Tess sat statue-like on Sasha’s bed facing the two girls with her tail curled around her feet. Her ears laid back against her skull and whiskers standing straight out exuded tension which was reflected in the girls’ posture. Arms wrapped tightly around each other, they appeared to be two halves of a single organism. Their tight grip on each other was the only thing stilling the trembling that was pushing Tess’s already sensitive nerves to the breaking point.
She experienced another moment of regret for the carefree childhood which had ended abruptly. Eyes hooded and faces devoid of expression, the girls had, in a few short weeks seen their innocence dissolve. The transition from childhood to adulthood was occurring in awkward jerks. Children demonstrating a sense of responsibility and focus beyond their years, without benefit of the smooth slide from the safety of their parents’ care. Wariness and curiosity warred in their eyes. They had embraced their new studies and worked hard to master the skills, their laughter punctuating their competitive, yet cooperative nature.
Each lesson opened up new possibilities, and curiosity led them to pursue other topics which piqued their interest when time allowed. Such self-study was encouraged as Star Guide trainees were often drawn to something which utilized their Gifts in a manner their instructors could neither predict nor address. Much of what had been limited to the Gifted was now available through technology, and the younger Star Guides were proving adept at melding the two in ways their elders barely understood.
The cabin slept 10 and, like all the other cabins, was full. Unsure how the attempts to reach Sasha’s parents might affect their cabin-mates, or how any outside interference might hinder what was still experimental, Tess always timed these sessions so the other occupants were studying or practicing. They were able to focus on Sasha’s uncertain skills and any fall-out from failures in complete privacy. The instructors agreed they’d expose their students to the harsh reality of their inherited responsibilities only when absolutely necessary. Sasha’s knowledge of her absent parents’ true fate was something they’d keep between a select few as long as possible.
Tess had asked Mariel to join them for this session partly because she felt it was time to add her to the mix since her parents were also involved, and partly because she wanted Sasha to walk Mariel through the process of reaching the mine by way of the town and the house where Sasha had been living.
A sudden burst of laughter from the other bed make Tess marvel at their ability to switch between playful and somber so easily. Her whiskers relaxed and her ears rose up from her skull, but thinking about how often the need to be serious won out lately made her lower her head to hide her darkening pupils. Reluctant to see this moment end, she finally cleared her throat, though it came out sounding more like a low growl.
“Ladies, we need to get started. I have a feeling this is going to be a long session.”
The laughter ended with a couple of soft hiccups, and the girls loosened their grip on each other to face her. Tess sat up straighter, furrowed her brow, and assumed a professorial air before explaining what she expected the girls to do.
“As I’ve been impressing upon Sasha, separating your mind from your physical body can be dangerous if you don’t exercise appropriate caution. I can’t stress enough this is not a game and there is always the possibility someone will sense your presence and try to stop you by any means they can. Although I will be protecting your physical bodies, you have to be alert and know when to get your mental selves out of there by the fastest means possible should you even think there’s any danger. Do you understand?”
Sasha and Mariel nodded solemnly, their somber expressions resembling young adults more than the giggling teenagers a mere breath ago. Two sets of unblinking eyes were locked on Tess as she went over the check list she expected them to follow every time they performed the exercise which was planned for tonight’s session.
“All right, Sasha,” Tess began “please take Mariel through the steps we followed to get to your house in Adamsville.”
Nodding, Sasha turned to face Mariel, her hands outstretched with palms up. Mariel needed no further prompting to place her hands in Sasha’s.