The only thing harder than being a psychic is loving one.
— attributed to Ryland LeSarte, circa 4853 PD
5 Octem, 5249 PD
“Don’t let go. Please, don’t let go.” Her face was half buried against his chest, eyes squeezed shut. She was shaking from head to foot. It took a moment and what few shreds of awareness he still had to realize that he was the only thing keeping her upright.
He’d swallowed hard and held her tighter. He’d looked directly at Rachel. “We’re leaving. Now.”
She hadn’t argued. She’d nodded, in fact, giving tacit approval. No one had argued. Who would have wanted to? No one, especially after Alana had come in and seen what was going on. The cold rage contorting her expression had been enough to still any tongue.
He sat Lindsay down on the bed, crouched to take off her shoes. Lindsay sat there with the heels of her hands pressed against her eyes, shoulders shaking silently. The visions had stopped, but the memories of them hadn’t faded. She’d be having flashes of them for days, now.
“I want someone to have a look at you,” Brendan murmured, setting her shoes down near the bedside table. He straightened and took her hands gently, pulling them away from her eyes. They were bloodshot, red from crying silent tears.
Lindsay shook her head slowly, swallowing hard. “I’m fine, Brendan. There’s…there’s nothing anyone can do for any of this.”
He frowned and started to gently ease her back toward the pillows. She offered no resistance, slowly starting to curl into a ball the closer she got to horizontal.
“You don’t believe me.”
“No, I don’t.” He drew the covers up over her, leaning down and kissing her temple gently. His fingers lifted some hair away from her face. “But I’m not going to fight with you about it tonight. Get some sleep.”
“You’re not coming to bed?”
“Soon,” he soothed, running his fingers through her hair. “Your aunt wants to talk to me, I think.”
Lindsay bit her lip. “Tell her I’m sorry?”
“I think she already knows.” Brendan kissed her again and turned out the light. “Sweet dreams, Lin.”
“I hope so,” she whispered, tugging the blanket closer and closing her eyes. Brendan lingered a few minutes, until her breathing evened out and she dropped off to sleep. He sighed, watching her for a moment, then turned and made his way back into the living room.
Rachel Farragut eased back into the house from outside as Brendan sank down on the couch that faced the cold fireplace. Scrap composite logs stood stacked on the grate, ready for the first chill that would stimulate the need for burning them. Brendan stared at them for a long moment, then looked up toward Rachel.
Rachel smiled weakly at him. “Is she sleeping, then?”
He nodded and waved for her to sit, glancing toward the window that dominated the front wall. Alana was outside, hands shoved into the pockets of a thick sweater she’d gotten out of the skimmer, wandering across the front yard, down the gravel drive to the tree line and then back up again. He tried not to sigh. “Is she going to stay out there all night?” He wondered aloud, watching as she passed in front of the window on one peregrination.
Settling into an easy chair with her back to a corner, Rachel shrugged slightly. “Unless I can talk her into going home, more than likely.”
“I wish she wouldn’t.”
Rachel shook her head. “She’s worried, Brendan. Can you blame her?”
He tried not to sigh, slumping back against the cushions. “I guess not. There’s no reason to stay, though. She can’t help. This wasn’t an external attack. This…this was something that Lin’s abilities did to her. Not something Alana can protect her from.” He frowned. “There hasn’t been an attack on Lindsay ever. Why does she hang around so much?”
For a moment, Rachel looked uncomfortable, then stood abruptly. “Do you have any tea?”
Brendan blinked. That was random. Or just a hint I’m being a bad host and that she taught me better than that? “Yeah, we traded the Potters some tomatoes for some of Madeline’s black mix. Did you want some?”
He nodded a little and waved for her to sit back down, moving toward the kitchen to put some water on. “Sometimes I wish Lindsay could figure out how Madeline mixes it up. Be nice to not have to rely on them to have extra. We drink it more than water during the cold seasons.”
“You could always put up more cider.”
Brendan made a face. “Goes hard too fast, and when it goes hard we can’t drink it.” Trade it, sure, but not drink it, and if we’re putting it up like that, we’re meaning to drink it.
Rachel had followed him into the kitchen. She leaned in the doorway, watching him to take down the ceramic mugs from their hooks near the stove. “You seem to handle mulled wine all right.”
“We don’t drink that every night, either.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Lin was going to try to put together a new blend, but she’s been so exhausted lately, I haven’t asked how it was coming. I guess the increase in my patrols hasn’t helped that at all.”
“You feel guilty for that.”
“Of course I do,” he sighed. “I should be here more. To help.” To do a lot of things. But we’re shorthanded in flight operations, and if her visions are real and something’s coming, we need to be vigilant.
