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Authors: Timothy Zahn

Coming of Age (25 page)

BOOK: Coming of Age
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“Still going due south?” Tirrell said into his car's microphone, fighting the wheel with one hand as he bounced over the dusty farmland road.

“Still south,” Tonio's voice confirmed.

“Damn,” Tirrell muttered to himself. The road he was on was forcing him ever more eastward, toward the central part of the Barona-Nordau farming area, and there hadn't been a right-hand turnoff for a kilometer or two. “How close are you to the mountains?” he asked.

“A few kilometers, maybe—not very far. Weylin's still pretty high; I don't think he's going to land anytime soon.”

Tirrell scooped up his map with his mike hand, but it was pure reflex; already he was letting the car coast to a stop. “This isn't going to work, Tonio—there's no fast way for me to get back to you by car. You'd better come and get me before he gets into the mountains and we lose him for sure.”

“Okay. I think I can see your lights back there. Blink them once … right. I'll be there in a flash.”

Pulling off onto the soft dirt at the edge of the road, Tirrell collected his map, flashlight, and jacket and climbed out of the car, leaving the headlights on. Ahead, he could see the barest outline of the Tessellate Mountains as they jutted up to block the stars.
A hell of a place to be playing nighttime hide-and-search,
he thought uneasily, putting on his jacket and stuffing the map into a pocket. A million places Weylin could instantly lose them if he even so much as suspected he was being followed—and a million more places where Jarvis's cabin could be hidden. For a moment he considered sliding back into the car and sending for reinforcements, or at least another few trackers. But he resisted the temptation. Until he knew exactly how Jarvis had suborned Weylin it was better to have one righthand he could trust than fifty he wasn't sure of.

He sensed, rather than saw, the dark object arcing toward him from the southwest, and acted with the sure movements of past experience. Ducking slightly, he reached through the car window and doused the lights; simultaneously, he flicked on his flashlight and pointed it at himself from arm's length. Instantly, the still night air became a hurricane in his face as he was abruptly teeked upward at high speed. Squeezing his eyes shut, he brought up his free arm for extra protection and waited for the wind to ease a bit. A moment later it-did just that, and he opened his eyes to slits just in time to reach out and clasp Tonio's outstretched hand. “Good job,” he complimented the righthand, flicking off his light and putting it away. “Can you get us back to Weylin before he gets lost in the mountains?”

Already they were heading back the way Tonio had come. “Just watch me,” the preteen called over the wind and doubled his speed.

The techniques of breathing in fast flight, once learned, were never forgotten, and Tirrell had the extra advantage of not really needing to watch where they were going. He spent most of those first few minutes with his head turned to the side, windward eye closed tightly and the other open just a crack, breathing through the side of his mouth. Every few breaths he would take a quick look forward, just to keep some idea of their position. Tonio, of course, had to do that a lot more often.

They had been flying for perhaps ten minutes when Tonio abruptly brought them to almost a complete halt. “There he is!” the preteen said, pointing.

Tirrell swiped at his eyes and scanned the area ahead. Sure enough, a dimly lit speck could just be seen tracing a path above the first real mountains of the range. “Looks like he's slowed down some,” Tonio commented. “Probably figures he's safe now and doesn't want to miss any turns.”

“Neither do we,” Tirrell told him with grim satisfaction. “Stay low and back and let's follow him in.”

Tonio nodded and they started moving again. Ignoring the conetree tops brushing at his feet, Tirrell kept his eyes solidly fixed on Weylin. This was one game of hide-and-search he was
going to lose.

The tabernacle was quiet and dark, but the Prophet Omega was indeed waiting for them. “Lisa; I'm pleased to see you again,” he said with a warm smile as Axel ushered her into the office she'd talked to the Prophet in before. The Prophet had changed since then from his white robe to a plainer blue one, but he looked no less impressive for all that. “Come sit by me and tell me all of the evening's events. Acolyte Schu, please wait outside.”

