Jorn and Nehma planned to locate elders Thenorn and Belna as soon as they were released from the ward at noon, but the elders came to the ward. There were no patients, and Thorn and Belna had just been drilling them on various body parts and their internal makeup.
“So how are our students today,” Thenorn asked with a slight smile. He greeted Dr. Thorn with a clap to the shoulder.
“Amazing memories. I think they’ll know all we can teach them long before their apprenticeship is officially over. I may even recommend shortening the traditional length of six years.”
“But those six years are to give them experience as well,” Belna said. “I’m sure there is no need to shorten it. We came to let you know that your obligation to Palorn and Panha has been officially released. As I told you before, Drs. Sumna and Malorn were giving them a trial in the elderly ward, but they found the same problem that you specified. Therefore, we’ve set them to work with the stone masons — on trial, of course.”
“Have you heard from Rayli recently?”
Drs. Thorn and Manha both relaxed with a smile. Manha spoke. “She’s doing well. Her wounds are almost completely healed, and she had nothing but praise for Treliss. Apparently, in spite of their high status, Rayli and Shaliss did not have a close bonding. Rayli said just yesterday that she wished that Treliss and she could someday be recognized as truly bonded. Treliss is teaching her the history song, and they hope to sing together this summer.”
“Treliss and the music, and even those flying elk seem to have given her a reason to fight this disease, and even hope for the future. For that, we are very grateful. Hope is a stronger healer than any medicine.”
“That is wonderful,” Belna said sincerely.
“We had heard that Rayli has joined the singing group. Katarn and Fenna tell me she has a very beautiful voice.”
The elders turned to leave. Jorn glanced at Nehma and then stepped toward them, “Sirs? If we could see you later?”
Thenorn and Belna turned back to face them. “About?”
Jorn glanced at the doctors and then shrugged. “The library. We found something.”
“Yes. You did,” Thenorn said, his gaze becoming piercing. “And now that you’ve had your look around, you will immediately forget about it.”
“You know?” Nehma asked.
“Of course. Feforn knows everything that goes on in the library and reports it to us.”
Jorn and Nehma glanced at each other. “I don’t think he quite knows everything, Sirs. The wall said none of you knew.”
Thenorn gave Belna a look before refocusing on Jorn. “The wall only says, ‘access denied’.”
“Not if you ask it questions,” Nehma said, glancing nervously at the doctors who seemed completely confused.
Thenorn glanced at the doctors also. Then he sighed and spoke in a low voice. “Since you’ve just overheard, these two have discovered something that is restricted to elders only. We were afraid these two would upset the natural order of things when they insisted on going into the restricted section.”
Jorn and Nehma glanced at each other guiltily. The elders didn’t even know that they’d given themselves higher status with the archive either.
Thenorn glanced around. “You have no one here? Too bad you have no other apprentices. Will your wives’ direct patients to the north while we’re all gone?”
“And they can care for minor ailments,” Dr. Manha assured them.
“Then alert them and we’ll all meet at the library.” Thenorn focused on Jorn and Nehma when the doctors did as they were bid. “Now what did the wall say other than access denied.”
“It . . . it’s called Archive. And it just answers questions. Whatever you ask.”
“But it doesn’t know everything,” Jorn added. “And sometimes it doesn’t say it so it can be understood.”
Thenorn rolled his eyes, but Belna chuckled. “If we had any more great mysteries, I’d set these two on it right away. They have a knack for discovering things.”
“Yes, but they aren’t to go there again.”
“But we have to!” Nehma insisted. “We’ll never learn how to heal Rayli and others with the disease if we don’t go back.”
“Drs. Thorn and Manha will focus on that.”
“But . . . .”
The doctors reentered the entrance ward. “We’ve alerted them.”
Thenorn walked to them. “About that. I think Jorn and Nehma can tend the ward while we’re gone.”
“No!” Nehma cried.
Jorn just sank to a crouch and bowed his head. It was useless.
And then all was quiet except Nehma’s exasperated pacing near the docks. Then Nehma paced back into the ward and crouched before Jorn. “It’s not fair.”
“I know,” Jorn said without raising his head. “They probably won’t even let us back into the restricted section.”
“It was going to tutor us. We had a chance to understand so much more!”
But then someone entered the ward. Jorn rose to his full height, unwilling to let anyone but Nehma see the despair that had gripped him.
“Are the doctors here?” an elmother asked.
An Elsue male who must be close to bonding age was beside her, limping. He gave a lopsided grin. “Hey, you’re Jorn. Elma, I know he can help me.” He limped away from her to Jorn.
