After the last physical training session of the evening was completed, Sora Waeber lay flat on his back, staring at the dusk sky. Not far away, Father Locke said, “Rusza, I’m putting you in charge of Waeber this evening. See that he makes curfew and at least is in his room at lights-out.”
“Yessir,” Rusza replied with a salute and a grin. He wandered to Sora’s side and dropped onto the turf beside him. “Tired, Waeber?”
The question sank in after a few seconds as one requiring a response. Sora said, “A little.”
A few seconds of silence passed, just enough for Sora to fall back into his contemplations. Then Rusza said, “What are you looking at?” as he craned his neck to look into the sky.
“Nothing. I’m meditating.”
“The Divine will.”
“Just generally? I’ve always wondered how to do that. I can never figure it out. I only know how to meditate on specific thoughts.”
Sora sank back into contemplation, but not for long.
“Maybe you can explain it to me, since you get it and I don’t.”
People rarely persisted in conversation with Sora to this extent, so he opened his eyes and sat up. “I don’t believe anyone can meditate generally,” he said, “not without falling asleep. I was considering the teaching of Divine providence.” He looked at Rusza in the gathering darkness. “The statutes say that the Only One provides for our needs. That’s Divine providence.”
“Mm,” Rusza replied. “That’s still pretty general. What about it?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I asked, didn’t I?”
“Not many people are interested,” Sora explained, “so it’s strange to me that you asked. I was meditating specifically on that kid who died.”
Rusza’s eyebrows shot upwards. “Orrin Pradta?”
“You remember his name?”
“It seemed important,” was all Rusza said.
Sora nodded as though he understood that cryptic reply. “To me, too. His death started me thinking, if the Only One provides what we need for life, does that mean everything that comes into our lives is provided by the Only One? Other things I can understand in those terms, but I can’t understand the idea that that kid’s death could possibly be necessary for anyone’s life. If it wasn’t a necessary provision, then why did it happen? If it was, how was it necessary?”
Rusza bent his knees and rested his forearms across them. “No wonder you spend so much time meditating, if you think about such hard questions all the time. Poor kid.”
The last two words made Sora look again at Rusza. “You were there,” he said in realization.
“So were you,” Rusza returned with a note of humor.
“Not at the first finding.”
“Oh, that’s what you meant. Yeah, but it wasn’t me that found him, it was Sanna Taivas. That was hard. It really hit her hard.”
“She was unusually peaceful after, though,” Sora mused. “Maybe it was somehow necessary for her.”
“Does it have to be necessary?” Rusza asked. “Necessary makes it sound like… I don’t know… like it was meant to happen that way. That doesn’t seem right, somehow.”
Sora admitted, “I don’t know. That’s what I was meditating on.”
“Saying ‘I don’t know’ is going to have to be good enough for me,” Rusza sighed. “But thanks for telling me seriously. Hey…” A smile came to his face. “Maybe Divine providence put you here and had Father Locke put me in charge of you so you could tell me what was on your mind. I don’t often meditate on the hard stuff. Maybe I should.”
Sora gazed up into the sky, where the first scattering of stars had appeared. “Maybe so.” He seemed in a daze that didn’t lift even when Rusza pulled him to his feet and steered him to the dorm.
The next morning, Sora joined the line of students on their way to early morning physical training. From a distance, the figure of Rusza Tate stretched out on the ground was a familiar sight by that point. It was Maccani Moor who first noticed the problem. “Father Locke,” he said, “did you notice Tate sleeping over here?”
Both Father Locke and the mechanical energy sympathist who had been training Rusza came to take a look. “That is impressive, in its own way,” said Father Locke mildly.
The specialist, Sergeant Nazarian, uttered a short laugh. At Rusza’s head, the blades of a one-square-foot patch of grass were rocking in unison like thousands of metronome pendulum rods, even though Rusza was sound asleep. “He finally broke through,” the sergeant said. “He can do it without thinking about it. Or, as you can see, being conscious at all.”
“Is that usual among mechanical energy users?”
“Oh, yes, it turns into a reflex after enough practice, but he hasn’t practiced that much yet.” The sergeant nudged Rusza with his foot. “Tate! Wake up!”
