Every man and woman carries a weight within their hearts that is their singular burden to bear. Some of us carry our weights with more grace than others. It is written that the greatest amongst us carry their burdens heavily but never show the strain to the world.
— Preface to Rose: A Life by Harriet Cartman
15 Novem, 5249 PD
She lay curled awake in Brendan’s old bed at her aunt’s house, listening to the sounds of autumn beyond the walls and letting the comforting presence of four other minds in close proximity lull her into relaxation. With those other minds so close, it was easier to feel less alone, a little easier to be without him.
But it was still damned hard.
Her fingers bunched the cloth of her blankets. I hope he’s okay. Please let him be okay.
They hadn’t heard anything since their last check-in, before Brendan, Ezra, and Alana headed into Compact space to find her father. Days had gone by without word, without so much as a whisper.
Then, four days ago, pain like she’d never felt before, pain she hadn’t told anyone about—distant but familiar. She squeezed her eyes shut at the memory, holding in unshed tears of grief. It was him, but why did he hurt so much? And why can’t I feel him now? Was it just because the distances were too vast, or was there another, more sinister reason?
What if he’s dead and never coming home to me? What if that’s what happened? Bile crept up in her throat and she swallowed it back down again.
No. Ezra promised they’d all be okay. Uncle Adam promised. Everything will be fine.
Lindsay rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling for a few long moments, breathing deeply and trying to will herself to sleep. It wasn’t coming. Her mind was too awake, too worried. She sighed.
Nothing for it. She rolled out of bed and started to get dressed. Maybe a walk would do her some good.
She crept out of her room across the wooden floors, her shoes in one hand so she could slip out unnoticed. Halfway down the hall, she saw a dim light coming from the kitchen. Who’s still up at this hour? Biting her lip, she crept onward and eased into the slate-floored room. Frederick Rose sat at the kitchen table, a mug of tea by his elbow and one of her aunt’s books open in front of him. A wry smile tugged at the corner of his mouth at the sound of her tread, though he didn’t look up from his reading.
“You couldn’t sleep, either?”
Lindsay shook her head. “Not from lack of trying. I just keep worrying too much about things I can’t change, I guess.” She moved closer to the table. “What are you reading?”
He shook his head, traces of a smirk touching his lips. “Well, I’d started with my own biography, but when I realized I didn’t recognize myself, I switched over to one of your aunt’s books on Ryland LeSarte.”
That tea smells good. A kettle sat on the stove, still steaming. “She has a lot of those.” Lindsay fetched down a mug and began to make her own cup. “Which one is it?”
“Adamczak’s,” Frederick said, leaning back. “There’s quite a bit of writing in the margins of this copy, too. Handwriting that doesn’t look like Rachel’s though.”
“It wouldn’t,” Lindsay said, feeling her face flush slightly. “It’s mine. Adamczak’s one of my favorites, but I feel like he didn’t go far enough with his theories. There was a lot more going on for Farragut and LeSarte that he only scrapes the surface of.”
Lindsay leaned against the counter as she let her tea steep, swirling hot water around in her mug around the tea ball. “Adamczak theorized that exposure to not only LeSarte but the chemical weapons that the Compact was developing at the time might have been what sparked Sarah Farragut’s sudden increase in psychic abilities. The fact of the matter is, she didn’t exhibit any ability whatsoever before she met Ryland. I’ve seen the idea that she didn’t have any ability in the first place in one or two articles from a long time back—from shortly after they both died. I’m wondering if they’re right, that maybe Sarah Farragut’s psychic ability manifested because of a nascent bond she formed with Ryland LeSarte the first day they met.” She chewed her lower lip. “But that requires a belief that soul mates exist and a belief that bonds can be instantaneous and involuntary at the same time.”
“You sound like you believe they are,” Frederick said, leaning back in his chair and gazing thoughtfully at her. “Do you?”
“I don’t know. Part of me wants to.” She sank down into one of the kitchen chairs and stared at him, cradling her mug of tea between her palms. “And then the rest of me isn’t sure. Believing in soul mates and things that are meant to be means that some things are certain. I see things sometimes when I close my eyes and I want desperately to change them. If they’re certain, what am I supposed to do? Sit back and let them happen? Keep my mouth shut because there’s no way I can change what’s going to be? I can’t accept that—I can’t. Not at all.”
“And about soul mates? Bonds?”
Breath huffed out of her as she choked back a laugh. “That…yeah. I guess I do because I met mine and I married him.” She rested her chin on one hand, staring at the grain of the wooden tabletop. “Alana was going to kill him—Alana Chase. She used to be a commando here, one of our best. She’s ostensibly retired now and spends her retirement following me around like a shadow or a lost puppy.” Lindsay knuckled her eyes. Is that how I really feel about her? She’s actually more like an annoying, overprotective older sister. So why didn’t I just say that? She shook her head at herself. “Anyway, she was out in the surf with two squadrons when Brendan’s ship crashed here. She was about to shoot him when I yelled at her not to. I was on the skimmer with Aunt Rachel coming in to see what had happened.” Her throat knotted. “I saw Brendan laying there in the water and something in me just knew. I knew we were meant for each other. I don’t know if he did then, too, but I did.” She stared into the darkness of her tea. “I’ve always known.”
“That’s the curse of being the Oracle,” Frederick said softly, reaching over and letting his hand cover hers. His strong fingers squeezed tightly before relaxing. “I can only imagine the weight of your burden.”
“It’s no lighter than yours,” Lindsay said softly, lifting her gaze to meet his. “You knew who killed Mimir but you can’t remember anymore.”
Frederick shrugged and leaned back. “That’s true. I don’t think I would be much happier if I could remember, though. I would still be powerless to go back and change anything that happened to my world and it seems these days that there’s no way that the perpetrators would face any justice.” A smile ghosted across his lips. “So it hardly seems to matter. The only thing the knowledge would bring to any of us is pain.”
“So why dwell, right?”
“Precisely.” Frederick closed the book quietly. “You looked like you were about to go for a walk when you came in here before and found me. Were you still going to go?”
“After this cup of tea, yes, I think I am.” Lindsay took a long swallow from the mug, letting the hot liquid warm her to her core, staring to melt the ice inside that had been gathering in the face of Brendan’s absence. “I just need to clear my head. I can’t sleep, I just keep thinking about Brendan and how we haven’t heard from any of them in days. I’m worried.”
Frederick shot her a sympathetic smile. “I can understand that. Would you like some company?”
Lindsay hesitated, then smiled faintly and shook her head. “I wouldn’t say no to it. Are you going stir-crazy?”
“Just a little bit. I haven’t seen much of the world cooped up here or at Urgarthe for all these years. I think it’s time I see some of it, even if it is darker than the inside of a dog out there.”
“Well, I’d be delighted to be your late-night tour guide, then.” At least it’ll help get my mind off worrying. Maybe this is exactly what I need.
The enigmatic smile Frederick Rose shot her told her that somehow, he’d figured that out long before she’d ever realized it.
Lindsay smiled back and squeezed the older man’s hand. “Thank you.”
“You never have to thank me for anything, child.” He squeezed her fingers. “Drink your tea. I figure we’ve got an hour or two before my wife realizes I’m not in bed and starts working herself into a lather.”
Lindsay choked on a laugh and did as she was told.