Late in the evening, after Michael and Helena had gone away, the door latch clicked in Rusza’s room. A foldable bed came rolling in, pushed by an orderly.

Finn was on his feet, asking, “Can I help?”

“Thank you, but I just need to do this…” The young woman released a hook, and the bed fell open. “Dr. Tate needs rest, and he asked to sleep here.” She went to Rusza’s bedside. “Is there anything I can get you?”

Rusza shook his head slightly. “No, thank you.” He stared toward the light of the open door, waiting, but after the orderly left, his father didn’t appear.

“Are you all right?” Finn asked.

Rusza shook his head. “Where’s Dad?”

“Working, probably. Overworking, in this case, but you want him to give his best for her, right?”

Rusza swallowed hard as his chest tightened. “Yes.”

The tension of his anticipation lasted another five minutes. Then his father appeared, backlit by the corridor lights. “Hello?” he whispered.

Rusza turned on the small bedside lamp. “Hello, Dad.”

“You’re awake! How are you feeling? Do they have you on any pain meds?” Archet came to sit on the edge of the bed so that he could examine Rusza’s face in the dim light. “Oh, bless the Only One. I was so scared of losing you.” He took Rusza’s head between his hands and kissed his brow.

“How is Sanna?” Rusza had to ask and hated to ask at the same time.

Archet gave him another kiss on the forehead. “She opened her eyes and spoke. It was brief, only for a few seconds, but she was conscious. I think we’ve pulled her through the worst of it. And I’m glad, because we all owe her such a debt. Such a debt,” he repeated with a sigh. “But I’ll start rambling on and on if I let myself. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter like this since I was a junior apprentice. I need to sleep, and I knew I’d sleep best within sight and sound of you. I didn’t expect to be lucky enough to catch you awake.”

“I’ve been awake,” Rusza said slowly, “ever since I found out.”

“Found out?”

“I almost killed her, Dad. If you hadn’t pulled her through, I would be a murderer.”

Archet’s eyes went round. Carefully he said, “Murder’s a strong word, Rusza.”

But Rusza just gazed back at him.

“We’ll talk it through in the morning,” Archet said. “You need your rest too.”

Finn got up. “I’ll let you two sleep.”

After Finn left, Rusza watched his father drop onto the foldable bed and pull off his shoes. Then Rusza turned off the bedside lamp.

“Good night,” Archet said.

“Dad? What did she say?”

In the dark, Rusza heard the foldable bed creak a little. “She said, ‘Tell Fiola it’ll be all right.’ I wonder if she saw Fiola outside the window, just in that short time she had her eyes open, or if that was just her first thought. Fiola hasn’t left the hospital since she arrived. Every time I came out of isolation, there she was. I think,” Archet yawned, “that Sanna has been a combination older sister and mother to Fiola. It hasn’t been very long since she lost her parents…” Archet’s voice faded.

Rusza drew a deep breath. “Twice now,” he muttered to himself. He clenched his hands.

It felt as if he was awake for hours, except he knew he slept sometimes by that curious inward sense of time that his sympathy supplied. Three times he simply opened his eyes in the dark and knew it was an hour or two hours later than the last time he had been aware. The fourth time, he started upright from his pillow, fighting to muffle his sobs by pressing the back of a fist against his mouth.

This time, he understood that it was a dream, but that didn’t erase the horror of it. He fought for breath and listened, but it seemed at least he hadn’t made enough noise to wake his father.

Morning was slow in coming. His first visit came from an orderly, a different one from the day before. “My name is Rushworth,” he whispered. “I’ll be taking care of you this morning.” He helped Rusza out of bed and kept the IV tubes from tangling as he walked Rusza to the bathroom and back. “Here,” he said as he deposited Rusza in one of the arm chairs, “I’ll change your bedding, and then we’ll check your wounds and change your clothes.”

Archet didn’t wake up until the orderly had stripped the hospital gown from Rusza’s shoulders. Then he came alert all at once. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, sir,” Rushworth replied. He introduced himself again and said, “We’re just checking on the progress your son is making.” 

Naturally, Archet came to observe. “The striping is less raw today.”

“The chart said ‘extensive’,” said the orderly, “but I didn’t expect this much. I didn’t see any pain meds listed. Do you want me to talk to the doctor?” He draped a fresh gown over Rusza.

“No,” Rusza said, “it’s fine. Thank you.”

“You must have a high pain tolerance.”

“Not in my experience, he doesn’t,” said Archet. He named a medication and dosage level, then said, “Charlie will be fine with that much.”

“Charlie? Oh, you mean Dr. Charleton?”

“He and I go way back,” said Archet. “I’ll write up the order, if you would bring me a pad and pen.”

Rusza found it easier to look at the orderly than at his own father just then. “It’s all right. My dad is a doctor from the capital. He specializes in pharmaceuticals.” He watched the orderly depart in search of a prescription order pad.

His father, however, was not in the mood to let the matter go. “Why do you think you don’t need pain meds, Rusza? That isn’t like you. Is this connected to what you said last night? Are you punishing yourself?”

Rusza couldn’t answer the question.

“If you are,” Archet continued, “then I bear equal blame for this incident. It’s partly my fault for just leaving it to Mom to teach you about your sympathy, just because she has radiant energy herself. I’ve been doing a lot of research. Broad-spectrum sympathies are more complex than I ever realized. There is continual interaction between the different types of energy inside you. I should have learned all of this years ago, when the nature of your sympathy started to make itself known, not now at this late date.”

Rusza interrupted. “No, Dad, this was all my fault. Dr. Rao and Sergeant Nazarian taught me enough that I have no excuses.”

“We still need to talk through this. I’ve learned some interesting information about energy interaction that I want to discuss with you as we go forward.” Archet grabbed Rusza by the shoulders. “But don’t hinder your own recovery by saying things are better than they are. Will you promise me that?”

Rusza lowered his gaze and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

His father released him. “Right now, I need three things: a drink of water, breakfast, and a toothbrush. What do you need? I can scare up just about anything you ask for.”

“Mm,” Rusza said, thinking. “Two things for me, I guess: I want to know how she’s doing, and I want a drink that isn’t water.”

“I think I can help you with both.” Archet ducked into the bathroom and came back out a few seconds later, his tuft of faded hair slicked down. “I’ll come back in a few minutes.”

The room was still for a while after that. Rusza lifted his hand in front of his chest, clenched it into a fist, and relaxed it. He repeated the movement half a dozen times, with long pauses between each. 

