Part 4

"Ow! Stupid piece of..."

"Robert?" Two voices, both of which he recognized, called out his name in unison. Robert finished squeezing through the tight opening to see JP and Ay'nin on the ground, JP wrapped firmly in Ay'nin's arms with obvious tear tracks on her cheeks.

"What happened? I heard a scream and came running." He kneeled before them and reached out to wipe at JP's cheek.

She smiled and clasped his hand then slowly pulled away from Ay'nin to stand. Robert looked between them both, his face quite obviously posing a question. What the hell is going on?

The two women exchanged a look and Ay'nin shrugged slightly before giving the smallest of nods. JP nodded back just a little and stepped closer, apparently taking the lead in whatever this was.

"Robert, listen. I, um... Well I found this thing that I really wasn't supposed to and you know that I can never keep things from you so I guess you should see too, before Ay'nin explains it all." JP paused here and threw a looked over her shoulder, as if saying you will explain no matter what.

Robert felt like he was not only drifting at sea without a paddle, but had no idea which direction shore was. He couldn't imagine what JP might have found, well, okay, he could. Perhaps more artifacts or drawings but nothing that would account for the tears. "Okay. I sort of found something too."

JP didn't respond; she simply took his arm and guided him over to the entrance of a chamber and stopped. He threw her and Ay'nin a bewildered look before turning his attention to the chamber. He had to blink several times and then grab the wall to stay on his feet as his eyes took everything in.

On his list of things to expect, this didn't even feature despite his discovery of the timeline. Something so tangible, though, something so real that was stark and undeniable and right in front of his face sent through him a wave of resolve that banished all doubts and left in its wake a burning anger. He felt his teeth start to grind then and his stomach rolled, coming dangerously close to emptying its contents.

JP's grip on his arm gave him something else to focus on, though, and he finally managed to turn his attention to his friend and saw, in her stormy green eyes, that she felt as he did.

Robert blinked back his own tears and then they both turned to face Ay'nin who was standing quietly in the background, arms crossed with a stony expression on her face.

They weren't going to like what she had to say.

***

"Wait, stop, back up a moment." Robert held up his hand to stop Ay'nin's flow of words. "I'm getting confused."

JP nodded her agreement from across the table as she sipped from a cup of water.

They were back at Ay'nin's cabin, seated around her table, and had been for the last hour. Ay'nin's story was a long, complicated one that she insisted on telling in its entirety so that they both understood the enormity of the situation.

Ay'nin sat heavily on her chair and propped her chin on her fist. "Why don't you tell me how you understand it so far and I'll fill in the blanks from there."

Robert and JP exchanged a look before nodding to each other. JP took the lead, pausing a moment to gather her thoughts before she started to speak. "These people-"

"Chochasi," Ay'nin said.

JP nodded, "Right. The Chochasi. They lived on this planet for at least two hundred years before Earth ever colonized it. They had a city in the basin and were fairly human looking. They had laws, commerce, a government. Everything that we'd have in a city. They were peaceful people; they didn't attack others unless it was in defense and comparatively speaking, their technology was far inferior to ours." JP paused and looked up for confirmation. Ay'nin nodded. When JP opened her mouth to continue she simply shook her head and looked to Robert for help.

He leaned forward and folded his hands quite precisely in front of him. "I think what we're having a problem with is why they were wiped out. What was the reason?"

"There was a group before the Founder's Group. It was their job to find viable sites for colonies out of all the planets out there. There was strict criteria, including that the planets had to be uninhabited."

"So how did Lorraine ever become a possibility?"

Ay'nin shook her head, "I don't know. Not very much is known about the people before the Founder's Group, and certainly no one would have ever told me. But what happened here to the Chochasi can be traced back to this other group of people. I know it can."

JP took another gulp of water before asking what she really wanted to know. Well, one of the things. "So this Cerina and Balwin, how do they fit in?"

Robert gulped just a bit and looked about the room. Ay'nin had briefly introduced the two ghosts or whatever to him before they had left the cave, he figured to make her story more believable. It was more than a little creepy for him to think that these two people had been in Ay'nin's home for the last week and knew him while he hadn't been the wiser.

