Travellers

 

"Well, it's confirmed." The medic sat back with an air of immense satisfaction and Seni reached forward to take her daughter from him, holding her against her almost protectively.

"She's a Traveller?" Owen glanced at his wife and the tiny bundle in her arms, barely managing to hide his dismay. The medic was so wrapped up in his own pleasure however, that he didn't even notice the lack of reaction from the two adults.

"Absolutely. Oh, not yet of course, but in the fullness of time, when she matures. Or maybe even before that."

"Before?" Seni cradled the baby even closer, and traded a worried look with Owen.

"She is fairly strong already, and there's a possibility that she might mature early. In which case the Center would want to take her as soon as they could so that there would be no corruption of her talent from outside minds."

"Not yet!" Seni pulled her daughter against her so quickly that a gurgle of protest was heard. Owen moved over to his wife and put his hands on her shoulders.

"Why don't you put her in her cot, Seni?" She nodded and left the room. Owen turned back to the medic, "When do you think it will happen?"

"The maturing? It's difficult to say."

"Obviously we want to keep her with us for as long as possible," Owen got the words out reluctantly, hating the very thought of giving up his precious baby girl.

"Of course. There would have to be periodic checks." Owen nodded tightly.

"Very well." The medic rose to his feet and let the younger man show him to the door, "Oh, one more thing. We'll need her name for the files."

"We're calling her Cerri."

"Cerri Shepherd. Thank you, Mr Shepherd, I'm sure we'll be seeing each other again." Owen muttered some inane pleasantry and shut the door behind him.

"We can't let them take her away!" Owen sighed and gently pulled his tearful wife into his arms.

"We have no choice, Seni. They've registered her now; we can't run anywhere they wouldn't be able to find us. Besides, with such a gift, the Center would be the best place for her."

"You can't mean that!" Seni pulled out of his embrace angrily, "she's our daughter and they're going to take her away!" Owen rubbed his eyes wearily.

"I know," he whispered.

"When are they going to...."

"Not until she matures. They're going to keep an eye on her in the mean time and she'll have to be taken for checks every so often."

"Is there nothing we can do? No one we can talk to?" Owen shook his head.

"No. The only person I could think of from my family isn't connectable anymore."

"Not connectable?" Seni paled, "Why? Who is it?" Owen shrugged.

"He was, well is I suppose, my Uncle Tio. I was always told that he was on some sort of special service, and I've never met him." Seni looked up at him in horror, "What if that happens to Cerri, Owen?" He pulled her closer and murmured the words he knew she wanted to hear his heart heavy with doubt.

"We won't let it. She's still our daughter, legally under our protection." Seni nodded, but any further conversation was forestalled by the hungry wail of protest from the nursery. Owen watched her go, slightly ashamed of his relief at not having to answer any more questions and moved over to their computer to call up the infonet. Glancing over his shoulder towards the nursery, he heard Cerri stop crying and correctly assumed that he would have enough time to download some information on the Travellers.

The first entry he found was basic in the extreme, one that most people were familiar with:

Basic Traveller types (ranging from a low level ten, to the strong level ones):

Carrier - one that can take him or herself plus one or more others

Courier - one that can only transfer himself - generally hold positions as messengers

Disperser - one that can move a group to different locations

Transitor - one that changes states/dimensions

Transmitter - one that sends, but can't transfer him or herself

Traverser - one that crosses through time

Basic applications of above (click link for Task Assignments).

Owen sat back with a sigh after perusing the very small amount of information that he had found. Apart from the initial explanation of the different types of talent and a basic statement on the capabilities of the Travellers, he had found nothing more. Considering the importance of Travellers to the community, the information available was very little, and that most importantly, he had found nothing to help him protect Cerri. The rumours that he had heard over the years about the Travellers, the stories that he had overheard from his parents made him very wary of consigning his daughter over to the control of the Travellers Guild.