Rusza’s head jerked up from where it had been resting on his forearms. “Wha–?” He looked up at the two men staring down at him. “I fell asleep, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” Father Locke said. “Are you feeling unwell?”
“No, sir, just tired. I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“Insomnia? Get up. Today we’ll throw you back into the group exercises and see how you manage your energy levels. It should keep you awake, if nothing else.”
Rusza jumped to his feet. “Yessir!” He ran to join the line, shouldering his way in between Lily Allen and Sanna Taivas.
The warm-up run went as usual, unless one counted as unusual the fact that Father Locke didn’t have to call out a single correction to Rusza. At the end of the run, when the students spread out for strength training exercises, Rusza stood where he had come to a halt and didn’t join the line. Sora went back and grabbed Rusza by the shoulders to steer him into place.
“That was weird,” said Anion Cooper. “Is absentmindedness transferable?”
“He’s thinking,” said Mica Locke, “which is weird enough by itself.”
“Hey,” Rusza protested, “I think sometimes.”
“Not so deeply that you forget what you’re doing, though, or that it keeps you awake at night,” Father Locke retorted. “That is unusual. Take your place in line and try to focus. We can talk about whatever you have on your mind afterward.”
True to his word, Father Locke brought them back together after cooldown and said, “Tell us now, Rusza: what have you been thinking so hard about?”
Rusza glanced at Sora. “Um, we were talking yesterday about Divine providence. I started to think about what Waeber was saying, about not being able to figure out how stuff like Orrin Pradta’s death fit into the picture. Then I was thinking about my mom dying so young, and about Sky-wind village, and it kept getting bigger,” he admitted. “Like how does the Decay existing at all fit into Divine providence?”
“When you decide to start thinking deep,” Maccani Moor said, “you don’t waste any time diving straight to the bottom, do you?”
“If only Gar were here,” Father Locke sighed. He seemed inattentive when he said it. The reason for his inattention became clear after a few more seconds when he spoke again. “We will keep to our usual schedule until dinner. At 1645, gather in front of the administration building.” With that, he sent the students to wash for breakfast.
After breakfast, Father Locke called Sora aside. “Come with me, Waeber.” He escorted Sora to the base’s public meeting hall, but instead of entering the meditation room straight off the foyer, he brought Sora down a side corridor to an open door. “Chaplain Ditlev, Dr. Zuma, good morning. I’ve brought you Sora Waeber.”
The open door belonged to a large office. A desk occupied one corner of the room, but pride of place belonged to the sofa and assorted chairs in the middle of the floor. A tall man occupied the entire length of the sofa, but he sat upright at Father Locke’s greeting. “Father Everard, good morning!” He appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties, fair of hair and complexion, with a cheerful face.
Dr. Zuma perched in a chair at right angles with the sofa. She smiled at Sora. “Sora Waeber, how are you?”
The tall man reached out a long arm to offer Sora his hand without standing up. “Trainee Waeber. I’m the Leeward base chaplain, Tommy Ditlev. I’m pleased to meet you.”
Sora shook hands with him. “Likewise, sir.”
Father Locke bid them all make themselves comfortable, so Chaplain Ditlev stretched out on the sofa again. Sora sat in the chair nearest the door, facing the chaplain and the doctor.
“Before we start, did both of you get a chance to look the other one over?”
Ditlev said, “Just for a few moments. He moves fast, your nephew.”
“Technically not my nephew, Tommy,” Father Locke replied, “but near enough. Your conclusion?”
“Faint, very faint,” said Ditlev.
Dr. Zuma added, “As it should be, when done right.”
“Tell me a little about yourself, Waeber,” Ditlev said. “Where do you come from?”
“Earth District in the capital, sir.”
When Sora said nothing more, Ditlev laughed. “A little more than that, Waeber! What about your family? What is your family like?” Patiently he drew information from Sora, as if he were looking for something specific. Once, when he found out that there had only been two other soul sympathists in Sora’s family during the past eighty years, he nodded in satisfaction.
Dr. Zuma was less overt, but when Ditlev had finished his questioning, she said, “Everything adds up. Sora, who taught you how to use your sympathy?”