Ay'nin's eyes went to a corner of the cabin for a long moment before she focused back on JP and Robert. "The Chochasi's spirits were trapped here after they were all murdered. You've heard of poltergeists with unfinished business being unable to "cross over", right? This is like that. When the Chochasi decided they needed help to receive justice they focused their collective spiritual energy to make Cerina and Balwin slightly more corporeal, with a form and certain abilities. That way they'd be able to interact with a mortal."

JP held up a hand, "Why can't Robert and I see them here but we could in the cave?"

Ay'nin looked once more to the corner where Cerina and Balwin were floating, nodded, and then refocused on her two young pupils. "As far as the Chochasi knew, no mortals would be able to see them for more than a few fleeting moments. I was, apparently, a surprise to them. They say you and Robert can see them in the cave because that is where their spiritual power is the strongest since it's their grave site.

"They are basically representatives of the Chochasi people, providing me with information on their culture and everything they know about the people who wiped them out. They taught me to read the writings in the cave and have been helpful in surveying the land for other clues."

Robert cleared his throat and squinted in thought. "You keep saying 'spiritual energy'. Is this the source of the electrical currents that attracted the Founder's Group here in the first place?"

Ay'nin waggled a hand, "Sort of. All the planets in this area of space have an energy field uncommon to Earth and her satellites. On all of the planets here you would have the same problems with electronics and whatnot that you do on Lorraine. The Chochasi's energy simply amplifies this natural field and makes it detectable to our equipment."

"So when the Chochasi finally cross over this field will disappear. I mean, we wont be able to study it anymore, right?"

Ay'nin nodded.

Robert grinned then and gave a bitter laugh, "Won't that just be a kick in the pants to them! Their entire reason for coming here will be gone."

JP waved a hand in the air, "Can we please get back to how you got involved?"

"Yeah, you still haven't said."

Ay'nin stood then and wandered around her small cabin as if considering how to begin. "It goes way back to when I was still a member of the Founder's Group. I was never... Accepted," she turned her orange eyes to JP while she spoke, "They didn't like who - what - I was, except for Andrew and Naomi Burke, Robert's parents. They were always good friends and because of that, because of them, I just sucked it up and carried on with my job. It was easy, I'd been doing it my entire life." Ay'nin shook her head and took her eyes off JP, continuing her slow meandering through the cabin. "I always knew, if not consciously, that one day all that hatred would boil over into something more than snide remarks and dirty looks but I always hoped that I could be done and gone from Lorraine before it came to that.

"I had these really bizarre dreams while on planet," Ay'nin continued, causing mental whiplash for her two avid listeners in the abrupt change of topic, "at first I thought they might just be remnants of long ago memories and feelings but, with each night, they got more specific and it soon became obvious that I was dreaming of places on Lorraine." Ay'nin looked up and caught the baffled look on JP's face. "Rotorri have genetic memory; the life of my father and his parents and so one are all here," Ay'nin tapped her head, "mostly in impressions that I can only clearly catch and make sense of in my dreams until I wake up again and it's just gone," Ay'nin snapped her fingers to emphasize her point.

"Anyway, at first the dreams were just of places we hadn't yet surveyed, events that hadn't yet happened. I got used to it and was surprised when I heard of others complaining of nightmares and whatnot. Some people flat out left, unable to handle it all. I kept it mostly to myself and did what I do so well. Carried on.

"One night, though, a few months before I had to leave, they changed. It was..." Ay'nin paused, her face contorted into a grimace of remembered horror, "it was a dream of death and violence and absolute sorrow. I couldn't really make sense of it but each night I saw a little more, learned a little more of what I was witnessing."

"You... You were dreaming of the Chochasi massacre?" JP's quiet voice attracted Ay'nin's eyes. They just looked at one another in silence until Ay'nin gave a sharp nod. "How?"

Ay'nin's eyes once again went to a corner of the cabin and the two students had their answer. Robert spoke quietly when it seemed no one else was going to. "They can make people dream?"

Ay'nin sighed and sat back down, tracing designs on the tabletop. "They can plant ideas, suggestions, but what the actual dream turns out to be is ultimately up to the subconscious."

