by J.S. Downing
Glade discovers underlying intentions.
| Chapter 4
Tess stood in the corner, facing him but staring off in thought. She ran a hand along her braid absently, far away from the small interrogation room. The raised letter P on her neck had become a point of fascination for Glade, and he watched it curiously. It seemed to be of some significance, but what it stood for he hadn't decided yet. He felt that asking directly would be cheating himself. It was just one more mysterious circumstance surrounding Tess Kedrov.
Glade could learn a lot about a person just by watching them. Mannerisms told him volumes. Tess's posture was still relaxed; and after an hour he could see it was not a front. She favored her left hand and her right leg. There were scars on her fingers and knuckles; clearly she didn't have qualms about getting them messy. The clothes she wore didn't look like they made her uncomfortable, so she was used to dressing professionally.
The most interesting thing about her was the way she talked. It was educated, but not in the traditional sense. She wasn't overtly articulate; but the words she chose to use in conversation alluded toward an inward compulsion to be precise. The way she had spoken to him when they first met still stuck out to him: '...my part in that night is my property to do with as I please. I give that information willingly. The other party, however, is not here to speak for themselves, and therefore cannot give you their happenings that night. It would be stealing.'
Such compulsion, likely, would not be limited to just her manner of speaking. Precision. Glade held that word in his mind when he thought of her. Every act on her part thus far had been planned precisely. The way she spoke, even the way she carried herself, was with conscious purpose. What she wanted he still didn't know, but from the first he knew she wanted to be here. Her captivity had not been by accident.
"So, there you were in the forest with your teacher. He revealed to you that the people of Ithaca wanted to save the world. And as a child you said, 'sign me up!'?"
Tess laughed. "Hardly. I was already there. I saw no reason to object--far from it. What Blaine was lecturing me about excited me. Imagine a child, sentenced to boring classrooms with homework and quizzes and tests, being offered the opportunity to actually go out and see the world! I hardly slept that night. All the roads I never knew I could travel were suddenly opened up to me."
Glade smiled in spite of himself. "I could see the appeal of that, I suppose. And all this just weeks after your parents passed away?"
She turned to him, her own smile fading. "Not even two. It's funny, maybe Ithaca filled the void and kept me busy enough to distract me from the pain. Or maybe something about my parents didn't sit right with me." Her eyes were still on him, but distant again. "I used to cry at night, not because I missed my parents, but because I felt guilty for not missing them. It took years for me to understand what I was feeling.
"After spending so much time around people that truly lived, I reflected on how my parents used to be. They weren't unhappy--but they were not happy either. I guess, that's just what they were. Never one way, or the other. Just the middle."
Crossing his arms, Glade simply watched her. It was his intention to see if he could say something that would elicit an emotional response. Her parents did seem to bring something out of her. Someone trying to maintain a calm demeanor wouldn't let themselves fall for something so trivial.
"What do you mean by people that truly lived?"
Tess's gaze returned, and she resumed leaning. "It is a comparison. People that don't fall into roles that are set out for them."
"Blaine was a Patron, and Mr. Abbott was a coordinator. Even your uncle had some role you haven't completely revealed to me, except that it involves killing people."
She regarded him. "Blaine was Blaine. Charles was Charles and Jory was Jory. Just because Blaine taught me didn't make him a teacher. Just because you step on a spider, does that make you an exterminator?"
Glade laughed. "No, but I'm not paid to kill spiders. I'm paid to find killers."
Tess let out her braid as she spoke absently. "They were not paid to do those things, either."
"How did they make a living?"
"They didn't. They just lived."
He sighed. "You're not making sense."
"In your terms, I'm sure I'm not"--she started, fussing her hair before letting it fall behind her shoulders--"Because you are fashioned in the manner you are. To you, it doesn't make sense that they didn't have to play into the system somehow."
"So how did they live?"
"Primary Living. I had a Patron; that implies that I owe something to him for his services. How could I pay him back? Money? No. I gave back by growing food, fixing leaks, repairing cars, building chairs. If there was a niche, that is what I would do. It didn't make me a farmer, or a plumber. I'm just me. I know a great many things, and when they need doing, I do them."
He shook his head. "Somewhere along the line, Ithaca had to have contact with the Canadian Government, and make agreements. So in some way, you had to work with the system."
Tess shrugged. "When I give you answers for this murder, am I working with the system? No. I am talking to you, one on one. No pretenses, no fake entity called a system. We are people, and that is what we need to return to."
It was true, she did not seem interested in the police, only Glade. "So why are you talking to me?"
"Once upon a time, you stumbled on a truth. I'm here to see that it's realized."
"What about Senator Brown?"
She smiled. "The two subjects are more related than you realize."
* * *
Over the next few weeks we simply walked, and talked. I saw my uncle only a handful of times, but Blaine was constantly at my side. We didn't get into anything major at the very beginning. He would walk by and hint at what he knew about everything we came across, teasing my curiosity one moment, only to starve it the next. Soon my mind was racing about how ovens worked, how to tell a spruce from a fir and a pine, when an elk was in rut, which seeds to plant, and where and when to plant them. Every time he would answer my question, but in doing so would unlock so many more.
We did things that were entertaining for a kid, but useful. He took me out and showed me how to make several different kinds of shelters, and which berries and roots were good to eat and which weren't. I learned methods for starting fires when dry wood was scarce, how to set up snares for small game, and we even built a raft. He took me out fishing, teaching me how to fly fish and later how to tie flies. Every night we would return home, have a meal, and I slept like a rock.
