With a flourish, Gavra Norward signed the last piece of paper and dropped it into the box on her desk. Leaning back, she permitted herself a tired smile as she glanced at her watch. Four o'clock Friday—the end of a long day at the end of a long week; and by some combination of luck and skill all of the hive's paperwork was finished and she had the rest of the evening free. It was hard to believe; in her twenty years as Girls' Senior at Dayspring she'd had perhaps two dozen such Fridays, despite a solemn promise to herself to leave that evening free. Someone will probably throw up at dinner, she told herself with whimsical pseudo-cynicism. Maybe I should leave now and forget to take a beeper.
She was in the process of stowing her pens and note pads in their desk drawer when someone knocked on her open door. Looking up, she saw Allan Gould, Dayspring's Director, peering around the jamb. "Got a minute, Gavra?"
Gavra sighed inwardly. Good-bye, Friday night, she told herself. Aloud, she said, "Of course."
Gould stepped into the office, and only then did Gavra realize the Director wasn't alone. A small, balding man entered on his heels, closing the door behind him. Gould gestured at him as the two men sat down in front of the Senior's desk. "Gavra, this is Raife Jung, assistant Men's Senior at the Lee Introductory School across town. Gavra Norward, our Girls' Senior."
They exchanged nods. "What can I do for you?" Gavra asked.
"I'm afraid we're here on rather serious business," Jung said, his tone and manner more than a shade on the pompous side. Opening a small folder, he extracted three photos and slid them across the desk. "I believe you will recognize both the preteen and what she is doing."
The pictures, obviously taken at one of Barona's power stations, were of only fair quality, but even so Gavra had no trouble identifying Lisa Duncan. And she was holding—"Is that a book?"
"It is indeed," Jung said. "Actually, there are two different books shown: lessons seven and eight of Walker's Elementary Reading. The photos were taken Nultday and Wednesday of this week."
Gavra impaled Gould with her eyes. "And you waited until now to tell me?"
Gould shrugged uncomfortably. "We wanted to have all the facts before we said anything. One of the technicians at the power station spotted Lisa reading a book with the Lee Intro logo on it a week ago Wednesday. He contacted me, I contacted Mr. Jung, and it turned out the evening door checker remembered a Daryl Kellerman leaving that evening with a book. We followed him this Wednesday and observed the exchange."
Gavra returned her attention to the photos, struggling to adjust her mind to this sudden revelation and to fight down the chill it caused within her. Of all her preteens Lisa was probably the last one she would have suspected of something this insidious... and yet, in retrospect, it fit Lisa's personality remarkably well. She'd always tended to fight her battles with brains and skill instead of with brute force; and Transition, after all, was a preteen's biggest battle. And for Lisa, unlike some of the others, it would be an intensely private one, as well. The flicker of paranoia within her damped out and she looked back up at Jung. "All right," she said. "So what do you want me to do about it?"
Jung blinked in obvious surprise. "I want Duncan punished, of course. She should be told in no uncertain terms that this sort of activity is not allowed, and then be docked some points or have some privileges taken away. And we want the book back."
Gavra glanced at Gould. His expression was as set in concrete as Jung's. The specters of the past were formidable shapers of both opinion and policy; and their influence, as she'd just found out, wasn't totally lost even on those who should know better.
All the more reason, she thought suddenly, to inject some logic into this. And damn the torpedoes. "I'm sorry, Mr. Jung," she said quietly, "but I cannot punish someone who hasn't broken any rules."
Jung's eyes saucered in astonishment and he actually sputtered. "Broken any rules?" he finally managed. "Just what do you call—"
"Dayspring Hive has no rule that forbids kids and preteens to read," she interrupted him. "For that matter, I defy you to show me any law—on city or Tigrin books—that makes reading illegal."
"What about the Education Code?" Jung shot back. "Or the Uniform Library Use Acts?"
"Those specify who can teach reading and what books may be lent to whom," she said. "The burden in both cases is on the adult, not the kid. I'm sure you can make a case against Daryl Kellerman—" probably already have, she added to herself—"but Lisa is legally blameless."
There was a moment of silence as Jung seemed to fall back and regroup. Gould stepped in to fill the gap. "Don't you think, though, that letting Lisa get away with something like this will at the very least set a bad precedent?"
"For whom?" she countered. "From the evidence you've shown me Lisa seems to be keeping all this well under wraps. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that punishing her would set a more disastrous example. You'd be surprised how many kids will knock themselves out to try anything that they've been specifically told not to do."
"All right," Jung said irritably. "What do you propose we do, then?"
"Nothing, aside from the obvious. You'll want to transfer Daryl Kellerman to another school, of course, to break things off where they are."
"We've already done that," Jung said. "But never mind Kellerman. I want to hear your idea of what to do with Duncan."