Father Locke leaned forward to gain Sora’s attention. “Did you know that you exerted a strong influence over Rusza Tate with your sympathy yesterday?”
Ditlev laughed again. “Just as I expected. Did I not say, Chinara, he wasn’t aware?”
“Your great-aunt, did she teach you about active and passive principle?” asked Dr. Zuma kindly.
“No, ma’am, I heard about it at school, but Great-aunt Metildis said it was impossible to use human soul sympathy to manipulate others, so I…” Sora turned his attention fully on Father Locke. “You’re saying I did influence Tate?” A frown developed on his habitually dreamy face. “How did I?”
Dr. Zuma said, “It often is tied to our choice of words. Did you tell him, for example, that he needed to think about things more seriously?”
Thinking back, Sora shook his head.
“Did you say something like, this is important?” asked Ditlev.
“Important…” Sora repeated thoughtfully. “That word came up, but it was Tate who said it.” He explained about Rusza Tate remembering the dead child’s name and thinking it important to remember. “I told him I thought the kid was important too, something like that, because it was him who started me considering these questions.”
The doctor and the chaplain exchanged an uncertain look. “It’s pretty indirect,” said Ditlev. “And obviously Tate thought it important already. I do find that aspect interesting.”
“Is there anything else along those lines that you can think of?” Dr. Zuma asked Sora.
He shook his head again.
Father Locke said, “Let’s call Rusza in here and ask him. He may remember what set him off better than you do, Waeber.” He left the room.
Sora looked to the remaining two. “Why would Great-aunt Metildis say it was impossible if it isn’t? She was very hard on lying.”
“That’s why I asked you about active and passive principle,” Dr. Zuma explained. “If your great-aunt’s sympathy was mainly passive, then it would be impossible— for her. Passive principle can only sense the state of another’s soul. It can’t influence. But active principle influences others’ souls, quite easily if the sympathy is strong enough. Lily Allen, for example: her sympathy is just beginning to develop, but already I can tell that passive principle is dominant in her. You appear to be balanced between the two. Your passive principle is highly developed; I haven’t had the chance yet to observe your active principle.”
Sora fell into a troubled meditation while the other two observed him indulgently. After a while, Ditlev said, “It’s taking Father Everard a long time to come back. I hope he didn’t go after the other boy himself. I could have done that.”
“While we wait,” said Dr. Zuma, “it wouldn’t hurt to try a little experiment, would it? Sora.” She paused. “Sora. Sora Waeber.”
Hearing her the third time, Sora looked up. “Yes, ma’am?”
“I would like you to tell me something— something that really matters to you. Try to persuade me of it.”
“Persuade…” Sora didn’t take long. “I really don’t think I can exert influence. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible for me. Maybe for others, but not me.”
Dr. Zuma shivered suddenly. She looked at the chaplain. “Feel that?”
“Distinctly. My turn. Waeber, you may not believe it, but we have a way to prove it to you. You do have a distinctly strong ability to influence. You just exerted it now. You really ought to believe us on this.”
Sora flinched. “What was that? That weird feeling— what just happened?”
Dr. Zuma answered, “Whenever you exert influence in the presence of a fellow human soul sympathist, it creates a form of dissonance in the receivers. Soul sympathists aren’t able to use their sympathies to harm or influence one another; it’s a limitation common to every sympathy. When you try, it feels… what did it feel like to you?”
“Teeth on silverware,” said Sora with another, lesser shudder.
“For me,” Ditlev interjected, “it’s like hearing someone sharpen a blade on a whetstone without oil. Drives me crazy!” He saw Sora’s puzzled look and explained, “I come from a family of metal sympathists, blacksmiths. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. When you tried just now to persuade Chinara that you don’t have any ability to influence, we both felt it. There’s no doubt, I’m afraid.”
Sora leaned back in his chair. His frown returned. “It’s still hard to believe. Should I have not talked to Tate, then?”
“We aren’t saying that at all, Sora,” said Dr. Zuma. “You have this ability for a reason. Remember what you’ve been taught: we are given sympathies in order to govern the natural world and to build one another up. It isn’t a bad thing, Rusza Tate learning to consider deep questions.”
