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It was almost midnight before Guelida could reasonably call herself done for the day. The engineers would work through the night, and everyone in the palace had their fingers crossed there wouldn’t be another earthquake until Bastyen was settled in.

“Is Alie still awake?” Guelida asked as Zairr followed her through the door into her suite.

“Yes, but she and Gene are…occupied.”

“Again?” Not that Guelida begrudged her sister whatever comfort she could find right now. It just wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear.

Although it brought up other questions. “What’s that like?” she asked Zairr. “For you, I mean?”

Zairr’s grin was an answer in and of itself. But he said, “Different. A little distracting. Okay, maybe a lot distracting. But that’s part of the adjustment.”

The Red Guard mindshare was what turned the otherwise elite group into something legendary. The Guard started with the best and the brightest, people with the strongest gifts that could be found. They were all strong senders, of course, but most of them possessed the rarer, secondary gifts. The Guard looked for kinetics, empaths, shades, fixers—even full fledged healers if they could find them. And once they entered the mindshare together, all those gifts got boosted and spread around.

As Zairr was demonstrating, helping Guelida out of her jacket with his hands while he opened the nearby closet with his mind and whisked a hanger over. “Show-off,” Guelida teased.

“It’s fun. I’m still stretching, getting used to it.”

But it wasn’t just through their gifts that the Guard was connected. The mindshare was exactly that—it tied their minds together permanently and deeply. And while, with the rest of the guard, Zairr could dip into their minds and share their thoughts like they were his own, with Genoff, his partner, Zairr had no choice.

Zairr walked her jacket over to the closet to hang it up. “The older Guard, they laugh at us fumbling around in our heads, trying to adjust. We’ve been training for this for years, but there’s nothing they tell you that can prepare you for what it’s like. As I’m having this conversation with you, the others can hear it, and I can hear them. If I focus, I can push them away and give myself a little space, but it’s hard.”

“Except for your partner.”

“Exactly. Genoff’s always there, right in the back of my mind. It’s disorienting, but Jephan says it’ll get easier. That we’ll develop the brain-muscles to move in and out of the mindshare more naturally. But in the end, there’s nothing you can do about your partner except learn to live with them.”

“Better you than me.” It all sounded miserable to Guelida. Losing the privacy of your own thoughts, being forced to share everything you thought or felt with someone else. For all the inconveniences and indignities that went along with keeping her mind shielded and hidden from everyone around her, it was worth it to never have to deal with having someone that intrusively close.

“You need anything else?” Zairr asked, standing at the closet.

And that right there was perfect. Zairr was her best friend, other than Alie, of course, and Guelida trusted him and even loved him. But at a safe distance. And never, ever, ever inside her head. “I’m fine. You should get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”

“Exciting times. Call me if you need anything.” He left her alone in her suite.

Guelida pulled off her boots, untucked her crisp black shirt. The uniform was like a second skin—she practically lived in it these days—but all the same it was good to get out of the over-starched fabric and stiff leather.

She crossed the front room that was identical to the one in Alydia’s suite, past the door that led to her own private office, past the music room full of instruments that had been her obsession when she’d been a child and had now sat untouched for years since she’d had to shoulder real responsibilities. Into the bedroom, which was the size of all three of those rooms combined.

This was her refuge, her indulgence. Her feet sank into the thick carpet, and a snap of her fingers started soft orchestral music playing. Off to the right was the bathroom that included a sunken tub so deep she could practically stand in it, but tonight she would forgo the soak in favor of sleep.

As her body relaxed, so did her mind. The shields that she kept locked in place when she was anywhere around people thinned and loosened. Which meant she could feel the presence of the other minds in the tower, like shadows of people just at the edge of her vision. Her mother and father above. Lorrel across the way. Elinas around the hall to one side and Alydia and Genoff around the hall to the other. People sending to each other, soft whispers in the distance she couldn’t quite make out. She didn’t try.

And one voice, very clear, very present.

Tired.

Was it a comment on Guelida’s state or an echo of the ghost-woman’s own past? Guelida couldn’t tell. It was rare that they had real conversations. And even those times where the dead woman seemed like she might be responding to something Guelida thought or said, it was still too vague for Guelida to be certain.

Guelida’s strict mental discipline had kept her gift from progressing for years. She’d kept away the visions that haunted her father and Elinas. She kept away the voices that so often distracted her father and frightened her sibling. But this woman—this voice—the first one Guelida had heard—the first clue that she’d been born with the seer gift—she’d never been able to drive that away.

Most days, she was fine. At night, she heard the woman more. She dreamed of the woman, saw her moving through the palace as it must have been in the long-lost past. But sometimes, some days, the woman woke up with urgency and agitation.

General Fierre called it walking into an echo when Hyresh or Elinas would get hit with a suddenly intense vision. He talked about resonances and memories tied to their souls. Whatever it was, since the earthquakes had started, since work on the treaty had begun, Guelida had been feeling more and more the echoes of the woman who haunted her.

But this one voice she knew. This one voice, she could deal with. She could filter out the pale woman’s commentary as she had to without giving anyone around her a hint that she heard it.

Because the last thing she wanted—the worst thing she could imagine—would be for people to start looking at her like they did Hyresh, like they did Elinas. Like she needed to be protected, coddled, shepherded from one safe space to the next. The pity, the sadness—Guelida couldn’t stand to have that directed at her.

Especially from the people she loved and respected the most. Zairr, Genoff, Chandra, Nicci. Alydia and Lorrel. General Anison. General Fierre. Jonnah.

Guelida stripped the rest of the way and fell onto the huge bed that occupied the center of the room. Tired, the ghost woman repeated.

Yes, I know. I’m going to sleep. Shhh.

Silence descended. Either the woman heard Guelida’s thoughts or she simply had nothing more to say. Which was just fine.

Surrounded by blessed mental silence, Guelida went to sleep.

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Barbara J Webb

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