Next morning, Isaiah awoke tired. His room was a stone cell in the barracks of the Resurrection Soldiers. It contained a pallet and a clothes chest. Double sun-beams spread on the bare floor, already far past the hurrying dawn. It was the best room Isaiah had had in the last century, but he had no reason to linger in it. Usually, he did not, but this morning he could not easily leave his bed.
He stumbled to the baths and stumbled out again, still groggy. He took another old red tunic from the clothes chest and pulled it on, then wandered into the refectory, trying to recall his dreams. Usually, this was easy for him.
Unnoticed faces said good morning, and he echoed back. Unnoticed hands thrust a breakfast tray into his grasp. He slumped into a chair, sipping his tea, trying to trace the uneasiness he thought the dreams contained.
An old terminal screen, square and glassy, hung on the wall nearby. It lit up. An animated face looked out, long, blond, and hatchet-nosed, on a red background. An intertwined alpha-omega stood in the right-hand corner of the screen, the name "Matthew 25:40" in the left-hand corner.
"You're late," the computer said.
"I know," Isaiah answered. "Have I missed anything?"
"No, but you're usually out here twenty minutes earlier. Do you feel all right?"
"Just groggy. What's on today's schedule?"
Matthew's face flicked to one side and a white rectangle full of text appeared on the other side of the screen. Isaiah studied it, memorizing: sub for Di at Steiner's, counseling, Frieheim charity board, lunch, counseling, call Edna, supper, evening shift at shipyard. (What had he dreamed? Had it made him tired? Perhaps he had dreamed of Earth.)
"Did you see the Richters off safely?" Matthew asked.
"Yes, they–" Isaiah stopped. Had he seen the Richters to the spaceport? He was unsure for a moment. "Yes, I did. Passage arranged back to Terran Space. No trouble with the fare. No trouble from TSTO. All serene."
"So what do you do today?" Matthew demanded, wiping the schedule.
"Ah, sub for Di, counsel, uh..."
Matthew put the schedule back. "Wake up, Isaiah!"
"No, you're not. If you were trying, you'd be awake. Yiy! Glad I don't have an autonomic nervous system."
Matthew was right, of course. Isaiah had known how to control alertness for centuries. But when he reached for that control, his mind groped, fumbled. How had it gone? Why couldn't he remember?
"There's too much I can't remember," he muttered. What had he dreamed? Why was he tired? What had happened at the spaceport? How did he reach his skills? Something monstrous had happened.
He shoved his tea cup away, slopping it over the tray, and buried his face in his hands. He strained to remember. There was an art to remembering. Could he remember that art?
He bloody well would. He looked up at the computer, who was exclaiming anxiously. "Show me yesterday's schedule."
"What? Okay." It appeared. Isaiah hung his memories on it: gravitics class, lunch, the Richters, ... library. He remembered all of them, but his memory stumbled between the spaceport and the library. Something unscheduled that he couldn't remember. He advanced carefully on the memory, but unknown hands shoved him back. Unseen hands held him down. Many, many hands. Had he dreamed of hands?
He went back and tried to remember in detail. Clumsily, as if his mental hands were stiff, he pulled out the scenes, the sounds. His mnemonic training came back quickly, far too old, far too much a part of him to be hidden away easily. He pictured hands opening, loosening, dropping away from him.
...and he had said his last farewell to the Richters, turned, and walked into the concourse... and then at the library, Arthur had–
No, go back. He had walked into the concourse. He recalled the concourse from other visits. And he had seen, met, found ...
He formed a silence in his mind and waited.
A four-armed man.
It all dissolved. He was stone cold awake, staring into Matthew's puzzled interface.
"Matthew! I've been hypnotized."
"By a psychic. How else, without my consent? I've just remembered a possible emergency in the making. You've got to get someone to sub for Di. The rest of the stuff can wait or not happen."
"Okay, but what–?"
Isaiah was already running toward the door. "Four-armed is forewarned."
(The last few memories felt remote, foreign, like dream fragments. He played with them, reviewed them, even as he ran.)
Isaiah's eyes had closed. He slumped on the landing, all his muscles relaxed, his neck bent sharply against the bottom step. Daima took her knee off his chest. Hands, many hands, held him up, and all the time Vivian's touch remained on his forehead.
His mind was still and empty, not truly asleep but tranced. "Forget you ever met us," Vivian said. Simultaneously, he understood her to mean much more than she had said. Forget everything from the first sight of Borne to now. Forget everything from now until we leave. Find nothing odd about the gap in your day.
