A few minutes later, the party assembled at the docks and rented two small pleasure-craft. FX, it turned out, wanted to be private from his fellow psychics as well as from Horeb's blanket of psilence and the crowds of potentially anti-psychic passers-by. Hence the second boat. And Canorus had recommended the sea over the countryside on the grounds of better visibility, making it hard for dowsers or witch-hunters to approach unseen.
With FX and Canorus on one boat and the rest in the other, they skimmed east across the Noah Sea. Elijah and Elisha were still near the horizon and cast a complex net of light across the waves, two tones of orange, glittering, intermingling. About ten kilometers out, with no other ships nearby, they cut the motors and drifted. Canorus jumped off the side of his boat and executed a short horizontal dive across the few meters to the other craft, leaving FX alone.
FX pulled the tusk out of a satchel and examined it for a few minutes. Then he called out, "Viv, would you link up?" Vivian nodded, then looked absent-minded. A few moments later, she asked Isaiah, "You've studied perceptual patharchy, right?"
"Yes. Can I help?"
"Maybe." She turned to Jeanette. "Can you reach skill memories?"
"Oh, yes," answered Jeanette.
Vivan raised her eyebrows at the casual tone. "Good." She turned back to Isaiah. "As you may know, skills and events are stored in different forms of memory. Event memory is easier for most telepaths to reach. Seems Jeanette is at least as good a telepath as I've suspected, though. Would you be willing to let Jeanette link to you and FX, so FX can use your patharchy? He and I are both feeling this tusk out, but the shielding is heavy."
It was the first time Isaiah had been invited to participate in his theoretical tolerance of psi, at least while awake. For a moment, his mind clogged with all the objections he had heard repeated for a century. But he recalled the previous, uninvited telepathic contacts; he was none the worse for those. "Y– yes, certainly. But my brand of perceptual patharchy is strictly sensory, you know, not extrasensory."
"Thanks. It still might help."
Isaiah was not sure if the last sentence was spoken aloud. Suddenly Jeanette seemed much closer than she was really standing, and he heard Vivian's words verbalized in his mind. Then he felt Vivian and FX, too, their presences likewise dislocated from their appearances. He found the discrepancy confusing. Suspecting that his confusion might hinder the others, he sat down, closed his eyes, and let his mind relax.
The results were vivid, reminding him of his best efforts in controlled visualization and active imagination. Without trying or intending, he visualized the tusk as seen by FX. He could even feel it through FX's fingers. Perhaps he should start trying hyperesthesia? As he began, though, FX said (or thought) "Don't bother," and, in fact, somehow flicked Isaiah's attention away from the tusk's physical appearance. Wordlessly, Jeanette showed him that FX was already using his patharchy. Isaiah relaxed his attention on the visual image.
Over Jeanette's shoulder, as it were, he perceived a flickering stream of imagery, concepts, and affects. This was FX's psychic perception of the tusk, pooled perhaps with Vivian's. It was tempting to examine that stream, but Isaiah refrained; he might interfere. Better to remain passive, "listen," and "watch."
"It's a sloppy Cloak," FX said, and Isaiah now realized he addressed them all; Borne, Canorus, and Daima were listening through Vivian. "A ragged Cloak, you might say. Now is that deliberate or accidental? Maybe it was damaged. (Canorus, when I'm done, I want you to look at this thing's history.)
"Ah, no, not damaged. The thing has some clairvoyance bound in it. (It's an eye tooth!) So this is in fact a very clever Cloak, with stylish peep-holes to let something look out while still hiding pretty well." Someone, Isaiah could not say who, was imagining the tusk on cartoon legs, muffled up in a hooded cloak, with furtive cartoon eyes peeking out of the cowl.
"So what IS looking out the peep-holes?" wondered FX. An impression of diving, burrowing, ferreting. But Isaiah did not try to look more closely. "A pattern," FX announced, "very strong and elaborate. Huge, really. But wait, the pattern isn't doing the watching. Yes, here it is. The watcher is just a trigger. Yes, it sets off the pattern. Looks like it has multiple keys. One is– Oops."