A new voice startled him. “Trouble with your hand, Mr. Tate?” The man standing in the doorway wore a blue lab coat, marking him as a physician. He appeared to be about the same age as Rusza’s father. 

“No, sir. I just noticed, when everyone went out, that my mechanical energy felt different, so I was… running an experiment, I guess you could call it.”

“As I would expect from one of Archet’s sons,” the doctor said. “I’m Reg Charleton, your attending physician. You won’t remember me from yesterday, I expect. No, I didn’t think so. You seem far more alert and coherent today. Let’s take a look, shall we?” He pulled the hospital gown from Rusza’s shoulders and examined the strange marks that covered Rusza’s skin. “You’re blessed,” Dr. Charleton noted. “You appear to have an immune system as strong as an elephant. No signs of inflammation. Turn over on your side, please.” He continued the exam down Rusza’s back to his legs. “Of course, you’re blessed in the first place to have had a friend in the right place, at the right time, and with a sympathy exactly your opposite and strong enough to counter yours. We’ll have Whicher in to check you over later, but I doubt he’ll find anything wrong with your sympathy. Still, he wouldn’t forgive me for having anyone else in on that exam in his place. Sit back up again, please.” Dr. Charleton let Rusza hitch up his own gown. He made a series of notes on his clipboard. “I see the most recent entry on your chart has a prescription for pain meds, ordered by Archet. You’ve been toughing it out, have you?”

Rusza saw that a response was needed, so he said, “I didn’t want to trouble anyone.”

“Rather late for that, at this juncture,” Dr. Charleton said. “Think of it this way: if you want to be out from underneath our feet, the best thing you can do is to heal quickly, whatever that takes. In your case, it takes sound sleep, which is less likely when you’re in pain. You should eat something also. I cannot discover that you’ve taken any solid food since you regained consciousness.”

“I haven’t been hungry,” Rusza explained. 

“No matter. I’m ordering you a healthy breakfast, and you will eat all of it, hungry or no. Your body won’t have the stuff it needs to heal up if you don’t eat well.” The doctor made a few more notes. “Where is your father?”

“He went to get something to eat,” Rusza said.

“I’ll have him tracked down. Oh, I say, Whicher! Just the man. This must mean your patient is on the mend.”

A younger man leaned in through the doorway. “Yes, she is, but don’t go gawping at her. She’s still weak, and I’ve had too many of our colleagues behaving as if she’s a sideshow in a circus.”

“You can’t blame them,” said Dr. Charleton. “A first like this doesn’t happen every day.”

“I can blame them,” the other doctor retorted, “when they disturb my patient’s family, after everything they’ve endured already.”

“Oh, dear,” said Dr. Charleton. “That is too bad. No fears, old man, I don’t have time to gawp. I take it you got my note.”

“I should have come, regardless of your note. As you say, things like this don’t come around every day.”

“I’ll leave you to it, then. Young Mr. Tate, I shall check on you again this afternoon.” Dr. Charleton left.

The younger doctor said, “I’m Ree Whicher, chief adjuster here. Rusza Tate, can you confirm your date of birth for me?” 

Rusza did so.

“Do you know what day it is?”

“The twenty-third.”

“Time?”

“Oh-nine-thirty-four.”

Whicher checked his watch. “Correct to the minute. I have always envied that quirk of radiant energy sympathy.” He closed his hand around Rusza’s wrist and was silent for about a minute. Then he said, writing on his clipboard as he spoke, “Four types, in ascending order of strength: radiant, EM, mechanical, thermal. All stable, as far as I can sense. How do they seem to you?”

“On Dr. Rao’s way of measuring, I think they’re all at or below a three right now.”

“Yes, Dr. Rao said she had worked with you. I find it peculiar that you still managed to go into cycle despite that.”

“Well, she can teach me all I need to know about my sympathy,” Rusza said flatly, “but even she can’t cure stupidity.”

Whicher gave a quick snort of laughter. “No truer words,” he allowed. “No one can do that but the Only One. It should be some time before you start having trouble regulating your sympathy again. That may be the only good side effect of going into cycle— assuming you come out of it alive, of course. After that much output, it takes your sympathy a while to ramp back up. I looked over the data from the depletion bunker. Shame about that, but it just means it wasn’t built right in the first place. Oh, you hadn’t heard? Between the two of you, you destroyed all the equipment in the bunker. The last recorded temperature was well over sixteen hundred degrees, military scale. That’s almost three thousand degrees on the standard scale. The monitoring equipment melted after that. So did its protective casing. They say the bunker looks as though an incendiary bomb went off inside it, and everything that melted then froze in place. It’s the first military report I’ve ever seen use the word ‘eerie’. They have to rebuild it from scratch, using new parameters. You shouldn’t have survived that,” Whicher added. “Even if your body survived, your brain ought to have boiled away inside your skull. You produced heat that would melt most metals.”

Rusza stared blankly into the distance. “She protected my head more than anything else.”

“You remember that much, do you? What else do you remember?”

“Dr. Whicher,” Rusza said, “how is she?”

This made the doctor look up sharply. “Against all common sense, she is recovering. She has opened her eyes and spoken on no fewer than four separate occasions now. Each time, she has shown herself to have no impairment of cognition, speech, or vision. Her white counts aren’t what we would like, so she remains in isolation as a precaution against infection.”

Rusza flinched at that last word. It brought back to him the clammy nausea of his nightmare. “Has she been able to talk about what happened yet?”

“No, we have discouraged unnecessary exertions, such as speaking at length. She spoke the first time to reassure her cousin Fiola, who still hasn’t left the vicinity of her room. She spoke the second time to ask exactly the question you asked about her: How is he? She seemed much relieved when we told her that you were in far better condition than she was. The third time, she spoke to apologize to Father Locke and his son, who also have not left the vicinity of her room since their arrival.”

“Mica?” Rusza asked. His throat felt tight.

“That’s the one. And the fourth time, she spoke to tell one of her students to make sure that all of them got enough rest. They have been coming and going the whole time, between jobs, as I understand. Now that I have satisfied your curiosity, may we return to my question? What do you remember about your time in cycle?”

Rusza took a deep breath and released it. “That’s part of the problem. I don’t know if… if everything I remember…”

“In all likelihood, some of it never happened,” Whicher said matter-of-factly. “That’s common enough. You’re bound to hallucinate. It happens when your sympathy is severely unbalanced. That gives rise to false memories, just as vivid as real ones but extremely implausible. We know from the data that you depleted your EM energy twice via the appropriate port in the control panel, and your radiant energy once. You must have been conscious enough to follow Sanna’s directions in those instances.”

