The six o'clock wake-up buzzer literally blasted Lisa out of bed, startling her enough to cause an involuntary half-meter teekay bounce into the air. Settling back to her tangled sheets, she rubbed her eyes and took a deep, ragged breath.
"You okay?" came a cautious voice from the other bed.
Lisa ran a tongue over her lips. Her pounding heart was beginning to recover from the shock now, but the headache throbbing in time with it was showing no signs of going away. Her stomach was oddly tender, and her entire body felt like it had been pulled repeatedly through a wringer. "I'm fine," she told Sheelah tiredly.
The other preteen was out of bed now, eyeing Lisa with a mixture of suspicion and concern. "Fine, huh? You look like something a Seven would haul in out of the rain and ask permission to keep. And you were tossing and moaning half the night. I think you're coming down with something. You want me to go call the nurse?"
"No, I'll be okay," Lisa insisted, teeking her clothes over from the chair where she'd laid them out the previous night. "I didn't sleep well; I'm just tired. Um... I didn't say anything when I was tossing around, did I?"
Sheelah frowned. "Nothing I could understand. But if you want to talk about it now, I'm game."
"Talk about what?" Lisa asked, heart starting to speed up again.
"Whatever's bothering you." Sheelah sat down crosslegged on her bed. "Either you're sick or else you've got one monster of a problem eating away at you. Come on—you want to tell me what it is?"
For a long moment Lisa was sorely tempted. She wanted to talk about it, certainly, and from past experience she knew Sheelah could be trusted with even the most personal of secrets. But Gavra's warning still echoed through her mind, and she knew it wouldn't be fair to Sheelah to get her involved in this, too. "Thanks," she told her roommate, "but this is something I have to work out for myself."
Sheelah's expression said she was unconvinced, but she nodded anyway. "Okay, it's up to you. But I'm available anytime you change your mind. And I still think you should go see the nurse."
"Right after breakfast," Lisa promised.
Surprisingly enough—at least to Lisa—she was feeling much better by the time breakfast was over. The food had helped both her headache and tender stomach, and the normal morning activities had eased the worst of the kinks out of her muscles. The hive nurse, as expected, found no evidence of any sickness, and a few minutes later she was flying with her work crew toward their current construction site.
Unfortunately, as her physical condition improved, she found her mind concentrating more and more on Daryl and the awesome task confronting her. Tigris was a horribly big world for them to hide a single teen in, and the more she considered that fact, the more hopeless it all seemed. I'm going to find him, she'd declared confidently to Gavra. Was the Senior even now chuckling at such foolishness? Her cheeks burned at the thought.
"Hey! Wait up!" a faint voice came through the roar of wind in her ears.
Startled, Lisa turned around to find her five girls lagging nearly ten meters behind her. Slowing down, she let them catch up.
"What's the hurry?" Beryl asked with the righteous indignation only a Nine could muster. "You trying for Miss Speed Demon of Three-oh-eight or something?"
"Sorry," Lisa mumbled. "I guess I wasn't paying attention."
"Good way to fly into a building," Beryl said, only partly mollified.
Gritting her teeth, Lisa flew on in silence, furious at herself for getting so wrapped up in her problems. It would be better once they got to work, she promised herself; as soon as she had something else demanding her attention, she would be able to push Daryl back into a corner of her mind for the rest of the day. At least she hoped she would be able to.
But it turned out not to be that easy. Standing on one of the bare fourteenth-floor girders of the new building as she directed her girls in lifting and placing new girders in position, she had a great deal of time where all she had to do was watch... and try as she might, she was unable to keep her mind on what was happening. Still, that was more annoying than dangerous. Her crew had been doing building work together for nearly five months now, and she could trust them to know what they were doing.
An hour later, that casual assumption was shattered.
It happened without the slightest warning, at least without any that penetrated Lisa's preoccupation. One moment the heavy girder was resting in midair between two uprights, Neoma and Rena hovering near its center as welders at each end blew clouds of sparks into the light breeze—and the next moment there was a yelp of pain as the heavy steel beam wrenched itself free and plummeted toward the ground.
Her mind busy with other things, it cost Lisa a fraction of a second to switch gears... and in that blank moment she did precisely the worst thing she could possibly have done. Instead of staying where she was and trying to teek from a solid footing, she jumped off and angled away from the building in an attempt to get a better view of the falling girder amid the array of steelwork below. It wasn't until she tried to teek the girder to a halt that she awoke to her blunder.
The girder was very near the weight limit of her teekay strength, and with its head start it had built up a great deal of speed. With her entire teekay focused on the girder, she might have been able to stop it; but while she was also holding up her own forty kilograms, there wasn't a chance in the world of her doing so.
