Crystallin Locke got up from the bench noiselessly. She made momentary eye contact with Sarlota Moor, who responded with a sober smile and a slight shake of her head, indicating that she didn’t need anything. Neither one wanted to wake Fiola, who sat between Maccani and his aunt and had finally fallen asleep on Sarlota’s shoulder only half an hour ago.
Maccani also stood up, but apparently only to stretch. It had been a long night.
Before she headed to the hospital cafeteria, Crystallin paused by the window that looked in on Sanna’s hospital room. It was an isolation room. None but the essential medical personnel were allowed entrance. The rest could only stand outside and watch the motionless figure in the bed. There were colored wires sprouting from electrodes on Sanna’s scalp, and another bunch sprouting from between the snaps of her hospital blouse. A nasal cannula routed oxygen to her nostrils. Several monitors around her bed gave out the different readings.
Crystallin continued on her way to the cafeteria. She ate a light breakfast, picked up two cups of black tea, doctored them according to their recipients’ preferences, and bought two large sticky buns. Then she headed toward a different area of the sympathy ward, to a room kept dark, cool, and quiet. “Morning,” she said as she carried the tray inside.
Helena looked sleepy. Michael was alert. He took the tray from her. “Thanks, Linnie. How is Sanna?”
Crystallin had to brace herself to speak. “Still alive. Otherwise, we don’t know. Mom is out at Beeches. She won’t be able to get here for a few days. Dad was still at home, though. I expect him any time, if he let Sergeant Major Calder drive through the night.”
“Coming with them. There’s no one better to consult,” Crystallin added. “Uncle Archet was calling around a lot during the night, reaching out to different contacts he has in the adjuster community. I haven’t seen him yet this morning, but he might have found out something.”
“He only stopped in here to look in on Rusza once,” Michael noted, “for only a minute or so. Her condition must be serious.” He exhaled wearily.
Crystallin waited until the newlyweds had both eaten their sticky buns. Then she said, “You two, go for a walk. Get some sun and fresh air. I’ll sit in here for a while.” She fairly chased them out and closed the door behind them.
Rusza was also unconscious, but his was just the unconsciousness of deep sleep. Crystallin had been there when the doctor, a man named Whicher, had explained that Rusza’s mind and body had gone through a highly stressful event and needed to reset their systems through sleep. He would wake up, probably disoriented, for a short time and then go back to sleep. That pattern would repeat at decreasing intervals until he had recovered fully.
Rusza looked peculiar. He looked like a stranger. He wore a close-fitting white cap over a now shaven head, and he had dark shadows under his eyes. A heavy growth of stubble covered his jaws. Most of his body seemed covered in bandages, which were loosely covered in a type of plastic wrap. This, Crystallin had been told, was to treat the myriad cauterized scars of muscle striping while they were still raw.
Crystallin took Helena’s chair and gazed at the peaceful face. “It isn’t fair,” she told him quietly. “You cause so much trouble, and you’ll recover just fine.” The tears she had restrained for Fiola’s sake now came in a rush. “If Sanna dies because of you…”
After awhile, Crystallin was able to dry her face and blow her nose and resume a semblance of self-control. She went around the room, refilling the pitcher of water, straightening the flower arrangements that crowded the deep windowsill against the blackout curtains, picking up a few fallen petals. “You know,” she said aloud, “Sanna can’t have any of these in her room.”
Behind her, Rusza grunted. Crystallin turned to see if he was waking. His eyes remained shut, but his facial muscles were twitching. He bent one leg under the covers, so Crystallin went to stop him from moving too much, according to doctor’s orders. She grabbed him by the shoulders. “Rusza, stop that. Keep still.”
He muttered something indistinct. His head jerked from one side toward the other. “Mom,” he said. His voice was hoarse and cracked. “Mom, where is she?” He struggled under Crystallin’s restraining hands. “Do you know?”
Crystallin shook him lightly. “Rusza! Wake up!”
Suddenly, he shouted.
“Rusza!” This time, Crystallin wasn’t so gentle in shaking him. “You’re in a hospital! Be quiet!”
His eyes flew open. For a moment, Rusza stared at her as if he didn’t know her. Then he rasped, “Linnie, where is she?”
“Where is who?”
He didn’t answer. His whole body relaxed and his eyelids sank shut again. Soon he was asleep again.
Crystallin sat down. A few moments later, the door opened and Michael rushed in. “We heard him down the hall,” he said, gazing anxiously at Rusza. “What happened?”
