Three Routes

First: Slaves, School
Previous: Decisions

Halthinia had not, it turned out, brought a picnic, but still seemed fine waiting patiently while Desmond considered matters.

After a while, Des snorted. “I’m overthinking,” he told Halthinia. “Considering the options, considering what they could mean, considering what I know about collared people…”

“I can’t imagine that’s all that much.”

“Oh, no. I mean, I’ve seen a couple. But nobody I know knew one, and nobody had someone from their family who was one—”

“That they spoke of.”

“That they spoke of,” he agreed. “So I have, well, nothing at all to base my decision on.”

“That, dear child, is the point.” Halthinia smiled brightly at him. “So. How will you make this decision?”

Desmond turned slowly in place. “If I go by physical…” he started, and trailed off. I’m not a thug, some part of his brain complained. I’m better than just a laborer. Even if I am poor and short-tempered. “No.” He turned a bit more. “If I go intuitive…” He didn’t know. He wanted to say I’m not that impulsive, but it didn’t seem to be true. He turned, looking for a moment down the passage they’d come through.

Back was not a choice, that much he knew for sure. There was no way he could turn back now, not when it meant never knowing what would come next.

(He wasn’t entirely certain he’d be allowed to leave, but that was unimportant at the moment).

He kept turning. “If I go with the intellectual route…”

He ignored Annelle’s voice in his head, telling him he wasn’t good enough for a bookish job, that he wasn’t the sort of boy who ended up working with numbers. He thought about it, about reading books all the time, about making his decisions based on moderated, deliberate thought and educated knowledge.

He shook his head. “It’s fine for fun,” he muttered, “but it’s a slow way to make decisions.”

He turned a half-circle. “It seems,” he joked weakly, “that I shouldn’t have thought that long about an intuitive decision.”

“It’s better to give it due consideration,” Halthinia countered gently. “It will color much of your future.”

“This is…” He started walking slowly, then turned to look at Halthinia. “This is the ‘intuition’ road, right?”

“This is, yes. You were saying?” Halthinia matched pace with Desmond, ambling down the long, featureless hallway.

“This, today. It’s been a long day already and I don’t know what time it is. I went to bed last night and I was going to go down to Shops Row tomorrow and see if someone would give me a job, because my sisters are better at school than I am, even if I like the books more. Now, I’m in an impossible place in an impossible building-“


“The stairs went in directions that couldn’t exist within the building as it looks from the outside, and now here we are, somewhere that my brain tells me ought to be several stories in the air over the apartment building next to the Central Office. It’s impossible.” Desmond smiled apologetically. “At least, it seems very unlikely.”

“It’s a very good observation. And, yes, the first day is full of transitions.” Halthinia smiled crookedly. “It does level out after the first few weeks. You have made the hardest decisions already and, of course, for those of us who are collared, many decisions are simply out of our hands.

“I’m not sure if that’s reassuring or not,” Des admitted.

“Many people feel that way. I did, at first. But you get used to the feeling of someone else being in control pretty quickly – I believe that’s part of why they take us at the age they do. Your parents were still in control of you, more or less, yes?”

“I was trying to change that,” Des muttered, “but yes. They controlled my comings and goings.”

“And now someone else will. Here.” They had come to a stop by a doorway; Halthinia produced a key and opened it. “Good luck, Desmond. I do not think you’ll need it, but you have my well-wishes anyway.”

“But – I thought you were going to be one of my teachers.” Des frowned. He had to go on alone?

“I will be, but that is tomorrow, or perhaps several days later. For now, you need to find your house and your room, and adjust to your new settings.” Halthinia patted Des’ back companionably. “It’ll go by fast enough, and then you’ll see me again.”


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