Armor plate? Well, there was a new roof. Reroofing had been gruelling hard work. Water marks in the attic said it was mandatory. The wood underneath was still mostly sound, but the roofing was too old. Fine-control telekinesis did mean I could literally strip the shingles from an entire roof, every nail pulled out by its roots, in a single burst of concentration. Foresight had been the recognition that if I tore off the roof all at once, I had to replace every bit of it before the next rain, a real gamble late last fall. Repairing the roof a section at a time, replacing rotted wood with new boards, laying down and sealing the felting, cutting flashing and asphalt tiles and dragging them into place, and nailing the whole thing down, securely enough that the first good wind wouldn’t destroy my work — that had been hard-earned experience and exhausting muscle work. Only after several days of hammering had I figured out how fine telekinesis could drive masses of nails effectively. A realization that exhausting muscle work was now only hard muscle work, that rolls of roofing felt could be moved with a dedicated heave of shoulders and back and legs, rather than the burst of telekinetic energy I barely dared risk using, showed muscle work had consequences. Those consequences paid off in the Maze, when traps set to the Maze’s anticipation of a child’s strength and endurance failed to close around me.
In the months since, working in moments stolen from studying, stolen from my ponies, stolen from my duty to my gifts, I’d managed to refurbish and decorate two rooms and part of a third. I loved the rooms, but they were a far cry from Star’s Fortress of Evanescent Darkness. And that much progress had been possible only because the last owner had replaced all the utilities, so wiring, plumbing, solar heat assists, and hot-water heat were all in good order.
Bathing — the hot water tank would need a while to refill and reheat — seemed most in order. Then I could go to bed. My carryall went in a bedroom corner; the reserve crash kit went by my bed. I changed clothes, replacing moon-gray garb with sneakers, corduroy pants, largish brightly-checked shirt, oversize felted jacket, and floppy straw hat. Neighbors saw the disguise inconceivable to Star and Cloud: I was obviously the 13-year-old son of the house. Raiding the kitchen filled jacket pockets.
I stood in the loft of my three-walled barn. Below the loft, the fourth wall remained over its center half open to the elements. Dry cat food in the automatic feeder was somewhat depleted, neat lines of tails showing where Bluebell and Columbine had been busy among the rodent population. Their nest, woven of sticks and cloth and paper and plastic scraps, was empty — they must be out hunting. Two tins of tuna fish went down besides the tails.
I dropped hand-over-hand down a pipe. The horses were outside. That was for the best, I told myself. They expected to have the barn mucked out regularly, but found the slight glimmer and crackle of telekinetic energy disheartening. Of course, I could muck the stalls with a shovel and barrow, so I wouldn’t frighten them, at a dozenfold the time investment — not to mention what I’d smell like afterwards. No, some sacrifices were not worth their price. Not today.
A whorl of light struck at the barn floor, primly collecting hay, road apples, and miscellaneous material into a neat pile that floated itself to the side door. The spreader robot, bought by the former owner, hummed into action, rolling out the door towards the next section of garden plot. I still took the time needed to refill by hand the feed bins with hay, and to put back and shoulders into spreading the now-clean floor with straw and wood chips.
I was so intent on my barnyard chores that I missed the clop of hooves behind me. A friendly nudge across my back sent me staggering. I whirled, caught the pony around the neck, and hugged it tight. “Daffodil! Oh, Daffodil! I’ve so missed you!” The Appaloosa nickered gently, delighted at my return. A second clatter of feet was followed by the press of damp, oversize lips, first across the back of my neck, then probing towards coat pockets. I took half a moment to ponder the difference between horses here and there. Why were horses there not as smart and loyal as dogs and cats?