JP felt her eyes widening, a dream of her own suddenly cast in a far different light. Cerina and Balwin, well, maybe just Cerina, had given her the dream which had led her back out here when Ay'nin was sick. The ghosts had been looking out for their... Their what? Friend was far too generous a word. Their liaison with the mortal world?

Robert shook his head, his brow furrowed, "So what were they hoping to accomplish?"

JP sat up straighter, shaken from her thoughts, and leaned forward a little, "They were testing, weren't they? Looking for someone who'd be receptive to their plight and willing to help them."

Ay'nin smiled a little and nodded, "Yes. They had to find someone who could understand and wouldn't run screaming into the night. Others who weren't... Agreeable ended up with formless nightmares and were unable to cope.

"Regardless, their plans were thrown off track a little when the eruption I was expecting happened. One night I was on my way home and a group of the scientists attacked me."

"Attacked?!" Robert ground the word out, fury building in his eyes.

Ay'nin's smile was sad and pained, "Attacked. I wasn't hurt too badly, but they made it clear they wanted me gone or dead."

"You could have gone to my parents or someone, Ay'nin! You didn't have to leave!"

She shook her head, "They made it quite clear that if I was still around in the morning that they'd go after you and your parents. I couldn't accept that. I couldn't let anyone be hurt by my presence; it happens too often and I promised I'd never be the cause of it.

"So I just wandered. Looking back, I'm certain I had a concussion and wasn't very aware of what I was doing or where I was going. I ended up in the woods... How I survived the netis is beyond me. The first memory I have after that is opening my eyes and seeing Cerina just floating there above me. She seemed quite surprised that I saw her and I was convinced she was just a hallucination. I accepted them, though, for the most part. They were someone to talk to, even if I thought I was nuts. Eventually, they explained what they wanted from me and their part in my dreams. I didn't believe at first but when they showed me the cave," Ay'nin shook her head, "how could I deny that? And it was something to do out here."

She stopped speaking then and took a large gulp of water. The three of them sat there in silence, listening to the trilling of a bird outside and the far off swishing of leaves in trees. Robert finally moved to speak but Ay'nin held up her hand, "You two need to get going back to town. There'll be time more for this later. Understand that you can't breathe a word of this to anyone. Not about me or what I've told you. I will not see you two hurt because of this."

JP and Robert gave their agreement as they stood and gathered their things. They paused at the door as Ay'nin called out and then approached with a large, rolled up piece of paper. "Here."

Robert accepted at peeked through the end, "What is it?"

"You all said you were working to map the basin. I finished that a few weeks ago, it's yours."

JP looked up, eyes wide, "Ay'nin, that must have taken you forever!"

She shrugged, "It's a hobby, nothing more. What do I need it for, anyway?" She herded them to the door, "Get going now. I'll see you tomorrow."

Robert grinned his thanks, "All right. And Ay'nin, you never did tell us what happened to your nose."

"Tomorrow. Now go." She closed the door, leaned against it and blew out a large sigh.

***

Sonya stopped in her tracks as she spotted Robert and JP across the town square. They were standing, heads bent together, obviously deep in conversation. They had both been acting quite strange lately and she couldn't figure out why.

Winter break had progressed as usual, and Sonya would be hard pressed to accuse them of not being good friends. They had hung out, done their usual thing during the evenings. But she had seen them slip off into the woods early every morning and come back an hour or two before sundown.

JP and Robert had been friends before Sonya had known either of them and she respected the fact that they wanted time for just themselves. They hardly saw each other during school and it was totally understandable. But there was something else going on that she just couldn't put her finger on.

Not only were they both being secretive about what they went into the woods for, Sonya had noticed that lately they'd become downright paranoid. She could see it in their eyes, she knew them that well. She could see it in the nervous wringing of their hands and the fact that all conversation between them stopped cold when anyone got too close.

Sonya had a few ideas, although she acknowledged that most of them were simply the product of an extremely overactive imagination. She couldn't decide, though, if she should confront either one of them about her suspicions. She'd admit to herself that it hurt, knowing they were keeping something from her.

What didn't they trust her with?

Sonya was pulled from her thoughts when she heard footsteps approach. She smiled at JP and Robert, resolved to wait a little longer. "Hey guys."

