“Thank you for joining us tonight, Everard.” The speaker, David Anzor, leaned back with a glass of punch and surveyed the crowd. “I know you weren’t keen on the idea.”
“That’s true.” Everard took a sip of punch himself. “I haven’t taken much pleasure in any of the socials on this visit, but that’s no reason why I should refuse your invitation. I enjoy spending time with your family when I get the opportunity. If that opportunity requires me to be here, so be it.”
“We might make an early night of it ourselves, you know. Tonight is rowdier than I expected.”
The rowdiness to which the territorial elder referred centered mostly around a certain table, where the Demyan family and their friends congregated. The two youngest Demyan sons were reported to be just short of insubordinate at all times, less interested in fulfilling their duties with the Daystar ranger company than in having a good time wherever they went. They had friends of a similar disposition, Everard noted. The older three sons were said to be better behaved but seemed to have no influence over their younger brothers.
And that did not account for the girl, who capered and gyrated through the ballroom at top volume, as if oblivious to the partygoers who came to dance or to talk with friends. She showed herself to be in the wildest of high spirits that night. She flirted with young men left and right, always returning to Rusza Tate’s side and teasing him about letting her “get away.” Everard could tell why she did this. Rusza seemed even more muddled than he usually was in the girl’s presence. He was slow to respond when anyone spoke to him, and his responses did not always match the original topic. Eventually, he got up and went to the buffet to pick through the offerings there without much interest.
Naturally, the girl followed him there, clinging to his arm and pressing herself close against his side. She was questioning him. Everard was all the way across the ballroom from them, so there was no way he could hear her words, but he saw the thoughts in her, irritable and panicky, wanting to get out of him what he was thinking that distracted him from her. After a few exchanges, Rusza shook his head with vigor. He mustered his attention from wherever it was roaming and placed it all on the girl, as she had wanted.
“You take a lot of interest in that young man’s doings,” David Anzor noted.
“He is my oldest friend’s most troublesome son,” Everard replied, “and he was entrusted to me, although I have told his father that I will no longer be held responsible for the consequences of his choices. Naturally, I still follow the situation with interest. As a student of human nature, David, you would find it interesting too.”
“I suppose I’ve simply had enough of the Demyan girl’s love affairs,” the elder said, “since she conducts them so publicly every time. I’ve tried to speak to her father about her imprudent ways, but he will neither hear nor see any evidence of failings in the girl.”
“So I have noticed. Julian! Come sit with us for a while.” Everard beckoned to an officer he knew from many years back. “Everything seems to be going well with you.”
“Yep. Your family isn’t here?” The laconic Major Julian Rurik was in command of Daystar Company.
“No. Mica and Linnie are wholeheartedly disgusted with Rusza Tate, so, knowing he intended to come, they refused the invitation. Cora is wholeheartedly troubled by him, so ditto.”
Julian gave him a grin, but didn’t comment. “Too bad you didn’t have the chance to find out more about that Decay manifestation on the north route. Wonder who it was.”
“I know,” said David. “It isn’t enough to say, as some are saying, I’m just glad it wasn’t one of ours. The plain truth is, someone came in contact with the Decay and seeded it in our territory. It could have been catastrophic for all of us.”
“Especially for Zenith,” said Julian. “I dropped to my knees to give thanks to the Only One when I heard that girl gave the alert in time. What is she? The way Tate tells it, she’s superhuman.”
“He remembers who she is still, does he?” said Everard.
Julian grinned again. “When he’s on duty and away from young females, he’s a pleasant kid, a hard worker. He helps keep the two Demyan brats in line, and not many can do that. He tells some interesting stories about the Taivas girl. And I heard that the first thing D. A. did after meeting her was promote the girl two whole ranks. D. A. isn’t that easily impressed, so at least some of the Tate boy’s stories must be true.”
“Having not heard what he told you,” Everard said carefully, “I won’t vouch for his stories. But I came across her after she volunteered to help hunt down and destroy a source of the Decay in the capital, in company with two of South Territory’s elite disposal experts. They were impressed by her. When I came to look into her record, I found that she almost single-handedly put down the insurrection attempt in Ice District by thrashing eight of the leading troublemakers with her bare hands. This was three months after enlisting.”
David Anzor whistled softly. “A strong girl, with a strong sense of justice.”
“You couldn’t find a greater contrast to certain girls of the same age,” Everard added as his attention was drawn back to Rusza and the Demyan girl as they danced.
“I’d be interested in meeting her,” said Julian, “but D. A. says no, I’d only try to poach her. She’s Polestar’s property.”
“I can imagine,” Everard said.