“And the influence on him was very gentle, very subtle,” Ditlev added. “With enough practice, it’s possible to sense the degree to which someone is under a soul sympathist’s influence, and I could see that you only influenced him in a direction he was already inclined to go. That is our function as sympathists: to direct others toward what’s good and to avert them from what’s bad. You just need to learn how the process works.”
“What if I make a mistake? I could influence someone in the wrong direction,” Sora said.
“Don’t be anxious, Sora. We operate in pairs and threes for good reason. Tommy and I cooperate here in Leeward, overseeing the souls of the soldiers and dependents who live on the base. We have a third, but she’s out in the villages right now.”
“Between us, we keep each other on track,” Ditlev said.
Sora considered these things in his usual way. The other two let him retreat into his thoughts and struck up a conversation that did not involve him until Father Locke returned, his breath quickened, to say, “I’d like to relocate this meeting.”
“What’s going on?” Ditlev was alert at once.
“Prisca is back. She brought Glazmere to meet with Cora, by Cora’s request. This could be a good learning opportunity for Waeber.”
Ditlev grinned. “Ah, a learning opportunity. I had almost forgotten, that’s your favorite phrase. I never would have thought of that girl as a learning opportunity, myself, but you’re probably right. Waeber!” He clapped a hand down on Sora’s shoulder, jolting Sora from his thoughts. “We’re moving to a new location. You get to see firsthand what we’ve been talking about.”
They left the office and walked the now familiar path to the command tent in the farther training field. The tent was empty, except for two people. Lieutenant Jock Knox sat in his usual place, bent over the day’s paperwork. The second person, a girl in her early twenties, sat in the chair set in front of Father Locke’s usual place. As they approached, she was saying, “Why won’t you even look up when I talk to you? That’s rude.”
“I see you still haven’t sorted out your pampered little girl habits, Miss Glazmere,” said Dr. Zuma as she took the chair usually occupied by Dr. Rao. “Have you learned anything from doing rounds with Prisca?”
Glory Glazmere drew herself up straight on her chair. “Dr. Zuma. Chaplain Ditlev.” She nodded stiffly to each as she pronounced each name. “Are you the ones who called for me?” Her gaze gravitated toward Sora. “And who are you? A new recruit?”
“Trainee,” said Sora.
“Where are you from? Leeward?”
Her expression cooled considerably. “Are you, now.”
“He’s one of my students, Miss Glazmere.” Father Locke had been behind her, where she could not see him, until that moment. His voice startled her into twisting around to face him, but he seemed uninterested in the effect he had had. “Jock, you can leave that for now. Go see how Ietta is doing with the boys.”
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant straightened his documents into order before departing.
Glory Glazmere had recovered her poise during that exchange. She said, “Father Locke. Are you the one who sent for me, then?”
“No.” He sat down in his usual spot and picked up a sheaf of papers, reading through them with a level of careful scrutiny that left Glory Glazmere completely outside his attention.
As if merely continuing their conversation from his office, Chaplain Ditlev said, “The thing to remember, Sora, is that influence depends on both parties. You might have a weak ability to influence, but with a specially susceptible person, it’s still possible to exert influence successfully. You might have a really strong ability, but with a thoroughly rational person like Father Everard here, it’s still not going to work very well. Reason-oriented people ask too many questions to be easily influenced, all the more if they have reason not to trust you or are inclined against the direction you’re trying to influence them to take. Human thought sympathists are generally harder to influence than other types,” he concluded, “for that reason.”
“It’s still possible,” said Father Locke without looking up.
“Yes,” Dr. Zuma replied, “but only if you’re already inclined to be persuaded. Even then, some of you are so contrary that any hint of influence will put you off something you were already inclined to do, just because it comes from a soul influence and not logical reasoning. Like your lieutenant.”
“Contrary…” Father Locke sounded as though he were savoring the word. “You have a point.”
“Listen, will somebody tell me why I’ve been called back here?” Glory Glazmere demanded.
Sora shuddered. He turned his attention to Ditlev. “That was influence, wasn’t it?”
Ditlev nodded. “You’re getting the hang of it.”
