by Dave Bryant


A wordless exclamation of frustrated anger burst out of Aria as she sat back heavily in the dining-room chair. She refrained from snapping in half the pencil clutched by both white-knuckled hands, albeit barely.
A fascinated Rose watched the younger woman struggle with her chronic rage. Privately she was pleased the girl was able to exert even this much control. Since the eventful trip to the mall, the siren clearly had been making a sincere, if clumsy, effort to rein in her temper.
“I just don’t get it,” Aria growled. The pencil clattered to the table as she gestured with both hands at the math problems on the papers before her.
“You and millions of other students around the world,” Rose assured her dryly.
Aria’s mouth puckered as she fought to keep the perfectly timed quip from blunting the edge of her righteous irritation. Finally she sighed. “Okay, fine. You’re here, so I guess you’re gonna try to help, right?”
Rose chewed on her lip, also restraining a smile. “You’re welcome. Where are you stuck?”

Upstairs from the dining room, Adagio and Sonata hunched over their own copies of similar homework, assigned by Mister Rhetor before he and his wife departed out of town for a family wedding. Aria had been the only one willing to venture downstairs where their de facto babysitter lurked; Sonata had looked fearful and Adagio apathetic at the prospect. Instead they occupied Adagio’s room, she at the small writing desk and her companion on the bed with a lap tray. The covers, earlier neat and tidy thanks to Rose’s military-inspired insistence on the importance of making one’s bed, had suffered somewhat from Sonata’s restlessness.
Sonata too sat back from the indecipherable mathematical heiroglyphs. Her tone was more of a whine as she aired her own bafflement. “Adagio, I don’t understand any of this stuff.”
Without straightening from her slump, Adagio sighed and shot back a waspish retort. “What makes you think I know any more about it than you do?” It was a well-worn routine, but Sonata never seemed to tire of it.
“You always do better than I do,” Sonata pointed out practically. “Maybe if I look at your answers and you tell me how you got them it would help.”
Adagio did sit up then, and even turned around on her chair, resting an arm across the back. Her mouth opened for a cutting response, but froze as inspiration struck. “Maybe if we could look at all the answers it would help even more.”
“But we don’t have all the answers to look at.” Sonata looked confused. As usual.
We don’t, but they have to, right?” Adagio waved toward the temporarily unoccupied master bedroom suite.
“I guess so.”
“So we just need to get those answers.” Adagio sounded a little more like her scheming self.
“They have to have answer sheets in a cabinet or something, don’t they? And that cabinet has to be in their bedroom, doesn’t it?”
“I guess so. But the door’s locked. They told us so.”
“Yeah, it is. I checked. Bu-ut . . . maybe the window isn’t.” Adagio tapped her chin with a fingertip. “Look. We can climb out the window here, walk along the roof of the back patio, and get to their bedroom window. Then we climb in through that, find the answer sheets, and come back. After we copy down the answers, we put the original sheets back. Nobody’s the wiser.”
“I dunno. . . .” Sonata looked as dubious as her comment suggested.
“Fine! Fine! I’ll do it, then. You can stay here and keep an eye out in case she looks like she’s gonna come upstairs to check on us. If that happens, you can call through the window.”
“O-okay.” A look of apprehension stole across Sonata’s face, as it so often did these days.

Adagio’s absence seemed to last an eternity. By the time she reappeared through the window, Sonata was all but hyperventilating. The murmurs floating up from downstairs never fully ceased, but there had been several heart-stopping pauses.
With a slight smirk of success, Adagio plunked a stack of file folders on the bed. “The answers must be in there somewhere. We just need to find them. You take half and I’ll take half. That way we can find them twice as fast.”
Sonata stared wide-eyed at the pile. “Adagio! . . .” she protested.
“Get started,” the other ordered peremptorily as she turned back to reinstall the window screen just in case. “The quicker you do, the quicker we find the answers.”
They didn’t find the answers they were looking for. The answers they did find they didn’t want.

