Tag Archives: Sector 127

Chapter 42: Report from Point 24

The balloon had more patches on it than his grandmother’s quilt. The pilot climbed into the basket with his bag, checked the air-burner frames, and told the guard to cut him loose.

The balloon started to rise tentatively into the air, while the pilot looked for a breeze blowing in the direction of Dead River. He shivered at the thought and put on his fuzzcoat. The pilot radioed his position to the assistant. He glanced at the map and checked his direction.

The balloon floated on, mostly silent except for the times he had to turn on the airburners to maintain height. The sun was high. He leaned over the basket and saw his shadow running along the ridges and valleys underneath him. The pilot saw the thick grey clouds in the distance.

When he could make out the river, the pilot glanced at his map and saw that he was approaching Point 23. He released air from the balloon to drop altitude until he was floating downstream parallel to the river on his left, keeping a respectful distance from the river, the roiling clouds, and those damned lightning bolts.

The ridges and valleys moved slowly underneath him. He passed over a clearing in the woods and saw something that made his blood run cold: two naked corpses hung upside down from the limb of a skag tree. One of them was a woman. Well, it was a common enough sight. “They must have been Rat-lovers,” the pilot told himself. He trained his monocular on the dead woman a little longer than was proper or necessary. The pilot thumbed on his STU and reported the hanging bodies and their position to the assistant.

“That’s none of our business,” said the assistant. “You’d better be looking for those commandos, if you know what’s good for you.”

The pilot flicked off the STU. He adjusted the altitude to take the balloon in a little closer to the river.

He saw the three deflated balloons on the beach. As he approached the gutted balloons, he saw the commandos lying every which way on the beach. Not a one of them was moving.

The pilot reported what he saw to the assistant and asked him what he wanted him to do. The assistant told the pilot to return home. “Put as much distance as you can between you and that river,” the assistant ordered. “I wouldn’t want your balloon to be hit by some stray lightning bolt.”

The assistant laid his STU on his desk, walked over to the governor’s office, and stuck his head inside. “Sir, the scout balloon found the commandos at Point 24,” he told his boss. “49 of them, all dead, and 9 dracs. 6 of the commandos looked badly burned. The rest looked blue in the face. Oh, and the pilot said he saw two corpses, a man and a woman, hung upside down an hour northwest of Point 24… probably Rat-lovers.”

The governor nodded at his assistant and called the Sector 84 Commander.

The Sector 84 Commander ordered a unit of 10 men to go to Sector 127 to recover the equipment and bring back the remains of his commandos for identification and determination of what the hell happened. He ordered the unit to bring back the two Rat-lovers for identification in case they could be linked to others.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 37: Sangor Comes Marching Home

Sangor and his fellow captives crossed Sector 127 diagonally in just under four days. A few of the men, the silent man among them, left the main group along the way to make their separate ways home in the northern part of the sector. Sangor and the rest of the men kept moving northwest towards the Sector 87. Once they crossed the border, the men cut due west over the vast flats, tasting dust and grit, but also tasting home on the horizon.

They lost several men to the hearth fires of Village 437 and 435. The remaining men made the border of Sector 84 in another three days.

Sangor reached his home base and reported to the governor. After Sangor told the governor who he was and where he had been the last few weeks, the governor told him to wait in the outer office while he closed the door and called the army sector commander on his STU.

The commander arrived at the governor’s office within two hours, passing Sangor sitting on an ornate chair in the outer office. The governor told the commander about Sangor. The commander called Sangor into the governor’s inner office and began the debriefing under the governor’s watchful eyes.