Seni came back into the room, her eyes feverish with excitement, "Owen!" He looked at her warily, recognising the expression, "Yes?"

"I've had an idea. We have to keep Cerri with us, Owen, we can't hand her over to the Guild, she's only a baby!" Owen rubbed at his temples where he could feel a headache starting.

"Seni, love, come and sit down." He drew her over to the sofa and pressed her down into it, then sat next to her and took her hands.

"They're not going to take her away until her talent matures, but now that they have registered her we can't hide her."

"That's my idea! So many people talk against the Travellers Guild, Owen, there must be an underground of some sorts, a resistance where we could take her and keep her safe."

"It's a nice idea, love, but do you really think that we could consign the care of our daughter to unknown radicals rather than the Guild? For all the stories, they do look after the Travellers, they're given the proper training, clothed, housed, fed..."

"They're given no more freedom than animals, Owen! We would never see her again!"

"You don't know that."

"You've never seen your uncle. They'll say that it's for Cerri's good, that she shouldn't be upset by seeing us and they'll lock her away in that horrible place forever!" Owen sighed.

"Calm down, Seni. Do you think that it would be for her good if we were to find a way to keep her out of their hands?" Seni broke in, "Yes!" Owen shook his head.

"No it wouldn't. She's a Traveller, Seni, she would find a way to teach herself to transfer and that's when we would lose her, because without the proper training she would get lost and never find her way home."

"But the underground..."

"We don't even know if there is one. Nor do we know how to get in contact if it does exist. We have to do the best for Cerri, Seni, however much it hurts us." Seni shook her head, tears in her eyes, but before she could say anything a cry was heard again from the nursery. Owen rose, "I'll go, you're too overwrought." He pressed a loving kiss to his wife's head.

"Let's enjoy what time we have with her, Seni," he murmured, "let's make precious memories to keep, make sure she doesn't forget us." His wife nodded, blinded by her tears.

"Oh, Cerri," she whispered softly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"What are you reading?" Sofie dropped into the seat next to Cerri with a thud, who sighed and held up her book. Sofie craned her head to pick out the title.

"The Small House At.... Sounds thrilling," she finished dryly.

"Oh it is," Cerri abandoned the book in her lap with a grimace.

"So why are you reading it then?"

"Ishana lent it to me. It's supposed to improve my mind. Either that or turn my brain to sludge." Sofie chuckled, "Is it that bad?" Cerri grinned.

"I don't really know, I've hardly started it. I'm hoping it'll get a bit more interesting soon."

"Either of you up for a challenge?" Nairn waved a box in front of their eyes, "Only if you don't cheat," said Sofie.

"Cheat? Me? Sofe, I'm hurt."

"Good, then maybe you'll remember to play fair. Cerri?"

"Yes, I suppose." Cerri laid the book on the table beside her and uncurled herself from her comfortable position. A brief knock on the door of the rec center made the general noise of conversation drop. A Guild official entered, holding a board in his hand.

"I need a Transitor for an assignment to the Historical Development of Parallel Dimensions Department," he called out. Nairn bent to whisper in Cerri's ear.

"Most people call it the HDPD, talk about..." Realising that his whisper would carry in the quiet of the room, Cerri stepped back onto his foot and hushed him. Nairn choked on a groan and poked a finger in her ribs, making her jump.

"He'll hear you!" The official however didn't seem to have noticed and was consulting his clipboard.

"Caspar Williams, I believe you are free at the moment." The young man groaned, "I've just come back! This is supposed to be my off time."

"I'll take it," Cerri offered quickly. The official looked up to identify her.

"Cerri Shepherd. Report to the Traveller Center immediately." He handed her an infochip and then left the room. Nairn watched him go, disbelief on his face.

"Just like that. No thank you, or anything. Make them wait, Cerri, I should." Cerri shook her head, "No, I'll go. See you later."

