Farm life was not new to Andre. He had lived half his life under his uncle’s roof sharing in the responsibilities of caring for both animal and crop life. From his new studies of the outside world during Enlightenment, he learned of the acres and acres of crops harvested every year in breadbasket regions, and he was quite thankful for their little sheep and dairy farms with heather meadows and small potato fields. Not much grew on Koinonia; there was not a need for large supplies of crops. Most households, including those in the village, grew their own gardens or had personal greenhouses. For the greater need, the Sunergeo Farm provided vegetables and fruit for canning and freezing to be distributed in Metoche. This was where the Sunesis interns were sent to begin their three-month introduction to the subject of produce.
The greenhouse farms stood on several acres of rolling land just north of Agoge. Row after row of long, rectangular glass-sided buildings stretched under the open sky, catching the intermittent sun and shadows like great expanses of mirrors. An apple and pear orchard lined the south side of the farm amid a few scraggly rows of grapevines. Beyond that, to the east, were the potato fields where harvesting was to soon begin.
Elder Irons was the head of Produce on the island, and he met the interns outside the front office just inside the open gate of the farm. Andre was glad to see he was doing well, not at all bothered by shadows that day, though he did look harried by all that needed to be accomplished to complete the harvest before winter. Sunergeo had a staff of its own, but it was small and made up of mostly older citizens who no longer cared for large sheep or cattle farms. They relied on the help of the interns to get all the crops in on time every year.
Standing in a pair of forest green muck boots and a flat cap, Irons held a clipboard and motioned them all to move in for instructions. “Welcome to the second phase of your Sunesis, Produce. Now that you have a detailed look into how Metoche Market functions, you need to know where the majority of our food supply originates. Whether or not you discover a love for turnips and fertilizer, knowing how much work it takes to provide for an entire island’s population will perhaps give you a greater appreciation for the food on your plate every night. Good? Good.” He glanced at his clipboard. “We will start with a tour of the grounds then move on to familiarizing you with our equipment. I am happy to see you did not wear your best to see me today. Mud is now your new best friend. Follow me!”
With that they were off marching through murky puddles in and out of identical looking greenhouses, sheds, and down well-trodden lanes to various fields and groves. It was a mild September day with a gracious breeze, and the interns soon removed their outer layers. The trek of the long tour was work enough and they had yet to perform any act of labor.
Elder Irons put them to work with the hoses, spreading the interns out in each greenhouse so they could water the plants within. There were tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cabbage, and peppers, all in different stages of growth. There was an entire greenhouse dedicated to sweet leaf, various tea leaves, herbs, and spices. “This is only the first phase of your education in Produce,” Irons told them. “After this you will experience the inner workings of the canning and drying process!” He announced it as if it were the greatest gift he could give them.
Andre drenched his row of bell peppers with a generous spray of water and tried not to daydream while Irons spouted off facts on horticulture before slipping out the greenhouse door to check on the next group of interns watering one building over. The prophet was rather fond of food but could care less where it came from or under what conditions it thrived.
“Do you think there’s a rule against testing the product?” Declan asked from one aisle over as he picked an orange habanero and helped himself to a hardy crunch. Andre paused mid-spray, releasing his hold on the nozzle and waited. Declan chewed, turned bright red, and reacted as expected. “Och!” he spat the mush of chewed vegetable on the hard-packed dirt floor and filled his mouth with a strong spray of water from his own hose. “Shut your mouth, Agabus.” He didn’t appreciate Andre’s laughter at his expense and proved it by showering his friend with a flick of the strong spray.
“It was a habanero.” Andre sprayed him in turn. “What did you think, it would be sweet?” Grinning at Declan’s discomfort, he reached for a pepper of his own and ate it in one bite, relishing the heat without blinking.
“Show off,” Declan wasn’t impressed.
“This is something I can finally get into.” Bobby Nair walked up behind him. “None of that tailoring or lace—whatever they called it, in Metoche.”
“Not a market man, Bobby?” Andre yanked his stubborn hose further down the line, accidently knocking over a pile of small plastic pots.
Nair shook his head. “Too many people. I like plants. Plants are good…and animals.” Bobby’s family raised sheep, pigs, a few cows, and various other barnyard creatures.
“You may have a change of heart when they toss us in the stockyards and put us to work at the slaughterhouse,” Declan said.
Bobby had no qualms about that. “Been there before, it’s no big deal.”
