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Chapter 31

Lisa had been expecting the summons to Gavra's office for two days, ever since her midnight return to the hive with the note the police had given her. Along with her other secret burdens, though, such anticipation was just one more bit of weight; and her dread was thus mixed with a certain amount of relief as she knocked on the Senior's office door and teeked it open.

Gavra was seated, as usual, behind her deskbut the unexpected sight of the room's other two occupants temporarily buried all of Lisa's fears beneath a Flood of delight. "Tonio!" she blurted. "Stan! I was afraid that something hadI mean, that you'd beenI mean"

She stopped, embarrassed by her outburst, but the others merely smiled. "We're all fine, Lisa," Tirrell assured her. "I'm sorrywe should have gotten word to you sooner that we were all right. But we've been very busy."

"I told you she'd be worried," Tonio murmured, grinning cheerfully.

"Sit down, Lisa," Gavra said, waving her to a chair next to Tonio's. "I'm afraid we have some unpleasant business to attend to, and Detective Tirrell has asked that we allow him to act as official witness to it."

Lisa nodded and sat down, her happiness at finding Tonio and Tirrell alive abating as she realized what Gavra had in mind. "May I ask Detective Tirrell a question first?" she asked, determined to hold off the hammer as long as possible.

Gavra nodded. "Go ahead."

Lisa turned to Tirrell. "Are Dr. Jarvis and Colin all right? And have you caught Weylin and the others yet?"

"Everyone's fine," the detective assured her. "Colin's a bit confused by all the fussapparently Jarvis convinced him he was on a vacation of sortsbut he's back in Ridge Harbor and doing fine. We picked up Weylin and all the others Martel had been using when they got tired of flying around the forest and returned to the temple site. Weylin's going to lose a lot of points for his attack on that policeman, and of course he's lost his righthand position. The others were just sent back to their hives with warnings. They'll probably lose some points for being out after lights-out, but nothing worse is likely to happen to them. When a fagin's involved, kids are usually treated more as victims than as criminals."

Gavra cleared her throat. "Unfortunately, Lisa, your case is considerably more serious," she said, looking unhappy. "Along with several smaller infractions of hive rules, you have deliberately violated my prohibition against telling anyone of your reading ability." She hesitated, and her eyes were moist. "I'm sorry, but I have no choice but to cancel all of your points."

Lisa swallowed painfully, feeling her breakfast churn in her stomach. She'd known this was coming, but it still hit her like a punch in the gut. All her points goneno possibility of any schooling past Basicmaybe not even that much. Her future effectively ruined... and all while just trying to help people. But I did save our lives, she told herself, thinking back to the cabin. Somehow, at the moment, it didn't feel like a fair trade.

"That seems a bit extreme," Tirrell said. "After all, she was a great deal of help to us."

Gavra shook her head tiredly. "I tried, Detective, I really did. But I have no choice. My own superior, the officials at Lee IntroI've even talked to the mayor's office to try to win her at least a reduction. No one's interested in sticking his neck out to even help me fight it. The point loss has already been recorded at the city buildingI don't know how they found outand there's absolutely nothing I can do." She looked at him hopefully. "Unless you can intercede...?"

Tirrell shook his head. "I don't have even temporary authority in Barona anymore," he said. "We're on our way back to Ridge Harbor right now. Tell me, how many points did Lisa have?"

Gavra frowned, and even through her misery Lisa heard something odd in the detective's voice. She looked at him, wondering, but his expression was perfectly calm. It wasn't until she noticed Tonio doing his best to stifle a grin that it began to dawn on her that perhaps their disinterest wasn't what it seemed.

"It was something just over forty-six hundred," Gavra told him, still frowning. "Forty-six forty, I believe."

