"If you have tried to do something and failed, you are vastly better off than if you had tried to do nothing and succeeded. You must never regret what might have been. The past that did not happen is as hidden from us as the future we cannot see."
~~ Richard Martin Stern
Snow lay in dirty, churned piles around the edge of the cul du sac near a single street lamp. Its light threw feeble reflections from the old snow, hinting of storms past. It was just after midnight, three days into the new year. The overcast sky promised more snow. A cold wind gusted from the north, full of dampness. On the icy sidewalk, near the illuminated area, there was a momentary disturbance in the air, followed by a bright spot of light...much like a lightning flash. Where there had been nothing but winter landscape, now a woman stood, holding a medium sized black box under her arm. Her left shoulder sported a ratty knapsack.
She took a deep breath of the chill, humid air, releasing it in a heavy sigh. She staggered a few steps and leaned against the metal pole of the street light. Her face was sallow in the yellowish glow and her dark hair carried strange highlights.
"I think we cut that last jump a bit fine..." she whispered, apparently to no one, feeling the cold frosted metal of the pole against the side of her hood. Gathering her strength, she pushed away from the pole and slowly walked along the sidewalk to a nearby driveway where she turned towards a nearly dark house. The snow-clogged driveway hampered her progress. Under her breath, she muttered comments about the owner of the house and his lack of civic consideration. Impatiently, she continued up onto the roofed cedar deck to the front door, where she knocked impatiently. There was a slight glimmer of light through the curtains, but that didn't necessarily signal occupancy. "You better be there," she said, a certain aching need in her voice as she shifted the awkward load in her arms and reset the strap on her shoulder.
The door opened, after a short delay, revealing a tall, white-haired man. He saw who had knocked so late, and a big smile grew on his face. "Janet! You're back! God, am I glad to see you!" She dropped the black box as the man took her in his arms, lifting her off the deck in an enthusiastic hug. The knapsack slipped from her arm, briefly forgotten.
Janet, her face transfigured by a similar, though much more tired grin, held the man with equal ferocity. "I'm damn glad to see you, too, Ev...but couldn't you've shoveled the driveway and front walk?"
Ev set her down, laughing. "I didn't even think of it. You must be exhausted."
"You could say that. I'm excruciatingly hungry and I need a hot shower."
"Then come on in. I'll fix a midnight snack for you while you get cleaned up."
Janet followed Ev into his bare living room, stopping only a moment to retrieve the errant parcels from the porch, placing them inside the door on the bare floor. She was very happy to be in such familiar territory. "I see you still haven't got f-furniture," she stammered.
"Can't without you, Jan." Ev turned and smiled again. "If we can't do it together then there's no need to have it."
Janet just stared at him, tears coming to her strange bloodshot eyes. "T-together..." Her mind shifted tracks and she began to shake.
Ev realized in that moment that she was a bit more emotionally fragile than he thought. "Relax, Jan. You go take a hot shower and we can talk later." With care, he held her again; her tears wet his sweater. She's hurting, Jenine... but she is shielding...
So is Ahrdree'ehn, the silicrys in 1019 replied to her symbiotic partner. More has happened than we suspect. If you help her to cleanse herself, I believe she will be more ready to talk.
Good idea. Making her midnight snack can wait. Ev closed his eyes, tightly holding the woman he loved. Picturing the upstairs bedroom, he lit-out.
~ * ~
Her hair was drying into a cloud of dark curls as Janet Newman sat at the kitchen table holding a cup of hot coffee. Her belly was full, her perpetually hungry silicrys was not clamoring for sustenance, and, above all, she knew she was as safe as she could be. Ev watched her with concern still evident on his face.
He wants to know what happened on the trip, Ahrdree interjected silently.
I know. Where do I begin? How do I tell him about Ian Dobsen and his silicrys Zehn'rah--and about the Wynnes, Levi Marienthal, and that murderer Barnes?
All we can do is tell him. You will know what to say...
Will I? How do I tell him there is no way to counter that Drasberg Device--except, possibly, by repeated exposures? How do I tell him I failed?
Ahrdree'ehn knew Janet felt responsible for returning without a mechanical or electronic way to fight the insidious Device. You did not fail, Jahnehtah'lihs'sah. Ahrdree's thought filled with his certainty. We have eliminated at least one avenue of investigation.
