Eight Against Two, and Why It Wasn’t Fair to the Eight
“The Community of Protectors shall be divided into two branches,
rangers and scholars, both of which shall serve humanity wherever it
may spread in the Galaxy.”
Steven loitered beneath a street lamp in a neighborhood decent people avoided. They avoided the entire planet if they had a choice. Volcanoes pocked its surface, and the air stank of sulfur.
Men and women with money enough to get roaring drunk, but without funds to abandon Medusa-Four for a better world, trickled by on their way to the saloons. Steven spoke to none of them, other than to refuse the frequent request for a hand-out. He waited for a street dealer to happen along and peddle him a narcotic that would turn his brain to jelly.
Steven’s cheek felt a stab. That’ll raise a red bump, he thought, as he squished the tuba fly munching on his skin. The flies represented the pinnacle of Medusa-Four’s native life. After a billion years of nothing to eat but weaker insects, they’d taken to human flesh like kids to candy.
“Hey, big guy,” a voice called. “Looking to score a kilo of delirium dust?”
Steven perspired beneath the coat that covered him from his shoulders to his ankles. He hated the temperature on Medusa-Four, sweltering like the deserts of Earth. But he needed to wear the coat while he bargained with the dealer. “Maybe I’ll buy. If it’s top quality. I’m tired of you lowlifes playing me for
The dealer stepped into the light, and Steven detected a crooked body hunched on the wood planks of the sidewalk. His new acquaintance must have spent years digging up the raw materials to manufacture delirium dust. The mines had a way of warping a person’s skeleton. The dealer pried open a tin box, revealing a glob of black mush. The stuff might be mistaken for something a dog would leave behind on a patch of grass. But it couldn’t be that. Medusa-Four had neither dogs nor grass.
The man’s grin set Steven to wondering how human teeth could turn such a shade of green without falling out. “I’m partial to kids with spirit,” the man said. “So, for you, I’ll shave ten percent off the going rate. And it’s highest grade. Within five minutes, no pains and no worries. Try a hit, if you don’t believe me.”
Steven took a pinch between his thumb and forefinger, sniffed, and gagged. He touched a single grain to his tongue. “I don’t need to take a hit. How much?”
The dealer’s eyes lit up with greed. “Per kilo? You got a choice, kid. We’ll break it into packets, a gram each, for a thousand credits, or we’ll give it to you in one lump for
Steven had heard enough. He slapped the box out of the dealer’s hand. The contents spilled onto the sidewalk. He stomped with the heel of his boot, grinding the glob into the rotting planks until it was even more disgusting than before.
“Fool!” the dealer said. “My Warlord’s gonna string you up by your big toes and harvest your body parts to get that thousand credits.”
Steven shed the coat, letting it drop on top of the mess of delirium dust. Before, he had hidden his physique, for fear of scaring the drug peddler away. Now, he showed it off for purposes of intimidation. The muscles of his arms and chest threatened to burst through a shirt that squeezed him like a second skin. “Shut up,” he said. “Now it’s my turn to give a choice. You can fester in a prison off-world. Ten years, unless we forget you exist, in which case you’ll rot there till you die. Or you can lead me to the Warlord snake who supplies you with the delirium dust.”
“You’re a Protector, ain’t you,” the dealer sputtered. Steven carried the title with pride, but from this man’s lips, it came across like an insult. “I should’ve guessed from your height.” He whipped a zeta-ray pistol from a side pocket and leveled it at Steven. “My pals told me you freaks have been harassin’ us hard-workin’ businessmen.”
Steven wasn’t twenty yet. He’d never before faced the barrel of a pistol that wasn’t part of a training exercise. More experienced members of the Community of Protectors had warned him his first time would be scary. They were right, but he had to carry on. “Did they also tell you…”
“… that a Protector gets cranky when some lowlife points a gun at his nose?” Steven’s right hand squeezed his enemy’s gun-wrist, while his left hand swept down in a blur to snatch the weapon. He crumbled the pistol inside his fist, watching the bits float to the ground in the feeble gravity, and mingle with the dirt of the road. Overcoming a deadly weapon wasn’t so difficult after all, he thought. Easier than he’d imagined.
The dealer rubbed his gun hand with his other. “You broke my fingers.”
Steven scratched the recording chip tacked to his ear, camouflaged as a freckle. Satisfied it was turned on, and would preserve an audio record of his performance, he continued with the sting.
