The two women returned to the Embassy located on Mother Earth, coughing from the smoke they inhaled while on the Old World.
Several people rushed to them, asking what was wrong. Mary heard someone say they would fetch the doctor on staff while other people got them chairs.
Mary shook her head. “I don’t know what happened. We jumped there and the place was full of smoke. We couldn’t see a thing.”
Michael King, the ambassador assigned to Mother Earth, rushed into the room. He listened to what the people around him said then made a decision.
“Cierra, would you be willing to return briefly? I want to send a few men back there to find out what is going on but I want to wait at least a day. We have no idea if the building is on fire and I’d rather you all didn’t burn to death.”
A medic arrived with an oxygen tank and softly told her to breathe normally before holding it to her mouth. Cierra nodded. She wanted to know what was going on as well. JP rushed into the room, her face pale.
Once she saw that her spouse was fine she relaxed. It seemed everything happened to Cierra ever since she was given that damned stone. JP was often worried sick over the events but couldn’t wish that she had never inherited it. After all, they would have never met if she hadn’t.
Once the Embassy’s doctor cleared Cierra, JP took her home with the promise to return after lunchtime the next day.
The trip back to the village was slower since it was mainly uphill. Both women were silent for most of the walk back but Cierra couldn’t contain her worry any longer, speaking aloud the fears they hadn’t voiced.
“I hope everyone is okay. I didn’t say this at the Embassy but I don’t think it was just a fire. I think it was deliberate.
JP stopped and looked behind her. “Like a bomb?”
The shaman nodded shakily, not wanting to think about how many might have died.
JP took a deep breath then turned around to continue to pull her lover back up the hill. She didn’t want to think about it either.
The council decided to accompany Cierra back to the Embassy the next day. They didn’t want to wait for some report. Robbie informed Cierra that she would go with them and remain behind until she found out what the situation was. Cierra could return to the jump site that was located approximately thirty feet from the Embassy gates. If it was considered safe, Cierra could return 30 minutes later, giving Robbie more than enough time to get some answers.
Two soldiers in battle gear stood ready, joining the women outside the Embassy grounds. Cierra waited for the nod from the others then leaped.
The four people looked to the building in front of them in shock. The front of Embassy was destroyed and blackened. Debris was scattered everywhere as masses of uniformed troops and men in expensive suits inspected the area. One of the soldiers spotted their arrival and used his headset to inform his superiors.
Robbie turned to Cierra. “Go back for now then return in a half-hour.”
“No, I’m staying.”
The security expert sighed, already expecting Cierra to ignore her own safety. She only hoped JP wouldn’t blow a fuse when Cierra didn’t return right away.
The four new arrivals were rushed into the Embassy’s grounds where it was less dangerous but not by much. Cierra placed her hands over her belly protectively as she looked around. The road in front of them had been blocked off but she could see at least forty vehicles at one end, a third of them sporting various News Channel logos.
“What happened?” Robbie asked the ranking officer that approached them.
The man pointed at the building. “A large SUV rammed past the security gate and into the building. The vehicle was full of homemade explosives. Luckily for us the group that made it all did such a piss- poor job of it that it only caused a small explosion. I’m sure the suicide driver wanted to take out the entire building.”
“Doesn’t look like a small explosion to me,” Robbie mumbled.
“It did a lot of damage but not like it could have.”
Cierra folded her arms around herself. “Was anyone hurt?”
The Lt. Major nodded. “Three people were killed and several others wounded.”
The officer took out a leaf of paper from his pocket. “Carrie Winston, Jeffrey Graham, and Staff Sergeant Franklin. Carrie was a secretary and Jeffrey was a deliveryman for the linen company. The sergeant was on guard duty. The wounded were taken to Mercy General and none of them are in critical condition.”
“What about our people?” Robbie asked bluntly. “Where is Kelly and Laura?”
“The ambassadors are at the Regency. They’re fine. They left a message for you, Cierra, to tell you that they refuse to be chased out and will return to the Embassy as soon as repairs are made.”
Robbie snorted. “Sounds like them.”
“And do you know who did this?”
The officer grimaced then answered. “One of the radical survival groups from up north. Our own people did this. They took credit for it an hour after it happened. It seems they resented that you aren’t opening the floodgates and taking in everyone who wants to go to Mother Earth. We’re hunting for them now. Don’t worry, we plan on finding those bastards, um, criminals as soon as we can.”
Cierra forced the tears not to fall. “Will you pass on to everyone who was wounded my heartfelt regret that they harmed? That our prayers are with them and we hope for their speedy recovery?” He nodded. “I’ll write out a message to the families of those killed. And have someone from here deliver them.”
“Ma’am.” The officer actually stood at attention and saluted her.
Cierra felt awkward and smiled weakly. Robbie took her by the elbow and led her away, suggesting that they go back. The shaman nodded and grasped Robbie’s hand before jumping home.
