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Chapter 15

"...and sort of light brown eyes," Lisa said, pausing both for breath and thought. "I don't know if he's got any scars or birthmarks or anything."

The burly police sergeant smiled briefly as his scratching pen caught up to where Lisa had finished. "This'll be just fine," he assured her. "You just wait here and I'll go see if we've got any information on your friend." He gave her a reassuring smile as he stood up and left the alcove.

Swiveling in her chair, Lisa watched him cross the duty lounge and disappear through a doorway behind the impassive-faced desk man. Five or six other policemen were working at desks in the lounge area, and two others were talking with people in alcoves similar to hers. It was far more relaxed a scene than the action movies had prepared her for; but despite that, she could almost hear her thudding heart over the quiet conversational background.

Just coming here had taken a tremendous amount of courage. Now, having given Daryl's name and description to the police, she felt uncomfortably like a dragonmite hovering near the edge of a spider web. Despite the fact that Daryl had disappeared nearly a week ago and Lisa had still not been picked up by any group of authorities, she couldn't shake the guilty feeling that she and her books were still somehow responsible. Maybe they just haven't gotten around to me yet, she thought nervously, watching the door and half expecting the officer to return with two or three righthands. In her mind's eye she watched herself undergo the humiliation of being arrested, heard Gavra announce the shameful news to the rest of the hive that evening at dinner, saw herself put into a cellalonestill not knowing what had happened to Daryl....

The door opened and the sergeant came out alone. He said something to the desk man, then walked back to where Lisa waited. "Well, there's both good news and bad news," he said as he sat down again. "The good news is that no one matching your friend's description has turned up dead in the past week, at least nowhere this side of the Tessellates. The bad news is that we don't have any runaways, detainees, or hospital unknowns like him, either. I guess we still can't help you."

Lisa sighed. This had been her last hope. "All right. Thank you anyway."

He gave her a searching look. "Have you talked to the various schools in town? He must have been enrolled in one of them."

She nodded. "He was at the Lee Introductory School, at least until last Friday. But he's gone from there now, and no one there will tell me anything about it."

"Maybe he was simply transferred. They do that sometimes."

"Then why won't they tell me that? Every time I call they tell me he's not there, but they won't say anything more. And why wouldn't he have told me about it before he left?"

Thoughtfully, the sergeant tapped his teeth with the end of his pen. "Good questions," he admitted. "I wish I could give you the answers."

"So do I," Lisa sighed, slumping in her seat. The last bit of emotional strength seemed to have drained out of her, leaving her more fatigued than long work days and even fights in the hive had ever made her feel.

"You all right?" the sergeant's voice came as if from the far end of a Five's play tunnel.

She managed a smile. "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you anyway for your help. I have to get back; it's almost dinner time."

"You're not sick or anything, are you? One of the men could drive you"

"No. Thank you." Getting to her feet, Lisa nodded and walked past the desk to the exit.

Outside, she stood on the city building steps and took a deep breath, wondering what she was going to do next. The police couldn't help her; Lee Intro wouldn't. She could think of only one more avenue to try, and she would almost rather cut off a hand than take it. The humiliation of admitting her crimes to the one adult whose approval she still valued

Do it for Daryl. If he's in trouble, it may be your fault... and humiliation's easier to live with than guilt.

Blinking away the dampness in her eyesthey were not tearsLisa launched herself into the sky. Tonight, after dinner, she would tell Gavra everything.

"Thirty-eight," Hob Paxton muttered as the radiophone buzzed quietly, indicating a ring on the phone at the other end of the signal. It buzzed again: "Thirty-nine."

"Hang up," Tirrell said to Cam Mbar, feeling a minor wave of frustration wash over him. Once again, it seemed, Jarvis was one step ahead of them.

Cam replaced the radiophone handset and turned to Tirrell. "Do you think something's happened to him?" she asked anxiously.

"No, I think he's probably okay," Tirrell said, automatically soothing. "Maybe he's working outside or something."

But Cam was too intelligent to accept such reassurance blindly, even when it was what she obviously wanted. "Has he been working outside every other day this week, too?" She shook her head. "Something's wrong."