Sangor reported everything he could remember since falling captive to the Rats. He told the commander and the governor about the march to the river, looking for a place to ford the river, wading across, setting up camp on the far side, and being captured. Sangor told them about being forced to run blindly, chained to the others, about being released, and being allowed to wash himself and eat. He told them about staying with the leader of the Rats, but did not mention that he had known the Rat when they were children. He told them about asking to be with the other prisoners and about the aborted escape attempt. He told them about the Rat’s surprising decision to release them all, but he did not mention that he swore he’d never betray the Rats to his human commanders. Finally he told them how the Rat child had led the freed captives to the river where there was a boat to take them all across. Sangor told the commander and the governor how the child had disappeared just when the men planned to capture the child and bring him back to headquarters.

Sangor was awarded a medal of honor for his cunning and bravery. After the modest ceremony, he went home to his proud wife.

The sector commander called for a staff meeting and came up with a plan of attack that was certain to succeed this time.

Once home, Sangor told his wife, Sirka, what had really happened with the Rats. He told her everything he had left out of the debriefing.

“I want you to go back with me,” Sangor told Sirka as he held her in his arms, “to start a new life there.”

Sirka tensed her body in his arms. “You traitor!” she hissed. “You’ve betrayed your people and me! I don’t know what I should …” She looked away from Sangor, away from his beseeching eyes.

Sirka resisted but finally agreed to go with him wherever he went. Sangor was the only people Sirka had, the only country to which she owed her allegiance.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 36: Down by the River

Sangor returned alone to the compound. His friends were surprised to see him alive, standing on his own legs. One of the men jeered, “What’s the matter, Sangor, didn’t they have room for you in Paradise?” The men around him smirked or chortled.

Sangor stared at the man and the men around him until the sounds died. Some of the men wondered what had happened to Sangor.

When he finally spoke, Sangor spoke so softly that the men had to strain their ears to hear him. “They’ve decided to let us return home,” he said. Nobody else said anything for a long moment. “Those of us who want to leave are free to do so.”

Still nobody spoke. A voice from the back of the cave asked, “What’s the catch?” Another said, “They’ll shoot us in the back as soon as we leave this compound!” A third man who had been part of the aborted escape attempt said, “So what, we’ll never find our way out of this god-damned hell hole to the river. We tried before and see where it got us!”

Sangor waited until the other men had run out of words and silence once again began to fill the cave. “A Rat will come in one hour to lead those of you who wish to leave to the river,” he said. “Anyone who wants to stay here can stay.”

“What are you going to do?” the silent man who had led the aborted escape asked.

“What do you think?” Sangor answered coldly.

 

An hour later, nobody noticed that a Rat child had appeared in the captive compound. “Hey look!” a voice said and all heads turned in the child’s direction.

“Follow me,” the child said. “I will take you to the river, to the point where it may be forded.”

The men stood up, testing and stretching their legs, after sitting or lying so long on the hard stone floor. They began to file after the child across the threshold where the glass wall had been and into the sunlight.

Many of the men, including Sangor, looked around themselves at the caves and fields, but mainly at the cloudless cobalt sky that stretched from one horizon to another.

The child led the men up the winding narrow path to the plateau from which they could view the green valley. The men kept their eyes on the child’s back, especially those who had attempted to escape on their own and kept returning to the same point.

The child went through a gap between the trees and disappeared from the view of some of the stragglers. They hurried their pace and latched their fingers into the collars or the pants of the men in front of them to make sure they weren’t left behind. The men up front disappeared through the gap between the trees, followed by a millipede of men holding onto each other for dear life, until the last straggler had made it through.

They walked along a forest path with a meandering creek running along between the trees off to the right of them. The water lapping the rocks gave them hope that they might actually make it to the river.

Three of the captives, one of whom was the silent man, plotted to overpower the Rat child as soon as they were in sight of the river. They’d take him captive or they’d kill him.

The men could hear the rushing torrent of the river. The child had fallen back, as some of the men hurried forward to see with their own eyes what their ears promised them. The man next to the silent man grinned to himself. This was going to be almost too easy.