"That's a lot of points," Tirrell commented, drawing a folded piece of paper and a pen from an inside coat pocket. "Tonio's got more than that, but he's got several months of righthand duty under his belt." Unfolding the paper, he laid it on the edge of Gavra's desk and wrote briefly on it. "As a matter of fact, I was the one who blew the whistle on Lisa. You see, she can only have her points taken away once and I wanted to make sure it was done before I brought this by." He offered Gavra the paper.

The Senior was looking thoroughly confused. "What is it?" she asked, taking it cautiously.

"Didn't you know?" Tirrell's straight face was gone, replaced by a satisfied, almost wicked smile. "Ridge Harbor's had a ten-thousand-bill reward posted for Yerik Martel's capture for nearly four years. With a half-dozen different relationships between bills and hive points in existence, I was able to get official permission to use my own judgment."

Gavra blinked hard, her eyes still moist but all the tension gone from her face. "Lisa... Detective Tirrell has authorized the addition of forty-seven hundred points to your hive record."

Lisa's throat felt dry. Forty-seven hundred points! Everything she'd lost, and a few extra. "I... thank you," she managed. "I... I don't know what to say."

"You don't need to say anything," Tirrell told her. "You've done a great deal for us, Lisa, though the world will never know it. A few hundred hive points is no more than you've earned."

A warm glow seemed to fill Lisa's body... but she nevertheless caught the extra meaning behind the words. "I understand," she nodded, and meant it. No one would ever learn about what had happened that weekend from her.

"Good." Tirrell stood up. "Well, I'd like to stay longer, but we're supposed to be back in Ridge Harbor by noon, so we'd better be going. Perhaps you can come visit sometime soon, Lisa; just drop in at the police station and someone there'll find us."

"And if you come before it gets too cold, I'll show you what flying over an ocean is like," Tonio added, his manner an odd mixture of shyness and daring.

"I'd like that," she smiled. "I've never flown near the ocean before."

"Good," Tirrell said. "Then we'll see you soon. Good-bye, Ms. Norward, and thanks for everything."

"I was glad to help. Good-bye, Detective; Tonio.

They left. For a moment the room was silent, and then Gavra stirred in her chair. "Well, Lisa," she said, "I guess that about ends it."

Lisa nodded. "Should I go on out to the construction site?" she asked. "I could take over from Kaarin and let her come back here. Unless I'm still on probation, that is."

Gavra smiled and waved the suggestion away. "Tomorrow's soon enough to get back to work. Take the day off and relaxI get the feeling you've more than earned it. And whatever you've promised Detective Tirrell to keep secret, for heaven's sake make sure you do it this time."

Words that could have hurt... but spoken with a concern that kept them from doing so. "I will," Lisa smiled back.

Though it might be nice, she thought as she left the office, to know exactly what it was she was keeping quiet about. Perhaps on Saturday she would take the others up on their invitation and fly over to Ridge Harbor for a long talk. And after she got the complete story of what had happened at the refinery, perhaps she would take Tonio up on his offer of a guided tour of the seacoast and ocean.

And after that, there might be time for a quick side trip up to Cavendish... where Daryl was.

"So you're going to let Jarvis keep on with his experiment," Tonio said as they pulled away from the curb and headed down the street.

"You disapprove?" Tirrell asked.

Tonio shrugged. "I don't like the idea of him putting stuff into Colin without knowing what it'll do."

"If it hasn't hurt him so far, chances are it's safe enough. And if it's not... well, it's probably too late already. But I think it's a risk worth taking, given how things have turned out."

Tonio glanced at the detective. "You're really determined to wipe out all the fagins, aren't you?"

Tirrell grimaced. "It's that obvious, huh?"

"You practically lit up when Jarvis suggested his formula would do that."

Tirrell was silent for a long moment, long enough for Tonio to wonder if he shouldn't have put it quite so strongly. "I've never told you this before," the detective said at last, "but perhaps you ought to know. I nearly became a fagin's kid myself when I was eight."

"You?" Tonio stared at him.

