Vivian threw Isaiah out of the bus.
He woke with a jerk, his thoughts in a muddle. A dream, of course. In fact, the dream was part of the muddle he was just now leaving.
The bus was flying about fifteen meters above the ground. Doug probably thought this was terribly low, but it was still high enough to make Isaiah uneasy. He had put himself in a light trance and deliberately dozed off, to skip as much of the trip as he could. Just now, he had been dreaming about Vivian. Then the bus had dipped, following the surface down into a broad gully. Vivian's image and the falling sensation had tangled, ending his doze with that snap of nightmare.
He reached further back into his mind and examined the dream-memory. Vivian looking him up and down, poking and peeking like a doctor. She had medical training, he somehow knew. Her manner had been suspicious, resentful, but the examination was just ending with an air of grudging satisfaction when the bus dropped and woke him. What had she been looking for?
He dipped into his memory again. Ah, of course! The dream held a detailed memory of his offer to be mind-read, back at the bus station. But this time the memory was tinged with a strong impression of Vivian looking over his shoulder. In fact, that impression still lingered. And now it switched off, as sharply as a circuit opening.
He looked across the aisle, to Vivian's seat. She glanced at him and gave a tiny nod, then looked vacantly into space. With any luck, she was spreading the word to her team-mates, telepathically, that she had examined Isaiah's intentions and found them honorable. Good. Maybe now she could feel safe.
Isaiah had gauged the moods of the quintet carefully for the first hour of the ride. FX dropped his resentment quickly; it seemed a pose he had copied from Vivian, hoping to use it to drive Isaiah away. When that failed, his voice held an overlay of sigh, his gestures carried a hint of shrug, showing his resignation. Canorus appeared to put Isaiah on a mental check-list and then ignore him. Borne, seated next to Isaiah, had simply dismissed the whole conflict from his mind and accepted Isaiah as a local guide. Daima remained enigmatic. Only Vivian kept on hating him. It galled her, he thought, to be out-maneuvered or manipulated.
Now she had re-established her edge. Fine.
The bus glided along the gully, still fifteen meters above the ground. The gully was a river valley, walled with sandstone, floored with gravel and sand, following the twisting course carved by the river, which ran below the bus, a wide road of water. The bus flew around one last curve and Gilead itself came into view.
"It's so small!" Borne remarked. Here the river valley suddenly deepened and widened. Beyond lay a single crest, and then the Noah Sea. A hundred years ago, the valley had contained nothing but sand, dust, and mud. Now, it was full of grass, orchards, grain fields, and vegetable gardens. The town proper lay at the back of the valley, near a short rapids and, at the moment, directly before the bus. There were two large buildings and several dozen smaller ones.
"The big rambling one is the Thomasine monastery," Isaiah told Borne. "The compact one is the city hall. Also the academy, the clinic, the rec hall, the storehouse, the hydro-electric plant, and the bicycle and power-tool shop, all in one. It was the first building they built. When they could, they started expanding, the Thomasines into their monastery, the Glossalalians into separate family homes."
The bus descended, then glided down the river toward the town hall, slowing. It turned off the river at a fording and slid up a dirt road, coming to rest before the town hall. Isaiah and party were the only ones getting off.
The driver got out and opened a cargo door at the back of the bus, hauling out several crates. Isaiah helped and, after a few moments, so did his five new companions. Several other crates and four racks totaling twenty bicycles were then loaded on. The driver thanked them and turned to do paperwork with a young woman in work clothes. Isaiah led the way back down the street.
"Open psi," Daima remarked. "I did expect it psilence, like the big one, Horeb."
"Too expensive," Isaiah answered. "But I think all the Glossalalians have house psilencers."
"Classically colonial, the houses," FX remarked. "Like Bagshot Row."
The street did look like something from Tolkien's Shire. Each house was a low, grassy, flower-strewn mound. The Carmelite refugees had had only rock and dirt to build with, but, like any starfarers, had had no lack of energy to cut and dig and vitrify.
"Where are we going?" Canrous asked. "The cops?"
"There are no cops here. We're going to the monastery. It's down that side-path to the left."
"And why the monastery?"