When they reached the river bank, the three men turned on the Rat who had no place to run to, but he was nowhere to be found. They looked everywhere within a radius of 30 steps, careful not to lose a line of sight to the rest of the group. Frustrated, once again, they caught sight of a flat boat tethered to one of the trees overhanging the river. The men filed down the embankment to the boat and climbed onto it. One man untied the rope, letting it fall from the tree, and while the rope slid along the bank towards the water, the man jumped onto the boat grasped by the outstretched hands of his countrymen.

The men paddled the flat boat with great difficulty to the opposite shore and stepped gratefully onto the far shores of Sector 127.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 28: River Crossing

The next morning at dawn cavalry units accompanied two fresh pairs of scouts up and down the river. The scouts and units were to return before evening. Again radio silence was to be maintained at all costs. Night descended, not much different from the day, but neither the scouts nor the cavalry units returned.

The morning after, the field commander divided the infantry, cavalry, heavy artillery, observational balloons, and logistics units into two equal groups, each with its own group commander. Each would move in opposite directions up and down the river bank until they found a point where the river could be crossed. Both groups would use encrypted radio signals to communicate with each other. The two groups would meet up on the other side, possibly organizing a pincer movement around the Rat enemy although they had no idea where the Rats were. The upriver group slogged its way around the bend and soon was out of sight of the downriver group, which moved slowly downstream.

The upriver group marched three days before they found a point apparently shallow enough to ford the river. The scouts and cavalry units were never found. There were rumors that they had been beheaded or skinned alive and left hanging upside down from a tree. The rumors served to increase their hatred of the Rats and their resolve to massacre every last one of them. No mercy would be shown. Among many of the soldiers, however, the rumors served to make them afraid and to wonder whether this military campaign was really worth sacrificing their lives. The upriver group commander called the downriver commander over the STU. The downriver commander had not reached a point where the river could be safely crossed but was optimistic that it was only a matter of time until they found it. They had not found any sign of the scouts or cavalry units sent downstream. He feared the worst had happened. His men were itching to kill the Rats with their bare hands.

The upriver commander, being senior in command, decided to cross the river without waiting for the downriver commander’s group to cross. He ordered some men to wade across the treacherous rapids with heavy coils of rope slung over each shoulder and shot-blasters held high above their heads. The rope coils were tied around thick trees and boulders growing stubbornly from the river bank. The stones below the white water were sharp as axe blades and provided slippery footing at best. The lead man slipped and hit his head, opening a bloody gash across his cheekbone. The second man caught him by the collar but lost his shot-blaster downstream while scrambling to maintain his footing. He waited for the third soldier to reach him and together they dragged the unconscious soldier to the other side. They laid the soldier on the sandy beach of the far bank and looped the ropes around gnarled tree trunks. One of the soldiers carried the excess rope back across the river to the near side. The ends of the rope were tied so that a long low hanging loop of rope crossed over the river. A hundred or so men tied themselves to the ropes overhanging the river and waded across with their weapons aimed at the forested hill tops on the far side. They reached the other side and established a beach head facing their weapons inland, the direction from which they thought the Rat attackers would come. The remaining soldiers built several rough-hewn rafts and thick staves to pull the carts, animals, and heavy equipment across, while trying to brake the strong downstream currents. The sun seemed to break through the thick roiling clouds hiding the treetops on the cliffs surrounding the beach they had secured. Some of the men were heartened to see a keyhole of golden sunlight, the first rays in more than a week, what with all the dismal weather they had slogged through. Some men wondered how in God’s own hell were they going to scale those cliffs. Small but sturdy piers were built under the ropes on either side of the river. An empty raft was tethered to the rope and to the pier and pushed, sliding into the water. The first drac and cart were driven reluctantly onto the unstable raft. The drac snorted and brayed, swaying his head and neck left and right, and nearly charging off the edge of the raft. The cart held a heavy cannon battened down for the river crossing. The rope to the pier was released and one soldier pulled the raft via the loop rope while another soldier planted the stave into the riverbed to keep the raft from flowing downstream.

