My master would’ve been able to find another way, but so much of what he knew was lost. I wasn’t his best student, just the most determined. If any of the others survived, I haven’t heard.
Maybe with its demons, Lachion is the only thing that kept me safe all these years, out of Farwan’s reach. If they don’t understand it, they want to study it, and once they figure it out, they sell it. I’d rather face a caveful of Teras than a squad of gray men. At least with the monsters, I understand what drives them.
I wish I could say the same of my son. There’s no helping him, I think. I have to accept that and keep moving toward the goal.
Today, March wept like a baby in my arms, and that was the worst of it. A man like him would hate this worse than dying if he could see it through my eyes. I have to hope that pushing through the darkness will bring us both into light, or I’ll never be able to live with what I’ve done.
There’s so much darkness in him to navigate. Never saw any Psi who survived to maturity without learning to shield. For so many years, he’s been in other people’s heads, their dirt and dishonesty clinging to him so that he can’t get clean of it.
But now that there’s nothing left of him, I can pass through and repair that which is broken. I can help him become the man he should have been. It won’t be easy, but I won’t give up either; it’s too late for that. I’ve seen too much of what drove him on.
What my old master said is true: love can make us do dreadful things.
[Timestamp: 2:17, 154.56.980]
I fixed him. I wasn’t sure until I was put through an awful crucible. May Mary never test me so again.
Yesterday, I let him move around. We spoke instead of battled. There was no anger in him. He seemed calm, almost gentle. When I tested him mentally, I found his Psi abilities intact, but he appeared free of the taint.
The mind is like a world unto itself, built from oscillations of memory and shards of self. When someone is damaged, they need to be fixed. My old master would call it Psi-surgery. He’d also have beat me within an inch of my life for doing it free hand. But I managed it. I excised the darkness and reconnected the emotional links that make him human.
And it’s a damn good thing.
You see, Keri succeeded in seeing the prisoner today. She said she was working on her forms; but before her trainer realized she was gone, the little rat had slipped into March’s cell.
Changing the codes didn’t do me any good. The kid can’t stand secrets, and she has a way of ferreting out whatever she wants to know. The alarm sounded on my comm when she went in. I’ve never been so scared in all my life as when I ran to save her. The idea he had a hostage, an innocent who could be made to pay for what I’d done to him, made me sick. I couldn’t have run any faster from death itself.
By the time I got there, she’d undone his restraints. I froze in the doorway, watching. I knew I couldn’t let him suspect she was important to me. I raised my mental shields, vowing quietly to give him nothing.
“Who are you?”
The stupid girl smiled at him, all big eyes and elbows. “Keri. Who’re you?”
“Your grandmother’s prisoner.”
Well, I thought she’d shoot me herself.
Keri never did respect my authority. I expect she never will. She demanded to know what he’d done to deserve it, and I found it impossible to explain.
I looked him straight in the eye. “If I let you leave this room, will you swear yourself to me and mine?”
“I will.” There was no shadow in him. He actually smiled. Maybe he doesn’t remember the worst of it anymore. Mary knows, I tried to blur that part.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I think I did what was needful. He’s one of mine now.
At dawn, I stand before the window, looking out over the capital city. Constance sits quietly behind me; she’s a restful companion. We’ve come to the end of the references to March in Mair’s journals. I feel oddly as if I’ve passed straight through her soul and emerged on the other side, still me, but inexplicably altered as well.
Ithiss-Tor is a study in contrasts. Cities are built above-ground, but research facilities burrow deep into the ground, presumably to hide technological advances from prying eyes. Commerce and politics are the chief interests here, so I suppose it’s fitting that we’re about to combine the two.
I turn from the window and head for the bedroom, trying not to think about what I learned about March. Trying not to think about how much hell he’s already been through. What was it like for him after he left last night? Is he punishing himself, or is he just angry that I didn’t listen to his warnings? Right now I’m not sure if he has the capacity for remorse. His mind feels alien to me, full of rage and choked aggression.
Mentally, I try to shift gears. I need to think about the next meeting. Every day we move a little closer to signing the deal. Astonishingly enough, I’m doing well, impressing them with my regard for their customs. Ramona will be so pissed when I succeed. I won’t let myself think about the consequences of failure.
After a quick san-shower, I examine my reflection in the glass. The scars offer nothing new, but I’m going to have to do something about the marks forming on my neck. Basic cosmetics won’t be sufficient to cover them, and I don’t dare alter my costume at this juncture. The Ithtorians are accustomed to seeing me in the gold robe, and I’ll admit to a certain superstitious attachment. Things have gone so well thus far that I don’t want to jinx the success by switching my wardrobe. But that leaves me needing to do something with my neck.