“Female officers need to stick together,” David said gravely. Then he smiled. “I can just hear her saying it. I know she has tried to poach Rina from Zenith, but Marva won’t hear of it.”
“A good company captain is irreplaceable,” Julian declared. “And the Zenith boys worship her. They’d never let her go. Who’s that she’s dancing with?” He tipped his head toward David’s youngest daughter Rina.
They talked for a while about Rina’s prospects and her refusal to involve herself with a soldier. That led to talk of David’s other four daughters and their families. David inquired about Everard’s sons, and that led him to say, “I did hear someone say your little girl is engaged to be married. Isn’t that too early? She’s only, what, fourteen?”
“Fifteen,” Everard said, “and the engagement exists with the understanding that they each spend at least the next two years deciding on a definite career path and then starting on that path. That isn’t a problem with her fiancé. He not only has decided, but he has already arranged for his course of training. It’s Linnie who has trouble pinpointing a career path.”
“Who is this admirable young man she’s marrying?” David asked.
“Lyndon Tate. Rusza Tate’s younger brother. He is still just fourteen, but he’s a devout, determined boy who knows what he wants.”
“Like night and day from his brother?” Julian said.
“If not more different,” Everard agreed.
Julian started to say, “I doubt Rusza Tate ever thought further ahead than his next meal,” but whatever came after that was drowned out by a squeal from the Demyan girl and a babble of voices from her direction. A light scattering of applause drew the major’s attention.
Everard just drank from his punch cup and ignored the noise until a shadow loomed over him. Then he looked up to see Rusza, grinning and dazzled, beside his table. The Demyan girl clung around his chest. “Yes?” Everard said idly.
“I’ve asked Irina to be my girlfriend,” he said in a dazed voice, “and her parents want me to come to their house to meet her oldest brother. Is that all right?”
Rusza replied, “Now, I guess.”
“And, what, stay the night?”
“Of course,” said the girl. “It’d be silly to drive all the way back here tonight!”
“I see.” Everard drained the last of his punch. “One more point of clarification. Are you coming to me as Rusza Tate, asking for my approval as your uncle? Because in that case, you won’t get it. A boy and a girl, having immoderate desires and no self-control, ought never to stay under the same roof with only an indifferent level of parental oversight.” He gazed into Rusza’s eyes until he was sure that his point had sunk home. “On the other hand, if you’re coming to me as Trainee Tate, asking a commanding officer for a leave of absence in order to do whatever he pleases, then I will grant that request, as long as Major Rurik doesn’t object.” He turned to Julian.
“Nope,” Julian said. “Fine by me.”
The girl was tugging on Rusza’s arm with enthusiasm, urging him in an audible whisper to ask for leave. Rusza, on the other hand, was still staring at Everard in dismayed comprehension. The girl’s urgings got through to him after a few moments, however, and he said, “I would like to ask for leave, then, sir.”
“So be it. I will authorize an overnight leave. You are to report back to your commanding officer by 1200 tomorrow.” This time, Everard said it while watching the girl. When he gave the time limit, he saw the defiant, resentful glance she gave him as she drew Rusza away.
Another young man approached. “Father Locke,” he said, “it’s already arranged that he’ll stay in my room. I’m a light sleeper. Nothing untoward will happen.”
“Is that the real issue here?” Everard said. After the young man retreated, Everard said, “I’m out of punch. I’m going to see what else there is.”
Julian got up with him and walked to the drinks table. “Is this a test? To see if he obeys?”
“The time limit? No. My test was the choice itself, and he failed that. But she will make the time limit her test for him. Didn’t you see it in her face? She’ll do whatever she must to see that he breaks the terms of his leave, to make him prove to her that she means more to him than any authority. You’ll just have to put him in solitary when he does return, whenever that is.”
Julian wagged his head. He chose a cup of hot apple cider and accompanied Everard back to the table. “You really have decided to wash your hands of him,” he noted.
“No, not entirely, but I refuse to coddle him as his father has done. He will bear the full weight of consequences for whatever decisions he makes from now on.” Everard was pleased to find that David’s wife Letisse had returned to the table during their brief absence. It gave him the opportunity to ask her questions that he knew Cora would want to ask and would ask him about Letisse on his return.
It was close to 2315 when Everard noticed a well-bundled figure pushing through the crowd. Mica had not bothered to remove his fur-lined hat. Everard excused himself from the table and went to meet him halfway.
“Dr. Rao says that they can’t bring Sanna back down to a safe range. She wants you to come.”
