It was two weeks later. The ground was just now thawing enough for spring planting.
The Great Bard had convinced the farmers who had worked on the university foundation last summer to start on the brick walls, but now they were gone, attending to their own plowing and planting.
Béla had just found out that the university’s Praetor wouldn’t be shipped until the first section was complete. She had planned to use the Praetor to study the history of New Eden and the series of events that led to its creation. There were things she was convinced she needed to know. She had also intended to get Jeff trained in using the Praetor in his role as head schoolmaster.
There had been another question, but like a dream it eluded her. But she wasn’t worried; the Praetor would know. She would just ask it about Elaine. She lay back, trying to relax in the warm sunlight. The ground was still almost too cool to lie on comfortably.
‘What about Elaine?’ Elaine asked, dropping down beside her a few minutes later. She had been flying, seeing how high she could go before the winds got too rough for her to handle.
Béla sent her an image of her confusion regarding her almost forgotten dream.
‘I can help,’ Elaine told her, anxious to try out her ability to ‘right-find’ that she'd been practicing as a junior justice.
Béla felt her sister’s sudden presence as she dream-walked into the image Béla had created. Béla lay back in the grass again and closed her eyes to aid her concentration. Her sister lay down next to her and stretched out on the cool grass. Béla ciykd feel the grass caressing her sister’s body in her mind. Other images, more erotic, began to overflow into the image Elaine was trying to concentrate on.
‘Hey! You! The horny one!’ Elaine shouted into Béla’s mind. ‘Later, I promise. Okay?’
Béla chuckled and concentrated harder on the task at hand.
‘Dark. Sleeping. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you… I’ve doomed us all with my arrogant belief that I’m always right.’
‘Yep! That sounds like you, all right.’
‘Be quiet! I’m trying to concentrate. This isn’t how you ‘right-find’. Don’t be so aggressive. I’m losing the image!’
‘It’s right here. Come to where I am.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Believe it or not, I’m on the great ship. Can you see it? Look! There are female crew members! That’s amazing. I wonder what happened to them?’
‘I thought the ship’s complement was all male. I never thought about female crewmembers.’
‘How do you have a memory like this? How were you on the ship before?’
‘You were commanded not to wonder about that. It’s time for you to leave. You will remember when you are ready,’ a new voice, that of the Praetor, commanded them.
‘Béla, stop pushing me!’
‘I’m not! You’re pushing me!’
‘Wait! I’m losing it! There’s something in here with us! I’m…’
The two sisters slept on the cool spring grass, warmed by the northern sun. Hundreds of miles above them, the Praetor returned to its duties, having gently mind-wiped the memory of Béla’s dream from its precious charges and put them both to sleep.
It noted that the Seeker was predicting the future destruction of the ship. It stored that data in the central core of its memory. This Seeker was never wrong, even in her new body and with her earlier identity forgotten. Passing through the asteroid belt, she had proved her value at the laser cannons, always knowing where a random rock that could threaten the ship would appear.
During the one time the ship would have been damaged when another of her sisters was manning the guns, the Seeker had managed to place herself on the bridge and in the gunner’s seat idly chatting with the gunner on duty. As the asteroid appeared on the scanner, traveling at a much higher velocity than would have been expected by the new gunner, she almost casually carved it into harmless little pieces with the laser cannon. She even apologized to the Bridge Officer for ‘playing with the guns while she was off-duty’ afterward. Only she, and the Praetor unknowingly mind-linked to her, were aware of the disaster that had been averted.
The Praetor began to search the mind of this Seeker to determine the circumstances of the coming disaster.
The great ship is approaching the Deimos entry point. Something of undetermined origin occurs. The ship is pushed off course and moves into the surface of the artificial moon, collapsing a section of the hollow shell. The atmosphere vents outward, explosively blowing the ship back out and toward the red planet below. The remaining Deimosians are instantly suffocated. The great ship is trapped in Mars’ gravity well and plummets down to the surface as a great fireball. The resulting crater is twenty miles across and two miles deep.
After several attempts, the Praetor was still unable to determine what will cause the accident. The loss of the Deimos station could not be averted. The loss of the ship could be prevented by blowing the atmosphere of Deimos’ interior before the ship arrived, or by not arriving there at all.
The Praetor filed the data in its central core to be acted on when the time was appropriate. Now that it was likely that the decision to abandon Deimos would occur, the Praetor determined to check with the Seeker later in the year to see if her prediction had changed.
Béla stretched. The warm sun felt wonderful with the dark cold of winter still fresh in her memory. She felt Elaine’s mind as she awoke. They were lying together in the grass that would become the front lawn of the university.
“Hi. What’re you doing here?” Béla asked, somewhat confused, but not unhappy to see her sister lying beside her.
“I would ask you the same,” Elaine said, feeling the same confusion.
A moment ago, she had been hundreds of feet high and several miles away. She broadcast her confusion to her older sister. Béla entered her mind, looking for a solution. The two ran into a blank wall. Béla pressed against it.
