family gathering (part 9)
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)
Buck explained to Tedarri, “I just finished speaking with Van. They’re out on the lake, but they’ll turn around and come back now that you’re here.”
“How long did they say they would be?” Danala asked.
In the distance, they heard the sound of a powerful motor drawing closer. “Not … long,” Tedarri observed, smiling. “Tarka! Arani! Come with me to the dock! I think you’re going to see something pretty interesting!”
“Me first!” Tarka called, darting ahead.
“Tarka!” the other Nephti-Faelnar mix shouted in angry complaint, but she started dashing after her brother as hard as she could.
“Such energy,” Buck observed.
“A little too much sometimes, but still, they’re great to have around,” Tedarri observed, his mate Danala at his side.
“So what’s been happening out here, since the Meeting Den?” Buck queried.
“A lot of clean-up at the site – most of the hovers are off the mountain and a good deal of what was salvageable. I also have to tell you that we’ve had hoards of archivists coming in, as well. They’ve been recording everything, making sure that there’s a good historical record of what happened.”
“We’ve even had two staying with us from de Bosnar – couple, actually, mated. The children have just loved them,” Denala explained. “Arani seems very interested in everything they are doing.”
“While Tarka’s been learning every detail about the flyers that were used for the rescue. I’ve even taken him to the airbase to see a demonstration show,” Tedarri explained as they stepped onto the dock. The sound of the engines were louder now, more than just a distant echo. “Sounds like they’re tearing up the lake,” Tedarri joked.
“I told her the kids were here,” Buck confessed. “I bet she’s going to show off a little.”
At that moment, the high powered speedboat, fully out of the water on its hydrofoils soared into their small corner of the lake, performed a dazzling turn, and then slipped quickly down into the water – rapidly approaching the dock. As it angled in for its moorings, two figures climbed out of their seats and stood on the front hull.
“It’s Vanarra and Sahnassa! It’s Vanarra and Sahnassa!” the two kids shouted excitedly at the top of their lungs.
“Yep. Showing off,” Buck groaned.
“Just a little,” Denala joked.
“Dying to know who the pilot is,” Tedarri noted. “That was well done. I have seasoned patrol boat pilots who can’t pull that off.”
“Tarka! Arani!” Van shouted, seeming almost as excited as the children. When the boat was just close enough, Vanarra ran and jumped off the front, landing in an almost pounce position, sending shockwaves through the planks of the dock.
“Wow!” the two youths breathed in surprise.
“Come here, you two!” Van called opening her arms wide. The two quickly ran into her embrace, and the adults shared a laugh as Van was pushed over onto her back by the enthusiasm of Tedarri’s children.
“Children, children!” Denala called after them. “You’re mugging a matron, after all!”
“Well, here’s someone else for them to mug,” Sahnassa replied, stepping gracefully off the boat as it slid into its resting place. “Tarka! Arani!” The two children bounded off of Van and held onto Sahni, who nuzzled both of them with affection. “It’s so good to see you two. Have you both been good?”
“Well, Tarka’s not been—”
“Arani! You’ve not been taking first prize, either!” Tarka complained bitterly at his sister’s taunt.
“Actually, you both have been behaving reasonably well, until now,” Tedarri replied, sounding a little impatient. Quickly picking up on his tone, the two let go of Sahnassa and stood in front of him, heads down.
“Sorry father,” Arani uttered.
“Sorry father,” Tarka added. “It’s just … so good to see them.”
“I know it is, but you’re not giving your mother and I a chance,” he teased, walking over and offering Vanarra his paw.
As the greetings on the dock continued, Liana turned to the other passengers. “We’re secure. All of you can get out now.”
“I don’t feel like moving just yet,” Saletta breathed; Saiphar just nodded his head in agreement, seeming about to lose the contents of his stomach.
“May … I help, please?” Liana offered. “I know something that will help.”
“Really? Sure,” Saletta looked at her, seemingly about as nauseous as Saiphar.
Quickly, Liana walked between them and expressed her claws. “Now, it’s going to hurt just a little, but it will make the sick feeling go away.” Carefully, she pinched sections on both of their upper arms with her claw tips.
They both winced, but to Saletta, the relief was almost immediate. “Oh, okay, ow, but … it’s working! I don’t feel like I’m going to … well, lose it now.”
“How … did you learn this? It seems to actually work,” Saiphar said, the first words he’d been able to say since the boat sped off on its return trip.
“My prior life – I spent some time on boats,” Liana confessed. “Just about stable again?”
“Yeah,” Saiphar replied.
“Yes,” Saletta agreed, and the Faelnar let them go.
“Okay you two!” Vanarra shouted. “Who wants to go for a ride in the speedboat?!”
“We do! We do!” the children shouted.