"To see the abbess. As I said, she'll be the most sympathetic of the town leaders."
"And you just happen to know her," the Melior remarked.
"No need to be suspicious. It's not a coincidence. The Resurrection Soldiers make it their business to keep contact up with small, vulnerable settlements like this. I'm fairly high up in the local Soliders; I've had a hundred years; and we've a small population. So of course I know all the leaders in all the towns. I'd have had to try hard to avoid it."
They were watched by several chickens and sheep, a handful of curious pedestrians, and a trio of children in homespun smocks. Isaiah waved to the children, who waved back, then resumed some game that involved rolling down the side of a house-mound.
"Three kids in a town this small?" Borne wondered.
"Seven, actually," Isaiah told him. "There have been – let me think – an even twenty births here since we settled. That sounds like a lot, but there were eighteen deaths, so it works out to a slow increase."
"Most of the plants look Terran," Vivian said. "I see a few ornamentals from Helene and Centauri. Any native species?"
"I suppose, but you'd need a microscope to see them. No Carmelite life is very big, unless you count some of the algae mats in the seas. There's the monastery. A little less Shire-like."
It was built of pale stone, trimmed with lawn and flowers. A chiseled cross stood above an archway to a courtyard, flanked by bas reliefs of Saints Thomas and James. They entered but found no one about. There was a bell by the archway, but no one answered it.
"I guess they're all at work," Isaiah said.
"So what's the next step?" asked Canorus.
"Wait for the abbess. Meanwhile, let's try to gather more information. What Borne's sister did, and what they've done with her. What did she do to get into trouble? Do you know?" he asked Borne.
"Yeah. She was just helping! She came here as a tourist, and stayed with a family in a rented room."
"She's a very unassuming tourist," Isaiah remarked. "There's not much entertainment on Carmel, and even less in Gilead."
Borne shrugged. "That's what I thought. Well, the family has a kid, and she saw he had some stress-related problems. So she was helping him, but–"
"Partly. The kid liked it well enough, but I guess he said something to his folks about it. The next thing she knows, the parents and some local official burst in and start an argument, or more like a three-part curse-out. Then the official hauls her away and locks her up. All in psilence. That was a week ago. She hasn't seen anyone since, except the official. He comes in daily to feed her and do rituals."
"Rituals?" echoed Isaiah. "What kind of rituals?" Borne only shrugged. "Where did he imprison her?"
"I don't know. She was only able to contact me in short bursts."
"Well– Well, yes."
What was Borne's problem? Isaiah wondered. "How does she get around the psilence?" he asked.
"I– I'm not sure. Maybe there's a gap in the field. Maybe her room is at the edge of the field." Isaiah did not have to run truth-seeing to know this was a lie, but he let it go.
"Who imprisoned her? Was it Joel Steves?"
Borne looked faintly amazed, as if Isaiah were the psychic. "Yes, how did you know?"
"He's the town clerk. As I said, I've met every official on Carmel. Steves is particularly loud about being anti-psi and always struck me as pushy. So he was my first guess." Isaiah rang the bell again and waited.
When no one came, he said, "How about this?– I'll go to the town hall and try to find some information. You folk stay here and, if anyone shows up, ask to see the abbess. Her name is Eva Dumaine. Tell them I sent you. Try to be truthful, even if you can't be candid."
They agreed to this. Isaiah retraced his route back to the town hall. As he walked, he considered his next step. He had no authority in Gilead. First, each little settlement on Carmel was sovereign over its internal affairs; although Horeb was the capital, it only controlled inter-settlement and off-planet affairs. Second, the Resurrection Soldiers were in no sense a branch of the planetary government; they were just one of the dozen or so denominations represented among the refugees.
But the Soldiers had made it their business to go to and fro in this world and up and down in it, as on many another, helping and finding help. They were officially welcome in every settlement. Also, they got along famously with the Thomasines, and Isaiah in particular was on friendly acquaintance with Abbess Eva in particular. But until some Thomasines showed up, he would have to trade on his personal and denominational reputation. He sent up a brief prayer for inspiration and stage presence.
The bus had left. The town hall seemed as deserted as the monastery. He made his way to a pale-lit cell that contained the records office. The room was filled with pigeon-hole desks and filing cabinets. A single computer, a small laptop, sat on one desk. No one was in.
