Ajax sat in the classroom with his arms crossed, glowering. His fellow students were even more disorganized than usual, because Kwan and the other room teachers weren’t paying enough attention to keep everybody focused. Instead, they were busy discussing the plans for retreat while standing in a corner. Kwan in particular looked exhausted.
As far as Ajax knew, no formal decision had been reached about just how far the withdrawal from Earth would progress, but everybody— at least everybody with any authority— agreed that at least a temporary, short-term withdrawal would be useful. And if the parents and families of Earthborn kids were invited to stay at the Tower for an extended visit— well, that was interesting and convenient timing. It gave the classroom a ‘last day of school’ buzz, which, in the circumstance, felt ominous rather than fun.
And despite everything, Ajax still wasn’t allowed out. None of the student Nightlights were, it was true, but it still felt personal. Like everything else, it wasn’t part of an organized plan, but a sort of side-effect of being too busy to really deal with the situation.
Kwan’s conference with the other teachers ended, and he strode past Ajax without a glance.
“Kwan!” called Ajax. “Why don’t we just luminate everybody?”
Kwan’s head pivoted to look at him. The teacher had been sharp with Ajax since their adventure with Natalie’s cambion, as if his otherwise endless reserves of patience had finally drained. But when other heads turned at Ajax’s question, he stopped and came back to Ajax’s table.
“What good would that do?” he inquired, as one administering a test.
“Make it harder for Hatherly to succeed? And allow people to defend themselves?”
Kwan stared hard at him for a moment, then said, “But most people cannot cope with lumination. They do not wish to see monsters everywhere. Civilization relies on the fact that the monsters are managed by a special class of people. And lumination attracts them. Lumination is not enough to help people. They have to be trained as well.”
“Oh, come on. You’re underestimating people.”
“Am I? But look at Jehane. She has survived, but most people born luminated on Earth do not.”
Ajax started to argue again, but recalled his own initial reaction to the flash of light. He’d wished it hadn’t happened, wished he didn’t know the truth of the shadows of the world.
Kwan nodded at him, and moved on through the classroom. But Jehane left her table and made her way over to Ajax. In a low voice, she said, “They’re trying to decide on which city to put the last active emergence point in,” and Ajax realized that from where she’d been sitting, she’d been able to eavesdrop on the teachers’ conversation.
“Because that will help. Giving up always helps.” He leaned forward. “I don’t want to be sealed in here when they finally give up entirely, how about you?”
Jehane shook her head. “I’m not giving up. I never have.” She glanced at the wall. “Elian won’t let us out, though.”
“Kentigern didn’t seem to mind. Maybe he’ll come around.”
Elian said flatly, “I’m not Kentigern.” Jehane and Ajax both jumped and looked at the wall closest, where Elian’s voice had emanated from. “And I’m not going to come around.”
Jehane said, “I bet we can convince you. Why are you being so strict, anyhow? You can’t let them convince you you’re in trouble.”
Elian said, “I don’t want to hear it! And listen to yourself, Jehane! You’ve been spending too much time around Seth and Ajax. You used to be…”
Jehane scowled. “Sweet?” She slouched in her chair. “It is wonderful, oh yes? I finally know what I want and seek it, and everybody wishes I was helpless again, because it is not what they want. It is Natalie who is everybody’s dream girl. So good, so helpful.”
Ajax said mildly, “She wasn’t a good girl when she saved me. I got the impression people were pretty unhappy with her over that.”
Jehane flushed. “I’m sorry. It is true, I think, that even Natalie can’t live up to what they want Natalie to be. They make of her an ideal, so nobody wants to know what has happened. Maybe I should have said…” and she stopped, glancing up at the wall again. Then she shook her head. “I wish, Elian, that you and the others would not wish me back in my bedroom.”
Elian said, his voice acidic enough to etch steel, “I’ve got wishes, too. And I’m not Kentigern”
“I’ve never wished you were,” said Jehane, with some dignity.
“Oops,” said Ajax. “Sorry about that.” But he was thinking about Jehane’s look to the wall, not really paying attention. It was clear there were some things they couldn’t discuss here, not with Elian becoming increasingly more hostile.
“Well, I’m not going to let you go out and get yourselves killed,” said Elian, sullenly. “Kentigern didn’t care the same way I do. And I don’t want to be him. And… nevermind. I have work to do.”
Ajax stared at the wall, and wondered where he could find a Prowler.