"I don't understand her," muttered Nairn after she had left, "she seems to jump on duties." Sofie shrugged slightly, "She misses Grey. Keeping busy helps her to deal with that."

"That doesn't mean that she has to prostrate herself to the Guild. They have enough out of us as it is."

Cerri paused in the private doorway that led from the Traveller's Residency into the public Center. At this hour, there was only one person left in the center, so it was easy for her to identify her passenger. He was rocking back and forth from his toes to his heels as he studied the notice that listed the different types of Travellers and adjured people to make sure they reported to the right desk. Cerri grinned to herself as she realised that it was the one that ended, 'Have a nice shift!". Nairn always said that it made them sound like some sort of underwear consultants and Grey had replied that it was only because he had a dirty mind. Cerri's smile faded as she remembered Grey's teasing expression and that she would never see it again, and she resolutely moved through the glass door and up to the man.

"HDPD?" she asked politely. The little man whirled, and to Cerri's amusement, she found that they were actually on an eye level.

"Coty Ericson," he said, "are you the one going to be doing the shift?" He seemed a little nervous and Cerri suppressed a sigh as she realised that he was probably going to be transfersick.

"Yes, Cerri Shepherd, transitor," she identified herself. The little scientist rocked back and forth again, obviously a sign of unease.

"Excellent, excellent, what level?" Cerri blinked at this question, "High enough to take you where you need to go," she replied evenly. Ericson flushed.

"Oh dear, was I rude? This is the first time I've done a shift on my own, you see, and my superior said that I needed to make sure I had a Level 3 Transitor at the very least." Cerri nodded, "That would have been arranged when you contacted the Guild. I'll just take a look at the co-ordinates and I'll be with you." She stepped away to slide the infochip into a nearby slot, and flicked her eyes over the information on the screen above.

"244th Dimension shift for the planet Feyeral. You want grade 2 interaction, is that right?"

"Well, I don't know, do I?" Cerri smiled patiently, choking back a laugh at the expression in his eyes.

"Sorry. You want a full range of movement and colour, but no actual interaction with the planet's inhabitants." He looked relieved, "Yes, that's right."

"All right, if you want to step into the booth," she indicated a semi-enclosed cabin, moving inside after him. He took a deep breath that he was still completing when they arrived. Cerri watched him with a mixture of sympathy and dread that he was actually going to be sick. He swallowed convulsively a few times and then turned to her with a weak smile.

"I'm fine. I just don't Travel well." Cerri just nodded.

"Do you need me to do anything?"

"No, no," he was already cautiously peering around the corner of a building as if he expected to be seen. Cerri rolled her eyes, "You can't be seen. I only advise that you don't actually walk through someone or something, since you're phased almost entirely into this dimension."

"No, right," he said doubtfully. "Shall I meet you back here at the end of an hour?" Cerri hesitated, "It's generally advised that we don't split up..."

"I'm only going into that building over there," he pointed and Cerri shrugged.

"Fine, I'll be here." She watched him scurry across the road, looking anxiously from one side to another as he did so. She shook her head in amusement, "Caspar will be sorry he missed this," she murmured and glancing around, followed the street noise to a market a few streets away.

On the surface, the market looked like any other from any dimension, but looking further, Cerri noticed the strange looking foods and colours that she couldn't seem to find a name for. It was a disorientating experience that she'd had to become used to, and though she didn't want to spend more than an hour in these more distant dimensions it was interesting to see the different styles and try to compare them to what she was familiar with. Unlike some of her more adventurous colleagues, she didn't adopt any of the dress or language shifts, preferring to stick to more conventional attire and be understood when she spoke.

Following her own advice, she wove her way among the shoppers, stopping every so often to examine an item more closely. After three quarters of an hour had passed, she decided that she'd had enough and made her way back to where Coty Ericson would meet her. A middle-aged man was leaning against the wall, his hands thrust deep into his pockets and something about him made Cerri pause. When he turned and smiled at her, she almost fainted from shock. He pushed himself away from the wall and pulled his hands free as he moved towards her. Cerri began to back away, mentally preparing herself to transfer if he should turn violent. He noticed her unease and stopped, raising his hands.