“Yeah well, I like my bacon and sausage,” Declan declared. “I don’t care to see how they turn from pig to breakfast.”
“I hear they let the interns knock the sows out before the skinnin’.” Bobby looked absolutely giddy at thought. “Can you picture Svana goin’ after a two hundred and fifty pounder with a club?”
It was an amusing picture to imagine, and even Declan admitted it would be worth the blood and gore of the slaughterhouse to see it.
Plants were tended, produce was picked, crates and barrels filled and set in a temperature controlled store room to be trucked to the market or cannery the following morning. It wasn’t the most stimulating internship as far as Andre was concerned, but he felt more comfortable at the farm than he had in the marketplace. It was hard work, good work, and easy to do while allowing the mind to wander. Wander to the afternoon Enlightenment courses, to his conversation with Calloway, to Costa, to Jora…
On a morning during their second week of Produce Sunesis, Andre glanced through a gap in the apple tree he was picking clean and found Jora where she worked down the row. The day was unusually warm, the last taste of summer before the promise of frost. Bees buzzed in hoards around fallen fruit, bursting and swelling in their juices on the ground. Thick, white clouds moved lazily in a brilliantly blue autumn sky, and the bleating of sheep drifted from a nearby pasture across a narrow dirt road running along the south end of the farm.
Jora’s long blonde hair fell in disarray from its binder and drifted across her beaming face. She laughed at the stories and jokes she shared with her fellow female classmates while they worked. Andre felt a surge of jealousy toward Jora’s closest friends. Their internships and studies at Agoge didn’t leave them much free time. Home life was also busy with preparations for winter. Andre had been helping Laken in the evenings fixing broken fences, preparing storm windows, harvesting the family garden, and cleaning the sheep barn. Socializing was not a priority, and the usual organized youth meetings at the Community Center had to be put off until the less hectic days of winter. Andre understood his part in his family but wished helping out at home did not cut into his valuable time courting Jora.
Lost in his own daydreams, Andre was not immediately aware that Jora’s gaze found his unconscious stare. She smiled at his blundering look of embarrassment and joined her friends in a ripple of amused giggles at his expense. Andre attempted to busy himself with his picking as if he hadn’t just made a fool of himself. As he stepped down from his step ladder, one of his shoe laces snagged and caused him to stumble. Andre grabbed hold of the nearest tree branch to steady himself and caused several apples to cascade to the ground. He put up his arms to protect his head from falling fruit before landing in the dirt on an overripe apple and promptly receiving a sharp sting by an alarmed bee.
Andre inhaled sharply from the pain erupting just above his left thumb and shook off the offending insect. The girls, witnessing the entire episode, couldn’t help but laugh harder, though Jora reprimanded them from doing so. Andre heard her kind words, but was too busy suffering the indignity of the bee sting to feel any gratitude.
“Alright there, Dietrich?” Elder Irons called down the row of trees, glancing up from his ever-present clipboard. “Bee get’cha?”
“Yes, sir,” Andre muttered. “I’m fine.”
“Not allergic are ya?”
“No, sir.” The sting mark swelled considerably anyway and, to his annoyance. Andre’s female classmates were quite interested in having a look. Jora told them to back off as she moved in with her cool bottle of water and twisted off the lid. Holding Andre’s hand, she turned it in her palm to get a good look at the wound. Jora poured a generous amount of the cool liquid over the swelling point slowly, giving it a chance to ease some of the pain.
After a moment she looked up with a sparkle in her eyes. “You should get some ice on it.”
Andre eventually had the presence of mind to nod in agreement. He glanced at his hand when she released it to recap her empty water bottle.
“They should have some up at the front office,” she informed him. “Okay?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, and Jora smiled before leading the girls back to their tree and their twittering conversation regarding his blunder. Andre watched her go before walking down the long orchard avenue in the direction of the greenhouses. Lavi appeared on his right and followed through the trees with a suppressed grin on his chiseled jaw. “Shut up,” Andre told him, really not in the mood to hear the Warrior’s jabs. “Shouldn’t you be guarding the cave?”
“Shamira is there,” Lavi told him before ducking beneath a low branch heavy with ripe apples. “A good thing too. It looks as though I’m needed here more than there.”
Andre poked at his swollen thumb. “What help were you while I was being viciously attacked?”
“By that venomous itty-bitty insect?”
“Yes,” Andre replied moodily. “Where were you?”
