Thursday, June 13, 2013
Joy! Esak is back, safe and sound. He’s exhausted from getting absolutely no sleep since he left, but in one piece. Life is very, very good.
He showed up in Mom’s room first thing, not five minutes after I’d arrived there myself. I was touched that he came to see how she was doing right away. He even held off comming Dusa to let him know he’d returned until he’d given me a hug and got all the good reports on Mom’s continued recovery.
“You are such a strong woman, Matara Eve,” Esak told her, taking her hand. “Nobek strong.”
She gave him a half-smile with the side of her mouth that works. Then she whispered, “You look tired. Go to bed.”
It was the most she’d said at one time since the stroke. Esak bent and pressed his lips to her forehead. “I will, now that I know you are all right. May I steal Shalia for a few seconds?”
She kind of twitched her good hand to wave us off, so we stepped outside. There, Esak commed both Dusa and Weln to let them know he was back on site. They said they would meet him at Medical.
While we waited, Esak gathered me in his arms. Quiet as usual, he simply held me, seeming to take comfort in our embrace. I wrapped my arms around his waist and buried my face against his chest. His musky scent filled my senses. I was so glad he was okay.
Moments later, I heard Dusa’s voice. “It is good to have you back, my Nobek.”
I leaned back to see Esak smile at his very relieved looking clanmate, who put one hand on Esak’s shoulder and one on my head. Esak answered, “It is good to be back, my Dramok. I’ll be here on site for the next week, at least. I am on guard duty at the main gate while they send other trackers out to resume hunting the trail.”
That statement made Dusa happy. “Excellent.” He bent to kiss me. “And how is your mother, Shalia?”
“Doing great. She spoke to Esak. Ordered him to get some sleep.”
Dusa regarded his Nobek. “I think that’s a good idea. You look exhausted.”
“I’ll go to our quarters as soon as I say hello to Weln. Here he comes now.”
The Imdiko joined us, his smile bright to see Esak in one piece. “Welcome back, my friend. I was worried.”
“There is good reason to be.” The Nobek’s face darkened. “All evidence points to a very large number of Earthers banded against us.”
“How many?” Dusa asked. His brows knit together.
“Hundreds. As many as five hundred, perhaps.”
I gasped and the other two men looked ill. “That’s nearly as many as us,” Dusa said.
“We believe they’re heavily armed. If we can find them a shockwave will settle them quickly, but they don’t want to be found.” Esak scowled. “We messed up, somehow. The encampment they abandoned looked to have been quit very quickly. As if they were warned we were on the way.”
Weln was quick to soothe him. “I’m sure it was no mistake of yours. It was probably a chance sighting.”
“Perhaps.” Esak’s attention went to me, and his grip tightened. “Everyone here is in danger. Security is tightening. Anyone wishing to leave or come into the Academy grounds must now be approved by Commander Nang.”
“I have no intention of going anywhere,” I said. “I doubt anyone else will either, since the Earthers here would be considered traitors by the those outside. Does that mean you’re bringing in no more refugees?”
Esak blew out a breath. “Of course we’re still taking in Earthers. That’s why we’re here, to rescue you all. But now any who come in requesting food and shelter will be escorted to a holding area, scanned for weapons, and interviewed before they’re given a run of the place like the rest of you. We have to make sure no one who is a spy or wants to take the place down from the inside gets that opportunity.”
“Do you know if that has an effect on my operations? I haven’t checked in yet,” Dusa said.
Esak nodded. “For now. The search and rescue teams are restricted to the grounds until the threat has been dealt with.”
Dusa snarled a few Kalquorian words under his breath, no doubt very choice words. Then he said, “I was trying to coax in half a dozen Mataras. They need help. The food I left them won’t last more than a few days, and it’s getting harder for them to scavenge.”
Weln patted his back, but he looked worried too. “Maybe the trackers will find these fighters quickly, and they’ll be disbanded.”
Esak nodded, looking more tired than ever. “That’s the hope. I’m sorry I brought back such bad news.”
I hugged him harder than ever, wanting to wipe the dispirited look from his face. “Seeing you more than makes up for it. Why don’t you go get some rest now? You’ll feel more optimistic after some sleep.”
He smiled at me, vanquishing the worry aging his young face. “I think I will. I start my duties on the gate tomorrow night.”
“Get to bed,” Dusa told him. “You have a lot of rest to make up. I’ll check in with my supervisor to get my changed orders and join you if I’m able.”
Esak nodded. He gave me a kiss goodbye, and then Dusa did the same. The two men left.
Weln sighed and looked up at the blue sky that seemed to promise nothing but goodness. “I’m regretting my wish to be made tougher, Shalia,” he said. “When it puts others in danger, it doesn’t seem like such a good goal.”
“I guess that’s why we have the phrase, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. It’s supposed to put things in perspective and make the harsh times easier to deal with.” I patted his shoulder. It wasn’t a thought that had me feeling particularly optimistic.
Weln chuckled ruefully. “Then we will all be like mountains of unbreakable stone by the time this is over.” He looked me over. “Dusa hasn’t been sleeping much with Esak gone. If he has no duties today, I am sure he will take advantage to catch up on his rest as well.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” I said. I wondered if I should stop in and check on them later or leave them be.
“Will you eat last dinner with me tonight?”
“Sure.” I had never eaten with just Weln before. Poor guy, he looked really rattled by Esak’s news of our enemies numbering in the hundreds. Thinking about that, I decided I didn’t particularly want to eat alone tonight myself. Maybe we could bring up each others’ spirits.