“Mother Locke wanted to speak with you,” said Dr. Zuma to Glory Glazmere. “That is who called you here. Prisca went to find her. And here they are now.”
In the distance, a trio of women were striding toward the command tent. Mother Locke was in the center of the trio, with a lanky older woman at her right and Lily Allen at her left. Mother Locke had a bag slung over her shoulder.
“Waeber, this is Prisca Cornelius, our third soul sympathist. Or, I should say, our first. I count as the third, since I came last to Leeward base,” Ditlev corrected himself. “Prisca, this is one of Father Everard’s students, Sora Waeber. We’re giving him an introduction to perceiving soul influence.”
“You’ll get plenty of practice in that if you stay in this girl’s presence for long, Waeber,” said Prisca Cornelius as she shook Sora’s hand. “It’s as if she doesn’t know how to speak without using it.”
“‘She’ is right here, Dr. Cornelius,” Glory Glazmere said sharply. “It’s rude to talk about me as if I’m not here.”
Dr. Cornelius added, “And rude is her favorite word. Isn’t it, Glory? Anyone who can’t be gotten around by influence is somehow rude. Honestly, did anyone ever tell you ‘no’ before you were arrested, or did you get your own way uncontested for the first twenty-some years of your life? Sad child.”
Mother Locke grabbed a folding chair and set it next to Glory. “I’d like to hear from you about the work you’ve been doing, Miss Glazmere.”
Glory gave her a wary look. “You must be getting reports about me. Why ask me?”
“I ask because I want to know how the work looks through your eyes. What have you been doing lately?” Mother Locke leaned forward attentively.
“It hasn’t been much,” said Glory, “just processing soldiers headed here for treatment.” She began to describe some of her typical interactions with the wounded and traumatized. As she got absorbed in her narrative, she shed some of the offended dignity that held her upright in her chair.
“You’ve met some interesting people,” Mother Locke said after a while. “Has it been difficult, dealing with all the emotions?”
“Not really,” Glory replied, “not when most of them just need encouraging on the last leg of their journey to treatment. The ones going back out to fight…” She paused. “That’s harder, sometimes. Some of them are frightened, truly terrified of going back. It’s difficult to know just what to say to them. I don’t blame anyone for being scared to go back to what hurt them. I usually leave those to Dr. Cornelius. She doesn’t have any problem forcing people to do things they hate doing,” she added sourly.
Dr. Cornelius laughed. “That’s you all over.”
“Prisca,” said Mother Locke, “who was the most recent of these?”
Casting her gaze upward, Dr. Cornelius consulted her memory. “Two days before your summons came. Private Second Class Jia Louise Malabry, sent to Leeward for treatment of contact burns from rescuing a civilian from the Decay… and associated trauma, of course.”
“I remember her,” Dr. Zuma commented. “She volunteered herself as ready to return, was stubbornly insistent on it, as a matter of fact, thought she wasn’t really ready yet. How did you deal with her, Prisca?”
“I escorted her to Beeches,” said Dr. Cornelius, “and gave her into the care of an old school friend of mine there, part of the rapid-response supply corps. She will stay there on temporary assignment, helping provide material aid to the front lines, until she is genuinely ready to return to front-line work herself– if she ever is.”
Mother Locke nodded thoughtfully. To Glory, she said, “It’s a good idea to leave cases like that to Dr. Cornelius. She has connections all over East Territory and is usually able to find suitable alternative placements for them.” To Dr. Cornelius, she said, “It’ll be interesting to see how she does with rapid-response.”
“Amedi loves kids like her. They know exactly why a rapid response is necessary, so they jump to it without complaining. I feel Jia will fit right in.”
“That’s good. Glory, have you heard from Worth or Dinah lately?”
“Worth! He’s terrible at writing. He always was. I’ve had one letter from him, just saying he arrived and it was a good area for stone, whatever that means,” said Glory. “But Dinah writes every few days. She says they’re being really mean to her out there.”
“Does she?” Mother Locke hesitated.
Glory responded to the lack of response. “What? You don’t believe me?”
“It’s more that I don’t exactly believe her,” said Mother Locke slowly. “I visited her not too long ago, you see, and it seemed to me that she…”
“She what?” Glory demanded.