“If I’d wanted to break your fingers, I would have. They’re in one piece, for now. But fingers have been known to fall off from intense cold in the prison my Community operates. It’s on a frozen dwarf planet called Mordred. So far out at the fringe of our system, you won’t be able to tell your own sun from a lightning bug. I got orders to nail a scumbag we can ship there tonight. Any scumbag.” He shrugged. “Nothing personal. It’s sort of a quota. If I can’t find a Warlord, I’ll settle for a second-stringer like you.”
The dealer stammered. “If I—if I rat out the chief, his boys—they’ll hunt me like a rabbit.”
“So that’s my problem… how? But lucky for you, I have a warm heart. If you help us capture a Warlord, we’ll grant passage to any planet of your choosing, within reason. If you don’t cooperate, you get a one-way trip to Mordred.”
Steven put his hand over his mouth. He pretended to cough, to disguise the way he couldn’t keep from smiling at the sound of his bluff. He knew full well the Community never wasted Mordred’s scarce cells on street thugs.
The dealer trembled. “Well—there’s this dive where my boss has been known to hang out some nights. I can take you there, but I can‘t guarantee nothin’.”
Steven dropped his hands to his sides and formed them into fists. “Now we’re getting someplace. If you don’t want to spend the next ten Earth-standard years tromping on frozen carbon dioxide, you’d better pray your boss is there tonight. We’ll check this dump out, but first I need to notify my leader. She’s meaner than a scorpion. When you meet her, you’ll thank the Lord I found you before she did.”
A purple jewel, the size of a grape, nestled on a golden band that circled Steven’s left index finger. He raised his arm and twisted the bauble a half-turn to send a silent signal. “Jan?” he spoke into the jewel. “Meet me at the signal’s source. We stand a good chance of bagging a Warlord within the hour.”
The two men waited in silence for a minute. Then, an even-sided triangle dipped out of the sky, with a grim-faced woman at the controls. Steven curled his lip in distaste over the flyer’s design. It was nothing but a gray slab with a niche carved in the middle for passengers. His own preference ran to sleek flyers with bright colors and racing stripes.
The pilot ordered the flyer’s computer to set her down across the street, while the dealer eyed her from a distance. “Could be a looker if she’d fix herself up,” he whispered.
Steven had to agree. He noticed Jan’s faded hair, hanging in limp strands across her neck, and middle-aged skin, bare of make-up. The Community’s warm-planet uniform, a T-shirt and matching brown dungaree pants, drooped two sizes too large. “She never stresses over her appearance,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Says her natural looks don’t get in the way of apprehending lowlifes.”
Jan crossed the street and positioned herself between the two men, towering over the dealer’s crooked body. She examined him from top to bottom, and then frowned, as if he was a piece of merchandise that disappointed her. “What’s going on? We were bent on nailing a Warlord tonight. If this bozo is a Warlord, I’m a sugarplum fairy.”
“I never said he was a Warlord. But he can lead us to a saloon where his boss hangs out. I promised him a ticket to another stellar system if he delivers.”
“You did what?” Jan’s eyes went wide. “Man, you’re softer than a creampuff. Any creep who’d peddle narcotics to little kids doesn’t deserve a ticket to anywhere but the lowest ring of hell. I would’ve told him he’d better trot out his boss, or we’ll haul his butt into deep space and toss him out an airlock, naked as a newborn.”
“Yeah, I guess… I guess… um… um…” What was his next line? Steven had forgotten. In front of his supervisor! In his mind, he went over the script, and still he couldn’t remember how he was supposed to respond after Jan accused him of being “soft.” He froze, as the recording chip preserved the awkward silence for his superiors to judge him by.
He’d pulled off the bluff so well up to that point. He’d recited his lines exactly as he’d rehearsed them, and his threats, no matter how absurd, had appeared to strike terror into the dealer’s heart. The man had even believed the nonsense about the Protectors having a quota. But now, the person Steven most needed to impress was observing, and he’d stumbled. He pictured t
he word “UNSATISFACTORY” plastered in bold red letters on Jan’s next report to Headquarters.
After a lull that lasted an eternity to Steven, or about twelve seconds in real time, Jan rescued him with a prompt. “On the other hand, you did make a promise.”
The word “promise” triggered his memory. He recited with fresh confidence. “I guess you’re right, but see, I made a promise. It’d be wrong to break it.” There. He’d recited the line.
