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Authors: Timothy Zahn

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BOOK: Coming of Age
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She'd never noticed a turn quite that sharp in the road, and for a moment wondered if perhaps he'd lost control and driven into the ditch. But an instant later she saw the glow again, a little further on. Reassured, she circled back toward the distant slice of pinprick lights that was Barona. With the excitement over, she turned her mind back to the problem that had driven her out here in the first place.

She struggled with it for another half hour, and through all the tangle two thoughts gradually seemed to emerge: one, that to get the edge she desired over her peers she would need to start learning ahead of time the stuff the school would be teaching; and two, that the first thing on that list was reading.

Reading.
Even just bouncing around in her head the word was a little scary. Reading was something only adults did, like driving cars or making money—something that took a lot of time and hard work to become any good at. Could she possibly get anywhere with it in the few weeks or months she had left? After all, she'd always heard that reading was too hard for kids and preteens to learn—else why wait until after Transition to put people in school?

But I'm
almost
a teen,
she reminded herself firmly … and now that she thought about it, she couldn't remember anyone ever saying that a preteen couldn't
try
to learn reading. If she could even just learn all the letters it would give her something to build on later. It was certainly worth a try, anyway.

And with unusually good timing the idea had even come to her when she could take advantage of the extra free time the weekend provided. None of the books in the hive's entertainment center had anything but pictures, but the Barona Library was open to anyone; and while Lisa had been above the first two floors only once, she knew kids
were
allowed up there. Provided the library opened early enough on Saturdays, she should be able to get busy right after breakfast.

For a moment she frowned, and her thoughts went back to the man in the car. What sort of job did he have, she wondered, where he had to work on Saturday but not on Friday? The mines in the Tessellate Mountains near Rand worked eight days a week, she'd heard—a few of them a full twenty-one hours a day—but he hadn't looked much like a miner. Perhaps he was a supervisor of some kind. Certainly he'd sounded educated enough to be somebody important.

And that apparently was the secret of adult life.
Education is power … and power means not being pushed around.
Smiling to herself, Lisa increased her speed, hoping to get to bed early for a change. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

Dr. Matthew Jarvis let his car coast to a stop by the cabin wall and breathed a sigh of relief as he flicked off the headlights. For a moment he sat in the darkness, letting his eyes adjust. Then, opening the door, he reached over and scooped up the sleeping boy beside him. Maneuvering carefully to avoid banging either of their heads, he got out of the car and carried the child into the dark building.

Inside, he headed straight for the kitchen table, the only flat surface he was willing to try and get to in complete darkness. He made it without running into anything and laid the boy down. Feeling his way to the nearest door jamb, he flicked on a light and then reached around the door to his study to turn on the lights there. Picking up the boy, he transferred him to the study couch and then went back to the car to retrieve his small travel bag, confirming on the way that the lights didn't show from outside the cabin. Back in the study, he collected the vials and hypodermics he would need and set them out neatly on the end table by the couch. Finally, he pulled a chair alongside the sleeping boy and sat down.

For a long moment he gazed into the child's face as an odd mix of emotions swirled inside him. The decision on whether to proceed was still not irrevocable … and the fact that he'd made it this far without getting caught meant that choice was now solely in his hands. Even at this late stage that wasn't something he could casually dismiss.

But the moment passed. Reaching over to the end table, he carefully prepared the three hypos he would need: the first with a chemical to neutralize what remained of the sleeping drug in the boy's system, the second with a mild hypnotic. In the third … Jarvis squinted at the clear brown fluid, marveling again at how innocent the stuff seemed. Certainly there was nothing in its appearance to suggest its creation had cost four years of blood-sweat … or that it might very well turn Tigrin society upside down as drastically as the sudden appearance of the teekay talent had nearly two hundred years earlier. Brown dynamite—a kiloton of it in every hypo.

Feeling a tension in his jaw, he put the vial down carefully and picked up the first hypo and a disinfectant swab. Cleaning a patch of skin on the boy's upper arm, he injected the neutralizer and swabbed over the needle mark. Moving a couple of centimeters down, he repeated the procedure with the second hypo. Then, his hand on the boy's pulse, he settled back to wait.