Then why do I feel so much like a failure?
They had fought this battle together since their siivahnurah. Ahrdree was very familiar with the effects of pessimism. Remember, siiur'kiirehn: just because you discovered the way the Device affects us does not mean you created the effect. It is now up to us to make sure Ev and Rig can learn to withstand the Device as we have.
What if they can't?
Ahrdree was silent. He knew there was no right answer to her question. After a moment, Janet knew she had asked him something impossible to answer, and let it drop.
Across the table, Ev cleared his throat. She refocused on his face. Taking a deep breath, she blew on the surface of her coffee, rippling and cooling it. She used it as a blatant delaying tactic; it gave her more time to think.
"Do you feel up to talking about your trip?" he asked tentatively, setting down his own coffee mug.
"I guess so. Avoiding it won't make it any easier."
"If it helps, I can tell you about what happened with that key I had... the one we argued over."
She frowned, remembering the argument and the key. "Sandra's key..." She was more than willing to put off telling about her adventure by listening about his.
"Yeah...Sandra's key. It turns out, that the guy who killed her is her dead father's best friend. It also turns out that Skarlatos has a spy in his organization."
"The guy who killed Sandra. His name is Artie Case. At any rate, I found the safe deposit box that went with the key and found some letters. The letters were the link."
"Then it's over?"
"No...unfortunately," Ev shook his head and tossed a small manila envelope onto the table. "Now there's another key I need to deal with."
She picked up the tiny parcel, opened it, and after examining the key it contained for a few seconds, set it down. "What will you do?"
Ev shrugged. "I guess I'll have to find out where the new one leads. I'm not afraid to say I'd rather not, but what else can I do? Case is still in control of my daughter's future--only now the situation is a bit stranger than it was."
"Stranger? Could it get any stranger that it already is?"
"Oh yeah. It's gotten a lot stranger. Picture this: Case works for the government; he's under cover."
"Under cover in Skarlatos' organization?"
"Yup. Not only that, but he's now using me as a weapon against Skarlatos by telling him I have his damned books... and I don't. I still need to find them."
"I have to, but I'll do it when I'm ready. Probably in the spring. I don't think I dare put it off another two years, like I did last time. I do know one thing."
With a soft voice, Ev held Janet's gaze. "I'm not going on that trip without you." He reached out and squeezed her right hand as it clasped the coffee cup.
Janet met his eyes, exhaustion warring with her will. "Remind me about it near my vacation in March." With her left hand, she rubbed her face. "I wish you had been with m-me on my trip as well."
"Are you up to talking about it tonight?"
She nodded, not at all sure she was telling the truth.
Though Ev doubted she was as ready to talk as she claimed, he let her begin. As the story unfolded, he became increasingly surprised. His first shock was how far news of his and Rig's Kiiyahkihn had traveled. That article in the 'Great American Journal' has had more of an impact than I ever believed possible.
However, Jenine responded, the effect has been positive... at least among those Janet met.
True, Ev admitted, juggling Janet's telling of her escapades with the silent conversation with his silicrys.
Then, Janet told of the night when Ian and Zehn'rah were killed. As she spoke of it, tears streamed down her face. Slowly at first, they glistened individually, then merged into solid rivulets of remembered grief. There was a few seconds of silence while Jenine and Ahrdree exchanged a series of rapid-fire images and sensations. The mere edge of those thoughts singed Ev's mind, vividly presenting what had been an ephemeral dream-event before. He felt his chest constrict, recalling the morning when he had felt the echo of that event. Now he knew the circumstances behind the haunting visions in 1019's cab up at Long Lake. They just killed them out of spite! They were innocent!
In the eyes of those that pursued Janet, Ian and Zehn'rah were a bonus... an unexpected windfall. They were trying to kill Janet and Ahrdree'ehn.
But they couldn't. Ian and Zehn'rah died instead!
As he listened to her story, he saw the pattern that was emerging and blurted: "You were getting immune to it!"
Jan met his eyes, pain in them. "Yes. The more that Barnes used the Device on us, the more it took to knock us down. Ian and Zehn'rah couldn't withstand it. It was my fault--"
"No...no, no Janet," he whispered, feeling her aching regrets and self-blame. "The blame rests with Barnes. He used it to kill, not you. Ian apparently had the chance to escape--by what you've told me."