"I already told you: nothing," Gavra said. "She's not likely to be able to find another tutor in the few months she's got left before Transition. She'll start school reading above her level, but you're stuck with that anyway."
"Ms. Norward." Jung's voice dripped bits of ice. "You don't seem to realize the potential problems this situation presents. Ever since the Lost Generation the stability of society on Tigris has depended on the adults retaining exclusive control of knowledge. Exclusive control. The kids already have most of the physical power; if they were allowed to learn all the ways to use that power, the entire system could collapse into anarchy."
I'm familiar with the facts and arguments," Gavra said stiffly, annoyed at being lectured. "And I'd like to remind you—both of you—that I'm more familiar with the actual psychology of these kids than either of you. Most of them are totally uninterested in starting into the perceived drudgery of school before it's forced on them. Lisa is an exceptional case. Even if she wanted to set up the sort of secret reading lessons I imagine you're worried about, she'd get few if any preteens to join her."
"Oh, of course," Jung said sarcastically. "Naturally, you know better than the men and women who laid down these guidelines."
"They were living within memory of the Lost Generation's chaos," Gould murmured, unexpectedly coming to Gavra's support. "The two-tiered society's been stable for nearly two centuries now, with the kids' position clearly defined for them. That kind of tradition's hard to break."
"Besides which, kids aren't just small adults, no matter what responsibilities and power they have," Gavra added. "They generally lack the discipline to pass up an immediate pleasure in favor of a more distant one—otherwise you'd have a lot more preteens working to earn extra points than actually do so. Most would rather spend as much time as possible flying or otherwise having fun, especially as they get closer to Transition."
"Spare me the psychology review," Jung said acidly... but there was a note of resignation in his voice, and Gavra knew she'd won. Temporarily, anyway. "What about the Walker book she still has? Or do you want to argue about that, too?"
"We'll do our best to get it back," Gavra told him. "But again, I don't want to make a major fuss over taking it away from her."
"As you choose. But remember that the book is the property of Lee Intro—and if we don't get it back soon, we would be within the law to bring theft charges against Duncan."
"Understood," Gavra said tiredly. The charge wouldn't stick for ten minutes, but she didn't want to put Lisa through that kind of trauma, and Jung obviously knew it. "I'll get you the damn book."
"Good." Jung got to his feet, shifted his glare from Gavra to Gould and back again. "Well. You've both been rather less than cooperative—I hope you're properly satisfied. I think you should know that I intend to go directly to the police from here and give them the whole story."
"Go right ahead," Gavra nodded. She'd anticipated this gambit, and while it sounded impressive, there really wasn't a lot the police could or would do at this stage except circulate Lisa's name and photo among the officers. "It'll be good for them to have the background in case some sort of problem does develop," she added, hoping her admission of such a possibility would mollify Jung somewhat.
It had little if any of the desired effect. Nodding stiffly to her, his mouth a tightly compressed line, Jung left the room. Gould threw her a glance too quick to interpret and hurried after him.
Sighing, Gavra got to her feet and followed the same path... but only as far as the outer office and the file cabinets therein. Unlocking the proper one, she began sorting through the D's. Jung might be back later, but for the moment he was at least reasonably convinced that Lisa wasn't going to put her newly acquired skill to a dangerous use.
Now all Gavra had to do was convince herself of the same thing.
Withdrawing the thick file labeled Lisa Duncan, she glanced at her watch. She could do a quick survey of the preteen's record in the half hour that remained before dinner time. And for the more careful study that would be required... well, she had all evening.
Grumbling under her breath, Gavra tucked the file under her arm and trudged back into her office.
The wind rustling the trees had, over the past hour, changed from a pleasant, soothing sound to one filled with foreboding. Twisting her wrist toward the nearest streetlight, Lisa peered at her watch for probably the tenth time in the hour she'd been waiting in the little park. Three minutes after seven. Daryl was over an hour late.
Getting up from the bench, Lisa began to pace restlessly, her eyes probing the inky shadows that writhed like wounded animals as the trees swayed. Her emotions had already passed from annoyance to anger to concern, and were beginning to edge into genuine panic. After six weeks of regular thrice-weekly meetings, he couldn't have simply forgotten to show up, and as the minutes ticked slowly by her imagination generated increasingly terrifying reasons for his absence.
She checked her watch. Five after seven.
And suddenly she could stand it no longer. Glancing around her one last time, she flew quickly to the top of the nearest tree and wedged her book securely between two branches. Then, dropping back to the ground, she headed off at a rapid walk.
There were a fair number of pedestrians out—it was Friday evening, after all—and Lisa did her best to check the faces she passed. But neither Daryl nor the blonde woman she'd seen him with that once passed by her; and a few minutes later she was standing in front of the squat shape of Lee Intro.