“Mm,” Rusza said, “like charging a battery. I said that sounded familiar, and she said that’s because she already told it to me once, when we first went inside the bunker. But I didn’t remember the first time. I must have just followed her directions as a reflex. I remember… once, she was cradling my head, like I was a baby, and she was humming. There was another time, I couldn’t see where I was going, so I released some light, and I… I realized I was naked, that all my clothes were burned off, but she said it was a choice between survival and dignity, so I had to just take the embarrassment.” He grimaced in mortification. “That’s just like her.”

“She is an interesting girl,” said Dr. Whicher. “Anything else?”

“I remember… but it must have been a hallucination… I thought I remembered being infected by the Decay and… and I was… doing awful things under its influence,” Rusza said, and then swallowed hard. He said, “But it seemed so real… especially when Sanna told me I had to burn it all away, and I was so…” A shiver ran up his back. “I disgusted myself so much, I set myself on fire, the hottest I could burn.”

“I wonder,” was all Dr. Whicher said in response to that. He wrote a few digits in different boxes of the form on his clipboard. “I didn’t expect you to remember as much as that. In that condition, being conscious at all suggests that you have a high level of control over your sympathy on a day-to-day basis. Is thermal the one that manifested first?”

Rusza nodded. “When I was three, Dad says.”

“Your father, he has been of great help to me these past two days. I understand he’s a well-known researcher in his own field. The amount of data he has processed in my field, despite knowing comparatively little about it, has been impressive. He and Louisa Brook did a great deal to help us save Sanna. I wonder where he could have gone off to.”

“I think he went to breakfast,” Rusza said. “I doubt he ate much yesterday or the day before.”

“I doubt he ate anything at all,” Dr. Whicher replied. “I never saw him in a position to do so. He was either in the nurse’s station with his research or in the isolation room, doing the work of an orderly. Not a shred of pride about it. A good man.”

“Yeah.”

The adjuster studied Rusza until Rusza had to look away. Then, standing, Dr. Whicher said, “I’ll leave you to rest until your next exam.”

“May I see her?”

“Right now, no one is allowed in the room but essential personnel. Whether or not you may stand at her window, looking in, is a matter entirely between you and her family.”

Rusza leaned back against his pillow. With everyone out of the room, he stared at the ceiling and fell so deep into his thoughts that his father’s entrance startled him. 

“They have these in the cafeteria,” Archet said as he set down a tall cup on Rusza’s bedside table. “Mango pineapple banana milkshakes. They’re really good.”

Rusza took the cup and started spooning the contents into his mouth. He finished the entire shake without noticing what it tasted like, and set the cup back on the table. “Dad,” he said, and then stopped.

“What?”

“You don’t need to stay here with me, if there’s more work for you to do.”

“Actually, there isn’t much left that I can do,” Archet said. “Sanna is doing remarkably well for her diagnosis. She asked about you, you know.”

“The doctor said so.” Rusza sighed.

His father seemed at a loss with that. He said, “Do you need to rest?”

“I’m not sleepy,” Rusza answered, but he settled down against his pillow and closed his eyes. After a little while, he heard his father’s footsteps exit the room. There was still movement in the room, so Rusza opened his eyes and found a stranger leaning over him. “Hello.”

“Walpole.” The man held out a hand.

Rusza grasped the hand. “Tate.”

“What is it that makes you so anxious right now?”

“I didn’t think I was anxious,” Rusza said.

“It’s there. You’re showing all the signs of acute stress reaction, just as I would have expected, but underneath that, you’re anxious about something. I’m just curious, of course, but it would seem to me that you’ve passed through the most anxious part of your ordeal: your physician has given you a clean bill of health, your adjuster ditto, and you know that your miraculous friend is recovering too. Most people, in that situation, would be relieved rather than anxious. Perhaps it has to do with whatever you were just thinking about.” He waited and, when Rusza made no reply, asked outright, “What were you thinking about just now?”

The man kept looking at him, waiting, so Rusza said, “I… well, I was thinking I hoped my dad wasn’t getting treated differently by Sanna’s family just because of me.”

“How did they treat him before?”

“They really liked him, respected him, because he helped her uncle during a hard time. I know they probably hate me now, and I don’t blame them for that, not at all. I just don’t want my dad to lose their friendship just because I did.”

“That’s kind of you,” said the man.

“I’ve caused him enough trouble lately. Any more of it, and I don’t think I could live with myself.”

“I can see where that might cause you anxiety. You really don’t blame them if they hate you?”

Rusza shook his head with fervor. “No. This is the second time I’ve put Sanna in danger with either her sympathy or mine… and on top of that, I haven’t been a good friend. I’d be shocked if they didn’t hate me. They’ll never want me to go near her again.”

“Ah, but you want to see her, is that it?”

“At least to see with my own eyes that she’s all right,” Rusza said. “I know they say she is, but… but I want to see for myself.”

Walpole said, “If that’s where you want to leave it, I won’t pursue the topic any further. Is there anything else troubling you? You went through a major ordeal.”

Rusza dropped his gaze to the blanket that covered his knees. His hands lay limp on his thighs. Through gaps in the bandages on his forearms, he could see a little of the muscle striping that they had spoken about earlier: tiny lines, pinkish, like the drawing of muscles in the anatomy book he had used at school. Rusza watched his own chest fall and rise with his breathing. “I guess, if I’m honest, I’m scared to face everybody. I came that close to killing a lot of people. If Sanna hadn’t noticed in time, or if she hadn’t been there…. The worst,” Rusza continued, “is that I had so many warnings. I had so many people, telling me what could happen and trying to teach me how to keep it from happening, but I was so stupid…” He sighed. “All their hard work went for nothing.”

“One person’s did not.”

Rusza nodded glumly. “She promised me, not long after we first met. She said it didn’t matter how strong I got or how good at fighting. If I let my sympathy go out of control, she would still take me down. She keeps her promises. Back then, all I could think about was how I wanted to be able to hold my own with her in a fight. I didn’t give a second thought about that promise, but she knew. It happened to her when she was younger, so she knew.”

“Younger? You can’t get much younger than she is,” Walpole said.

“Maybe you think so,” said Rusza, “but you’re, what, forty?”

“Forty-two,” Walpole corrected him. “But eighteen is still very young.”

“Eighteen?”

“Yes. You didn’t know? Sanna Taivas is just eighteen, as of the beginning of this month.”

Rusza stared blankly at the man for what felt like a very long time. “Eighteen,” he said. “This month. I was so sure she must be in her mid-twenties.” Another thought pulled a humorless laugh out of him. “I’m older than she is.” He sighed.