Mutely, she nodded, clutching the now-empty cup.
"Then he chose to stay with you and help. You were not twisting his arm, I'm sure."
"I tried to get him to leave, but he wanted to stay with his crew."
Her silent sobs made him wish to hold her and comfort her, but he knew she needed to work through the grief or it would cripple her as much as Sandra's death had crippled him. Gently, Ev asked, "What happened after that?"
"Ian's Foreman put me on a t-train headed east. When I got to Syracuse, I m-met Benjamin. He's ahnjehnihree like me. He's a lot like you physically, though--kind of. He invited me to Albany, and I stayed with his family over Christmas. Barnes followed us there."
"Like me, huh..." Ev grinned briefly, mentally seeing the tall Albany engineer as Janet pictured him in her mind. Do I look that old? Remind me never to grow a beard, Jen.
The silicrys silent laugh was like glass chimes in a soft breeze.
"His temper is like yours, but he's actually a bit more like Rig, though I don't believe there's any way of adequately describing what he's really like without you meeting him. He's very proud and a bit of a chauvinist."
"Okay...but what happened with Barnes?"
"Barnes and his friends tried to hurt Benjamin's kids, taking his house. It happened when we were up at Moose Ridge--"
"It's a rocky scarp up in the Adirondacks where there is an energy well--a k'ree'ehl--sort of like in the backyard here, only much larger."
"Yes, but Ahrdree has finally told me it's really called a k'ree'ehl."
In Ev's mind, Jenine provided the actual term for the Birdbath Nexus in his backyard. "So, our backyard nexus is actually a f'raa'ehl, according to Jenine. I wonder why they never told us about the terms?"
"Could be because we already had a name for them." Janet cracked a smile as she said that. "Ahrdree only offered the term after I asked him what silicrys call those power fountains." She paused. "Anyhow, Benjamin had taken his wife and me up there to see if she could attract a silicrys. They left their sons and daughter at home. When Barnes and his flunkies came, Jesse--Ben's oldest son and an ahnjehnihree--grabbed the other two kids and lit-out for the Ridge."
She paused again. "Oh...and I found out what all Enginors, both ahnjehnurihs and ahnjehnihrihs, are really called. They have a title that covers everyone in a relationship with a silicrys...like 'human' covers everybody who is Homo Sapiens, no matter what sex, ethnicity, or nation."
"Another thing to remember," he muttered. "This is another case of not volunteering information, I take it."
"Yeah. Ahrdree informed me--after getting tired of me using the term enginor for those who aren't ahnjehnur--that people, of any race, on any planet, no matter the level of integration, that are in the Kiiyahkihn, are called Ahthniri."
"Yeah. It means--literally--'Those Who Have Chosen'. It does kinda have a r-ring to it."
"It does, but I like enginor better."
Janet smiled briefly at that. "I do too, but--"
"The peanut gallery likes Ahthniri." He shrugged. "They'll get over it. What happened next?"
"Ben's wife and daughter received the Kiiyahkihn that morning. That was beautiful."
Ev understood implicitly, remembering his own siivahnurah and the effects of Jenine's presence in him. He smiled.
"The youngest found his silicrys but we were all informed that the three-year old was way too young to go through siivahnurah. His silicrys seems to be functioning more as a guardian angel right now, I guess. Anyhow, Ben and I left all of them up at the Ridge. We came back to his house and dealt with Barnes--but the bastard came close to killing me. After that, Ben and I went to see Dr. Marienthal at MIT."
"What happened to Barnes? Did Wynne kill him?"
"No. I think Ben scared him bad, but in the end, there was nothing to do but let him go. I think he took Barnes and his cronies as far away from their house near Windemere as he could physically take them. He never told me exactly. All I know is that Barnes was still alive when we left for MIT."
"It's almost a pity he didn't kill the bastard."
"I agree, even though that would make us no better than murderers ourselves, don't you think?" Janet answered thoughtfully, thinking about the consequences of such an act.
"Is justice murder?" Ev wondered aloud. "Leaving Barnes alive to kill again may condemn more enginors to death. I have no doubt he'll try it again, from what you've told me--given an opportunity." He also thought of Skarlatos--and Sandra's senseless death. "Remember when I let Skarlatos--a known killer--escape, only to get paid back by the death of my wife?"
