Story by James Todd Lewis; Chapter and section breaks by Kat Miller!
An extension of the story told in The Summit (available as an eBook from Amazon)!
(c) All characters copyright of James Todd Lewis (2015)
Saletta asked as she walked up beside Sahnassa and Buck who were standing on the dock, “What’s going on? Where did Van go?”
“The middle of the lake, to that diving platform with the hammocks,” Sahni explained. “She wanted a few moments of just being by herself.”
“So who went out with her?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a complicated answer.”
Just then, the small rower came into view, lit by the scant lights along the side of the dock. Saletta was incredulous. “No, it can’t be!” she whispered harshly.
“Uh, hi, Letta. Hope I didn’t worry anyone.”
“Van,” the dame asked sternly, “who is that with you?” Just then, the Nephti who had his back to the dock dropped his left oar in the water, causing the boat to turn around. “Oh, damn it! No! Oh, it can’t be!” Saletta nearly exploded.
“Sorry, dear Dame, it is me, and I made it all the way to the target without even waking her as she dozed.”
Saletta’s paws were on her hips. “Van! Tell me that isn’t true!”
“Sorry, Letta,” Van replied, embarrassed, “I closed my eyes one tick; he wasn’t there, and it was like the very next tick … he was.”
“Doing what?” she asked, as Buck helped Theo tie up the boat.
“Resting in the other hammock, actually,” Van admitted.
“Oh, darn it!” Saletta nearly growled. As soon as Theo stepped up on the dock, she nearly jumped right in his face. “Prove to me you did this with conventional means! You promised to use only what could be bought commercially!”
“And I did, my dear Dame. Here’s the information,” he replied, providing her with an envelope.
Instantly, she opened it with an expressed claw-tip, still obviously fuming. As she looked over the information, she started to get less angry and more amazed. “You did … this?!” she asked, incredulously.
“So, Theo, please,” Van asked sneakily, “tell us how you did it.”
“May I?” he asked the dame. Frustrated, she nodded and continued to read. “Flyer suit, painted to match the night sky with a ballistic parachute, silent quick releases, and stereoscopic night vision – all off the shelf. I jumped from a long range glider that was towed up to a fairly high altitude – rather chilly, if I do say so. However, since I was able to get quite a bit of linear velocity out of the flyer suit, the glider was never in the exclusion zone. Now, all of that equipment isn’t commonly available together, but it can be collected by someone patient.”
“Countermeasures,” Saletta protested. “You said, as part of the agreement, that if you succeeded, you would tell us the counter measures.”
“That’s simple. Widen the aviation exclusion zone and staff security with four extra individuals. You should have had snipers covering the camp in alternating shifts with thermal scopes and night vision. If they were thermally shielded and were attentive, they could have taken action against me while I was in the vulnerable parachute portion of the descent. As it is, they were all watching the roads and the woods so clearly that the skies weren’t being as carefully covered. The military was searching for things that were more electromagnetically reflective – eyes on target would have helped. Now, will that satisfy?”
Defeated, Saletta sighed, “Yes. Yes it will. Oh, I don’t want to break this news. She hates to lose wagers.”
“What was the prize, if I may ask?” Buck queried.
“Well, it sounds like Theo is getting a catered dinner in the matriarch’s keep,” Van commented. “What would our Grand Matriarch have got if she had won?”
“Dinner at Theo’s private residence,” Saletta replied softly. “I was going to be invited, and I would have invited you, too, Van.”
“Alas, it was not to be, Dame,” Theo commented. “However, you still have a consolation. You have found a way to make your house security that much better.”
“It’s a bit hollow, but I’ll take it. Okay, you win.”
“I’m sorry, Saletta,” Buck offered. “If anyone had asked me, I could have told them that trying to bet against Theo is a lost cause. After all, I saw him clean out the Storm Pack with poly-chance.”
“Oh, now that does sound like a good idea. Think we could get a game going? I’ll play fair this time,” Theo offered.
“Probably, but you might have to tell your flyer suit story to a couple of young ones.”
“I think I can work that in, dear Vanarra. Buck, if you and Van will lead the way?” As the two started to leave the dock, Theo leaned over and asked Saletta quietly, “How’s your recovery been going?”
“I’m fine now, thank you. I don’t even have any lingering pain. If it weren’t for the scars under my fur, I wouldn’t be able to tell I was stabbed. You did a wonderful job, thank you.”
“Believe me, it was my pleasure and honor. You deserve a long and fruitful life for the kindnesses you’ve shown. Don’t worry, Dame. You’ll dine at my very own table, eventually. You have my word. It may not be soon, but it will be.”
“It will be whenever the Grand Matriarch can think up a bet that she can win,” Saletta teased. Theo laughed in response, causing the rest of the group to look back at the pair that had been trailing behind.
