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.Ever more of her nights were haunted—though she now spent less time than ever asleep.There was too much to learn, too much to do, for her to waste time sleeping.Braydic told her, “I think your dreams have nothing to do with your dead.Except within your own mind.You are just rationalizing them to yourself.I believe they are your talent venting the pressure of growth.You were too long without guidance or training.Many strange things befall pups who reach your age without receiving guidance or instruction.And that among the normally talented.”“Normally talented?” Marika suspected Braydic was brushing the edge of the shadow that had pursued her since she had noticed that something had passed among Akard’s meth.All treated her oddly.The pawful of pups inhabiting the fortress not only, as expected, disdained her for her rude origins; they were afraid of her.She saw fear blaze up behind evasive eyes whenever she cornered one long enough to make her talk.Only Braydic seemed unafraid.Marika spent a lot of time with the communicator now.Braydic helped her with her language lessons, and let her pretend that she was not alone in her exile.Seldom did she see Grauel or Barlog, and when she did it was by sneakery and there was no time to exchange more than a few hasty words.“Gorry has much to say about you to my truesister, Marika.And little of it good.Some reaches my humble ears.” Nervously, Braydic set fingers dancing upon a keyboard, calling up data she had scanned only minutes before.Her shoulders straightened.She turned.“You have a glorious future, pup.If you live to see it.”“What?”“Gorry knows pups and talents.She was once important among those who teach at Maksche.She calls you the greatest talent-potential Akard has yet unearthed.Maybe as remarkable a talent as any discovered by the Reugge this generation.”Marika scoffed.“Why do you say that? I do not feel remarkable.”“How would you know? At your age you have only yourself as comparison.Whatever her faults, Gorry is not given to fanciful speaking.Were I in your boots I would guard my tail carefully.Figuratively and even literally.A talent like yours, so bright it shines in the eyes of the blind, can become more curse than gift of the All.”“Curse? Danger? What are you saying?”“As strength goes, pup.I am warning you.Those threatened by a talent are not shy about squashing one—though they will act subtly.”Again Braydic tapped at a keyboard.Marika waited, and wondered what the communicator meant.And wondered that she no longer felt so uncomfortable around the communications center.Perhaps that was another manifestation of the talent that so impressed Braydic.The communicator did say she was dealing instinctively with the electromagnetic handicap that others never overcame.Braydic yanked her attention back to what she was saying.“It is no accident that most of the more important posts in most of the sisterhoods are held by the very old.Those silth were only a little smarter and a little stronger when they were pups.They did not attract attention.As they aged and advanced, they looked back for those who might overtake them and began throwing snares into the paths of the swifter runners.”What Pohsit would have done had she had the chance.“They did not press those older than they.”Marika responded with what she thought would be received as a fetchingly adult observation.She was a little calculator often.“That is no way to improve the breed.”“There is no breed to improve, pup.The continued existence of all silthdom relies entirely upon a rare but stubbornly persistent genetic recessive floating in the broader population.”Marika gaped, not understanding a word.“When a silth is accepted as a full sister, her order passes her through a ritual in which she must surrender her ability to bear pups.”Marika was aghast.That went against all survival imperatives.In the packs of the upper Ponath, reproductive rights were rigorously controlled by, and often limited to, the dominant females.Such as Skiljan.Mating freely, meth could swamp the local environment in a very few years.The right to reproduce might be denied, but never the ability.The pack might need to produce pups quickly after a wild disaster.“A true silth sister must not be distracted by the demands of her flesh, nor must she be possessed of any obligation beyond that to her order.A female in heat has no mind.A female with newly whelped pups is neither mobile nor capable of placing the Community before her offspring.Nature has programmed her.”Braydic shifted subject suddenly, obviously in discomfort.“You have one advantage, Marika.One major safety.You are here in Akard, which has been called The Stronghold of Ambition’s Death.None here will cut you in fear for themselves.They are without hope, these Akard silth.They are those who were kicked off the ladder, yet were deemed dangerous enough to demand lifelong exile.The enemies you are making here hate you because they fear your strength, and for less selfish reasons.Gorry dreads what you may mean to the Community’s future.Long has she claimed to snatch glimpses of far tomorrows.Since your coming her oracles have grown ever more hysterical and dark.”Marika had assumed a jaw-on-paw attitude of rapt attention guaranteed to keep Braydic chattering.She did not mind the communicator’s ceaseless talk, for Braydic gladly swamped the willing ear with information the silth yielded only grudgingly, if at all.“The worst danger will come when you capture their attention down south.And capture it you will, I fear.If you are half what Gorry believes.If you continue in the recalcitrant character you have shown.They will have to pay attention.” Braydic toyed with the vision screen.She seemed uneasy.“Given six or seven years unhindered, learning as fast as you have, the censure of the entire Community will be insufficient to keep you contained here.” The communicator turned away, muttering, “As strength goes.”Marika had become accustomed to such chatter.Braydic had hinted and implied similar ideas a dozen times in a dozen different ways during their stolen moments.This time the meth was more direct, but her remarks made no more sense now than when Marika had first slipped in to visit her.Marika was devouring books and learning some about her talent, but discovering almost nothing of the real internal workings of the Reugge sisterhood.She could not refrain from interpreting what she heard and saw in Degnan pack terms.So she often interpreted wrong.Silth spoke the word “Community” with a reverence the Degnan reserved for the All.Yet daily life appeared to be every sister for herself, as strength goes, in a scramble that beggared those among frontier “savages.” Never did the meth of the upper Ponath imperil their packs with their struggles for dominance.But Marika suspected she was getting a shaded view.Braydic did seem to dwell morbidly upon that facet of silth life.It did not then occur to Marika to wonder why.She left her seat, began pottering around.Braydic’s talk made her restless and uneasy.“Distract them with other matters,” Braydic said.“You are, almost literally, fighting for your life.Guard yourself well.” Then she shifted subject again.“Though you cannot tell by looking, the thaw has begun.As you can see on the flow monitors [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]