As he sat down at the keyboard, Isaiah reflected on how easy espionage was in a small, isolated town like this. The computer gave no trouble at all; its intelligence resembled Matthew's as much as a sea-squirt's resembled Isaiah's, and it had not so much as a password to cover its nakedness.
Isaiah was not familiar with Gilead's record system. He poked around the indices, looking for whatever might answer for police or court records in a city-state too tiny to have either police or courts. Nothing turned up.
After ten unproductive minutes, the computer beeped and a help window opened on the screen. It read,
she's not listed I checked C
Isaiah stared at this for a few confused moments, then timidly typed,
What are you doing? But the window vanished.
Just then a man entered. Isaiah hastily unbugged his eyes. The newcomer was fresh-faced, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, and generally handsome. A cheerful expression faded when he saw this intruder. "May I help you?" he asked frigidly.
"Yes, thanks," said Isaiah, picking up the discarded cheer. "Mr. Steves, isn't it? I think we've met."
"Oh? Oh yes, Major Hollis, isn't it?"
"Hola. I was just checking your records, but I couldn't find what I was looking for."
"And what business do you have looking through our records?"
"Oh, are they private? I didn't know. There were no notices." He paused and placidly typed a query. But the query was to Canorus, not the computer.
Steves here. OK to quiz?
The computer flashed an error message, immediately overwritten with
ok / watching
Isaiah tried to feel reassured by this, not menaced. When Steves asked, "Something wrong?" he shoved the unseen audience to the back of his mind and furbished up his perceptual skills.
"No, nothing. I'm trying to track down a missing tourist. Jeanette Kallinysios." He could see Steves tense. "I was hoping to find some reference to her. In Horeb, I knew only that she was last heard of here. Her family is getting worried, you see."
Steves registered a slight surprise. Isaiah wondered if he had ever thought that "witches" would have people who cared about them. He maintained his angry silence. Finally, he said, "Why don't you ask the people she was staying with?"
"You know about her, then? Who was she staying wit h?"
"Of course I know about her. She was the only tourist to come here in the last year. She was from Refuge. She stayed with the Lepsevitches."
"Actually, she was Centaurian, not Refuger, on her way back from the Timekeepers' school." He mentioned the Timekeeper psi college to see what Steves's reaction would be. It was a suppressed scowl. "Thanks, I'll look up the Lepsevitches. Or do you know anything about her?"
Steves worried over what to say for a few seconds, then answered, "Yes. She hypnotized Lek, the Lepsevitch boy. Or some kind of psi. The parents came to me and asked me what to do. The three of us confronted her. There was a big argument and they threw her out."
"Just dumped her and her luggage on the doorstep?"
"Basically." The truth but not the whole truth. Steves was being jesuitical, as Isaiah could tell from voice tone, eye motion, and other clues, besides Borne's testimony.
"Where did she go?"
"I haven't seen her recently."
"Took the next bus? Hiked off into the mountains? Unpacked her broomstick? Vanished in a sulfurous puff?"
Steves turned slightly pink but unfortunately did not lose control. "I haven't heard that she did any of those things."
"Do you have any idea where she is now?"
Isaiah dropped the truth-reading. It had given him enough to testify in court, if only Gilead had had a court system. At least he now had a moral edge. "Well, the computer seems to have nothing useful about her. May I look through your paper records?"
"What good will that do?"
"I don't know. That's why I want to look. If you like, I'll ask permission of the mayor first. And the pastor and the abbess."
Steves gave a disgusted little sigh. "Go ahead."
So Isaiah suspected the town's three top officials knew nothing about this. To maintain his own facade, he opened a file drawer and started leafing through a folder marked "clinic." It was a plausible choice. As he pretended to read, he remarked, "I'm afraid you've given a poor impression of Carmelite hospitality. Our reputation in that area is poor enough as it is. Whatever happened to `Be kind to the stranger in your midst'?"
Steves smiled angrily. "Perfectly appropriate to well-behaved strangers. This was more a case of 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.'"
