When Detective-Major Pryce had said he wanted Sanna, Fiola, and Daava in his office early the next morning, he had meant early, not in the southern sense but literally early. They were finished with their interviews by 0800. As Lieutenant Atherley escorted them to the hospital entrance, he commented, “You’re quite special, Corporal Taivas. Pryce doesn’t bother remembering anyone’s name unless that person works with him long-term, but he already knew your name from the files.”
“Is that why?” Sanna replied. “I wondered why he was just calling Fiola ‘you, girl’ and Daava ‘you, boy’.”
“People think he’s rude,” Atherley admitted, “but he has a genuinely poor memory for matching names to faces. I’ve worked with him more than six months now, and he still calls me Lieutenant. Nothing else. He does recognize me when I arrive in the morning now, but I don’t know if he could identify me out of a lineup unless I had my notebook out.”
“He seems dedicated to his work,” Sanna replied.
“That is an understatement, Corporal. Are you off-duty today, or do you go back on patrol?”
“Ah, Company G is off-duty,” Sanna answered, “but we still have our own training.”
“Sky-wind school doesn’t have days off,” Fiola said.
Daava added, “Some of us have a long way to go to catch up with everyone else.”
Atherley nodded. “I understand. After six months, I still feel the same about my own work. I wish you a productive day, Sky-wind.”
Sanna saluted. On the way back toward the house, she said, “Uncle Axel knows the basic physical training routine by heart,” she said, “but I don’t like to put all of the work on him. We’ll count this as extra laps.”
Daava said, “Yes, ma’am.”
They ran at a fairly easy pace for their warm up and arrived at the house within fifteen minutes. There they found the other three students almost finished with a second round of the basic physical training. “Laps,” Sanna called out. “This time, Kass, you lead off. You know the pace.” She let them all set out before she fell into step behind them, watching their form and pace as Father Locke had done with Sanna’s class.
The whole group was progressing well. Daava still needed to work on stamina. His work as a fisherman in Leeward had built up his strength, but it had done nothing for his speed or endurance. Fiola was in the opposite position: her physique didn’t give her much strength, but already she was assessing herself strategically to compensate for the lack. She had taken to sparring with Maccani, testing herself against a much stronger opponent by using all the guile Doc had taught them.
Gamble had embraced the second principle from the start. His unique sympathy gave him an advantage in evasion, since he could amplify his own senses to detect when his opponent was about to move, but that made him reluctant to put effort into developing muscle. It had taken some spirited discussions before Sanna had finally persuaded him that strength training would benefit him by reducing his reaction time.
Kass was eager to learn everything, to the point where Sanna had to remind her to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Otherwise, Kass would hop from one area to another and take away from each only the most rudimentary understanding.
Maccani was proving to be indispensable as a training partner for everyone, even for Sanna. He was the type to watch, ask questions, and practice methodically. This made him a role model for Kass, who was certainly not methodical, and an encouragement to Daava, who seemed to believe that everyone already knew far more than he did. Maccani’s skill level had risen steadily, to the point where he was now providing Sanna with more of a challenge when they sparred.
Sanna was careful to jot down her notes when they returned to the house at the end of their laps, while everyone was getting a drink of water from the outdoor spigot. While she was documenting, Sanna heard Gamble exclaim, “Hey, Jainin, that’s cheating!”
“Second principle, Gamble. You use your sympathy to fight,” Daava replied, “I use mine.”
Sanna tucked her notebook into her back pocket and circled around to join the students. “What happened?” she asked Fiola.
“Jainin persuaded the water to flow toward him, instead of downward into Gamble’s hands.”
Sanna shook her head. “The race is not always to the swift, Gamble, but to the wise come many unexpected treasures. Like first drink at the spigot.”
“Is that from the teachings?” Kass asked.
“All but the last part,” Sanna said. “I’ll show you where it is later, if you want to know.”
“Master Sanna,” Maccani said in a peculiar tone.
Sanna went to the front corner of the house, where he was standing, and followed the direction of his gaze. Three figures approached from the direction of the community center. One was tall and red-haired. Sanna felt a twist in her gut, but almost as quickly she recognized the figure as Dr. Tate, not Rusza. The other two were easily recognizable: Lyndon Tate and Crystallin Locke. Sanna said, “Fiola!” as she hurried out to greet the visitors.
Fiola outpaced her. She and Crystallin hugged with exclamations. When Sanna caught up a moment later, Crystallin threw her arms around her too. “Oh, how much healthier you look!”
Sanna hugged the girl gently. “It’s good to see you, Linnie.” Then she greeted Dr. Tate. “How was your journey?”
“Long,” he replied. “I forgot how long it takes to get here from the capital.”
“Did you take the bus?”
“We drove. It was a chance for family time.”
“The Yeardley relatives love Helena,” Crystallin said. “They wouldn’t let go of her today, but she wants to come visit later.”
“And we’ll be glad to see her,” Sanna replied. She directed her attention to the shy, awkward boy with glasses. “To you, Lyndon Tate, I wish a happy birthday a few days late. I have heard that you will be spending half your training period here in Current-town. Are you getting settled in?”
He nodded and adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “Yes, thank you.”
“Come indoors,” Sanna offered. “It’s already getting hot out.” She brought them in and found Sarlota Moor already in the lounge, stationed by the electric kettle. “Miss Moor, have you met Dr. Tate yet?”
“No, but I’ve heard about you, Dr. Tate.” She stood to shake his hand. “I’m pleased to meet you. This must be Lyndon.”
Lyndon Tate blushed and nodded. “How did you know, Miss Moor?”
“I knew because Crystallin talks about you often. She is very proud of you.”
The boy looked mutely to Crystallin with a gaze that strove between wonder, embarrassment, and devotion.
Dr. Tate laughed. “I have heard a little about you, Miss Moor, through Linnie and Coralie. You’re in the midst of a tour of the territories, aren’t you? And now you have made it to South Territory in time for some very peculiar weather. The hail last night took us by surprise. We had just unloaded the luggage and stepped onto the front porch when it sounded as if the sky fell on us.”
“That would be my fault, I think,” Sanna said. “We were out on a mission yesterday, and I was called upon to use my sympathy more than I usually did, and it sent the weather askew, as Captain Yeardley put it.”