(Rushing down the halls, Isaiah wondered if this surplus of meaning was telepathy. It seemed it must be.)
"Have you covered our trail?" Canorus asked.
"Hope so," answered Vivian. "He is a top-notch patharch." His patharchy frustrated her, got in her way. That repulsion mixed into her unspoken meaning. Forget about patharchy, Isaiah. You can't forget it exists, but forget to do it.
"He was very accommodating," FX remarked. "I hope we can take his advice. About not getting violent this time."
(The waking Isaiah wondered that FX did not consider the melee on the stairs violent. How bad did it need to get before it was "violent"?)
Canorus grunted skeptically.
"Don't count on it," Borne said. "A witch-hunter from a cult of anti-psi hysterics kidnaps her, jails her without a trial, isolates her for a week, and comes and raves at her every night. His buddies approve, and the other half of the town–"
"Also religious filberts," put in Canorus.
"–does nothing. These don't sound like people open to sweet reason or bribes. I'm all for stealth, but we might blow that."
"We might not, if we can scout the place well enough," FX replied. "Just set all the guns on stun, okay? Let's leave our sleeping prophet here and unpack. Then I want to buy some local clothes and find some newsfiles or a library."
They clattered up the stairs, stepping around Isaiah's body. The odd diminishment that marked psilence returned. When the last sound of them faded, Isaiah opened his eyes and sat up, dazed for a moment. He rose, rubbed his neck, descended the stairs, and walked out to the street, empty-headed. He remembered his library work. All his thoughts turned toward that. He went through the rest of his day, never thinking about his encounter with the five strangers.
His sleep had been cursed with dreams of frustration. There were hardly any images, but there were the emotions and ideas of being held, pushed back, forbidden, robbed. He had not been able to use his relaxation drills, or encourage his dreams, or time his sleep rhythms. Forget patharchy, Isaiah.
"No, thank you. Not any longer."
Isaiah grabbed one of the mission's bicycles and pedaled for all he was worth to the Tseng and Rigoli hotel. He was worth a lot, having strength, good wind, and voluntary hysterical powers on his side.
He found the extra adrenalin stoking his anger. The insufferable arrogance of them! To stroll into someone's head, stifle awareness, rob their memories, paralyze their skills! For the moment, he was in complete sympathy with the Glossalalians and their allies. All psi was crime.
He ground his teeth and pumped the pedals. Other cyclists, startled, veered away. Their fear forced an idea into his mind. Like the mysterious quintet themselves, he had been concentrating on their present trouble, their present fears. He had not seen, until now, that they were more frightened than that. They were habitually on guard, running scared. That, as much as their current predicament, made them trouble.
Potential trouble. Isaiah forced his temper back some more. He had studied hypnosis and had taken care to read up on its new psychic variant. He knew it was most unlikely that a transient contact like Vivian's could cause permanent harm, especially to a well-trained patharch. She had played rough, but she had known the kind of player she was up against.
In the end, her behavior probably could not be judged worse than rude. Any ruder than accosting a party of strangers and truth-reading their most naive member?
He still gave a fright to the desk clerk at the hotel. His face was white, his movements sharp and frantic under the voluntary hysteria.
"Five tourists checked in yesterday," he snapped, "one with four arms. Are they in?"
The clerk gaped helplessly, then stammered, "I don't know!"
Isaiah glanced at the elevator and the stairwell. His adrenalin rush made him want to pound up the stairs, but he knew he could not run up twenty flights. "Block off the stairs!" he barked at the clerk, then jumped in the elevator.
It was hard to keep the hysterical speed running while he stood, fidgeting, in the elevator, but it would be even harder to stop it, then start again. At the twentieth floor, he hopped out and sprinted to rooms 20-J.
He rapped loudly. No answer. Theft was rare on Carmel, the locks correspondingly crude. Isaiah forced the latch with his pen-knife and, as he expected, found no one.
But could he trust his senses? He recalled the mysterious blackout in the coffee shop. There was one sense he could trust, though he had learned he had it only yesterday. To cast that darkness, FX had used some machine to punch a small hole in the city-wide psilence. If they were here and invisible, they would need to be running that machine, opening psilence.
Pouring all his energy into a frantic haste, Isaiah closed the door behind him, propped a chair against the knob, passed through the connecting door into room 20-K, and propped a chair against the remaining door. Had anyone seen him in the next half-minute, they would have thought him crazed. He bobbed, weaved, ducked, jumped, and systematically brought his head within a meter of every point in the room where a human form might hide. Nowhere did he experience that little, elusive lift that marked open psi.
