What Schwarz starts as is a far cry from what I left Manie with. The two teams share similar beginnings of chance—Kristof's ability to understand Jackie's silent conversations and my gift's preoccupation with Schuldich. But whereas Jackie was relieved for the understanding and Schuldich is happy to get away from Hoffmann, Schuldich does not want to trust me. It does not take me long to catch on, but its presence changes little. Schuldich is still mine until he outlives his usefulness and dies.
The German rouses as soon as I step through the kitchen doorway. Actually, 'rouses' sounds too passive. He lurches awake, rather, alerted by the way his gift rebounds off my shields that someone else is near. I ignore the wild look in his eyes as he tries to reorient himself and busy myself instead with setting up the coffee pot. I make enough for the both of us and wait at the counter until it has finished brewing. The sleep seems to have done him well; when I turn to the table with our mugs, his expression is under control once more. Green eyes are guarded as he watches me approach.
"I demand your respect, not your fear," I tell him as I sit across the table from him, but I've caught enough glimpses of the future that I wonder how long even the first will last. I push a mug across the table and he pulls it closer to peer inside. "I am not here to hurt you. I have enough other things to do with my time that I could have left that to far more interested parties. Do you think Ikida would have released me to you if you would have fared no better with me?"
"Did he have a choice?" Schuldich asks in a low voice. "He didn't want to."
"Did you hear that from him?"
Schuldich hesitates, then shakes his head, jaw tightening. "I saw it in his face. I…" He glances my way, expression tightening as if preparing himself for a bad reaction. I motion for him to continue. "I can't hear anything."
"I can feel other minds." He lifts his hands, pressing them to either side of his head and squeezing against his temples. "Crushing in on me. But I can't hear anything. Not since…"
Telepaths are such an incompetent breed. Ruiz and Heuskinveld lost their lives to put some semblance of shielding over his mind, but it seems that they served only to make it worse. I suppose it was to be expected- telepaths' main concern is to shield their own minds, not someone else's.
"No matter," I answer, and he looks surprised. "Your gift has not been broken, and that is good enough for now. You were still able to pinpoint the Council and my entrance and you knew how to manipulate the boarding agent at the airport in Austria. Your telepathy is merely splintered and repressed. That is why Ikida was hesitant to release you to my care. He understands that you are still healing. Right now your sanity is intact only because two other telepaths died to piece your mind back together, but it is questionable as to how long it will last. It is now my job to make sure it lasts. I am going to teach you how to repair and sustain your shields. Drink."
He takes a swallow and winces only slightly as he burns his tongue. I write off the rest of the grimace as distaste. Few people can appreciate black coffee the first time they try it. "It is good for you," I tell him. "The caffeine will help your mind. I want you to start each day with a mug of it."
I am finished before he is and wait in silence until he is done. He displays his empty mug to me for approval and I clear away both cups to the counter. "You are too quiet," I decide. "A teacher can teach, but it is up to the student to learn. Lessons are taught best when the two sides meet halfway. I do not have the telepathy to see your questions in your mind, but I do have the answers for them. Do you understand?"
He seems a little wary by such words. "What am I to call you?"
It seems his forgetfulness at the airport was not just tied into his mental pain. I decide that my first introduction to him was probably erased by his subsequent breakdown in the medical ward. "I am Crawford, Rosenkreuz's Oracle."
"Do you expect me to ask questions of someone Ikida gives ground to, Herr Crawford?"
"You are asking them now, are you not? It is enough of a start. As for Ikida…" I return to the table and seat myself once more across from him. It's not my imagination that he leans back slightly. "He has the right to question me and the things I do, but no, he did not have much of a choice in whether or not you came with me. What do you understand about the ranks within Rosenkreuz?"
He takes a moment to think. "The Council is the top," he says, and he almost chokes on the name. "Then the Five."
"Then that will be your first lesson from me," I say. "I am sure you learned from your mother what manner of organization Rosenkreuz is, but I will repeat it anyway. Rosenkreuz is a school based on mental powers. It recruits, trains, breeds, and farms out Talents, bringing them in from all over the world and sending them back to whoever bids the highest for the honor. As it stands now, over ninety percent of Rosenkreuz's teams are sent to work for Estet, the organization that is funding our school.