"Well, there's not much we can do about it," Paxton said gruffly. "Not now."

Tirrell threw his liaison an irritated look. Even if Cam was partially responsible for Jarvis's silence, there was no point making her feel worse than she already did. "It's also possible he's busy with a project and turned off the phone so he wouldn't be interrupted," he told her. "Or maybe there's a fault in his receiverthat does happen, you know."

She nodded heavily. "I hope you're right. If I somehow helped those..." She visibly searched for an adequate noun, gave up, and fell silent.

"I'm sure everything'll be okay," Tirrell said with more conviction than he felt. "You might as well go back to the labor home, if you'd like," he added, noting it was after four. "We'll have people standing by both here and with the direction finders twenty-one hours a day; if Dr. Jarvis contacts you, just press the button we've put by your phone and then keep him talking as long as you can."

"I understand." Nodding, Cam got to her feet, collected the notes she'd been planning to ask Jarvis about, and left the room.

"You might as well go, too," Tirrell told the two headphone-equipped men standing on opposite sides of the huge table map that dominated the center of the room. "Your relief's due in twenty minutes, and Jarvis wouldn't be able to reach Ms. Mbar before then, anyway."

"Yes, sir."

Paxton waited until the men had left before asking the obvious question. "You think Jarvis smelled the trap and ran?"

"That he smelled something seems pretty obvious," Tirrell snorted. "Whatever Cam said last week when she talked to him apparently made him at least suspicious enough to stay clear of his phone."

"Or suspicious enough to pack up and run," Paxton mused. "No, that wouldn't be very smart."

"Especially since we've already postulated his cabin is as secure a place as he's going to find anywhere near civilization," Tirrell nodded.

"Well, then, we should still have a chance. What about this building contractor search you've been doing? Any leads?"

Tirrell shrugged. "I've checked with every contractor between here and Randno luck. Either Jarvis did all the work himselfand supply purchases indicated he at least bought all the materials himselfor else the contractor he hired went out of business sometime in the last four years."

"Four years." Paxton looked thoughtful. "You have the time any more exact?"

"He seems to have started building in April of three-oh-four, just eleven months after Colin was born. At least that's when he was buying and moving his materials."

"Hmm. Three months after he and Somerset quit their Transition studies."

"Right." Tirrell was mildly surprised the other had picked up on that, given how often other equally simple facts had seemed to slide right past him. Perhaps he was finally starting to pay genuine attention to the case. "Possibly significant, but doesn't really tell us anything new."

"Sure," Paxton agreed. "You said he transported all the stuff that same month. Howrented vehicles?"

"Yes, and that's where most of what little we've got has come from. The mileage he put on the trucks he used give us an upper limit on how far from Barona the cabin is."

"Terrific," Paxton said, straightening in his chair. "Why didn't you say so before?"

"Because it's not an especially useful number," Tirrell countered dryly. "All it tells us is that he's somewhere within a hundred kilometers of Barona."

"Oh." Paxton looked deflated. "That's not a lot of help."

"Not much, but a little. It means he can't be in the mountains past Rand with a directional antenna to compensate for the extra distance. Also, the roads around here are not exactly straight, so doing a careful distance check along them shrinks the boundaries a fair amount. And, of course, we should be able to eliminate all the farmland south of the city."

"Also Plat City and the marshes near Banat," Paxton muttered. "Still leaves a hell of a lot of territory, thoughand a fair amount of it in the mountains south of Plat City. That's going to be an absolute pain to search."

"Yeah." Tirrell hesitated. "There is one other thing that might lead somewhereheavy underline on the 'might.' One of the truck rental owners remembers having to spend six hours scraping rock-mud out of the van's tire tread after Jarvis returned itsays he debated long and hard about sending the usual bill for the work and decided against it because Jarvis was such an important figure."

For a moment Paxton's eyes lit up, but the expression was quickly replaced by a rueful grin. "Damn! For a moment there... but we're talking about April, aren't we."

Tirrell nodded. "Apparently a lot of the ground around here turns into rock-mud while the snow cover is melting. I've looked up all the available records and have a couple of the university's soil specialists listing the main areas where the stuff is found in the spring. That, plus my map, will at least give me the most likely places to start looking."