He'd preferred to err on the side of caution with the doses, with the result that it took nearly an hour for the child to drift from his original comalike sleep into the half-awake state Jarvis needed. But finally he was ready.

“Colin, can you hear me?” Jarvis asked softly.

The boy stirred, and his eyes opened into slits that still showed mostly white. “Uh-huh,” he murmured.

“I'm going to tell you some things, Colin, and I want you to promise me you'll remember. Okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Okay. Open your eyes and look at me.” Colin did so, and Jarvis continued, “My name is Matthew Caleb. I'm a friend of yours and the Brimmers, and you'll be staying with me for a few months—a sort of vacation in the woods. You're very excited and happy to be here, of course, and will want to stay as long as you can. Will you remember all of that?'

“Okay.”

There were other things Jarvis wanted to tell him, but they could wait for another day now that the groundwork had been laid. “Good. Now, turn your head and look into the corner over there. Do you see the red disk? I want you to try and lift it straight up along the metal bar.”

Colin nodded and Jarvis turned his attention to the corner. The device there was essentially a homemade version of a standard hive teekay tester. Twenty metal disks, each weighing one kilogram, rested on a vertical pole that was tapered from bottom to top; the different sizes of the disks' central holes let them rest a few centimeters apart on the pole. As Jarvis watched, the bottom disk—painted a bright red—wobbled once and began to rise. It picked up the disk above it without slowing; and the next, and the next. When the pile finally came to a halt, it consisted of eight disks and was almost able to lift the ninth.

“That's fine, Colin; very good,” Jarvis said, marking the figure down in a small notebook. Average, or perhaps a bit weak for his age, though Jarvis had no doubt a careful brain and metabolism analysis would show the boy to be on the proper teekay curve. Again, that could wait until tomorrow. “You can let the disk down now.” The pile returned smoothly to its original configuration, and Jarvis turned back to the boy. “Now, Colin, I'm going to give you a shot. I don't want you to feel it, though, okay?”

Colin nodded. Picking up the third needle, Jarvis prepared the arm and, with only a slight hesitation, injected the brown fluid. His hand was trembling noticeably when he returned the hypo to the table. “Very good, Colin. Now, there's just one more thing, and then I'm going to let you go to sleep. I'm going to have to give you these shots every couple of days for a while, and I don't want it to bother you in any way. So whenever you hear the word ‘Miribel,' I want you to go immediately into a deep sleep. You won't wake up again until you hear the word ‘Oriana.' Do you understand? Repeat the two words to me.”

“Miribel,” the child murmured. His eyelids were drifting shut as the hypnotic began to lose its hold on him. “Oriana.”

“That's fine, Colin. Now in a minute you'll go to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning you won't remember this conversation. We're going to have a good time here together, and you're going to learn a lot about woodland life. Above all, don't worry about anything, because I care a lot about you. All right? Good. You're a good boy, Colin, and you may go to sleep now.”

A moment later the boy was fast asleep, his mouth slightly open, his breathing slow and regular. Checking his pulse one final time, Jarvis carefully covered him with the blanket he'd had ready. Just as stealthily, he gathered his equipment and drugs and locked them away in his work table.

With one last look at the sleeping child, he turned out the study lights and softly closed the door. Strangely enough, though his hands were still trembling a bit, the earlier tension was gone … and the reason for that was obvious. By illegally injecting that drug into Colin's body, he had placed himself neck-deep in the Rubicon.

For all intents and purposes, the decision to proceed
was
now irrevocable.

Chapter 4

T
HERE WAS NO WAKE-UP
buzzer on Saturdays, but the excitement of the previous night carried over into the morning, nudging Lisa out of bed well before her usual weekend rising time of seven o'clock. Dressing quickly, she headed downstairs to the dining room. Despite the hour, a reasonable number of others were already there, most of them the younger boys and girls who always woke up with the sun no matter what the calendar said. Taking her tray to her table, she was mildly annoyed to find a yellow triangle waiting there for her.