For a moment she hesitated, her mind flashing back to her nervousness the first evening she'd walked up to that door and realizing dimly that what she was about to do could land her in real trouble. But concern for Daryl pushed aside all other considerations. Resolutely, she strode forward; but this time, instead of entering, she turned sideways at the door and disappeared behind the decorative bushes lining the walls. Keeping low, she circled around toward the rear of the building.
She had long ago found out from Daryl which of the rear-facing second-floor windows was his. The line of bushes continued around the side of the building and a couple of meters along the rear wall, allowing her to get within eyesight of his room without coming into the open. At that point, though, two problems immediately presented themselves. Like the courtyard back at Dayspring, the area behind Lee Intro was set up as a recreational area, and under the bright floodlights a good twenty teens were running about in what seemed to be a two-dimensional version of raiders. In addition, as nearly as she could tell from the angle she was at, Daryl's window was closed and, presumably, locked.
Lisa's hands were trembling with both tension and an ever-increasing sense of urgency as she looked around her. Obviously, with nearly two dozen teens throwing and kicking a ball nearby, there was no way she was going to get to Daryl's window without being seen. The floodlights—perhaps if she teeked out the power lines at the light posts' bases and plunged the rec area in darkness? But that would leave dangerous cables loose where someone might accidentally touch them... besides which, the thought of doing that much damage—even for something this important—grated against her hive training.
She was still trying to figure out a plan when inspiration and opportunity dropped simultaneously into her lap. One of the teens, trying to get rid of the ball before he was tackled, gave the twenty-centimeter sphere a tremendous kick in the direction of the school building... and even as it was still rising, Lisa had it in a firm teekay grip, adding just a shade more lift and range and giving it the slightest bit of sideways guidance until, with a horrendous crash, it disappeared squarely through one of the first-floor windows.
Some things, at least, did not change with Transition. The teens stood rooted in horror for a split second and then took off madly in all directions. Within seconds, the rec area was deserted.
Lisa was at Daryl's window before the sound of running feet had faded into the night breeze. The room was dark, but the curtains were still open, and enough light was scattering in from the rec area for her to see that both beds were empty. She teeked tentatively at the window; it was, as she'd guessed, locked.
It would have been easy enough to break it, but the noise would bring people there much too quickly. But there might be another way, if the adults who would surely be coming to investigate that broken window held off for another minute. With a quick glance behind her, Lisa turned back to the window and teeked the top drawer out of the nearest dresser. Moving it close to the window, she gave its contents a quick scan. She was in luck; setting down the drawer, she teeked out a small hand mirror and brought it up to hover next to the window's lock. Like most locks, this one was shielded from outside view as a routine precaution against teekay opening. But with the mirror Lisa could see enough of the lock's works; and as the outside door beneath her slammed open the window slid up and she slipped inside.
Heart pounding in her ears, she peeked back out the window. Four or five older teens and adults were in the rec area, but none of them was looking up toward her. Quickly, she replaced the dresser drawer and closed both window and curtains. Switching on the light, she made sure the door was locked. Then, feeling excruciatingly vulnerable, she began looking around the room.
Having only the vaguest idea what she was looking for, she stumbled on the vital clue purely by accident. Taped to the wall by each of the two desks was a piece of paper divided up into rectangles, with days of the week printed across the top and hours of the day down the left-hand side. Inside the rectangles were incomprehensible letter-and-number combinations, and it took Lisa a long minute to realize they were the occupants' class schedules. Wondering if Daryl had unexpectedly been given a Friday night assignment, she checked both schedules—and it was only luck that she happened to look at the names on them.
The names were Mart Kolowitz and Ling Spongier.
Lisa's first, horrible thought was that she'd goofed and got the wrong room. But a heartbeat later she remembered Daryl's mentioning his roommate Mart. So the room was right. Only—?
She never had a chance to try and figure it out. Even as she stared at Ling's schedule, the sound of a key in a lock came from the door.
Lisa reacted instantly, throwing herself in a sort of teekay-assisted jump to a sheltered position by the other desk. Teeking off the light, she ducked down as the door swung open, throwing a wedge of hall light into the darkness. An instant later the room was brightly lit once more, and Lisa peeked around the back of the desk chair to see a tall, dark-haired teen turn back to close the door. The panel clicked shut, and Lisa pounced.
Her teekay leap landed her practically on his back. One hand touched his left arm, which she promptly froze in a teekay grip; the other arm snaked around his right shoulder and came to rest with her hand over his mouth. Simultaneously, she flicked a glance to the wall and again teeked off the light.
The teen jerked, probably with both shock and fear, but Lisa held him easily. One leg kicked back inexpertly and was promptly captured in its own invisible vise. Teeth clenched hard, Lisa waited silently for his struggles to end, wondering what in blazes she was going to do next. Her attack had been pure reflex—modeled, no doubt, after the action movies she'd loved as a kid—and now that she had the other, she had no idea what to do with him.