A flash of alarm. Abruptly, Isaiah was alone in his head, sitting dazed on the bench in the boat. One image remained in his mind – the tusk starting to melt in FX's hand.
Before his eyes, FX was hurling the tusk into the sea. "Sorry," he stammered. "Triggered it. Water. I read something about water in the trigger, so I– Try to let it go off properly. A bit safer. Reflex really. Maybe stupid."
The water started to fizz, as if FX had thrown a large seltzer tablet into the sea. The fizz swelled to an alarming boil. Suddenly an arm flailed in the air. A head bobbed up, then down again. The bubbling died as abruptly as it started, and something white thrashed below the surface. Canorus glared at it; it rose, left the water, and hung kicking in the air.
It was a man, all white. He coughed a little, stopped kicking, and looked around, blinking. Skin and hair were snow white. He wore boots, loose trousers, and loose blouse, likewise white. His eyes were palest gray. His left hand clenched on a white knife, like carved milky ice.
"I got him," murmured Borne.
Canorus relaxed, then stiffened again as the white man floated toward the boat. "He's armed," the Melior objected.
"Well," answered Jeanette, "it's either hold him up all day, leave him to drown, or bring him aboard."
"Or disarm him," growled Canorus. The white man landed on the deck and stood. He gazed about dazedly and made no resistance when Canorus took his knife. It was short, the handle and blade all carved from a single piece, and curved rather like the tusk.
The white man fixed his gaze on Borne, who happened to be closest, and asked, "What do I do?" He spoke Earthron.
Borne had no answer ready. "Who are you?" Isaiah asked. The man looked baffled. "What is your name?" Isaiah tried.
"I don't have one. What do you want to name me?"
A bizarre suspicion moved three giant steps forward to the front of Isaiah's mind. "Noah," he answered. "We'll call you Noah, after the flood you came from. Are you all right, Noah?"
Noah considered this for a few seconds, then nodded.
"How do you feel?"
Another short meditation. "I'm hungry."
Vivian had brought a large hamper on board, in case they wanted to stay out until lunch. She opened it and took out a sandwich. Noah took it, regarded it curiously for a moment ("As if he had never seen one," thought Isaiah, "and I suspect he hasn't.") and started eating. Watching carefully, Isaiah determined that even his gums and tongue were white.
Noah seemed strongly built, but of middling height. His face was middling too, near the mathematical average of a man's face, a touch of African fullness to the lips, a touch of Asian fold to the eyes. His clothes showed no seams or fasteners. His boots–
"Good heavens!" Isaiah exclaimed. Noah was blushing with color. In seconds, his skin tanned, his eyes and hair turned brown. Even his clothes turned dark brown. Isaiah glanced at the knife in Canrous's hand. It was still white.
"Give him his knife," FX suggested. He now stood at Isaiah's side; apparently he had wafted over from the other boat.
Canorus obeyed. Noah gripped the handle tightly. The knife yellowed and became shinier. "Interesting," FX remarked.
"It looks like ivory," Isaiah said.
"I expect it is," FX answered.
"Or is trying to be," said Jeanette.
Noah had finished his sandwich. Vivian silently handed him another. He started eating again without letting go of his knife. Isaiah noticed that Noah's clothes were exactly the same shade as his hair. His boots were the color of his skin.
"Noah," he said tensely, "take off your boots." Noah put down his sandwich and knife, and obeyed. His bare feet looked perfectly normal. Isaiah sighed. "Good. You can take off your boots."
Vivian gave Canorus a lopsided smile. "Want to try reading his history?"
Canorus snorted, then stared at Noah. "It's a mighty short read," he said.
Silence reigned for a minute. Everyone stared at Noah, who chewed. When he finished, he looked at them expectantly but did not ask for another sandwich.