“Holding the ladder,” Lavi responded smartly. “Had your eyes been in the right place, you would have seen me.”
Andre sucked on the smarting wound, wishing he had more of Jora’s water to cool it with.
“Are you going to be alright walking back to the office, or do I need to keep an eye on you?” Lavi rose a few inches in the air.
“Are all spirits this funny or is that a fault specific to your character?”
“You bring out the best in me, kid.” Surging upwards with a great gust of air current, Lavi disappeared into the clouds.
The apple-shower bee-sting story was still the topic of discussion as the interns gathered in their wing at Agoge and waited for Elder Ackers to arrive. Andre had gotten over his embarrassment and was only mildly annoyed. The guys ribbed him for his clumsiness, and Svana made a rather sarcastic show of lamenting over the state of Andre’s thumb which had actually benefitted quite nicely from the ice Jora suggested. Svana dramatically faked a sobbing cry while clutching Andre’s hand while he sat on one of the long sofas and chatted with AJ Eckard as if she wasn’t there.
“We were in here last night and we caught it on the BBC online feed.” AJ nodded in the direction of Easton Wolf, Garrett Rukin, and Julian Baux, three fellow classmates lounging on the arm chairs and sofa cushions in various states of relaxation. “Apparently it was a suicide bombing attempt gone wrong,” AJ continued. “Happened on a street in Cairo. A car explosion went off too soon. They think it was supposed to hit some government building or something. Anyway, the bomber’s dead, half-a-dozen pedestrians injured, charred automobiles…a bloody mess. You don’t happen to know where the Therapon Missionaries are do you?”
Maddie MacCaskill glanced up, listening in on the conversation from her seat by the fireplace. Andre remembered that she had a cousin on Therapon that year, and he met her eye when he answered AJ’s question. “No,” he was confident. “I don’t know where they are, but they’re not in Cairo.”
AJ looked as though he wanted to know how he knew, but stopped himself from asking and nodded instead. “Good. The world is nuts,” he concluded. “I can’t even imagine living where a person could see that sort of stuff.”
“Some people don’t have a choice,” Andre responded automatically.
“Afternoon, young people,” Ackers entered the room and all conversation ended as everyone gave the elder their full attention. “Gather round, gather round. Lots to discuss today. In only a week’s time you all will be boarding a ferry and taking an exploratory trip to Kaluma.”
He set down a worn leather satchel which was generally part of his person, and faced them from his place by the fireplace before sticking his hands deep in his pants pockets. “It is no light thing, leaving the Protection for the first time. All of you will prepare, but I am sorry to tell you that none of you will be ready.
“There is no way of knowing how your mind will react to the open environment of the Outside. Granted, Kaluma has a great deal of protection of its own. It is the wading pool before the drop off, if you will, but a good testing ground for what is to come. By the end of your Produce Sunesis you will be experienced in traveling back and forth between the islands and will even have enjoyed the exposing plunge of a commercial fishing voyage. For this, we work to strengthen your muscles of resisting temptation and avoiding confusion. Let’s begin!”
He instructed them all to jump on a computer and open a fresh document. Their assignment was to list as many personal fears and faults they found with themselves. Ackers would be pulling them each into a private room in turn to discuss what they set down. While they waited for their opportunity, they were to use the internet search engines to pull up publicized articles and physiological research forums relating to these issues.
Andre had been growing increasingly frustrated with the Enlightenment process of Sunesis, a problem which he had spent some time trying to get over during his frequent visits to Erotao. It wasn’t that he wasn’t curious in what the world had to offer, or that he didn’t find their research important. It was the fact that so much of it centered around analyzing their own anxieties, and that was something he spent far too much time dwelling on as it was.
He had no idea how to put his fears into words easy to chit-chat over with the elder. How did someone even begin to sort through all their faults and hang-ups? His fears of the outside world were easy; he didn’t have any. Not really. He wasn’t afraid to leave the island. He had encountered Evil enough times to have some idea of what was waiting for him. His list was short in that regard. One item typed out at the top of the page: I fear not wanting to return.
He knew Ackers would want complete honesty, and that was it. He was almost certain that leaving the island would be the most exciting event in his young life. This from the prophet who had wrestled with spirits both pure and evil.