Dr. Rao entered just on Michael’s heels. She strode to the bed and took Rusza’s near hand as Crystallin said, “He woke up for just a little while. I think he was having a nightmare. He was calling for Aunt Nirva.”
“Ah,” was all Michael said, but it sounded like a sigh.
“He’s stable,” Dr. Rao announced. “In no danger, Michael Tate. He just needs rest.” She tucked the hand she held under the covers. “When he wakes, keep him still. When he sleeps, let him sleep. That’s all.”
Crystallin followed the doctor into the hallway. “Where is Dad?”
“As soon as Michael told him that Dr. Tate was spending his time with Sanna instead of Rusza,” Dr. Rao replied, “he knew where the crisis was. I only stopped to check Rusza for my own peace of mind. Lead on, Linnie.”
Crystallin showed her to the isolation room where Sanna lay. Dr. Rao didn’t pause, either to look through the window or to address those waiting outside. She opened the outer door, identified herself, and was allowed to pass through into the decontamination chamber.
Crystallin turned to her father and leaned against his chest. “I’m glad you’re here, Daddy,” she whispered. Then she noticed that Mica was also present. She reached out her hand to him, but he didn’t notice. His attention was riveted to the scene on the other side of the window.
Her father sat on the bench beside Sarlota Moor, but his gaze was on Fiola. “Have you slept at all?”
“A little,” Fiola answered. “Thank you for coming.”
“As I understand it, you need not thank family for running to you in your time of need,” Everard said as he reached across to rest his hand on Fiola’s head.
The outer door opened again. This time it was Uncle Archet, coming out to meet them. “I’m so very sorry, Everard, Fiola,” were his first words. “If I had been more aware of his condition, this never would have happened.”
“What is happening?” Everard replied.
“Linnie told you the first part, I’m sure,” Uncle Archet began. “After Sanna collapsed, we brought her here. We’ve had three adjusters in to examine her, and none of them can detect any sign of her sympathy. She reached total depletion.”
Crystallin sat down hard on the bench next to her father. No one had yet said those words, although it had been implied underneath all that the doctors had said. To hear it said out loud was still shocking.
Uncle Archet went on. “I’ve spent the night doing research, since that’s all I can do. I’ve contacted everyone I could think of who has encountered a case of total depletion. They all said variations on the same thing. The patient usually… usually succumbs to the weakened physical state caused by the absence of the sympathy. But as far as we know, no one has ever reached total depletion in a safe place before. It usually takes place in situations of extreme danger, far removed from emergency medical care. Some of the victims died of the situation itself. Others made it back to medical care but contracted infections of one sort or another and had an insufficient immune response. Our working hypothesis right now is that, as long as we protect her from microorganisms and keep her topped up with fluids and nutrients via IV, then there’s a chance Sanna can pull through.”
Fiola broke down crying. Everard said, “I suspect you should have started with that fact, Archet.”
“I’m sorry, Fiola!” Uncle Archet looked aghast. “I’ve been a researcher too long. I’m sorry! She has a good chance. She’s physically strong and healthy, she has no physical traumas to contend with, and she came straight here. Everything is in her favor.” He knelt down in front of Fiola and took her hand. “Really, it is.”
Maccani Moor stood up. His movement caught Crystallin’s eye, and his glance told her he was getting up to make room for her to sit beside Fiola.
Dr. Whicher came out of the isolation room. “Good,” he said, “more family. Sanna’s cousin, I want you to let these people take over watching so that you can take a proper rest.”
“Fiola,” said Mica suddenly. “Her name’s Fiola.”
“That’s good to know,” replied Dr. Whicher. “The young lady only introduced herself as ‘Sanna’s cousin’. Right, Miss Fiola: follow me. I absolutely insist. Doctor’s orders.”
Crystallin put an arm around Fiola’s back and urged her to her feet. She had to steer the younger girl behind Dr. Whicher, who was fairly chatty as he led them along. “Is your family name Taivas, like your cousin’s?”
Crystallin had to answer, “No, her name is Tuovali-Guslin.”
“That is a mouthful, isn’t it? Not that I have any room to speak of anyone’s name, not when my estimable parents saw fit to name me Richard Whicher,” he said lightly. “Here we are.” Dr. Whicher brought them into a small room at the end of the corridor. “If there is any change, someone will come immediately to wake you, Miss Tuov— what was it again?”
“Tuovali-Guslin,” Fiola replied. “Thank you, Dr. Whicher.”
“Think nothing of it,” said the doctor.