When the raft was halfway across the river, a lightning bolt ripped through the grey sky and blasted the thick tree to splinters, around which the crossing rope was looped. The looped rope catapulted uselessly into the air and the raft capsized, drac, cart, soldiers, and cannon. The rope held onto the raft as it swung along the radius downstream of the tree trunk on the far side of the river, that is, until a second lightning bolt blasted the tree trunk into splinters. The capsized raft, now released from any and all commitments, flowed downstream until it broke up on one of the sharp rocks jutting up from the riverbed.

The upriver group commander was undaunted by the singular bad luck he had witnessed with his own eyes. He would not be deterred and resolved to cross the river again but the grey light was waning and soon the night would render it virtually impossible to cross the river. He called his men across the river to make camp as best they could for the night and the logistics units would bring provisions to them in the morning. He watched with his monocular the camp fires sputtering across the river. His own men made camp and settled in for the night. He ordered two standing guards and two roving guards to patrol the perimeter. He gave the same orders to the unit commander on the far side of the river.

At the crack of dawn, the commander scanned the far side with his monocular but saw only the grey mists. He called the unit commander on the STU but only a dead silence issued from the earphone. He called the downriver group commander for position and status. The downriver commander reported they were about to break camp and continue downstream looking for a safe place to cross the river. The upriver commander told him about the two lightning bolts and the lost cannon, cart, and drac. He had an eerie feeling about those lightning bolts but he did not mention it to the other commander.

The upriver commander slipped the STU into his backpack. He ordered some soldiers to tie a new rope around one of the other thick trees on the near bank of the river and some other soldiers to tie the other end of the rope around their waists. The first group of soldiers fed the rope out slowly as the second group waded into the river with their weapons trained on the cliff tops. The men in the river moved slowly, trying to maintain their footing in the rapids. They disappeared into the mists. After twenty agonizing minutes, the commander heard his STU bleeping gratefully. “Sir, we reached the far bank of the river,” the voice reported, “but we don’t see any of our guys. There’s no tracks in the sand or mud either.” “Keep looking!” the commander ordered. “There’s gotta be something left behind, a cigarette stub, a food bar wrapper, a smoking pile of dung, something…” “We’re looking again sir,” the voice crackled with static, “but we’re not finding anything.” The commander ordered the men on the other side of the river to stop searching and to secure the perimeter immediately. He told them to call him every ten minutes to update their status whether or not there was anything to report.

Two men looped the rope around another tree. One of the men waded back across the river with the excess rope.

After the rope loop was hanging across the river, another raft was shoved through the mud and sand down to the river side beside the pier. A drac and cart were driven onto the raft. The drac roared fire and the raft nearly capsized. The cannon was carefully lifted into the cart and tied down. The raft inched across the strong shallow currents with one soldier pulling the loop rope and the other staving off the pull of the downstream. The raft reached the middle of the river with great difficulty and then a single lightning bolt split into two tines slamming into both trees on either side of the river, replacing them with ash and smoke. The rope flew upward in a diabolic smile of flame. The raft flowed sideways downriver until it hit a half-submerged tree and the cart, cannon, and drac upended over the side of the raft and splashed under the grey water. The men were shot off the raft into the water as it flipped over. During the excitement of this rolling disaster, the commander had forgotten that he had not heard from his men on the other side of the river for more than ten minutes. He called the voice he’d talked to earlier that morning, but there was no response.

The downriver group continued to move forward, keeping the river to their left. Around every bend, the river seemed to widen until the opposite bank was lost in the undifferentiated grey mists. Just before nightfall at the end of each long march, the group stopped to set up camp and draw up lists for guard and patrol duty. The commander called the upriver commander every hour from sunset to sunrise to give and receive status updates. The downriver commander was appalled to hear of the losses in men and material. He was even more appalled to hear about the lightning bolts. He had to consider that the Rats had succeeded in weaponizing lightning.