"Hey Sonya. We were thinking about doing a movie tonight. You interested?"

Sonya cocked her head at JP's question and smiled, "I'm in."

Robert grinned, "Great. My place. Seven o'clock."

Sonya stood as they continued on behind her and threw one look over her shoulder before she resumed her trek to the library.

Robert scanned the square and nodded off to one side. When they were both off of the main road they threw one more look around them before clustering together. "Okay, we need a plan."

JP nodded, "I don't really think Ay'nin has any idea of how she wants to proceed. I mean, she said herself that she wouldn't come back here to prove all this."

Robert shook his head, "Regardless of how she feels, she's going to have to come back. No one's going to believe us. We'll have to work on that."

JP's eyes continuously scanned the area behind Robert's back and she knew he was doing the same. There was a building to her right and the woods were on the left. They had all possible approaches covered. "What we need, is allies." JP looked up and met Robert's eyes.

He nodded. "My parents."

"Ay'nin isn't going to like that."

Robert sighed, "I know. But she trusts them. I think they're probably the only people she does trust."

"Except for us."

Robert nodded and glanced at his watch, "We have plenty of time to get the rest of the story from Ay'nin today and introduce the idea of telling my folks."

"And then what?" JP hissed the question and threw her arms out in frustration.

His head tilted to one side, "It'll depend on them, I guess."

"Right." JP straightened and scanned the area, "Let's go."

***

When the door to the cabin opened the two friends stepped through and sat at the table. They knew what they wanted to ask; they had a plan. Of sorts. Robert took the lead, "What exactly do we have to accomplish to free the Chochasi?"

"Bring their murderers to justice."

Robert nodded, "Sounds simple enough."

"Not really. With the cave and bones we have proof that the Chochasi existed and that somebody killed them all but-"

JP broke in, "But we can't yet prove who or how they did it. Which is sort of important."

Ay'nin nodded.

Robert leaned forward and stared at Ay'nin, "So you'll agree that we need some help."

"What are you suggesting?"

JP and Robert exchanged a glance. They had talked some more on the walk out to the cabin. Robert rubbed his nose and then laid out their very sketchy plan, "We figure the first thing we ought to do is test the bones to prove how old they are. Once we get them into the hands of an expert they might also be able to tell us how the Chochasi died."

Ay'nin backed up and started pacing around the room, shaking her head. "How do you suggest we do that?"

"Tell my parents."

"No."

Robert stood and tried to approach his friend, "Ay'nin."

"No! I will not drag more people into this! I left to keep you all safe."

"Ay'nin!" Robert turned to JP and raised pleading eyebrows.

"Ay'nin," JP started softly which captured the hybrid's attention, "just listen and think this through with us. We can't, the three of us, prove this on our own with the resources we have access to. Robert's parents are your friends, they will help. They're your best chance to finish this, to put Cerina and Balwin to rest."

Ay'nin shook her head and leaned back against the counter, "It's too dangerous."

"It's necessary," that was Robert, reclaiming the conversation.

Ay'nin bit her lip and stared above their heads for a long time before finally refocusing on them. "Fine. But do it carefully, and slowly. I don't want you to shock them to death. And make sure they know how important it is that they don't tell anyone."

JP cocked her head and came closer, "You think that some of the people responsible are still in Lorraine, don't you?"

Ay'nin closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She nodded. "Or, at the very least, some people who know about it live there. Probably important people. What good is it to leave behind someone to guard your secret if they can't do anything about keeping it?"

"They'll probably want to see you."

Ay'nin's head jerked up to meet Robert's eyes. "Don't bring them out here. Don't ever bring anyone out here."

Robert felt his eyes widen just a bit at Ay'nin's intensity. "All right, we won't. But-"

"If they want to see me we'll work something out, Robert. How much bone do you need?"

"Um..."

"Just a bit. Like a..." JP swallowed against the sudden rise of bile in her throat, "like a... Leg, or something."

Ay'nin nodded. "I'll get it." As she moved toward the door JP raised a hand in alarm.

"What? Now?"

"Yes. We want to get started on this, don't we?" When Ay'nin didn't receive a response she nodded and continued out of the cabin.