“Give her time,” Dr. Cornelius retorted. “It’s obviously something she finds difficult to say to you. Don’t be so pushy.”
Mother Locke smiled a little at the two. “She seems to be enjoying herself immensely out in Southwest Territory. That’s all. You’ve known her longer than me, but… she does love drama, doesn’t she?”
Glory nodded. “But why would she write to me like she does, if she’s enjoying herself so immensely?”
“I’m not sure. She does like to complain,” said Mother Locke, “and Gemi– that’s her supervisor, Gemini Kahn– doesn’t put up with complaining, so it might be that you’re her main outlet for whatever she isn’t enjoying. But then again, it might be that she’s reluctant to tell you that she’s having fun with her assignment, since she knows you’re so miserable here.”
“Why would she…” But Glory didn’t finish the question. She seemed uncomfortable.
“And Stalworth is worried about you. I stopped at Fortress on my way to check on Dinah. He asked to see me and wanted to know if I’d been to check on you. Your letters had given him the idea that you were at your limits and ready to collapse. You really gave him a fright. I told him what I knew from the reports Prisca has been sending me, so I was able to reassure him a little. Which brings me to another reason why I sent for you.” Mother Locke picked up the bag she had brought and set it on her knees. She drew out a small box. “This is from Rosamund Fulke.” And again she reached into the bag to draw out a stack of magazines. “Helena Jeru sends these. Each of them came to ask me if I meant to stop over here to check on you. They have been concerned about you too.”
Glory gazed down at the small stack of gifts on her lap. Sudden tears trickled down her face, which she tried to hide by covering her face with both hands.
Dr. Zuma rose and crossed to stand behind her, resting her hands on Glory’s shoulders. “They have strong feelings attached to them, don’t they, Glory. Those two really care about you.”
The younger woman wiped her face with her hands in a gesture that wasn’t remotely dignified. She seemed utterly shaken. “Why? Why would they care?”
“You’ll need to ask them,” said Dr. Zuma. “Or are you too proud still to build a friendship with people who have seen you at your worst?” She actually shook Glory gently by the shoulders. “Fool of a girl.”
“Why do you always have to ruin the moment,” Glory grumbled.
“Because you think too highly of yourself and too lowly of others,” Dr. Cornelius said, “and we’re here to break that habit of yours.”
Mother Locke smiled again. “You may not have enjoyed it, Glory, but you’ve been in excellent hands here. You seem much better than you were when you left the capital.”
Glory made a childishly sour face that made Dr. Cornelius laugh aloud.
“That’s all I have,” Mother Locke continued. “Everard, you had something you were putting off until I finished, didn’t you?”
Father Locke lifted a hand to give a beckoning signal. “We never did finish our investigation into the conversation between Waeber and Tate.” He looked toward the west, where two figures could be seen approaching.
“I should leave, then,” said Glory Glazmere.
“Not at all, Miss Glazmere. You might find this interesting.” Father Locke turned his attention on the arriving pair. “How did you get pulled into this, Private Taivas?”
“It’s my fault,” Rusza Tate blurted. “Sanna was just passing, looking for Dr. Zuma, and I started asking her questions.”
“Still thinking, I see. Was Private Taivas able to answer your questions?”
“Some of them, but not all,” Sanna Taivas said. “Some were hard questions to answer.”
“That I can easily believe. So, Rusza Tate, we have been trying to understand how you ended up in this condition. Something in your conversation with Waeber must have compelled you to this spate of deep thinking. Can you remember what he said that got you started?” asked Father Locke.
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Rusza. “I said I didn’t do it much, but maybe I should do it more, and Waeber said I should.”
“Waeber? You seem confused.”
“That’s because I don’t remember ever saying that,” Sora explained.
“You did,” Rusza insisted. “It was just before we went back to the dorms.”
“Just before we went back to the dorms…” Sora repeated slowly, “you said maybe Divine providence arranged for us to talk, so that I could share with you what I was thinking about. I’d never thought of myself as having any direct part in Divine providence before, so I said, ‘Maybe so,’ because I wasn’t sure and I wanted to think about it some more.”
