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Episode 13 Part 25

By:  Lenady and North

Orange light slid over the city, glittering off puddles and broken glass.  It made Bullet squint harder. He and Zora staggered back toward the hospital.  Desivite relief workers had kindly, if firmly, informed the two that they were no longer needed, considering that they looked worse than some of the broken buildings.

            The skin on his hands was raw and peeled.  Their pain was nothing compared to his black and blue arms.  These in turn did not hold a candle to the shoulders above them, and those were great compared to the rest of the stuff connected to them. The ringing in his ears was still going strong.  Hopefully he’d heal.

            Zora walked beside him looking as blurry as everything else, but she seemed deflated after she gave back the fireman jacket.  Her shoulders stooped and she was unsteady on her feet.  They had talked very little since making it back from their search for the gas leak.  It was hard to say words that fit when the sun was rising like a warm hearth over a still cold morning.

            The calm light made Bullet want to concentrate on the good things.  So much still stood.  So many people had come to help.  So many people were safe or would be.  Despite all this there had been other terrible sights.

            As they rounded the final corner Zora gestured toward a large building near the hospital “She’s in there.”  People moved in quick deliberate motions around the entrances.  Bullet and Zora stumbled past them.

***

            Tilly had put Toren’s communicator in her pocket and let it stay there.  There was an empty place by her side where Porta had been.

It had been a while since the children had left. Their guardian had walked in, unaided but limping, shortly after Tilly and Shi-la had rejoined the group. Porta had climbed into the woman’s arms while Roshti looked as if she had just put down an incredible load.  Tilly had been swept up in their relief as she said goodbye to them, though knowing she would never see them again.  Once they were gone, though, the weight of the situation began to settle down on her. She felt shaken, as if the tornado had physically tossed her, instead of just sending pieces of drywall flying at her head. Her nerves were, to put it mildly, fried.  It had never occurred to her how easy it was to be brave when there was someone to be brave for. Concurrently, she had never realized how suddenly ones fears could come crashing down when they were finally alone.

            It felt like her mind was in overdrive, flashing from the tornado, to her nightmare, then back again. Plus, she was worried about Sanrook and she couldn’t get rid of the sensation, as paranoid as she kept telling herself it was, that the entire room was looking at her. Tilly had chosen to ignore the glances, whether real or imaginary, along with her sweating palms and pounding head, and went to help Shi-la.  She carried, pushed, and folded her way though who knows how long. All she knew was that the more active she was the less she thought, and the less she thought the calmer she felt. The fact that Shi-la never seemed to run out of jokes and stories didn’t hurt either.

Eventually, however, exhaustion began to creep up on her again, as before, and Shi-la sent her back off to the cots before she could send a pile of boxes falling down on one or both of them. She found herself lying on one side with a cool condensation covered water bottle against her forehead. A few times she made the mistake of rolling onto her back, her head throbbing as the knot she had received earlier during the storm made itself known, and she quickly found herself rolled back over, curling in on herself. The unease soon caught up with her, a chill wrongness that seemed to physically wrap itself around her, but Tilly closed her eyes, crossing her fingers against more dreams.

It felt like only a moment had passed, when she heard a squeak from Roshti’s cot.  The water bottle had slipped from her hand in her sleep.  Tilly spared a look over and was surprised to be staring at a pineapple.  It took a few moments for Tilly to make sense of this sudden appearance of fruit.  As she focused it became clear that the pineapple was printed on an all too familiar t-shirt which was being worn by her terribly bedraggled friend.

Tilly sat up quickly. That turned out to be a mistake so she laid back down slowly, trying to make the black spots in front of her eyes go away.

“Zora,” she said flatly, her voice betraying none of the relief she felt.

“Arika” said Sanrook with a grin in her voice.  Sanrook, who had been slouching on the cot, flopped sideways and curled up, “So?”

“So what?”  Tilly rubbed her eyes.

“How did your night go?” mumbled Sanrook.

Tilly wasn’t sure how to answer. Too many things- Shi-la’s warm laughter, small uncertain figures, and frightened faces (from both the past and present)- were swirling around to easily pin down one. She settled for “I helped them flostignat crespins.”