"You're going to start a full-scale search?" Paxton said cautiously. "Now?"

"As soon as that rock-mud data is complete, which is supposed to be this evening. Why? You have a better idea?"

"Well..." Paxton looked acutely uncomfortable. "Actually, we were wondering if perhaps we ought to go a bit easy at this point. Until we've got a few more facts, I mean."

Tirrell searched the other's face. "The 'we,' I take it, is you and Chief Liand you're still worried about possible false-arrest charges brought by Barona's leading scientific light. Right?"

Paxton shrugged helplessly. "Face it, Tirrell; the only solid thing you've got is that childsitter's identification of Jarvisand that was under hypnosis. Everything else really just boils down to hunch and intuition."

"Would you like a list of the people my 'intuition' has helped nail?" Tirrell said coldly.

"The rules are different when you're picking on a leading light, as you put it. Always have been, always will be." Paxton shook his head. "I thought the chief was going to have a coronary when he saw the poster you had distributed to the area police stations."

"Why? I only identified him as a material witness in the case, and I said specifically to use extreme discretion in inquiries and contact. Would you rather risk letting Jarvis walk in and out of Banat without anyone even knowing we wanted to talk to him?"

"No. It's just that your methods don't consider the political implications. As an outsider you can maybe get away with that. The rest of us, unfortunately, can't." Paxton shook his head. "Hell with that now. How big a search crew were you hoping to use?"

Tirrell grimaced. "Given the circumstances, I guess I'd better not hold my breath waiting for Li to authorize anything substantial." He paused briefly, but when Paxton didn't contradict him he continued, "So I guess Tonio and I will have to do it ourselves. If I can get the map ready, we can start tomorrow morning. We'll be discreet, of course."

Paxton pursed his lips for a long moment and then sighed. "Well, if you're that determined... I suppose we might as well make it a foursome. That way it'll only take half an eternity to finish the job."

"I appreciate the offer," Tirrell told him, a bit surprised the other had volunteered, given the pressures on him. "But I'd rather you stay here, actually, just in case Jarvis decides to answer his phone after all."

"Maybe there's another way to do this," Weylin spoke up suddenly.

The other three turned to him. "What's that?" Paxton asked.

"Recruit some unofficial searchers," the righthand said. "I know a bunch of other preteens who'd be willing to help usmaybe twenty or thirty of them. Give us each a map and an area to search and we'll have Jarvis found in no time."

"Forget it," Paxton said, shaking his head. "The chief doesn't even want experienced policemen involved in a full-scale searchimagine how he'd feel about a bunch of amateurs running around out there."

"They know how to keep their mouths shut" Weylin began.

"Actually, the idea has some merit," Tirrell cut in, "and we might be able to try something like it later. But Paxton's right, at least for now."

Weylin made a face. "Well... can I come help you look, anyway?"

"Sorry, but you should probably stay with your partnerhe and the chief would both be furious if an emergency came up and you weren't available. Though I daresay that in a few days I'll be willing to risk anything to have some extra help." Tirrell stood up. "Tonio, you and I might as well head over to the university and see if that rock-mud data is finished yet. Good night; we'll probably check in with you next Nultday if not sooner."

Five minutes later Tirrell and Tonio had joined the stream of cars jamming Barona's streets... and Tonio finally let loose with the question Tirrell had known he would eventually ask. "You aren't really thinking about letting a bunch of Weylin's friends help hunt down Jarvis, are you?"

"Why not?" the detective asked with a straight face. "Don't you know a few preteens who'd be simply overjoyed to spend their whole weekend flying between conetrees out in the forest?"

"Maybe two or three at the mostand I wouldn't trust them to do the job right," Tonio snorted. "Maybe you think good righthands hatch in bogs"

"Oh, no, not at all," Tirrell hastened to assure him. "I know the screening you had to go through. So why does Weylin think he can dig up thirty qualified candidates just like that?"

"Because he's pompous and arrogant and thinks he can do anything," Tonio snapped back.

