Cran Palto | Books | Raheem




Chapter 18

From long tradition, personnel are taught the duties of their peers alongside their own. This flexibility allows organizations to overcome unforeseen challenges. Fostering this ability is the essence of leadership.

—Hamid Van Burk, lecturer, Imperial Naval Academy.

Vaega felt Yigars’ body shift against her. Trion had made a bed for him, but they preferred sleeping together. It was dark in the cabin and Vaega snuggled and closed her eyes again, ready to sleep a few more hours in warmth and comfort.

Her mind was restless, full of small warnings that jabbed at her sleepiness, jolting her more and more aware until she sat up, eyes open in the darkness, wide awake.

“Hmmm.” Yigars stirred but lay still again.

Vaega stood in the darkness and walked to the door. She opened it one centimeter and peeked outside.

The reek of the smoke filled her nostrils as the orange glow in the trees beyond the palisade told her flames would be below.

She slammed the door shut and screamed, “Trion! Yigars! Agra! There’s a fire! Wake up!”

They stood and rushed out into the night, like wild demons, beating the flames with their leather cloaks, faces covered against the smoke, eyes stinging, careful to not step on embers as they battled the fire.

When the flames reached the garden, they raced through the plants, each bursting and glowing then falling in a heap of ashes. Vaega tried in vain, tears streaming down her face, to keep back the fiery demons, but they leaped around her effortlessly. Trion grabbed her arm and pulled her away. “Must save the kitchen, the food stores!”

They fought the flames around the kitchen, the research room. They fought the flames around the cabin. The rest of the camp turned to blackened stumps. At least they saved all the equipment, tools, and weapons.

When morning came, a misty rain fell and put out the last smoldering embers. Already Trion was at work rebuilding, with Yigars’ help.

Agra went hunting, leaving without a word.

Vaega stood in the rain, shivering but not caring, surveying the lost garden. Only the rice seemed to have survived. With grim determination, she dug out the potatoes. They were tiny, no larger than her thumb but they would grow again, so she did not lose hope.

She gathered what she could, then replanted. Off to one side, the cotton plant had survived too. All the Genoresis Macraw was gone, but it was plentiful outside, so Agra would just have to find more.

When Agra came back with a fawn, Vaega left for the kitchen and butchered it, then cooked several chunks. They had all used so much energy and needed a good meal. She set the grilled meat on the flat metal pieces they used for plates and called out: “Food is ready!”

Agra, Yigars, and Trion came and the four of them stood in the kitchen and ate the meat with their fingers, not speaking.

His plate finished, Yigars set it on the stove. He turned to Vaega, looked into her eyes, and said: “Thank you for preparing this food.”

Vaega nodded without speaking.

Yigars turned then to Agra, and their eyes met. “Thank you for hunting.”

Agra nodded also, keeping her eyes on his.

Finally, Yigars turned to Trion. “Thank you for building the stove.”

Trion tilted his head to the side and his features softened into a smile.

Vaega held out her left hand to Yigars, taking his. “Thank you for helping, with building, scavenging, and keeping Agra safe.”

Yigars smiled and nodded meekly, then turned to head out into the rain. “Lots to do.”

Trion put his empty plate down and followed him. Agra stayed to clean the plates and Vaega stocked the meat in the freezer.

By nightfall, the cabin had been rebuilt, beds made, the palisade patched up, and a few of the traps replaced. The jail and hospital room stood blackened and would have to be torn down and rebuilt.

Before the sun finally set behind the mountains, Vaega stood at the edge of what little garden remained, pensive. Yigars came to stand next to her and did not speak. She could feel him there next to her, and she felt she needed to say something, to address what had happened in the kitchen, to thank him further, to answer the questions he wasn’t asking.

“Winter is mild around here,” he said.

Vaega did not respond.

“Some days will be cold though, and water will freeze.”

Vaega stayed silent, eyes on the garden.

“It may snow, too.”

“I don’t have much choice. I’ll try to grow what I can before this damned planet tries to kill us again.”

“Hunting will be scarce. Herds will move, small creatures will stay in their burrows. Bears will hibernate. Predators will be more desperate.” Yigars paused. “Timber wolves will come down from the mountains.”

Vaega turned and looked up at his eyes. When he looked back, he saw a fear in her he had never seen before. He smiled to reassure her. “We’ll domesticate rats. You’ll see. We won’t starve.”

Next chapter: The Solitude of Yigars

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