Isaiah resumed truth-reading in record time and locked eyes with Steves for some seconds. His face became a stony mask and Steves's went from pink to pale. "It would be a very serious matter," Isaiah said softly, "to take that commandment as addressed to you."
"C-certainly. After all, we are under, uh, grace not law. But we won't allow a witch to live among us." He had been badly scared, but there was no note of guilt or panic in the fear. He had not murdered Jeanette Kallinysios since her last contact with Borne.
"I see," said Isaiah. "Grace allows for deplorable jokes and hosts expelling guests in a wilderness, but stops short of executions. Very nice." He dropped the folder back in the drawer. "Thank you, Mr. Steves. I'll be going."
Steves followed him into the hallway, fuming. "Are you saying she had a right to poke around in that child's head with her damned occultism?"
"Not at all. If she used telepathy on the boy without parental permission, she acted very ... irresponsibly. But I don't know what she did. Neither you nor I nor the Lepsevitches are qualified to judge psychic operations."
"We don't have to be! It's been judged for us. Sorcerers do not inherit the Kingdom!"
"Galatians 5:20 or thereabouts. Very good, but what's the proof that anything psychic, much less occult, even happened?"
"I'll testify to it, if you like. I can tell!"
Isaiah arched a skeptical eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Yes! The Holy Spirit has given me the gift of testing the spirits. I know when our brothers and sisters here use their gifts, even the Thomasines. There's even a kind of– of afterglow later. And I know that that woman was using spiritual powers on that boy."
"Interesting. And could you tell whether the spirit involved was holy or unholy?"
Steves scowled. "Don't mock the gifts of the Spirit."
"Certainly not. I wasn't mocking; I was asking."
"Of course it was unholy. The woman isn't even a Christian!"
"Ah, that settles it, then."
"Blaspheming the Holy Spirit–"
"–is the unforgivable sin. I know." By now, they were outside, at the city hall's door. The furnace-colored suns lit both their faces with fiery colors. Isaiah stopped walking and faced Steves. "If I mock your over-confidence, it does not follow I mock the Spirit that may, from time to time, work in you. You want to bring up high sins? What's the third commandment?"
Steves blinked, puzzled. "Do not take God's name in vain."
"And what does that mean?"
"It forbids profanity. What does this–"
"Perhaps, though that seems a trivial sin compared to idolatry, theft and murder. But that commandment also forbids weightier things. It forbids making an oath to God and breaking it. And it forbids claiming to act in God's name, to act on God's orders, when you really don't. Thou shalt not claim to be God's agent when thou art not. If I were you, I'd worry about the third commandment."
Isaiah stomped off. Steves snorted, turned on his heel, and went back into the town hall. Silently, Isaiah thanked Heaven for letting him have the last word; it was a rare gift. He also noticed, with a mixture of embarrassment and satisfaction, that his sermonette had had an audience. A shift was ending, and people with bits of farm equipment were coming in from the fields. Those nearby gazed, startled, after Isaiah as he tramped away.
The suns, yellow and orange, a close-set K-M binary, were setting. Carmel's day was only fourteen hours long, so this sunset marked "mid-day" on the human body's clock. Folk would not sleep until the next dusk. Isaiah expected this night would be busy.
Back at the monastery, he found FX waiting alone in the little courtyard. "Where are the others?" he asked.
"Oh, around. Brother Steves has a nice little knack of psi-sensing."
"Meaning he can feel other folks' psychic operations? So it seems. What did Canorus–" Just then a monk walked in, so Isaiah left the question unfinished. The monk stopped and asked if he could help them. "Yes, we're here to see the abbess. Please tell her it's Major Hola." The monk left. "Can you contact Borne? It's his sister, after all."
FX nodded. When they were momentarily alone in the courtyard, he pointed to a spot a meter to Isaiah's left. Borne faded into visibility there.
"Great Heaven!" Isaiah exclaimed. "Are all of you–" He broke off as a monastic family entered, monk-husband, nun-wife, and their little girl. The nun recognized Isaiah and there was a pause for introductions and chat.
"Is the kid a nunette or something?" Borne asked as the family left.
"No," Isaiah answered. There was now a steady stream of monastics coming through the courtyard, so he switched to Varkardic. "Are all of you standing about invisibly?"