“How is your sympathy?” Dr. Tate sat down and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “I understand that they diagnosed you as having entered a secondary development phase. I’m curious, not only as a doctor but as a friend. Have you suffered any instability lately?”
“Not since arriving here,” Sanna replied. “The heat makes it easier, and I have plenty of opportunities for depletion. The only thing that I have started wondering about… I plan to talk to the adjuster about it at my appointment tonight… especially after yesterday. I don’t know what is involved in a secondary phase, aside from instability, but do you know, Dr. Tate, if it’s normal for a sympathy to get stronger the more it gets used?”
Dr. Tate was quiet for a few moments. “The only time I recall hearing something like what you’re describing was some years ago.” His forehead began to rumple. “Who is your adjuster, Sanna?”
“Mornings, I normally see Dr. Whicher at the base. Evenings, Dr. Aincourt from four doors down has agreed to see me. She’s Edmund Haigh’s older sister.”
“May I go with you when you see her? I’d like to talk with her about what you said.”
“You’ll probably see her any moment now,” said Sarlota Moor. “I have no doubt she already knows that new guests have come to this house, and she’s nothing if not inquisitive.”
Sarlota’s prediction came true less than ten minutes later, when the front door hinges squeaked and a pair of rapid footsteps came towards the lounge. “I let myself in,” said Maggie. “You worked so hard this morning that I didn’t want to make you get up to answer the door. You have visitors! I’m Maggie Aincourt.” She held out her hand in the pose that told a gentleman she expected him to kiss it.
Dr. Tate did so. “Dr. Aincourt, I’m Dr. Archet Tate. My late wife—”
“Nigel and Penelope’s daughter,” she finished for him. “I remember Nirva. What brings you south again after all these years? See? I’m learning to be blunt, like my northern friends.”
Dr. Tate laughed. “My youngest, Lyndon, is starting his army training at the secondary hospital’s lab. I’ve come down to help him settle in, and to introduce my new daughter-in-law to my wife’s relatives.”
Sanna knew she hadn’t imagined the glance Maggie shot at her. “You have a new daughter-in-law?” the adjuster asked.
“My son Michael married a couple weeks ago. His bride is a southern girl by birth, and it seems my in-laws have fallen in love with her. While I have you here, Dr. Aincourt, I’d like to talk with you about something Sanna told me shortly before you came. Sanna?”
At this prompt, Sanna repeated for Maggie the question she had asked Dr. Tate: “Is it normal for a sympathy to get stronger the more it gets used?”
Maggie didn’t answer immediately. “You didn’t mention this yesterday evening, Sanna.”
“I wasn’t sure then, but this morning, I had a conflicting appointment, so I couldn’t see Dr. Whicher. Now I’m sure I’m not just imagining it.”
Maggie held out a hand in wordless command. She took Sanna’s hand and started to massage it firmly, as she did when giving Sanna an adjustment. Her face showed no particular expression, but after a minute she said, “So this is what happens after fifteen hours without an adjustment? My dear, you need to be adjusted immediately. Miss Sarlota, would you be a dear and take Soren to the atrium for twenty minutes or so? The rest of you may take your own risks, but I recommend withdrawing from this room, at the very least. Sanna, which of your students may I borrow to send a message to the health center, to tell them I will be late?”
Sanna was taken aback. “I didn’t mean to have you change your schedule…”
“That is the wrong answer, Sanna. The right answer is, Thank you, Maggie, and the name of a student.” Maggie smiled placidly.
“Thank you, of course. Maccani, would you go? You know where the health center is.”
They began the adjustment routine. Sanna removed her jacket and began the slow, deep breathing that helped her relax her control over her sympathy. This enabled Maggie to get a more accurate reading on Sanna’s level. Maggie had a different way of adjusting sympathies than Dr. Rao had used. She made Sanna lie on the sofa, face down first, and pressed certain points in her back and legs. Then she had her turn onto her back for the pressure points at her collarbone, arms, waist, and feet. It worked. Sanna sat up at the end, feeling far more relaxed.
“As for this escalation you described,” Maggie said, glancing at Dr. Tate, “as I believe Dr. Tate may have also realized, it has only been documented in cases of sympathy disorder.”
“What is that?” Sanna asked.
“A rare condition,” Maggie replied, “where the sympathy shows progressive change, either weaker or stronger as time goes by. I should like to take you to Dr. Whicher today for some tests.”
Fiola leaned in from her post just outside the lounge door. “What kind of treatment does it take to cure sympathy disorder?”
“I haven’t concluded yet that Sanna has sympathy disorder,” Maggie replied, “so I forbid you from jumping to conclusions. There are a good many mysteries about secondary development. This may simply be a symptom of that. That is why we need to run tests. Sanna, Dr. Tate, if you have no other engagements, why don’t we go now?” Maggie led them out the front way and called over the fence, “Jen, may we borrow the cart?”
But it was Aug’s face that appeared amongst the flowering vines. “Good morning, Maggie. Shouldn’t you be at the health center by now? Morning, Archet!”
“I’m taking Sanna to see Dr. Whicher for some tests,” Maggie replied. “I don’t want to walk all that way. Hence my request.”
“Do give me the honor of chauffeuring you,” Aug said. He disappeared, and a clatter indicated that he had opened the door to his shed. A soft hum followed, and in another moment a small utility cart pulled out onto the street. It had four seats, one for each of them. As he pulled away from the curb, Aug asked, “Are you feeling unwell, Taivas?”
“No,” Sanna began.
Maggie interrupted. “She is showing unusual symptoms of sympathy escalation. You and Edmund may be overusing her sympathy. No, my dear, don’t make excuses for them. They are your commanding officers. They are responsible for the welfare of their subordinates. If, and I am not saying it is, but if this turns out to be sympathy disorder, the worst thing you can do is overuse your sympathy.”
“What exactly is sympathy disorder?” Sanna asked warily.
“Put simply, my dear, it is a condition in which an individual’s sympathy either diminishes or increases with use. In the first instance, the sympathy disappears entirely. In the second, it becomes uncontrollable by any means.”
Sanna felt a wave of nausea.
“Do not panic, my dear,” Maggie commanded. “This is why I didn’t like to discuss it in front of your students and family. Dr. Tate is already fretting enough to fill up all our shares.”
Sanna looked forward, where Dr. Tate was riding next to Aug. He was bowed forward, elbows on his knees and hands folded, supporting his chin. He didn’t respond to the mention of his own name.