Crystallin saw that Fiola was clumsy with exhaustion and stress, so she helped her friend remove her sandals and climb into the foldable bed. She promised to keep watch over the situation in Fiola’s stead.
Returning to the bench, she found her father and her brother sitting by themselves. Crystallin sat between them. She leaned first against her father’s shoulder and then tipped the other direction to lean on Mica for a moment. “I’m so glad to have you both here,” she sighed.
“Were you awake all night?” Everard asked.
She nodded. “I might just shut my eyes for a little while.” She leaned against his shoulder again. The hospital noises flowed around her. When she opened her eyes, it seemed as if she hadn’t slept, but the clock above the window told her otherwise. It was past noon. She sat upright and yawned.
“You have your mother’s gift for sleeping soundly regardless of your surroundings,” Everard said. “Do you feel better?”
Fiola was at Crystallin’s other side in Mica’s place. “I’m sorry I didn’t think of how tired you must be,” she said. “You were up, looking after us, all night.” She wrapped her arms around Crystallin’s shoulders and leaned her head against the side of Crystallin’s head.
“Has anything changed?”
“Dr. Rao says she thinks Sanna’s sympathy is returning a little,” Fiola said. “It isn’t much, but it’s a hopeful sign.”
“And where is Mica?”
“The hospital library,” Everard answered. “Archet took him along to do more research.”
Crystallin stood up and stretched her arms over head. “I’ll take a little walk and get some food. Can I bring anything back?”
“A sandwich, please,” said Fiola.
“A sandwich and lemonade for me,” Everard added.
Crystallin stopped first at the nearest restroom, then looped around to check on Michael and Helena. She found that Finn had joined them and had brought them lunch. “Are you two doing all right?” Crystallin asked. “Do you need a break?”
“Finn gave us a break not half an hour ago,” Michael assured her. “We’re fine. Is there any news?”
“Nothing much,” Crystallin said. “Nothing certain. Here?”
“Rusza woke up once, about two hours ago, coughing because of a dry throat,” Michael said, “but he fell asleep again soon after we gave him a drink. I think the nurses are expecting him to wake again soon. They keep checking in.”
“Or they want to give him a bath,” Finn said, “and keep checking to see if you’re still here.”
Finn’s deep voice, even hushed, was louder than the rest. It stirred Rusza in his sleep. He twitched and turned halfway onto his side, fortunately turning toward the IV instead of away.
Michael was on his feet, grabbing Rusza by the shoulder to still him. “Rusza,” he said, “Rusza, try not to move if you can help it.”
Rusza groaned. “Why do I hurt all over?”
“Can you remember anything about yesterday?” Helena asked.
“What day was yesterday,” Rusza mumbled.
Helena looked around the room in clear reluctance to bring up the events on her own, so Crystallin said, “Yesterday was the day you went over to apologize to Sanna, and you let your sympathy go out of control instead. Does that bring back any memories?”
Suddenly Rusza came bolt-upright in bed. All Michael’s attempts to restrain him did nothing. “Where is she? Where’s Sanna?”
“She’s in an isolation room at the other end of this ward,” Crystallin told him. “No one can go in to be with her. They aren’t sure she’ll survive. She totally depleted her sympathy to save you, and as far as anyone knows, nobody has ever survived total depletion.”
“Linnie,” Michael said in a shocked undertone.
Rusza stared at Crystallin. His eyes overflowed with unexpected tears. A violent shudder ran through him. He slumped back against his pillow and threw an arm across his face while he sobbed.
Michael sat on the edge of the bed and gripped Rusza’s shoulder, saying nothing. Helena got up and came to put her arms around Crystallin. “Cry if you need to,” she whispered.
It was a relief to be able to rest her forehead on Helena’s shoulder and cry. Saying the words aloud had been her way to make sure Rusza understood the seriousness of the situation, but it had also brought to the surface all the fear Crystallin had been suppressing. “What if she dies?” she cried.
Helena rubbed her back and said, “We will pray. Live or die, what else can we do?” She walked Crystallin out of the room and down to the cafeteria. She chose a lunch for her and sat at one with her until Crystallin regained her composure. “Take your time, Linnie,” she told her. “I’ll bring sandwiches to Father Locke and Fiola.”
“Daddy wants a bottle of lemonade too,” Crystallin said. She bent over her meal, forcing herself to focus simply on every mouthful and not think about the future.
When she returned to the waiting area outside the isolation suite, Crystallin was greeted by a remark from her father: “Was there a better way to break the news to the younger Tates, Linnie?”
