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with her. The probe transmitted information, nothing more. Besides, if he could talk to her, what would he say? That she should stay in her room? She couldn't stay there forever. And he wouldn't be coming to rescue her. He had run away from everything. He hadn't even checked on her in all this time.

She climbed out her window-she had always preferred windows to doors. As she dropped to the ground, he caught a flash of her broad feet, bare as usual, and legs covered with wispy white hair. She hesitated, then again raised the ring to face her. The wind riffled her hair. "We'll go. We'll go together."

He had not wanted to think of her, of Soom, of his life before. Though he had been charged with watching the universe outside, he had conveniently overlooked his old home. He used his task just as he used his mind-focusing exercises, to distract himself, to build walls of facts and information to keep out all that he could not face, not if he was to retain control.

Fa started through the ruins, the hand with the ring clutched to her chest.

He should have realized that the Shadows might attack here. Soom was on the outskirts of the area they'd been targeting. Refugees from earlier raids had fled in this direction. Though Soom constituted no threat, with no weapons or space technology to speak of, the Shadows would want to turn the refugees back, to force the flow toward the center of the sector. A feint here would do that. But he had not seen it, had not wanted to see it.

Even if he had, he could have done nothing. He must remain here, isolated from the rest of the universe.

Fa cried with short, broken breaths as she wandered through the blackened waste. She must know, by now, that her family could not possibly be alive. Of all the town, only her house had been
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