Everard started pushing his son back toward the door. “I’ll go. You go to the comm office, get them to put an emergency call through to Aug Yeardley immediately. Then notify Jock. Tell him we need to get everything ready to move Sanna out tonight.” He collected his winter wear from the coat check. Outside, he found a truck at the curb, still idling, with the driver’s door wide open. “You keep the truck for now, Mica. Your tasks are more urgent. Drive carefully.” Everard waited until he could just see the truck’s tail lights far down the street. Then he took a few jogging strides, testing his footing on the pavement, before he started to run.
In his mind, he had a map of the town. He knew where he was and where he needed to be. Without regard for property or terrain, he picked out the most direct path between the two, even if this meant jumping the low fences of private yards or running down unlit alleys. Normally he would take care not to exert himself to the point of raising a sweat because of the cold weather, but in this case he dismissed that consideration completely. His chosen path ended as irregularly as it had gone on, bringing him to the service entrance behind the hostel. He startled one of the cleaning staff when he threw open the back door. “Excuse me,” he said, slightly out of breath, and strode past her toward where he knew the Taivas suite to be. Now in the dim light of the hostel corridor, he checked the time and found he had covered the ground in about nine minutes.
He met up with Maccani Moor and Sanna’s other two students outside the door of the suite. They were facing the other way, clearly expecting an arrival from the front entrance, so he startled them too when he said, “Report, Moor.”
Moor wheeled around, recovering his aplomb by the time his weight came to rest facing Everard. “Sir. Dr. Rao and Dr. Taras together can’t bring Master Sanna down to a safe level. Dr. Taras used the word crisis. They sent all of us out. Axel is in there, trying to hold out in the cold, but they sent Nana Friga and Soren upstairs to Aunt Sarlota’s room for safety. Fiola and Crystallin went to get Mother Locke. I take it Mica found you?”
“Yes. I’ve sent him to the comm office to contact Captain Yeardley in Current-town, to get Company G ready. We need to ship all of you out tonight, without delay.” Everard turned up his coat collar, drew his scarf tighter around his neck, and let himself into the suite.
Merely opening the door made the skin of his face tighten, as if he had stepped back outside. The light fixture over the door was encrusted in frost. Everard’s breath steamed out in a jet of white. He shut the door behind him and heard his footsteps crunch on the frosty rug.
Both adjusters were bundled up in their outdoor gear. Axel likewise looked positively bulky. He appeared to be wearing all the clothes he owned under his winter coat, and he clutched a blanket around his shoulders. By contrast, Sanna sat on the couch in her tank top and trousers. Her lips were slightly blue, and she wore an expression of desperate concentration.
Wyeth noticed Everard first. She crossed the room to stand close so that they could confer in hushed voices. “We need another adjuster, if we can get one. We’re at a stalemate. We can’t even bring her down to a point where she’s safe to travel. If we can’t, then she’s likely to go into cycle again.”
“What happened? She seemed fine when I left this afternoon.”
“It seems she had another visitor, some time after you and Coralie left.” Wyeth was so reluctant to continue that her thought practically leaped out for Everard to see.
“That young ass. If I had him here, I would beat him until he couldn’t stand.”
“If he was here,” was Wyeth’s rejoinder, “we could at least counter her sympathy so that Matijah and I had a fair chance. Her sympathy can’t hurt him. Where is he? Can we not bring him here, even if he is a young ass? You can beat him afterward, if it helps.”
“No. He went out on leave hours ago. What is our best chance?”
“At this point, I don’t know. I’m frankly scared to have her attempt to deplete. I was entirely mistaken in my initial assessment of her sympathy. Her sympathy isn’t measurable on a one-to-ten scale; it’s more like a one-to-fifty, and she’s close to topping out. No wonder she can affect whole climate systems. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Everard studied Wyeth the best he could, given her hat, scarf, and upturned collar. He could see the signs of strain in her. “How is your sympathy holding out?”
“I’m pacing myself,” she replied. “That’s why I said we need a third adjuster. We need to take turns, step outside and warm up, get food and drink— rest. We won’t last, just the two of us.”
This sent Everard back to the door. Sticking his head out into the corridor, he said, “Moor, you know where the hospital is? Good. Run. Go there, stop at the night desk, and tell them we need any adjusters they have in town. Military, civilian, doesn’t matter. Just get anyone you can.” He didn’t wait to watch the young man bolt. Returning inside and closing the door, he said, “Let me talk with her.”
Wyeth gave him a dubious glance, but she stepped back and let him go ahead of her to the couch. Everard knelt down. “Axel, go to Miss Moor’s room and get something hot to drink. That’s an order.” He helped the man rise and then turned all his attention on Sanna. When he spoke her name, she seemed not to hear him. So intense was her focus that Everard had to raise his voice sharply. “Sanna!”
She flinched. Her eyes seemed to see him for the first time. “Father… Locke.”