She tried anyway, though, her mind working with abnormal speed as she tried frantically to figure out what to do. Rotation's easier than lifting, she thought, remembering the power station flywheels, and put part of her effort into turning the beam to the vertical. Should I let myself fall for a ways and try to at least soften its landing? But that would be a minor help at best, because no matter how fast it was going when it hit it would crush whatever was underneath it. Catching her lower lip between her teeth, Lisa bit down hard as she threw everything she had into the battle. Where the grack are the others? she wondered desperately, afraid to shift even a fraction of her attention away from the girder. Some of them would be busy with their own loads, but surely Neoma and Rena hadn't both been incapacitated by whatever had happened up there... had they? Oh, no—please no!
And then, barely fifteen meters above the ground, the girder's downward rush abruptly slowed. Within ten meters it had halted completely. Hardly daring to breathe, Lisa teeked it carefully to the side, moving it toward the spot where the rest of the girders were stacked. Only when it was safely down on its side did she look over to see Rena and Neoma—the latter clutching her hand—gazing intently down from their perch. Heaving a shuddering sigh of relief, she shifted her eyes to the ground where the girder would have landed. The half-dozen mugs lying by an overturned bench—and the six men drifting cautiously back to retrieve them—gave silent testimony to the tragedy that had almost happened.
And Lisa began to shake.
The doctor the foreman had summoned laid one final strip of tape in place and cocked her head slightly as she inspected her handiwork. "Okay, Neoma, that should do it," she said, nodding. "You'll need to have the Dayspring nurse change that dressing tonight after she puts more salve on the burn." Pulling a pen and small pad from her bag, she scribbled briefly on it. Lisa, looking surreptitiously over her shoulder, found the marks totally incomprehensible. "I want you to give this to the nurse or your Senior as soon as you get back home," the doctor continued, folding the sheet and handing it to the preteen. "It tells the kind of salve I used, and also the kind of pain pill I gave you."
"Okay." Neoma took the paper with her unbandaged hand and carefully put it in her pocket. Already her face was taking on an almost dreamy expression. "Can I go now?"
"Yes, but not by yourself. That medicine is very strong, and you shouldn't try to fly or do much teeking while you're taking it."
Neoma nodded, accepting that with unusual calmness. Glancing around the silent group of girls standing at Neoma's shoulder, Lisa gestured to Amadis. "Fly her home, will you, Amadis? Make sure she gets to Gavra and then come back here."
"Okay." Amadis stepped forward and took Neoma's arm. The doctor nodded, and together the two preteens headed into the sky.
"Well, if that's all, I'll be going," the doctor said, snapping shut her bag.
"Thanks for coming by," the foreman said, offering her his hand. "Just send the bill to the company; we'll work out any payment problems directly with Dayspring."
The doctor nodded and headed toward the site exit. Sensing perhaps that the excitement was over, the group of onlooking men also drifted away to return to their jobs, leaving the kids and the foreman alone.
"What did you mean by payment problems, Mr. Vassily?" Lisa asked him, a little suspiciously. "Neoma was doing just what she was supposed to when that spark hit her. You're not going to claim she was negligent, are you?"
Vassily waved a hand. "Oh, no, don't worry about that—the company'll pay her medical costs and the standard damage points, all right. I just didn't want the doc sending Dayspring a duplicate bill—they do that sometimes." He nodded to her. "How about you? Feeling any better now?"
"I'm fine," she said, caught a little off guard by the question. "Why shouldn't I be?"
"You were shaking pretty badly when Neoma and Rena came down," he told her, blue eyes gazing steadily into her face. "First big accident you've ever been this close to?"
Lisa felt her face turning hot. Had he noticed the boneheaded mistake she'd made up there? "I guess so," she admitted, hoping desperately he wouldn't say anything in front of the younger girls—the humiliation would be unbearable. "I've never seen people almost get killed before."
"But they didn't get hurt—don't forget that," he pointed out. "You girls got it stopped in time, and nothing even got damaged. Right? So take a deep breath and forget it, okay?"
Obediently, Lisa inhaled deeply. It didn't help; her stomach was still full of angry dragonmites. First the thing with Daryl, and now I almost kill someone, she thought morosely, her anger and shame beginning to give way to a gnawing fear. Everything's just falling apart around me. What's happening to me?
Vassily's voice cut into her thoughts. "Look, kid, you're not in any shape to go back up there right now. Take your crew home and come back after lunch if you feel up to it."
"No!" The word came out with a force that startled even Lisa. "I'll be fine. Let's get back to work."