“Now Branarn, please.” She rolled her eyes. “Please get the doctors.”
“They’re away with the elders now. We can tend to the injury and make you comfortable while we wait for their return.” Jorn led Branarn and his elmother into the smaller ward. Nehma followed them.
Nehma made the antiseptic wash, and they cleansed Branarn’s foot. “I was practicing grabbing stuff during a flyby. I misjudged, didn’t see where a secondary branch had broken off, and the thing jabbed deep into my foot.” He grimaced with pain a second, and then said, “I’ll never be as good a flyer as you are, Jorn.”
Jorn raised his gaze from the wound. The boy was looking at him as if he really admired him. It was so unexpected that Jorn froze.
Nehma chuckled. “From the first day we were put together, I noticed how gracefully Jorn flew the currents, rising from a float with no awkwardness at all, and I knew I was lucky to get him as a brother.”
“I wonder who I’ll get,” Branarn said, trying to sound casual as he implied that this spring he’d be old enough to bond. “You don’t think my foot will keep me from bonding or getting my racks, do you?”
Nehma studied the Elsue foot. Jorn shook off his surprise and refocused also. He could see the small piece of wood still imbedded within. “Could you get me the tweezers?”
Nehma jumped up and returned a minute later. “He’s got eyes sharper than anyone I know,” Nehma added to the boy.
“I thought I was pretty sharp,” the boy said, and then sucked in his breath as Jorn pulled out the sliver. “I just got to keep practicing, I guess.”
“You’ll do no such thing. You’ll kill yourself,” his elmother said.
“But he needs to practice,” Jorn couldn’t help contradicting. “That’s the only way to get good enough.”
“He’s plenty good enough. You don’t need to be perfect.”
Jorn faced the woman, “Do you not understand how dangerous hunting can be? Even simple gathering can be dangerous if a rajadrake approaches. Being sure of your arrows and your flight is the only thing that can protect your brother from death.”
Nehma touched Jorn’s shoulder. “Jorn has saved my life several times already, and I am grateful. Whoever Branarn is bonded to should be lucky for his diligence to be the best he can be. Now let’s wrap that foot. The wound is small. He has not lost any mobility in it. It should heal quickly.”
“I insist that Dr. Thorn look at this wound,” she said.
“I’m not sure when he’ll be back,” Nehma said.
“I’m back,” Dr. Thorn said. He crouched down to take a look before Jorn bandaged it, asking the boy to move it and each claw separately. “Nehma and Jorn’s assessment is correct. The wound is minor. Come back in two days. If it becomes hot and red, come back immediately.”
When Jorn finished wrapping the wound and they left, Dr. Thorn said, “Come. You’re needed in the library.” Jorn caught the hint of a tremor in the doctor’s voice.
“They’re letting us back in?”
“The wall says you are needed.”
Nehma grinned. “There’s so much we can learn. They just have to let us learn.”
Dr. Thorn nodded. “I said as much to the elders. I might as well admit to you two as you’ll figure it out soon enough, but I could never understand anything in those books in the restricted section. You both are far brighter than we are.”
“We couldn’t understand them either,” Nehma said. “It’s a relief to know it’s not just us. But with Archive . . . .”
Jorn squeezed Nehma’s shoulder. If Nehma told them how they planned to learn, they wouldn’t be needed.
“Still,” Dr. Thorn said, “I believe it will take years to unlock any secrets there, and it would need to be one’s life work. Manha agrees with me. If only we didn’t need you as doctors.”
“Well, it does fit together,” Nehma said practically. “We could do both.”
“You won’t have as much time when you have your family.” He sighed. “We must get back. They’re waiting.”
Everyone was in the restricted section of the library when they returned, including Feforn. “What did you two do down there? The wall answers questions, yes, but what is this ‘You must be registered by either Jorn of the Flying Elk Cluster or Nehma of the Flying Elk Cluster.’ It says it after every answer.”
Nehma glanced at Jorn, and Jorn hoped he didn’t look as guilty as Nehma did. “We registered first. Maybe the ones who are already registered have to register the rest.”
“What is this register stuff?” Thenorn asked.
“You have to go . . . It’d be easier to show you,” Nehma said.
Feforn snorted and then leaned down to press the button behind the shelves. The door opened and they all filed into the elevator. Feforn reached for the 1 button.
“Ah . . . level five is where you register,” Nehma said.
Jorn pushed his way to stand with his back to the buttons blocking them.