Slowly, Lisa walked forward and sat down in the indicated chair by the Prophet's desk. Something was nagging at her, but she couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was. “Don't you already know?” she asked him. “I mean, you told me you had the Truth inside you—”

“Truth and knowledge are not identical,” he told her, his tone that of a preteen lecturing a Seven. “Truth is more like wisdom, the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Else why would I have asked you to seek knowledge of the boy Colin for me? Now, begin.”

Haltingly—the memory was still painful—Lisa told him everything that had happened from the time she and Weylin entered the city building to the time she escaped from the searching righthands. More from fear of the Prophet's disapproval than anything else, she skipped completely over her trip to the hive and everything that happened there. “So then I came back here to tell you what I could,” she concluded. “Are you going to do anything to help Weylin?”

“Acolyte Weylin is in no danger if he followed my instructions,” the Prophet said, a slight frown creasing his forehead. “Tell me, did you have trouble finding your way here?”

“Oh, yes,” Lisa said, shivering slightly at the memory. “I was afraid I'd get completely lost and have to spend the night out there by myself.”

The frown vanished. “That explains the time, then,” he said. Before Lisa could ask what he meant, the Prophet picked up a large packet of paper from a corner of his desk and unfolded it into what turned out to be a duplicate of the map on Tirrell's office wall. “Now, Lisa,” he said, spreading the paper across the center of the desk, “show me exactly where the circled areas are.”

“Well …” Lisa swallowed. “I only found a couple in the right part of the map before the—before I had to leave.” She found the letters and numbers she remembered and pointed out the spots.

“What do you mean, ‘the right part'?” he asked. “Did the papers talk about that?”

“Oh! No—I forgot to tell you. There was a picture of Dr. Jarvis by the door downstairs in the city building—I'm not exactly sure what the pictures were for—”

“They're photos of people wanted by the police,” the Prophet told her. “Go on.”

“Well, I remembered seeing him. He was driving toward Rand one night last June. And he had a little boy with him who he said was his nephew, but I think it must have really been Colin.”

to him? Jarvis, I mean?”

“Yes. I thought he might be having some trouble, driving between cities at night, so I stopped to ask if he was all right.”

The Prophet muttered something under his breath and jabbed at the map. “Show me where,” he ordered. “The exact spot.”

She looked at it in bewilderment. “But … how do I—”

“You've flown over that road lots of times, haven't you? Well, each turn and bend shows up here as a curve in the line. Come on; I need to know.”

But I wasn't flying along the road that night.
Gritting her teeth, she leaned over the map, trying to think. She'd cut off parts of two curves catching up with the car, had stopped it on a smooth stretch, and had watched the car curve a little to the left as it left. “I think it was maybe about here,” she said at last, her finger tracing a two-centimeter section of the line.

The Prophet brushed her hand aside and made a circle there with a pen. “Good. Now, let's see how far that is from Barona …” With a small disk-shaped device he carefully traced along the line back into the shape labeled
. Glancing at the device's side, he scribbled a number by the circle. “Lisa,” he said, looking up with a smile, “I am even more certain now that it was the Truth that guided you to me.”

“You mean I … did all right?” she asked cautiously.

“You did wonderfully,” he nodded, still smiling. “You see, I already know the boy Colin is being held within a hundred kilometers of Barona. You saw him at a point nearly eighty kilometers away, which means you have narrowed tremendously the area we must search. That plus these—” he touched the two spots she'd first given him—“gives me hope that we will soon have Colin freed from his satanic captor; possibly before this day is over. And for allowing the Truth to work through you, your own desire shall surely be granted.”

“You'll find Daryl for me.” It wasn't until the words were out that Lisa realized she'd made a statement instead of asking a question. In that moment she suddenly understood why Weylin had been able to trust this man so completely. Looking into his eyes, feeling the warmth of his pleasure at her accomplishment, she felt as if she had finally found something she hadn't even known she'd lost. Somehow, it made everything that she'd gone through worthwhile.