Janet felt and saw the pain of that decision in his eyes as he said it. "That's not the same--"
"You let Skarlatos go to save Rig. I'd say that was a hell of a lot different! Barnes killed for the fun of it, yes, but Ben didn't have the right to kill him. If anybody did, it was I. I was the one who was there when Ian...d-d..." Her voice cracked as the grief overwhelmed her. She swallowed convulsively. Through tears, she whispered, "I should have killed him... but I...I couldn't."
With his own grief suddenly compounded by hers, Ev couldn't speak. The silence and tension between them was palpable.
After what seemed like a long time, Janet took a deep breath, wiped her eyes on her nightgown sleeve, and continued with her recounting of events. "Anyhow, Dr. Marienthal--Levi--d-determined that the only apparent defense against the Drasberg Device is a steady build-up of r-resistance, like I have. He never found any other way to protect against it."
Ev sighed, his disappointment evident in the set of his shoulders. "It was worth the try."
"Was it? What if I had stayed here? Would Ian and Zehn'rah be alive now? Wouldn't we have figured out the immunity angle--in time--by ourselves?" Bloodshot red rimmed her green-gold eyes as she stared hard at him.
He met her gaze calmly. "Maybe. We had no way of knowing--"
"I know, but I still can't help thinking about it."
"The question we need to answer is, what now? What do we do now that we're aware of the weakness Rig and I carry? Measured exposure?"
She nodded. "As far as we've been able to determine. It's no picnic, but I can't see any other way. I brought the Device home. It's by the front door. The little one is right here--" She reached back to the vest draped over the back of her chair and fished out the tiny hex-shaped mechanism. With contempt, she tossed it on the table. It rolled across some old junk mail and came to rest in all its electronic glory inches from the miniscule envelope Ev had tossed out earlier.
Staring at the little unit, Ev squirmed for a moment then sighed. "Well, my dear, I'd rather have you operating that damned thing than Barnes."
~ * ~
Janet spent a day resting at Ev's house, catching up on gossip, and filling him in more completely about her trip. Rig had stopped by to welcome her back and to hear her stories. Most of the time, Ev and Janet spent alone together. Ev's call to work cut short their pleasant interlude. Janet took advantage of the opportunity and rode his train up to LaCrosse so she could begin her normal work life again.
Their train arrived in the wee hours of Friday morning accompanied by snow flurries and temperatures hovering in the low single digits. On the radio, Minerva Newman--Janet's dispatcher Mom--was talking an eastbound train past the absolutes at Genoa. Ev smiled as she spoke. "Your Mom sounds a bit stressed tonight. I'll bet she'll be glad to see you."
Staring out into the stark landscape of the yards, she nodded. "Probably."
"Why don't you go on ahead and say 'hi' to her. I'll catch up with you later."
The thought appealed to her. Mom will be glad to see me... "That's a good idea. I need to mark up and find out what's going on up here. Mom'll know better than anybody but the crewcallers."
As she stood up from her place across the cab next to the head brakeman, Ev met her eyes. Be on guard, my dear. Nothing's changed here as far as the 'Protectors of Humanity' are concerned. They're still out there and ready to cause grief.
Jan grinned for a mere second before a sober expression crossed her face and stayed. I understand--more that you know.
I thought you might. I'll meet you in Minerva's office later.
Roger that. Without anything more said between them, Janet walked across the cab of 1019 and lightly brushed against the engineer as she passed him on her way out his side door into the blustery chill of the night. The wind of their movement in the yards gusted around her, spraying her with motes of stinging snow as she closed the door behind her and walked down the engineer's side gangway. She wasted no more time than necessary and called on her mother telepathically. Mom!
There was a delay of a few seconds, then all in one thought burst, Min conveyed a mixture of surprise, relief, and anticipation. Janet?
I'm coming in with Ev...
That does not surprise me. How have you been? How was your trip? How is Ev? Her rapid-fire questions bombarded her, carried in a jumble of emotions.
Mom! Calm down. I'm fine. I'll be there in a minute. Just wanted to be sure the coordinates were correct.
Her mother replied jovially. Nothing here changes but the date, honey. I'll be waiting for you.
Then here I come... Janet vanished from the windy snow-teased gangway of 1019 and reappeared in the foyer just inside the warm environs of the dispatcher's office--currently inhabited by her Mom. Numerous radio transmissions provided a constant background patter for her domain.