Sanrook chuckled, “Dirty.”

Tilly tried not to laugh; that would only encourage it. “What did you do?”

Sanrook rolled onto her back and looked at the ceiling, “Moved stuff.”  She then rolled back over on her side.  “I learned something today.  I learned that Desivites are very into physical contact.  I thought I was gonna have to make out with about three just to get into the building.  No personal space bubbles whatsoever.”  Sanrook paused again, “Except for that one guy who wasn’t wearing a translator. Also the doctors kept trying to examine me on my way in.  I don’t think I look very good right now.”

 “Sorry Pecos Bill, but you look like you wrestled the tornado” said Tilly, who was also not feeling her best. “I see you managed to get rid of the Nathian.”

“Nope.  He’s down the hall talking to some people.”

Tilly’s eyes widened and she sat up, tugging the hood up around her head. “You stayed with him?”

Sanrook looked around then leaned close to Tilly, whispering so she could barely hear it, “I spent a lot of time with that dude.  His hearing is insane.  And, get this, he still doesn’t know who we are.”

A conflicted look crossed Tilly’s face, “What was he like?”

“He’s nice.  I mean like really nice. I don’t know if I can hate this guy.  He was genuinely concerned about everyone.”

“Yeah. Well, nice doesn’t necessarily mean trustworthy.”

Sanrook shrugged.

Tilly was not sure what to make of any of this. 

“Went looking for the natural gas leak” said Sanrook back at normal speaking volume.

Tilly felt herself lose some color in her cheeks.

“It blew up before we could get to it. 

“We found four people.  Six of us went out and nearly got fried.  Natural gas is mostly methane, you know?  ‘Flammable’ doesn’t describe it well enough.  But we found four people.  They had been missed somehow.”  Sanrook stopped, but looked like she had more to say, so Tilly waited.  Finally Sanrook looked at her with a questioning expression, “It was weird. We just so happen to be here, just at this specific time in this one place.  We happened to have a Nathian with us.  We didn’t get there in time, but still there were four people on the way back and-"  Sanrook cut herself off.

“Have you ever just felt it was not an accident that you were somewhere?”

Sanrook looked at her hands and gave up trying to explain, “I’m tired, Tilly.”

Tilly bit her lip. She didn’t think she’d ever seen Sanrook so ready to admit exhaustion. It surprised her just how much it hurt.

Within a few moments she had opened up her bag and was pulling out the fruit bar she had stashed away from earlier. She tossed it over to Sanrook. “The sun’s coming up.  That means the drawbridge will lift and we can get to the ship.”

 “The sooner the better.  We can get some rest and ditch Dogboy.  He’s managed to hold on to that sword through all the confusion.  I’ve been well aware.  Oh, on a related note I promised him we would walk with him to the optometrist in a few minutes.”

“You what,” said Tilly so flatly her voice could have crawled under a piece of paper.

“Opens pretty early, Toren tells me.  He’ll need you and Toren to help him read the sign so I offered.”

Tilly stared at Sanrook, “You’re serious.”

“It’s been a very unique night.

“I was thinking once we get back to the ship we might need to take a break.  You know, a couple of weeks to, uh, heal up.  I can report in about being shot by the arrow.  I know my bosses will let me have some time for that.” Sanrook finished the fruit bar in a few bites.

“You should have taken some time off for that already,” said Tilly.

“We were almost out of food.”

Tilly had known this, of course, and wasn’t about to let that argument start again, “A few weeks would be wonderful.”

“Great.” Sanrook looked relieved.  She closed her red rimmed eyes.  Her bruised and cut-up face looked peaceful enough lying on a half-empty pillow.  A very odd noise came from her neck as she breathed.

Tilly winced. She’d heard worse from Sanrook before, but…

She looked up and down the rows of hastily arranged cots.  There were many people, some harmed, some not, sitting in uncertainty. She was struck by her own sudden desire to be back on the Toren. “I think I’m ready for the honeymoon to be over.”

Sanrook’s gills fluttered pathetically as she laughed.

 

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