Father Locke coughed. “Let’s see if I understand this: all of this started because Waeber heard one thing and Tate something else?”
“Now that is a little disturbing,” Dr. Cornelius mused. “Are you saying this boy,” she pointed at Sora, “exerted influence over this boy,” she pointed at Rusza, “accidentally? By a misunderstanding?”
“That appears to be the case,” Father Locke said.
“But no one ever taught Sora about active principle,” Dr. Zuma interjected, “to the point that he didn’t believe it possible that he could exert influence.”
“Ignorance doesn’t protect anyone,” Dr. Cornelius said firmly.
“You can do harm without realizing,” Rusza added suddenly, “right, Sanna Taivas?”
“That is what I told you,” she confirmed.
“Ah, is that why you were all here?” Dr. Cornelius asked. “I wondered.”
“I wish influence was that easy,” Glory Glazmere said.
Dr. Zuma gave her another gentle shake. “That’s a rather foolish thing to wish, Glory. Your life could be much harder if it were easier for you to influence others. A strong active principle generally requires one to be much more careful about what is said.” She shot a quick look at Father Locke. “With your permission, Father, I’d like to experiment on two of your students.”
“Permission granted,” replied Father Locke.
Dr. Zuma studied Rusza and Sanna for a few seconds. “Rusza Tate,” she announced in a commanding voice, “hide behind Sanna.”
Rusza made a hasty side-step and took refuge behind Sanna, hands on her shoulders as he hunched down to match her height. “What? Why?”
“No reason,” said Dr. Zuma.
“You scared me for a second,” Rusza laughed. “I thought there was an emergency.”
Glory was staring wide-eyed at Dr. Zuma, who returned the gaze patiently. “I reserve that tone for emergencies because of what you just saw. Granted that Rusza is specially susceptible, did you notice Sanna’s stance?”
Everyone turned as if by reflex to look at Sanna. Under this scrutiny, she snapped upright to attention, but not before the onlookers saw the defensive stance she had assumed earlier.
“Sanna, were you ready to defend Rusza?”
“And Sanna is not susceptible,” finished Dr. Zuma.
“I’m glad you don’t do that often,” Chaplain Ditlev said. “It stings.”
Sora spoke his thoughts out loud, taking his time. “You must be… dominantly active principle? Like the chaplain said, it hurt a little.”
“That’s right, Sora. I manifested my sympathy late, but it was always overwhelmingly active-principle. I spent time as Dr. Rao’s assistant for my four obligatory years because the elders in Beeches deemed it too dangerous to put me in with my peers.”
“Is that why you hedge when you talk?” asked Glory. “It just sounded to me like you were being indecisive.”
“Hedging is one way to avoid exerting influence by accident,” said Dr. Zuma. “It’s… When you’re a high-percentage active principle user or even just talented at exerting influence, you…” She stopped abruptly.
Dr. Cornelius laughed, “Look, she’s cornered herself. I haven’t seen that for ages.”
“Cornered herself?” asked Glory.
“She can’t find a way out of that sentence that doesn’t involve using words like important or necessary. She won’t use those kinds of words when there are non-soul sympathists in earshot, just in case.”
“Should we leave?” Mother Locke asked.
“I think I’ll just change the subject,” Dr. Zuma said. “It’s kind of you to offer, Mother Locke. Are you starting to get a feel for all of this, Sora? Your great-aunt’s words weren’t untrue; they were just incomplete. Lily, for example: you’ve learned about active and passive principle, haven’t you?”
The girl nodded vigorously. “Miss Whitcher at school told me I’m probably ninety percent passive.”
“Did she tell you that that means you’re limited only to sensing souls?”
That made Lily shake her head. “Oh, no, not at all. She said it just meant I had to practice my interpersonal skills more. Even people without soul sympathy can persuade others, so someone with passive principle surely can do it too. It just takes skill.”
“You studied under Emmaline Whitcher?” asked Dr. Cornelius.
“Yes, ma’am. She was my public school teacher. After Mama and Daddy found out I had human soul sympathy, they looked around for a good teacher, since nobody in my family had human soul sympathy.”