Minerva saw her lite-in and got up to greet her. They came together in a warm embrace next to her desk as icy air from Janet's arrival swirled around them. "My, it's good to see you again. I was worried about you--especially after hearing about the wreck of the '24FM' in Ohio."
Her Mom resumed her place at her control operator console as Janet pulled up another chair and removed her vest. She had left her knapsack on the engine with Rykoff. "I survived. I was very lucky to be able to pull the head end crew off, too. I did lose my grip, though."
Minerva nodded as she punched up signals that would allow Ev to double the inbound local over to another track. "Did you get what you went out there for?"
"Unfortunately...no, not really. I did find out that there is no mechanical or electronic means of protecting us from that damned device."
Minerva caught the hint in her voice telling her there was more to it than that. "What else did you find out?" She saw the pain and grief in her daughter's golden-green eyes that spoke of hard realities.
"The only way we found to fight the device was being desensitized through repeated exposure." Her voice was neutral, but Minerva sensed there was a lot more to it than what she was saying.
"Janet...does that mean that you and Ev and Rig need to endure repeated bouts with that thing to gain an immunity to it?"
She nodded. "Right now, I'm able to resist almost a full power setting, but I don't know if the effect is temporary or permanent. I do know that Ev and Rig have some unpleasant times to look forward to... if it will even work on them."
"What do you mean?"
"They are a different bonding than Ahrdree'ehn and me. What works for us may not work for them."
"Do you know for sure?" That consideration hadn't entered Min's mind before.
Janet shook her head. "No. We haven't tried it yet. Nether one of them is too anxious about trying it."
Minerva chuckled. "I guess I can't blame them."
"Neither can I, but I don't want to watch them d-die like--" She stopped in mid sentence, her voice catching. "--Like...another f-friend of m-mine..." Janet stopped, swallowing convulsively. That memory is too raw...she thought sadly.
Calm down, siiur'kiirehn. Ahrdree's presence steadied her after a moment.
You are welcome.
Minerva frowned. "Others died from the device? Other enginors?"
"Yes. An engineer out of Collingsvale Yard... in Cleveland..." Her voice was a whisper. "That was when I began to understand I was building up a resistance to it. It was deadly to him--but not to me. Because they were trying to hurt me, they killed him in a matter of minutes. Such a thing had never happened to him before. Mom... it was my fault..."
"If it wasn't for me being there, he would never have drawn them and their device. He'd still be alive..."
"You don't know--"
"How else can I look at it? They didn't even know he existed! I led them straight t-to him..."
At that point, Ev Rykoff materialized in exactly the same place she had done only a handful of minutes earlier, bringing with him another frigid draft. Minerva was relieved to see him, however. She was unsure of how to deal with her daughter's pain.
Ev caught the dispatcher's look and noticed Janet's mood immediately. However, he said nothing overtly. "Hi, Min."
"Hi, Ev. Thanks for bringing Jan back with you."
He smiled. "It was my pleasure. Not that she's incapable of getting home to LaCrosse on her own. She teleported to my house all the way from Cambridge. I was duly impressed, let me tell you."
Minerva looked at her daughter with a new respect. "That's a long way to teleport!"
"It wasn't all in one jump, Mom," she whispered, trying not to let out her sadness and guilt again. "It was less than a couple hundred miles a shot."
Min just shook her head in amazement. "You people are incredible. It sounds like a hell of a long way to me."
Ev laughed. "It can be... if your silicrys is hungry... or if you're not fully charged for it. Believe me." He consciously placed his hand on Janet's shoulder. Are you all right?
Janet glanced at him for a moment. Just tired...
You're lying, my dear.
Ev...n ot now. Her thoughts abruptly closed, shielded like an opaque glass wall.
Blinking, Ev withdrew his hand. Jenine gave her opinion: Janet still feels responsible for Ian's death.
How can she go on like that?
She asked the same of you regarding Sandra's death. You--of all people--should understand her feelings of guilt. She will grow through it, as you did. Your love will heal her sorrow, but only she can absolve herself--as you are learning to do with the memory of Sandra.
Ev knew she was correct, but it didn't make watching Janet suffer any easier.
Just give her time, siiur'kiirehn. Ahrdree has been wrestling with this since it occurred, with little apparent progress. Be patient.
