Authors: Gregg Vann
He knew there were other places in the city that would provoke similar recollections—many of them. Like the street where Major Kline was murdered, or Tana’s apartment, with the bodies of her friend and two dead Wardens stretched out on the floor. And then there were the remains of the Outland slums, where Barent had witnessed the dying and malnourished children.
Those images would continue to haunt him, along with similar scenes from five hundred years ago—the painful remembrances of other battles, different wars, and dead friends. Barent knew it would all fade away eventually. The memories losing their biting edge over time. But for now, the pictures in his mind were fresh and unpleasant.
And the last things he wanted to dwell on.
he thought to himself.
It will be very good to get away for a while.
Tana stared out of the large windows in wonder, marveling at the endless expanse of snow below her. The sun was shining brightly on Torvus this morning, warming her face through the glass, and flooding the apartment high up in the spires with light. The brilliant wash of illumination also stretched out over the surface of the planet—for as far as the eye could see—revealing the frozen landscape beneath Tana in the finest detail. Though it was barely mid-morning, she saw a great number of people already on the move.
Tana recognized a few of the small figures as engineers from Le’sant, placing brightly colored markers in the snow to indicate the path of the proposed tramway. But the majority of the people appeared to be Olin warriors, returning across the plains from early morning caribou hunts.
The air was so remarkably clear this day that Tana could even see the small Exile camp out on the horizon—a concession Barent had reluctantly agreed to when they explained an Alpha must maintain contact with the tribe if he expects to rule. Most of the Exiles had long since returned to their normal hunting grounds, just as Barent directed. But these few had steadfastly remained behind, determined to serve the Alpha in whatever capacity they could. And every day, they sent a representative to the ship, to make sure Barent didn’t require their assistance, or have any orders for them to relay back to the tribe.
The tiny Exile encampment only added to the already incredible vista, but as much as Tana delighted in the scenery—and she did—she was also very happy to be inside right now, where it was nice and warm.
“Come back to bed,” Barent called out from behind her.
She turned around at the sound of his voice and smiled. “It’s about time you woke up. I was beginning to think you might sleep all day.”
“Maybe if you’d quit making me so damned tired in the evenings I’d get up a little earlier.”
Tana gave him a mischievous grin. “I don’t remember you complaining about it last night.”
Barent slid out of bed and joined her at the window, wrapping his arms around Tana from behind as she turned to look outside again. He leaned down and kissed her on the neck. “And you won’t hear me complaining about it now either, if you’ll just come back to bed.”
“As much as I would love to, you have an appointment this morning. With Nena’s family, remember?”
“I remember,” Barent said. “And I should probably go get dressed.” He lingered for a moment, admiring the same view that had so captivated Tana. “It is beautiful, isn’t it?”
“It really is,” she replied. “I love it here.”
“Are you sure?” Barent asked. “I thought you always wanted to move closer to the middle of Le’sant. This isn’t exactly the Central District.”
“No,” Tana replied. “This is much better. Your wives did an amazing job setting this place up for us. Especially considering that they did it before we got some of the lifts operational.”
“Well, with any luck, I’ll have one less
to worry about after the meeting today.”
“I’m sure Nena’s family will take her back. She can return home to their farm here in the ship and lead a normal life again.”
“Oh, they want her back,” Barent replied. “There’s no question about that. But the Exiles captured Nena five years ago. She is so completely conditioned to that lifestyle now that I’m having a hard time convincing her to go home. She remains determined to stay at my side, no matter what. But I think she’ll come around in time.”
Tana turned around to face him, sliding her arms around Barent’s waist. “And what about the others?”
“I have them in their own apartment, as you already know, but I’m afraid that’s all I can do for now. I’ve been keeping my distance from the tribe to see how Kaut wields power in my absence. If he ends up being a decent and
leader, I’ll hand the Exiles off to him. But unless I let him kill me—which I won’t, of course—the women are mine for life. I’ve been trying like hell to convince Jezza and Lole that they’re free now, but they’re even more reluctant to leave than Nena. They were born to the Exiles, so they have no concept of individual rights or self-determination. They never have.”
“I’m sure you’ll work it all out somehow, Barent,” Tana said. “Compared to what’s going on in Le’sant right now, it should be easy.”
“Agreed. I still can’t believe the elections are next week, or that the trials of Golen and the other Collective criminals are scheduled to begin soon after. Everything is moving along so quickly now, and turning out far better than I’d hoped. I spoke with Dura yesterday, and he told me that the Collective representatives are actually doing a decent job directing the reconstruction, and even thinks some of them may retain their positions. He also said that all of the reports and assessments are complete, and the breakdown yards should be fully operational in another month or so. The expansion plans for the city are well underway too, and they’ve already sent the first mining surveys out onto the surface, using the original planetary scans they found in the histories to guide them to known mineral deposits. These are tumultuous times in Le’sant, to be sure, but it’ll be fascinating to see what happens next.”
Barent looked over Tana’s shoulder and noticed a pair of haulers pulling away from the
headed off in the direction of the canyon leading down to the crater floor.
“There goes another food shipment to Le’sant,” he said. “I wonder what they’ll return with this time.”
“Probably more portable generators,” Tana said. “These are tumultuous times here, too. Things are going to change quite a bit once the permanent power line from Le’sant goes in. Despite their initial reluctance, the Olin really seem to enjoy having energy.”
“Probably about as much as the people of Le’sant enjoy having something to eat other than Nutriall,” Barent replied.
Tana squeezed his waist. “You did this, Barent. You made all of this possible.”
He reached down and grabbed Tana’s chin, lifting her face so he could look into her eyes. “
did this, Tana. If not for you, none of this would have happened.”
“All I did was wake you up,” she said. “It was your ideas and armies that changed everything.”
“Hardly. Without your help, I wouldn’t have made it out of Le’sant in the first place. Or survived long enough to do anything. I would have failed, Tana. Without you…I’d be dead.”
She leaned up and kissed him. “Then I suppose we really do make a good team.”
“I suppose so,” Barent replied with a smile.
“Go get ready,” Tana said, gently pushing him away to prepare for the meeting. “I’m going to stay here for a little while longer and admire the view.”
“I don’t blame you,” Barent said, and then he took one last look himself before stepping over to grab some clothing from the closet. He turned and gave Tana a quick glance as he headed toward the shower. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
“Okay,” she replied.
Tana turned back to the windows and resumed watching the people move around below, reflecting on how much her life had changed in the last month—on how much
of their lives had changed. There wasn’t a single person on the planet untouched by the upheaval. The people of Le’sant, the Olin, and even the Exiles, would all be different now. Their world had been turned completely upside down, and was rapidly transforming into something new.
But in spite of all that uncertainty and turmoil, for the first time in her life Tana wasn’t guarded—fearful or apprehensive. Instead, she felt safe, and excited for the future. She reached up and rubbed her fingers across the scar on her forehead, remembering her mother, and what little promise the future held for her back then. And even though the memories were painful, Tana smiled.
Her mother had taken away her innocence. And life under the Collective had robbed Tana of her freedom…and people that she loved. But despite all of the pain and struggle there was one thing she’d never surrendered—a treasure that had remained deeply buried since childhood, walled within the strongest barriers her mind could erect to protect it.
It was Tana’s most closely guarded possession, but Barent had torn way a lifetime of carefully built defenses to set it free. And for the first time since she was a little girl, she dared to embrace the feeling once again.
Tana had hope.
Gregg Vann is a writer, teacher, polyglot, and perennial student. He has a M.Ed. in Teaching English as a Second Language, and a BA in Asian Studies. When not writing, he can usually be found on the sunny beaches of Florida.
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