Vassily shook his head. "Not till you've had a chance to get over this," he said bluntly. "Look, I've seen this sort of thing too many times. You go back up there now and you'll be so anxious to keep watching the load that, first thing you know, you'll make yourself stop blinking. Then, when your eyes dry out, they'll water so much you'll risk losing it. No, you go home and come back at one, and we'll see if you've calmed down enough then. I can have the welders catch up on the secondary struts."
Lisa dropped her eyes, a painful lump in her throat. "All right," she muttered. Gesturing to the others, she headed upward, wishing she were dead.
A bit of the setting sun cut through the tall conetrees in the distance, sending one final ray of brightness into the preteen girls' lounge. Closing her eyes against it, Lisa pretended she was melting into her chair and wished she could actually do so. It's the reverse Midas touch, she thought bitterly, remembering the story tapes she used to listen to. Everything I touch turns to garbage. She'd done who knew what to Daryl, was destroying her body with lack of sleep, and to top it off had nearly killed someone at work—and then had had to be sent home like an oversensitive Seven. The fact that the crew—minus Neoma, of course—had been able to return to the site and finish out the day's work was meaningless as far as Lisa was concerned. She'd been humiliated, and Mr. Vassily, her girls, and Gavra all knew it. Squeezing her eyelids tightly together, she wondered if she should seriously consider running away.
She opened her eyes, blinking away the tears that had collected there. The girl standing in front of her wasn't one whose name leapt to mind. "Yes?"
The girl—a Ten, probably, Lisa thought—gave her a tentative smile. "Hi. My name's Camila Paynter. You don't know me very well, but I've noticed you've seemed upset for the past week or so. I wondered if I could do anything to help."
Lisa shook her head, unreasonably annoyed that Camila had picked up on something she'd been trying to keep hidden. "Thanks, but I'll be all right."
Camila shrugged slightly. "Sometimes it helps just to talk about your problems, you know. Maybe with someone older and wiser than yourself."
Lisa snorted. "You?"
"Oh, no." Camila's eyes had taken on a serene, faraway look. "I'm talking about someone who has reached the heights Man was meant to reach. A man who has touched the truth and wisdom of the universe—and who loves us enough to share it."
Despite her black mood. Lisa found herself growing mildly interested. There was genuine conviction beneath Camila's words—an unusual trait in a Ten. "Sounds awfully impressive. How come I haven't heard of him before?
Camila smiled conspiratorially. "Because the other adults would kill him if they knew he was teaching us about the Truth after they rejected him. That's why we meet in secret and only talk about it to each other."
A memory clicked in Lisa's mind: Camila was one of those she'd seen sharing a hand signal in this same lounge the night she'd first decided to try and learn reading. "With hand signals and everything, I suppose, like any other secret club?" she sniffed.
Camila shrugged, not taking offense at the scorn in Lisa's tone. "The signal helps us identify each other when we're away from the temple site. But the Heirs of Truth is nothing like those silly clubs," she added. "Why don't you come with me tomorrow and see? Whatever's bothering you, I know the Prophet Omega can help you."
"I doubt it." Lisa hesitated, but there was something in Camila's voice that seemed to break down the barriers Lisa had built for herself. "Someone I know has disappeared," she said with cautious vagueness, "and I'm worried about what might have happened to him. He—"
"He?" Camila broke in sharply. "Is he a Five from Ridge Harbor?"
Lisa shrank back a little, startled by the intensity in the other's voice. "No—he's a teen who used to be here in Dayspring."
"Oh." Camila seemed disappointed, but before Lisa could ask about it she brightened again. "Well, look—I know for a fact that the Prophet Omega is very concerned about people who disappear. If you'll come with me tomorrow and tell him all about it, I'm sure he'll be able to help you."
Lisa sucked on her sore lip, torn by indecision. If she went with Camila, she would lose valuable time in her search for Daryl. But if this Prophet Omega really could help... "How could he find Daryl for me?" she asked Camila. "And where would we have to go to meet him?"
"Oh, he's got lots of ways to find things out," she said confidently. "And the temple site is only about sixty kilometers from here, up in the mountains." Shyly, she touched Lisa's hand. "Please come, Lisa. I know the Prophet can help you... and I think you could learn a great deal from him. About how the Truth in life and Transition can give you power."
Transition! Lisa felt a shiver run up her back. It was her fear of Transition, after all, that had pushed her into this whole mess in the first place. The Truth about Transition... and power over it? It was worth a try; the Prophet Omega could hardly foul things up more than Lisa had done already by herself.
"All right," she told Camila. "I'll come with you."