Before I can rethink it, I pick up the comm and beep Vel. He answers on the third chime, and I say, “Did I wake you?”
“No, Sirantha. I have been awake for some hours. What can I do for you?”
Points to him for knowing I didn’t call him just to chat. “Could you come see me, please? We’ll talk about it then.”
“With pleasure.” He disconnects without further conversation.
Maybe I’m paranoid, but I don’t think this issue needs to be broadcast on the wireless. The Ithtorians could easily intercept and have it translated. I don’t want this getting out. Good or bad, what happens in my bedroom stays there.
Except for the time that private vid wound up on the midnight bounce, but I had nothing to do with the distribution. If I’d been sober, I wouldn’t even have let the guy record us. That was turns—and scars—ago, however.
Regular scans assure me my quarters are clean, at least, so I wait for Vel. It’s light enough now that we don’t need the artificial lamps. He’ll know how to handle this.
He arrives quickly, thank Mary, and I rise to greet him. I’ve internalized this movement; the wa has become second nature, but it gives him pause. Before speaking, he responds in kind.
I wish I could better read the precise angle of his head, the length he holds the pose. Thousands of meanings can be concealed in that gesture, but I’m a novice. It will take me turns to gain more than rudimentary proficiency. I can detect insults more easily than the layered meanings. After all, I focused my training there, so I’ll know if someone was offering sincere courtesy or false respect.
As he straightens, his mandible moves in some subtle meaning. “Your manners have become . . . exquisite, Sirantha. The shading you gave that wa . . . it was poetic.”
Surprise washes over me as I register the compliment. “Really? What did I say?”
“In the time after the broken sunrise, brown bird looks to white wave. The sky does not touch, all songs have ceased. It is far and lorn.”
“I said all that with my wa?” I ask, astonished.
He confirms with an inclination of his head. “Very . . . nuanced.”
“Ithtorian must be . . . such a beautiful language.” For the first time, I wish I had a mind capable of interpreting the sounds without a chip, matching them to images and symbols on my own.
“It can be. I gather this is a matter of some urgency?” he says quietly.
“Yes.” I show him my throat. “I need you to figure out a way to make this into a show of strength. I can’t show up with bruises forming on my neck. If I understand your people correctly, it will mark me as fragile, which weakens my bargaining position.”
Vel approaches me, tilting my head with one claw. “March did this?” His neutral tone reveals nothing.
“He didn’t mean to.” How disgusting. I sound like a woman defending the man who beats her. “He wasn’t in his right mind.”
“Nonetheless, all the face you have built up since arriving would be completely eradicated, if it were known that you allowed a male to damage your person. Here, it is the males who have their heads torn off by their mates. Occasionally, anyway.”
Did he just make a joke? It’s hard for me to tell. His humor tends to be so subtle and dry that if I blink, I miss it.
“So what do we do?”
He turns my face this way and that, examining the injury. “No structural damage, merely superficial discoloration.” I smile at the way he makes me sound like an old corrugated shed, discolored by exposure to the elements. “If we summon Doc to treat you, someone will report it. Likewise, if you go to the ship.”
I shrug. “He doesn’t have anything to make bruises magically disappear anyway. That hasn’t been high on our list of ailments to address . . . for obvious reasons.”
Vel drops his hand from me. “In this situation, there is only one thing we can do.”
“And that is?”
Refusing to explain, he leaves to gather supplies presumably related to his odd pronouncement. After his return, he begins by mixing the ink. The color turns a deep forest green, rich and dark. It even smells a bit like a wood after dark, pungent but fresh, and clean. I freeze when he produces the device with needles jutting from it.
“Are you sure this is a good idea? Are you sure this is even safe?”
“It will not harm you,” he assures me. “This process will merely produce a personal adornment I believe you call a tattoo. You can have it removed later if you prefer, but it is imperative that we cover this injury before the summit, and this is the only means that my people will find comprehensible.”
As he cleans the needles, I back up a step. “I could . . . wear a scarf.”
“Something wrapped about your throat would imply you felt threatened and saw the need to protect your vulnerable points. No, this is best. It will conceal your injury, and choosing green—the color of commerce—will be taken as a statement regarding your capacity to create prosperity. At the merchant summit, they will respect such a show of strength and confidence.”
Well, when you put it that way, it does sound impressive. I just wish it didn’t involve needles in my throat. But I said whatever it took, I’d make this happen, so I can’t back down now.
I have one final, perfunctory objection, even though I’ve made up my mind to accept the inevitable. “You don’t have to do the acid wash on my skin, do you?” I really don’t want that damaged any more than it already is.