Jan glared at the dealer, and went on with the charade. “Oh, fine, lead us to your Warlord, and we’ll fix it so you can live out your sorry existence on some other world, safe from your ilk’s retribution. Only because my partner promised. Now, get in that flyer and direct us to the saloon, before I come to my senses and handle this my way. I hear exposure to the vacuum of space is a grisly way to die.”
Steven stifled his laughter. Jan talked a convincing bluff about exterminating her opponents, but he knew she would do nothing of the sort. In the first place, the Community of Protectors had rules against taking human life. In the second place, she was too soft-hearted. He had witnessed her put up with insect feet dancing on her breakfast sooner than squish a tuba fly.
“We won’t need your flyer,” the dealer said. “My Warlord’s a few blocks that way.” He pointed to his left.
Jan gave the dealer a shove. The two Protectors and their prisoner clomped along the sidewalk planks. The street lamps grew brighter as they crossed into the town’s more populous sector. Steven saw, by their light, that the man’s eyes had a glassy stare.
“You’re hooked on delirium dust yourself, aren’t you?”
“Ain’t everybody hooked who lives on this sewer of
“You exaggerate,” Steven said, though, he had to admit, not by much. “Why do you do this to yourself, man? You gotta know that garbage’ll kill you.”
“You wanna preach, kid? Find a church. You think I was always a successful businessman?”
“I don’t think you’re one now.”
“So that’s your opinion.” The dealer turned away and talked into the empty air. “You grew up on that giant Protector home world, where they treat you like some kinda royalty. Me? Before I got promoted to sales, I worked forty feet below ground, digging’ up those clumps of clay they use to make the dust. You try sloggin’ through muck in those mines for eighteen hours a day. See if you wouldn’t swallow somethin’ to make your stinkin’ life more tolerable.”
* * *
The dealer halted before a shack that looked like every other saloon in a cluster of establishments that served no purpose other than to intoxicate their customers. Most worlds would have been banned them within a kilometer of a school The outside walls, cobbled from rotting boards, made Steven wonder if their owners had ever heard of paint. Jan stepped over four men who appeared to be passed out on the sidewalk, and pushed open the door.
Music blared through the stench of alcohol. Two dozen customers, at various stages of drunkenness, lounged at tables in groups of two and three and four. One man had a table to himself. Rolls of flab lapped over the edges of his belt, as he toyed with a stein of rust-colored liquid. He wore the latest fashion imported by freighter from Paris, a blue jacket
woven from the fibers of seven planets, with coolants built into the threads.
The dealer broke into a satisfied grin and rushed over to the man in the blue jacket. “I brung ‘em, Mr. Crumm,” he said. “Two of ‘em. Just like you told me.”
Steven looked to Jan for direction. His instructions said nothing about what they were supposed to do next if they discovered that, all along, the Warlord had wanted them to
Mr. Crumm nodded. “Fine work, Maxwell. You’ll receive your reward, with a bonus.” He turned to Jan, flashing a smirk Steven longed to slam a fist through. “I’m beginning to think you Protectors aren’t as smart as everyone says you are. If you were, my man Maxwell couldn’t have tricked you into following him onto my turf.” He folded his hands on the table. “Did you think I didn’t expect you to try to frighten one of my people into betraying me? Or that I wouldn’t stay a step ahead of you, and turn your clumsy attempt at a sting to my advantage? Don’t try to escape. Those four derelicts you stepped over outside are awake and sober, and they are hiding zeta-ray rifles where they can grab them. They’ll discharge the rifles on my command.”
The sight of Mr. Crumm triggered a wave of revulsion that drove Steven almost to nausea. He’d detested the Warlords since the first time he saw a nine-year-old girl in a stupor from chewing delirium dust. The Warlords grew rich by exporting their drug to other worlds, but, to Steven, what they did to their own people was worse. What kind of a man would harvest the raw material for his drug empire with the labor of slaves, exterminating them like tuba flies if they tried to escape? Could such vermin be considered a man at all?
Steven whispered to Jan. “Is that creep even human?”
Mr. Crumm snatched a pellet from behind his ear, and held it between his thumb and forefinger. “This device conveyed your entire conversation with my man out on the street.” He dropped the pellet on the table and called in a loud voice. “It’s time for you to come in.”
The four men they’d seen outside lumbered into the saloon, toting zeta-ray rifles. Four more like them joined from another room. All were in their thirties with massive builds and stupid grins. To a man, they had the same glassy stare Steven had seen on Maxwell. Good, he thought. Their addiction to delirium dust would slow their reflexes when the confrontation turned physical. Stay calm, he told himself, and don’t be unnerved by a little thing like a lethal weapon pointed in your face. The music stopped in the middle of a tune. The customers, the bartender, and Maxwell edged out the door.