“Maybe,” she admitted, “but it all just spilled out when I saw how well he was, and how he didn’t even remember what happened.”
“Helena came,” he said, “and she told me that Rusza was so distressed that he cried until he vomited. I honestly do not know what to think or what to do about him anymore.”
“I’ve made up my mind not to think or do anything about him anymore,” Crystallin said, “at least for the foreseeable future. He has enough people willing to run to him when he cries.”
Everard put an arm around her shoulders and said nothing in response.
The rest of the day passed in monotony. Crystallin walked Fiola down to the cafeteria, not because she was hungry but because it was something to do. They went to the hospital chapel for a time of quiet prayer. There was a courtyard gallery that provided a pleasant shaded walk. After this leisurely exercise, the girls returned to the waiting area.
After six, the students came to check in with Fiola and ask for news. There really wasn’t any, and most of them went away again. Maccani stayed to say that they were all keeping clear of the house so that Soren wouldn’t notice that anything was different. Axel had been adamant about not worrying Soren. Maccani’s aunt had gone to the house to sit with Nana Friga. She sent her reassurance to Fiola that she would look after the family as long as necessary, so that Fiola could stay close to Sanna.
“That does relieve my mind,” Fiola said. “It’s very kind of her to think of me.”
“Aunt Sarlota has gotten very attached to your family,” Maccani said. He wandered over to the window and gazed at the scene. “She’s stronger than she was this morning,” he commented.
“Is she? You aren’t just saying that?” Fiola hurried to join him at the window.
“You probably can’t see it as clearly, since you’ve been watching the whole time,” he said, “but even if you just look at the monitors, you can tell. Her heart rate is faster, her EEG waves are up. She is getting stronger.”
“But her temperature is still so high,” said Fiola.
“It’s normal,” Maccani retorted. “You’re comparing it to her normal, which is decidedly abnormal. Her body will heal better at this temperature. The longer she can rest at this temperature, the better.”
Crystallin saw the fierce grip Fiola had on Maccani’s arm. She wondered if it hurt. But out of nowhere, someone took hold of Crystallin’s arm. She whipped her head around to find Lyndon next to her. She grabbed him around the chest and held tight.
“I came as soon as I could,” he wheezed. “Where’s Dad?”
Crystallin pointed out one of the three medical personnel in protective gear inside the isolation room. “He’s still gathering data, he says.”
“You can never get too much good data,” Lyndon said. “Do you know what meds they have her on?”
“Not the first idea,” Crystallin replied.
“It’s good to see her stats are better than they were this morning. What? Why did you give me that look, Linnie?”
“Maccani Moor was just saying the same thing,” she said, “and neither of us noticed it.”
When Uncle Archet came out to take his data to the temporary office set up for him at the nurse’s station down the corridor, Lyndon asked again about medications. Archet said, “Aside from the two IV solutions, we aren’t risking any other treatments until the adjusters can sense her sympathy.”
“They still can’t?” Fiola asked.
“Wyeth had a faint sense of it once, or thought she did,” said Archet, “but she hasn’t been able to recover that sense yet. We’re really in uncharted territory here. Sanna has lived longer than any previous case of total depletion on record. Her vital signs are actually improving, although gradually. We really have no way to know what might happen next. That’s why I’m documenting everything so closely. I’m trying to detect patterns.”
“May I see?” Lyndon gazed steadily at the notebook under his father’s arm.
“Fiola, do you mind if he looks at the data? It’s confidential medical information, so without the consent of a family member…”
“It’s all right,” Fiola said. “It might help.”
“Thank you.” Lyndon adjusted the angle of his glasses and opened the notebook. For a while, he was silent and absorbed. He asked at one point, “Is this correct, Dad?”
Uncle Archet leaned over the notebook. “Yes, I thought that was strange too. It dipped around the time Dr. Rao thought she sensed her sympathy, so in this case it may be that we can gauge core temperature as a signal—”
Fiola gasped and threw herself at the window. “Sanna!”
Everyone turned to face the window. Everard stood up. They all saw Sanna’s grey eyes open and turn toward them for a few seconds. Her lips moved faintly. Then she closed her eyes again.
One of the two remaining people in protective equipment hurried for the exit. After a few tense minutes, Maggie Aincourt emerged to exclaim, “Sanna spoke! She said, Tell Fiola it will be all right.” Maggie laughed, but her eyelashes were wet with tears.
Fiola was still pressed to the window, gazing at Sanna. “It will be all right,” she murmured against the glass.