He could still have been tricked. Well, it was the best he could do. Any further searching would most likely lose valuable time. If they were not here, they were very probably on their way to Gilead. That meant a bus. Unless the schedule had changed, that bus left in a very few minutes.
Isaiah thundered down the stairs three at a time. Seconds later, he was back on the bicycle, tearing through the streets. He suspected he had pulled some muscles while searching the rooms, but he was too excited to tell for sure.
The bus station was a duller-than-usual block of stone at the edge of town. Behind it stretched a smooth, dusty acre of landing field. Beyond lay bare rock. Further out rose rough young mountains. As Isaiah dashed into the station, he saw the south-coast bus hovered at the gate, discharging passengers.
The quintet stood in a loose group, overnight bags in hand, one pair and three singles, acting as if they were strangers to each other. They wore local clothes and Borne had only two arms today. FX saw Isaiah and snorted. "Heaven above! It's the second coming of the prophet Isaiah!"
Isaiah dropped out of high gear and onto a wooden seat. Several muscles promptly complained. "If you really want to blend in around here," he told them, "don't make jokes like that one." To protect their secrecy, he spoke in their private tongue.
All of them stared. The quintet drew together around Isaiah. "Where the hell did he learn Varkardic?" demanded Borne sotto voce, in the same language.
"Probably on Varkard, just like us," FX returned. He sighed. "Well, that explains some. Hello, Major Hola. Are you going to Gilead by any chance?"
"Yes, and not by chance." He looked at Vivian. "Nice memory block." He gulped for air.
"Obviously not nice enough," she answered with a cold, brief smile.
"Is there any point in going on?" Canorus asked FX.
"Oh, of course there's a point," Isaiah puffed. "You still want to free Mr. Kallinysios's sister, don't you? I'll be happy to help."
"Thank you," FX answered coldly. "It seems a help we have little choice in accepting."
"As little as I can manage," Isaiah admitted.
"You sanctimonious tick," said Vivian, flat, cold. "What in your vindictive little hell gives you the right to harass us this way?"
"You snoop and pry and dog just because you don't trust our characters," said FX, joining in.
"Very good," said Isaiah, still gasping. "Much the best way to discourage me." Gulp. "Moral suasion. Better than the–" Huff. "–gun Canorus has trained on me under his serapi." He locked eyes with the Melior, who looked as if he merely had his arms folded under the little wrap. "Sure hope it's just a stunner."
"Witnesses, you ass," FX growled to Canorus. "We're surrounded by witnesses." There were at least two dozen people in the bright, bare chamber. A few looked curiously at the exhausted Soldier, seated, talking in a foreign language to a knot of travelers who replied in angry tones.
"He's wheezing like a bag-pipe," the big neo-human retorted. "People will just think he collapsed from exertion."
"Yes, and they'll crowd around asking us all manner of questions. The bus is boarding now. If we gaily trip away from a man who just passed out, it will look funny. And then he'll wake up."
So it was a stun gun. "I have no right to tag after you this way," Isaiah admitted. "But you need me along. The rest of you are just barely less hair-trigger than Canorus. You need a mediator. And a local guide. I wish you'd see that."
Canorus and Borne scowled, but FX and Vivian looked pensive. (Daima was, as usual, unreadable.) "You are either a fatal complication or a godsend," said FX. "I wish I knew which."
"As a gesture of good faith, I invite you to do a touch of telepathy and read my sincerity," Isaiah said.
They glanced at each other, conducting another of their silent votes. Canorus shrugged and looked disgusted. Borne looked baffled. Vivian shrugged and scowled. Diama nodded. "No," said FX, "not here. We'll accept your gesture of good faith instead."
"Like we had a choice," Vivian growled.
The bus was nearly loaded. The five got on, followed by Isaiah, the last to board. "Been running, Major?" asked the driver, seeing his sweating face and heavy breathing. "There an emergency?"
"No, Doug, just a surprise problem. I ran to avoid missing the bus. I don't have a ticket, I'm afraid. Charge the mission." The driver nodded. "And I don't suppose you could fly low?"
Doug chuckled and turned up the lifters. The bus drifted up into the clear Carmelite sky, picked up speed, and headed off down the southern coast. Isaiah fell into the seat next to Borne with a sigh and set his patharchic talents to muffling his fear of flying.
On to Chapter 4, Gilead
Back to Chapter 2, Horeb
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013