“It appears I’ve given you something else to fret about, so I think I’ll leave you to get on with it in peace,” said the man. “If you need to discuss anything, and you’d rather talk with someone who doesn’t know you, have the staff call me.”

“Ah, thanks,” Rusza said absently. He hardly noticed the man’s exit. 

He did notice, half an hour later, a wheelchair being pushed at a fast clip into his room. To his shock, Maccani Moor was pushing it. “Get on,” Moor said.

“Wha—?”

“Get. On.” Moor glanced around the room, found the hospital robe, and held it up. 

Rusza put his feet over the side of the bed and stood. He watched Moor detaching him from the IV expertly, as if he had done it for years. He slipped his arms into the sleeves of the robe, and sat down in the wheelchair. “Where are we going?” Rusza asked.

Moor took off. As he pushed the wheelchair up the corridor at the same rapid pace, he said, “Master Sanna wants to see you.”

“Me?” Rusza gripped the armrests and twisted his neck around to glance upward at his driver.

“She wants to see that you’re really all right.” At Moor’s pace, they reached the other end of the ward in a matter of seconds. Rusza glimpsed Fiola and Linnie sitting together on a bench, and Uncle Everard talking with Mica just beyond them, and a trio of young northerners Rusza didn’t recognize. Then Moor dragged the wheelchair to a halt in front of a large picture window and grabbed Rusza by the arm to haul him to his feet. He tapped sharply on the glass.

From that point, Rusza saw nothing but the scene on the other side of the window. Sanna lay in a hospital bed with wires and tubes coming from her from what seemed like every direction. Her fair hair was slicked down with gel from the electrodes attached to her scalp. She had her eyes shut when Rusza first saw her. A medical person in protective equipment touched Sanna’s shoulder lightly, causing her to open her eyes. She shifted her gaze immediately toward the window, and her gray eyes met Rusza’s.

He braced a hand against the window and leaned his head forward until his forehead touched the cool glass. A whirl of thoughts and sensations gripped him, memories and nightmares all crowding together in his mind as he stared helplessly at her. His knees buckled and sent him sliding down the glass to the floor, wracked with tremors. Through the gray haze that oppressed his senses, Rusza distantly perceived hands gripping him by the arms and lifting him until he was seated. He doubled over and wrapped his arms around his head, but that only reminded him of the feeling of his head being cradled in Sanna’s arms as she protected him from himself. He couldn’t breathe, except in fast, shallow gasps. The flow of air across him made him aware that his face was wet with tears. Then the hands gripped him again and lifted him to his feet, turned him around, and guided him onto the edge of a bed. Rusza opened his eyes in misery to see his father Archet and the man Walpole leaning over him.

Neither seemed to expect him to speak. Walpole said, “I did wonder earlier, but this all seems by the book to me. This kind of instability lingers for quite some time afterward. From what you said, he hardly seemed the type to repress his emotions, but he was certainly doing so earlier. Now we’ve seen the dam break.”

“Charlie,” said Archet, “what do you think? Sedative?”

“Yes, quite,” a voice said from the doorway. “Nothing too strong, just enough to ensure several hours of sleep.”

Rusza shut his eyes. He felt a damp cloth rubbing against his face, cool and clean. He heard other sets of footsteps moving around the room. He could sense four separate sources of body heat around him, but the fourth left after lingering beside him for a short time. His head started to feel fuzzy inside.

It was nighttime when he woke up. He glanced to his left and saw that he had been hooked up to the IV again. There was a pitcher and cup on the table at his right. He lifted the cup, found that it contained some water, and drank it. He poured another cup full and drank that. The lights had been turned off again and the curtains remained drawn. The only light source in the room was the monitor above the bed, but Rusza was able to see fairly clearly with minimal light, thanks to his sympathy. The foldable bed was still there, but unoccupied. Outside his room, there was only silence. He thought that was probably a good thing. 

Rusza scooted higher against his pillows. He felt almost painfully alert and clear-headed, as well as hollow with hunger, but he didn’t call for anyone. He sorted through what he remembered from before he slept.

Foremost, he had seen Sanna. She had looked so weak and defenseless that he still hurt to recall the sight. She had met his eyes with calm concern, though, as if she still had room to worry about him when she was in such a state. There had also been some reproach in that gaze, but no resentment. Sanna wasn’t the resentful type. Sometimes, she was too kind. Who had said that? Rusza tried to remember. It came to him after a moment of thought. Mica. Mica had said it, and he had looked at Rusza when he said it. Mica had been there when Sanna had kicked Rusza and Irina out of the Taivas suite, when Moor and the others had applauded. Moor had said something like, I was waiting for you to get angry at him. Sanna had been patient, but even her patience had an end. Yet she had still acted to save him this time. Sometimes, Rusza agreed, Sanna was too kind.

He needed to apologize. He had had one opportunity, even if it was just to mouth the words through the glass, but he had collapsed instead. He might not get a second chance. Rusza considered the possibility of writing a letter, but that seemed even harder. He wasn’t a writer, never had been good at putting his thoughts into words except face to face, and this was no simple matter. He had to find a second chance somehow.

Later that evening, his father returned. He turned on the bedside light and then jumped a little at finding Rusza already awake. “Were you just lying here in the dark, all by yourself?”

“Mm. I had some thinking to do.”

Archet sat on the edge of the bed, felt Rusza’s forehead, checked his eyes, unwrapped the bandage on his right forearm to check the multitude of tiny scars there, and said, “How do you feel now?”

“Better. How are you?”

This question made his father pause in surprise. “I’m fine. I’ve been making arrangements. You do seem more like yourself now than you did before. Charlie said, if you woke up with more equilibrium, we could discharge you tonight. You’ll sleep better in your grandparents’ house than here. Does that seem good to you?”

Rusza asked carefully, “May I see Sanna before I go?”

“I don’t think that would be for the best right now,” his father replied. There was an evasive quality to his tone that made Rusza wonder what he was really thinking. “There will be time for that later.” He watched Rusza closely.

“All right.”

Archet exhaled as if he had been holding his breath. “I’ll talk with the nurse about starting your discharge paperwork. Michael brought you clothes.”

“He was here?”

“Yes, he didn’t want to wake you, so he didn’t stop in. They’re looking forward to having you back at your grandparents’ house, where they can look after you themselves.” Archet set a small shopping bag on the bed. “Once you get the IV disconnected, you can change.” He hurried out of the room on his mission to find the on-duty nurse.