***

Andrew Burke stared out his kitchen window at the depressingly grey day outside. At least it matched his thoughts. He was concerned about Robert; they both were. Their son had been acting strange lately and it bothered Andrew that Robert hadn't yet come to them with whatever problem he was having.

Yes, their son was a twenty year old grown man but he knew his own limitations and capabilities better than most forty year olds. If it was a serious problem, and Andrew believed it was considering it had been bothering Robert for so long, Robert would be smart enough to come to him and Naomi for help.

Andrew turned from the window as his wife entered the kitchen. Robert definitely favored Naomi. They had the same lanky frame and dimples, the same sharp features. Robert had inherited his shaggy black hair and thick eyebrows, though. "Do you think we made the right choice?" Andrew blurted the question out to his wife.

Naomi paused before she turned, coffee mug in hand, and leaned back against the counter. "Yes."

"But-"

Naomi smiled, "Andrew, why are you worrying about this now? We talked this thing to death before we decided to hold Robert back two years by taking him with us." She approached her husband, put the mug down, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

Andrew nodded, "I know. I just can't help thinking that it's affecting him now."

"We did some of our best work in those two years. That wouldn't have happened if one of us had stayed behind so Robert could stay in school. And we couldn't stand the thought of leaving him with some stranger."

"I know, I know."

Naomi planted a kiss on his cheek before she reclaimed her mug. "Regardless of it being the right choice I think we can take comfort in the fact that we raised a well adjusted, smart kid. He's happy, he has friends. I don't things could have turned out better."

"Hmph." He was back to staring out the window. "Do you think we should ask him what's been bothering him?"

Naomi turned toward the front hall and smiled, "I don't think we'll have to."

"Why?"

"He just walked through the front door."

Andrew stood and joined his wife. Robert and his friend JP were standing at the other end of the hall, a bag in hand, with very determined looks on their faces.

Robert shifted his feet and inclined his head toward the sitting room, "Mom, Dad, we need to talk."

It wasn't long before Robert and JP were seated on the chesterfield and Andrew and Naomi were across from them on the big couch. The quartet stared in silence for an eternal second. Robert finally blew out a breath and slapped his hands onto his knees. "All right," he started slowly, "I need you guys to just listen and keep an open mind. Please don't interrupt me - us - before we're finished. Okay?"

They nodded.

JP started, "It really all goes back to the last camping trip we had about three weeks ago..."

***

*"Ay'nin!"*

Ay'nin jumped and threw her glass of water across the cabin. "God, Balwin, don't do that!"

*"We found something. Come on."*

Ay'nin sighed, sent one forlorn look towards her untouched dinner, and followed the spirit out the door. He led her through the forest and half way up the basin wall before she spotted Cerina floating above a small plateau waiting for them.

She pulled herself up over the last ridge and just laid there for a minute to catch her breath. "So what's the big deal that you drag me away from my dinner?"

*"We may have found what you need," Cerina said as she floated closer to the ground, "look."* She pointed into a small crevice and as Ay'nin crawled closer she saw the tiniest glint of sunlight on metal.

Ay'nin studied the opening with a critical eye before she gritted her teeth and carefully worked her hand inside. "Oh, this is going to hurt," she muttered as she wrapped her fingers around the device. It took at least fifteen minutes for her to turn the metal object around so it would fit through the opening without being damaged. "I got it." Ay'nin pulled and ground her teeth together as a sharp edge of rock bit into her skin. She grabbed the object with her other hand as soon as she was able and turned it over in her hands.

*"What it is?"*

Ay'nin looked up at the spirits, "It's a video recorder."

*"Does it still work?"* Cerina floated closer to look at the device as she asked the question.

Ay'nin turned it over looking at the switches and finally located the on/off button. She flipped it. Nothing happened. "No. It could just need a new battery, though. It doesn't look like its been damaged." She turned her attention to the sky then and sighed as she noted the position of the suns. "I have to get back. Good work."

Balwin watched the woman leave before he turned a speculative eye toward Cerina, *"You think there might actually be something on that thing?"*

Cerina tilted her head and threw her arms up into the air, *"I hope so."*

***

"Ay'nin's alive?" Andrew Burke's voice filled the charged silence after JP's account of their camping trip ended.

