Okay, so maybe it’s not as late as I thought it was going to be. I actually hit a decent, suspenseful stopping place.
On to the chapter.
Bring to me the Gifted you have forsaken, the Lost Ones you have rendered broken, those poor souls who you fear because of what they can see behind your eyes. Give to me the Children of Delphi, of Akashwani, of Chilanes, Awka, Arochukwu. Send to me the Get of the Runesisters and the Kuten. I will take the sons of Psyche and the daughters of Mimir and make them my own. We are blood, bone, spirit, soul. We are many, we are One. We are knowledge. We are the Guard.
— Annals of the Psychean Guard, 5th Edition, c. 4530 PD
15 Novem, 5249 PD
The night was chill and clear, stars and a sliver of a silver moon lighting the world outside. They crept out into that darkness from the warmth of the house through the back door, the one that led out to the garden. Lindsay paused a few steps away from the step-down to wait for Frederick, who slid out with more flexibility than she expected and pulled the door silently shut behind him.
He gave her a conspiratorial smile. “I feel like a teenager again,” he said as they moved past Rachel’s garden and out into the grass beyond it. “Sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and all.”
Lindsay choked back a laugh. “Was that what it was like on Mimir? I don’t think I ever had to actually sneak out.” Unless I didn’t want Alana to know Brendan and I were going somewhere, but usually if we told Aunt Rachel she found a way to distract ‘lana.
Frederick nodded, his face ghostly in the starlight. “Yes. Parents still tried to keep their children safe, their teenagers out of trouble, and hoped their adult children would find happiness on whatever path they chose. But until the day we became adults, we were all watched like hawks.” He smiled faintly. “Is it not like that as much here?”
She shook her head. “Not really. I think in some ways we grow up faster, become responsible more quickly. Brendan’s been training pilots for years. Most of his students aren’t even twenty and a lot are much younger. It’s not like Chinasia or the Compact, of course, but we get started early. Earlier than Mimir, anyway, if I’m to believe what I’ve been told.” She shoved her hands into the pockets of her light jacket. “Was civil service really compulsory?”
“Two years of it, unless you gave your services to charities or the Commonwealth itself.” The corner of Frederick’s mouth twitched. “My civil service turned into my career.”
“With the Inspector General’s office.”
“Would you really have left after the Mimir investigation?” After Mimir fell, it seemed like you wanted to, in that vision I had of you and my father, when he told you to go.
His gaze focused on the trees, like ink and shadow against the night sky as they wandered down a wide trail that wended its way toward town. “I thought I would have,” he said after a long silence, their shoes crunching on fallen pine needles and twigs, crushed seeds and leaves. “I was angry. I had just lost my homeworld and the Commonwealth hadn’t stopped it. Sephora—someone I trained back in those days—told me I was being an idiot. How was the Commonwealth supposed to stop something they didn’t know what about to happen? I told her that I wasn’t convinced that was the case. She told me that if I was so damned sure the Commonwealth could have stopped it, I should be the one to figure it all out.
“I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted, though, so I went to Mimir. I found your father and begged him to let me help. He turned me away. This was months after the initial bombing, while the fighting was still going on, while it was a free-for-all. Every conglom was scrabbling for a piece of what was left there, Idesali and the Compact most of all. He told me to get the hell out of there, that I was the only one who had a prayer of figuring out who killed our world. So I left. I went back to New Earth, to my job.
“I walked right into my boss’s office and said I was volunteering to investigate the bombings on Mimir. I told him that if we didn’t investigate the bombings, whether or not the fighting was still going on or not, whether it was safe or not, we would be remiss if we didn’t begin our investigation. We’d already been waiting for too long, letting politics stand in the way of the truth. He told me I was right. He assigned me to the task that very day.” Frederick shook his head slightly. “I half regret it now.”
Half regret it? Because of what happened? “Only half?”
He chuckled softly. “Only half. It was necessary, what I did. It doesn’t seem like it did much in the long run for the Commonwealth, though.” He shook his head slightly. “But it bought years.” He glanced at her and smiled. “And now I’m an old man walking in the woods with the daughter of old friends that I never thought I’d see again.”
She swallowed hard against the lump that rose in their throat. “Brendan and Ezra and Alana will bring them home.” They’ll bring themselves home. In one piece, I hope, but something… Her lips thinned and she shivered in the evening chill.
“Aye,” Frederick said softly, then took her hand and squeezed. “I’ve only met Dr. Grace, but I imagine all three of them are made of pretty stern stuff.”
They stepped out of the woods and onto one of the quiet, winding paths into Nova Spexi proper. Lindsay could feel the quiet weight of sleeping minds spread out before them. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Are you all right?” Frederick asked.
Lindsay smiled and nodded. “I’m fine. It’s just that there’s a reason that Brendan and I live so far out of town.”
“Ah. One of those?”
Lindsay nodded again. On Mimir, they’d called children like her Geists, psychics whose sensitivity was so high, their talents so strong that they were barely able to be controlled. Many on Mimir had to control their abilities with drugs. Here, on E-557, that hadn’t been necessary, though it had been a near thing.
