The sound of Adree’s boots against the carpet beat a steady tempo as she walked briskly down the corridor. At the elevator, two young lieutenants emerged, and saluted smartly as she passed. She was lost in thought and barely nodded to them. Once inside the lift, she punched for the twentieth floor and the doors slid smoothly closed.

Adree’s quarters were several stories above the twentieth, but she had something to do before she went to bed – not work, thank goodness. Usually, she wound down from missions on the basketball court, but her arms and legs ached from the day’s march and the gunfight.

It’s ironic…the higher up the scale we are, the harder we work, and the harder that work becomes. Well, I’m going to spend my R and R in bed or in a nice deep bubble bath. Everything else can wait. Isn’t the point of having leadership to be able to delegate once in a while?

But then her father never had. Whatever was happening, he always had to be involved, especially if there were negotiations. It had made him a respected leader, but at a price. Adree winced a little at the thought of how thin and drawn he looked these days. He downplayed it, but she knew – in the deep, wordless, certain sense that only those with her ability could know something – that he was in fact quite ill.

And, she reflected grimly, that meant she would soon be the leader of the Evinthei. When that happened, she had already decided to retire her father and let him continue his work on restoring the Archive – stress-free, intellectual work. She’d need a reliable Archivist and he would be perfect. That would be one less thing to worry about. Even without the unwelcome – and incredibly badly-timed – return of Athellus Borden, she was going to have her hands full when she finally ended up in charge.

Tobias Aeslin’s decision to name his daughter as his heir was unusual but not unprecedented. Still, there had been angry mutterings, especially from the more senior members of Tobias’ cabinet who had seen themselves as certain candidates. Adree had got sick of the whispering and the factions, of the mutters that she was too young, and had been on the verge of challenging her most vocal opponents to hand-to-hand combat to shut them up, but Tobias had counselled against it.

“And just let them drag my name through the mud when I can beat them with my hands tied behind my back?”

“What good would that do? If you lose, you’ll humiliate not only yourself, but your friends and instructors as well. And if you win, you’ll earn resentment amongst men and women whose guidance you’re going to need later on.”

“So I have to just take it?”

“Yes. You have supporters. Your record speaks for itself. All you need is more experience. A leader needs respect, Adree. You won’t get that just from showing off your combat skills. When your promotion comes through, let them see what you can do and the talk will stop. In the meantime – get a grip and deal with it.”

So she had dealt with it, with as much dignity as she could muster. It had been hard, but her mission results were impressive, and she had managed to get herself accepted, if grudgingly, as Tobias Aeslin’s successor. Once she was able to get some perspective on it, Adree had come to think of it as another sign of the changes in the Evinthei, as they entered a new period of their history. Tobias’ generation had been concerned with consolidating their power, concentrating on the Middle District and improving the lives of the people of Nones. Now it was time for the younger generation to take over, to begin rebuilding in earnest, to push back their frontiers and defend what they had already gained.

We’ve come a long way already, Adree thought, grinning ruefully to herself as she stepped out of the elevator onto the twentieth floor. And things are moving faster all the time. Makes it hard even for a mind reader to keep up…or to remember just where it is we came from…

Which, of course, was her last piece of business for this evening.

Ahead of her, the corridor split into a T-junction at the end; directly opposite the elevator was an open alcove with an archway. The lights were dimmed, because of the lateness of the hour, and yellow candlelight was visible just beyond. Adree took a moment to compose herself and straighten her clothes, and then stepped inside.



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