“As I said, we know nothing yet. We need to run a series of tests for more precise measurement of your sympathy. And the outcomes I mentioned are theoretical. The condition is so rare that we have little solid, scientific evidence on it as of yet.”
The rest of the morning passed in the primary hospital’s sympathy specialties department, where Sanna went through the tests Maggie spoke about. Dr. Whicher, a young man, was both commiserating and inquiring. He and Maggie ran the tests, which included blood work, an electroencephalogram, and biofeedback to measure sympathy control.
Dr. Tate stayed nearby all the time and took notes. When asked why, he said, “This isn’t my area. When I end up having to explain it all to Everard and Coralie, I need to understand what I’m saying.”
When they finished, Sanna looked to the two doctors in anxious expectation. Maggie shook her head. “We collected a great deal of data today. It will take time to process it all, and even then, we’ve only established a baseline. We need to run these tests again every few days to chart any patterns that may appear. For the meantime, I will see you home and prescribe a program of rest that precludes any unnecessary exertion of your sympathy.”
She gave much the same directions to Aug, who had stayed in the nearest waiting room through the entire testing process. “And I’ll have a chat with Edmund when he returns.”
“Returns?” Sanna said.
“He went out to spend a few days at the cabin,” Maggie said. “There was a geomagnetic storm forecasted for today and tomorrow, although I cannot rule out the possibility that this was simply a useful excuse to spend some time alone with a glass of wine and a good book. He takes these little retreats sometimes. It eases his mind to be away from the electrical activity of the city every now and then. Aug, you may chauffeur us back now.”
At the house, Sanna found her family and students all waiting for information that she couldn’t provide. All she could do was repeat Maggie’s prescription and downplay the potential seriousness as best she could. She noticed that Maccani and Fiola seemed the least convinced.
She went through the afternoon routine as normally as she could. This consisted of taking a midday nap, teaching Soren some basic arithmetic, reading with Kass through a portion of the statutes and teachings, as well as answering the inevitable questions Kass raised about the readings.
Fiola and Crystallin had their heads together in the atrium for most of the afternoon. When Sanna paused nearby once, she thought it sounded as if they were writing a joint letter, each writing a few lines before passing it to the other. It didn’t surprise Sanna in the least when, just before suppertime, Crystallin asked permission to stay overnight.
There was a different atmosphere that evening at supper, largely because the kitchen was finally ready for use. This time, Sanna’s family got to play host to Maggie and her daughter, Aug and his family, and Emmett Brook, his brother, sister-in-law, and niece Louisa. Sanna had met Louisa Brook already at her research clinic. At that time, she had gotten the impression Louisa didn’t like her much. Whether that had been a false impression on a bad day, or whether curiosity had overcome dislike, Sanna couldn’t tell, but before they sat down to eat, Louisa insisted on a private conference between her, Maggie, and Sanna.
They retreated to Sanna’s room under the pretext of helping her tidy up her hair and dress for dinner. The moment the door closed behind them, however, Louisa embraced Sanna. “I’m so sorry,” she told Sanna. “I should have paid closer attention when you were at my office. Then I could have set the baseline, and you might have had some answers already. Can you forgive me?”
This so astonished Sanna that she was unable to respond immediately.
Louisa took this as a response in itself. “If you can’t straightaway, I quite understand. It was completely unprofessional of me. I… I will confess to being somewhat jealous of you, Corporal Taivas.”
Sanna rediscovered her voice but could only ask, “How could anyone be jealous of me? I have… nothing.”
Louisa gave her a candid look. “But Edmund likes you. He only sees me as Goldie’s little friend, the one who survived when his family didn’t, even after all these years.”
“Are you… in love with him?”
“I’m afraid so,” Louisa replied simply. “And Maggie explained to me that you aren’t. So I’m deeply sorry. Even if you had been, I was so petty and immature to let that interfere with my duties.” Her dark eyes shimmered, and Sanna realized the young researcher was close to tears.
“Of course I forgive you,” Sanna told her. “If anyone can understand what you’ve been feeling, I can.”
Louisa hugged her again. “Maggie, may I take charge of her testing schedule? It’s much closer for her to come to me than to keep going to the primary.”
“If Dr. Whicher doesn’t mind, neither do I.” Maggie was sanguine. “But if we bring her back down without any alterations to her appearance, I fear the others may suspect us.” She stood up and began loosening Sanna’s hair from its usual basic braided knot.
“I brought you a peace offering,” Louisa said she took from her handbag a soft parcel and opened it to unfold a patterned square of cloth. She shook it out to reveal a woven shawl. “I thought vivid colors would suit your fair complexion the best.”
“You didn’t need to,” Sanna told her.
“But I wanted to.” With a flourish, Louisa spread the shawl across Sanna’s knees. “So you needn’t always wear those masculine jackets. Feel how soft it is! Isn’t it splendid?”
“It’s beautiful,” Sanna replied. She stroked the texture with her fingertips. “Thank you.”
They returned downstairs, where the shawl received much admiration. Aug and Jen’s two little girls especially liked to pet the soft cloth. Soren slipped out of his seat twice during the meal to roll himself up in a corner of the voluminous shawl. When the meal was finished and everyone moved into the lounge, the children steered Sanna to the sofa so that they could spread the hem of the shawl wide. Soren claimed the preeminent place on Sanna’s lap and snuggled against her bosom. She wrapped her arms around him, enveloping him in the shawl’s folds, and the two Yeardley girls leaned against her on both sides.
Jen Yeardley saw this and smiled. “Oh, Sanna, you would be such a good mother.”
“I wish I could,” Sanna replied quietly. “I’ve always wished I could, but because of my sympathy, it’s physically impossible for me to have children. Besides that, I can never marry. I can’t take that risk.”
“You could,” said Maggie, “if you married an adjuster.”
“And if one wanted to marry me,” Sanna replied. “But that is as unlikely as my being able to conceive.”
Uncle Axel said, “Are there many human sympathy sympathists? I never met one until I started traveling with Sanna, but I admit the village was a pretty narrow social circle.”
“We aren’t commonly found,” Maggie answered. “No one knows for certain how sympathies develop, despite the many theories. Sometimes they appear to have a genetic basis, but then a random sympathy will appear, with no family history whatsoever.”
“Like Sanna,” Axel said. “We never had an energy sympathist in our village before she was born.”
