The Longest Shard: 13

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Tale of Fortune, originally published in spring of 2020, is a time-hopping prequel to Soldier of Fortune, and offers no spoilers. 

For those who wish to read the novella all at once, the 99¢ ebook is available for purchase.

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Day  405

The next day, Gideon went in search of Doc, who he found idling in the shade of the yard’s west wall, shuffling a worn deck of cards.

“Do you remember when you said there was no knowing if Manny being a sensitive had anything to do with his taking the walk?” Gideon asked.

Doc looked up. “And hello to you too.”

“But,” Gideon continued, “everyone around here says it’s the sensitives who go crystal mad most often.” 

“And of course, ‘everyone around here’ would be experts in the varied neurological and psychological responses to the proximity of living crystal,” Doc replied, carefully setting the cards to one side. 

“Okay, maybe we won’t count the opinions of the Pavels of the world,” Gideon said as he parked himself on the warm slab of rock next to the physician, “but most of the inmates, and a few of the guards, think that the majority of people who do go swarm are sensitives of some type or another.” 

“Which is not impossible,” Doc granted. “But it could as easily be presumed that the sensitives in question succumbed from living in close proximity with dozens of violent offenders for long periods of time. I’m guessing you hadn’t thought of that?” Doc asked as Gideon frowned. 

“I… no.” 

“So few do,” Doc murmured. “I imagine it would be difficult enough for those who sense the thoughts or emotions of others to maintain a sense of self in the best of circumstances.” 

“And these are hardly the best of circumstances,” Gideon said, gazing over the yard, his eyes sliding over Nyal, who was sketching something in the air with his hands as he spoke to Lonnie, then over to Pavel and Kneecaps, who seemed to be arguing over the measurements of the queen pitch. 

There was Cassandra walking out the kinks of the day along with Mama, who Gideon knew to be dealing with the onset of arthritis. “So if someone’s only, say, a contact sensitive, they might have a better chance of getting out whole?”

“I appreciate you may wish to help Cassandra out after your interlude,” Doc began.

“Wait,” Gideon interrupted, “how do you know about that?” 

“You know how the buzz travels here,” Doc said pityingly. “I’d say everyone knows about yesterday’s tryst by now.”

“It’s not about what happened yesterday,” Gideon began. “Okay, maybe a little about that,” he amended as Doc’s eyebrows rose. “But she made it clear it was a one-time deal, so mostly it’s about wanting to keep another person from wandering off into the desert.” 

“I understand that,” Doc said, “and very much sympathize, but you’re asking me to speculate without sufficient data.” 

“You’ve been in for, what, six years?” Gideon asked. “How not sufficient can your data be?” 

“Yes,” Doc replied, his mild voice taking on the barest of edges. “And in that time, I’ve known five inmates to take the walk, including Manny. Another became uncontrollably violent, and was ‘shipped off to an asylum for the cogs to deal with, and one last fell into a catatonic state and was also sent away. Of those seven,” he continued, “only three were known to be sensitives. Even taking into account that there are many levels of sensitivity, and not every sensitive is identified, there have not been enough demonstrated instances of acute psychological breaks in the general population over the past six years for me to draw any useful conclusions.” 

“So there’s nothing anyone will do?” Gideon challenged, once he’d digested most of what Doc said. “People are going crazy but everyone just shrugs and moves on because they’re criminals and they deserve it?” 

“I don’t believe—” Doc began. 

“Because if pain and suffering is really what all this is about,” Gideon cut in, indicating the inmates dotting the yard, “then the Colonies may as well lay down arms and call ourselves Midasians.” 

“Is that what happened to you?” Doc asked as Gideon’s arm dropped. “The scars,” he clarified. “Did they come from a Midasian?” 

“We’re not talking about me,” Gideon replied flatly.

Doc said nothing, but his quirked eyebrow spoke volumes. 

“If you’re thinking I committed treason because I was turned by a Midasian torturer, you’re looking for pollen in a barren meadow,” Gideon said. 

“There’d be no shame in it, if that was what happened.” 

“Yes, there would,” Gideon disagreed. “But it’s not what happened. I’m here because I made a choice.” Which, as Cassandra now knew, was a truth, if not the truth. “Meanwhile, back to my original question. Shouldn’t someone in power care that so many sensitives are going swarm down here?” 

“I couldn’t say.” As he spoke, Doc picked up his deck of cards and rose from the warmth of the stone seat. “Perhaps you should ask someone who is in power,” he suggested, before walking away and leaving Gideon with the distinct sensation that couldn’t say wasn’t the same as didn’t know.

Huffing out a soft curse, Gideon’s eyes instinctively sought out Cassandra, still wandering the yard, just as Mama said something that had Cassandra tossing back her head in a full-out laugh. 

Whatever her crimes, Gideon didn’t want to see her suffer the same fate as Manny. 

Before he could talk himself out of it, he launched himself to his feet, aiming for the nearest CO. 

Twenty minutes later he stalked back into the yard, Simkins’s reprimands still ringing in his ears. 

“… what makes you think I’d believe anything a confessed traitor has to say…” 

“… Cassandra O’Malley’s actions led to the financial ruin of dozens, and at least two deaths can be traced to the secrets she shared…”

“… all beside the point that not a single boffin has been able to prove that crystal has any lasting effect on sensitives… 

While the basso echoes bounced around in his brain, Gideon scanned the yard, seeking Doc but, for once, the physician was nowhere to be found.

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