Characters: Terry Hale
Night deepened, and with it winter’s chill, but Terry didn’t feel it in the wind that swept across the shuttlepad. Something colder had caught her, from within, and the first words she could form past the constriction in her throat held a tone of fury her stepchildren had never heard.
“How could she?”
“Who?” Deira asked, resisting the urge to take a step back. Her stomach flip-flopped, but it was no longer the giddy excitement of discovering something she’d thought irrevocably lost. It was fear now, of what she didn’t know, and what had changed. She would have been ashamed if anyone knew it, but for a moment she wished she had never asked.
“Sylvia,” Terry replied foggily, lost for a moment in the past. Sylvia Chiram, a park administrator who’d known Warren for years, and Terry since she’d made park ranger, was –had been– a trusted friend. The one she called, when it wasn’t safe enough to contact family directly. In that first year of living post to pillar, Sylvia was the one link left back to home, and Terry had leaned heavily on that support. She believed when Sylvia said Warren was dead, and needed little convincing that she should not come home.
Terry knew Sylvia hadn’t entirely trusted in her innocence back then, but she stood by her friends, or so Terry had believed. She’d not have done anything to hurt Warren at least. It was something, if not everything she could have hoped for in those days. And now it was just an illusion. Had she been so blind, so desperate, not to see betrayal?
Horror, and a kind of bitter understanding crossed Trevor’s and Deira’s faces. Had Terry been sharp enough, she’d have seen reason for greater concern, but as it was she was stuck within the spiral of her own thoughts.
“I don’t understand why she’d do that,” Deira said aloud, but to herself she could guess. The glance she shared with Trevor proved he did too, and futile as it was, they decided in that instant kept it hidden for now. A desperate plan bloomed without having to say a word between them. They had to get her home. There, somehow it’d be made all right.
Trevor picked up the conversation from her. “But isn’t it more important now that you can come home with us? There’s so much to catch up on. Don’t you want to see Dad?”
For a moment Terry didn’t appear to understand, her face frighteningly blank, then she stirred and it passed. “I….” She tried to find the words, to explain, but they wouldn’t form. All she could think to do was agree.
It was well past midnight when they touched down in B.C. Vancouver was a distant clot of lights off in the west, lost as they descended closer to the interior of the province. They drove away from it, up into the mountains towards the chain of parks, where the roads narrowed into another time and lifestyle. Looking towards the town she’d grown up and worked much of her life, she couldn’t help feeling even further apart, like a tourist walking into another’s life and marveling at it’s alien simplicity. It was a sobering reminder of how much had changed.
She listened with only half her attention as the time in travel was filled with stories of what had happened since she was gone. Her focus sharpened only when they were in to the town itself, and then out along roads crunching with packed snow and ice under the tires. The roads worsened the further they were from the resorts.
“They still don’t get the plows out here on time,” Terry commented with a quiet chuckle, then her eyes fell on the cabin.
It didn’t look very different than she remembered. The trees were a little taller, and the renovations had weathered to match the rest of the old logs and stone. Even in the dark she knew just where she was.
A little too dark, actually, now that she looked at the windows.
“Dad must already be asleep,” Deira suggested. “Let me out here Trev and I’ll get some lights on.” Icy air blew in a bit of snow as she dashed out, and Trevor crunched the car along up to the sheltered side. Terry climbed out to lights coming on in the living room, spilling out on to the snow.
Deira greeted them at the door with a puzzled look on her face. “He isn’t here,” she reported, jamming the door closed behind them. “Left a note saying he’s in town to see someone.”
“At this time of night? Did he say where?” Trevor asked, to see Deira shake her head. “Nevermind, I’ll go in and ask around.”
Terry was left standing in the livingroom while Deira moved around with nervous energy, turning on lights and putting the kettle on in the kitchen. Terry would have liked to reassure her, but she was too confused herself to keep up. Not feeling very steady, she settled down on to the couch. It was different and so safe, not a part of a history. It was absurd to make such a distinction, she’d faced battle so many times with a steady hand, but this left her undone.
“Are you going to be okay?”
Terry looked up, and tried to smile. “Sure.”
“You don’t have to worry now. Did you know the charges were dropped too?” Deira asked after the silence stretched too long.
In truth Terry’s mind wasn’t on the worry she imagined, but she didn’t correct her. “No I didn’t… so they finally figured it out?”
“Actually, caught them before they could move a load of goods, and got them to confess who they had on the take. It was Jim Leifson. The whole scheme fell apart after that. This was about ten years ago.”
Terry sighed and shook her head. “I knew it.”
Deira waited silently, but there was no move to elaborate. Disappointed and worried, she crept away into the kitchen for the tea, but her eyes kept straying out to the living room.
Even though she hadn’t spoken about it, it was going about in Terry’s thoughts, devouring all others until it was the lone focus. There was so much to face. All that they’d done to put her on that first step on a very long road.
The infamous “They” this time were smugglers, bringing in just about anything you could walk or carry in, including people. This business wasn’t reserved for back streets and alleyways. As the level of technology grew, the parks and wilds became valuable for their unspoilt nature in more ways than one. It was a place that was away from the saturation of signals, vid, mindscans and inconvenient witnesses.
Except for the occasional park ranger.
There were ways to buy that silence, too. The payoffs offered were a terrible temptation when you made less than a firefighter or police officer, yet could be expected to be one or the other from one day to the next.
It was the latter Terry found herself in the position to uphold that day, when she’d happened across a shipment in progress. There scanners were efficient, and without distractions found in crowded cities. They had her surrounded before she could even think to link in. They had her patrol partner’s life before she could act.
To this day she’d not known what they were moving, but it was hot enough that they’d killed one ranger, and tried to have her killed as well. When that didn’t work, someone had her framed for the murder while she was still in the hospital. When you knew the land, as Leifson did, and the real police didn’t, it wasn’t too hard to manufacture evidence or make a lack of it.
The story that was created, was she’d killed her fellow ranger to keep her smuggling ties hidden. A life of crime pitiably started in the wake of her husband’s crippling illness, and the burden of raising two children. It wasn’t a bad creation, Terry had to admit, and had she’d stayed around, the smugglers would have seen to it she had an accident before the any questions could be raised to shatter it.
She didn’t intend to be gone long. Just enough time to let the smugglers slip up, and forget. When a call to a supposed friend had told that Warren had died while she was running, the energy to keep fighting for the truth had crashed. Sylvia had chosen her words well, stripping away any reason she had for coming back. No husband or children needed her.
It could have been different if Warren hadn’t been sick. If she’d been quicker and could have seen the enemies in her friends. If the world hadn’t been as it was at that time…. If if if if. There were dozens of them, and listened to, they could drive a person mad. The shock was still holding her steady, but Terry wished Sylvia would not be near when that isolation finally melted away.
(c) 1999 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.