The Warlord drained half his stein in one gulp, and let out a belch that could be heard on the street. “You’re going to show me to your base,” he demanded. “Take me there, you live. Refuse, you die. Simple as that.”
“Take you to our base?” Jan mimicked the raspy voice. She faced Mr. Crumm, but focused her eyes on the rifles. “So you can rain down zeta bombs on the other members of our Protector team?”
Mister Crumm’s lower lip twisted. “Your call. Their lives
“I’m astonished,” Jan said.
The Warlord chuckled. “You’re surprised because you thought we’d be too scared by your reputation to fight back?”
“No—that isn’t it. We knew you wouldn‘t let your empire crumble without a struggle.” She gave Steven a wink, which he took as a signal she was about to bring the discussion to a close. “I meant, I’m astonished a man of your achievements would be so dumb as to believe eight rifle-toting morons would be any match for two unarmed Protectors.”
The Warlord drummed his fingers on the table and sighed. “I can see that I’m going to have to demonstrate I’m serious.” He nodded to one of the gunmen. “Take out her sandy-
It would take a second for the rifles to build up enough charge to spit out a decent blast of energy, and another second for the gunmen to squeeze the triggers. Experienced Protectors often advised younger ones that two seconds could be as useful as an hour, if you knew how to use them. Steven was about to find out if they had told the truth. If not, his career would be over before it had started. He dove.
Jan screamed, “Now!” He was already in mid-leap. He slammed into one gunman’s kneecaps at the same moment the rifle unleashed a burst of zeta-radiation. The blast sliced through the ribs of another assassin who chanced to be in the wrong place.
Steven felt a stab of pity for the injured men, then shoved his sympathies aside until he’d have time for them. He could arrange for medical attention after the brawl was over. Until then, he’d reduced by two the number of enemies who could threaten them further. Two down and six to go. The man who fired the shot writhed on the floor, clutching his left knee, no more of a danger than the stooge he’d accidentally hit.
Steven looked to see if Jan needed help. She dashed between two attackers who were taking aim. Her hand chopped down on one man‘s wrist, sending his rifle clattering to the floor. She paused for the blink of an eye, and her boot rose up and kicked the weapon from the other man’s grip. Impressive, Steven thought. Two at once, and she hadn‘t so much as glanced at either opponent. Later, he’d ask her how she did that.
He hoisted an enemy over his head and body-slammed him into another attacker, and then ducked to dodge a zeta-ray burst passing over his head. He punched his fist into the face of the attacker who’d fired the most recent shot, and the man buckled over backwards. Two more rifles littered the floor, dropped by the men he’d just taken down. He crunched the heel of his boot onto their firing mechanisms, mashing them until each weapon was no more dangerous than a pair of popsicle sticks glued into the shape of a gun.
The man who’d been body-slammed rose and swung his fist. Steven could have blocked, but saw no point in defending against an assault he’d barely notice. The blow glanced off his chest. He picked up the man and threw him to the floor a second time, a little harder than before.
He twisted and saw Jan slam two more gunmen to the floor. She ripped the radiation cartridges from their rifles, and warned, “Stay down or we start fracturing limbs.” Steven knew she would never have the heart to follow through on the threat, leaving him to wonder if there were any limit to how preposterous her bluffing could get. “Nice work” she said as she surveyed the men Steven had brought down, high praise from a woman who was stingy with compliments. He smiled, imagining the five-star rating he would get on her report
Jan tossed him three grappling ropes from her shoulder bag. “Here—these’ll finish the job. I count at least two who already have no hope of walking under their own power, so we’ll divide the other six between us for trussing.”
The cables were hard as steel and flexible as yarn. Steven coiled them around the arms and legs of a man on the floor, while Jan did the same. The material tightened under its own power, a handy invention that did away with the need to fashion knots. Too bad, Steven thought. He’d led his class in knot-tying, and would have loved to show off his talent.
The number of thugs with the ability to move had dwindled to four. They scrambled to their feet and bolted towards Steven. He braced for what he assumed would be a mass attack. Only four, all weaponless. Not much of a challenge. But they sped past him. They reached the saloon’s exit at the same moment, where they proved the truth of Newton’s theorem that multiple solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same moment. Steven cringed as he watched the collision.
