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She blinked as she emerged from the meld. Veral was staring up at her, thoughtful. He sat up slowly and touched his temple. Before T'Lin could say anything, N'Livek entered, and began scanning him with a tricorder. T'Lin stood and stepped back, letting her do her work.

"What is your full legal name?" N'Livek asked.

"Xkasha L'gar Veral, cha'Skan, of the House of Ayriya, of the Clan of Masutra."

"Where are you?"

"In the Hospital in Klan-ne." He glanced around. "I was unconscious when I was brought to this room, but logically I assume I am in the department of telepathic neurology on the third floor."

"What is the date?"

"The 3rd of K'ri'lior in the year 14,806."

"What is the primary biofeedback focal point of the mesiofrontal cortex?"

"The qui'lari."

N'Livek looked back at T'Lin. "Do you sense anything out of the ordinary from him?"

He was unsettled, but under the circumstances, that was understandable. He felt otherwise as he usually did. "No."

N'Livek placed a hand on his face and initiated a brief meld. She dropped her hand. "Acceptable."

N'Livek tapped at the tricorder, looked at Veral, and then at T'Lin. "I have sent you my personal comm code. If he later exhibits signs of confusion, becomes disoriented, develops dizziness or a severe headache, or begins vomiting, call me immediately." She turned back to Veral. "Are you able to speak to law enforcement? The V'Shar sent someone from telepathic crimes."

"I am."

Unlike most of the fictional detectives she enjoyed, the officer from the telepathic crimes unit had no immediately evident eccentricities or affectations. He introduced himself as Setek, and he was an ordinary looking man, dressed in a V'Shar uniform, who spoke Golic with a Go'an accent.

Setek looked at T'Lin with a slightly raised eyebrow, and Veral said, "This is she who is my wife. In matters such as this, she and I are as one."

Setek nodded and took a seat. "Do you desire a representative from the Healer's Guild be present during this conversation?"

"No."

"Describe what happened."

Veral did, in extensive, technical detail.

"Had you any prior knowledge of or acquaintance with this patient?"

"No. I never saw her before she came into my emergency department."

"Do you have any reason to think the attack was directed at you personally?"

"No. I have no enemies that I am aware of, and I do not see how it could have been arranged that I would be the one to treat her when there were three other healers present at the time."

Setek made notes on a PADD.

"Did she die?" Veral asked.

Setek looked up. "Yes."

Veral said nothing, but T'Lin felt his disappointment.

"Evidence suggests that you are correct," Setek said. "You were not the target of this attack, only an unintended second victim of her murder."

"Murder?" But T'Lin's momentary excitement ebbed immediately when she recalled that this was not a mystery novel written for her enjoyment. A real person was dead.

Setek nodded. "The R-wave that was recorded in conjunction with the rapid rise of DT6 and what happened to you when you tried to correct the issue suggests a d'tau containing a khei-fen."

T'Lin did not know what that was. Veral did, and the anger that flared up in him was stronger than anything she had ever sensed from him. His face was unexpressive and his voice flat when he said, "Setting a d'tau requires healer's training."

Setek inclined his head. "Not all who go to Gol keep their oath."

Veral got his anger under control. "She must have had some idea what was happening to her. She was conscious when she came in. If she had told us, we could have taken precautions. We could have saved her."

Also, you would not have had your brain scrambled, T'Lin said, through their bond. If that is a consideration for you at all.

Veral did not look at her but acknowledged her point with a light touch to the bond.

Setek put his PADD away. "I cannot say with certainty, but there is evidence that she may have been one of the victims of the recently dissolved violence ring. She certainly fits the profile."

T'Lin knew that profile all too well. Trauma in the family, social isolation, often neuroatypical. Everything that had made Pel such an attractive victim.

Setek continued, "If so, she may have allowed fear to prevent her from speaking."

"Fear of what?" T'Lin asked. "The perpetrators were all apprehended or exiled themselves off-world."

"To the best of our knowledge, that is true of those who orchestrated and led the affair. The investigation is ongoing, however, and we are still finding those, like this woman likely was, who are in the gray space between victim and perpetrator. In any case, even if she no longer had a reason for caution…even among the students of cthia, sometimes fear persists even when the reason for it is gone." Setek stood. "Have you any questions for me?"

Veral shook his head, and Setek nodded and left.

It took some time to get out of the hospital. A representative from the Healer's Guild had come. She spent thirteen minutes talking about Veral's rights in this circumstance, and the services available to him. Then the hospital administrator wanted to meet with him, told him an independent investigation would be launched, and asked if he wished to lodge a complaint against any of the policies or procedures at the hospital, which he did not. It was reassuring to see that the matter was being taken seriously, but T'Lin just wanted to go home, and she could feel how tired Veral was.