Rachel shook her head. “Brendan, you do your service to the colony the same as everybody else. You two are entitled to more than what you take.” She smiled at his surprised look. “You think I don’t keep track of these things? Someone’s got to, Brendan, and oft times it’s me.” She took the small teapot down from the shelf next to the refrigeration unit, the teapot she’d given them because it was Lindsay’s favorite growing up. “I know that you two don’t go hungry or anything, I’m just saying that you’re allowed to take more than you do.”
He shook his head a little, spooning some of the herbal tea mixture into a metal basket, latching it closed and dropping it into the pot, waiting for the water on the stove to come to a boil. “I don’t feel right doing it, Rachel. Don’t ask me why, I just…don’t. I’ve already been given so much just by being able to live, and to live here. It doesn’t feel right to take more than what’s already given.”
Rachel smiled wryly, shaking her head again. “And that’s why we usually have so much left at the end of the season every year.” She tousled his hair, the smile growing into a grin. “If you don’t do it for you, do it for my niece.”
He made a face. “She feels the same way.”
“All the more reason for you to do it and not tell her that you’ve done it, Brendan.”
His jaw fell open and he just stared at her a moment before snapping his mouth shut. “I can’t do that, Rachel. I can’t lie to her like that.”
“Learn,” Rachel suggested.
The kettle began to whistle on the stove. She reached past him to turn off the heat.
Brendan stared at her. “You want me to learn to lie to your niece? To my wife?”
“Sounds counter-intuitive, I know.” She smiled wryly. “Sometimes, we all need to be lied to, Brendan. That’s why she’ll never tell the Council what she saw today. By not telling them, she avoids lying to them, and a lie will be what they need, at least for a little while. They can’t handle the truth, not yet.”
Maybe not ever, not the whole truth. A shiver worked its way down his spine. “She’ll tell you and I, though.”
“I don’t think she’ll tell me all of it. The worst of them she’ll hold inside, or she’ll tell you about and no one else. Or she’ll bury them and try to forget, but she’ll never be able to. That’s how these things work, you know.” Rachel picked up the kettle and started to fill the teapot. “She won’t tell me what she saw, but you will.”
His stomach dropped. It was like coming down out of the sky without inertial dampening. He felt sick. “H-how did you know?”
“Because I was watching your eyes. You got this look when you grabbed her, and I knew. She had that same look her first time. She’d never shared them with you before, had she?”
He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “Not like that,” he murmured, leaning heavily against the countertop. “After the fact, yes—images and snippets she’d managed to freeze in her mind. I’d be able to see them if I looked, but it was hard. It was never…never like this. I just…I don’t know. I guess I figured her defenses were down and it was like…like touching a stripped cable. All the energy—all the images and sounds and feelings—just flooded into me.” He stared at Rachel. “Who else knows?”
“No one. No one else was looking at you. They were all looking at her. I was the only one watching you, Brendan. Watching your face, your eyes. You and I are the only ones who know you saw what she saw in those last few minutes before she snapped out of it.”
Brendan shuddered, groping blindly for a mug. “It was awful,” he whispered, staring at the floor without seeing it. He kept seeing flickers of Lindsay’s visions instead—fire and pain and destruction. “I don’t know how she does it. How she handles it.”
“By having you,” Rachel said softly, picking up the teapot and her own mug. She started to move back into the living room. Brendan followed more slowly, almost in a daze, falling onto the cushions of their wooden couch, cradling his empty mug in both hands.
“You want me to tell you what she—what I—saw, don’t you?”
Rachel smiled wryly, setting the teapot down on a folded towel on the table between them. “That was the idea, Brendan. You tell me what you saw when you touched her so it’s not a burden that you two are shouldering alone.”
He managed to laugh, the sound tinged with bitterness as he leaned forward, setting his mug down on the table and resting his elbows on his knees. “It wasn’t pleasant. Death was…well. Rampant.” He could see the steel-colored sky in his mind’s eye, the burning wastes, the streaks of fire raining down from the sky. And then the scene switched as abruptly as it had in Lindsay’s mind, like swapping from one video feed to another. It was some sort of medical facility, all shadows and clean and chrome…with blood, and pain. “I don’t know what it all means,” he admitted quietly. “I’m still trying to make sense of the jumble. Things kept switching so fast. Hard to keep track of what’s what.”
“Would it be easier to write it all down?”
“No.” The thought of writing it down turned his stomach. “No, I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, which I don’t.” He glanced toward their bedroom, where Lindsay was sleeping, and exhaled through his teeth. “I need to be with her tonight, Rachel. She’s going to need me.”
“I know,” the older woman said softly. For a moment, the lines around her eyes deepened in the shadows and she seemed tired, indeterminably old. She turned on a lamp, finally, rather than leaving both of them in the gathering dark. Outside, still pacing, Alana seemed unphased by the setting sun, though it was now sinking below the mountains behind the house. “What did you see, Brendan?”