"Me," Tirrell admitted. "Brace and IBrace was my roommatewe'd already been through all the movies and games Eights were allowed and were looking for something else to do. And when he ran into a smooth-talking fagin..." He shrugged. "The promises sounded awfully convincing, even though I could sense that something was wrong with the whole setup. It took me two days to decide not to join in. But Brace did... and I never tried hard enough to talk him out of it. He deserted the hive and worked as a thief and smuggler until Transition, when the fagin threw him out.

He paused. Tonio waited, afraid to break the silence.

"There was a big official debate as to what to do with him, and even though he was eventually allowed Basic the whole thing made him pretty bitter. He quit school twice, got into trouble fighting with the other teens, and was eventually ordered out. He drifted through several low-skill jobs, but his record kept tripping him up, and he slipped into various petty criminal activities. Eventually... he became a fagin himself."

Tonio had sort of guessed where Tirrell's story was leading, but it still sent a shiver up his back. "It doesn't make sense," he said, shaking his head. "He, of all people, should have understood what he was doing to his kids."

"It doesn't seem to work that way," Tirrell said with more than a touch of bitterness. "Along with all the other traumas of Transition, kids like that wind up feeling rejected by both their fagins and by society, and that's a pretty hard load to carry. Most of them hang on and eventually manage to fit in reasonably well, but others spend the rest of their lives tryingat least subconsciouslyto get back in their fagin's good graces."

"By becoming the same kind of people he was?"

"And by proving they're as good at it as he is." Tirrell sighed. "It's a weird, self-destructive pattern, Tonio, but no less strong for all of that. Martel was a fagin's kid, too, and you saw how calmly he was trying to pass the poison on to someone else."

"Like Lisa," Tonio murmured. "It could have been her."

"And except for the grace of God and circumstance, it could have been you," Tirrell said gently. "You and Lisa both found other interests when the hive's entertainments got dullher with reading, you by applying to be a righthand. But either of you could just as easily have gone the other way. You see now why I think it's worth the risks to let Jarvis continue his work?"

"Yeah." Tonio stared out the window for a long time. "I guess maybe it's a good thing then that I wasn't able to get out of that furnace," he said at last. He wasn't really sure he wanted to say this, but the memory of what he'd been halfway planning to do in that darkened refinerywhat he'd thought Tirrell wanted him to do therewas proving to be as uncomfortable a burden as a sore tooth. "If I'd had the chance, I might have tried to make sure" Jarvis got killed, his mind prompted. But the three words remained stuck on his tongue.

"It certainly is a good thing," Tirrell nodded. "You'd have come out smack into that cyanide. I'd say the angel who protects policemen and other idiots was working overtime that night."

Tonio opened his mouth to explain that that wasn't what he meant at all... and suddenly he realized that Tirrell had understood him perfectly, and that his apparent misinterpretation was his way of saying that everything was all right and that the issue was closed. "Thanks," he murmured.

"No problem." Tirrell glanced at him. "By the way, I know how hard this case has been on you. If you want to resign as my righthand, I'll certainly understand."

"No, I'll finish out my year." He grinned. "Remember, I went into this for excitement in the first place. But... I'm not sure I'll want to stick with police work after school. There are parts of it I'm not sure I like."

Tirrell shrugged. "You'll find you have to make deals and compromises in practically any profession you go into. But it's your decision, of course. There are certainly other good fields to go into."

"Big of you to notice."

Tirrell chuckled and fell silent, and Tonio settled himself for the long drive ahead, wondering at the uneasiness still nagging at him. Everything seemed to have come out okay... but he still didn't like what was being done to Colin. Even with Tirrell's assurances it didn't seem either safe or right to be experimenting with a real live kid. But until he hit Transition and could start learning things on his own, he was just going to be stuck accepting adults' words on such things.

Unless...

A strange thought, at least for himbut Lisa would be visiting Ridge Harbor soon. Perhaps, if he could get up the nerve, he would ask her to teach him reading.

It was worth thinking about, anyway.


Chapter 30 | A Coming Of Age |



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