Part 1: Class with Collins
Tomas awoke the next morning to Kari finishing her stretches, a grey morning filtering through the window. Yawning, he swung his legs off the bed to sit up. From there, he could see a piece of paper sitting on the desk, unfolded.
“We got a note?”
“Good morning! Yeah, Alo’s gonna meet with us to figure out who to send back Home,” Kari said without turning or shifting her pose.
“Oh, okay. Any word from Collins?”
She shook her head.
Yawning, Tomas hopped off the bed and wandered over to the desk, picking up the note. Written in rough but legible hand, it said precisely what Kari had told him. Sometimes, Kari streamlined messages she relayed, but apparently Alo thought as concisely as she did.
Kari was still facing away from him, so he quickly changed out of his bedclothes. He was changed just before she finished her final movements, so as she turned, he gestured to the door, a question in his eyes.
She nodded, smiling faintly, as she pulled a longsleeve shirt over her bare shoulders and tight-fitting undershirt. Tomas opened the door, then locked it behind them, and they were off to breakfast.
Before they’d even fully entered the cafeteria, they could make out Collins’ jovial laughter carrying through the expansive stone room, even above the breakfast-time drone of chatter. At the balcony, they could see that he sat at a table pushed against another, and every seat around the larger area was occupied. Some were much older than Kari and Tomas, some weren’t; some had cloaks like Collins’, others didn’t; some had skin more like Alo’s, some like Collins, many were in between. He had sat himself so that he’d have a clear view of the line for food, so Tomas knew it was inevitable that he’d see them as they took up their trays. Tomas saw his eyes light up, though he waited for the young woman talking to the group to finish before prompting another at the table to respond to her, then making an excuse and getting up.
He didn’t get into line with them, rather he stood just outside the rope partition and followed their progress. “A good morning to you both! How was the rest of your night?”
[Tomas often writes about this type of moment being when he’d realize how much he relied on his tea to wake him in the morning. At this question, he realized he hadn’t noticed how his night had been, and couldn’t think of a way to tell Collins this. Luckily, he was saved from his muddled contemplation.]
“Pretty good, actually,” Kari said.
“Ah, excellent.” Collins said, turning to her. “I’m seeing to my last class for the foreseeable future right this moment. I understand you’ve heard from Alo?”
Tomas nodded. “He’s sending people North of the Mountains?”
“We decided it would be the quickest way to beginning to help your people. Alo will give you the specifics, but suffice for now to say that we already have a team outlined; we simply need to hammer out specifics. In any event, I need to get back to my class. You’ll come join us once you have your food?”
Tomas looked at Kari, who shrugged. “Sure,” he said.
“Wonderful,” Collins said with a smile before hurrying back to the large table.
“All I’m saying is that—whether I play my part or not—They will see Their plan to fruition.” A light-haired, fair-skinned young man was saying as they sat down. He bore a verdant green cloak, though it was draped over the back of his chair.
“I don’t dispute that, but if I eat bad mushrooms for breakfast, I will spend that day in bed—even if I have a crucial part to play in Walinzi’s armies that day.” A young, dark-skinned woman said. Her hair hung in a cloud of curls about her head.
“Do you dispute His victory?”
She shrugged elaborately. “The battle isn’t fought. Are we not taught to accept and trust either outcome?”
“We are,” Collins interjected, “but here you dodge the question, Bria. Does your ill-fated fungal breakfast lose Trium the battle? Or if you had fought, would you have won?”
Her opponent smirked. “See?”
“Now, Anton,” Collins said. “Your actions matter more than you’ve represented here. Choices do have consequences, and the world does work as Trium designed it to. Let’s all think about this—” suddenly, he laughed, almost guiltily. “I almost said for next time. If you want to bring this up with my replacement, then do, by all means. I cannot promise, however that they won’t decide to proctor debates on their own topics. We all do this our own way, so to speak.”
Nobody at the table was still eating, so people began to quickly disperse. Collins said goodbye to almost everyone individually as they dispersed.
“What’s the answer?” Tomas asked once the table was empty save for them.
“There are a great many,” Collins said absently, turning to him. “Which do you seek?”
“The battle,” Tomas prompted. “And the mushrooms.
“Ah, Bria’s ill-fated breakfast. There’s no way to know. Since the Maktaba was formed, we’ve been arguing about this exact thing. Is our will ours? We can’t decide.
But I’ll tell you the answer, as I understand. If Bria should have known better than to eat the bad mushrooms and she did anyway, win or lose, she had a job to do. And if she didn’t do that job, she has explaining to do.”
Collins laughed at that. “Heavens, no! I’d be in damage control mode, keeping morale up and helping to plan our next move. No, in this case she answers directly to Trium.”
“They talk to her?” This time, it was Kari who spoke up.
Collins smiled fondly. “They speak to us all. Learning to listen is a lifelong pursuit. Come, I’ll see you to Alo’s office.”
It’s not up yet, but the next part will be linked down here. →