“The same tends to happen with the human-based sympathies. The only exception I have ever encountered,” Maggie said, “is Father Locke. I understand that his mother possessed thought sympathy, and two of his sons also have it. It’s rare to find a lineage, as it were, of the same human-based sympathy.”
The conversation ran onward in that direction. Maccani Moor described his mother’s family, where human body sympathy appeared to have a genetic basis. At one point, Sanna met her uncle’s gaze. He made a peculiar face, half encouraging, half apologetic, and Sanna realized he had changed the subject on purpose for her sake.
It was late when their dinner party dispersed. Soren had fallen asleep in Sanna’s arms, and the two girls had likewise dozed off at her sides. Aug picked up the older, Ellie, and Jen gathered up Janie. “Thank you for your hospitality,” Jen whispered.
When everyone had gone, Sanna carried Soren to the second bedroom and laid him down on the cot. She stood gazing at him in the light from the hallway until Uncle Axel said, “You must be tired.”
“To be honest, I’m more wakeful than anything,” Sanna said, turning from the slumbering child. “But you worked both jobs and had your class today, on top of helping me with morning training. I’ll let you get to sleep.” She retreated to the atrium, where Nana Friga sat under the palm tree and gazed up at the sky. “Are you staying up longer, Nana Friga? May I sit with you for a while?”
Nana Friga simply patted the bench beside her.
The wind moaned softly over the atrium. Sanna took off her shawl and wrapped it around her elder. “That should help, for as long as I’m out here. We haven’t had a good chat for a long time, have we?”
“You have many responsibilities now,” Nana Friga said. She sighed. “This is a lovely shawl. It was good of them to gift it to you… but was that really why they took you aside before supper?”
Sanna shook her head. “No, Louisa Brook wanted to apologize to me. She said she was jealous of me, because Edmund Haigh and I get along well. I still have a hard time imagining anyone being jealous of me. I know in my head that I have received many blessings, but my heart…. Nana, can I confess to you? You remember, when we first moved to the capital and I asked you… I asked you why I was alive. I felt then as if I had caused my family nothing but trouble, from the day my sympathy manifested until the day I left the village. I couldn’t understand why I had been born at all, if it was just to be a trial to others.”
“I remember it very clearly.”
“I have tried,” Sanna continued, “I’ve tried my hardest to become someone who does good to others, not just to make up for the harm I caused, but to give my life some purpose. I guess I must have thought I could fill up what was missing in my life, since I couldn’t live like everyone else.”
“I have noticed,” said Nana Friga, “but none of this sounds like a confession.”
Sanna smiled at that. “True enough. What I’m coming to is… back there, at… at Sawtooth Ridge, I couldn’t see any future for me at all. Only emptiness, leading to the grave. Doing good to others, serving the Only One, none of it filled the emptiness I saw. I’m ashamed of myself, but it’s the truth. I couldn’t understand why I was still alive, what purpose my continued existence had, when all I had to look ahead to was pain and loneliness. I had been a fool, and I’m sure I was still being a fool, but all I could think of was the relief of being buried at the end of the line of graves with the rest of my family.”
After a long silence, Nana Friga said, “It is only natural, child, to want to be with those who love you. What matters is that you took no action in that direction. Someday, perhaps, you will arrive at that respite. Between now and then, you have been left here for good reason. You know that. You might be unable to feel it, but you know it. You were taught well.”
“I know. But that day, that end, it might be nearer. They told you, didn’t they, about what Maggie said? Sympathy disorder. I haven’t told the others, I don’t want to worry them, but I’ll tell you. You’re my strength, Nana Friga. You have been since I left the village. Maggie said that sympathy disorder means my sympathy will keep getting stronger and stronger, until it’s uncontrollable by any means. Those were her exact words. I’m so scared…”
Nana Friga raised a hand, wrapped in folds of shawl, to stroke Sanna’s face. “I understand.”
“I don’t want to hurt everybody again.”
“I understand.” This time, Nana Friga raised her shawl-swathed arm and pulled Sanna’s head down to rest on her lap. “It’s your nightmare, isn’t it, even now. You told me about it once, when it was just the two of us in the capital. Dreams that everyone around you was frozen to death, with you left behind as the only survivor.” She stroked Sanna’s head. “You are still so young, Sanna. You’ve taken on the responsibilities of an adult, but you are so young. If I were stronger, younger, I could spare you some of this.”
They sat together like this until Sanna regained her self-control. “I should let you go to bed. You need your rest, Nana.” She helped Nana Friga stand and supported her all the way to the first bedroom. “Where are the girls sleeping?”
“Fiola said they would camp out in the lounge tonight. They are, no doubt, still giggling together even now.”
“I’m glad she found such good friends,” Sanna said. “Good night.” She checked in the lounge and, as predicted, Fiola and Crystallin were still awake and chatting. “Good night, girls,” Sanna said.
“Good night, Sanna,” they replied in unison.
The next morning, Sanna woke with a slight headache. She took her time stretching and doing her individual morning exercises. Before she descended to the main floor, she also went through her morning devotions. Her headache cleared by the time she finished, but she saw in the mirror that her eyes were still red-rimmed from crying in the night. Sanna breathed a quiet sigh.
No one else was up yet. This was usually the case. Sanna went out into the kitchen, thankful that she could now prepare a proper breakfast for herself instead of eating sweet rolls that kept well on the counter and were a popular southern breakfast food. The tradeoff was that, in making breakfast, she had to remember to keep quiet so as not to disturb the household. Her morning routine after breakfast was unchanged: a jog to the primary hospital for her adjustment appointment with Dr. Whicher, a stop at the Army Stores for perishable grocery items, and a jog back to the house with a grocery bag on each shoulder. Upon her return, she always found Fiola awake and starting breakfast for everyone else. This time, Fiola had a helper. Crystallin greeted Sanna with a cheerful smile. “You’re up as early as my parents,” she commented. “I heard you in the kitchen.”
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Don’t worry; you didn’t. I’m so used to waking up early that I do it automatically now, even when I don’t have to. Did you carry all of this back from the Army Stores by yourself?” She took one of the canvas grocery bags from Sanna.
Fiola brought Sanna a cup of black tea. “I added two sugar cubes,” the girl said. “Do you want any cream?” She splashed a little cream into the cup at Sanna’s assent.