Rusza looked inside the shopping bag without much interest. I don’t think that would be for the best right now could mean all kinds of things. It could mean that seeing Rusza earlier had had a bad effect on Sanna’s recovery. It could mean him going back would upset her family too much. It could even mean that her family had refused point-blank to let him come back. Uncle Everard might have said as much. If he had reacted so badly to Rusza upsetting Archet, then he must be even angrier now. His words still felt fresh in Rusza’s thoughts: If she were my daughter, I would have beaten you bloody…

Another orderly came into his room and said brightly, “You get to go home now! I’ll just unhook you from this.” She removed the IV needle and taped a small bandage over the site. As she wheeled the IV stand out of the room, she said, “Your father said he would be back in a few minutes.”

Rusza shrugged out of his hospital gown and started to dress in his own clothes. He was finished long before Archet returned to say, “All ready? Then we’re off.”

Outside the main entrance, in the lingering heat of the day, Rusza found a utility cart waiting for them. Aug looked him over and said, “Climb aboard. Aunt Penelope is getting impatient to see you.” He drove the busy streets, greeting and being greeted by all kinds of people along the way.

Rusza slumped in his seat, hoping to avoid drawing much attention. The most he heard was someone saying, “Taking more of your cousins for a tour, Captain Yeardley?”

They pulled up in front of Rusza’s grandparents’ house. The lights on the main floor were all lit. Aug didn’t shut off the cart. He said, “I am glad that you’re safe and well, Rusza.”

Rusza turned to face him fully. He bent his neck and said, “But I’ve still caused you a lot of trouble. I’m sorry.”

Aug rubbed the cap on Rusza’s hairless head. “Thank you for saying that. I’m going to park the cart behind the house. I’ll be right behind you. I’m sure Aunt Penelope has more orders to give me.” He pulled away from the curb, waving at a group of rambling partygoers who shouted his name.

Rusza entered the house, prepared for a crowd of disapproving eyes. What he found was just his Grandmama Penelope with her arms outstretched. He submitted to be hugged. “I’m sorry, Grandmama.”

“And so you should be, after frightening me so,” she replied. “It has been so many years since I last saw you, and this year, in just the first month of the year, you have given me such cause for alarm. Oh, let me hug you again, my dear. You feel so thin and fragile.”

The front door opened and closed behind Rusza. Aug’s voice came with some humor. “You see, Aunt Penelope? I brought him to you safely.”

“August, I tell you now, whatever that girl asks of you, see that she gets it. Nothing we can do for her can possibly repay her for her suffering, nor equal the price of the life she saved, but we owe her a debt of honor. Make sure your wife knows, and your sister and her husband.” 

“They know,” Aug assured her. “Uncle Nigel already told us the same.”

Grandmama Penelope brought Rusza through the house to the lounge, where he was immediately dragged to the nearest sofa by Michael. Helena was ready with a tray of light snacks and lemonade. She searched his eyes. “Do you mind all of us at the same time?”

Rusza shook his head.

She sat beside him, on the side Michael hadn’t already taken. Finn was across from him, looking at him with a mixture of affection and exasperation. Lyndon was in the corner, set apart from everyone. It looked at first as if he was just reading, as he so often did, and had yet to notice Rusza’s arrival. But he glanced up once with a stiff expression that told Rusza something significant. 

Rusza held out a hand toward him before Lyndon could look back down at his book. He knew his little brother was such a good kid that he wouldn’t ignore the gesture, and such proved to be the case. Lyndon set his book aside and came over to shake hands. Rusza pulled hard, so that Lyndon had to lean forward. He grabbed Lyndon by the back of the neck and bent his head down to whisper next to his ear, “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. You were right.”

Lyndon didn’t retreat as soon as he was released. He gave Rusza a searching stare. Whatever he saw appeared to satisfy him. He adjusted his glasses and nodded.

They wouldn’t let Rusza stay up late. After he had eaten, Finn and Lyndon set up three temporary beds there in the lounge for themselves and Rusza. The rest of the family retreated to their own beds for an early night. 

Rusza’s sleep was profound and unbroken. He woke at 0500. His brothers were still asleep when he got up and went out to the kitchen for a glass of water. He was not the first one up. Grandpapa Nigel was already eating breakfast. “Your father has gone out for a newspaper.”

Rusza filled a glass at the tap. “Good morning, Grandpapa. How are you today?”

“I have a grandson causing me some troubles,” Grandpapa Nigel replied, “but otherwise, I am in the pink.”

“I’m sorry I’ve caused so much trouble,” Rusza said.

“Now, which trouble are you sorry for, Rusza?”

“All of it. I wish most of the last two months never happened.” Rusza thought of Irina and felt a shock that he hadn’t thought of her in at least a week. He had been too anxious about apologizing to Sanna at first, and since waking in the hospital there had been so much else crowding into his head that, even now, it felt like there wasn’t room for her in there. “I’m just so confused,” Rusza admitted. “Things I thought were real don’t seem very real anymore, and things I’m pretty sure aren’t real won’t leave me in peace.” He leaned against the kitchen island next to his grandfather. 

“What do you know to be real, Rusza? That is what you need to take hold of.” Grandpapa Nigel perked up at a distant noise. “I believe that’s Archet, come back with the paper.”

Archet appeared in the kitchen door a few moments later. “You’re up,” he exclaimed in surprise. “How are you feeling?”

“All right,” Rusza answered. “Just… confused about a lot of things.”

Nigel held out his hand for the paper and spread it open on the countertop. “I want you to have a squint at this, Rusza. Have you ever looked at the weather page before? A young fellow like you, I’ll guess, never opened a newspaper in his life except for sports scores. Read this.”

Rusza obeyed. He read the summary at the top, which forecasted high heat during the day and moderate temperatures after dark, with a mild wind increasing overnight. Then he followed the page downward to a grid full of text and numbers. The first column looked like a list of sympathies by type. The second column held one digit per row. The third column contained more detailed variations of the summary forecast above. Rusza noticed that this matched whatever sympathy was in the first column of that row. On a whim, he scanned the first column for thermal energy sympathy and found it toward the middle of the column. It had a number six next to it, and the detailed forecast read, Dangerously high temperatures during daylight hours, with little relief until midnight. In the fourth column, Rusza read, Extra care recommended for active-principle from 0900 today until 0100 tomorrow. Drink plenty of fluids and keep indoors as much as possible. His gaze dropped to the row beneath that one, which said, Extra care recommended all day. Stay indoors or in the shade as much as possible. Wear light-colored clothing and a hat when in the sun. Tracing this row back to its beginning, Rusza found that it was for radiant energy sympathy, and that its assigned number was a five. Below that, electromagnetic energy sympathy was assigned a four. 