“I don’t. I don’t,” Saletta replied with a groan, getting out of her harness and making for the dock. However, she turned back and looked at Liana and said, “That was really kind what you just did for us. Thank you.”
“My honor, Honored One,” the Faelnar replied, averting her eyes for a moment, but then looked up and smiled.
“Liana,” Van asked, “would you mind taking us out again?”
“Anything, Most Honored! This is … a lot of fun for me!”
“I’ll tag along,” Tedarri added, entering the boat.
“What about you, Denala? Sahni?” Van asked, but Sahni shook her head.
“Mill biscuits,” her friend said as if those two words should easily explain.
“You’d better save some for me, Most Honored of all Matrons, or you’re going to have a house war on your paws.”
“We brought more than enough, I’m sure,” Denala chuckled.
“I doubt it. I don’t see a flyer full! Okay, you two. Let’s get your floatation vests on, just like I have!”
Tresk walked up with Caloinath and asked, “Mind if we come to?”
“I’m not sure there’s enough room.”
“We’re going, Van,” Solana announced as she helped Saiphar to his hind legs. “Come on, my loving artist, let’s paint ourselves into some beach chairs.”
“Sounds like a painting I’d enjoy,” he said as he stood unsteadily and, with her help, made it out of the boat.
“I’m going to pass on this round, too,” Sahni stated. “It looks like the whisk game has broken up—”
“Yes, and there are those mill biscuits, aren’t there?” Van interjected with a smirk.
“And guests,” Sahni replied, hugging Denala around the shoulder. “I also want to introduce her to Tallen—”
“And Tallen to the mill biscuits,” Van chuckled. “Alright already. Come on board you two. I’m sure Kylie’s going to stay on board.”
“You bet! I’m having a great time,” she replied. As Cal sat down beside her, she softly added, “And it just got better.”
As evening started to set in, the entire group was sitting around the campfire, recounting stories and teasing each other about the great fun they had that sol. Van was enjoying the joking as much as anyone, until she heard a flyer call from across the lake.
“What’s wrong, Van?” Buck asked, sensing the change in her mood.
“I … I have to go … do something. Out on the lake, I want to go to the platform and … just listen to the sounds and … relax for awhile,” Van uttered, distracted from the conversation, her focus suddenly on the floating platform about two hundred tracks from the shore.
Buck was concerned. “Are you sure, Van? I’m a little worried by this.”
Sahnassa put her paw on Buck’s shoulder as she came up from behind. “It’s okay, Buck, I promise. It’s just something that happened at the Meeting Den, and we’ve talked about it. I’ll go with her and wait on the shore.”
“Please, Buck. It’s no big deal,” Van added. “I had this kooky vision of being on that platform at nightfall, and it … helped me. I … I want to live that for real.”
“Can I come with you?”
“It’s something I have to do alone, Buck. I love you, and I need for you to trust me. The worst thing that happens is that I fall asleep out there in the hammock, and Sahni has to come get me. We’ve both got UltraBrights, and I’ll wear a life vest coming and going, okay?”
“Alright,” Buck agreed uneasily, “but please, love – be careful.”
“Of course,” she breathed, and licked him on the side of the muzzle.
As the two stepped away, Van asked, “Do you think he’ll come? Do you think he’ll magically appear – I mean in spite of the security and everything?”
“If he does, Van, what would that be to you? A miracle? Scary?”
“Confirmation, of a sort,” Van admitted.
“Confirmation of what?”
“That he’s not altogether a normal Thurian,” Van said, looking at Sahnassa anxiously.
She was sure that Sahni would laugh at her, but instead, her friend nodded. “He’s not what you and I would consider normal, no. You want something from him, though, if he shows, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Van replied. “I … I want the truth, at least … as much of the truth as I can take about who and what he is. I mean, you won’t tell me, and I respect you for that, kit, but … it’s bothering me, being here. Damn!” she said, looking around. “The light is the same, just a little brighter, but I can tell from the stars coming out and … even the moon, Sahni. Even the moon is the same as in my vision!”
As they approached the small rowing boats and Van donned her life vest, Sahnassa asked, “I’ll be here waiting for you, if you want to talk after, okay? I’ll have my PawLink on so you can just call me—”
“You think I’m crazy?” Van asked, stepping down into the small boat.
“No, but perhaps … confused and searching just a bit. You’re still my friend, no matter what. Please, remember that. After all, if this doesn’t work out and he doesn’t show, you just took a few moments for yourself out on the lake. That’s certainly not crazy, and if anyone deserves it, you do.”
“Thanks, kit,” Van replied, smiling up at her friend. “I love you for that.”
“And I love you, too. Be safe,” Sahni replied, sitting in a chair on the dock as Van pushed off and started rowing towards the platform.