“Sanna, talk to me. What’s happening?”
Her face twisted like a child’s as she started to cry. “I’m sorry. I tried. I really did try.”
Everard felt a shock. The thought he perceived in her was an expectation of reprimand. He asked, “Why do you think I would scold you? I know how hard you’ve tried.”
“But I still can’t… I still can’t…”
Everard exhaled a cloud of fog. He pulled her into his arms and rocked her side to side, as he had done with his own children when they were small and in tears. “I see. I’m sorry, Sanna. Cora was right: I made it out to be too easy. I am sorry. I never intended this. Your emotions, they go deeper than I estimated. That’s always my defect. I’m all thought and small consideration for the heart.” He felt the bitter cold radiating from her, even through all his winter clothes. “If you can’t, then you can’t. Don’t distress yourself over it. Let it run its course. None of us knows what the future holds. It may be that this pain will someday turn to joy, somehow.”
“It may,” she whispered, “but it may not. It may just always stay as pain.”
And to this, Everard could find no ready reply, because he knew it was possible. If she felt it so deeply, she may never be able to put this first rejection behind her. He tightened his hug. “We will carry it with you. Even when we aren’t physically together, we will carry all of your pain with you. Don’t give up now.”
He saw Wyeth pull off one of her mittens and reach out to touch the back of Sanna’s neck. Over Sanna’s shoulder, Everard met the older woman’s gaze and saw her nod encouragement.
“Cora is on her way,” he said to Sanna. “You can tell her all kinds of things that you can’t tell me or Axel. That’s so, isn’t it? There are things a girl can only confide in a mother figure. She will come, and you can pour it all out to her. She’s far more understanding in these things than I ever could hope to be.” He patted her back and kept rocking her gently side to side until the suite’s door opened and Axel returned. Then Everard pulled back to look Sanna in the eyes. “I need to go outside and warm up a little. Axel is here. He’ll sit with you for a while.”
Sanna wiped her eyes, where small drops of ice clung to her pale lashes. “Yes, please, take care of yourself. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“We won’t let you,” Everard promised. “Whatever it takes.” He switched places with Axel and went out into the corridor.
Sarlota Moor was out there with an electric kettle and some mugs. “You need something to warm you up,” she said. “Take your pick, Father Locke. I hijacked the hospitality trolley.”
He found a packet of chicory powder and mixed it with hot water in a mug. Stirring the mixture thoughtfully, he asked, “Is there any word from Mica or Maccani?”
“Nothing yet,” she said. “I sent Kass and Isaakki to get some rest. I assume things will start to move suddenly, when they do start to move, so I recommended that they pack their luggage before they sleep.”
“That was good advice. I hope they listened. It is my intention to ship the Sky-wind school and all its belongings south before morning. There is a warning of snowfall tomorrow. We can’t risk any delay.” He glanced at the woman. “Will you be going with them?”
She colored warmly. “No, my itinerary takes me to West Territory next.”
“You might still want to go with them, at least as far as the crossroads,” Everard said, “because once it starts to snow here, there’s no knowing how regularly the buses will be able to run for the rest of the winter. Cora is going to Fortress. She would have room for you.”
Sarlota Moor gave that serious thought. “It would save money, too,” she said. “As long as Mother Locke doesn’t mind.”
“She won’t.” He tested his drink’s temperature and found it tolerable. “I’ll go down to the entrance and see if any of our messengers have brought back results.” Everard carried his mug up the corridor to the main entrance of the hostel. The night attendant raised his head at his approach, inquiring without words, but Everard gave a slight shake of his head as he passed the man on his way to the door. The street outside was still, as it should be in the middle of the night. No sign of vehicles or of foot traffic broke the stillness, much as Everard wished otherwise. He retreated into the entryway and considered the situation, since that was the only thing he could do.
His patience was rewarded by the crunch of tires outside. He pushed the door open to find Jock parking a truck in front of the hostel doors. “What’s the latest?” the lieutenant asked as he hurried toward Everard, a duffle bag in each hand.
Everard explained what he knew of the situation in brief.
“I sent Ietta to the comm office,” he said, “to wait for the call to connect. There’s no telling how long it will take them to get Captain Yeardley out of his bed. I sent Mica to wake Calder and get him moving, since he said you wanted them on the road before morning. These are Taivas’ bags; I got Ietta to go to the women’s dorms and pack them first thing. Are we all heading out?”
“No,” Everard said, “I have other business to finish, important though less urgent. I’ll have Shy and Wyeth escort them as far as the capital.” His thoughts continued to shape and reshape themselves as he spoke. “Cora needs to move on to Fortress before the season progresses any further. If we send our squad with her for the first segment of the trip, then Shy can rest up for the longer second segment. I want Sanna in the hands of the capital hospital adjusters as soon as possible.”