A shriek from upstairs snapped both Rose and Aria bolt upright. The former was on her feet and out through the archway in a heartbeat, leaving the latter to follow after a shocked moment. A bedlam of screams, thuds, and crashes echoed through the house as Rose vaulted up the stairway in front of Aria. By the time Rose reached the doorway to Adagio’s bedroom, Aria peering past her, Adagio’s back was flat against the wall and her eyes and mouth gaped.
Sonata flailed and shouted in no particular direction from her wide-legged stance in the middle of the not overly large room. Her complexion was mottled with exertion and emotion as she heaved random objects, ready to hand, to thump or smash against walls or furniture. Jumbled, disconnected phrases, barely comprehensible, revolved around betrayal, secrets, and loss. Papers and files lay everywhere.
Rose strode straight in, heedless of possible projectiles, and grabbed Sonata by the upraised wrists. “Sonata!” she snapped with the full force of her command voice. “Look at me. What’s wrong?”
After a wild-eyed moment, Sonata finally blinked and focused on Rose’s face. Her mouth trembled and, in a tone of utter heartbreak, she whispered, “You lied to us. You all lied to us.”
When the flying debris ceased, Aria had slid around Rose to Adagio; both of them turned to stare. Rose sighed and loosened her grip. In a quiet voice she said, “Sit down and take a deep breath, Sonata. When you’re ready, you can explain.” Only when Sonata closed her eyes did Rose let go.
Sonata fell back to sit on the edge of the bed, bouncing a little as she bent over and hugged herself. She rocked back and forth, breaths deep and ragged.
Rose took a moment to survey the wreckage, then looked aside at Adagio with a silent promise to revisit the mysterious presence of the scattered papers and files. Adagio, in turn, looked down, one arm crooked across her body, hand cradling her other elbow, that arm held down at her side. Aria looked from one face to another with baffled alarm.
Sonata recaptured everyone’s attention with a hoarse-voiced accusation. “You knew. And you didn’t tell us. Hundreds of years, and you didn’t tell us!”
“What are you talking about?” Aria asked. “We’ve only been here, what, a coupla years? Something like that, anyway.”
Rose drew in a long breath. “No, she’s right. You haven’t been in this world very long, but you’ve been gone from the other world for more than a thousand years.”
“What?” Aria yelled. “Why?”
The ex-captain massaged her forehead with her left hand and answered the unspoken part of the question. “Because of this.” The other hand swept out to indicate the scene of violence and desolation. “We knew this, or something like it, is exactly how you’d react. We wanted to wait until you were more ready to hear about it before we told you. It would have been a shock no matter when we did, but at least then you might be stronger, better able to deal with it.”
Adagio and Aria bridled at the suggestion of weakness. Sonata merely looked up blankly. “You should’ve told us,” she insisted faintly.
“Maybe we should have,” Rose acknowledged without flinching. “You know now anyway.”
“Now what do we do?” Adagio asked, sounding a bit dazed. “Even if the princesses pardon us, like that letter said they might, and we can go back, it won’t even be the same world, not really.”
“For now, nothing different. Let the future take care of itself. It always has,” Rose pointed out. “One of the reasons we’re trying to give you a modern education is so you’ll be better off no matter which world you stay in. You can’t go back, but at least you can go forward.”
There was a moment of silence as the younger trio digested this. Sonata slowly listed to one side, eyes blinking drowsily. Rose took charge again. “Aria, can you please get Sonata to bed? It looks like she’s about to fall asleep. It’s no wonder, after a panic attack like that. And it might be a good idea to keep an eye on her, too.”
Aria briefly looked rebellious, then glanced down at Sonata and relented. “Yeah, I guess so.” Realization, rather than resentment, colored her words. “C’mon, Sonata, let’s go.” She helped the worn-out girl to stand and guided her out to put her to bed.
Rose shut the door behind them and turned back to Adagio. “Okay, what happened?”

Eyes shut and head tipped back, Rose sprawled untidily on the living-room couch. Adagio’s scheme was clever, and along with the ignoble urge to cheat, also genuinely seemed to be motivated by the desire to puzzle out how to get the right answers. The two of them had gathered up and reordered the files, which she had redeposited in their proper places. A quick, discreet call to the watch post across the street secured a promise to supply, on the morrow, security strips to place in window guide tracks. Adagio had retired without argument and, she hoped, already was fast asleep.
When she checked in on the other two, Aria sat in Sonata’s desk chair, tipped onto the back legs. Sonata twitched and stirred, but did seem to be dozing. Rose offered a gentle recommendation that Aria do the same, accompanied by a stern look. Aria took the hint and disappeared into her own room.
None of the three had pressed Rose not to tell Logos and Harmonia of the affair. She was sure Sonata hadn’t thought of it. As for the other two—well, either they were more shocked than she realized, or they understood the effort would be futile. Maybe both.
What a mess. And it wasn’t like she could blame anyone else for it. She still thought waiting was the better choice, but Sonata’s empty-eyed look of accusation floated in her mind’s eye. What she wouldn’t give for a good stiff drink. She grunted as she got to her feet. Time for her to get some shut-eye too. Maybe things would look brighter in the morning light.