He ambled over to make sure their injuries from the fight hadn’t gotten worse from the collision. They had tried to kill him, but that was no reason not to do the gentlemanly thing. At the sight of his outstretched hand, they untangled their limbs and dashed outside.
“A cheetah with its tail on fire couldn’t catch ’em,” Jan said. “Let ’em go. They aren’t who we came for.”
The Warlord drained the final drops from his stein. Jan dangled a grappling rope from the far end of the room. “Now it’s your turn, Crumm. We’ve reserved a cell on the planet Mordred with your name engraved over the door.”
Steven wondered if that could be true. He’d never been
Crumm snickered. “I’ll grant you the first round, but the second belongs to me.” He pulled back his sleeve to uncover a band around his pudgy wrist, and tapped a green button. Three more buttons circled the band, making a row of green, blue, red, and yellow. The buttons could seem pretty, like baubles on a bracelet, but only to someone who didn’t know their purpose.
Steven had seen a deactivated sample of the same product during a classroom demonstration of weapons favored by cowards. Press the first button, as Crumm had already done, and a shield of energy would envelope the wearer. Press the next three, one after another, and ripples of radiation would flow in every direction, like circles from a stone hitting water. The ripples would incinerate anything in range with a pulse, with the exception of the weasel who’d pressed the buttons. That person would be free to view the carnage, untouched, from the safety of the energy field.
The Warlord tapped the blue button. Two more taps would turn the radiation deadly. Jan, further away, would never be able to reach the bracelet in time. Steven lunged, and crashed onto a table that smashed under his weight.
He swept aside the wreckage, and lunged again, closing the gap in one leap, aided by the puniness of the gravity. He drew back his arm as the Warlord’s fingers moved in a blur, tapping the red button. Steven thrust his fist at the same time the Warlord grazed the final button, the yellow one. His fist touched flesh just below the Warlord’s rib cage, smashing blubber against whatever vital organs happened to be on the other side.
The chair toppled and spilled the Warlord onto the floor. Blood pooled in the spot where Steven’s fist had made contact. Jan rushed over to examine the damage. Steven, from behind her, looked over the body for breathing or movement. He would have settled for a twitch, but saw nothing to convince him he hadn’t just killed a man.
“Crumm’s got to be alive,” he insisted, as if saying the thing would somehow make it true. “Protectors don’t kill people
Jan looked up from the body. “Not usually. But one Protector just did.”
Steven had no idea what he was supposed to do next. His teachers and mentors had taught him many lessons, but they’d never told him how to behave after he took a life. Why should they? He wasn’t supposed to kill, according to their highest Precept.
“I guess this means poor Maxwell won’t get paid,” Jan said. She popped open the bracelet and deactivated the insides, wire by wire, then pulled an audio-link communicator from the Warlord’s pocket. “I’d better notify the police. It’s time for them to do something more useful than shooing drunks off the street, for a change.”
“Hey, you, big guy,” called the thug who had first tried to shoot Steven. He was sprawled on the floor, his right leg useless and smeared with blood. “Crumm would’ve murdered us all, with no more remorse than if he’d swatted a cluster of tuba flies. I know you didn’t stop him for my sake, but thanks just the same. It wouldn’t hurt you to thank him too, ma’am. He was a hero.”
Jan finished her call to the police. “Wrong twice,” she replied. “He did stop Crumm for your sake. And in our branch of the Protectors, we never thank our brothers and sisters for doing what any of us would do for the others. However, we accept your gratitude.”
Two police officers in matching orange uniforms arrived at the scene. “Who’s responsible?” one of them asked as he took in the aftermath.
Jan answered. “The two guys who are hogtied and the two who are crippled—they work for Crumm, or did until a few minutes ago. My partner and I took them down. Arrest them for assault with a deadly weapon, and later I’ll fill in the blanks on your forms. This man here…” She pointed to Steven. “He killed the Warlord, bare-handed.”
Steven looked at the floor to avoid meeting the eyes of the two officers. Wasn’t she going to mention that he’d saved the life of everyone in the room? It seemed logical to claim self-defense when admitting to police officers that you’d killed a man. But apparently, that detail was of little consequence to the authorities on Medusa-Four. Both officers pumped his hand and praised him for ridding the Galaxy of such a villain. He feared the Guidance Committee, back at Headquarters, wouldn’t be so congratulatory, after they found out he’d violated the Community’s highest Precept.