There was a quick rap on the front door. Seconds later, Maccani entered the kitchen. “Is there anything for us?” Gamble and Daava Jainin were close at his heels.
“Sit,” Fiola said. “It’s almost ready. Did you see Kass on your way?”
“Not a sign of her,” said Maccani.
“We’ll just hold some back for her,” Sanna said. She sipped her black tea and watched the male students dish up food hungrily. “Not too much now,” she reminded them. After a while, she carried her cup upstairs to retrieve her copy of the statutes and teachings. She descended to the lounge, settled herself in the corner chair, and leafed through the pages until she found a likely passage for stimulating discussion. It had been Kass whose words gave rise to this part of the morning routine, back when she had commented to Sanna that she couldn’t follow the school’s first principle without knowing how to honor the Only One. That had struck Sanna forcefully: not everyone knew what that meant. She had grown up thinking that only Outsiders could make it to adulthood without learning the basic statutes and teachings, but since moving to the capital, and especially since taking on these students, she had discovered that the reality was nothing like what she had believed.
When the students came to join her, Kass was among them. She apologized. “There was so much trimmings to carry to the compost heap that it took much longer than normal. I didn’t like to leave old Mrs. Rowley to finish by herself.”
“Did you get some food?” Sanna asked. “Then there’s no problem.” She started to read out the selected passage to them.
After readings and discussion, she brought them outside for the morning physical training. Soren came after them and did his valiant best to do all the exercises. He was growing, little by little. He was already better at the exercises than he had been when he started. There was nothing left of the sturdy child he had been only two years before. He was thinner now, and tanned, a full-fledged little boy with alert gray-blue eyes.
“Laps,” Sanna called out. She saw Soren’s expression fall. “Do you want to try it?” she asked him.
Soren nodded vigorously.
“Then stay by me and run as fast as you can. When you’re too tired, you can ride on my back.”
It didn’t come to that, thanks to Fiola. When by the time they passed two houses Soren was already falling behind, Fiola dropped back to flank him. She took hold of one of his hands, and Sanna grabbed his other hand. He hopped and bounded between them, taking one step for every four they took, delighted by the free ride.
At the end of the run, when everyone went to the spigot for a drink and a wash, Soren ran into their midst. With his sympathy, he made the water fly everywhere, so that everyone was misted by the cool water. “You’re pretty good,” Daava complimented him.
Maccani hung back next to Sanna. “When did he manifest his sympathy?”
“About a year ago,” she replied. “Uncle Axel has been teaching him.”
“He looks like mostly active-principle.”
“That’s what Maggie said.”
They had morning tea together before the students and Uncle Axel scattered to their various jobs. Sanna was alone on the front porch when Sarlota Moor arrived. “Good morning,” Sanna called out.
“A very fine morning,” replied the woman. “And how is your family today?”
“They all seem well,” Sanna answered. “Come in. I know Nana Friga looks forward to your visits.” She walked Sarlota indoors, announced her to Nana Friga and Fiola, and then returned to the front porch to soak in some heat while the effects of her morning adjustment still lingered. It was interesting to watch the traffic pass by, mostly foot traffic. She could tell when the midday rest was getting close, because of the gradual reversal of this traffic, people returning home instead of heading out. Maccani was the first to return from his job. He sat next to her on the porch swing. “Did you have a good morning, Master Sanna?”
“I rested,” she replied, “just like Maggie prescribed.”
“How is your job?”
“Fair. I’m learning a lot about wound care right now. I had learned some, but this is much more in-depth than I was able to get at the clinic in the capital. I’ll admit, I had my doubts about being just a ward orderly, but it means I spend all my time assisting the nurses, getting hands-on treatment experience. I’m satisfied.”
They sat quietly together, watching the midday traffic. More people started to pass by, the ladies shading themselves from the intense sun with white parasols and the men pulling their wide-brimmed hats low over their eyes. Most of these called greetings to Sanna as they passed. But one set of pedestrians weren’t hurrying. They all wore the light colors of the southerner, but they were obviously not local. They strolled, three men with their hats and one woman with her parasol, until they were within a few yards of Sanna’s front gate. Then one of them broke away from the group on a straight line across the street. It wasn’t until he was at the fence that Sanna realized he was Lyndon Tate. “Come in,” she called out. “Get out of the heat. Linnie should be in the lounge with Fiola and Nana Friga.”
He gave a shy, “Thank you,” as he passed without making eye contact.
The rest of his party followed as far as the porch. Michael Tate, the eldest son, was quick to say, “We don’t wish to intrude—”
Sanna reached out her hand. “You aren’t, not at all, Michael Tate. I’m glad to get the chance to congratulate you both in person. I wish you every happiness in your life together.” She reached out her other hand to the young woman, now Helena Tate, and for a moment held hands with both bride and groom. Then she released them with a little smile.
“Thank you,” Helena said. “How are you, Miss Taivas?”
“Corporal Taivas,” Maccani supplied from behind Sanna.
Sanna glanced backward with a sigh of longsuffering. Then she turned her attention back to Helena. “The Only One keeps me, as always. What more can I ask than that?” She looked past them. “Come into the shade, Fineas Tate. It’s a little crowded here on the porch, but we can go inside with everyone else.”
“Actually,” said Helena, “there’s something we need to ask of you. It’s about Rusza.”
Maccani made a quick half-step forward, but Sanna shook her head slightly. “What about him?”
“He has come to apologize to you.” Helena looked back toward the street, but no one was in sight. “Where have they gone? He and Papa Archet were just behind us.”
Fineas said, “They’re hanging back. They stopped before we came to Aug’s house.”
Helena sighed as she turned back to Sanna. “I understand— we all understand— that you want nothing to do with him, but he says he needs to apologize to you. He won’t come to this house unless you give permission, which is why he is hanging back.”
“Tell him to write a letter,” said Maccani.
Sanna hushed him. To Helena she said, “What exactly does Rusza Tate feel he needs to apologize to me for?”
“He hasn’t talked with me about it specifically, Corporal,” Helena admitted. “He has been making his apologies to everyone he offended on account of his girlfriend. However, this is the first time I have seen him afraid to make an apology.”
Helena nodded. “He is very anxious. I can sense it all the way over here, without even being able to see him. Will you at least hear him out?”