"Keep quiet," she muttered, making her voice as deep and masculine as she could. "I'm not going to hurt you."
The other went almost limp. Encouraged, she tried a question. "What's your name?"
She left her fingers on his lips, just in case, but he was either too scared or too smart to try yelling for help. "Mart Kolowitz," he answered in a husky whisper. "What do you want?"
"I'm looking for Daryl Kellerman," she said, only then realizing the sinister interpretation Mart would probably put on the words, given the circumstances. "I'm a friend of his," she hastened to add, "and I think something might have happened to him."
"Well, I don't know where he is," Mart said defensively. "His stuff was gone when I got back from morning classes."
Lisa blinked. That Daryl might have left so abruptly was something that hadn't occurred to her. "When did you last see him?"
"At breakfast this morning."
"Did he say anything about leaving, or was he angry or upset at all?"
Mart shook his head minutely in the teekay hold. "Nope. Said he'd meet me at four for a fast 'pong game, even. Didn't show up, though."
"Look, people don't just disappear," she hissed. "Didn't you ask where he'd gone?"
"The floor supervisor just said not to worry about him."
Lisa exhaled slowly through clenched teeth, apprehension churning her stomach. What could have happened to Daryl that the school would react like this? It was almost as if—
As if they were trying to pretend Daryl had never existed?
Her thoughts flicked to Daryl's story of Hari's attempted suicide, and to the way the school had reacted to his questions about his friend. But—No. Daryl wouldn't do something like that.
"Who are you?" Mart cut into her thoughts. "What do you want with Daryl, anyway?"
His tone was confident, almost insolent, and Lisa realized with a start that she was running out of time here. Mart's masculine pride was beginning to overcome his caution, and any minute now he might try something foolish. She could probably handle any attack he could come up with, but if he raised the alarm and someone got a good look at her face... "All right," she whispered, "I'm leaving now. Don't try to turn around until I'm gone. And don't tell anyone I was here."
Maintaining her grip, Lisa glanced around and teeked the curtains aside. With the extra light from the rec area floodlights she could see Mart clearly enough. Backing carefully to the window, keeping a teekay hold on the teen's arms and head, she fumbled blindly for the catch and slid the pane open. Adult voices were still audible outside, but there was nothing she could do about that except to hope they wouldn't look up. Reaching up, she smoothed her hair back, plastering it against her head and shoulders with teekay to disguise its length. Then, taking a deep breath, she turned and dived out the window.
Concentrating on speed and the necessity of getting her hands up in front of her face, she misjudged the size of the opening and banged her right knee painfully against the sill. She gasped as the shock of it made her falter; but before any of the people grouped around the broken window below could react to the sound she was above the floodlights and out of sight. Still she climbed, fear adding impetus to her flight, until the cool mist of a thin cloud layer on her face jolted her back to reality. With a start, she realized she was a good two or three kilometers above the now hazy lights of the city.
Exhaling a lungful of air, she let herself coast to a stop, her muscles limp with relief. She'd done it—had gotten in and out of the school, probably without being recognized. For the moment, anyway, she was safe.
But how long would that last?
Gazing down at the city far below, she rubbed her sore knee. Daryl had vanished... and deep down she was sure she knew why. They caught him giving me books, she thought, the panic beginning to bubble up within her once more. It really is illegal. They arrested Daryl, and they're going to arrest me, too! I have to run away!
She stared outward, her eyes picking out the moonlit peaks of the Tessellate Mountain range, cutting its solemn way southeast across the continent. Beyond them, much of the territory was still untouched by man....
But a moment later her common sense stubbornly reasserted itself. Mart said Daryl's things were moved out before lunchtime. If he's in trouble because of the books, why haven't they already picked me up? I was at the hive at noon and for supper, too.
Relief washed over her like a hot shower in wintertime, dispelling chills she hadn't realized were there. And yet... if Daryl hadn't disappeared because of that, what had happened to him? Had he been injured or perhaps come down with some kind of sickness, and been moved secretly to a hospital? No, that didn't make any sense. Had he seen some sort of criminal activity, then, and been hidden as a witness? Again the thought of Hari's suicide attempt rose into view—
Lisa shook her head hard. There was no sense letting her imagination run away with her. For now, all she could do would be to retrieve the book she'd left in the park and go back home. Tomorrow... well, someone had to know where Daryl was. If she could find that someone and ask the right questions...
Slowly, and then with increasing speed as she left the damp fog of the clouds, Lisa headed down toward the city. Her chances, she recognized, were poor; but she had to make the effort. She owed him at least that much.
Especially, a dark voice still whispered at the base of her mind, since the whole thing could be your fault.
Gritting her teeth, she swooped low to orient herself and then headed for the park.