One officer turned his attention to the disabled gunmen. “Two of those guys aren’t capable of walking to the jail,” he said. “Trouble is, one of our wagons is out scraping delirium dust addicts from the gutter, and the other’s in the shop.”
Jan volunteered. “We’ll carry ’em.”
Steven hoisted the gunman who’d been shot in the ribs. He slung the man onto his shoulder, grateful for something to do that didn’t involve listening to everyone call him a hero. He jogged the five blocks to the jailhouse, where he dumped his burden. Blood drizzled down the man’s shirt.
The officer-on-duty greeted Steven with a smile and a handshake. “You the fellow who killed the slimy toad who controlled the delirium dust operation?”
“Yeah, that’d be me. Word travels fast. Better call a medic to see about that guy’s wounds.”
He stepped back onto the sidewalk, where he came eye-to-eye with D.F. Nathaniel, the founder of the Protectors. Steven would have recognized the face anywhere. From childhood, he’d seen the founder’s image staring down from portraits and looking up from textbooks. But he shouldn’t have encountered Nathaniel on the streets of Medusa-Four.
Nathaniel had been dead for centuries.
A Young Woman Receives an Unwelcome Assignment
“Protectors, ordered to undertake new missions, shall not refuse.”
Sheera raced down the hospital corridor to catch up to the veteran psychiatrist making his rounds. She sucked in gulps of Earth’s air, richer in oxygen than the atmosphere of her previous world. “Doctor, please help me. You’re the only hope I have left.”
“It can’t be as bad as all that,” the psychiatrist said, slowing to let her pull even. “What’s the trouble?”
Sheera caught her breath. Dr. Aloysius amazed her every time she encountered him. How could a body so frail in appearance move at such a rapid clip? “Headquarters won’t let me work under your supervision any longer,” she said. “It assigned me to escort the seven-and-eight-year-old recruits on their journey through space, then help them adjust to serving with our Community.”
The old man stopped, his thumb poised to touch the keypad on the door to a patient’s room. “Yes, I saw the memo. I’ll be sorry to lose you from the hospital staff, my dear, but is your new posting so terrible? I thought you liked children.”
“I adore children. That isn’t the point. A psychiatrist is all I ever wanted to be, ever since I was a little girl and found out the Community operates a mental health foundation. A dream came true for me when Headquarters assigned me to work for the Galaxy’s greatest psychiatrist…”
Aloysius smiled. “Don’t flatter me, please.”
“I never flatter. I speak the truth and you know it. I don’t understand why I’ve been pulled away. Was something wrong with my performance?”
“Your performance has been exemplary. I surmise Headquarters thought your background would be helpful in consoling newcomers who are lonely or homesick. Will you work with children from the Community’s intellectual branch, or from its warrior branch?”
“Both. They want me to be a counselor during Orientation on Merlin, before they separate the scholars from the rangers for separate training.”
The psychiatrist narrowed his eyes. Sheera saw a glint of worry in his face, something she had observed only a couple of times before in the months she had apprenticed under him.
“I see,” he said. “Be sure to apply a firm hand in dealing with urchins from the other branch. You’ll find they’re not so gentle and eager-to-please as the classmates you grew up with. Their natural aggressiveness serves them well after they mature and venture off to battle the criminal element, but it gets in the way of discipline at an early age.”
“I’ll keep that in mind, Doctor, but I didn’t come to you for advice. I hear you exercise influence over postings. I need you to make Headquarters reconsider my assignment. It’ll listen
“I’m afraid it won’t,” the psychiatrist countered. “I have sway over posting decisions only when medical issues are a factor. I can arrange for one of our Community to be stationed at a particular location for reasons of health, but I can’t interfere with a striker’s posting merely because she doesn’t like her
His words were like a death blow to her dream. “Suppose you tell them I’ll go berserk if I’m forced to leave London?” she said. “Would that qualify as a medical reason?”
“Going berserk, as you put it, would indeed be medical grounds for a different posting, if there was any danger that would actually happen,” the psychiatrist said. “But we both know such a diagnosis would be a lie. My considered opinion is that you will do a marvelous job as a counselor.”
Sheera wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Then you can do nothing for me?”
“I said I cannot change your assignment to Merlin. I didn’t say I can do nothing for you.” Aloysius pressed his thumb against the keypad. A microchip read his DNA, authorized his entry, and slid open the door. He entered the patient’s room, leaving Sheera standing alone, puzzling at his words