"Might as well head back," said Canorus. He drifted into the air and over to the second boat. Borne, who looked as aghast as Isaiah felt, followed him. Vivian took the helm and soon both boats were skimming back toward Horeb.
"Noah was just now created, right?" Isaiah asked Jeanette.
"Right," she answered. "From the tusk. Just add water." She seemed angry.
"What is he?" he asked.
"A neb," she answered.
"What is a 'neb'?" Isaiah asked.
"A psychically created person, sold as a slave."
Isaiah reflected on this for a few seconds. "How repellant. I suppose the name comes from the Yiddish 'nebbish'?"
Jeanette remained silent. "Right," answered FX. "They're also called blanks, bit-parts, bitties, extras, drones, and black androids."
"But how do you create someone by psi?"
"From ectoplasm," said FX. "The next question is, What's ectoplasm?" He smiled.
Isaiah smiled back, if a little wanly. "Actually, my question would be What do you call ectoplasm. I've noticed that psychics use the vocabulary of magic and occultism, but you keep assuring me that it isn't really magic, so you'll have to explain your terms."
"Ectoplasm is psychically bound air. You've seen Daima produce solid objects from nowhere?" Daima smiled and held out her hand. Five Rhine cards appeared in it. She gave them to Isaiah. "They're made of air," FX said. "Notice how light they are." To emphasize the point, Daima produced a brick and passed it to Isaiah. It was hard and cold but as light as foam. If he had let it go, it would have flown away on the sea breeze. "It's an advanced form of TK in which the psychic makes the air molecules act as if they were members in good standing of a piece of cellulose, or stone, or anything. It can produce just about any physical property except mass."
"Including the property of life," said Isaiah.
Daima smiled again. The cards vanished and the brick, squirming, became a lily-like flower. Isaiah was no longer smiling. "People made of air," he said.
FX nodded. "At first, yes. As they eat and drink, the real organic matter displaces the air. Like when Noah changed color when he started eating. If you conjure them from water instead, like Noah, they start with mass and become normal much faster. If you conjured them from egg-white or some other form of raw protoplasm, they'd be normal almost immediately."
Isaiah looked at Noah, who was gazing about at the waves and clouds, a smile starting on his lips. "How normal can they become?"
"I just meant physically normal. Living tissue of the usual composition. Proteins, cells, etc. Quite capable of growth and reproduction. Though animate ectoplasts have the same genome as their conjurer, unless the conjurer takes steps to produce something else."
Isaiah remembered Daima's silver "tree" and the potted plant she used as some sort of model. And she knew Metabolic TK.
He looked at the lily Daima had given him and reflected that this flower had been made without a model. So it had the same heredity as the woman who had made it. Presumably its airy chromosomes were busily pretending to be made of DNA. Or whatever the Sossen fra used. And Noah's watery ones were doing the same. Whose chromosomes were they pretending to be?
"What is their mentality like?" he asked.
"Completely at the discretion of the conjurer," FX answered. "He can draw on any information or skills his own mind possesses. Or copy from other minds, if the right telepathic talent is around. Nebs are usually sold as cannon-fodder – private troops, body guards, and the like. Though the odalisque nebs get more publicity per capita. Typically, nebs are created knowing how to feed, clothe, and groom themselves, how to talk and write, how to fight, shoot, and drive, and very little else."
"So what we have here is slavery combined with a bizarre form of child-abuse."
"That's one way to look at it," FX answered composedly.
"It's an excellent way to look at it," growled Jeanette.
"But remember," said FX, "they start life physically adult."
"Stripping someone of their physical childhood is just one more wrinkle on the abuse," said Isaiah. He turned from these abstract issues to the newly-concrete Noah. "What do we do with him?" Noah looked back, a little anxiously.
FX shrugged unhappily. "I was hoping you could suggest something."
Isaiah pondered. Noah went back to admiring the world, but FX and Jeanette fixed their eyes on him. "I will take him back to the barracks – to my place. And I'll explain him. After they get over that..." He broke off. "Before the War, when some people got bored with their long lives, they would have their memories temporarily suppressed and get put up for adoption."
