����� Toleen remained in the hospital for another month. During that time, through rigorous and uncompromising exercises, he built up his muscles once more and relearned to use his reattached left arm. He regained his strength and body weight. Even though the attending doctor who healed Toleen was paid through the state, Thelin rewarded him with a handsome supplementary payment.
���� Finally, the time came for Toleen to go home. Thelin and Kolpira walked along either side of Toleen, escorting him through the plain, clay-colored halls of the building. They exited the hospital, stepping out into the still warmth of a standard Augaran evening. Toleen noticed a heavily armed detachment of soldiers standing in fairly conspicuous placements near the exit and around the hospital. Toleen started to say something to his father, but Thelin shook his head. The patriarch nodded toward a waiting ground transport, and the driver held the door open for the family to climb in.
���� After the transport began to head away, Thelin looked at his son. "There was a large crowd gathered earlier. Word had somehow spread that you were being released today, and everyone wanted to get a look at you. But troops arrived to disperse them. It was declared an unauthorized gathering."
���� Toleen's brow crinkled in puzzlement. "Why?"
���� Thelin glanced at the driver, who seemed to be paying no attention to them. He leaned a bit closer to his son. "The Seven do not wish any more displays like the one that greeted your arrival at the gates. Remember who you are, and what danger you represent to them. Of anyone on this planet, you are the one that could lead an uprising against them."
���� "Why would I do such a thing?"
���� Thelin huffed lightly. "Remember the history of the Warlords, my son. Remember--"
���� "Husband," Kolpira whispered as she tugged anxiously on his arm, "This is not the way home."
���� Thelin's head snapped around and he looked out the side window of the transport. Kolpira was right; these were the streets of quadrant five of B'Nara, not quadrant three, where they lived--!
���� Thelin reached forward, grasping the driver's shirt collar. The�driver gasped in surprise, and the transport swerved wildly a second, as he almost lost control. "Where are you taking us?" Thelin grunted, his upper teeth extending menacingly.
���� "Please release me," the driver replied cautiously. "This is not my cause. While you were in the hospital, one of the soldiers approached me and ordered me to take you to quadrant nine. He said that if I did not, the consequences would be severe for me. He also said that if you asked, that no harm is to befall you or your family...so long as you comply with all orders upon your arrival."
���� Thelin considered the driver's words, and let go of his shirt. The driver glanced back at him fearfully, then turned forward once more. Thelin's teeth retracted and he wrapped his arm about his wife, who drew closer to him. "It will be alright," he told her, then looked to Toleen. "It will be alright."
���� Toleen nodded, but for some reason which he could not fully fathom, he wasn't worried in the slightest. He could feel his heart beating steadily in his chest, felt no rush of blood or other anxiety. Had his time in the desert, his facing off against the Shra'ki'em, truly purged him of all fear? He sat back in the comfortable skinleather and glanced out his own window, calmly taking in the sights of city-quadrants he had never explored before. Let whatever come, come...
���� Before too long, the transport arrived in quadrant nine. It pulled into the entrance of an unusually darkened street, and Toleen's keen eyes picked out several dark-armored troops standing in the shadows--secret police, used to crack down on societal indigents and other potential subversives. He looked to his father, who nodded in return; Thelin had also spotted them.
���� The transport came to a halt and the driver turned toward them as the shadows began to shift, and the dark troops moved out of them, approaching. "You are the one who did the impossible," the driver said to Toleen, and it seemed to the young male as if a kind of rekindled hope shone in�the elder male's�pale grey eyes. "Your father is right...listen to him. Return us to the old ways. Now is not how we should live." He turned forward quickly as troops reached either side of the transport and all doors opened. There were five troops in all, and the lone one standing apart from the others gestured for all passengers and the driver to disembark. Kolpira stepped out, holding her husband's hand as he followed. Toleen started to follow his parents, but one of the officers leaned in and tapped his shoulder with the barrel of his long rifle.
���� "On this side."
���� Toleen glanced at his father, who nodded to him. Without protest, he stepped out of the driver's side of the transport, away from his parents. None of the secret police pointed their guns at Toleen or the others exactly, but the weapons were kept in conspicuous ready repose. The dark-helmeted officer--a blast shield concealing his face--who stood�aside from his fellows, walked around to the left side of the transport and faced the driver. He detached a jingling money pouch from his belt and placed it firmly in the driver's hand. "You will take the parents home directly. Any deviation of any kind, and you will regret it. Do you understand?"
���� The driver nodded fervently. The squad leader then approached Toleen and looked him over from head to toe, sizing him up. "The child become warrior." He shook his head, whether in disdain or disbelief Toleen couldn't fully tell. "You have an appointment. We are here to make certain you keep it."
���� "Where are you taking my son?" Kolpira exploded, a mix of anger and fear in her voice. "He has only just gotten out--"
���� One of the officers rapped her hard enough in the back of the head with his rifle butt to send her falling side-first into the transport. She bounced off it and fell to the ground. Snarling simultaneously, both Toleen and his father turned to the troops, teeth and nails extending almost instantly--but the whine of laser rifles charging and being aimed quickly gave them pause. They froze in place, and the squad leader remained calm throughout the entire incident. His face was unreadable beneath the black blast shield of his helmet, as were all his officers. He regarded Toleen silently a moment, then calmly and casually strolled around the transport to stand before Thelin. "Your female needs to be reminded of her place, Vice-Admiral Thelin. Yes, of course I know exactly who you are. But your will is nothing before that of The Seven. And since their will should be in your heart, you will take your wife home and remind her of her place. Otherwise, you may find yourself losing several things of concern to you." He said this with a meaningful glance at first Kolpira, then Toleen.
���� Thelin grunted in disgust, and pulled his claws back in. He retracted his teeth and offered a brisk, polite nod by way of apology. "She will know her place once more. But I trust you will return my son to me intact."
���� The squad leader's helmeted head tilted curiously, almost in amusement. "We have no intention nor interest in harming your son, Vice-Admiral. In fact, we are here to escort him to his reward for achieving Crossover. You will see him again, in the fullness of time."
���� In the fullness of time. Thelin knew that was a pleasant way of saying that he would see his son again whenever he was released from wherever it was he was being taken. But Thelin knew there was no arguing with it; the will of The Seven could not be denied. "Very well. Come, wife. To your feet."
���� Kolpira shook her head, trying to clear it. She rose slowly, uncertainly, but managed to stand. She lowered her head, not looking her husband or any other male in the eyes as she went to him. It pained Thelin to see her have to act this way; he had taught her to read, write, and learn basic instruments in their home so that he would have a partner to love, rather than just a typical female servitor. He wanted someone intelligent to raise their child, not a simplistic dolt who would only play child's games with the boy and make meals. The family had to keep up the charade of having an unknowing female in line when out in public, but this was the first time Kolpira had ever been humiliated so readily. Thelin wished he could deliver retribution upon the soldier who had struck her...but things were the way they were. He could do nothing about them...
���� Thelin took his wife by the arm, and glanced at his son, whose lips had curled down into a severe and angry frown. The young male had retracted his teeth and nails, but glowered at the lead officer fearlessly. Thelin was proud of his son, but gave him the barest nod, warning him away from it. Toleen turned his eyes away from the squad leader and settled upon his father, who said simply, "We will see you at home."
���� "Yes, Father," Toleen answered. The driver and Toleen's parents stepped into the transport. The officers closed the doors, and the vehicle slowly, carefully turned back the way it came. It sped off into the night, leaving Toleen alone with the five officers of the secret police...