I'll try...he replied, not at all sure if his share of patience would be enough.
Minerva cleared her throat to bring him back to reality. Startled for a second, he caught her thought. Can you help her?
I can try, but most of the healing is up to her, I'm afraid.
She smiled briefly. I know you'll do what you can...
That I will.
"Well...Janet, Ev...I was thinking of dinner tonight. Would you both like to join the family at...hmmm...about seven? I was going to make a roast with all the fixings since your father and brothers are all in tonight. Gregory wants to meet you, Ev."
"Am I in trouble?" the engineer asked, knowing she was purposely diverting their attentions from the former subjects.
"Hell, no. He just wants to meet the man that has captured his feisty daughter's heart."
"Mom!" Janet groaned. In her mind, Ahrdree chuckled, amused. She squirmed a bit on her chair.
They all laughed nervously. Ev smiled at Janet. "I'd be happy to--as long as I'm not called already. How about you, Jan?"
"Uh...yeah, sure. Seven?"
"Ev, you're on the line-up for nine tonight... so I think you'll skate on this one. And yes... at seven sharp I'll expect you both...okay?" Min replied. Neither of the enginors felt like arguing with the authority in her voice.
With obvious reluctance on her daughter's part, Jan nodded. "Okay, Mom."
~ * ~
Janet and Ev appeared in the living room of her apartment about a half-hour later, grips and knapsack in hand. After leaving the dispatcher's office, they had stopped to chat with the crewcaller and Janet had marked up. Once she was back on the board--a good dozen times out with no prospects of work in the next 30 hours--they had proceeded home.
When they arrived, the engineer watched as she moved about the apartment, checking the place out, the root of the search being the hex device they had brought with them. After a circuit of her environs, she returned to the living room, her paranoia satisfied. "Everything seems to be just as I left it...except for the dust."
"That's good to hear," he yawned... and watched as Janet yawned in response. "What do you say we get some sleep?"
With a heavy sigh, she nodded. "Excellent idea. It wouldn't be good for us to be sleepy when you meet Dad." She grabbed her knapsack and headed towards the bedroom.
"Should I be worried?" he wondered as he picked up his grip, following her.
"Hardly. You are more than a match for my Dad. He apparently just wants to meet you. You've never worked with him, have you?"
"Nope. I believe he works the North River..."
"He's got rights both ways, actually, but likes the North River best. Right now, he's in the North Pool--as of this morning, anyhow. He has tons of seniority. I thought you two had met, though..."
Ev shook his head negatively as he sat down on the bed. "I've known your Mom for years, but I don't recall ever meeting your Dad... or your brothers, by the way. Do you think they'll like me?"
"It doesn't matter one way or the other...really. You know that." Janet grinned at his discomfort.
"I was just wondering if my being enginor would bother them or--"
"Ev...remember, I'm as much one as you are and they haven't disowned me yet."
"Yet. Have you ever talked with your Dad about Ahrdree?"
"No...but Mom has."
"And I've never caught any flack yet."
"Yet." Ev was a bit skeptical of her kin accepting her Kiiyahkihn so easily. "No reservations?"
"Not that I know of."
"No talks of sin or satanic influences?"
"Nope. My family's staunchly neutral on the subject of religion. None of them feels very religious--except for Sarah. She's a bit on the evangelical side, but not implacably. It would interfere with her job."
"She just hired out last summer, didn't she?" Ev recalled as Janet donned her nightgown.
"Uh huh. Her views on feminism preclude her from ever getting too involved in her church. At least it has so far, I believe."
"What does she think of Ahrdree?"
"We've never spoken about him. She avoids the subject, I think, though she's never preached at me about him--so far anyway."
Ev chuckled. "I wish my mother would take a page out of Sarah's book. She knows a preacher who is a pain in the ass. You remember him, don't you: Rev. Anthony Devine?"
"How could I forget?" She yawned again, stretching. "So far, there's no one like him in LaCrosse--as far as I know."
"Luckily..." Ev yawned, too, then finished getting ready to sleep. Together, they covered up under the ivy bedspread, laying spoon-fashion, Ev holding her tightly in a possessive embrace. She nestled into his arms, happy to have his breath on her neck through her hair.
"Y'know, Ev...I missed you..."
"I know. The feeling's mutual. Now go to sleep my dear. We'll need our wits sharp this evening."