Tirrell glanced at his righthand with mild surprise; he hadn't realized Tonio felt that strongly about Weylin. "Arrogant he certainly is," he agreed. "But arrogant and very stupid? I don't think so. And I'm not positive, but I think this is the first time he's volunteered any kind of help at all on this case. I thought it was worth encouraging him a bit on it, just to keep our options open."

There was a short silence from the other seat. "You're sounding suspicious again," the preteen said. "You think Weylin's got something sinister in mind?"

"Oh, probably not. He's probably just offering the service of his hive's secret society or something, hoping they'll find Jarvis and make him look good. But..." He hunted for words, settled instead for a shrug. "Never mind. Let's just concentrate on getting that map put together and turn in early. Tomorrow's going to be a long day."

The facts of the matter did not take long to recite, but with the dryness in her mouth and tension in her throat, Lisa felt like she had talked for hours by the time she finished.

"I see," Gavra nodded from across the wide desk, her tone a flat neutral that was somehow more scary than disapproval or even anger would have beenand much harder to interpret. "You realize, I'm sure, that what you've done is... discouraged."

Lisa nodded, a quick bob of her head. "I know that now," she said. "I didn'tI mean, no one actually said" She clamped her lips hard against the excuses that wanted to come out. "I'm willing to accept whatever punishment I have coming to me," she said instead. "But please help me find out what's happened to Daryl."

Gavra pursed her lips, her eyes seemingly avoiding contact with Lisa's. "Where is the book you said you still have?"

"Up in my room. Under the dresser."

"Please go and get it. Bring it back in this," she added, rummaging in a drawer and coming up with a crumpled paper bag. "I don't want anyone to see it."

Silently, Lisa took the bag and left the office. The halls were largely desertedmost of the girls were either still at dinner or already down in the game roomsand she made the round trip in record time.

Gavra was still seated quietly behind her desk when Lisa again entered the office. Taking the book with a nod, the Senior glanced at the cover and then leafed through it. Lisa waited tensely in her own chair, almost afraid to breathe.

"You've read all of this?" Gavra asked at last, her voice cutting into the uncomfortable silence like blunt scissors. "And understood it?"

"Most of it," Lisa said, not knowing whether to feel pride or guilt. "There are a few words I didn't know, but I could guess at what they meant from how they were used."

"From context. That's called understanding from context. Did you keep up with the writing exercises, too?"

"Some. I was more interested in reading."

Gavra nodded and closed the book, placing it carefully in front of her. For a moment she stared at it, and then raised her eyes to Lisa's face. "First of all, Lisa, let me say that I'm very impressed by your achievement. There have been other kids and preteens who've tried to learn reading on their own, but as far as I know, no one else has ever made it to this level before."

"Thank you," Lisa managed, her heart pounding in her throat. Other preteens had done it... but she'd never even heard rumors about them. What had happened to them?

What's going to happen to me?

"But I'm afraid you're not going to get to brag to anyone about it," Gavra continued. "From now on you must consider your ability to read a complete and total secret. Total. If we find out you've told anyone at all, you'll face total loss of all your hive points and maybe further punishment as well. Do you understand?"

It took several heartbeats for that to sink in; and when it did, it was like flying into the cool of an unexpected cloudburst on a stifling July day. The relief that went rippling through Lisa's body was as intense as the fear it washed away, and it left her weak and even trembling slightly. "Oh, IGavra, Ioh, yes, I understand completely. I won't tell anyoneI promise. Ioh, Gavra, I was so afraid I would beyou know."

The barest hint of a smile flickered over Gavra's face. "I understand. But I'm serious about what'll happen if you tell anyone. Don't forget that."

"I won't. Thank you foroh!" Halfway to her feet, Lisa abruptly sat down again. "I almost forgotDaryl! Can you help me find him now?"

Gavra's face had turned to wood again. "I'm sorry, Lisa, but I think you'd better forget about Daryl, permanently."

The tension flooded back into Lisa's body with a suddenness that threatened to bring up her dinner. "What do you mean? What have they done to him?"

"There aren't specific rules against you getting books from a teen; but there are rules against him giving books to you," Gavra said grimly. "Daryl knew the rules and has to accept his proper punishment for breaking them."

"No!" The word burst from Lisa's lips like a small thunderclap as a hundred horrible images crowded into her mind. "No, they can't! It's my fault Daryl did itI'm the one who made him give me the books. They should punish me, not him!"