“Every territory has its own sympathy forecast,” Archet began, “put out by its regional climatology school. The number is a risk assessment. Six is the highest risk, one is the lowest. You saw?”

Rusza looked at the page again. “They don’t have mechanical, but the other three are all high-risk for today.”

“Papa Nigel, do you still have the paper for the day he went into cycle?”

Nigel went to a small bin in the pantry. “Nell never throws away newspapers,” he said from inside the pantry. “She has so many uses for them… ah.” He returned with a crumpled paper and smoothed it out over the newer paper.

Rusza’s eyes were drawn irresistibly to the three consecutive sixes. He went through each forecast. Extremely high heat, sunny skies, and a geomagnetic storm were all forecast for that day.

“This is why I told you it was partially my fault,” Archet said. “I knew about this. I should have looked up what sort of day was forecast for your sympathy before we went out. I should have pointed this out to you. And there’s more that I just learned two days ago. The risk number is for people with only one basic sympathy. For energy-based sympathists with more than one energy type, there is an extra step. Duo-users need to add the numbers from their two types. Three types of energy, or four, as in your case, and you need to multiply your numbers. Anything that comes up triple digits… you see?”

Rusza nodded slowly as he thought it through. “Today’s a triple-digit day.”

“Yes, so you need to stay in while you’re still recovering,” Archet replied. “When you’re healthy, you need to take adequate precautions to counter the weather’s effects on your sympathy.”

“How do I know what the number is for mechanical?”

“That one is rare no matter where you go. I had to ask one of the analysts at the climatology school about that one. He said to check the forecast for air sympathy and reverse the number. Air sympathists get a forecast about how easy or hard it is to persuade the wind to move. A one means it’s easy, because the wind is already moving briskly on its own, so for mechanical energy, that becomes a six, meaning there’s a lot of mechanical energy available in the atmosphere.”

Rusza tried to work through the math in his head for a few seconds before giving up and doing a quick estimate. “That would put me into four digits,” he said in awe, “worst case scenario.” He looked at the forecast from the day he went into cycle. Air sympathy was assigned a number one for that day. “That was my worst-case scenario,” he said.

“I believe that we can all agree on that,” Nigel said.

Rusza spent the rest of the day going back to the forecast. He dug out all the saved papers and cut out the forecasts. Looking at them in chronological order gave him an idea of the range he was looking at. Once, he asked his grandfather, “Are there ever any days around here that don’t put me into triple digits?”

“Summer,” he replied without a pause. “We see a goodly number of days with pouring rain, overcast skies, and minimal wind. It’s still hot, but when all your other numbers are ones and twos, it should balance out the six for thermal.”

Cousins and other various relations came and went throughout the day. Rusza quickly learned to dread the inevitable first greeting: “You must be poor Nirva’s boy, the one who went into cycle.” After a few of these, Rusza became adept at dodging into one of the less-frequented rooms of the house at the first sign of a new visitor.

It was toward the evening of his second full day out of hospital that his grandfather found him in the kitchen pantry, the nearest refuge available to him when the doorbell had rung. “Come out from there,” said Grandpapa Nigel. “This one came for you specifically.”

Rusza followed him to the guest parlor. To his surprise, Aunt Coralie awaited him. As soon as she saw him, she threw her arms around him. “Bless the Only One,” she cried against his chest, “I’m so glad you’re all right.”

Tears stung his eyes. He patted her back helplessly until she stopped crying. Then, when she looked him in the face, he said, “I’m sorry. Really, I’m—”

Aunt Coralie shushed him. “I know. I’ve heard the whole story. You don’t need to talk about it. It’s just good to see you and talk with you. Let’s sit down.” She led him back to the prim settee where she had been seated at the first. “I asked if we could talk here, privately, because I need to ask you about your new assignment.”

Rusza glanced around and discovered that his grandfather had retreated, shutting the door behind himself for good measure.

“I received your transfer paperwork from the trainee management office,” Aunt Coralie went on. “The destination section of the form was blank. I knew that you haven’t had much time to think about your options, so I thought we could discuss it together.”

“I have had time to think, actually,” Rusza said. “I know— well, not where, exactly, but I know what kind of place I want to go. You’ll know where.”

“Oh, all right. What kind of place?”

“I want to go where nobody knows anything about me,” Rusza said simply, “and where I can be the most useful.”

She gazed at him with her mouth slightly open, as if she had too many comments to make and all that traffic had hit a bottleneck just before reaching her mouth. Then she said, “Why, Rusza?”

“I just want to start over again. I want to do it where nobody knows who my family is, so they won’t look at Dad or anyone else… well, like they’re doing now,” he admitted, “like this is his fault instead of mine. I want to disappear, give people a chance to forget. If I’m somewhere near family, I’ll only keep reminding people, no matter how much I don’t want to. And I don’t want to go where anybody will baby me. I want to be put to use. No special arrangements or Isn’t your dad Dr. Tate? I… I just want to go where I can be taken for who I am— or who I will be.” Weariness suddenly weighed down on him. “I’m sick of being me.”

Aunt Coralie reached for his hand. “I’ll look at the different assignments I have open, Rusza, but don’t disappear. That would be even harder for your father than all of this.”

“No, I know,” Rusza agreed. “I’ll write, wherever I go. That, I do promise. Slate told me about the army postcards, back when he yelled at me for not writing to Grandma and Grandpa enough while I was traveling. And… I don’t mean a permanent assignment. Just for the next few years. Just long enough…”

Aunt Coralie gave him a doubtful look. “If that’s what you really want…” She waited for a moment. “I was at the hospital just before I came to see you. They’ve decided it’s safe to move Sanna to a regular room and allow her to have visitors.”

Rusza shut his eyes for a few seconds and breathed, “Good.” He met his aunt’s eyes again squarely. “When?”

“First thing tomorrow morning.”

“May I… talk with her?”

“I think that depends mostly on how you are feeling,” Aunt Coralie replied. “Do you think you’re stable enough to handle seeing her? Last time, or so they told me, you collapsed and had to be sedated.”

“That was… I don’t know what that was,” Rusza admitted, “but I really do need to speak with her. It doesn’t have to be for long. I don’t want to leave here without getting a chance to tell her.”

“Leave?”

“My leave expired,” said Rusza. “I’m guessing there was some paperwork Dad or somebody must’ve filled out while I was in hospital to stall my going back, but that can’t last. I’ve been discharged, the doctors said I’ll be fine, so I should get back into service. I didn’t come down here planning to stay as long as Dad and the guys did. I came mostly…” He exhaled hard as his throat tightened. “I came to apologize to Grandpapa Nigel and Grandmama Penelope, and to Sanna and her family. I’ve only managed half, and I’ve only added to the things I need to apologize for.”