The next morning the downriver group broke camp and set out on another long slog. You couldn’t really march in mud up to your knees. They slogged parallel to the river looking over to the other bank as it receded into the distance. Everyone suspected the uselessness of the effort and that the river would probably become a lake before it became a creek.

The rain turned to hail, which turned to rain again, and then to hail again. The soldiers turned indifferent to the weather. The rain softened and beat down on the cloth protecting their backs and shoulders, so that the hail hurt even more against their wet skins. Their minds were elsewhere, in warm dry local pubs or in warm dry beds. The grey afternoon darkened into evening as the soldiers rounded a bend and entered a boulder strewn inlet. They set up camp for the night, sipped cold soup from crusted cups, and cursed their downriver commander more than the Rats.

It seemed an endless senseless cycle of night and morning, dreaming and waking. Some men had been feverish for several days and they moved in and out of hallucinations, effortlessly, passively. One soldier fainted headlong into the mud. His comrades lifted him up, barely conscious, supporting him with their shoulders under his armpits, carrying his backpack or shot-blaster along with their own.

The fog moved in low covering the muddy ground, the sandy bank, and the river itself. The soldiers’ feet trudged along blindly, not knowing where to step. One man stumbled sideways into the river.

The rain poured down straight from the low clouds in thick globules, beating away the low lying fog until once again the feet knew where to step. Grey morning slipped unnoticed into grey afternoon and afternoon into greyer evening. The last light began to fade from the rain. They stopped to set up camp. Lists were drawn up for guard and patrol duty.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 27: The Worst of Times

Laws were passed at the sector level and regional levels that mandated all blue infants be terminated immediately after birth, whether or not they were deemed viable. The various rag-tag mobs in each sector were consolidated into a more-or-less regular army. Officers were appointed to develop a viable strategy to track down and kill the Rats once and for all. It would require crossing into the Uncharted Areas.

The Rats did not see the need for a hierarchical military organization. They would defend themselves and their families as best they could, but each man, woman, and child knew what had to be done, come what may, and there was no need for any general to command them to do it.

That year there was another drought and the only crop that farmers like Styg reaped in Sector 87 was dust. In Sector 84, Javid, Thort’s neighbor and co-worker at the local mine, passed away. His wife, Dorka, had said it was from the Blue Lung. Javid had been coughing up blue phlegm in the worst way for the last few months. The company doctors claimed there was no such thing as Blue Lung. They explained that Javid had probably smoked and drank too much.

The Sap army moved through Sector 127 toward the Uncharted Areas with scouts, infantry, cavalry, heavy artillery, observational balloons, and logistics trailing behind. Command and Control Centers were set up just behind the forward units. Communications antennae were planted on hills behind the CCC’s. It was an impressive display of military power and organization. The weather was difficult though. There were constant electrical storms throughout the sector with horizontal lightning streaking across hilltops and through valleys. The ground was soggy at best and at worst the foot soldiers and the drac-drawn carts sank down in the mud. Thick bullets of ice hailed down on their dented helmets and thwacked the soldiers on their insufficiently padded shoulders. It was impossible to set up camp that night prior to crossing into the Uncharted Areas at dawn the next morning, so the soldiers hunkered down for the night and tried their best to ignore the relentless hail and the terrifying lightning.

 

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 22: Just in Time

Lem opened the front door to his cabin quietly. A lop-sided cone of light from the kitchen spread out in the living area gracing the rough-hewn furniture with a shadowy gold softness. He walked noiselessly through the living area into the kitchen and put his arms around his mother who was stirring a pot of porridge.

“You frightened me Lem,” Evanor gasped and nearly fainted. “You mustn’t creep up on me like that. My poor heart!” She managed to turn around in Lem’s arms and return his hug with equal warmth. “Did you miss me?” she murmured to the top of his buried head. Lem shook his head, indicating he had in fact missed his mother very much during the week he was gone. “Good,” she said and squeezed him to her. “How was your visit with Yani and her family?”