My faults, my faults… he wondered with an agitated frown. What was Abaddon going to use against him to make him crumble the moment he passed the Hupsoma? What hadn’t he already used? There wasn’t much ammunition left, Andre thought. He was young, inexperienced, and not as strong in his faith as some people. He guessed that was something, but he wasn’t that concerned with any of it. He knew these things, sure, but if Abaddon brought them up again, Andre just might start laughing. The bee sting hurt worse than any of those insults would.
Andre poked at his sting mark and stared at the screen with a frown. Throughout the room the interns were busy typing or chatting in low tones about what they feared the most.
“What if we get separated from the group in a strange country or city and have absolutely no idea how to get around?”
“Does every country speak English like we do? ‘Cause my Spanish and French are really lousy.”
“What if we get hurt or sick? Will we go to a rest house in Switzerland like they did this last year? I don’t want get stuck in some busy American hospital with a bunch of strange doctors that don’t know spiritual healing like we do here.”
Andre kept his thoughts to himself. All of their concerns seemed so insignificant. Theos didn’t just reside in Koinonia. He wouldn’t leave them just because they left the island. It didn’t matter where they went or what happened to them when they got there. He was still Powerful.
He swiveled in his chair at the computer in the far corner next to the wall of windows looking out on the east shore. He was growing accustomed to seeing Lavi show up wherever he went, but wasn’t really sure why the spirit was hanging around right at that moment. Raisel was already in the room keep an eye on the students as they did their research on the internet. Wasn’t one Panoplia enough for that? Raising an eyebrow at Lavi through the glass, he shrugged his shoulders slightly in question.
“Why not?” Lavi’s expression responded, pacing leisurely among the shrubs alongside the building.
Andre gestured at the computer with an expectant look, but Lavi only shook his head before turning his back to the glass and watching the sky. “How should I know?”
“Who else knows all my faults?” Andre didn’t mean to say it out loud. He turned back to the monitor and glanced to his left at Declan who sat before the computer next to him. Declan was deep in thought over his own assessment but glanced at Andre in confusion, wondering at first if the prophet had been speaking to him. Figuring that he wasn’t, he connected the dots and glanced out the window as if hoping to catch sight of the Panoplia for himself.
“Where is it? In here or out there?” He often got excited about the thought that one could be so near, close enough to touch if he could.
“He,” Andre corrected him and looked back at the window briefly, “is already gone.”
Declan stared blankly out the window.
“You know what’s wrong with me, don’t you?” Andre needed to hurry things up. Ackers was already calling people in to discuss their assignments.
“I don’t think anyone knows that, mate.” Declan resumed his typing.
“Do you think I overreact to things? Overthink stuff?” Andre really wanted to know.
His friend screwed up his face, pausing in his work to think about it. “Maybe…but, you kind of have to, right? I mean, if anything is wrong with you it’s that you sometimes care too much and it stresses you out. When we leave here, I think the thing that’s going to get you down the most is all the messed up stuff in the world with no way to fix it.”
Andre considered this carefully, knowing Declan was right. It was exactly the thing Abaddon would get him for. Placing his fingers on the keyboard, he quickly typed in two words which explained him precisely. Chronic Appeaser. If Ackers didn’t get that then he wouldn’t be much help preparing Andre for what he was getting into. Truthfully, the prophet doubted very much that the elder would anyway.
He sat back in his chair after setting his page up to print and heard Jora’s name as it was called from the door to the library. She looked a little nervous, but got up with a smile and carried her sheet of paper with her out of the room. Lynn Harada returned just as Jora left with her eyes red from crying and her assignment all crinkled from holding it rather fiercely in her fists. Lynn’s family had moved to the island when she was five. If she was that nervous about leaving again, how were the Koinonian born interns going to handle it?
The rest of the girls huddled around her for support, looking apprehensive of their own meeting with Ackers, and the boys exchanged glances of uncertainty. “Isn’t anyone excited to do this?” Andre asked.
“I am,” AJ grinned, but Andre already knew how he felt about it.
“Doesn’t matter either way,” Declan shrugged. “My mum and dad insist I go, so I’m going.”
“Mine too,” Sean Babkin nodded, and it seemed that everyone had been given similar instructions from their parents.
It wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. It wasn’t mandatory; Therapon was an anticipated opportunity. Andre had no idea when it had changed, and it was just another thing which made him frustrated.
When Jora returned she appeared nearly as shaken as Lynn, but Andre didn’t have time to talk to her as his name was called next. Picking up his near empty sheet of paper off the printer tray, he stepped into the outer room and walked down the hall past the kitchen to a small office where Ackers had a tidy desk and a set of chairs.
