Morton had been mourning in his apartment for a week when my summons came from Hive Gold Command.
I’d half-expected it already. We’d had our first emergency run since Celandine’s death the day before, and Morton had refused to go. A telepath unit with a telepath who refused an assignment — I didn’t blame Hive Gold Command. They couldn’t replace Morton, but they could replace me, the Tactical Commander with such a weak grasp of tactics that she allowed her telepath’s whims to extend to kidnapping and, now, dereliction of duty.
In a way, it was a relief to leave the unit. I wondered, sadly, if they’d let me return to pack and say my goodbyes, or if my team would have one of the maintenance workers put my things in a shipping crate to follow me to my next assignment. Not that there would be much to pack. I’d been in Morton’s unit for three years, since my trip to Hive Futura for his approval, but I’d been so busy trying to keep our telepath working that I hadn’t had the time to buy anything.
I took the express lifts down to Level One, not for any love of my technical “home level,” but to get my traitorous mind out of Morton’s telepathic range. There was no need for Morton to be hurt even more by seeing how I felt about him just now.
The Level One belts were lightly traveled, even though it was just before the start of morning office shift. Every level had the same number of belts, thanks to some structural requirements that my imprint only lightly touched on. With the lower population density on Level One, the belts felt open and untraveled, as opposed to the crowding on the lower levels or worse, Teen Level.
The Hive Gold Command offices weren’t ostentatious. Maybe it would have been easier if they had been, but instead, they were just a normal office unit, set across from a park. Inside, the furniture was nice, but practical, like the furniture in the community bookette rooms you could reserve near my childhood home on Level Eighteen.
I checked in with the Reception Specialist and had hardly had time to sit before someone came out to greet me.
“Saanvi?” It was a man in his late 50s, graying at the temples but powerfully built. “Come on in.”
I followed him into an office.
The man sat down at the desk, and motioned for me to sit across from him. “I have a name, but it’s not relevant to you. You can call me Fixer.”
I swallowed. “Are you firing me?”
The corners of Fixer’s eyes crinkled. “Saanvi. So dramatic. That’s one of the reasons we chose you for Morton, you know.”
I flushed. I was nothing like Morton, with his worries and his rages.
“Your outlook is a good thing,” Fixer said gently. “We don’t get many good candidates for Tactical Commander as it is. Finding one with your flair for the dramatic, as well as the tactical potential and the emotional toughness to make the hard calls and recover afterwards — having you already imprinted for Tactical Commander and working in Della’s unit when Morton came out of Lottery was a blessing for the Hive.”
“It doesn’t feel like a good thing,” I admitted. I still missed Della, quiet sensible Della, who never asked to be a telepath and hated the runs with fire or water or heights, but still did her best for the Hive.
Like the rest of Morton’s unit, I had spent the past year pulling myself inside out, trying to justify to myself why we were holding Celandine hostage for his whims. Celandine might not have been able to speak Hive Standard before Morton imprinted her, but she had always been kind to us — kind to her captors, even as she begged us to let her go.
No matter how I felt about Morton holding Celandine captive, or how conflicted I was about my own role in helping him to do so, I couldn’t deny that her death had left a hole in Morton’s heart. Her death of a broken heart, which three separate doctors had sworn to Morton was impossible, and which he still believed was entirely his fault.
With Morton still mourning in his rooms, refusing to come out, our unit was rudderless. Lost, in a way we hadn’t been before.
Fixer leaned back in his chair. “Celandine is alive.”
My mouth dropped open. “What?”
“Long story,” Fixer said, waving a hand. “Claire took an interest. She and her unit came up with a way to help Celandine fake her death and escape the Hive.”
The first thing I felt was relief. I hadn’t believed Celandine had died of a broken heart — not really. But I had wondered if she had found a way to kill herself to escape. I had been complicit in the captivity that had led her to any choices she might have made, and the guilt had weighed heavily on me.
After the relief, I started to worry. Fixer had to know that Morton would see this information the moment he read me. If I wasn’t being fired, why was I being told?
“Claire does so enjoy her melodrama.” Fixer frowned. “Although we’re not sure how she knew that Morton was holding Celandine against her will. She must have seen it in someone’s mind, but we can’t figure out who from your unit has been near enough.” He shook his head. “We’ll work that out soon enough.”
I forced myself to speak. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’re Morton’s Tactical Commander,” Fixer said. “All Tactical Commanders have times when they need a fresh perspective, from someone who’s not in their own unit and subject to every one of their telepath’s whims.”
My Tactical team hadn’t been getting anywhere with convincing Morton to go back to work. I nodded.
Fixer leaned back in his chair. “True telepaths usually know too much for their own good. Imagine our surprise at finding one whose beliefs in Hive myths were rated standard minus ten.”
“Minus ten?” That couldn’t be right. The scale stopped at Lottery.
“Minus ten,” Fixer confirmed.
According to my imprint, most people grew out of conscious belief in Hive myths around when they went to Teen Level, retaining only subconscious superstitions to influence their adult behavior. I had realized that Morton believed more than most, but minus ten!
“What does this have to do with Celandine?” I asked.
“If you want to get through to Morton, you need to use his beliefs,” Fixer said. “You can’t keep using logic and emotions on him. They’re not working, because they’re being overpowered by the stories he’s telling himself about killing Celandine. Appeal to his belief in the Hive myths, and maybe you’ll have a chance to move him onto a new path.”
“The myth about Justice,” I said, realizing. The story went that Justice would pursue wrong-doers, but wrong-doers who realized their mistake, repented, and spent their time working for the good of the Hive could make him sheathe his sword.
“I couldn’t think of a better one,” Fixer said.
I looked at him. If he was right — if we could keep Morton believing that he had caused Celandine’s death, and convince him to channel his guilt into service to the Hive, instead of anger and grief — we had a chance to redirect Morton into a more positive path. But there was no way it would work if Morton saw me thinking about this conversation.
I sighed. “This is when you reset me, isn’t it?”
Fixer smiled. “You always do figure it out.”
Now that I knew, I could think of a few other times when something had just come to me, and I had done it even though I couldn’t figure out why. I must have been brought to see Fixer before — probably more times than I realized.
“I hope I don’t see you again,” I said. “Nothing personal. I don’t like losing my memories, even when I know it’s for the good of the Hive.”
“No offense taken.” Fixer raised his dataview. “The Hive appreciates your work, Saanvi. You’re a good Tactical Commander. With a little more time, and a more tractable telepath, you’ll be a great one.”
“I wish I could remember that,” I said.
I got out of my meeting at Hive Gold Command at lunch-time. I wasn’t sure why they’d felt the need to call me in to go over new safety protocols, today of all days. I was busy trying to get Morton out of his apartment! Surely there were better ways to communicate that sort of thing.
“The Hive knows best,” I muttered to myself. There was a shopping center nearby, and I was much too hungry to make it back to the unit, so I headed towards a sandwich stand.
On my way there, I stopped at a bookette shop. I wasn’t sure why. I had no time for playing bookettes these days, not with Morton in crisis. But I found myself going in and asking the sales person for bookettes of Hive myths. Most of them were intended for children, but there were a couple of modern reinterpretations, set in the current Hive, that looked intriguing.
Maybe I’ll see if Morton will watch it with me tonight, I thought, as I left the shop and went to get my sandwich. The retelling of the story of Justice and the boy who failed the Hive looked fascinating. I wasn’t sure why, but somehow, I was certain that Morton would enjoy it.