Everyone could feel the pall that fell over the colony that night. Living away from the Old World had allowed them to forget the insanity that existed in it. The community was happy their friends were alive but couldn’t understand how killing innocent people would convince the Shaman to allow just anyone onto their world.
If anything, it made Cierra more determined to limit how many came there. It already seemed to be growing faster than they could build. She knew after her death that the ones living here had to have an established culture that focused on the benefit of everyone. Anything less could result in the world becoming just the same as the old one.
People returned to their homes or barracks after the evening meal. It was still mid-winter and the sun set before six PM. Many sought the comfort of others than night, not wishing to be alone with their thoughts.
Sara was staring up into the darkness of the ceiling but she couldn’t sleep. She had returned to living in the barracks when Ann met Joseph and realized her dream of them being together was impossible. No one slept in the bunk below her and she could feel the emptiness of it. She tossed back her bedding and crawled down to the floor after putting on her shoes. Those who slept on top bunks had long learned to keep their shoes at the foot of the bed. The floor got cold at night.
Once down to the floor she took her heavy sweater from its hook and pulled it over her head. Maybe a stroll would make her feel better. Sara walked quietly up the center of the barracks to the door at the end of the building, the light from the fireplaces her only illumination.
She shut the door softly behind her and looked around. The moon gave off little light but she could see the silhouettes of the buildings around her. She walked towards the community building. Perhaps someone else was awake or maybe she could read for a while. As she neared the building she saw lights shining from the windows, letting her know someone was still there.
The young woman peeked into the room as she opened the door but she couldn’t see much. The only light was near the reading area. Sara was saddened to see no one around. She walked over the lit lamp to shut it off when someone spoke from behind her.
“Sorry, I was fixing myself a snack.”
Sara spun around and spotted Colonel Webb. “What are you--”
“Doing here after dark?” Mary strolled over to the reading area and sat down. “I felt the need for quiet. Everything is crazy over at the Embassy and I was ready to scream. Since I’m not involved with any projects I thought I’d come over here. I like how quiet it is at night.”
Sara had gotten accustomed to the quiet. She listened to her surroundings and heard the silence too. The only sound was the soft hiss of the oil lamp.
“Yeah, I guess it does.” She sat down on the bus bench near her.
“And why are you up so late?” Mary asked quietly.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was feeling kind of lonely tonight. I’m used to curling up next to…I’m sorry. You didn’t need to hear that.” Sarah was glad of the darkness of the room. Mary had been kind and understanding and didn’t need to listen to stories of how she found comfort with someone else.
“To hear that you’re human too? We all need comfort and companionship sometimes,” Mary said sadly.
Sara heard the longing in the older woman’s voice. She tried to imagine how hard it must be to be in the military and find someone, especially as an officer. She couldn’t imagine Mary being alone as a civilian, her powerful confidence a lure that few could resist.
The older woman was sitting with perfect posture, regal and even the air around her seemed orderly and obedient. The often-flighty Sara knew she couldn’t be what the woman wanted. She hadn’t considered that she was what Mary needed.
But the gentleness of her heart couldn’t deny that she wanted to bask in the warm tenderness of the officer’s quiet and comforting presence.
Before she could consider stopping her words, she spoke. “Would you care for company tonight?”
Mary didn’t answer right away. She gazed into Sara’s green eyes and face, then nodded.
Johnny, one of the leaders of the Sky Dancer Clan and his friend Shaun were wrapped in dark hides and clutching rifles. The night was cold and the men were thinking about giving up and going inside. Johnny hated the idea of quitting because he knew those boys were out there somewhere.
The boys had rode into their winter camp about two weeks ago. They had been sympathetic at first but when it became apparent the boys just wanted fed without helping out they were asked to leave. The camp’s supplies were getting too low as it was.
Then the supplies began running low faster than normal. At first it wasn’t taken seriously but then larger quantities disappeared. The leaders of the clan knew it had to be the boys taking food from the supply tent at night and Johnny wanted to catch them. Catch them or stop them, he didn’t care which.
Shaun poked him with a booted toe and was about to say he was done for the night when they heard something. Both men searched the darkness, trying to see where the noise came from. Then he saw a dark shadow along one hill. The shadow moved, allowing the men to see the moonlit outline. It was definitely human. Johnny raised his rifle and carefully took aim.
The crack of the rifle in the night woke everyone but it had done its job. The boy had felt the whiz of the bullet as it passed him and embedded into the frozen ground near his feet. He spun and ran back the way he came, hoping the villagers didn’t come after them.
Johnny saw the boy run up the hill, his silhouette clearly seen as the moon rose behind him. “Good. I think they’ll stay away for a while.”
Shaun wasn’t so sure. Either the boys would leave or decide their empty bellies were worth shooting back.
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