For a moment, Sanna just drew a long breath. “I will,” she said after she exhaled. “But bring him here. I won’t chase after him down the street, in the eyes of the whole neighborhood.” She stood just on the edge of shade and sunlight, gazing at the street as Fineas walked past her line of sight. He returned quickly, and after a few seconds longer, Dr. Tate came into view. Then, bare-headed with his red hair almost glowing in the sunlight, Rusza Tate slunk after his father. He appeared to be attempting to hide behind Dr. Tate, a difficult feat considering he was now two or three inches the taller of the two. Sanna stepped down into full sunlight and walked to the gate. “Good day, Dr. Tate. Welcome back.” Then she sighed. “If you intend to hide behind someone, Rusza Tate, then you ought to at least choose someone bigger than you are.”
He chuckled nervously. Clearing his throat, he bent forward at a sharp angle. “I’m very sorry, Sanna Taivas. Please forgive me for failing you.”
He flinched. “Yes. I should have noticed that you were having trouble with your sympathy. I should have done something about it. I was a bad friend and a horrible guest. I behaved shamelessly in your suite when I visited. I hurt Soren. I’m sorry, really, really sorry.” His unfocused gaze was fixed on the pavement at his feet. When Sanna drew breath to speak, he flinched again.
“I… forgive you,” she said slowly, “for all those things.” She saw him twitch again. Then she noticed that his face was flushed a deep red. “Come out of the sun,” she said. When he came through the gate behind Dr. Tate, he tripped on his own feet and stumbled. Sanna moved quickly to grab Dr. Tate before he could catch his son from falling. “No. You should get back. His sympathy is active.” She planted herself in front of Rusza and framed his face between her hands, tilting his head back so that she could see him better.
“That feels good,” he muttered.
“Open your eyes, Rusza Tate. Look at me.” She had to pat his cheek sharply with her right hand before he responded to the command. “Maccani!”
“He isn’t well,” Maccani said from some feet behind her.
“Get the garden hose out.” She dropped one hand to her side and placed the other across Rusza’s forehead. “Quickly, Maccani.”
“What is it?” Dr. Tate asked.
“Rusza Tate,” Sanna commanded, ignoring the question for the moment, “can you hear me?”
“Mm,” he replied.
“Answer yes or no.”
Then she glanced at Dr. Tate. “Did you hear that? That slurring? No, don’t come near.” She saw Maccani dragging the garden hose toward them. “Soak him. Keep soaking him. Now, Rusza Tate, you need to stand up. I can lend you one hand if I must, but you need to stay awake and focused. Your sympathy is too active. We need to bring you down. Can you give numbers to your levels?”
Steam rose where the water struck Rusza. He blinked repeatedly, until his gaze fixed on hers. “I can’t,” he answered. His eyes were frightened.
That fear struck a deep echo within Sanna. She pushed every other consideration from her thoughts. “While the water is on you,” she instructed, “I want you to try to direct as much of your EM energy into the ground as you can. I’m going to step back, but keep listening. Keep focused.” She backed away to a safer distance. “Can you do it?”
Rusza kept staring at her with that expression of growing terror. He nodded without breaking eye contact. Suddenly the air prickled with electricity, and the ground under his hands smoked, but the cascades of water from the garden hose held down any actual sparks or flames.
“Dr. Tate, I need you to take over the hose. Maccani, run next door and borrow Captain Yeardley’s cart. We need to get Rusza to the bunker as quickly as we can.”
“Bunker?” Dr. Tate echoed as Maccani ran for the next house.
“It was made because of me,” Sanna explained. “A depletion bunker. It’s made for times like this.” Although she was talking to Dr. Tate, she was looking Rusza in the eyes. She saw a flicker of comprehension there. “Rusza, your sympathy is going into crisis. That is why I need you to stay alert. The longer you stay alert, the better chance we have of keeping you from going into cycle. Do you understand me?”
He nodded, wide-eyed. His twitching grew more pronounced.
“Is that your mechanical energy?” Sanna knelt down so that he didn’t have to raise his head to meet her eyes. “How do you bring that down? What do you need to do?”
“Keep still…” Rusza muttered. “Mm… Minimum effective… motion.” His gaze went out of focus for a moment and then sharpened in alarm.
“Think,” Sanna commanded. “What does that mean right now? What do you need to do?”
Aug leaped over the low fence, running toward them. “What’s wrong?”
Sanna held out a hand to hush him. “What do you need to do, Rusza?” she repeated.
He stretched out his long legs and lay back on the ground. “I… I can’t relax,” he said in a voice of fear. “I can’t get my muscles to relax!”
Then Sanna turned to Aug. “We need to take him to the bunker. He’s on the verge of going into cycle.”
Aug turned wordlessly and vaulted the fence again. The soft hum of the utility cart sounded in the hot air, almost lost amid the insect calls and the rush of the wind. Aug threw open the gate. “Let’s go.”
“First,” Sanna said, “Maccani, bring me the rubber mat from the mud room. Spread it over the nearer of the two back seats. Keep the hose on him until the last moment, Dr. Tate.” She came close, kneeling in the mud next to Rusza’s head. “We’re going to take you somewhere safe, where you can deplete your energies. Don’t be afraid. Just keep focused.” She slid her hand under his neck and was alarmed at how hot his skin felt as she helped him sit up. “Hold up your other hand, on the far side from me,” she instructed him, “and try to make a spark between your thumb and forefinger without letting them touch.”
He raised his right hand. Barely a fizzle appeared between his thumb and forefinger.
“Good. The water is doing the trick. I’m going to help you stand. Don’t move any more than you need to. Lean on me.” She slid her arm behind his back to support him as he stood up with all the exaggerated overcaution of a drunken man. “Forward, slowly, one step at a time,” she encouraged him. “No, Aug, you need to be ready to drive as soon as we get on the cart,” Sanna warned when she noticed the captain move to help them. “Maccani, take over the hose. Dr. Tate, get in the front seat next to Aug. We’ll need you with us.”
She was just helping Rusza sit down on the rubber mat-covered seat when she saw, to her horror, lines of white-hot light appearing on his neck. “What is that?” she asked Dr. Tate as she climbed over Rusza.
“Muscle striping,” he said. His voice told her how serious the situation had become. “Hurry, Aug.”