Lem sat down at the breakfast table and told Evanor about the visit while she stirred the porridge and reached for a bowl to serve him. Lem told her about the group of grown-ups like Yani and him who had visited Kivo and Thana on their way to a place called the Refuge somewhere in another place called the uncharted area across a big river. He told her they wanted to see Yani too.

“Mama,” Lem mentioned between spoonfuls of porridge, “they told Kivo that all the people like us were going to the Refuge with their families… It was the only place where we could be safe.”

“Well I don’t know,” Evanor said sullenly. “I’m starting to get used to the place here. I’m not so sure I want to pick up and move somewhere else.”

“Mama, we can’t stay here forever,” Lem put down his spoon and looked at his mother seriously. “One day somebody is going to follow you back to the cabin from the village. He’s going to tell somebody else about you. Rumors will spread through the village and people will become curious. Somebody will come to visit our cabin and they will see me … or they won’t see me, but they’ll suspect something is not right because you’re not like them. You’re different. You don’t go to church and you don’t visit them and you don’t invite them to visit.”

“Lem, you know something’s going to happen, don’t you,” Evanor said feeling something, knowing it without being able to say it.

“Yes Mama,” he said.

“When?”

“Within one month, eleven days, six hours, twenty-two minutes, and three seconds, a large rock wrapped in a flaming oil-soaked cloth will be thrown through our window to smoke us out of the cabin to catch us and hang us upside down from the skag tree in our back yard,” Lem said in a monotone, as though he were reading somebody else’s newspaper account of their lynching.

“What will we do Lem?” Evanor pleaded for some other future other than what had been dealt them, some alternate fate that somehow hoping could make so.

“We’ll be long gone before then,” Lem said as though looking up brightly from the newspaper account he had been reading. “Oh and we’ll have company!”

Five weeks after Lem had come home from his visit, there was a soft knock on the door of their cabin. Evanor slipped her arms into her robe and went to the front window to slip the curtain aside so that she could see who was knocking at the door so early in the morning. It was Kivo and his wife, Thana, and their little girl, Yani! She rushed to the door to open it wide for them. “Come in quickly,” Evanor said urgently. “What’s happened? Why are you here? You look like you haven’t slept in a week!” She turned from Kivo to Thana, and then to Yani. “Oh, you poor dears! Come to the kitchen … The porridge is still warm … I’ll make another batch.” Then Evanor turned to the stairs and called out, “Lem! Come down and see who’s…”

Lem was already standing next to Yani and looking back at Evanor.

They all went into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Kivo spoke first. “I don’t know how she knew, but Yani had been trying to get us to pack up our things and leave our home … I told her she was imagining things that would never happen. I told her she shouldn’t worry her pretty blue curls. I told her …”

“I told Papa to look out our front window at the path from the village up to our cabin,” Yani interrupted, a little bit of pride mixed in with her tiredness. Thana was rubbing the sides of her head continuously.

“… I went to the window to prove there was nothing to see,” Kivo said and didn’t finish, lost in the memory of it.

“Papa?”

“… Oh yes … I could see the torches coming up the path from the village. The flames were small at first, but they grew larger as they came closer… I couldn’t understand what I was seeing. Thana ran to the kitchen and dumped whatever food she could from the pantry into some bags, while Yani ran upstairs to throw some of clothes into other bags. She dragged the stuffed bags down the stairs. They tumbled down and almost knocked her over. She dragged them over to me, looked me in the eyes, and said it’s time to go Papa! … We barely got out in time. We ran up the path to the place we had our picnic with you… About half-way up, I turned around and saw our cabin down below go up in flames… They probably thought we were inside it because nobody came after us.”

Kivo stopped to eat his porridge. He had eaten very little in the last week. He nearly vomited from eating so fast.

Thana had eaten her porridge while Kivo had been telling their story. Now she took over the telling of it. “It took us seven days and nights to reach you… Yani guided us all the way. She showed us where to drink, told us when and where to sleep, and when to keep going. She told us Lem had made a map for her when he came to visit us, and it was in her head.”