"Yes," FX answered. "I thought the lot of us looked too imposing. But you're right; I should have saved out Borne. Don't worry, the other three will stay out of the way."
A moment later, Abbess Eva arrived. She was a stocky little woman, the sort who, if she allowed herself to get fat, would be called a "dumpling." She wore the same loose, homespun clothes as most Carmelites, with her order's symbol, a cross flanked by a T and a J, embroidered on the left shoulder.
"No," she told Borne, "I had no idea your sister was missing. I heard about the fuss, of course, but I assumed she took the next bus back to Horeb."
"She's still here," Borne replied. "She got word to me."
"Did she?" said the abbess, her black eyes twinkling. "Fancy that! Yes, given the sort of trouble she was in, I suppose she could." Her face grew serious. "But wait– if she's still here, where–"
"Imprisoned," FX said. "By a Mr. Steves."
"What? Oh my! Did she tell you that?" she asked Borne. He nodded.
"I have independent evidence, of a sort," Isaiah said. "A few minutes ago, I talked with Steves. I was truth-reading him. I asked him about Ms. Kallinysios and he was evasive. I asked him if he had any idea where she was and he said no. He lied."
"Smug little whiffet," the abbess growled. She rose from her desk and bustled out. "Come on. Let's round up the pastor and the mayor. And Steves."
They met the mayor and the pastor in the town hall. The mayor was a leathery lady of grim aspect. The Glossalalian pastor was a tall, skinny man with a gentle expression and a gray beard that appeared to fascinate Borne. When Isaiah wasn't busy talking, planning, or anxiously wondering where the three invisible psychics were, he worried that Borne's curious peeks and peering would offend Reverend Hargis.
But Rev. Hargis and Mayor Ling Jou weren't worrying about Borne's manners. After their exclamations of surprise, both said, "Are you sure?"
"We must make sure, one way or another," the abbess replied.
"If this is so– What can Joel have been thinking?" said Hargis.
"Whether it's so or not," said the mayor, "we must locate this young lady."
"I notice there are a couple of psilenced areas in the hall basement," FX said. "Those would be good places to look."
The mayor gave him a thoughtful look, clearly wondering how he had noticed this. "All right. Follow me."
As they followed the mayor to the stairs, FX murmured to Isaiah, "I see no one expresses shocked disbelief. Shock, yes. Disbelief, no."
"I notice the same thing."
The basement stairs issued on a stone corridor lit by a few homemade incandescent bulbs. Metal doors flanked it on both sides. "This is storage," the mayor told them. "None of these rooms are suppose to be psilenced. Which are the ones you say are?"
FX marched down the hall to a door no different than any other. Isaiah, close behind, noticed the psilence a few meters from the door, perceived this time as an elusive stuffiness. FX looked the door over, then reached up to the lintel and took down a shiny cigar-shaped object. "Old-fashioned home psilencer," he remarked, and flicked a switch on its side.
Open psi, like a fresh scent. The mayor produced a set of keys and unlocked the door. But there was no one inside. Instead, they found a radio, several packed knapsacks, stores of bottled water and TSTO ship rations, two boxes of psilencers, a second psilencer over the inside lintel, and three boxes of guns.
"What in heaven...?" murmured the mayor.
"A psych-out shelter," Isaiah announced. "I heard there were such things late in the Psi War, once psilencers were introduced. Obviously Steves heard of them too, and set up a little cache, a civil defense supply to protect Gilead in the event of a psychic invasion."
"At least he's public-spirited," FX remarked.
"But where's Jeanette?" demanded Borne.
FX led the way to the next psilent room. It, too, had a psilencer over the door. Moments after FX switched it off, Borne shouted "Ha!" The door creaked, popped its lock, and flew back with a bang. Everyone jumped except Borne. Inside stood a young woman surprised in the act of reaching for the knob.
"Jeanette Kallinysios?" asked the mayor. But the young woman and Borne were busy hugging and laughing hysterically. Borne grabbed her up and spun about giddily. It was a few seconds before the others noticed he was hovering several centimeters above the floor.
On to Chapter 5, Hearing
Back to Chapter 3, Recall
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013