“What about recruiting one of the local adjusters here?” Jock asked.
“I sent Moor to the hospital to find one, but it’s a stop-gap solution. So is the capital hospital, but we must cobble together the best series of stop-gaps we can find until we get them to Current-town.”
“Then what we need now is to arrange for a vehicle at the crossroads waystation,” Jock said, “and to notify the capital hospital of an incoming patient. I can take care of that, if you don’t need me for anything here.”
“There is very little you or I can do here,” Everard admitted as he took Sanna’s bags. “I’m only waiting for Cora to come. I want to explain things to her before she goes in. Mica will come back, once he has his tasks completed. I’ll take the truck he’s using. Go ahead and do what you can from the depot. I’ll join you there when I’m able.” Alerted by the flash of headlights at the end of the street, he went back out onto the sidewalk and found an ambulance cruising toward the hostel. “Moor must have found someone.”
“I’ll get out of the way.” Jock climbed back into his truck and backed out, opening the space for the ambulance.
Moor climbed out of the passenger door of the ambulance almost before it stopped rolling. “Two adjusters,” he said.
“Good.” Everard went out to meet the one climbing out of the back of the ambulance. He gave a terse explanation as he led both adjusters, one man and one woman, to the Taivas suite. “Keep your coats on,” he warned before he opened the door. “Wyeth, Matijah, help is here. Step out into the corridor.”
The trade took place. Everard lingered to ask Axel, “Will you be all right for a little longer?”
Axel gave him a determined look. “I’m staying.”
Out in the corridor, as Sarlota Moor poured ginger tea for both weary adjusters, Everard said, “Now that she can’t hear us, tell me the rest.”
Wyeth gave him a knowing look. “Adolescence is such a difficult time for a person’s sympathy,” she began. “It’s partly my fault. I knew her age, but I treated her as an adult in her twenties. I should have been more alert for this. Her sympathy is still developing. Yes, I know, but it’s the only explanation.” She looked to Matijah for comment.
Her protege said, “It does seem that way. Just judging from the time I arrived until now, I would say her sympathy has definitely grown stronger. I don’t think she was holding back all this time; I think she’s going through a secondary phase.”
“And her primary phase was enough to alter the climate,” Everard said heavily. “Now what?”
“It’s hard to say,” Wyeth replied, “since she’s so unique. At seventeen, nearly eighteen, physically she has finished developing; emotionally, she is still very much a young girl, however tough she tries to be on the outside. Her experiences have skewed her development to an extent, which Chii warned me about, but to what extent, we have yet to see. It helped, whatever you said to her. She calmed down enough that I could bring her down a few levels. Right now, what she needs is sleep, but we don’t dare let her lose consciousness as long as her sympathy is so near the edge.”
From down the hall, running footsteps thudded toward them. Fiola was in the lead, followed by Cora and Linnie. “How is Sanna?” Fiola asked.
“We have two more adjusters here now, so we’re in a stronger position. Sanna is starting to regain her composure, and that is the best thing that could happen right now.” Wyeth glanced at Everard. “Coralie, I think she really needs to talk with you for a while.”
“Before you go in,” Everard interjected, “I need to explain a few things to you.” He drew his wife apart from the others and said, “This is partly my fault. You were right: I made it out to be too easy, and she felt pressured to put the matter with Rusza behind her when she wasn’t ready yet. The stress of that probably led to this. I’ve made my apology to her. I want to make one to you. I am at fault here. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.”
Cora gazed at him in that surprised way that told Everard he did not apologize for his faults often enough. She smiled. “Dear, there are certain things you do poorly. We both know that. I’m sure that many other things also led up to this situation. Did I hear rightly that Rusza came after we left and… and…” Her smile failed. “He stood in front of her and never noticed that she was struggling with her sympathy? Even possessing the same sympathy and perfectly able to recognize the signs, he came and said— I don’t doubt it— said totally insensitive things and ignored Sanna’s struggles. I am beyond words. How could he? How has he changed so much in such a short time? I don’t understand it at all, Everard. And he isn’t here now, helping. Where is he?”
“He requested leave to spend the night at the Demyan house.”
“Spend the—” Cora threw her hands in the air. “I don’t understand it at all. Never mind. It isn’t important right now.” She drew her mittens back on. “I’ll talk with her.”
With this crucial piece of his strategy in place, Everard went back to the entrance to wait for Mica to arrive. This happened at about 0035. Mica’s first words upon entering were, “Why is an ambulance here? Has Sanna gotten worse?”