"Don't transfer," he said, "I'm not going to hurt you." This confirmation of his knowledge was almost more worrying than the mystery.

"Who are you?" she demanded, keeping a wary distance between them.

"I'm a Traveller, like yourself," he replied. Cerri found this a rather unsatisfactory answer, "What's your name, which Center are you from?" He shook his head

"That isn't important, Cerri. I have a message for you."

"Who are you? How do you know my name?" Cerri was becoming afraid and the man took an involuntary step forward.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he reassured her, "I'm just a Traveller like you. I want you to listen," he watched her for a moment as if to make sure that she was going to take in what he said, "Cerri, remember your training. The talent is yours, not the Guild's. You're not alone." With that rather baffling comment he disappeared, and Cerri's experience told her that he had transferred. She had no opportunity to decipher this encounter, because Coty Ericson came trotting up.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. It was so fascinating!"

"Let's get back," Cerri cut him, suddenly wanting to be back in familiar territory.

"Is something wrong?" She had transferred them back before he had finished speaking in complete disregard for protocol.

"No, nothing's wrong. Will you be sure to register with the person on front desk when you leave, Mr Ericson."

"Yes, of course. Thank you." He cast a bewildered glance at her retreating back and then shrugged. "Travellers," he muttered, "think they own the planet."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Cerri went back into the rec center, Nairn and Sofie were still engrossed in their game, cards scattered haphazardly across their table. They had persuaded Ishana and KC to join them and so Cerri only gave them a brief wave as she entered and moved over to the most private of the computer terminals. Regardless of who might trace her request, she logged a command to bring up the list of all the Travellers from each Center, searching for her mysterious man.

"What are you looking for?" Sofie's voice by her ear startled her into an exclamation, "Sofe! Don't sneak up on me like that."

"Sorry," Sofie pulled up a chair and sat at Cerri elbow, "didn't mean to make you jump."

"I thought you were still playing," muttered Cerri irritably.

"Finished. Ishana won. Cerri, what are you looking at?"

"Lists of Travellers," replied her friend, still scanning the faces on the screen.

"Why?" Cerri hesitated, unsure of whether she should share her experience. Sofie took the matter out of her hands by noticing her pause and pressing for an answer.

"What's up?" she asked curiously, "did something happen on your transfer."

"Yes," Cerri answered guardedly, "you might say that."

"What happened?" Nairn came round the corner of the desk and perched next to Sofie. Cerri eyed them both wryly, "One of these days you'll trip over your noses," she pointed out. Nairn grinned, "Until that day... Cerri what is this you're looking at?"

"Lists of Travellers," she repeated patiently, her irritation gone now that she had decided to tell them what had occurred.

"So, tell us," said Sofie.

"I saw another Traveller," replied Cerri simply.

"Another Traveller in the same place?"

"Are you sure?" Sofie and Nairn spoke together, astonishment written all over their faces.

"Quite sure. He knew my name, he gave me a message and then he disappeared."

"That's impossible! The Guild doesn't allow it!" exclaimed Nairn.

"How did he know your name? Did you know him?" demanded Sofie. Cerri shrugged, "I don't know how he knew my name, and if I knew who he was, I wouldn't be searching the database would I?"

"Amazing," Nairn was lost in thought, "how did he find you? Consider, all the dimensions to choose from and he's there in yours."

"Moreover," added Sofie, "he's there in the exact location and at the same interaction level. This wasn't a chance meeting, Cerri."

"I know that."

"Did you find him in the database?" Nairn leaned eagerly over the screen, "Cerri, do you know what this might mean?" Sofie hurriedly clamped a hand over his mouth,

"Watch it," she hissed at him. Nairn pulled her hand away, "You're paranoid, Sofie, they can't listen in on us. Not with all the Travellers in here, you know our combined presence disrupts any bugging equipment."