“Emmie, a school teacher,” Dr. Cornelius mused. “Who would’ve thought it…”
“Another of your old school friends, Prisca?” said Ditlev with a grin.
“You might not want to start anything, Tommy,” Dr. Zuma said. “Back on the subject. Do you have any questions, Sora?”
He frowned. “How can you tell if someone is… susceptible?”
“That’s easy,” Glory interrupted. She pointed at Father Locke. “Not at all.” She pointed at Rusza. “Totally.” She pointed at Sanna. “Hardly.” She pointed at Mother Locke. “A little, but not as much as you’d expect.”
“All that tells us,” said Dr. Cornelius, “is that you know who you can manipulate and who you can’t, girl. It doesn’t tell us how you know that.”
“I’m afraid that experience is the only way to tell reliably, Sora,” said Dr. Zuma, ignoring the other two. “You know now to be careful what you say around Rusza, right? People can surprise you. Some who seem quite susceptible turn out to be not as susceptible as you’d expect, as Glory said, and some who seem quite impervious turn out more susceptible than anyone dreamed. You can’t always tell from the outside appearance. Sanna, do you mind if I use you to demonstrate?”
“I don’t mind, Dr. Zuma.”
“Put Rusza in a headlock.”
Sanna’s right hand twitched at her side. Otherwise, she didn’t move. “May I ask why, Dr. Zuma?”
“Is it enough to say that I asked it of you as a favor?”
Sanna hesitated another moment. “All right.” She twisted to kick the back of Rusza’s knee, weakening his balance so that he bent forward. Then she threw an arm around his neck and trapped Rusza against her shoulder with her forearm braced against his throat. “Is this good enough?”
Lily Allen broke out in an infectious giggle. The chaplain covered his mouth with his hand, shoulders trembling. Even Father Locke coughed.
“What’s so funny?” Mother Locke asked.
Father Locke stood up and went over to murmur a few words close to her ear, making her bite her lip in an effort to contain a laugh.
“Thank you, Sanna. You may release him if you want.”
Sanna dropped Rusza on the floor.
As Rusza got to his hands and knees, coughing and groaning by turns, Glory Glazmere said, “Are you really Michael Tate’s brother? You aren’t at all like him.”
“Rusza is fairly unique in the Tate family,” Father Locke said mildly.
Dr. Zuma addressed Sora, ignoring everyone else. “What did you notice about Sanna’s reactions?”
Sora took a few moments to put his thoughts in order. Then he started by saying, “You used a really strong influence. I felt it. It was strong enough to make her move instinctively, but she… she choked back her first reaction. She was wary about going along with your words.”
“That’s right. You knew I was about to manipulate you somehow, didn’t you, Sanna?”
“So, Sora, what changed?
“She trusted you. You asked her as a personal favor, and because she trusts you, she decided to go along with your plan, without knowing what the plan was.”
“Relationship makes all the difference,” said Dr. Zuma. “Even resistant and contrary types are persuadable when you share a strong foundation, a history of trust. That means you can’t risk misuse of influence, because trust once broken is very difficult to reconstruct.” She looked at Glory for a second before turning back to Sora. “Not that I expect any problem for you in that area.” She turned on her heel and said, “Tommy…” in exasperation.
By that point, he was laughing so hard that his eyes ran with tears. “Sorry… sorry… it’s just, I didn’t expect that at all… He’s such a funny kid…”
“Why don’t you go back to your office and calm yourself down?” said Dr. Cornelius. “You are such a typical man…” But suddenly she tilted her head. “Chinara, do you feel that?”
Father Locke shouted, “Shy! What is it?”
The sergeant major was running toward the command tent. He shouted before he was near, “It’s coming! Harbor-side!”
A clamor of bells echoed in the distance, growing louder and nearer by the moment. Dr. Cornelius stood very still. “It’s going to be a three,” she muttered. “I just know it.”
The clamor of bells reached its crescendo and faded. Then, distantly, a different pattern of bells began. It was too far off to discern at first, but like the previous clamor, it rolled nearer, until it became unmistakable as a precise peal of triplets.
“Three bells,” said Ditlev. “What does that mean?”
“Harbor’s under attack. Let’s go. General Murren is going to need us.”