“No, we borrowed a pair of adjusters from the hospital. That’s what they drove here in. Tell me what you know.”
Mica said, “Sergeant Major Calder is packed and ready. Aunt Perdita is getting Mom’s staff ready to leave. No word yet from Current-town, but Lieutenant Ietta is standing by.”
“Good. I’ll head back to the depot to be on the spot when the call connects. Are you coming with me, or are you staying here?”
“I’ll stay here.”
Everard gripped his eldest son by the shoulder as they traded places, Mica to stand watch in the entryway and he to climb into the warm truck and drive to the depot. Upon arriving in the comm office, he found a very young and very excited comm specialist eager to greet him. “Nothing ever happens on the night shift,” the young woman said, “but tonight everything’s hopping. I have one call waiting to Current-town. They’re looking for your man right now. One call completed to the crossroads waystation, where they offer the choice of a staff car or an old armored bus for your use.”
“Bus,” said Everard. “What about the capital hospital?”
“Without an ETA, they say they can only have their on-call adjuster notified.”
“Fair enough. We’re still working to get the soldier stabilized for travel. When we know more on that point, I’ll have you call back and give the ETA.”
“Yes, sir. Your lieutenant is in this booth, waiting on the Current-town call.” The specialist left him in the two-seat booth in front of a screen that was lit but showed no image.
Ietta said, “How is she?”
“Wyeth is hopeful that she’s stabilizing. I have Cora talking with her to calm her down and keep her positively focused, and we have two local adjusters spelling Wyeth and Matijah. Right now, that’s the best we can do.”
“You seem tired. More than just being up at 0100,” she amended.
“I carry some of the blame for letting this happen,” Everard said simply. “It wears at me, always making the same mistake.”
Ietta was sensible enough not to reply to this. She just sat quietly and let him think. After a few minutes, Jock arrived. “I’ve checked. Lieutenant Jasper has Mother’s staff ready to depart at any time. The capital hospital—”
“The specialist told me,” Everard said, forestalling him. “We have two adjusters supporting our own. They’ll bring Sanna down to the point where she can travel. Wyeth will make sure of it. Now I only want this last piece of information. Where is Yeardley?” He exhaled. “Sorry. I’m more anxious than I realized.”
“It’s hard, not being able to do anything directly,” Ietta said. “Jock is terrible at that. I honestly think it would be better all around if he could have this baby.” She gave her husband an impish grimace.
“How are you feeling?” Everard asked.
“Fine, fine. It’s early days yet.”
“Should you be sitting up like this, missing your rest?”
“I’ll tell you what I told Jock, sir: I’m just sitting. It’s nothing strenuous, and I’m sure I can make up the lost sleep later. Nothing to worry about here. I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, not until I know we’ve got Sanna safely on her way south.”
They waited together, Jock standing behind Ietta’s chair to rub her shoulders and Everard fighting the urge to fidget with all the restless energy building up in his body. It was a few minutes shy of 0200 when the screen came alive to show a South Territory comm officer and a very tousled Captain Yeardley. “Sorry about the wait,” the comm officer said. “Here he is.”
“Whaa…” Yeardley yawned. “Sorry. What’s up, Father Everard?”
Giving the same concise explanation he had already given twice that evening, Everard finished this one by saying, “I need to know if you’re ready to take her. Is the depletion bunker done?”
“Done and tested. We’ve brought in every type of energy sympathist we can get hold of, and they all say it’s good. We even brought in a water sympathist to check if others can use it. As it happens, it seems to be a calming place even for other types of sympathists who don’t run the same risk of going into cycle.”
“Still in progress, I’m afraid.”
“But can people live in it?”
“Oh, certainly, as long as they don’t mind eating elsewhere until the kitchen is done.”
“Good enough. We’re sending her to the capital hospital for a thorough exam first; they’ll send her on to you. Wyeth will be with her and will contact you to let you know their departure time, so you can be there to receive them. Sanna needs…” Everard hesitated for the first time that evening. “She needs a great deal of encouragement and acceptance right now. I won’t go into details, but she is hurting. She needs warmth in more senses than just the one.”
“Understood, sir. Everybody looks forward to her arrival.”
“In order for you to prepare adequately, you should know that she has not only her uncle, her two cousins, and her elder, but she will also be accompanied by three students: Maccani Moor, whom you’ve met; a young woman named Kass Ulim; and a young man named Isaakki Gamble.”
“Not Rusza?” said Yeardley.
“No. Not Rusza.”
Yeardley’s expression flickered between emotions, but he only said, “Right. Three extras. I’ll see to their accommodations as well.”
“Thank you, Aug.”