‘What the hell is this?’
‘I don’t know! It’s…’
‘A chunk of lost time! You’ve been mind-wiped!’
“What?” Elaine exclaimed. “That’s impossible! There’s no Praetor here! Besides, I haven’t done anything to deserve that!”
“Nevertheless,” Béla told her, “That is a mind-wipe. You must have discovered something you weren’t supposed to know. Why would the Praetor keep secrets from us, anyway?”
“Sister,” Elaine said nervously, “I’m frightened. There is something going on that someone doesn’t want us to know about.”
“Alright, just relax,” Béla said. “You can get around a mind-wipe simply by asking direct questions. I’ll ask, you answer. Whatever comes into your head. Okay?”
“Okay,” her sister agreed nervously.
She closed her eyes, mimicking what her sister had done earlier. Earlier? She wasn’t here earlier. She formed an image of her sudden realization and thought it at Béla.
“What?” Béla said. “That’s impossible. I’ve been asleep…”
The sisters looked at each other, wide-eyed and frightened.
“We were both mind-wiped,” Elaine suggested quietly, her voice uneven.
She was shaking with fear. Suddenly, it wasn’t even safe to sit in the grass and soak up the sun.
They both thought of it at the same time. ‘Jolene’s thought dampener!’
Forming their wings, they both flew as fast as they could, not knowing where an attack might come from. They found the device in the manor, still set up in the room Jolene had used early last winter. Béla turned it on and stepped into the field. Elaine followed her. Their minds were quiet, muted by the electronic field surrounding them.
“Can you feel anything?” Béla asked, “Anything at all?”
Elaine shook her head. Then Béla touched her arm and their minds flooded together.
‘I think we’re safe from psychic attack here,’ Béla told her sister. ‘We can get out. No one can get in.’
‘How can you get out?’ Elaine asked.
Béla showed her an image of dream-walking. Elaine was amazed. It was so simple. Even father would never have thought of that.
‘That could be the problem we’re having,’ Béla suggested. ‘We could be getting too powerful too fast! Someone is keeping secrets from us and it's obviously something someone doesn't want known. You discovered something an hour ago. What did you see?’
Image of Béla in her mind, thinking about asking the Praetor about Elaine.
‘I never thought that!’ Béla protested. ‘Why would I ask the Praetor about you?’
‘Wait! I need to ask you that question!’ Elaine insisted. ‘Why would you ask the Praetor about me?’
An image showed up faintly in Béla’s mind. Elaine could see it. Béla couldn’t. Elaine dream-walked into the image and disappeared from Béla’s awareness of her in her mind.
‘Where’d you go?’ Béla asked, suddenly frightened. ‘Call out to me!’
She could see her sister right in front of her. She looked all right, but she couldn’t feel Elaine's mind anywhere. Suddenly Elaine was back; her mind shielded, her thoughts her own.
‘How are you doing that?’ Béla asked anxiously. ‘Where were you?’
Her sister Elaine was changed somehow. The being that stood before her in her sister’s body was quietly confident and capable, even serene. That didn’t describe Elaine at all.
‘Who are you?’ Béla demanded, frightened now. ‘Where’s my sister? How are you doing that?’
She was starting to get seriously frightened. Her very soul was at risk, here. She felt images in her mind being looked over. The being in Elaine’s body was using more finesse and loving care than even Béla was capable of, using ‘right-finding’ in a way that she’d never thought possible, accessing eons of her memories in mere seconds.
Despite the fact that Béla was feeling threatened by too many unknown things happening to her, the feel of the being in Elaine’s body was somehow comforting. She loved her. An ages old pain was being lifted from Béla’s soul.
‘You were not at fault, my darling Sister.’
It was Elaine’s mind that spoke that thought. Somehow Elaine had surpassed her in power and ability. It was like she had suddenly taken on the knowledge of the ages and instantly assimilated it, making it her own.
‘At fault for what?’ Béla asked, too confused to decide whom she was asking. ‘What did I do? Please! Tell me what’s going on! What’s happening to me?’
She felt her sister mind-link with the Praetor in the ship high above them – right through the thought dampener like it wasn’t even there.
Béla stretched. The warm sun felt wonderful. The dark cold of winter was still fresh in her memory. She looked around, half expecting to see someone. There were others around, minding their own errands, but she was alone, lying naked on the early spring grass. She had evidently fallen asleep on what would become the front lawn of the new university.
Everything was under control. The spring plowing would be done in a couple of weeks and then construction would resume on the university. The Praetor for the university would be arriving in the late summer, after the first wing was completed. Then the Bard Geoffrey would begin his training as a real head schoolmaster.
‘I’m going to enjoy this summer,’ Béla thought contentedly.
Forming her wings, she launched herself into the early spring sky. Beating her wings and climbing higher, she looked around her little domain. She felt satisfied; at peace with herself. It almost felt too good to be natural. Almost…
‘Elaine should be flying out here somewhere. I think I’ll see if I can find her…’