“I swear to the Lord Almighty,” Kivo said solemly, “I don’t know what witchery our children have in their heads, but our little Yani saved our lives! If it weren’t for …”

Evanor said, “It took me some time to get used to it, but I’d trust Lem with my life … He got so grown up, so fast, the day my Thort was murdered… I think we must trust that our children know what’s best for us and follow them blindly, because that’s what we are compared to them: blind as a day-old gorm.”

“They won’t be coming to our cabin for another four days,” Lem said, “but we should still get ready to leave tonight to get a head start on them, and be well on our way to Sector 127 and the uncharted area.”

Kivo’s family was already packed. Evanor cooked and baked for the long trip and packed their clothes. Lem told Yani to have her parents sleep upstairs on their beds so they’d be refreshed to continue that night.

Yani fell asleep in Lem’s bed. He lay down beside her and wrapped his arm around her. Lem stayed awake the whole afternoon, thinking about the uncharted area and the Refuge.

That night the two families left the cabin quietly, slipped over the ledge, and descended into the gulley.

Four days, six hours, twenty-two minutes, and three seconds later, a large rock wrapped in a flaming oil-soaked cloth was thrown through the front window of Evanor’s and Lem’s cabin. The curtains quickly caught fire and smoke began to billow out of the broken window, but nobody came out coughing and blinded and begging for mercy as intended. The good people of the village nearby were forced to wait until the cabin fire had died down before they could check the ashes for the charred remains of that godless woman and her evil guest, who surely lived with her in sin.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 21: The Refuge

Evanor and Lem lived quietly together in that cabin for the next twelve months. They tended a small patch, growing enough vegetables and fruit for their own needs, and then some. Evanor was able to trade the extra produce for a gorm with a few months of milk left in her. People would try to be friendly with her when she’d go down to the village but after she deferred their persistent requests to join them for some local church function, they left her alone thinking there was something not quite right about her. No matter. God would decide what to do about her in His own good time, they would think to themselves. Only Lem knew how to calculate just how long that good time would take. Until then they could live in that cabin.

Some of the forest animals would come close to the cabin at night just before dawn to lick salt from the rocks half buried in their yard. Lem enjoyed watching them nuzzle against the corner of the porch.

The gardening work was challenging for Lem. He dislodged the rocks from the garden patch and rolled them over to make a short wall around the patch. He tilled and seeded the ground with the seed his mother had purchased, the way he’d seen his father do it in the fields of Styg’s farm. The work made him lean and strong.

One evening, as they sat at the supper table in the kitchen, Lem told his mother that he wanted to go back to visit Yani and let them know where they were. “You’ll be safe here awhile longer Mama,” Lem promised Evanor. “I’ll be safe too because I won’t let anybody see me where I go.”

There was something in the sureness of Lem’s voice that made Evanor trust that he knew what he was saying and doing, as well or better than any grown-up would. She knew Lem could take care of himself and, if he said she’d be safe here without him, then she’d be safe here without him. Besides, she knew Lem had a thing for little Yani. Who knows? Maybe their fates were knotted. Who was Evanor to stand against fate?

Evanor baked a couple loaves of bread and packed some fruit and vegetables in a bag for Lem. Lem packed some clothes and filled his water bag.

Lem woke just before dawn when the forest animals were licking the rocks in their yard. The animals scarcely noticed him as he slipped past them, over the ledge and down the hill. He ran swiftly along the gully. Lem made the base of the first ridge by first light. Just as the sky was graying, Lem looked sideways at the boulder-strewn hillside and disappeared inside.

Lem knocked on Kivo’s door the morning after the third night. Thana opened the door and was alarmed. “What are you doing here? Where’s your mother?”

“She’s at home safe,” Lem said pleasantly. “I came to see Yani. Is she at home?”

“Well I don’t know Lem,” Thana answered.