“I ought to thank you, Father Everard, for sending her to us. We’re going to shake things up around here.” He seemed on the verge of signing off, but he said, “This is a flippant question, I know, considering the circumstances, but do you know if she can make a banana hammer?”
This so surprised Everard that he merely echoed, “Banana… hammer?”
“My little girls asked me, when I was telling them about Taivas. Ellie, that’s my oldest, she learned in science class that… well, I won’t go into details, but the girls are dying to know if Taivas can freeze a banana so hard that it can hammer nails.”
Everard recovered his composure and said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask her.” He said his goodbye and switched off the screen. “A banana hammer. That was unexpected.”
“I suppose Taivas has never so much as seen a banana in person,” Jock said. “They aren’t commonly available in North Territory, and they’re expensive in the capital.” He recalled himself to the moment. “What now, sir?”
“Now, I go back to the hostel, find out the current situation, and ask about banana hammers, I suppose.” Everard stood. “You can both consider yourselves on low-alert standby and go back to your quarters, if you want. When I know anything, I’ll send word.”
When he arrived back at the hostel, he found the entrance area as full as a bus terminal. Perdita Jasper had gathered Cora’s whole staff and all their dependents, as well as Sora Waeber and Gretta Warhite, ready for departure. Everard stopped at the night attendant’s desk. “Do you mind all this?”
“Not a bit, sir, no, most of the time it’s tough to stay awake on the night shift. Makes a man wonder why we have a night shift, but this is great.”
“Even the jaguar?”
“Beautiful animal,” said the attendant. “Where do they live, naturally?”
“South territory, in the jungle.” Everard stopped next to Perdita’s chair. “Everyone is ready to go?”
“Yes. I packed for Coralie and Linnie. Linnie is coming with us, isn’t she?”
“I believe so.” Everard considered that thought more closely. “I should check.” He continued on toward the Taivas suite, where he found the hospitality trolley, kettle, and cups now attended by Cora and Axel. “Who is with her now?”
“Mica offered to take a turn.”
Everard considered that for a few moments. Then he recalled his other question. “Is Linnie leaving with you, Cora?”
She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, and then said, “I’m not sure. I thought so, but then I thought, maybe not. I’ll ask.” She made a quick about-face and hurried farther along the corridor to tap on a door. The door opened, Cora spoke, and after a moment’s wait Crystallin appeared in the corridor with her mother, heading back toward Everard.
“Daddy,” said the girl, “I’d rather go to the capital with Sanna, and stay there until Mom gets back from Fortress. That way, after we see Sanna and everyone off to South Territory, I can help Helena with getting ready for the wedding. Is that all right with you and Mom?”
“I’m in agreement,” Everard said. “Cora?”
“As long as you pay attention to how much time you stay at the Tate house,” Cora said.
From the direction of the entrance, Joey Cirocco came jogging toward them. “Father Locke, Mother, Mo and I just stepped outside, and it seems like the front is coming through sooner than expected. If we’re going to beat the snow, we need to start soon.”
Everard opened the door to the Taivas suite. The bitter cold struck him in the face, but he ignored it. “How is it going? The weather is turning.”
Wyeth and the local man were on duty. Wyeth frowned. “We’re making progress, but we aren’t ready yet.”
“Then we need to do a rapid depletion,” Everard said. “We can’t risk them getting stranded by the snow. It’s a risk, I know, but balanced against the greater risk…”
“Outside, then. Get everyone loaded up, ready to go in front. We’ll do the depletion in back, do a quick full-power adjustment, and bring her out to the carrier. When we’re gone, you need to send word to the climatology schools in Cavern and Leeward and warn them that we’re going to ruin their weather.”
Mica stood up. “Dad, I’d like to go to the capital with them.” He faced Everard’s contemplative gaze without a hint of uneasiness.
“Go ahead. Your sister is going to the capital also. She’ll stay at home with Slate and Larimar, but I want you to come back when your business is done.”
“Now go start loading everyone, and warn the attendant to clear the entrance.” Everard knelt in front of Sanna. “You understand what needs to be done?”
She drew a slow, deep breath. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ve also been asked to find out whether you can make a banana hammer, although I suppose you’ve never tried it.”
Sanna blinked several times. “I’m sorry, Father Locke, but it sounded like you just said ‘make a banana hammer.’”
“That is what I said. Ellie Yeardley, Aug’s older daughter, asked him. I had to ask also, being unfamiliar with the term. Apparently, it’s what happens when you freeze a banana so hard that you can use it to hammer nails.”
“How cold does the banana need to be?”
“I’m not sure. You’ll need to research that, once you get to Current-town.”
She gave him a weak smile. “I thought I was hallucinating when you said that. It happens, when you go into cycle: hearing things, seeing things, none of them real.”