"So they say. They're not going to tell us otherwise, are they." Nairn shook his head,

"Morgan checks every so often. They certainly can't get past Cerri, she's a level one."

"I haven't found anything," Cerri broke in on this potential argument, "yet."

The other two were silent as she paged down until she reached the bottom of the list.

"Not there?" asked Sofie finally. Cerri shook her head, puzzled, "No."

"Have you checked the inactive list?" Nairn asked, from immediately beside her. Cerri leaned back, forcing him to step away, "Don't breathe in my ear, Nairn, and how could he possibly be on the inactive list. They're all either dead or in 're-training'."

She spoke the last with bitter unhappiness and Sofie reached out to squeeze her hand.

"Hey," she murmured softly, "don't be like that." Nairn moved to lean against the desk beside her, his back to the computer screen.

"It might be worth a try," he offered tentatively.

"You mean it might confirm your suspicions," muttered Cerri. She swiped a finger under her eye and then briskly typed in another command.

"Look at them all," Sofie breathed, "I didn't know there were so many."

"You're too far back," Nairn noted, "you can judge the age of your man and move past most of these, can't you?" Cerri nodded at this advice and moved down the list more rapidly. She finally paused on one.

"That's him," she said quietly. Nairn twisted to read the notation past the glare of the lights,

"Camron Alastair, inactive status. That's it?"

"They don't note any more than that," said Cerri, she swallowed and paged down a little further, "look."

"Grey Macavie, inactive status," Sofie read out loud. She squeezed Cerri's hand again.

"That doesn't prove anything," Nairn's voice was gruff, "we don't know what happened to him."

"The Guild Master said..."

"I know what he said," Nairn interrupted Sofie, "but they're not incapable of lying, you know."

"Stop it, please," said Cerri quietly. Nairn drummed his fingers on the desk, "Sorry, Cerri, but Grey was my friend too. If this Camron Alastair was alive and capable of travelling, isn't it a possibility that Grey might be able to as well. We don't know what happened to him, it was only what we were told; that the Guild medics took him in for tests in the middle of the night when he became sick and because of that illness he can't transfer, so he's in re-training." Cerri sighed but before she could put a damper on his enthusiasm, Nairn continued.

"We know that there is a counter group of the Travellers somewhere, providing resistance against the Guild."

"Nairn," Sofie rolled her eyes, "don't you get a little tired of spouting the same old thing all the time?"

"Not when there's a possibility of truth behind it." Sofie groaned, "We don't know that, Nairn."

"I think that we do," she replied confidently, "I think that this encounter with Cerri proves it. What did he say to you, Cerri?"

Cerri rubbed her temples tiredly, "Um... he said for me to remember my training, that my ability was mine and not the Guild's," she hesitated knowing the effect her next words would have on her friends, "he also said that I wasn't alone." Nairn didn't disappoint her.

"There! You see!" He looked triumphantly at Sofie who glared, "If he could transfer without alerting the scoutriders to his position, then why couldn't he give a clear message instead of all these vague terms. 'Remember your training', 'you're not alone'," she repeated scornfully, "that's pretty obvious isn't it."

"If you look deeper..." Sofie cut him off,

"You can see anything you want to."

"But if they couldn't be sure that Cerri would immediately run to the Guild, they would have had to be vague. There's a clue in there somewhere!" Sofie snorted and Cerri sighed, "Would you two stop arguing? I have no idea what he could have meant by any of his message, so it's all a bit pointless." She rose abruptly and Nairn hurriedly stepped out of the way.

"All this has done is bring back memories that I would prefer stay locked away!" Nairn grabbed her arm before she could walk away.

"Cerri, don't you see that if this means what I think it does, Grey could still be alive. What if they contacted him and he went with them? Willingly? That he isn't in re-training at all, but alive and well!"