"Teams are not the only branch at Rosenkreuz, however. At the very bottom are the students. Above them are the instructors. Above them, though they are rarely counted into the hierarchy, are the research technicians. Field teams rank above them. Doctors and advisors are third from the top; that is where your esteemed Ikida stands. He answers only to the Five and the Council.
"Ikida and I have a unique relationship in that in the time I have known him, I have gone from being evenly ranked to lower to higher, in that order. I have spent the last year and a half as a precognitive trainer, biding my time until you were ready to leave Austria. Partway through that year and a half, however, I was promoted to the Five, and I answer to no one save the Council."
Schuldich's face goes white at this announcement. I ignore the change in his expression. "I may not be a telepath, but I am enough to train you. Maybe you will not object to that."
"No, Herr Crawford," is his low response.
"Good," I answer. "Now that that is out of the way, I will tell you what I expect of you. You and I together make up Schwarz, Rosenkreuz's newest demolitions team. While we are here, I will be training you physically and mentally. When your body and gift are in shape, we will be running jobs for Rosenkreuz. I am going to teach you how to change the world, Schuldich. That is what you were born to do."
He just stares at me, not expecting that last bit, and I flick my fingers in dismissal. "You are not quite well enough to begin running, but you have done very little walking in this past year. Turn right outside of the front door of this building and go straight. There's a shooting range five miles away. Bring me back one of the targets."
I do not bother to see him off but instead start up my new computer. It does not take long to find and place an order for the English and Japanese workbooks we will need, and I reset the system to a Japanese language setting. I will have to find a site to stream news broadcasts and the like to keep up my listening, and I make a note to contact Alex Yun Fat. There are a couple of Japanese speakers between China's two main offices; correspondence with them will be good enough. They report to me, anyways, as the Fifth in charge of Asia, but I can notify them of my new residence and fix it so that all reports from the offices come in Japanese.
It is hours before Schuldich returns, and he comes back looking pale and queasy. I meet him out front and trade him water for the target. He gulps the drink down greedily and I give the target a critical look before setting it down against the building.
"This is not the one I wanted," I tell him. "You will have to take it back tomorrow."
It takes him just a moment to swallow the last of his water and he offers up a "Yes, Herr Crawford."
"Do not mess up again," I tell him, and he glances over at the target as he tries to figure out what he did wrong. I beckon for him to come inside and send him upstairs to shower. Lunch is ready by the time he is done, and we eat in silence before moving to the den. It doesn't take long to figure out that his education is severely lacking. Granted, his schooling was cut short by the deaths of his parents and Hoffmann's first attack, but I had still hoped for more.
"Apparently we have a lot to work on," I say as Schuldich stumbles yet again in his reading. His pronunciation is off and he reads at a halting pace; I know that he has to have used or heard most of these words before, but it seems he knows them only orally. "This will make the Japanese and English harder to pick up, if we're going to have to fix your German as well."
"Japanese, Herr Crawford?"
"You are to learn it," I answer simply. He has nothing to say to that, so I motion towards his book once more. "Read until dinner," I say. "I expect you to tell me what it is about by then. If you do not understand what a word is, you are to come ask me. I will be in my office."
He is left to his homework, but I see him several times throughout the afternoon. It is of some reassurance that at least half of the words he doesn't understand are simply words he cannot understand because of how he pronounces the reading. As soon as I correct his pronunciation, he understands and vanishes again.
In between his visits, I load a list of the field teams in Asia. There are thirteen field teams, up four from last year, and another three bouncers. Bouncers have no set teams; they work jobs that only require one body and sometimes tag onto other teams to add a bit of extra power. I set their three files to one side for later consideration and turn instead to the field teams.
I consider the top file, debating the best way to go about this. The first section beneath the team's name holds statistics; technically I could arrange the files by the statistics and go through them from top to bottom. The drawback to that is that statistics are just that: numbers and summaries of what a team is doing. In the end I decide alphabetical will work, and I pull a notepad and pen over to take notes.
There is a knock on the doorframe, Schuldich's sixth visit in the past half hour. "What is eppatome?" Schuldich wants to know.
"Epitome," I correct him.
Silence follows that as Schuldich compares my pronunciation to the word. "Epitome," he echoes. "What is epitome?"