The two students nodded.

"Is she all right?" That was Naomi, her eyes wide as she posed the question.

Robert grinned, "She's fine. Well, except for a recent broken nose."

"How...why... You're sure?"

"Yes Dad, I'm sure. She's got a cabin in a clearing near the creek. It's a great little setup."

Andrew leaned closer to the youngsters as his eyes seemed to bore into their very souls. "So why are you telling us this now?"

"Andrew..."

He turned back to his wife, "No, Naomi, they've known this for three weeks! Three! And now they're sitting here telling us this and I want to know why. What's changed? What happened that now you need to tell us?"

"Andrew, calm down." Naomi placed a placating hand on his shoulder. After a moment he closed his eyes and took a calming breath.

Robert chewed his lip and traded sidelong glances with JP, "No, Mom, Dad's right. There's something else going on and we, all of us - including Ay'nin - need your help."

And then, very gently and very slowly, JP and Robert gave the Burkes the bare bones outline of Ay'nin's mission. Robert finished by handing over the bone to Andrew and asking that it be dated by someone they trusted.

Finally, Andrew and Naomi turned to each other and shared some weird silent communication that only came after many years of living and working closely with someone. Then, Andrew stood and left the room, the bag containing the bone tucked under his arm, while Naomi turned back to her son and his friend. "We want to see her."

JP nodded, "We'll see what we can set up. Ay'nin said she didn't want us just bringing people out to the cabin."

"Good."

***

Ay'nin rubbed her eyes and then shaded in a diagonal line in her drawing. She paused, raised her eyes to study the recorder, and then bent back to her work. It was full night and the netis were active. She could hear them howling and whining in the distance but ignored it.

When she had returned to the cabin and really looked at the recorder she had seen, half hidden by dust and worn away by ten years of exposure, an emblem of some sort. She was copying it down now, slowly and carefully so she wouldn't miss anything.

It was a piece of the puzzle, it had to be.

Ay'nin just didn't know where or how exactly it fit with everything else.

***

Councilman John Meelak cursed as his foot landed in a small mud puddle that insisted on existing right outside his front door. He shook off his shoe and scowled as he stepped up onto the porch.

It hadn't been a good day and he was more than happy to see that it was over. There were so many trivial things brought to the council by people who didn't see them as trivial. They were insistent and tenacious and extremely annoying.

It gave Meelak a headache just thinking about it.

What this town needed was something to focus on. Everyone was getting sloppy. He could see it in the latest reports from the scientists and surveyors. No one was getting any results. People were... Complacent. No one knew just how cushy their lives here were, they were far too busy submerged in their own little lives that they forgot what was important.

Progress. A sense of community. Not individual grievances or petty problems.

Where was their pride?

If everyone pulled together Lorraine could truly become something more than "the last colony".

Pah!

What a load of crock. They had the means but not the motivation.

If only...

John Meelak paused as he went to unlock his door. It was ajar just a tiny bit. His brow furrowed as he changed his grip on his briefcase and carefully eased through the doorway. He stopped in the foyer and looked right into the kitchen.

Empty.

He turned his head to the left and glanced into the den. His heart skipped a beat and sweat started to break out on his brow. Meelak lowered his briefcase slowly and slipped off his shoes. He didn't need to see the face of the person sitting on his furniture. The silhouette was enough.

He gulped and took a step into his den. And another. There were only two reasons for the visit. Either he was out or...

"We have a breach," the voice was low, cold, and it sent a shiver down his spine.

Meelak paused as that statement took a moment to penetrate his brain. Not the most fortuitous of circumstances but...

Councilman John Meelak grinned.

...it was exactly what he needed.

***

"I've got it!" Robert yelled as he jogged to the door. He pulled it open and grinned at Sonya. "Hey."

"Hi." She stepped in and hung up her coat. "So, what are we watching tonight?"

Robert shrugged, "I dunno. JP wouldn't tell."