“What do you mean you don’t know Thana?” Lem asked, knowing full well Yani was upstairs in her bedroom.

“I mean I don’t know if you should be here without your mother,” she said uncertainly. “Maybe Kivo…”

“Hi Lem!” Yani said, standing right beside her mother all of a sudden. “I knew you were coming today. Why don’t you come up to my room? Is that all right with you Mother?”

“Well, I suppose so,” Thana said reluctantly and the children ran past her up the stairs before she could say another word.

“I didn’t know where you were,” Yani complained to Lem as soon as they sat on her bed.

“I’ll show you,” Lem said. He drew a map of Sectors 87 and 95 in the air with his finger. The image lingered in their minds. He drew a line along the path Evanor and he had taken and by which he had returned, over the ridges, through the gullies, and up the hill where the cabin hid. The map and the path lines were etched in her brain.

Lem told Yani about the previous occupants he’d found hanging from the tree behind the cabin and how he managed to cut them down and bury them before his mother had seen them. “It was terrible Yani!” he said quietly. “I knew Mama would never have agreed to stay in the cabin if she had seen those bodies hanging there like that… She’d be afraid they’d come back and do that to us.”

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll come back,” Yani asked with a hint of a smile on her pretty little face.

“No, silly,” Lem said, “I know exactly when they’re coming back to the cabin … We’ll be long gone before they arrive.”

“You must be hungry,” Yani told Lem matter-of-factly. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and ask Mother to give you some breakfast. I already ate mine, but I’ll sit with you and we can talk.”

“All right,” Lem said. “I am really hungry!”

Yani and Lem descended the stairs and found Thana in the kitchen already preparing breakfast for Lem. “Thanks Mother,” Yani said.

“Thanks Thana,” Lem said as he sat down at the table. The stove fire warmed the kitchen.

“It isn’t every day we get special visitors,” Thana answered graciously.

“Lem, did you know there are others just like us?” Yani exclaimed brightly. “They came to visit Papa and to see me… They were bigger than us … like Papa and Mother, but as blue as us.”

Lem’s big blue eyes opened widely. “Why did they come to visit you?” he asked Yani. Thana was watching and listening closely while puttering around in the pantry behind the stove.

“They were all leaving the sector, just like Evanor and you,” she answered. “Some were only passing through our sector from another one, on the way to some place they called the Refuge … It’s in a place they called the uncharted area. Nobody has ever been there. Yani traced a map for Lem on the kitchen table with her index finger. “They are going the same way you went. From Sector 95, they’re going down to Sector 127 to a big river that separates the sectors from the uncharted area. The Refuge is somewhere on the other side of that river.” She returned Thana’s glance and continued, “They said the Refuge is the only place in our world that people like us can live in peace. Our parents can come too, if they want, and they will be protected … from the war.”

Thana couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Your father told those people nobody was talking about war in these parts. If they were, he would’ve heard of it.”

“But Mother,” Yani said, “we see things happening before they happen.”

“I don’t know how that can be,” Thana answered without a lot of conviction.

Yani glanced over at Lem just as he turned his head and saw into her eyes. He finished the last of his porridge and pushed the bowl away from him. He thanked Thana for breakfast and told her he would have to go back home that evening after supper.

Yani and Lem ran outside to play a kind of hide-and-seek.

“Yani,” Lem said during one of their games, “you must persuade your parents to take you to the Refuge.”

“Of course Silly!” Yani said with a smile. “Why did you think I told you?”

Lem seemed not to mind Yani calling him “silly” anymore. The truth was that he didn’t mind anything she said.

After Kivo came back from work in the fields behind the cabin, they all sat down to a delicious supper. When Lem rose from the table and said he had to leave, Thana filled his food bags with fragrant bread, crisp vegetables, and fresh fruit. Lem hugged them all, but especially Yani, and disappeared through the door into the night.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Filed under Prose, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories and Novels