A few of the days were spent with the livestock. The nursery had a few baby lambs I played with, and Blaine never told me not to. He simply watched, and explained how male sheep are rams and females are ewes, the history of farming sheep and the merit of a good flock. When I wouldn't stop playing with the lambs, he would then ask me everything I knew about sheep. After stumping me several times and then boring me, I would grumpily move on, and Blaine would just laugh.
He took me to the hatchery and showed me the hens in their roost. Unlike the lambs, the chickens were mean and chased me off several times. I heard much, and retained little, until we returned the next day and I actually had to help shear the sheep, milk the cows and collect the eggs. Grudgingly, I actually learned much from the animals and their caretakers.
Not one to be deterred, I continued with my Patronage, gashes from hens and all.
We proceeded to the motor pool in the next few days, taking a pair of snowmobiles out and exploring the wilderness around Ithaca. He gave me only a basic safety overview before we plunged right into riding, and twice had scolded me for riding too close behind him. The basic principles of torque and throttle, braking and steering were introduced to me, and through them Blaine would sneak in lessons on inertia, drag, and combustion. He never used the specific terms at the time of course; but the context of their workings were instilled in me nonetheless.
We avoided snowdrifts and iced over lakes. It was just before noon when we stopped for lunch. While we ate he showed me the treads, challenging me to explain why they were better for riding in snow. Every moment was a lesson. After lunch we took a roundabout route to return to the settlement, going miles out of the way through easy terrain. In the days that would follow, Blaine began taking me further out and having me lead us back. I had difficulty with it at first, but I can still remember the pride I felt the first time I returned us to safety.
One day I was taken out to find a tree that we would be cutting down for a project. Blaine picked a tree that was as tall as a two-story building, with rusty-colored bark and branches thick with needles. We used a chainsaw to cut it down and divided it into even logs that would fit into the bed of the truck, then covered the ends with aluminum paint and brought it back with us. We carved it into lumber at the mill, with Blaine explaining briefly that once it was cut it would have to be stacked and dried before we could use it. In the weeks that followed we carved, sanded, and stained the wood, and I watched as a tree was transformed into a table and chairs before my eyes.
Slowly I began to see the world around me change. All the little things that I never took the time to understand became a part of me. With it, I began to change as well. I didn't feel helpless, or at the mercy of nature; instead I harnessed it, and in doing so I realized what truly mattered: the power to create. Jory had been gone for almost two months, and I hadn't even noticed. Blaine had become my key to the world, and it was in his step I followed.
My time in Ithaca had already been extended twice since Jory had been away on business, which I was thankful for. Three months had left me feeling settled, and I found myself more and more dreading the thought of leaving. I felt free. Going back to the other world I had come from now seemed pointless. It was a world of routine, filled with robots that were programmed to do one thing their entire lives until their spark was finally snuffed out under the heel of despair. Here, people simply lived; without a bag of guilt and worry always weighing them down.
There was an energy in the people of Ithaca. It's hard to put words to; you just saw it in their faces, expressions, and posture. If they broke a leg, it was just that--a broken leg. It was set, cast and healed. They didn't worry about how they were going to afford the treatment, how much work they would miss out on, and how that would affect their job--and in turn affect every other aspect of their lives. If their truck broke down they wasted no more energy than just figuring out how to fix it. When spring came and there were floods, there was no discussion on whose job it was to take care of it--everyone did. More importantly, every person knew how to.
Ithaca revitalized everyone within it. That alone changed everything. Once knowledge was returned to the people, their lives flourished. Once control over the world was given back to them, their spirits healed. There was a strength to them that I had never encountered before. They stood as free people, and even more than that, they stood as people that would never again relinquish their freedom to anyone.
In the same way, I fought against going to Colorado and returning to the wasteland that was the rest of the world. The people there were diseased, and it was the most contagious disease mankind was ever stricken with: dependence. They were alcoholics living their lives in a blurry haze--and their governments and systems were the alcohol. I wanted no part in it.
Blaine saw the change in me when I heard that we were leaving Ithaca. "Tess, I can see that you're distracted. What's the matter?"
I was reluctant to answer. "It's not fair." The words came out in a flood. "There is no reason to leave here and go there! Why is Jory doing this?"
"Because you haven't earned this yet."
"I don't care!"
"Tess!" Blaine yelled, stopping me in my tracks. It was the first time he had ever raised his voice at me. "Your time here has been up for a while now. Usually you would have been gone in six or eight weeks, but Jory has been busy. It is time for us to move on. Why do you think we do this?"
I just watched him in shock.
"What you're feeling is normal. You've been here for far longer than people your age usually are, and you've had too much time to grow comfortable. Eventually though, you have to return to society. You don't need to worry so much, I'll be coming with you."
"But, why are we going?" I asked meekly.
"Remember what I told you on our first day? I want to save the world from itself. It's not going to happen out here in the middle of nowhere. When you're facing a disease, you can't just treat the symptoms. You have to cure the cause."
"Is that what you're teaching me to do?"
"No. I'm giving you the tools to live. It's up to you to decide how to use them. But you can't very well make that kind of decision understanding only half of the problem. That's why we're going back. I need you to trust me, this is necessary."
I conceded a nod. At that age I truly had no idea what he meant, but the way he said things always put me at ease. There was sincerity in his every word and action, and that made his integrity plain to see. It was a quality of leadership, but even more than that, it was something that made you want to be in his presence. Something that the world was sorely lacking.