"Then why didn't he contact Cerri, why didn't he tell us, his friends?" demanded Sofie.

"Because Grey is a traverser, he travels through time, not dimensionally."

"All right, I'll accept that. But why didn't he tell us?"

"Maybe he was forced into moving quickly," Nairn grimaced, "he's at the age that the Guild might start making heavy hints about marriage." Sofie shivered, "Maybe," she muttered.

"Coming under pressure as well?" asked Nairn sympathetically. Sofie shook herself, "They are not going to arrange my marriage!" she said firmly, "they have far too much control as it is." Nairn grinned and wagged a reproving finger.

"Sofie, you shouldn't say that sort of thing out loud, you never know who might be listening." She ignored him to address Cerri, "Where does this leave us?" Cerri rubbed at her eyes, "Exhausted, I'm going to bed."

"Okay, Cerri?" Sofie put her arm around her friend's shoulders and hugged her briefly, "don't dwell on it too much," she murmured in her ear. Cerri just nodded and left them both standing there.

"That," said Sofie to Nairn, "is the main reason that I don't believe your theories about this opposition to the Guild. Grey would never have left Cerri without telling her where he was going, he cared about her too much." Nairn looked at her, his face unusually grave.

"I've known Grey ever since he came here and there was nothing specific mentioned between them."

"They were on the verge..."

"Neither said anything, Sofe, it was all unspoken. Besides, if Grey had to move early because the Guild was watching him he wouldn't have had a chance to leave a message. He wouldn't have risked Cerri like that." He turned to stare at the computer screen again before shutting the terminal down, an odd expression in his eyes that put Sofie on her guard.

"What are you planning?"

"I'll let you know," said Nairn, showing more caution than his friend usually associated with him.

"Nairn," she began warningly, "don't do anything foolish."

"Me?" Sofie just rolled her eyes at his innocent look.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Despite her tiredness, Cerri's emotions were too turbulent to allow her to rest and she tossed and turned for an hour before flipping onto her back with a sigh. Despite her struggle to turn them in other directions, her thoughts kept insistently dwelling on her meeting with Camron Alastair and the message he had given her. Unlike Nairn she didn't constantly look for conspiracy theories and counter groups behind every word and under every table, but one point that Sofie had brought up puzzled her: that this man had Travelled without being caught.

The Guild kept strict control over the activities of their Travellers, every movement logged, every transfer recorded and stringent protocols involved for even the simplest of procedures. In addition to all of that, a special branch of the Travellers, the scoutriders, could sense when an unregistered transfer was being made and would give chase to apprehend the errant person, taking them promptly for 're-training'. Cerri shuddered at the thought.

She was intelligent enough to realise that the Guild kept control over their Travellers by instilling fear into them of this re-training, but Cerri had also been with the Guild since she was six years old and as a curious child she had wandered into a restricted part of the center and seen a young man writhing and screaming on a couch as medics applied something to his head. She had seen newly re-trained Travellers return to work, their eyes blank and distant, their spirit broken, their personalities destroyed. Her own fear of the re-training had since been very real and the thought of escaping to a counter group, where she might be freer to use her talents, only ever crossed her mind in her low moods and was then quickly dismissed. She did not want to end up on that couch having her mind scrambled.

With that in mind Cerri found it astonishing that Camron's transfer from one dimension to another had gone completely undetected by the scoutriders. She puzzled over it for a few moments, wondering if the scoutriders hadn't discovered him because they thought him to be inactive, but then they were supposed to be able detect every transfer and then had to check it against the lists of approved Travellers for that day. Maybe it was something to do with that oddly uninformative message he had given her. Cerri tried to remember the exact words he had spoken.

Cerri, remember your training. The talent is yours, not the Guild's. You're not alone.