“Hey,” Feforn said.
“We won’t neglect our other duties, but it is only fair we be allowed access to the place,” he said firmly.
“That is not your decision.”
“Jorn,” Dr. Thorn said softly. “We will plead your case later.”
Jorn felt his jaw stiffen so tight he couldn’t speak. He forced himself to step away from the panel. Feforn pressed the five as he glared at Jorn.
The elevator opened. “Lead them,” Jorn said to Nehma quietly as his gaze locked on an access panel.
Nehma gave him an appraising look and then nodded.
When they all began following Nehma, Jorn walked to the panel on the wall. “Archive,” he whispered. “Can you speak softly here?”
“Yes. You are recognized Jorn of the Flying Elk Cluster,” it said at the same level as Jorn’s whisper.
“They don’t want us to have access.”
“They have no control over your access unless you give them alpha status.”
“They can block us from using the elevator. But I want to change their status. You said that delta allowed only certain privileges?”
“Yes, it can be configured any way you wish.”
“Give them Delta, and they cannot enter any room but the one they are now in without one of us.”
“One of us, meaning Jorn of the Flying Elk Cluster or Nehma of the Flying Elk Cluster?”
“Is there any restriction on the information files?”
Jorn wished he knew so much more about what information files were and what might be there. “Let them know anything that was open knowledge to all before and go into any room which was open to all.” He knew he was purposely denying the leadership access and information, but they hadn’t had any of it without them. What they didn’t have wouldn’t matter. Dr. Thorn was right. It would take many years to comprehend even the basic information available.
“Jorn!” Thenorn called from down the hall. “What are you doing?”
Jorn left the wall. “Talking to Archive.” He and Thenorn were alone in the hall. “Please let us study this.”
“Haven’t you been given enough privileges? Don’t you have enough to keep you occupied? You go to the Full homeland, which is dangerous enough, you actively hunt and gather, which I must confess has given the community quite a few additional luxuries over the last two years. And now you’re needed full time in the medical ward. You will serve your community far better where you already are. You have no time for this and wives and families.”
Jorn raised his eyebrow.
“No. Don’t even think it, Jorn. You will marry wives this year. Perhaps they’ll help keep you focused.”
“I believe I said that was up to Nehma,” Jorn said lifting his chin.
Thenorn gave a small chuckle. “You are a challenge, Jorn. Will you never trust me?”
“I believe you told me I should always do what is best for my cluster and the community as a whole.” He took his gaze from the far end of the corridor and focused on Thenorn. “I believe it is best for the whole community that Nehma and I discover what secrets we can from this facility.”
“And you believe you and Nehma can do that better than the elders?”
Jorn cocked his head. “We did discover that Archive will give information when asked. The elders have simply walked the halls for years. What do you think?”
“I think you’re getting entirely too proud of your accomplishments. You’ve risen in rank too quickly and are starting to believe you know better than anyone else. If for no other reason, the elders should keep you from here.”
“If for no other reason, you should let this facility continue to show us how little we know. So far our contact has told us that the Mersue people as a whole know very little, of course less than the knowledge that the geneticists had, but even far less than the Fulls to the east who do not have a facility like this to help them. We are ignorant, and now you are refusing to let us try to change that. We deserve to let the disease take all of us, if we don’t even try.” He realized his voice had risen as Belna, Nehma, Dr. Thorn, Dr. Manha, and Feforn stepped from the Archive Facilities room and stared their way. Jorn clenched his jaw and pulled his body under rigid control.
“Something wrong?” Belna asked.
Thenorn chuckled. “Our boy has very strong opinions.” He slapped Jorn’s arm. “Be assured we will consider your request, but do not get your hopes up. Although Belna and I have watched your rise in rank with a certain amount of satisfaction, others on the council are sure you are too proud and bound to get the whole community killed. You would be wise not to let your anger show too much. I assume we are all registered. Now what?”
Everyone looked at each other. Jorn knew Nehma was torn, wanting to explore the rooms, but not sure they should, when they might be denied the opportunity to study whatever was found. Jorn took the few steps back to the Archive panel. “Ask whatever you wish to know.”
“Such as?” Belna asked.
Jorn shrugged and asked a question he’d come up with during the night, inspired by the diagrams of the facility rooms. “Archive, can you show us a map of the whole planet? All the islands?”
The panel lit up. A flat map filled the center, and in one corner a ball rotated, and the same islands could be seen. Jorn stifled his grin at the small gasp he heard from behind him.
“Wow,” Nehma said, coming up beside him. “Where is our island?”