"An epitome is something that is a highly representative example of a broader class," I answer. "For instance, your mother was the epitome of what Rosenkreuz would like in its telepaths."
"Oh." He thinks that over. "What is a manifestation?"
"Something that manifests," I answer dryly. Uncomprehending silence follows that, and I glance back from my computer screen to study him where he's holding onto his book. "Perhaps I should buy you a dictionary, after all. You might as well bring a chair in here from the kitchen; it would save you the trips. Leave your book on the desk." I motion to the corner and he does as he's told, abandoning the text in favor of finding something to sit on.
I go ahead and minimize the files I was working on in favor of ordering a dictionary. Schuldich watches the screen in idle fascination, green eyes studying the pages of kanji. "Is that Japanese, Five Crawford?" he wants to know, retrieving his book from my desk.
"Yes, it is. One day you'll be able to read this. I have already ordered your course materials for that and English."
Schuldich considers that, finding his page in his book once more. "I know my English," he says at length. "Not as well as my German, but… My father spoke only English to me. Mom told him to."
I make a mental note of that. "Good," I answer. "You have made our lives minutely easier."
"Do you speak English?"
"I am American," I tell him, glancing back at him as he takes his seat. "English is my native language."
He frowns. "How many languages do you speak?"
"Four," I tell him.
"Four," Schuldich echoes, expression going blank. At first I think it is in reaction to the number when he is so obviously struggling with his own native language, but his knuckles have gone white on his book. "Four," he echoes. "One language… for each eye… She said…"
It takes me a moment to debate whether or not he has just indirectly called me four-eyes. "She who?" I ask.
"As she was-" Schuldich's not looking at me anymore; his grip on this moment has already fractured away. "As she was bleeding, as she was- She said to look for the man. Four languages, four eyes, one language for each eye. She said that she-" He shakes his head, reaching up to tangle his fingers in shorn orange locks. "And then he- he-"
I open a drawer and pull out his Athlon, shaking a pill loose. Schuldich is staring at his hands, horror stamped on his face. "He came in and he-"
I hold the pill out towards him, but he flinches away, and I have no other choice but to catch him by his hair with one hand and poke the pill in his mouth with the other. He bites down on my fingers hard enough to break the skin but then he's gagging on the taste of his medicine. "Swallow it," I order him, letting go of his hair to catch his jaw instead. My fingers digging into either side of his face are probably all that keep him from biting down harder on my caught hand.
I feel him swallow and he gasps for air. I pull both hands free and watch as he hunches over, arms wrapped around his stomach with a low keening noise. It doesn't take long for his medicine to kick in and he slides off his chair to the ground in his unconscious state. I consider him for a long moment, thinking over the words that triggered his collapse.
The 'she' has to have been his mother, but his mother was a telepath. How would she have known about me?
That answer's obvious, and I frown as I push myself to my feet.
~How many years were you watching for him, Seraphim?~ I wonder. ~How long did you watch the two of us? What could we possibly do to deserve such attention?~
But it's impossible to get dead answers from a dead precog, no matter the blood relation, so I tuck the questions aside to think over later. The next concern is my hand, and I eye my bloody fingers. "If you try something like that again," I tell Schuldich's unconscious body, "you and I are not going to get along very well."
It doesn't matter much; I already know that he won't remember this when he wakes. As I run water over my hand in the sink, I can already see curious green eyes turning on my hand, can already see the struggle in his gaze as he wonders whether or not he can ask what happened.
I leave him where he's fallen and continue with my work, and when I head to bed for the night, he still has yet to move.
It takes Schuldich another two days to recover. His shields splintered in that last collapse; the seams where Ruiz and Heuskinveld put his mind together have frayed. I end up moving him to his bed after all and let him sleep through the first half of his collapse. The rest of the time is a test of what Elizabeth once referred to as my legendary patience, as Schuldich is shattered in a couple places. The first time he wakes up, he has reverted back to what Hoffmann made him into: that silent, ghostlike creature that doesn't even remember his own name.