“I can make arrangements,” said Aunt Coralie.

“Early morning is better for my sympathy.”

She smiled a little. “Archet told me you were reading up on the weather forecasts.” She stood and rested her hand on his head. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you recovering so well. You might not see any value right now in being who you are, but you’re irreplaceable to us.” Then she let herself out and left Rusza to wrestle his composure back into place.

His father came to find him later. “I’ll go with you in the morning.”

“You don’t have to, Dad.”

“Who said I had to go? I will go. You should have an early night and rest up.”

So, after an early night punctuated by nightmares, Rusza put on one of his grandfather’s wide-brimmed hats and a new sun-protective pullover. The sun wasn’t up yet, but he intended to take no chances on his return trip. He and his father left the sleeping household at 0530 and walked toward the hospital. 

They arrived at 0556 and had to wait out the remaining four minutes until the visitors’ entrance unlocked. Rusza expected his father to ask for the new room number at the information desk, but Archet led him straight for the elevators. He brought Rusza to a room not far from the one Rusza had occupied. There they met Aug and his lieutenant. “Are visitors allowed yet?” Archet asked.

“Technically, yes,” said Aug, “but Lydbury and Wake got in first and barricaded themselves in with her for some nefarious scheme all their own. How do you feel today, Rusza?”

“Better, thank you.” Rusza nodded a polite greeting to Aug’s lieutenant as well. 

Aug knocked at the door. “Are you quite finished yet?”

From within, a muffled voice replied, “In a minute, sir.” After the requisite minute had long since passed, the door opened and one of Aug’s squad members, the one called Herrie, made a dramatic welcoming gesture. “The lady is now at home to visitors.”

“You two,” Aug said with an exasperated smile. He stepped inside the hospital room, followed by his lieutenant. Rusza heard him say, “Now I see what the conspiracy was all about. It suits you, Taivas.”

Then Rusza heard Sanna’s voice. “Thank you, sir.”

“You are off-duty right now,” Aug said. “None of this ‘sir’ business. How do you feel?”

“A little tired still.”

“You have another visitor waiting out in the hall.”

Rusza knew this was his cue. He steeled himself to walk forward. Aug and his lieutenant stood at the foot of a hospital bed like sentinels. Two young women stood at the far side of the bed, at the head. Then Rusza saw her. Her fair hair was boyishly short and fluffed around her head. Her skin looked translucent, with shadows lingering under her eyes. Instead of a hospital gown, she wore something light pink and silky on top, open at the throat. Rusza swallowed hard. “Morning.”

Sanna gazed at him for a few seconds. Then she reached out to pat the chair on the near side of the bed. No words: just that gesture, full of understanding. 

Rusza obeyed. He took hold of her hand gingerly and said in alarm, “You’re warm!”

“Don’t look like that,” she said. “I’m enjoying the change in routine while it lasts.” Then, softly, she asked, “How has it been for you?” Her fingers tightened briefly.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted. “I’m sorry for all of it. You shouldn’t have put yourself at risk for someone like me. You should’ve pushed me inside the bunker and left me.” Head bowed low, he fought to control his breathing.

“I understand. I don’t agree, but I do understand. I won’t say it’s all right or you shouldn’t say such things, because I know that won’t help. What I will say is this: I made a promise to you. I kept it. I did so of my own free will, and I wouldn’t choose to do differently if I had it to do over. And, I will add, I accept your apology.”

She really did understand. Rusza lifted her hand to press it to his forehead. “Will you m-make me a promise?” He had started to speak on impulse and caught himself just in time from saying the one thing he never dared to say to her.

“What promise?”

“Never do this again, not for me, not for anybody.”

“I can’t promise you that,” Sanna said. “I will not stand aside and count the cost when it’s a matter of life or death to you or to anyone else precious to me. I will promise to be more cautious, but that’s as far as I’ll promise. But what about you? Have you found out yet what you need to do to prevent this from happening to you again?”

Rusza heard himself start to babble about the sympathy forecast. He wasn’t sure what he was saying, or if it made sense. He could think only of what she had just said. He was precious to her. One of many, probably, and no one special among them, but still he was counted among them. She didn’t despise him.

“You know, don’t you, that all of that was part of the presentation Dr. Ilmatar gave back when we visited the Cavern climatology school,” Sanna reminded him.

“I’m sure,” Rusza said, “but she said so much, and I didn’t understand half of it.”

“You didn’t have a use for it,” she said in a tone of gentle rebuke. “Now that you do, it makes sense to you. There’s also the emotional component. Sympathies go out of control more easily when your emotions are unsettled. It’s best to have someone at hand who can help monitor you when you know you’re going through an upsetting time.”

Her expression suggested that she was about to ask him something along that line, but suddenly a hard voice said, “Oi, you!”

Rusza turned halfway in his chair at the startling intrusion and took a fist to the left cheekbone. There was enough force behind it to throw him against the back of the chair and almost tip the chair over. The room erupted in commotion, but Rusza heard Sanna’s calm voice through the uproar, saying, “Edmund, don’t.”

Rusza found himself being hurried out of the room between his father and Aug. “I thought we had more time,” Aug said. “He must have come back early. I have never seen Edmund punch anyone in the face before.”

They deposited Rusza on a bench in the waiting room, and Archet bent over him to inspect the damage and ask diagnostic questions. Rusza waved this aside. “It’s fine,” he kept saying. He cupped one hand over the bruise and exerted himself to cool it down. Aug was saying something about Captain Haigh and his family, but all Rusza could hear was Sanna’s voice: Edmund, don’t. Had she called Captain Haigh by first name in Leeward? Rusza didn’t think she had. He would have noticed, as jealous as he had been— and Rusza admitted to himself now that he had been jealous. Back then, it had bothered him that she so clearly admired the man, when she just as clearly viewed Rusza as an overgrown child. Did it still bother him? He didn’t think so, but why was that tone of hers now stuck in his head? It had felt intimate, like he had overheard something private.

“Rusza!”

Rusza jumped. He realized his father was close in front of him, looking worriedly into his eyes. “What?”

“Honestly, I thought you lost consciousness sitting up,” his father complained, “eyes open and everything. Have you heard anything I said?”

Rusza admitted that he had not. “I was just thinking,” he said.

Archet sat down. “I was saying,” he continued, “we should get you checked over before we go back.”