As she got closer and closer to the platform, she tried to remember everything about that night – the landslide, the flyers, the matriarchs, being stunned and kidnapped, and most of all, her vision. Looking back, she saw her friend on the dock, sitting, relaxed, looking up at the sky. “I should have brought her with me.” For a moment, Van stopped rowing, thinking about turning around and asking Sahni to come with her.
“Some journeys are meant to be taken alone,” Rahnahi’s quote seemed to reply back in her thoughts.
“Yeah,” she agreed, looking ahead. “Only two hammocks on the platform anyway, and I have to have one.” She started rowing again, feeling an odd sense of anticipation and embarrassment all at the same time. When she sifted it in her mind, she was basically coming out to this platform hoping that Theo would do something to prove he wasn’t normal, but if he wasn’t normal and somehow did know the future or had magical powers, he would know what she was up to and wouldn’t appear. “Magical powers,” she whispered, disgusted with herself. “Come on, Van! What are you doing? Oh, I hope Sahni never tells anyone the real reason why I came out here. I must be losing it.”
Van slowly brought herself alongside the floating platform, and for a moment, considered turning around and rowing back to the dock. As she looked back, however, the scene around her demanded she stay. “So close now,” she whispered, reaching out and tying off the small rower. Slipping the paddles down into the hull after she had pulled herself to a sitting position on the platform, Van then simply stared all around her. “So … creepy,” she breathed. “It’s so … close to what I saw.” The quiet around her was unsettling. It was like the world around her was waiting, waiting for her to take her place so the drama could begin.
Carefully, she got to her hind paws and tried to judge which hammock to get in. From her dream, she chose the one the most distant from the dock. If someone were to lay in the other one, she wouldn’t be able to see their campfire just under the tree-line. Laying down, she tried to relax. It was only then she noticed that the platform wasn’t moving. “Anchored in the lake bed, somehow,” she thought. Laying back, she looked up into the sky, the stars starting to make their presence truly known in the quick-fading sunlight. Closing her eyes, her mind rolled back in time to those final steps she took before she and Agari had been captured, the terror and fear, and finally, the nothingness that followed. Then, there had been the vision – her next conscious thought. She wasn’t afraid in the dream; she was awake and very relaxed.
Distant flyer calls caused her to rotate her ears, and the sounds in her ears matched her memories so perfectly that the echoes seemed to almost have been rehearsed. She opened her eyes and looked up at the late evening sky dappled with soft pink and orange clouds at the edge of her vision. A flame star briefly sailed through the heavens in front of her, and caught in the perfect peace of the moment, Vanarra finally relaxed and sighed.
“It is lovely, isn’t it?” a male voice, a familiar one, asked softly beside her.
“You’re actually here, aren’t you?” she queried, not looking over at him. “I’m not asleep this time, am I?”
“No. You’re awake,” he assured her. She leaned up and looked, and sure enough, there was Theo lying in the other hammock.
“How? How did you do that?!” she asked, awestruck.
“Something of a trade secret, but I’ll tell you this much,” he chuckled, “I’m glad you brought a boat big enough for two, or else I might have to spend the night out here.”
“How did you know to come? Sahni?”
“She was worried about you, honestly,” he explained. “She said that you were being haunted by some of what happened at the Meeting Den.”
“The vision I had, it’s like it’s happening all over again, right now! It’s … it’s creeping me out!”
He sat up and faced her. “Now, understand, Van. You are not in any danger. You are literally lying in a hammock on a platform in the middle of a lake. I don’t have any news to tell you of your captors – you don’t have any.”
“No, but in a way, I’m afraid of something else,” she admitted, and at his raised eyebrows, she pointed at him. “It’s like you’re in my head somehow, or … you were, back then, I mean. I want to know the truth, Theo, of who you are, what you are. I know you’ve got this … like, weirdo secret agent thing going on. I’ve got that, and I think I can almost understand it, but there are other things – what you did just now, when you disappeared on me that last sol in the shelters, and when you … when I had that vision of you! You were in my head, talking to me. This … all of this around me was there, too. I want to know, and I want you to tell me in a way I can understand. I don’t care how bad it is or what it sounds like, just tell me!”
“It’s difficult to try to explain these things to you,” Theo observed gently. “You don’t have the background just yet to be able to accept and truly understand what I would tell you.”
“But Sahni does!” Van shot back. “What’s so different about an Anati cast-off and a pureblood avowed in how we think?!”
“As strange as it sounds, it has nothing at all to do with your genetic background, and it’s not so much your family status, either. It has more to do with what you read.”
“With … what I read?” Van stuttered, confused.