“I saw war,” he whispered. “War’s coming. I don’t know if we can stop it this time.” He licked his lips. “I don’t know if we can win.”
Rachel filled his mug, eyes on him. “Brendan.” Her voice was quiet, but at the same time commanding—the same tone he’d heard time and again as a teenager adjusting to a new life on a new world, the tone that brooked no disrespect, no refusal. He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. She didn’t need to say more to get him to talk.
“It’s hard.” He couldn’t meet her gaze. “It’s hard to describe it. All I…all I want is to stop seeing it. The sky was gray, like raw iron just out of the asteroids. It felt…dead. The wind burned even though you couldn’t see the sun. Anything green was covered in ash. I could see fire raining down in the sky in the distance, like a meteor shower, but closer. Bigger. There must have been a city where I was standing, but there was nothing left. Flayed earth. Wreckage. Rubble. Hot and cold all at the same time.” I’m rambling. He scrubbed a hand roughly over his face and took a long swallow of tea, letting the liquid sear his throat and momentarily distract him from the images he’d seen.
“You’re trying to spare me the worst of it.” It wasn’t a question. He just nodded. Rachel shook her head. “Don’t, Brendan. You should know by now I’ve seen a lot worse things in forty years than whatever you and Lindsay saw. I was there when Mimir fell, remember? When the genocide began.”
He shuddered. That wasn’t something he wanted to think about, either. The pride in the voices of his brothers and sisters at arms during that time had been bad enough. Somewhere, deep down, even though the Corp had taught him that it was all right to hate the Psychean Guard—they were different, they were dangerous, they were too powerful to be allowed to live and congregate as they did—he’d always known what he was being taught was wrong. He didn’t know how he knew, just that he’d known. At least he’d been clever enough to hide it.
She patted his knee gently. “Don’t try to spare me, Brendan. Just tell me what you saw. Was it here?”
His mouth was dry. “I don’t know. I couldn’t tell, really. If it was, it wasn’t Nova Spexi…probably Danse Point, if it was here.” Danse Point stood on a promontory that faced the eastern shore of Oceania, two thousand miles and then some away across the water from Nova Spexi. It overlooked a massive natural harbor where most of the seagoing ships on E-557 were built. “I don’t think it was here,” he admitted quietly. “I think it was New Earth. Maybe Yurvicov. Was hard to tell. Everything was just…gone.” He swallowed. “I’ve seen what radiation does to people. That’s what the bodies looked like. And others…like melted glass.” He shivered, squeezing his eyes shut and rubbing them, hard. “One was more than half-cybered. The cybernetic parts…they were still trying to move. Whatever happened hadn’t fried the circuits completely. It…didn’t realize the rest of it was dead. Or maybe it wasn’t. I just…I don’t know.” He smiled weakly at Rachel. “I don’t know how she could stomach it. I wanted to puke.”
Rachel matched his smile, though hers was more sad than his. “She saw too much before I got her here. She’s not as innocent as most people seem to think she is, unfortunately.”
Brendan stared at her for a long moment, then looked away, back toward the window. “I saw a return of the Cullings, too.”
The temperature in the room felt like it dropped a few degrees. While they were called the Cullings, the movement of centuries past was so much more than that. The attack on Mimir had been considered a prelude to more Cullings—when psychics would be killed, or captured and then subjected to experimentation by scientists from various congloms, experimentation that even animals wouldn’t be subjected to. But a second round of the Cullings hadn’t come. Not yet. Not yet, but they were still coming, based on the vision Lindsay and Brendan had shared.
“There has to be something we can do,” he said quietly, watching Alana outside. She was standing in the middle of the yard, staring up at the rising moon. Abel, they called it. Brendan had asked why, once, and been told a story from one of the Books. It hadn’t made much sense, but then again, some of the Old Earth religions just didn’t—not to him, anyway. It had occurred to him, though, that some of the congloms back at New Earth could stand to read some of the so-called morality tales that came out of the Books.
“Was there anything else?”
Brendan shook his head slightly. “I caught…I caught the end of something when I first grabbed her. Landers splashing down off the coast, I think. But I couldn’t tell when it was happening. But it was off the coast here. That much I’m certain of. On Cape Royale, in the shallows. But that’s all.”
“Nothing to tell you what season it might have been, then?”
He shook his head. “Nothing. It could be tomorrow. It could be ten months or ten years from now. I just…don’t know. Maybe she saw more than I did, but I…” His voice trailed away. He gulped down some more tea. “I can’t ask her, Rachel. We can’t ask her. Not yet. Not so soon.”