I am waiting for him when he wakes and reintroduce myself, as he can't remember who I am or where he is. I explain where he is and what he should do. I stress that the bathroom is open for use and that the food in the cabinets is available when he is hungry, and make sure to tell him that he will not be reprimanded or punished for using either one. I leave him there soon afterwards, as my presence is just making him even more tense, but it is another two hours before he stirs from his room.
He sneaks about the house for the better part of the day, neither wanting to catch my attention nor trying to make it seem like he's hiding from me in case I want him. I feign not to notice him and instead continue work on my evaluation of my Asian teams. Before lunch I put together an e-mail to the rest of the Five, suggesting that they take the time to clean out the bottom teams, and I receive my first response back around dinner. As I expected, Adrian does not sound at all interested in the work it would take, and his message borders on hostile.
Elizabeth has answered by the time dinner is finished, and while she agrees with Adrian that it sounds unnecessary, she supposes that she could make the time. She inquires about Manie, wondering if I could save her the trouble of at least one team, and I consider my monitor for several minutes before writing back and saying that Manie needs no adjustments.
Also waiting is a message from Ikida, responding to my update on Schuldich's status and the news that Schuldich has fractured again. His message is just one line long: "What do you plan to do with a telepath who has lost his mind, Crawford?"
There's a creak of a footstep out in the hallway and I look back to where Schuldich is hovering just outside of the doorway. "Have you eaten?" I ask him. He hesitates, then shakes his head. "I told you that you could eat if you were hungry."
He tenses at that, wondering if I will now punish him for disobeying my orders. I turn back to my computer and send Ikida back a simple response: "It seems to me that the best path would be to find his mind and give it back."
I turn off my monitor as I stand and Schuldich watches me approach, knuckles going white on the doorframe. "Everything that is in this office is mine," I tell him as I step out into the hall, and I motion for him to follow me. "I would appreciate it if you did not touch my things. However, everything outside of this room and my bedroom is free use. The food in the cabinets belongs to the both of us, and there are no rules against you taking as much or as little as you like, as long as you do not drive yourself to sickness through gorging or starvation." I step to one side of the kitchen doorway and gesture towards the room. "Eat."
I watch as he hesitantly puts things together, but he keeps going still, listening. It takes me a few minutes to decide that he's checking with his gift, whatever little of it remains, to see who is in his mental radar. Hoffmann registers nowhere on it, but neither does Ikida, so Schuldich's nerves are only partially assuaged. He makes a simple sandwich and eats it right there at the counter.
I leave him there and return to my work, and it isn't long before I hear his uncertain, shuffling footsteps down the hall. He's not sure what to do from here; he's not sure what he's allowed or expected to do. I ignore him the next time he peers into my office, but he doesn't leave for almost an hour. I hear the couch in the living room creak as he finally retreats to it, and I go to bed without another word to him.
The next day goes marginally better and improves with each passing hour. I have no desire to teach or interact with someone in the state he's in, so simply leave him alone until he finds his own way back to the present. When he makes his own lunch in the late afternoon, I know he is slowly recovering. I find him in the den that evening, standing with his book in his hands. His gaze is distant as he stares down at its cover and his mouth is pulled into a thin line as he tries to remember the significance it holds for him.
He carefully opens it, fingers moving over the pages, and I'm satisfied by the gesture. It's more hesitant than I would like it to be, but the fact that he is giving himself permission to touch it- the fact that he can recognize it as his own property- is enough. He sifts through the pages and I can watch as he draws his mind back. His stare slowly focuses on the words in front of him.
"E…" he murmurs. "Epit…ome… My mother was… epitome… My mother was the epitome of a telepath… My mother was… is…"
He looks over at me, and he's seeing me as Crawford again. "I didn't return the target today," he tells me.
"Yesterday," I correct him. "You retrieved the first one two days ago."
He thinks that over and grimaces, turning back to his book. "I have no sense of time," he admits.
"You keep getting lost in your gift."
"How long has it been since I first met you?"
"It has been over a year and a half since we met in Germany's streets, and about thirteen months since you were brought to Rosenkreuz, give or take."
"I don't remember a year."
"It is better that you do not," I assure him. "The past is past; focus on the present and I will focus on the future. That is all I ask of you for now." He nods and I turn away. "Rest up tonight. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Ja, Herr Crawford," is his quiet response, and I leave him there with his book and his unhappy thoughts.
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