With only a few intervals to high night, Kylie watched as amidst playing rounds of poly chance, the two de Bosnar children asked Theo question after question about his spectacular arrival. Tarka was absorbing every detail, and Arani was clearly smitten with Theo. “And why not?” she thought to Cal. “He’s amazing enough, even when only showing his conventional side.”
“What’s the most amazing thing about Theo,” Cal observed, “regardless of how much of his true self he shows, is how much he loves. I can tell, he loves both of those children. He would stand between this world and an approaching apocalypse just to safeguard them.”
“You would, too,” she retorted softly.
“But he would know exactly when and exactly how so much better than I. You can help teach me that, Kylie. You can teach me so many things,” he observed and looked at her, his eyes fixing her in a way that made her heart quicken.
“I … I want to be with you, Cal,” the thought came to her mind before she could stop it.
He smiled and walked over to her. “Having a good time?” he whispered.
“I suppose,” she whispered back, smiling. Tresk, who was standing beside them, noticed the conversation but tried hard to turn his attention back to the stories at the fire.
Cal put his paw gently on the Vulpi’s back. “Tresk, would you do a favor for me?” Cal quietly asked.
“Sure? What’s up?” Tresk replied at a whisper, smiling a little and actually enjoying being asked.
“Kylie and I would like some time alone. We’re going to walk around the lake. We’ll be back at camp, but it may be quite late. If anyone asks, could you cover for us?”
Tresk, to his credit, looked at Kylie for confirmation, but she nodded hopefully, and Tresk smiled in return. “I got your back, Big Red. Don’t worry about a thing.”
“Thank you. Let me know if I can do anything for you, okay?”
“Sure, buddy. You bet. You two go enjoy yourselves. Don’t worry about any of this,” he quietly assured them. “I’ll take care of it.” Kylie nodded to him, gratefully, and arm in arm, tail wrapped around tail, the two left the light of the fire and walked towards the water.
Tresk caught Liana’s anxious glance as she noticed the two pairing off and walking away. Walking around the fire and sitting beside her, he whispered, “Don’t worry, kit. She’ll be alright, and she’ll do right by you, too, I just know it.” Liana seemed to relax, and she smiled at him, nodding, finally willing to be at ease and for the first time in a long time, truly trust and hope.
Long after high night, Tresk sat by the fire, tending it, keeping it going. He had managed to pair up Theo and Liana as tent-mates, given the lack of other accommodations, and with respects to one another, the two had agreed. He had said he always wanted to sleep under the stars and that he had a lot of thinking to do. In truth, he knew he did, but in a way, he also wanted to stand watch for Kylie. He was just starting to get a little worried when he saw their shapes making their way back from the lake.
When they approached the fire, he tried not to look at them too closely, but as far as he could tell, they were as well dressed and kempt as when they left.
Kylie saw him at the fire and smiled. “You waited up for us. Thank you.”
He answered as softly as she had spoken. “Kind of felt like I should. Just didn’t want anything to happen to you two out there.”
“Thank you, Tresk. That was very kind,” Cal noted.
“Well, you have your tent to yourselves. I worked out the arrangements. I’m sleeping out here tonight.”
Kylie walked over and placed a kiss on top of his head. “Tresk, that is so nice of you. I don’t care what anyone else says – you’re a good friend. Goodnight.”
Speechless at her comment, he barely managed to reply before they got beyond his range. “Kylie? Can … can I ask a favor, maybe of both of you?”
Cal led her back to the fire, and they sat down. “Sure, Tresk, what do you need?” he asked.
“I … recently submitted a request to de Kestrick. I wanted to be adopted into the family, but my request was rejected. I didn’t include any references, you see, because … well, I wasn’t sure how others felt about me, and … I think, or I hope rather, that perhaps, well, someone might say something better than he’s an amazing pain in the tail!”
They both chuckled and shook their heads. “Hardly, Tresk. You’ve got rough edges to be sure, but you’ve got a friend here, and here,” Kylie replied, pointing to herself first and then to Cal. “In Van and Sahnassa, too, I think. A recommendation from those two would open almost any door on Thuria, I’d bet. Perhaps, if you’re nice, you might even get a recommendation from Theo. That … that would be more than almost anyone would need.”
“And Tresk,” Cal added, “I … I think he would. I’m a good judge of character – you have to be in a prison camp. I think a lot of them would recommend you.”
“Thank you,” Tresk replied, feeling his eyes well a little. “Means a lot. Have a good night, you two.”
As they walked away, Tresk knew that tonight, sleep wouldn’t be needed. The life and breath of knowing that there are those who care for you and truly respect you was more rest than he had ever had in his life before, and just like the fire he tended, he wanted nothing more than for the feelings he was having now to glow and grow forever.