David tells the reader that his sister Petra always seemed completely normal. One year during a harvest, however, David is overwhelmed by the feeling of being struck in the head, and he is compelled to run toward the source of the feeling. As he runs, he meets Rosalind, who is also running to the source. The two find Petra, who is caught in the river and holding onto a bush to stay afloat. When David exclaims that he hadn’t realized Petra was telepathic, Rosalind tells him that she is different from them, and much more powerful. While she and David can communicate wordlessly, they cannot command or compel action from others like Petra seemingly can.
Up until this point, think-together is used only as a form of communication, but Petra, however unwittingly, uses her ability as a form of coercion. While innocent, her sway over the others and ability to convince them to do what she wants is reminiscent of the cults of personality surrounding 20th century dictators like Lenin and Hitler, who had the ability—through their words or influence—to convince large numbers of people to commit atrocious acts.
Eventually people from the town catch up to Rosalind and David to see what they were running toward. No one understands how they could have known that Petra was in danger, and Rosalind and David must lie and say that they heard her screaming. That night, David dreams his old dream in which his father kills Sophie, only this time he is killing Petra.
For the first time Rosalind and David’s ability puts them in real danger. David knows that he must guard his secret carefully, and once again his recurring dreams are associated with stress about discretion. In his semiconscious state he can foresee that Petra is in danger.
David tries to communicate through thought-shapes with Petra to tell her to conceal her ability, but he is not able to reach her. He wants to talk to her about it, but Rosalind tells him that she is probably not aware of her ability and that it would be dangerous to trust a six-year-old with such an important secret. Their ability has now come to feel more like a burden than a gift. They must constantly hide and lie to maintain the semblance of normalcy.
The limitations of words prevent David from being able to explain to Petra what he she has done. Were he able to communicate with her through thoughts, he would be able to fully explain all of the urgency and risks associated with using her ability, but it is not safe to do so through normal language because of her youth.
The crops in Waknuk have a particularly bad year, and many are deemed Offenses and destroyed. Jacob, a farmer, tells David that the failed crops are a punishment for the fact that people have become lazy about destroying deviations. He complains that the Government is not giving out punishments harsh enough to deter people from sinning. When he was growing up, he says, deviations were burnt. David is horrified, but Jacob tells him that Blasphemies are no longer burnt, although he wishes they were because they are not human. Instead, they are stripped of their ability to reproduce and cast out into the Fringes.
To Jacob, the crop failure is proof that the Waknukians have regressed on their path toward righteousness. He so firmly believes that Blasphemies are not human that he feels no qualms about burning them to death rather than allowing them to keep living in “sin.” This is a horrifying idea to David, but he is glad to finally know what happens to Blasphemies when they are discovered.
David asks Uncle Axel if other people, like Jacob, feel that the Government is too lax about punishing people for failing to report Offenses. Uncle Axel assures him that the increase in deviation rates this year is because of the weather, not the moral fortitude of Waknuk. He warns David, however, that people will be looking for something or someone to blame for the bad season. The group feels relatively safe, however, until Anne announces that she will get married.
As usual, Uncle Axel does not adhere to traditional Waknukian beliefs. He does, however, understand Waknukians, and he knows that they will be looking for a sin on which to blame their poor crops so that they do not have to look inward and question themselves. In typical Wyndham fashion, the chapter ends with a cliffhanger.