Pen, hand on the bannister, looks from Iscen to Callie Moorehouse, his mouth open in disbelief.
Callie is nine. Nine. Dav’s age. She’s littler than Dav. Her hair is tied back in one of those hairties with bobbles on it, for God’s sake.
“The people coming, he wants to meet them,” Iscen says in her flat voice. “Meet them first. Make sure they’re trustworthy. Take ’em out if they’re not.”
Pen has a flash, horribly vivid, of children strapped to bombs, children carrying AKs through bombed-out Kabul, and is abruptly, utterly incensed.
“Take them out? Iscen? Are you mad?”
Iscen does not match his anger with anger; she folds her hands behind her, and simply watches. Long Iscen, tall Iscen, Iscen with wild dark hair and Inuit eyes, elegant bony wrists sticking out of her habitual black jacket with its sleeves a trifle short; her posture, her blasted perfect posture and her stoic, deadpan face.
“You understand,” she says finally, “what Callie does.” It’s not a question. “You know too that needs must when the Devil drives. Your man Auren Han–”
“Bloody Auren Han,” Pen grinds out, “would that I never heard his name–”
“‘Bloody Auren Han,'” Iscen echoes, indifferently, “is owed a favor.” She looks down at her jacket cuff. “Callie can handle it. She knows Singing Security as well as I do. Better, maybe.”
“Iscen, she is nine!” Pen’s voice is rising. He glances at Callie and struggles with himself, to right himself, to slow his agitated breathing. “I won’t have it. I won’t. We’ll send someone else. We can send Hal–”
“No,” Iscen says absently.
They face each other, Pen red-faced, incredulity and fury fighting for ground in his breast; Iscen a narrow-focused beam, her steady dark eyes regarding him.
“Hal’s needed here, hauling things. Besides, you should know–” and finally, something, a flicker of uncertainty, of actual emotion, crosses Iscen’s face. “This one inside her now is different.”
“Different? Ah, ha, because so ordinary and commonplace the others are–”
“This one used to be alive,” Iscen says shortly.
Pen feels suddenly, terribly old. He faces Callie, and holds out his hand.
“Callie-girl, Callie–you don’t have to go.” His fingers close reflexively.
Callie, wearing one of his shirts–Christ’s sake, that’s one of his combat medals, where’d she turn that up–minutely shakes her head.
“Pen, it’s all right,” and her voice, clear and light like a kid’s, is nevertheless full of resonance, full of the sort of humor and regret that should live, he thinks, in Iscen, should not be in the voice of a child.