“Have a seat, Mr. Deitrich,” he greeted Andre, sitting straight in his place behind the desk with a pad of paper and a pen ready to go. “May I see your list, please?”
Handing it over, Andre sat in the chair provided and waited to be told what to do.
Ackers glanced at the printed sheet and gave no expression as to what he thought of the scant items listed there or what they were. “Alright.” He set the paper down and began with a question. “Tell me, Andre, what do you expect from our field trip to Kaluma next week?”
It was not what the prophet expected, and he did not readily have an answer. “Ah…I don’t know, oppression, I guess?”
“In what form?”
Andre shifted uneasily in his chair under Ackers’ steady gaze over the desktop. No wonder Lynn had returned all weepy. “Mentally and physically, I guess.” He chose his words carefully the same way he did when speaking to his mother. The way he had to speak with anyone other than the Panoplia. “When I usually face Oppression it makes me feel sick. I get headaches and nausea. I don’t feel great about myself, I know that. He usually reminds me that I’m not cut out to be the Agabus like my grandfather was.”
“And how do you respond?” Ackers was listening intently, not even recording any notes.
“Well,” Andre considered his reply. “I tell him off.” He nearly smiled. It was a rather stupid answer, but it was the truth. “And then I remind him of his faults. That usually shuts him up.” He glanced awkwardly at the elder. Ackers sat without blinking, holding his pen limply between his fingers over the empty paper and didn’t speak for some time. Andre began to wonder if what he had said was wrong somehow.
“I don’t pretend to know your experience,” the elder blurted suddenly, setting down the pen. “I have no idea what will happen when you step out of the Hupsoma. None of our prophets have ever been this young. Your father and the good doctor had travelled outside of Koinonia many times after they were given the Sight, but they never shared their experience of walking in the world with it. I wish I could tell you,” he almost sounded sympathetic and aware of his inadequacies. “If there was any way to prepare you for what you might see, I would, but I just don’t know.”
Andre shrugged like it was no big deal. “I expect it to be rough. Based off of my experience with Evil, he won’t make it easy. And I’ve never seen a Daimon before. The first time I see one won’t be…awesome.” He regretted the simple description before such a learned man, but it was too late; it was already out there.
“What is your plan for such an event?” Ackers was eager to know. “How will you prepare?”
“The same way I always do,” Andre responded, “with prayer.”
It seemed to be the response Ackers was looking for, and he glanced back at Andre’s assignment for the first time since he had received it. Jotting something Andre couldn’t read on the pad of paper in front of him, Ackers commented on Andre’s list. “I did not expect your fears to be numerous, Mr. Deitrich, but I must admit this comes as a surprise.” He pointed to the first item on the page. “I have not seen every one of your peers’ lists yet, but it is safe to assume that you are the only one who fears not wanting to come home again. Do I take this to believe that you are unhappy here? That you are dissatisfied with your position as Agabus?”
“No,” Andre answered honestly. “I don’t always like it, but I’ll always do as Theos commands. I love my home. Koinonia is great…” He trailed off, getting into things he knew he did not want to discuss with Ackers.
Andre frowned and stalled for time before coming up with a replacement answer which required less explanation. “I want to help more people. I want to see what Theos might have me do out there.”
Ackers continued to give him a searching look before writing more in rapid penmanship on the pad. “Your next item confuses me a bit.”
“This,” Ackers pointed to the second line on the page, turning it so Andre could see it.
“Oh, right.” He didn’t really want to explain that either, but he typed it up so it was his own fault for laying it out there. “Declan pointed out my flaw of caring too much. I guess that’s what I meant. I get stressed when I can’t fix things for people. The world is messed up, so when I’m out there that might throw me off.”
“Throw you off?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “I know that depression is a common side effect of Therapon. I can see myself getting depressed with all the problems we’ll face in all the places we go. We’ll only have so much time and resources. I know I’ll get frustrated if it doesn’t seem like enough.”
“I see.” Ackers wrote that down. “Then there is something I can do for you after all, Agabus. From here on out, our focus to prepare you is to get you to let go and prioritize.”
Ackers met his eye. “Remember one important thing, young man, you are only a prophet. Understand? Only a prophet.”
Andre returned the look of seriousness and nodded slowly. “Yes, sir, I understand.”
Ackers returned to his notes abruptly. “Good! You may go. Please send in Mr. Mallory next.”