Gavra shook her head. "He knew the rules," she repeated. "In this world you have to take the responsibility for your actionsyour own actions, no one else's. You may have made the original suggestion, Lisa, but the decision he made was his own."

Lisa's breath felt like fire in her lungs. "What have they done to him?" she whispered. "Please tell me. I was his friend."

The Senior frowned. "Are you thinking...? Oh, good heavens, girlno, no, he's alive and perfectly well. How could you think otherwise?"

The reassuring words made no impression whatsoever on Lisa's panic. "Where is he? If he's all right, I should be able to see him."

"I'm afraid that can't be allowed. I'm sorry."

"Then what have they done to him?"

"Nothing, Lisa. Really. I promise."

Slowly, Lisa got to her feet, and for the first time in her life said to Gavra Norward, "I don't believe you."

Gavra said nothing; but the quiet pain in her eyes made Lisa feel even worse than she already did. But she forced herself to continue. "I don't know if you're lying to me or if someone else is lying to you first. But they told Daryl that Hari was all right, too, after he tried to kill himself." She moved toward the door.

"Where are you going?" Gavra asked.

"To find Daryl," Lisa said, her vision suddenly blurring. Angrily, she blinked back the tears, the effort making the soreness in her throat worse. "I have to know what thisthis punishment of his was."

"Lisa, he's all right. They just don't want you and Daryl to see each other again."

"I'll believe that when I see him." She focused on the doorknob, teeking it around

"Lisa. Wait."

The preteen hesitated at the command in Gavra's tone, torn between her frightening new spirit of rebellion and her instinctive respect for hive authority. Slowly, she turned back to face the Senior, letting her teekay grip on the knob dissolve. "What?"

"If you go charging off tonight or miss work tomorrow I'll have no choice but to report your actions to the police and... certain others. However"Gavra's eyes caught Lisa's with unexpected intensity"as long as you behave reasonably, your weekend time is your own, and I have no official control over your activities. You'll have a better chance if you wait until Saturday to do anything about this. Will you do that?"

Lisa stared at her, indecision churning her stomach. Every muscle in her body was screaming at her to start the search nowthe last thing she wanted was to sit around worrying for an extra day and a half. But even with her emotions riding high, the tiny core of common sense within her knew Gavra's suggestion made sense. If... "You're not going to warn them, are you?" she asked flatly.

Gavra shook her head, and Lisa realized it had all come down to a single, very simple, choice: would she or would she not trust the woman standing before her.

It was, strangely enough, a remarkably easy decision to make. For all Gavra's talk of punishment and official duties, Lisa could senseas she should have known all alongthat the Senior was on her side in this mess. "All right," she said at last. "Where would you suggest I start looking?"

"I don't know," Gavra said, her voice tinged with relief. "But you might begin with the intro schools in the nearest towns. All I know is that he's not in Barona anymore."

"All right." Lisa turned and finished teeking open the door. Halfway through the opening, she paused and looked back at Gavra. "Thank you," she said.

"Don't worry about him," the Senior advised her quietly. "Search as long as you like, but don't let panic drive you to do anything foolish. Other people aren't likely to be sympathetic as I am to what you're doing."

Lisa swallowed, thinking about her little invasion of Lee Intro. Does Gavra know about that? she wondered. "I'll be careful," she said. Teeking the door closed behind her, she left the office.

She spent the next two hours in one of the preteen girls' lounges, watching her thoughts spin in their painful circles and feeling her emotions burn down to an exhausted ache. Mercifully, none of her friends came by to talk... or perhaps something in her manner discouraged approach. When the lights-out warning sounded, she went immediately to her floor's bathroom, completing her bedtime preparations quickly enough to be out before the main crush arrived. Back in her room, she gave one-word answers to Sheelah's cheerful queries about her day until the other took the hint and shut up.

For a long time afterward she lay awake in the darkness, listening to Sheelah's steady breathing and watching the faint pattern of light the curtains allowed into the room. Finally, around one-thirty, she fell asleep.

Her dreams were not pleasant ones.

Chapter 14 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 16