why.”

Dr. Rao said, “Because your last group was all male except for Corporal Meadows, who was thirtysomething and married. The conflict around her in this group is entirely with Allen— and toward Taivas, though Taivas pays no attention to it.”

“Ah,” said Brook, “competitive females.”

“She is capable,” Lieutenant Knox offered. “Capable, but not brilliant. She resents Taivas for that hint of genius that Taivas sometimes shows but she lacks. I believe she envies her her place in what Drill Sergeant Brook called the triad.”

“And the Allen girl sides with Taivas,” Brook guessed.

“From the beginning,” Father Everard confirmed.

Brook wagged his head. “And Taivas doesn’t notice, you say?”

“Towards herself, no.”

Chinara spoke. “But it has been pointed out to her, so she knows about it now. Trainee Tarbengar made it known to her, and she told me. She’s troubled by it.”

“Tarbengar, of all people?” Father Everard mused. “I never get tired of the surprises I find in people’s ways of thinking. So she does know now. It doesn’t show. She acts toward Warhite the same as ever. Is that deliberate?”

Chinara answered, “Yes. Sanna says she has nothing against Gretta, and she feels that acting as an intermediary between Gretta and Lily is a valuable thing.”

“She has scolded Lily, at least once to my certain knowledge, for speaking ill of Gretta in secret,” Dr. Rao added.

Father Everard made a note on the clipboard. “We must find a way to resolve this. Such discord is contrary to the Divine will, and it’s unproductive. Dr. Zuma, may I ask your assistance in this?”

“Yes, of course.”

“On the whole, I feel Warhite gave a solid performance,” Brook said. “At least meets expectations, for sure. Just her attitude needs work.”

A murmur of agreement went around the group. Father Everard made another notation and said, “Tarbengar?”

“I was surprised to see how much he participated in this sim,” said Dr. Rao, “given how he has kept himself aloof from the group to such an extent thus far.”

“Westerners,” Brook muttered. “Jude said he gave that young man an earful almost as soon as they met.”

“That explains several things,” Father Everard said, “and it seems to have worked for the good. But I wish he had told me also. Cooper’s injury might have been prevented.”

“How’s that connected?” asked the drill sergeant.

“During a stretching exercise, Tarbengar was preoccupied by his own thoughts and folded Cooper in half, beyond the capacities of Cooper’s adductor muscles. And Cooper, being Cooper, didn’t speak up until it was too late.”

“He took good care of Cooper in this sim,” Brook observed.

Everyone else murmured agreement. Chinara said, “It isn’t entirely remorse, though. I noticed in him a feeling of belonging at times.”

“If that’s the case, then he has made a huge stride forward,” Father Everard said. 

“Exceeds expectations?” Lieutenant Knox said tentatively.

“Yes.” Father Everard made a note of it. “Now the last two. Tate and Taivas. Tate first: he astonishes me. He is in many ways the very copy of Archet, so I have been approaching his training along that line, but he has shown depths in these first two sims that I never expected of him. I need to rethink his training altogether.”

“Born army,” Brook asserted. “No doubt.”

“I would rank his performance as far exceeds expectations,” Lieutenant Knox said. “He was serious for this. I’ve never seen him serious about anything until now.”

“He treated this as if it were real,” Dr. Rao said, “and in one instance at least the danger to the others was very real.”

“Taivas,” said Father Everard, “that moment of destabilization. I saw the frost on his chest. What number would you give that spike?”

“Ten,” Dr. Rao said firmly.

“Then that was a closer call than we realized. How did he realize?” asked Chinara.

“They both have thermal energy sympathy, so he probably felt it activating. He definitely protected Allen and Waeber.”

“You heard what he said,” Father Everard pointed out. “He was protecting Taivas too. If she had injured those two, Dr. Zuma, how far back do you think it would have set her progress?”

“Back to the beginning? Maybe further. She struggles intensely with her regrets.”

“That is something she beats into him on a regular basis,” said Father Everard, “the danger of losing control of his sympathy. He may have begun to grasp that at last. What, then, do you think of Taivas’ performance?”

Almost a full minute of silence passed. Chinara was the first to venture a comment. “From my perspective, she exceeded my expectations. I knew it might be hard for her, considering her trauma, but she got control back quickly and finished the course without another incident.”

Lieutenant Knox said, “From my perspective, I would have ranked her at just barely meets expectations, but given what has been said about her and Warhite, I suppose part of that must be her attempt not to tread on Warhite’s territory.”

Chinara looked at Dr. Rao, who also grimaced a little. “If you mean she didn’t take the sim as seriously as you expected, then that’s our fault. I told Ietta to warn her to take it easy, in hope of avoiding what ended up happening anyway.”

Father Everard gazed at the Dr. Rao, then at Lieutenant Knox, and then back to Dr. Rao. “Wyeth, you should know by now that the words ‘take it easy’ are pure gibberish to most North Territorials. And Jock, it was just as well that we didn’t see Taivas go out at full intensity. It gave us a chance to see how the others functioned without her covering for them at every point. I consider my expectations for her met on this one. They would have lost Warhite at the pit if Taivas hadn’t intervened, and her actions then showed the rest of them what was needful. I have every intention of making Emmett’s ‘triad’ run that sim again, just the three, timed and no quarter given, to see what they’re capable of. But not today.”

Drill Sergeant Brook grinned. “The boys will have fun with that.”

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