"Amnesians, yes," said Jeanette. "There are still amnesians. In fact, it was very popular right after the Psi War."
"Yes, that makes sense. I will recommend that Noah be turned over to TSTO and sent back to Terran Space, to be put up for adoption as an amnesian. Do they still get adopted readily?"
"Yes," Jeanette assured him. "The population laws are still in effect, after all, and folk are still eager for surrogate children."
"Gene therapy too," said Isaiah after a moment's thought. "At least cosmetically. I expect he'd rather have a genome of his own than a copy from the criminal who conjured him. Including more individualized features." He looked at FX. "What do you folk do next?"
"Contact our superiors and report back for duty. (Rescuing Jeanette was officially a vacation!) Then lay the facts before them and tell them we've found our next case. Then we leave. For Philippia, since that's where the tooth came from."
Isaiah sat silently next to Noah, thinking and watching. FX pulled out a calling card and phoned someone – TSTO, perhaps – making arrangements of some sort. Vivian and Jeanette took turns steering and looking over Noah. Other ships, trade barges and algae croppers, came into view, followed by the coastline, followed by the city and the docks.
As they approached, FX produced another psi-opener and did something to it. Isaiah could not tell what, but he could feel a short snap of psi. With another snap, FX appeared to glue the box to Noah's belt.
"Noah has to stay in open psi until he becomes real flesh," FX told Isaiah. "It's absolutely, literally vital. Psilence will melt him." Noah listened with a faintly worried expression. "I've bound the opener to his belt, and bound the switch on, so it's okay to take him to see your people in town, but I strongly recommend taking him to the TSTO base soon. They're in open psi. Be sure they understand what he is. I'll help underline it to them, if you like. Okay?"
"The main thing is, just keep feeding him. The organic material will start replacing the water right away. Milk. Meat. Liver. Calcium supplements. Needn't take more than a week."
They were puttering through the harbor, now. Minutes later, they docked. No one seemed to notice that they came back with an extra passenger. The fleeting suns were high. They cast small, soft shadows with yellow-gold and red-gold edges on the pebbly pavement where the party gathered. Isaiah studied the shadows attentively. He did not expect to see them much longer.
"Well," said FX, "I expect we'll see each other again, about Noah, but if we don't–"
"Take me with you," said Isaiah.
They all stared. Canorus scowled. FX frowned in puzzlement. "You want passage to Philippia?" he asked.
"Incidentally. I want to sign on to your crew. At least for the duration of this neb-runner case."
FX sighed. "Why? Have you made things too hot for yourself here?"
Isaiah shook his head. "No. But I have served a full century on Carmel. And it's been downhill all the way. I want off."
FX looked up and down the sidewalk, obviously wishing for more privacy. He sighed again and led the way past the docks, to the walkway's end, down onto a clear stretch of beach. Daima and Canorus quietly flanked Noah, who came docilely.
Soon, they stood and sprawled on a cluster of flat rocks. Noah knelt down and fingered pebbles; Isaiah wished there were some shells for him, but this sea had never bred them.
"All right," FX said, "could you explain yourself a little more? I admit we owe you one, and a ride to Philippia might be practical, but I thought I understood your motives, in a general way. It seems I'm wrong. Why the urgent desire to leave? I thought Carmel was your spiritual haven, where you could cultivate Christianity far away from the wicked worlds."
"Well, you thought wrong," Isaiah retorted. "I'm tired of living in a desert. And I'm tired of being a helper." He looked at their faces and smiled. "You're shocked. But you–" He looked to Jeanette. "–you're up on psychology and all. You should know the dangers of a professional helper. I hope to Heaven they taught you that on Refuge."
Jeanette nodded. "No life of your own. Vicarious gratification. You substitute other peoples' satisfactions for your own."