If I didn’t have Brendan, I don’t know what I’d have done. Having him near did seem to make the load lighter sometimes.
“You handle it well.”
“Thank you.” She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Well, I guess this is where the tour begins. This is Nova Spexi, the administrative heart of the colony, such as it is. We’ve got other settlements that I’m sure you know about—Fort Solace and the like. Nova Spexi’s not that big, but it covers a pretty wide area because of all the green space. Ezra’s clinic is that way about a quarter mile, backing up to the woods. He says being on the edge of town with all the natural beauty around helps some of his patients cope. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I suppose it could be.” Lindsay gestured toward the roadway as they stepped onto it from the footpath, the cobbles smooth under their feet. “This is Main. It runs straight through town to the square and then beyond it to the sea. It was out in those shallows where Chinasia tried to invade almost thirteen years ago. Most of the wreckage has been cleared away now, or swept into the deep water, but you can still see bits and pieces in a few places.”
“And that’s when your Brendan came here.”
Lindsay nodded. “He’s the only one that survived. He was piloting one of three dropships that came down filled with shock troops. They came apart in the atmosphere and things just got worse from there. Brendan was lucky to live.” For a lot of reasons. “That wasn’t the last attempt one of the congloms made at invading this place, but was the most significant one.” She tucked her hands back into her pockets, the chill nibbling at her fingertips. “I don’t understand it. How can we be that big of a threat to them? We just want to be left alone.”
“People fear what they don’t understand,” Frederick said softly. “That’s why they feared the Psychean Guard and it’s not a secret that most of the Guard’s survivors came here when Mimir died. It’s not safe to be a psychic anywhere else—I’m not saying it’s entirely safe to be one here, either, because I honestly wouldn’t know, but at least here people don’t automatically assume that you’re some kind of freak of nature, an aberration that needs to be sterilized or destroyed.”
A shiver shot down Lindsay’s spine and she nodded, lips pressed tightly together as her stomach did some sort of backflip. “Is it all as awful as I’ve always been told? Truly?”
“Worse,” Frederick said, pain and mourning in his voice. “Worse, and I’ve seen it for myself.”
She shivered again and swallowed hard. “I suppose I can understand why so many ran in the early days. I was always taught it was bad, read reports, all of that, but I’ve never really known. It’s not something someone can describe to you in words, is it? It’s something that has to be seen, experienced.” Like what I saw in those visions. Like what Brendan saw once or twice when he was young, when he saw things that weren’t meant for his eyes. Like that one glimpse I had of what Alana had seen before she came to us, before she became one of us.
“Indeed,” he said. “Mimir was a haven, then. The Guard and the Foundation were the only congloms where psychics were celebrated. A few were accepting, had protections in place, but most…most feared them at best, hated at worst.”
Thunder rolled in the distance. Lindsay glanced up toward the cloudless sky and frowned. “What was that?”
“Out of a clear sky?” Lindsay half turned, brows knitting.
A strange glimmer of light, almost like a falling star, caught in the corner of her eye. She spun toward it, trying to track it.
She lost sight of the first, but another came in its wake. Then another, and still another.
What in god’s name…?
“Are you seeing this, too?” she breathed.
“Aye,” Frederick said, squinting into the night. “I wasn’t aware that we’d be having a meteor shower tonight.”
The screams began. She stumbled back a step, into Frederick, who stumbled sideways, crashing down to one knee. She sat down hard next to him, gasping in ragged breaths.
“Can’t you hear them?” she asked in horrified whisper.
“Hear what, lass?”
Frederick’s eyes widened and he grasped the young woman’s shoulder in a grip that belied his apparent frailty. “No one here is screaming. All’s quiet.”
“They must be up there.” Lindsay turned her eyes to the sky in time to see a brighter blur of light falling through the sky, plummeting down from the heavens.
The bottom dropped out of her stomach.
That’s a ship. There are children aboard.
And they’re screaming and no one can save them from crashing to the earth.
She wanted to vomit. Instead she lurched to her feet.
“Go back to the house,” she snapped at Frederick. “Wake Uncle Adam. Tell him I’ll need help down below the cliffs north of the city.”
“What are you—”
“Someone has to help them! Tell Uncle Adam to find me.”
She launched herself to her feet and sprinted toward the far side of town, her stomach sour and her gaze on the flaming ball that would hit just beyond the city, at the bottom of the seaside cliffs.
They’re refugees, like me, and they’re screaming. Oh god, they’re screaming. She tried to force the mental cacophony that left her head ringing aside so she could think.
Focus, damn you! Focus!
She threw her consciousness toward Kara Grace-Forester’s home, feeling her longtime friend asleep. Giving the other woman a mental slap, she tried to urge the Consul awake before she sped onward, toward the cliffs she’d climbed as a child.
The ship was coming apart as it came down. Everything felt like it was in slow motion. Lindsay watched as bits and pieces of the vessel peeled away even as it hurtled downward.
Please. Please let them live. Please.
The ship hit with a thundering crash and brilliant flash of light.
Searing pain shot through the Oracle. She screamed with the voices in her head.
Then she ran on, heart in her throat, knowing deep inside that for the children inside that crashed ship, she was the only hope.