“If it makes you feel better,” Rusza said, “but really, I’m all right. I’ve been hit harder than that.” Another thought prompted him to say, “Do I need a checkup to be passed as fit to go back on duty?”

“That’s not our immediate concern,” his father replied.

“Well, actually, it might be. When I talked with Aunt Coralie yesterday, I asked her to assign me somewhere pretty much right away.”

Archet gazed at him in dismay. “Why?”

“Because I’ve been slacking off too long, Dad. I’m supposed to be doing my four years of service, but it feels like I’ve just been serving myself all this time. I need to be useful somewhere. And I want to give people time to forget about me.”

“Wait,” Archet protested, “how is that connected to your service?”

“I asked her to assign me somewhere nobody knows me.” Rusza hastened to add, “I’m not going to lose touch and forget to write. I promise. I’ll answer every letter when it comes.”

His father drew and released a steadying breath. “You’ve made up your mind?”

Rusza nodded.

“Where will you be assigned?”

“Actually, I don’t know yet. She said she’d look at what’s available.”

A quiet ahem made them both look to the waiting room entrance. Rusza was startled to find Dr. Zuma from Leeward standing there. She was lending her arm to support Nana Friga. Rusza popped to his feet. He bowed at the waist. “Nana Friga,” he said. “I’m very, very sorry.”

Silence greeted this apology. Then the two women crossed the waiting room floor so that the elderly woman could sit down. She sat upright. “Sit down,” Nana Friga said. “I have something to say to you while I have the chance.”

Rusza obeyed promptly. He felt slightly nauseated when he considered what she might have to say, but he gave her his full attention and kept his mouth shut.

“The day your sympathy went into cycle, I fully intended to call on you and your father,” she began. “Dr. Tate, we are grateful for everything you did for our family when Axel was in quarantine. I do not intend to lessen that gratitude in the least when I say I was prepared to forbid you, Rusza Tate, from ever approaching Sky-wind school again.”

“Yes, ma’am, I understand,” Rusza said. His stomach now roiled in earnest.

“Events took a drastic turn,” Nana Friga continued, “and prevented me from having that conversation with you. Now I am in a conflicting position. I was there to see the after-effects of going into cycle, back when it happened to Sanna. I remember too clearly her pain and regret over hurting others with her sympathy. I have also been told that she adamantly refuses to hear any talk of you wearing the armband. Her reasoning is that no bystanders were harmed or killed, so you don’t qualify for it; she went to such extremes to ensure you wouldn’t carry those regrets, as she does.”

Rusza squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds. “Yes, ma’am.”

“She would never agree to a forced estrangement between you and Sky-wind now, should I suggest it. To alienate you further after what you have been through would be to her a constant reminder of having to leave her own home. So I have given the matter further thought. I am giving this to you.”

Rusza reached out to take from her a small notebook. Its page edges were soft with wear.

“Take care of it,” she said, “because it is the only copy in existence. It belonged to Erno Taivas.”

This made Rusza look at the notebook more closely.

“He compiled this as an aid to speaking with Outsiders about the statutes and teachings. My challenge to you is this, Rusza Tate: memorize that book. Answer every question in it. Understand it. You have shown yourself to be a young man of weak and shallow devotion to the Only One. I had approached your offense originally as I would that of a young man from our village. In such a case, expulsion would have been the rule, because I could be sure such a young man knew and understood our ways. With you, I can be sure of no such thing. Your grandparents, Elder and Mrs. Tate, are devout people, so I know you have been taught something about the matter. But you have displayed a willful disregard for the things of the Only One that tells me you have not made your grandparents’ piety your own. I overheard part of your conversation with Dr. Tate,” Nana Friga said. “Is it your intent to withdraw from all your former contacts?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rusza replied, “for a couple of years, at least.”

“Then that will be your time limit. If, within two years, you can bring back that book and prove by your choices that you understand it fully, then I will consider your past actions to be cancelled out. If two years pass and you remain unchanged, then I must insist you have no further contact with anyone in my family.”

Rusza bowed his head. “Yes, ma’am.” He watched as the elderly northerner accepted Dr. Zuma’s arm again and rose to hobble toward Sanna’s new room. Then he opened the notebook. The handwriting that filled its pages was clear, evenly spaced, and precise. There was neither name nor title anywhere in it. It simply began, What is a theocracy, and why do we call Haazak this? What followed wasn’t an answer, but rather a series of cryptic abbreviations and references to books.

“I haven’t been scolded like that in decades,” Archet said.

Rusza looked up. “She wasn’t scolding you.”

“You think so, do you? But you’d be wrong. I’m your father. She holds me responsible for not teaching you. Notice how she mentioned your grandparents’ devotion, not mine? And I can’t say that she’s wrong. Do me a favor, Rusza, and let me make a copy of that notebook before you leave. I want to go through it with you.”

Rusza handed the notebook to him and watched him carry it away. But he had no time to process the previous conversation, because as soon as Archet left, Dr. Zuma returned. She sat down next to Rusza and said, “I was hoping for a chance to speak with you— or, rather, to ask you a question, because I’ve talked with Mother Locke about a potential assignment for you. She is considering placing you in Beeches, in East Territory, and that’s where I come from. The question I want to ask is this: if you knew that everything would fall into place and everyone would be agreeable regardless of what you chose, where do you truly wish to be right now?”

A memory, more sensation than thought, flashed across Rusza’s mind, but he pushed it away.

“Don’t,” she said. “Whatever you just imagined, don’t deny it so quickly. What kind of place is it?”

 “Somewhere I have no right to be,” he responded.

“Must we earn the right to be with those we love?” Dr. Zuma asked. “Is it a good and wholesome place to be, Rusza? Is it a place that will make a better man out of you?”

Reluctantly, he nodded. “It would be, but it’s impossible.”

Dr. Zuma gave him an odd look. “As long as you have the desire, you’ll find a way. And I’m recommending that you meet an old acquaintance of mine, should you accept an assignment to Beeches. His name is Jedrick Radomi. He’s a thermal energy sympathist who went into cycle several years back, which is how this happened.” She tapped her prosthetic arm. “He can understand what you’re going through.”

“You lost your arm…?”

“Trying to get him out of cycle, yes. It only worked because he regained consciousness for a few moments. My sympathy is able to command, as you saw once, and he listened to me and reversed his affinity long enough to put out the fire. The strain of doing that was enough to max out his sympathy, so he came out of it.” Dr. Zuma brought out a case of her business cards and wrote on the back of one. She handed it to Rusza. “Ask for him at the combat hospital.”

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