“You aren’t in cycle. You won’t go into cycle. I told you, we won’t allow it to happen to you again.” He stood up and went to the door to check, but the corridor was empty. Even the hospitality trolley was gone. To Wyeth, he said, “I’m going to check on their progress. I’ll come back to notify you.” Then he jogged toward the entrance, where he found the attendant peeking out from a utility closet. “I’ll give you the warning when they’re about to bring her through,” Everard told him. “Are you wearing your coat?”
“Not yet, sir. Should I?”
“It’s advisable. Highly advisable.” Heading out the front door, he found the personnel carrier running, parked in front of the hostel with everyone aboard. “This will have to be fast,” he said to Cora. “Don’t stop unless absolutely necessary, not until you get to the crossroads.” He kissed her on the lips and then ran back to the hostel to check the route to the back courtyard. Along the way, he found a couple of stray cleaners and ordered them to take cover away from the route. Then he returned to the Taivas suite. “Everything is ready.”
“What about…” Sanna spoke in a slow, thick voice. “What about the luggage?”
“Your bags, Ietta packed and sent. Your family’s luggage, I will ship to you in Current-town. Slate will help you get whatever is urgently needed between here and there when you get to the capital.” He looked past her to Wyeth. “Ready?”
“Ready,” she said. “Everyone, take your position.”
Matijah braced his bare, bluish hands on Sanna’s shoulders. The two borrowed adjusters each grabbed hold of one of her arms. Wyeth came around in front to take hold of Sanna’s hands. “Keep your eyes on me,” she said in a calm, level voice. “I’ll lead you. Just focus on stopping as much of this cold as you can inside yourself until we get outside. Understand?”
“Yes… Nana Wyeth.”
“That’s my girl.”
Everard went to open the suite’s door for them. All along the route, he opened doors and kept a relatively safe distance. When they reached the back courtyard, he stayed well back as Wyeth circled around to stand beside Matijah.
“Right, Sanna, now I want you to deplete as fast as you can, as hard as you can, when I say Go. Ready…” All of the adjusters withdrew their hands and stepped back from Sanna. “Go.”
Suddenly the air felt so brittle that it might shatter. Everard discovered that he couldn’t draw breath until he pulled his scarf and collar over his mouth and used them as filters to warm the air, but even then it felt like it burned his lungs. He had to squint to protect his eyes. He saw Sanna with her hands flung wide. He heard glass crack from somewhere behind him.
Then Wyeth called out in a voice of command, “Now stop.” All four adjusters tackled Sanna, and she dropped to her knees. “It’s all right,” Wyeth said, “you’ll be all right, Sanna. Just a little more… What do you think, Matijah? Safe to travel?”
“Yes.” Cora’s adjuster sounded breathless and pained.
“Right, then, let’s load her on the bus.”
Everard jogged forward. “Save your strength,” he advised as he lifted Sanna in his arms.
Wyeth retained her hold on one of Sanna’s hands. They quickly retraced their route, and Everard shouted, “Coming through!” before they walked through the entrance and out the front door. He carried Sanna up the two steps of the personnel carrier and down the aisle to the seats in the rear, left empty for that purpose. When he set her down, he took a knee in front of her. “Let them take care of you. That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir,” she murmured. Her eyes were more alert, but weary.
Everard stepped back to let Wyeth and Matijah take charge of the girl. He grabbed Mica by the shoulder. In an undertone, he said, “Have Slate outfit them to replace what they need before you send them onward. Use my account. They’ll stay at our house.” Then he made a hasty retreat down the aisle and off the carrier. “Go,” he said to the driver, Sergeant Maynard.
The door to the personnel carrier closed. As the vehicle pulled away from the hostel, Everard stood watching it until the frigid air reminded him of all that remained to be done. He went back inside and found the attendant peeking from the closet again. “All clear,” Everard assured him.
“That was the coldest I’ve ever felt indoors,” the man declared.
“And I,” Everard agreed. He went back to the suite of rooms and began to assess. He left the thermostat turned high and he propped open the door to let the air move through. Frost was beginning to melt from the light fixture covers. Everard strolled through the bedrooms. In one, he found Axel’s cane and a picture book borrowed from the local library. He packed everything that looked like a personal possession in that room and brought the bags out into the sitting area. In the other bedroom, he found some women’s clothes and underclothes in the small dresser between the two beds, and Fiola’s writing kit still sitting on top of the dresser. It reminded him of an evening in Cavern, dinner with the Taivas family, when all of his traveling children were gathered around him and in harmony together. He stood in a blind study over that writing kit for longer than he intended. His shoulders sagged as if under a heavy weight.