"Right. The line between that and genuine altruism can be very hazy. A cynic would say it wasn't there. Well, I want off Carmel before I get cynical. Hell! I've been in this line of work nearly half my life. Time for a change.
"The first ten years," he mused, "we worked at surviving. Very rewarding if you succeed. In the next twenty, I helped reconstruct civilization. That was interesting, but then the sectarian divisions opened. People had time enough to argue, you see. Also, the question first came up, were we against psi or just against the psi-lords? And the Philippians found us.
"Then, for the next three score and ten, it's been business as usual. Economics and politics. The grand old human habit of making most of your own trouble. Well, they can make it without me. Bickering with Philippia about trade rights and missionaries. Bickering with Refuge about missionaries and psi. With everyone about psi. A few years ago, TSTO resumed contact. All the old problems just grew and got complicated. But now there's something new: you can go home."
"Why didn't you go before now?" asked FX.
"I've been trying! You seem to have been on the far side of Terran Space, so maybe you didn't know this: the Diasporan worlds – and that means Carmel and Philippia, the others are too weak to defy us – forbade contact with Terran Space. We didn't know who had won the Psi War, and we were afraid to find out."
"The Timekeepers on Refuge knew," Jeanette said.
Isaiah nodded. "Yes, but Carmel wouldn't trust a psychic source. And Philip didn't want anyone coming out and interfering with his pocket empire. The policy stayed. TSTO blew all that away, of course, and I've been trying to leave ever since. But there was always someone else who needed to leave worse. Five times, now, I've worked with TSTO, scraped up money, argued with bureaucrats and ship captains, to get families back to Terran Space. Three times, I threw in my own ticket money. I was coming back from the fifth case when I first saw you at the spaceport. You see what I mean about vicarious gratification?"
They nodded. Isaiah laughed. "And with every family I send back, I help make Carmel a little less comfortable for myself. The people who go back are the ones who tolerate psi, of course. We started about evenly divided. Now the anti-psi folk have a distinct majority. Though the pro-psi folk are richer."
He shrugged. "I ramble. The point is, I never liked it here, I fit in less and less here, and I've been trying to leave as long as I could." He stared down at Noah. Daima had joined him in assembling a pebble cache. Both seemed to ignore the grown-ups.
"That's your motive," said Canorus, breaking the short silence. "What's ours? Why should we take you? We don't really need you for this case."
Isaiah was ready. "Because I'm a better patharch than the lot of you put together. That's a field of talent you're relatively weak in. With my patharchy, I learn fast, very fast. And I'm a good teacher. I can learn your psi-tricks, I betcha, and teach you patharchic ones in return."
"You're really willing to learn psi?" Vivian asked.
"I just said so. I told you long ago I didn't think it was occult. Why shouldn't I want to learn? It sounds fascinating."
"Take him," Jeanette urged. "He helped get me off this planet. And he has almost as much to do with your new case as I do, and you're taking me along to help, so why not him?"
The Melior held his face masklike for a few seconds, then nodded. "Done. How's this? – We'll give you passage. You can help us poke around on Philippia. We'll see how useful you are, how fast you learn and teach. Then we'll go on from there." He appeared to remember democratic principle, or the chain of command, and turned to FX, who appeared about to remind him of it. "Sound okay?"
FX glanced around, surveying a series of nods and shrugs. "Fine."
They returned to the hotel, now with Noah, who held some of Carmel's finer pebbles in a small bag conjured for him by Daima. He gazed at the room, as he had gazed at everything, in tranquil fascination. The others busied themselves with packing and phoning. Jeanette drew Isaiah aside.
"Could you let me borrow your perceptual skills again?" she asked.
Isaiah smiled and bowed slightly. "Certainly. The least I can do as a new team member. What did you have in mind?"
"I need to contact Svetlana. Svetlana Ruzinsky, a classmate of mine. She's a young Philippian noble. I was her guest while I visited Philippia. FX said she'd give us a good base for investigations, if she'd have us."
"And you're going to contact her telepathically?"
