The world refocused with a hundred motionless details, and Tais let his eyes go wide. The airship was nailed to a single position in the air and the water cruiser was also solid, the flowing water causing no motion to the ship.
All Tais could feel was a grating metal-on-metal screech in his mind.
You can't turn metal into fire! Huna cried.
Tais suddenly realized what he was doing. Instead of creating fire that he could shoot at the ship, he was gripping the entire ship with his mind and trying to turn it into fire!
He let out a scream and abandoned the attempt in one lunge of mental escape. The ship was thrown from his grip, and it passed with a crunch straight through the side of the building. At the same instant, the water ship was released from its great burden, and it went skipping off down the canal like a smooth stone.
Instead of collapsing or passing out from the effort, Tais felt suddenly relieved beyond his senses. Blinking, he climbed happily to his feet as the boat bumped against a walkway. Huna gave him a frightened look. He hardly noticed her fear through his giddy relief.
Let's go, he said. He jumped from the boat to the walkway. Huna was slow to follow, her eyes darting and her body language holding her back from Tais. Still she did not speak.
I don't know the way...Tais said.
Tais finally gave Huna a careful look. "What is it?" he said aloud.
"What did you do?" she asked in a high-pitched voice. "Back there!"
"Yes, I made a mistake," Tais said. "I thought I could make fire with my hands. I guess I was wrong."
Huna was incredulous. "But you threw the entire ship through the wall!" she cried.
"Well I had to let go before it killed me," he said in a slow and confused voice.
Huna was still afraid, and she dealt with her fear by leaving Tais by the waterside. She began to lead the way to safety before another airship came. Tais followed, his mind still floating gently with the off-balancing feeling of relief.
When they had navigated their way deep into a series of glowing white tunnels to a small garden in the depths of it all, Huna spun around with a passion.
"Tais, I did not save your life only out of curiosity!" she said.
Tais was confused. "Oh," he said. "I'm sorry, I should have thanked you beforehand."
"I'm not looking for thanks," she said. "I'm looking for an explanation!"
Tais looked momentarily hurt at her tone of voice.
"Of course," she sighed. "I cannot expect you to explain anything. You're the most confused of us all, I am sure." Huna's composure grew soft. "I am scared," she murmured.
Tears came to Tais's eyes for some reason. He couldn't stand to see her so troubled. He had a fleeting notion that he should comfort her. But a sudden awkward eye-contact made him take a step back.
"Well..." he said slowly. "Maybe you could explain your side of the story."
"Of course," she sighed. "I have lost respect for my father and I have already reached the point of no return. I might as well let you know all that I have discovered. First...we do not know where you came from or who your parents are. You appeared in the underworld, and though my father knew you were not a worker, he let you take up the life of a slave as an experiment. He knew that those with mental powers were given easy lives, and as a result, they grew soft and ungrateful. He thought you would be hardened as a slave. He thought maybe your powers would be tougher and your will power stronger. I think he was right. But to use you as an experiment was cruel and wrong."
At first, Tais could only frown at this information. But then a very urgent question came to his mind. "What happened to Salla?"
Huna paused and gave Tais a very careful look before proceeding. "I cannot answer that completely...only because I don't know the answer. Salla showed up one day with my father. I thought nothing of it...She was just another Ally. But then earlier today when I broke into the Records, I found...strange results. I tried to find you on Record and I found her...I saw what she did for you. I saw how she cared for you. But I am certain she is not the same woman anymore. And between the old her and the new her there was a cover up. A Record was missing."
Tais felt a shiver run up his back. "The operation..." he whispered.
Huna's expression froze in sudden horror. She nearly toppled over and her face went white. "...My father said he had turned down that offer. What do you know of the Operation?"
"I only know that they did something to Salla a few days before I saw her die. They put her to sleep with a gas and then they opened her skull. They tried to do the same to me just now, but I escaped through the window..."
Huna was still not herself. "My father is no longer behind it all," she murmured. "This is far worse than I could ever have imagined. No...my father has accepted the Surgeon's offer. Now he is surely dead and his power handed over to the Surgeon...Oh, and Tais?"
Tais said nothing but Huna knew he was listening intently.
"Salla is not to be trusted anymore. She is not herself. She has joined the Collective."