Lisa felt as if she’d taken a step downward that she hadn’t realized was there. “Why should I do that, sir?”
“What is fourteen plus fourteen?”
For a moment, she was utterly bewildered by the sudden change of subject. But she saw he truly wanted an answer, so she closed her eyes and concentrated, her lips moving a little, as she remembered Dr. Maddox’s lessons. “Twenty… twenty-eight.”
“And what could you buy at the store for twenty-eight quatloos?”
“Well…” Still confused, she said tentatively, “I could buy food.”
Canergak nodded. “You could buy food, yes. What else?”
She thought again. “Some clothing… a book or two…”
“So you do possess a vague concept of value, after all.” He peered at her, and she waited, still wondering what the point of all this was. “You must be wondering why I set a case of diamonds in my room expecting you to take it. I was testing a theory about you.”
“A… theory, sir?”
“I know that you broke into the facility with your little friend. And now you wanted to be employed at the same facility to watch over the specimen; that, I understood from the beginning.”
So he *had* known who she was! Lisa felt her temper rising, but there was no point in trying to deny it. “Yes, sir.”
“I placed those in there as a test of greed. Any child who was not here only to spy on me would have taken a few. That is your transgression.”
She looked at him keenly. “You said, sir, you would remove all things of value from the room. If you left those in there, they must therefore not be of value.” That was no more than the truth–until Strifeclaw had told her, she had truly believed the rocks were valueless.
A glint of something–amusement, perhaps–briefly entered Canergak’s tone. “A shrewd deduction. However, another child would have used similar reasoning to take them.”
“I do not steal, sir.” She let an edge of temper enter her own voice.
He nodded. “As much as I did tempt you, and am disappointed in you, I would have gone farther to beat the habit of stealing out of you.”
Lisa felt her fingers curl, trying to unsheathe claws she no longer had. There’d been no way for her to pass that test of Canergak’s! With an effort, she reined back her anger–it wouldn’t serve her right now, especially when there was one last thing she had to try. “As for the grate, sir, I had thought that was part of the room you wished me to watch. I am sorry for not knowing better.” It galled her to apologize, but if it could help…
And apparently, it did seem to. “Another valid argument,” Canergak said. “I may have misjudged the evidence. I do not believe I did, but all the same…” He gestured for her to precede him to the door. “You needn’t worry about your employment here, Lisa. That was not in danger, short of me returning to find all of my equipment broken. I *want* you here.”
Lisa blinked, her only outward show of surprise, though she felt a gnawing dread in her stomach. Canergak unlocked the door and watched as Lisa stepped outside. He lingered, with the door open, for a moment, as if waiting for something. She rather thought she knew what he expected–that she would ask whether he would want her to continue running errands for him–but she kept silent, not wanting to appear too eager. Finally, his eyes still fixed on her, he pressed the door control, and it irised shut between them.
Scurrying upstairs, Lisa quickly knelt by the bucket and attacked another section of floor, letting out a barely audible sigh of relief at escaping, however temporarily, Canergak’s presence. Once she’d finished that section of floor, she picked up the bucket, intending to get clean water for more scrubbing. As she entered the dining room, though, she checked at the sight of Professor Vartanian sitting at the dining table, several sheaves of papers spread out before him. “Oh! Hello again, sir.”
The man looked up and nodded. “Hello again. If I am in the way of your chores, just speak up and I shall remove myself to the office.”
“Oh, no, sir,” she hastened to say. Hearing the main door opening behind her, she glanced back and saw Strifeclaw entering. “I’m just going to get some water for the inmates.” She edged past him to the kitchen, dropping the scrubbing bucket in favor of the two water buckets, which she filled with fresh, potable water. She hurried back out, catching Strifeclaw in the hallway.
“Hello, Lisa,” he said.
“Hello, Beryl,” she replied, catching his eye and jerking her head toward the stairs.
He nodded. “I’m just here to check on a few things,” he said out loud, and followed her up the stairs and into the cell area.
Lisa looked around, and then said quietly, “Canergak was here. We had a… discussion.” She hadn’t gotten far into her recitation when he scowled at the news that Canergak knew the grate had been entered. “Getting down there will be harder next time.”
She nodded, and continued, moving down the row of cells with her water bucket, telling him that she’d failed Canergak’s test by *not* taking any diamonds. As she related what he’s said, Beryl’s jaw dropped. “But… that… how does that even start to make sense?” He shook his head.
“He isn’t going to fire me, though,” she concluded. “In fact, he said he *wants* me here.”
“Yes. He didn’t say what for, though…”
Strifeclaw shook his head. “I can’t help you there. He hates me, but he still employs me. And Beatrixe, too.” He shrugged, and sighed a little. “Did anything else happen?”
“Well, before his talk with me, I overheard Canergak and Professor Vartanian talking.” She quickly related that conversation, too. Strifeclaw grimaced, and stared at Rasend’s room. “When did you say the professor would take over?”
“Next Monday, when his office and the rest of the cells are completed.”
“So we have until Monday to wake Rasend up. And hopefully, he won’t be a ravening beast.” He looked down at the floor where, downstairs, he had seen the tall, lanky man sitting. “Professor Vartanian might be the best psychologist that ever lived. I just would prefer not to take the chance with Rasend.”
Lisa nodded. “I’ve been trying to reach him in the Dreamfields, but so far, no luck.”
“We’ll have to think of something.” Beryl replied resolutely.
Lisa finished filling the last water intake, and nodded again. “I’d better go back down–I’ve been up here long enough.” Picking up the empty buckets, she and Beryl walked downstairs, each lost in thought, wondering how to save Rasend.