Characters: Katia Santiago
Katia sat in a chair, overlooking the Town Square. She had been down on the planet for five days working on the hydroreclamation system the town used to condense and route the water necessary for planting and irrigation. It had been a hard job, but she was almost done.
She was glad she had taken on this particular job. When the request came down, she had almost sent someone else, but realized now that there had to be a reason why she had come herself. Not in a long time had she been able to relax and be herself.
Hiding behind her walls had become such habit, it was easy to forget who the real Katia was. But in the past few days, she had felt a re-emergence of that person. It felt good, and she hoped it would continue.
The resilience of this town had to be what had done it for her. Several months before, it had been decimated. A syndicate had swept in, strip-mined the area’s deridium, and vanished — but not before ruining the water system and destroying a good part of the town itself in the process.
Many of the Abbai townspeople had been killed battling the villains, and many more had been hurt. But despite the death and destruction, the Abbai simply picked themselves up and did their best to move on, not allowing themselves to become embittered by it all.
Katia found their attitude refreshing, despite the fact it was a lesson she had yet to learn. Pain seemed to have taken over her heart, soul and mind, and sometimes, she still wasn’t sure how to move beyond it.
As Katia sat there, several local children passed by and waved to her on the porch of the boardinghouse the town had put her up in. She waved back as they stopped and began playing a local game of ball, tossing it back and forth and up into the air, laughing and smiling all the while.
The boardinghouse’s owner, a middle-aged Abbai named Kyote, stepped onto the veranda. As she looked past the visiting Anla’shok’s shoulder, her features momentarily twisted with grief before she brought them back to calm. “Good evening, Anla’shok Santiago,” she said softly.
Smiling slightly, Katia glanced up at the other woman and replied, “Kyote, good evening. It is beautiful out tonight, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is. The sunsets will be red for a long time, but that is not such a bad thing. A … ‘silver lining,’ I believe you humans say?”
Katia nodded, “Yes…we do. I will almost regret leaving this place. It seems to have a certain medicine I needed.”
“The new hydro plant is nearly done, then?”
Nodding, Katia answered, “I would say it will be tomorrow or the next day at the latest.”
“I could see that you were rather troubled when you came here,” Kyote said, pulling up a chair and sitting next to Katia. “If spending time with us has brought you a little peace of mind, it’s more than a fair exchange.”
“Thank you, Kyote. You have been more than generous to let me stay here.”
The Abbai lifted her hands toward the sky, a gesture Katia had come to recognize as the equivalent of a shrug. “Again, more than a fair exchange for what you have done to help us. Besides, after what my sister had told me about the Anla’shok, I was rather curious to meet one myself.”
Katia glanced down at her hands in her lap. Then she glanced up at the children and back at Kyote. “I hope that I have lived up to your expectation.”
The woman’s wide amber eyes met Katia’s solidly, but without challenge. This Anla’shok often seemed so uncertain of herself, as if everything was a test she was on the verge of failing. “I was curious,” Narate said, emphasizing the last word. “I had no expectation.”
Glancing back at the children, Katia felt a bit of sadness creeping in behind her newly found quietude. “I am just glad we were able to help. That isn’t always the case… but we do try.”
The Abbai followed Katia’s gaze, noting her expression and remembering how she had behaved when she first arrived, especially around the children. A flash of insight allowed her to finally understand what so troubled the Anla’shok.
Knowing this, it nearly broke Kyote’s heart to have to speak again. “Anla’shok…” she began.
“Yes, Kyote?” she answered as she glanced up at the Abbai woman.
“There’s a problem. We need your help again — or perhaps that of another of your people, if they can be spared.”
“Anything I can do to help, I will. What is it?”
“Three of the village children are missing. They are hissosshee herders, and until about an hour ago, we had hoped that they had just taken shelter in the next village over from the storm that passed through last night.”
Katia paled slightly and looked up at Kyote. “But they are not in the next village, are they? Do you know what happened to them? Any clues?”
“No, they are not. We contacted the village elder to ask, and learned that not only had our children not been seen, but that several of their children are missing as well. They suspect slavers.” Kyote’s thin lips vanished into her face as she bit down on them after speaking the last word.
Everything came crashing back in on Katia. She closed her eyes in anguish. “How many?” she managed to get out.
Kyote stepped up and gently ran her large, broad-fingered hands across Katia’s shoulders. “Including ours, I believe about ten are missing,” she said quietly. “The elder of the next village has much more information, perhaps even a brief sighting of the culprits. It was she who asked us to ask your help. She has also contacted your ship.”
Katia’s mouth tightened, and the once-relaxed muscles of her shoulders tightened with new tension despite Kyote’s ministrations. She could see the faces of her daughters plainly in front of her. “I will contact them and begin searching immediately. Perhaps I can even get another to help me. If not, I promise you, I will find them… alone if need be.”
“We know you will –” Kyote paused a moment, then added, “Katia.”
Katia’s walls were finding a hold once again as her face moved toward impassivity, and she missed the Abbai’s effort to touch her heart, thinking it only a summons. “Yes, Kyote?”
The Abbai gave a momentary grimace of pity, but decided to let it pass. Katia was set on her path now, and it might do more harm to try and open her up again. “Do you wish to go back to your ship first, or over to the next village right away?”
“I need to get back to the ship. To contact a few people there. I will be in contact with the next village shortly. I can assure you this will not be let go of.”
“I had no doubt of it. Let me help you pack your things.”
Copyright (c) 2000 Tamara Friese and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.