Someone had probably seen that illegal balcony takeoff, she decided, and had complained loudly enough for Gavra to feel she had to take action. From Lisa's point of view the fingering couldn't have come at a worse time—along with a minor loss of points, the usual punishment for such infractions usually included one or more weekends confined to the hive. If Gavra hit her with that one, she would have to postpone her trip to the library until after work on Nultday at the earliest. Hurrying through her breakfast, she went to the Senior's office, bracing herself for the worst.

And was pleasantly surprised. “Ah; Lisa,” Gavra smiled as the preteen knocked tentatively at the open door. “Come in—you're up earlier than I'd expected. I wondered if you'd help me welcome a new child this morning. She's coming in with her parents about eight.”

Relief washed through Lisa. It was still over half an hour before eight, and it could easily cost the rest of the morning to check a newcomer into the hive, especially if she was as scared as children often were about leaving their parents. But when she compared the task to the fate she'd been contemplating, Lisa couldn't help but feel she'd been let off easily. “Sure, I'd be happy to. Main entrance?”

“Yes,” Gavra nodded. “Thanks very much—and sorry about the short notice.”

Half an hour wasn't really long enough to do anything worthwhile, but the hive game rooms were always a good place to kill a little time, so Lisa wandered down to see what was going on there. She arrived to find a scene of barely controlled pandemonium, with a group of Sevens having taken over the center of the main gym room for an exuberant game of spinwheel, while some Fives and Sixes cheered from the sidelines and tried to imitate the intricate motions with their own toys. The two preteens in charge—Tens, by their obvious inexperience—seemed to have conceded the center to the Sevens and were instead concentrating on making sure the younger kids didn't get run down or otherwise hurt. They looked so helpless—and so relieved that assistance had arrived—that Lisa changed her original plans and spent the entire half hour helping to calm the boisterous Sevens and restore order.
Overseeing Saturday morning happy hole is
not
one of the things I'm going to miss about the hive,
she thought wryly as she hurried through the halls toward the front entrance. She hoped the new girl's family was late; she'd cut her time a little too closely.

They weren't late, as it happened, but since Gavra was still welcoming them as Lisa arrived, they apparently hadn't been too far ahead of her. “Ah, here she is,” Gavra said as Lisa tried to trot up with dignity. “This is Lisa Duncan, one of our preteens. Lisa, this is Jessy Larz and her parents.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Lisa nodded to the adults as she dropped into a crouch to put herself at the child's eye level. “Hi, Jessy. How are you?”

The little girl didn't answer. Tightening her grip on her mother's hand, she regarded Lisa with wide, unblinking eyes. “My name's Lisa,” the preteen went on cheerfully, ignoring the other's silence. “Is Jessy short for Jessica?”

“Can you say yes, Jessy?” her mother murmured.

“Uh-huh,” Jessy said reluctantly.

“That's a
nice
name,” Lisa said, smiling her best. “And you're a very pretty girl; did you know that?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, sounding more confident this time.

The adults chuckled, and Lisa sensed a slight lowering of the child's barriers. Gavra apparently saw it, too, and moved quickly to take advantage of the thaw. “Why don't we all go to the testing room now?” she suggested. “After that we'll show you some of the facilities Dayspring has to offer.”

“Oh, that'll be fun!” Lisa exclaimed to Jessy. “We've got a
lot
of neat toys and games here to play with.” She stood up and offered her hand to the child. With only a brief hesitation she took it; and although she also kept a firm grip on her mother's hand during the short walk, Lisa decided to consider it a victory.

When they reached the testing room, however, all remaining resistance crumbled. For a moment Jessy stared in amazement at the array of toys set out there; then, with a sort of happy bleat, she ran forward.

“Jessy—” her mother began warningly.

“It's all right,” Gavra interrupted her. “The toys are there for her to play with. If you'll both just step over here to the desk, there are some forms we have to fill out.”

BOOK: Coming of Age
8.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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