Rachel’s expression hardened, though there was pain in her eyes. “She knows that’s her lot in life, Brendan. It’s the fate that chose her.”
“Give it a few days, Rachel. Please?” He looked at her with a pleading gaze, pressing his lips together. “Let her get a night’s rest without a nightmare about it. It’s going to be bad tonight. I already know it’s going to be bad. It’s going to take a lot out of both of us to get through it.” He glanced back toward the window. “She doesn’t need Alana hanging around tonight, either.”
Rachel leaned back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other. “That was abrupt. Don’t you mean that you don’t need Alana hanging around tonight?”
“When Alana’s mad at me—and she is tonight, and we both know that—she seethes. Lin can’t tune out her seething for some reason. I don’t have any explanations for it, either. For someone who keeps her thoughts held in so tightly, she sure feels loudly.”
“Mm.” Rachel glanced toward the window. Alana was moving again, walking another slow circle of the yard. “I’ll talk to her.” She grinned a little. “Maybe I’ll tell her that I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
Brendan snorted. “She won’t buy it, Rachel.”
“You never know, Brendan.” Rachel took a sip of tea, watching the moonrise. She was quiet for a few moments, clearly thinking, mulling over something. “You need to teach those kids like the war starts tomorrow.”
“My students?” He frowned, leaning back. “They’ll wonder why I’ve suddenly become such a bastard.” They’re not ready for a war. I don’t know if any of them could ever be ready for a war. That’s…that’s never been what we’ve expected here. We thought that the congloms would leave us alone. All these kids ever needed to know how to do was chase off a lander or two. He thought of Tomasi, so much more serious about her job than her fellows. They needed more like her, but he suspected there just weren’t enough on-planet, not like her. I’d give a lot to have a half dozen like her. I wonder how many kids couldn’t take the stress of waiting to find out if they could handle an implant walked away instead of sticking it out, living with the nerves for a few weeks. Maybe more of them would’ve been like the girl by the end of the ordeal. “Marshal Windsor will ask questions. I’m not sure I could come up with a good answer and not get Lindsay hauled back to the Council chambers for a repeat of today.” He set his jaw. “I’m not going to let a repeat of today happen, Rachel. And neither are you.”
She didn’t argue, just took a sip of tea. “I’ll deal with Adam.”
Did she just call Field Marshal Windsor Adam? Never in his career had Brendan ever heardWindsor referred to by his given name. The man was his uniform, and you couldn’t call him anything but ‘sir’ or ‘Marshal’ when he was in that uniform. It took a moment for him to get his bearings again, to work through the shock. “How?” He blurted.
She smiled wistfully, tilting her head toward Brendan. “Thirty years of friendship creates a bond, Brendan. I’ll deal with him the way only I can deal with him.”
Thirty years. That means… “You knew him on Mimir.” Rachel had grown up on Mimir, the now-dead home of the Psychean Guard. He’d known that Marshal Windsor had been from the world as well, but he’d never dreamed that they’d known each other. He’d never seen any sign of friendship, any warmth pass between them.
But the man is the uniform. Maybe it’s all image. He doesn’t want anyone to see the softer parts, if they actually exist. The vulnerable parts.
“I did.” Rachel drew one knee up against her chest, smiling wryly at Brendan. “You didn’t think that a nineteen year old girl escaped from that hell alone, did you?”
Brendan just stared at her. He knew which hell she was talking about—he’d heard stories, seen pictures of what the bombings on Mimir had been like. He knew Rachel had been there when it happened. “Is that why he ended up here, instead of staying in N-E space?”
Rachel smiled sadly. “Can’t a girl keep a few secrets, Brendan?”
He blushed, looking down into his mug. “Sorry, Rachel.”
“It’s all right.” She swallowed the last of her tea and set the mug down on the table, standing. She tousled his short-cropped black hair as she passed. “Try to get some sleep tonight, all right? Tomorrow you start teaching those kids about war.”
“Yeah,” he said softly. “G’night, Rachel.”
“Good night, Brendan.”
He watched her through the window, from the couch, as she walked outside and threw her arm around Alana’s shoulders. She started to draw the other woman down the drive, toward the trees and the winding roadway that led toward Rachel’s cottage and Alana’s bungalow. He watched them until they disappeared into the trees, then cleaned up, rinsed the teapot and the mugs and racked them. He checked to make sure everything was locked up and went to bed, finding Lindsay mercifully in the same position he left her in, fast asleep.
No dreams. Not yet. He got undressed and slid into bed with her, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her against his chest. She sighed in her sleep, relaxing a fraction more. He smiled and kissed her gently, then settled in. He had no confidence that they’d sleep through the night. After she had visions, they almost never did. At the same time, he still would never have chosen a different life. Not for a minute.