Jeanette nodded. "Faster, cheaper, more secure. But not so easy from here."
"Because of the distance?"
"Not exactly. The general rule is I have to be able to sense someone to contact them the first time. After that, knowing the feel of their mind, I can contact them from anywhere, regardless of distance. The psionic connection is more fundamental than the space-time relations, the way electrical effects are more fundamental than chemical ones. But large shifts of timeframe, like hyperjumps, wipe out the connections. I need a lot of time, or some help, to re-establish them."
"I see," said Isaiah. "Contacting Borne from Gilead, you had lots of time, I'm sure. I'll be happy to provide the help for this one."
They had retreated to a quiet corner with a couple of chairs. Isaiah sat with eyes closed, mind quiet. He felt her contact, like an impending embrace, and fancied he felt her rummage through his brain. Here's patharchic training, he silently offered, and here's the perceptual filtering. The hyperesthesia, too, if you like.
He felt Jeanette settle down to a quiet emptiness like his own – like a facial expression without the face. Together, they shut out the noises of conversation and packing. Together they regarded the stillness that is there behind all actions and thoughts. Inevitably, they compared it to space. But Jeanette did not seek glimmers of light in it. Nor was it a silence in which to seek a familiar voice.
Though a familiar voice was there, in memory. Contralto. Russian accent. Perhaps an affectation, but one so habitual as to be sincere by now. Sincerity. No, honesty. Part of honor. A bright, new tradition of honor and noblesse oblige, a "tradition" lying more in the future than the past, but still a large part of Svetlana. A family hope. Family connection. Family and honor and duty and all those old, hard virtues. Dressed up and softened with play, lightly armored with a bit of flippancy. Peppery temper, no sullen Slavic brooding.
A thin, fair face, sandy hair. Thin girl. Short. Late-night conversations in dorm rooms and student halls. Shared classes. Arguments and opinions. But appearance was not contact. Even personality was not contact. Don't be distracted by that.
All this had taken perhaps five seconds. It was but the natural preliminary for Jeanette to settle down and concentrate on Svetlana's contact. She would soon, she knew, eliminate the irrelevant memories. She was therefore a little annoyed, as well as surprised, when she felt Isaiah smile and lead her attention back to her memories of Svetlana's appearance. Tied to them were her own feelings about it. Like most women, she envied other women whose beauty was of a different sort. How nice to be fair and delicate, rather than big and dark.
Not big and dark, "tall and exotic," rather than "pale and skinny." That was Svetlana's own perspective, which Isaiah plucked from Jeanette's memory of ... of past contacts with Svetlana.
"Thank you," Jeanette verbalized. The tone was brisk and light, the reward for a minor courtesy, like passing the salt. But underneath the expressed mood was another, and under Isaiah's stillness was a similar mood. He would examine it later.
Meanwhile, back to the emptiness, equipped with the memory of Svetlana's contacts. Not a sensory memory. More like a feel for a style. It was buried in the quiet. Now, using Isaiah's perception, look for it, a metaphorical needle in a haystack that wasn't there.
Something? Faint and far, like voices confused with the sound of blood in your own ears. But something. Reach, remember.
But touch a barrier. Like knocking on a door. The door opened, the shield went down. "Hello, Svetlana. It's Jeanette."
Isaiah backed his attention away. He had no power to stop "overhearing." He opened his eyes. Should he get up, walk downstairs into the psilence? Quietly, politely, Jeanette dropped her link to him. He went into the next room, there to examine that buried feeling in peace and gloat over his first genuine, if tiny and Platonic, flirtation in a century.
Noah sat at the table, working his way through his third sandwich. He and the table sat in a stony office in the barracks of the Resurrection Soldiers. A big marmalade cat stood on the table, sniffing the fingers of his left hand, wrapped around a glass of milk. Matthew watched from a wall screen, and three human people stood around the table, regarding the neb. Except for Noah, they all wore red uniforms. Even the cat wore a red collar with alpha-omega insignia and sergeant's stripes.