When they finally got free, they beamed directly home. T'Lin thought Veral might go to lie down, but instead he went out into the garden, to a secluded spot that he liked, and sank into a deep meditation. T'Lin went elsewhere in the garden, and settled onto a patch of soft yellow ifari. The weather was very fine, bright and cloudless, warm but not oppressively hot. A gentle breeze rustled the vegetation. She sat for some time, doing her best to clear her mind of other concerns and only be present in the moment, until a step not far away roused her.

T'Reya touched a small bronze sculpture that T'Lin knew had been made by Xhil and sighed in a way that indicated she was not aware of T'Lin's presence. Another time, T'Lin would have slipped away and left her, but this day, something compelled her to speak.

"You're afraid."

T'Reya turned around slowly.

"You want him, but you will not let yourself have him. You are letting your fear control you."

T'Reya raised an eyebrow, a silent warning. She was not the sort to stand on ceremony, but she was still an honored foremother. T'Lin dropped her eyes respectfully, but still said, "I do not know what you fear, but I think you are doing yourself a disservice by allowing your desire for safety to deprive you of something you so clearly want." She glanced up, and added, "T'sai."

The side of T'Reya's mouth flicked at the belated honorific. "You think yourself very wise, child."

"No," T'Lin said, honestly. "Only someone who has suffered too much to fail to grasp at every logical chance to make my life easier and more pleasant."

"Life is so simple as that? You, with your perfect logic, see that I would be best served by bonding with Xhil, and I ought to bend to your clear thinking regardless of my own life experiences and preferences."

T'Lin looked away, her certainty faltering under T'Reya's sardonic gaze. "I mean no disrespect, t'sai. Only…" She looked back and met T'Reya's eyes. "You are afraid." She was being very disrespectful by stating such things so bluntly, but still she managed to hold T'Reya's gaze.

"Fear is at once a protector and a jailer," T'Reya said. "I know that as well as you. When it comes to Xhil, my concerns are not yours to involve yourself in."

"Yes, t'sai."

"I had two bad marriages," T'Reya said. T'Lin hid her surprise. T'Reya rarely spoke about her past. "One arranged by my parents, another entered into of my own volition. Each one diminished me. I am not eager to make a third poor bonding that might make what time I have left harder and less pleasant."

T'Lin dropped her eyes, chastened. "I ask pardon, t'sai."

"I grant it. You mean well, but do not presume to know what someone else needs. Our fears, such as they are, are something we must battle privately."

"Yes, t'sai."

T'Reya stood quietly for some time, and then said, softly, "Nam-tor ri ret na'fan-kitok fa tu dakh pthak." There is no room for anything else until you cast out fear. T'Reya touched her finger to her chin in thought. "You are not entirely wrong." She walked away.

Dakh pthak. Cast out fear. It was one of the first disciplines one learned, and one of the hardest to master. Perhaps the hardest.

The thought at first that the sound behind her was T'Reya returning, but it was Veral, finished with his meditation, and feeling much more at peace. T'Lin held out a hand. He took it and pulled her to her feet.

T'Lin touched his cheek. "You are settled."

"I am."

He took his hand and they walked together to the bench near the telescope. It was daylight, too bright for an optical telescope to be of any use, but it was a place they both enjoyed. When they were seated, T'Lin asked, "What is a d'tau?"

"A telepathic command that can be hidden under the conscious processes and set to re-emerge hours, days, even years in the future. Invaluable for certain conditions, but they are one of the skills that healers learn which have the ability to be very dangerous. Those of us who keep to our oaths use them sparingly, and always register what we have done with the ethics oversight committee when we set one."

"Suvin and Pel…"

Veral caught her meaning. "Were carefully screened by pediatric mind-healers. There is no chance that anything is lurking in them. This woman…well, I ought not to speculate. Perhaps she did not know what had been done to her, but based on my brief impression of her mind, I think she did. I think she was willing to die rather than speak. It's quite…unfortunate."

T'Lin was less forgiving. "She was willing to risk your life as well."

"Yes," Veral said, without even the faint anger of self-protection. He twined his fingers with hers. "Thank you, for earlier. Thank you for guiding me back to logic."

"As you have done many times for me," T'Lin said, resting her head on his shoulder.

With due respect to her age and experience, T'Reya was incorrect. Not all fears needed to be battled privately.

end



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