The Prophet nodded solemnly. “I give you my word—”

Abruptly, he broke off, his eyes shifting toward the door. Soft voices could be heard coming from outside the room; but even as Lisa strained her ears, the door swung open—

And Weylin Ellery strode into the room.

“Weylin!” Lisa exclaimed with delight. “I was afraid you'd—”

“How'd you get away from Tirrell?” Weylin interrupted her coldly.

“From who? I went out the window—”

“Tirrell called from your hive—said he'd caught you,” Weylin bit out. “Wanted me to go back to the city building to identify you.”

“And you ran?” the Prophet asked sharply. Lisa glanced back at him, startled by the sudden change in his manner.

“Of course I did,” Weylin said, his belligerent tone cooling some under the Prophet's gaze. “I figured she wouldn't know enough to shut up and let me do the talking.”

“In other words, Tirrell set up a trap for you and you flew straight into it,” the Prophet snapped. “At the very least he knows you've got something to hide over what happened tonight—and at the worst he had you followed and now knows exactly where we are!”

Weylin actually cringed. “No—no, I'm sure I wasn't followed. I got out too fast and made sure no one was behind me. His eyes swiveled to Lisa, turning angry again. “But why would Tirrell have done something like that in the first place?”

“Why indeed?” The Prophet looked at Lisa, too, his earlier warmth gone without a trace. His eyes were cold and hard, his unsmiling face looking like that of another person altogether. “So you came here straight from the city building, did you? Who did you talk to, Lisa, that you conveniently forgot to mention? Was it Tirrell? Someone at your hive?”

“I … didn't—”

“Don't lie to me!” the Prophet thundered abruptly.

“Just my roommate,” she blurted, shrinking back into her chair. “Only her—and she promised she wouldn't tell anyone.”

“Well, she obviously
tell someone,” the Prophet shot back. “What did you tell her?”

“I—I—” Lisa fumbled, her tongue tangled with confusion at the Prophet's abrupt change—

And suddenly her mind flashed back to the other picture on the city building wall, the one that had seemed vaguely familiar. “It was
” she said without thinking. “But the name was Yerik Martel, not the Proph—”

“Weylin, hold her,” the Prophet said quietly.

For an instant Lisa sat in stunned silence, the order echoing through her mind as she wondered if she had heard him right. An instant after that she launched herself at the door—but she was barely halfway there when Weylin's teekay plucked her out of the air and slammed her down onto the floor. Fighting blindly against the invisible force, Lisa struggled back into the air, jerking sideways in an attempt to break his hold. But the trick that had worked among Barona's shadowy buildings was ineffective in such close quarters, and his grip on her remained firm. Spurred by panic, she abandoned her attempts to fly and instead scooped up all the books and papers she could from Omega's desk, hurling them at Weylin. But the right-hand dodged them without shifting his gaze … and a moment later Lisa was spun around and shoved into one of the room's far corners.

“What's going on?” a new voice—Axel's—snapped from behind her.

“Help Weylin hold her,” Omega ordered. “I think she's a police spy.”

“No—” Lisa managed to croak before her jaw was abruptly teeked shut.

“Grack!” Axel muttered viciously. “What do we do with her?”

“We first of all don't panic,” Omega said coldly. “Hold her arms, legs, and head really still; I'm going to check for hidden mikes.”

Lisa tried to protest, but her mouth was still being held closed. Footsteps approached; and then Omega's hands were moving firmly over her body, kneading the material of her clothing and feeling the skin beneath it. She squeezed her eyes shut, every muscle painfully tense … and finally it was over. “She's clean,” Omega told the others, relief evident in his tone. “Maybe she wasn't working with Tirrell, after all.”

“We going to let her go, then?” Weylin asked.

“Of course not,” Axel put in impatiently. “You think she wouldn't go straight to the police now?”

“But we can't
her here—”

“Peace,” Omega interrupted, his voice under control again. “Axel, how many of your people are here tonight?”

“Fifteen or twenty, I think.”

“Go and get four of them. No, wait—tell Weylin their names and where they're sleeping and let him bring them.”

BOOK: Coming of Age
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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