"Does he smell human?" Isaiah asked the cat.
"Sorta," answered Sergeant Max. "It's faint. The sandwich almost covers it up." His voice was high and nasal.
Meanwhile, Captain Jean-Baptiste Barry took a blood sample from Noah's neck. Barry was tall, skinny, and pale, so the operation looked unpleasantly vampiric, but Noah paid no attention. Isaiah reflected that Noah seemed to take pain for granted. The captain turned to his microscope and started. "It's clear!" he gasped. "I took red blood out of his neck, and now it's clear!"
"Psilence," said Isaiah.
"Well, that settles that," Commander Jenny said. She was a formidable black woman, the commanding officer of Carmel's Resurrection Soldiers. "Your friend was right about psilence destroying him. We'll take him straight over to TSTO. I like the adoption idea, too. Pity you won't be around to execute it." She smiled at Isaiah.
He smiled back. "You have plenty of other people who can handle it."
"You know it; you trained them ... a long time ago. You've been wasting yourself, these last years, taking sub duty and teaching nothing but three- and five-lecture classes."
"I never wanted administration or ministerial authority, you know that. Anyway, I wanted to be free to leave on short notice."
Jenny sighed. "Looks like it finally paid off."
Captain Barry, meanwhile, had moved his microscope up to Noah's elbow, into the open psi. He took another blood sample. "Interesting," he said, peering through the lens. "It remained red for a moment, but now it is fading. Red blood cells dissolve as I watch. Hmm. It seems to have stablized now. There are a few, a very few. Like very dilute blood."
"So much for getting a blood count on him," Isaiah said. "How does he check out otherwise?" For Captain Barry was the barracks physician.
"He is in perfect health, so far as I can tell," Barry answered. "And quite human. Classic eo-human. What the doctors of TSTO would say about him, I can only guess." Barry sighed. "I wish you were not going, Isaiah!"
"Me, too," added Max.
"But you know I've been planning it for years," protested Isaiah.
"That's just it," said Matthew. "It's been years. Always going, never gone."
"Yes," Barry said with a smile. "We have become used to you always being about to go."
"Then it's high time I really went," said Isaiah, smiling back.
"We'll miss you," said Jenny.
"And I you," he answered, his smile growing a bit watery.
Max walked to the table's edge and poised himself. Isaiah held out his arms and caught him as he jumped. The neo-cat swarmed up to Isaiah's shoulder and nuzzled his jaw. Then his ears fell back. "I suppose this is the last we'll see of you."
"Not at all! I'll–"
"Keep in touch?" finished the cat. "Yeah, people always say that." He leapt back to the table and started washing vigorously.
"Don't worry, Isaiah," said Jenny. "You're right to move on. We've talked it all out long ago."
Isaiah was not even pretending to smile any more. These were the people he had survived and fought and worked with for a hundred years, for nearly half his life, and the parting could not be painless. "I will keep in touch, dammit!" he growled. "Just you wait, Max! I'll learn telepathy and come haunt your sleep! Blast it, I can write, anyway." He grabbed the cat up and hugged him until he squeaked. Then he hugged Barry and Jenny. He turned to the screen and pressed a hand against it. Matthew imaged another hand pressing back.
Then he turned to Noah. "You I may never see again," he said.
Noah looked calmly back. "Okay," he said.
So biddable, so pliant. Isaiah resolved to stamp something on that pliancy while there was time. "Remember this: You can be happy. You can make other people happy. You are God's child. You may not understand that yet, but when you do, remember it. You are not any mortal handiwork, whatever the circumstances of your birth – you are God's, made for joy and to bring joy." He hugged Noah. Slowly, uncertainly, Noah hugged back.
"Good-bye, folks," he said, rising. "And I will write. Keep me in your prayers."
"And us in yours, Isaiah," said Jenny. "Go with God."
"Abide in God."
On to Chapter 9, Departures
Back to Chapter 7, Tooth
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013