They settled into Robert's room while JP waited in front of the TV. When her friends were situated JP grinned and held up her hands. It was their little ritual to introduce the movie they chose. "Ahem. I'll have you know that I scoured the archives for this one. It's-"

"It better not be another of those pirate movies," Sonya said as she scooped up a handful of popcorn.

"No, not a pirate movie. As I was saying, it's a classic struggle between good and evil-"

"Ugh! Not another one from the tomb, JP!"

JP glared, "Robert, you liked the last one I pulled out of the "tomb". Now be quiet! Where was I?"

"Good and evil," Sonya muttered around her popcorn.

"Right. Good and evil." JP paused as she took a breath to speak again and noted the looks on Robert and Sonya's faces. "Oh, screw it. Let's just watch the movie." She hit play and bounced onto the bed beside Sonya.

"What the hell?" Robert leaned forward and started to read the screen, "...in a galaxy far, far away..."

***

Ay'nin knew the sounds of the forest better than she knew her own cabin. So when a loud, obtrusive noise shattered the peacefulness of the wilderness and sent all wildlife scurrying for cover Ay'nin was out of bed and on her feet before she was even fully awake.

She looked around in dazed confusion before she quickly grabbed her clothes and threw them on. She hopped to her door as she pulled on her boots and exited onto her porch in time to see a gigantic floating spotlight land not too far away from the front of her cabin.

Ay'nin stared for one single moment of clarity before she raced back into her cabin and pulled out her bag. She jammed her precious notebook into her bag, threw some clothes on top, and then placed the recorder inside.

When she turned and saw Cerina come racing through the wall Ay'nin almost dropped her bag. "God! Don't do that!"

*"Ay'nin..."* Cerina's consternation over the swift and ugly turn of events was clear in that one word which served as many things. A plea, a promise, and a vow.

Balwin appeared next, his transparent chest heaving, *"Go out your back window. They have the entire area in front of the cabin blocked off. Don't ever come back here, it isn't safe now."*

Ay'nin looked at them, rooted to the spot, until the unmistakable sound of machinery and dozens of people filtered in through the walls. She nodded to them both and was outside before they could respond.

She crouched low, her back pressed flush against the cabin wall. Almost the entire clearing was lit up with very few places providing cover. She chanced a glance around the wall and saw, advancing from the same direction JP and Robert always came from, men decked out entirely in black with weapons tucked into their arms.

You'd think they were surrounding a mass murderer or something. Ay'nin snorted at the thought.

A loud cracking beyond the men attracted Ay'nin's attention next and her eyes grew wide as she saw treetops disappear as they were knocked over.

She pulled her head back and leaned against the wall. Christ, how do I get myself into these messes? She clenched her hands and stared determinedly at the forest, at safety, that sat only ten or eleven feet in front of her. Gathering her nerve, Ay'nin leaned forward and then burst forth from the shadows, sprinting blindly into the woods.

Shouts and a few stray shots followed her desperate dash to freedom but Ay'nin ignored it all and just kept running. Soon, she was surrounded by foliage and bathed in darkness.

She kept running.

If she had one advantage it was that she knew these woods better than any of those people back there. She could navigate them at night and she could survive the netis without a weapon. They didn't know that, though, and hopefully they wouldn't give chase thinking she had no chance of surviving the evening.

Ay'nin didn't stop until she reached a large, familiar tree with a think trunk and a wealth of branches. She leaned against it to catch her breath for a moment and then started to climb. All she knew was that she was far from the cabin but it didn't feel like far enough. She climbed halfway up the forty foot tree and situated herself just in time to see a sudden explosion of light back the way she had come.

Ay'nin stared in numb shock at the flames that greedily licked the sky and burned the trees around her home. That's why they had been knocking trees over. They could burn her cabin and the immediate area without endangering the entire basin.

Tears pricked her eyes and she swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat. She watched for awhile and finally leaned back against the trunk when she saw the air-vehicle with its large spotlight rise once again into the sky.

It was looking for her.

Ay'nin's lip curled as she glared at the machine.

They were looking for her.

They wouldn't have to wait long.

To be continued...

Return to the Academy

Ah, another end to another part. Sorry about being late, things just haven't been going my way lately. Comments, questions etc always welcomed and encouraged at zarben314@hotmail.com