Sanna held Rusza upright by force. She focused her own sympathy on the direct contact between her arms and Rusza’s torso, cooling him as much as she dared with Dr. Tate so near. She heard Aug yell, “Keep his head cool! Prevents febrile seizure!” The cart was bumping along at its top speed, which was only twenty-five miles per hour. Sanna had to raise herself up onto one knee and balance amid all this jostling, just to place her hands on Rusza’s head and focus her cooling there. She realized this was a good idea, not just because of the risk of fever-induced seizure, but because Rusza’s hair was starting to smolder. She had to run her hands over his head, forehead to nape again and again, to keep extinguishing the little glints of fire at the roots. His clothes were likewise catching fire. Through every burning gap, more of what Dr. Tate had called ‘muscle striping’ showed white-hot. “What is muscle striping?” Sanna yelled over the noise.
“It happens when internal heat from the muscles becomes too hot for the skin to maintain its integrity,” Dr. Tate yelled back. “Those little lines are actually tears in the skin. Due to the high heat, the tears cauterize themselves immediately, leaving scars like stripes running parallel to the underlying muscle tissue.”
“We’re here!” Aug shouted. He braked outside of a low-lying, windowless building the size of a modest garden shed. “Archet, stay outside,” he commanded as he came alongside Rusza to lift him bodily to his feet.
Sanna took Rusza’s other side and helped carry most of his weight. The door to the depletion bunker had a crash bar on the outside. This enabled them simply to push through into the dark, still, cool bunker. Aug dropped Rusza and ran to hit the activation button on the control panel. Then he slid the heavy cover over that part of the panel to protect it.
Sanna let go of Rusza more gently. As he slid into a heap, Sanna pushed Aug out the door.
“Get out of there,” Aug said urgently.
Sanna shook her head. “His sympathy was almost enough to counter mine. I won’t let him hurt anyone else, but I also won’t let him die.” Behind her, there came a whoomp as of something bursting into flames, and Rusza screamed. She slammed the door shut and hit the emergency button next to it, activating the locks. The door would not open again until she hit the button a second time to deactivate the lockdown.
Rusza was burning on the floor. He cried, “Sanna? Sanna!”
“I’m here.” She knelt beside him, exerting her sympathy to smother the flames with cold. “I need you to get up, Rusza Tate. We need to do things in order.” When he struggled to his hands and knees, she guided him to the control panel. Only three features remained uncovered. She directed Rusza to the pair of metal handles set into the panel. “This is just like the positive and negative poles on a battery,” she said. “You’ve charged batteries before, haven’t you? That’s all you need to do now. Use as much of your EM energy as you can and pour it into this battery until you can’t sense any more of it in yourself.”
Rusza grasped the two handles. With his head sagging low, he began to crackle with electricity, but most of it was absorbed by the handles and directed elsewhere. His lightweight shirt was by now burned entirely away, and more muscle striping glowed across his back.
Seeing this, Sanna ramped up her sympathy output to cool the interior of the bunker drastically. “How is it?” she asked. “Do you think you’ve depleted enough of your EM?”
Rusza nodded and released the handles.
“Radiant is the second easiest to deplete, isn’t it?” Sanna moved forward to guide him one panel section to the left. “This is designed to let you deplete radiant energy without receiving any of it back. It’s just putting your hands into a pair of gloves. That’s right… Now focus all your stored energy into your hands all at once.”
“How do you know…” Rusza shook his head. “How do you know what order…?”
“When you gave Dr. Rao your levels, EM and radiant were usually the two lowest. That suggested to me that they were your two weakest forms of energy.” She set her hands on his shoulders to cool him more directly and to check his muscle spasms in the dark bunker. The glowing lines on his muscles seemed to be brighter than before. Then she rubbed his head between her hands for a while.
“Thermal is getting stronger.” The strain was evident in his voice.
“That,” Sanna said, “I can cope with. It’s mechanical that has me worried. You need to relax your muscles. That’s how you exercise: isometrics. If your muscles are still this tense, then it doesn’t matter if you keep still.” She tried to remember the pressure points that Maggie used on her during adjustments. It would not be the same, since she did not have the right sympathy, but it might help. She chilled each point with the tips of her fingers as she pressed. “Try to lie down on your back now. You don’t need to be afraid. I’ll stay with you.” It was so easy to see where he was in the dark, based on the white-hot muscle striping.
Rusza’s thermal energy surged. Rusza screamed and curled up on himself as his whole body glowed with heat.
Sanna kept her own output high and grabbed him from behind in a hold meant to minimize his ability to move. She slid her hands under his arms and up so that she could clasp her hands behind his head. Her legs she wrapped around his hips so that she could pin his legs down with her feet. Then she increased her output to exert as much cold as she could along the points of contact between them.
This spasm lasted longer than the others, but in time Rusza went limp and sagged in her grasp, breathing rapidly.
Sanna did not release him. “Control your breathing,” she said in his ear. “Your own movement is working against you. Slow down. You can do this. I’m with you.” She heard him draw a long, shuddering breath and then exhale. His heart was still racing, but after a few more slow breaths, even that slowed markedly. “All right,” Sanna told him, “I’m going to help you lie down now. Let me do most of the work. Your task is to keep yourself from moving.” She released her constricting hold and got to her knees behind Rusza. Then, gradually, she lowered him prone on the floor.
“Where are you?” His voice held panic.
“I’m still here, but I can’t help enough as I am.” By sense of feel, Sanna pulled off her boots and socks. She threw them toward the door and took off her jacket. She could feel that it had already taken damage from being in contact with Rusza’s inordinate heat. She threw the jacket after the footwear and peeled off her long-sleeved shirt so that she was left in her tank top and standard-issue pants. She rolled up her pant legs. “There. How are your levels right now, Rusza Tate?”
“Bad,” he replied. His voice shook. “I’m in cycle, aren’t I?”
“It seems like it,” Sanna agreed. “How did you get yourself into this state? Were you not heeding your sympathy at all?”
“Probably not.” This time, his voice cracked, and he sounded on the brink of tears. “Mostly, I’ve… I’ve just been thinking about you, if you’d ever… ever talk to me again.” A suggestion of light swept through the darkness, back and forth. “Where are you, Sanna? Don’t go away.”
She sensed his sympathy beginning another surge and slid across the floor to grab him in the constricting hold again. “I’m here. I won’t leave until you’re safe. I made a promise. Do you remember? I told you that I would take you down if ever you let your sympathy go out of control.”