Cerri sighed, as Sofie had said, with such vague words you could twist it to any meaning you cared for. She was about to dismiss the encounter from her mind and try and get some sleep instead when it occurred to her that the amount of work needed to actually discover where and when she would be making that transfer was quite phenomenal. She didn't know enough about computers to understand the programming side, or the skills needed to break into a database that was supposed to be more secure than any bank's, but whomever Camron worked for had known, at very short notice, that it was her doing the transfer, not Caspar, and had moved very swiftly indeed to intercept. It was a tremendous amount of effort and risk just to tell her that she wasn't alone and that the talent was hers; facts she already knew. So maybe Nairn was right for once and there was something more hidden in the words.

Remember her training, he had said, but what part? There had been so many aspects to it, and so long ago as well, that Cerri almost gave up in despair. It wasn't fair of Nairn to have raised her hopes like this, to imagine that Grey might still be alive and normal. She yanked her pillow from under her head and wrapped it around her face to try and press away the threatening tears. He had never said anything, nothing had been definite between them, but everyday Cerri had fallen deeper in love with Grey and had been certain that his behaviour towards her had implied the same. If only she had been brave enough to say something to him instead of waiting for him to talk to her, but what if he hadn't felt the same? She would have looked like a fool. Not that it was possible to feel any more miserable than she did in living with the uncertainty of whether he was alive or not.

Cerri wanted to think about this even less than Camron Alastair and so pushed the thought away to consider her training from the beginning. She was just considering what a hopeless task it was to remember initial training after the expanse of seventeen years when she fell asleep.

Cerri woke abruptly, her arm numb from the awkward way she was lying, her heart pounding so fast in her chest that she was sure it was audible. She moved to free her arm, waved the light on in a sudden panic and sat up to stare around her room. She frowned and tried to calm her erratic breathing and latch on to what had woken her up. Her curtain flapped at the open window and she turned to look, her heart starting to beat faster again despite her best efforts to reassure herself that everything was fine. She lay back slowly, reaching one hand out to wave the light off and paused.

She knew with absolute certainty that something was wrong, but even as she sat back up and looked around again at her empty room she was scolding herself for her paranoia. Nairn and his theories again, she would have a word with him in the morning. Knowing that she wasn't going to get back to sleep unless she investigated she got cautiously out of bed, some childish instinct causing her to practically jump away from the dark shadow underneath it.

"Idiot," she muttered, trying to find some comfort in her own voice.

The attached bathroom was exactly as she had left it, and Cerri absently hung up the towel she had left in one corner before going back into her room. It was still empty, but she looked around it anyway, taking obscure comfort from the solid wall immediately behind her.

The curtain flapped again and gritting her teeth Cerri bounded across the room to slam the window shut.

"Who's here?" she hissed, "where are you?" The idiocy of talking to an empty room hit her and she slumped onto the bed, drawing her knees up under her chin. She couldn't however, bring herself to turn the light back off and get some more sleep, just sat and eyed each corner of the room in turn with her back pressed against the wall.

A movement in the corner of her eye set her heart jumping again and she swung her head round, rolling her eyes when she caught sight of herself in the mirror, the writing of the picture behind her turned backward. Cerri frowned and got off the bed to look at this, a memory stirring in the depths of her mind.

"Of course!" she murmured softly, staring at the reflection of the picture. "That's what he meant!" But knowing what Camron had meant by his message and what to do with the information was another matter. Her heart started pounding for a completely different reason as she contemplated this and the horrible consequences if she was caught.

The talent is yours, not the Guild's. You're not alone.

This sudden remembrance made Cerri catch her breath and she turned back to face her room, biting her bottom lip thoughtfully. Her heart warred with her head and eventually her fear won the battle. Cerri got back into bed, waved off the light and buried herself under the covers, ignoring the little voice that told her not to be such a coward and investigate the matter further. Her fears of the Guild was too deep and have too long a standing for her to brave it in the middle of the night.

Her dreams, when she finally fell asleep, were troubled.

 

© 1999 Copyright held by the author.

 

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