One very tiny island flashed red in the upper center of the map. “Then this is where the Fulls are.” Nehma pointed to the largest island on the map, actually not very far away. The world was vaster than Jorn had imagined.
“This is Flying Elk Island.” Nehma pointed again, and small writing appeared, labeling the island. Nehma grinned. “What did the geneticists call that island?”
“No name is in my records. I have labeled everything that was named 179 years ago. Since that time, no new data has been added, until now.”
“We are only aware of a small area. Can you enlarge and show us just a portion? Like from here to here, and down to here?” Nehma asked.
The map changed, making it much easier to see the islands and labels. “Ironwood Island.” Jorn said, pointing.
“There’s North Point,” Belna said, pointing to the original source of ironwood. “What else have you boys seen?”
“We’ve been here and here and here, but we haven’t really named them. There’s a deep rift here, and a sandbar here that at very low tide is exposed. Could you show that, Archive?”
“I can give you the elevations of the entire area.” The map changed so that the depth and altitudes were all displayed in different colors.
“Fascinating,” Dr. Manha said. “We could use this to find fresh supplies of various medicinal supplies, as certain things only grow at certain depths.”
“Yeah,” Nehma agreed. “This is very useful. Can you print it?”
“More than one?” Jorn added.
“How many copies do you wish?”
Thenorn raised an eyebrow. “I suppose three will do for now.”
“Do you wish all printouts to continue to be routed to the Archive Facilities Room?”
The others shrugged.
“Yes,” Jorn said.
Nehma jogged back to the room, and then returned with three full color sheets. He handed one to Dr. Manha and one to Belna.
“Fascinating,” Dr. Manha said again. He stretched his neck. “Unfortunately it is too dry in here. We should take a break.”
Jorn knew Nehma could stay longer, but Belna and Dr. Manha must not have waited for them underwater.
“Yes,” Thenorn agreed. “We’ll come back another time. Let’s go.”
Reluctantly Jorn and Nehma let the others herd them back to the elevator. Back in the library Thenorn gripped Jorn’s shoulder. “Do not come back here without permission. We need to present this to the rest of the elders. Let them think through this new discovery before they are forced to make a decision on your inclusion.”
Jorn barely nodded.
“Go get the lunch you missed, and then report back to the medical ward,” Dr. Thorn advised.
Jorn and Nehma left quietly.
Back in their workroom Jorn attempted to attach the page from the archive to a corner of their large drawn map. He had it up by the time Nehma returned with their meal. “Let’s look at the math book while we eat,” he suggested. “At least we have it.”
“At least.” He pulled the book down and they settled across from each other at the work bench. “Thenorn thinks we won’t have time to do things after we’re married.”
Nehma shrugged. “I’m in no hurry.”
“He said we must get married this year. I told him it was your decision.”
“He’s pushing? But we’re still younger than just about anybody. That’s not fair.”
Jorn relaxed. “I’d rather wait a few more years also, but Thenorn thinks I am biased. You will have to speak to them on this one.” He paused. “I will do whatever you think is best.”
Nehma gave him a gentle smile. “I wish I knew. How can we choose someone we don’t know? I almost wish . . . .” He shrugged. “Just a crazy thought.”
“Rayli and Treliss.”
Jorn could only stare at Nehma. “They’d never agree to that, and . . . .”
“Rayli is dying.”
“Maybe we can find a cure before it happens.” He shrugged. “Many women die in childbirth. There are no guarantees. You don’t want Treliss?”
Jorn let his gaze go to the last of his food. “I try not to think about it. The elders will never let her mate.”
“No. And we’re in enough trouble. It was only speculation because they are the only ones we know. They seem easy to get along with, and I doubt they’d interfere with our work. In fact, they may be able to join us in it.”
Jorn bit his lip. He had to trust Nehma. “All those reasons have been in my mind also. Treliss is very easy to work with. She is the only woman I know. But Treliss isn’t allowed to mate, and you deserve whoever you want.”
Nehma shook his head. “Like I said, how can I want anyone when I don’t know them. I know Rayli loves Panha, but I think I could get along with her. I don’t know anyone else.”
“I wouldn’t think that she still loves him,” Jorn said. “But I would guess she might not be willing to love again quickly. But love is something that comes afterward, or so we’re told.”
Nehma grinned. “Yeah. So we’re told. We really are questioning the way things have always been done, aren’t we? We better just study our math and medicine and be good for a while.”
Go to Chapter 22
© 2013, 2006 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.