“You did,” he gasped, “didn’t you.” A strangled cry escaped his throat. He arched his back, and his hair caught fire.
Sanna smothered the flames with her hands without releasing her hold. “Stay awake,” she said. “Don’t let go of your conscious mind. Think, Rusza Tate. Think of something. It doesn’t matter what right now, as long as it holds your attention.”
His body relaxed from the spasm. “I can’t,” he said, “my head feels all weird. I say words, and they’re gone. I can’t grab on.”
“I know. I remember. It can be anything, though: something you can hold, something you can feel, anything you can focus your full attention on.”
Rusza slumped forward. He shook once, sharply, but it felt more like a laugh than a spasm. “If you say that…” He grabbed onto her wrist. “Leggo for a sec.” When Sanna loosened her hold on him, he said, “I’m sorry in advance. Hit me if you want…” He turned over, wrapped his arms around her waist, and buried his face against her chest.
“You never change,” she sighed. “If that’s what it takes… can you even breathe like that?”
He bobbed his head.
From this new vantage point, Sanna was able to see the tiny glowing wounds on his scalp, threaded amongst the roots of his hair. When she rubbed his head, this time clumps of hair came away in her hand. The smell of burnt hair hung in the air. The ventilation system in the bunker hummed, and a burst of cold air dropped from the ceiling. This influx of fresh oxygen-bearing air ignited around Rusza. Sanna coiled her arms around his head and focused her sympathy on him again. His roar of pain was muffled against her body. She felt the muscles of his torso convulse. The flames this time reached well over Sanna’s head, illuminating the area around Rusza.
This became the pattern: Rusza’s sympathy would surge, Sanna would counter it, his sympathy would subside, Sanna would calm him the best she could. Time stopped meaning anything. The surges, far from abating, got stronger, but Sanna persevered. Sometimes she could tell that Rusza was hallucinating. He started to seize in the midst of every surge, and Sanna could get no coherent response from him even when the surge subsided. On two occasions, he did speak, but his words made no sense to her. The first time, he kept repeating, “Sorry… I’m sorry… I’ll do it over, do it right… just don’t cry.” The second time, he kept screaming, “Don’t let me go, don’t let me go!”
Sanna understood. She could still recall her own hallucinations from the time she went into cycle. All she said to him, whether he could hear and understand her or not, was, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I won’t let go until you’re safe.”
The rest of the time, more to keep herself alert than anything, she prayed or she hummed the hymns of her village. She had reached the refrain of one of these latter when Rusza stirred and said, “What’re you doing?”
This startled her. “Just humming,” she replied. “I didn’t know you were conscious.”
“Humming? A song?”
“Yes,” she said with some embarrassment, “but I really can’t sing.”
“No, you can’t,” Rusza agreed. His tone was one of weary amusement.
“I’m sorry,” repeated Sanna.
“Don’t apologize. It’s kind of soothing to listen to.”
She felt him push himself onto his hands and knees. His temperature was still too high for safety, so she didn’t let him go far.
“I hurt all over,” Rusza groaned. He began to radiate a weak light. “Where is this place?”
“You don’t remember arriving?”
“This is the depletion bunker.” By now Sanna could see him in the light he shed. His clothes had all burned away, and most of his hair.
He seemed to realize his indecent condition a moment later. He cut his light output immediately. “Sorry. This is so embarrassing,” he said in the dark.
“When it’s a choice between dignity and survival,” Sanna replied, “make your mind up to endure the embarrassment. How are your numbers?”
“Um… mechanical is low,” he started, “radiant low, EM… rising.”
“If you have enough light to find the control panel, then you need to deplete that before it feeds into your thermal energy.” Sanna turned her face away from the sound of his voice as he began to radiate again. She found the EM terminal and crawled over to it. “Over here. Just like charging a battery.”
“Why does that sound so familiar?”
“Because I told you the same thing when you depleted here just after we entered the bunker,” she explained.
“I did? I must have, since my EM is this low, but I really don’t remember.”
“That’s going to keep happening,” Sanna told him. “Your consciousness is unstable. You won’t remember everything that happens. You might even remember things that never happened.”
“Weird,” Rusza said. His voice was hoarse and cracked. His breathing was uneven, heavy, and slow. After he depleted his EM energy, he sank down in a heap and let his light fade to nothing. “I’m so tired. Not again…”
Sanna sensed his thermal energy heading into a surge. It felt stronger than the previous one, so she dropped the room temperature as low as she could and pushed Rusza face down on the floor. “Keep still,” she warned, “and stay focused. Talk to me. Can you push the heat away from you?”
“Can’t move,” he slurred.
“No, that’s because I’m sitting on you,” Sanna explained. “I meant, can you deplete your thermal energy deliberately?” She received no response. “Rusza? Can you hear me?”
“Can’t move,” he repeated. “Can’t move, can’t breathe.” He thrashed around so that Sanna was hard-pressed to keep him pinned. More small, glowing wounds started to appear on his skin. The violence of his flailing knocked Sanna to one side.
She got up again and threw herself over him with her sympathy at full output. The rapid changes in temperature made the metal of the control panel groan. Sanna heard a glassy crack as of something giving way, and the emergency sprinklers started showering them with water that turned to steam as Rusza again roared in agony. Sanna had to wipe condensation off her face with her wrist. She was sweating, actually sweating, but Rusza’s energy was still rising. She threw an arm around his neck from behind and shouted in his ear, “Pretend there’s a source of Decay in this room. Burn it away, until nothing is left! Hurry!”
The very air seemed ablaze. Sanna felt her own hair frizzling around her face as, for a few moments, she herself caught fire. She forced her own sympathy to counter the heat with a burst of arctic cold that turned the steam to fog. Then everything was still, except for Rusza’s and her ragged breathing. Sanna hunched over Rusza’s back. She could no longer sense his sympathy active. She released him, and he relaxed onto the floor. He seemed unconscious. Sanna herself felt lightheaded and desperately thirsty. She rose to one knee and had to steady herself before she could rise the rest of the way to her feet. Her feet felt heavy as she staggered toward the faint light of the emergency button. Lifting her hand to push it took almost more effort than she had left, but she slapped the button and pulled on the door handle.
A rush of fresh air swept over her. The first person she saw was Maccani Moor. “He’ll be all right now,” she said, just before she lost consciousness.