“As silly as it might sound, Sahni is a space fiction and fantasy fan, and although she had a lot of wrong-headed ideas about certain aspects, she at least has some frames of reference when it comes to understanding things beyond the ordinary. You are aware that she has read nearly a countless number of books in that genre?”
“Yeah, but, I don’t see—”
He gently interrupted. “Her mind has had many, many intervals, sols, and even moons to process and come to grips with concepts beyond the ordinary. The authors in that genre of fiction discuss and imagine and posit things above and beyond normal Thurian abilities. They give them names and explore what having such an ability would mean, physically and ethically. What makes me worry about sharing with you is that you lack even those basic starting points. Now, you are a true devotee of the Grand Matriarch Rahnahi de Dothnar, and that is very commendable. She has helped you, guided you, and – in a way – helped mould you into the individual you are. Her works are absolutely wonderful and inspiring, but what she’s written hasn’t done anything to prepare you for what I would reveal.”
“So, in order to get the truth from you, I … have to be a space fiction fan? Oh, please, Theo! How bad can it be?”
“Your reaction just now is enough of a concern to me that I hesitate. For example, I’m not promising you I can do this, mind you, but what if I were to suddenly float off the ground and begin to fly. Would it be a wonder or a horror? Would you think of words like advanced telekinesis or rather possession by evil spirits? What about being able to make a pot of water boil just by looking at it? Would you think of that as an amazing demonstration or a terrifying sign of some malevolent presence?”
“You … can’t really do those things can you?” Van asked, worried.
“See? Those were just examples, but I can tell that I am right to hold back. You’re afraid that those things might be true, and look at you. You’re afraid; I can see it. So, for now, the weirdo secret agent thing will have to do as an explanation. Surely that explains a great many things you’ve seen me do.”
“Not the visions!” Van insisted. “And not you being right here, right now!”
“Doesn’t it? Before, at the Meeting Den, StarSats locked onto your position with thermal sensors and started to track you through the buildings as you and Agari searched through them. That wouldn’t have been so hard because you were warm and the resort certainly wasn’t, and you were largely alone in those buildings until you reached the one occupied by de Caterra. When you were captured, we were able to find dossiers on your likely captors and then use finely directed microbeam transmissions to resonate the walls of the closet to create an audible signal when your guard was out of the room. Your mind, drugged as it was, filled in the rest.”
“But this place? How would I have known that, Theo?” Van countered angrily.
“The Meeting Den lobby was filled with images and advertisements for possible recreation venues, including this one. Somehow, when you were in trouble, the images of this place resonated with you. The rest of the details, your mind filled in, and since then, you’ve been unwittingly working to fulfill your subconscious desire for this moment to come true. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now, I’m not saying that’s what happened, but … it at least has an outside chance of being … plausible, does it not?”
“I … suppose so,” Van replied, frustrated. “Dammit, to come through all of this and still not have a real answer!”
“You’ve got a real answer, but not to the question you asked. You wanted to know if the visions you had were real? Yes, to you they were – that is the answer. The question you didn’t ask, though, is how can I understand what happened to me? For that, you have some direction now. You need to improve your understanding of exceptional, perhaps even only imaginary, things.”
“I need to read space-fiction,” Van stated flatly.
“And fantasy and theory.”
“Then, you’ll tell me?” she asked.
“I have the sense, Van, that one sol, I will share everything with you, but that sol is far in the future. You have a lot of ground to cover before you’re ready for that conversation, a lot of wounds that need more time to heal. Until then, Van, you have a decision to make. It’s a decision I sense you’ll have to make many times, over and over again. Does Theo care about me, and do I trust him?”
Van looked away from him, ashamed. “Yes … and … yes. You’re my surrogate father – I guess this means that if I had been your real daughter, we’d have fought a lot in my teen seasons,” she chuckled.
“It happens. It’s part of growing up. You’re still doing that, you know? Tonight, you’re starting to grow up in a way that few ever do. Be patient with yourself and those around you. In time, my daughter, you will know exactly who and what I am.”
She looked back at him, her expression curious. “I … I always wondered why, sometimes, with Sahni, I get this sense that … she’s older than I am. At times, I’m like – I don’t know – the older sibling, but at times, she is. She pulls abilities out of someplace inside of her, things I’ve never seen. Like how she talked to all of those shivering in the dark in the Meeting Den, encouraged them – I … I was stunned.”
“You sense a depth there in a place you don’t expect it to be. You’ve treasured that in her, haven’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, I have. In you, too,” she offered, reaching out for his paw. He reached out and took hers. “Rahnahi said that, if we are wise, we surround ourselves with the very individuals who can help us grow the most, and if we are good, we are that to others, as well. It’s something to hope for, I guess.”
“It’s what you already are, Van,” he replied, releasing her paw and relaxing back into the hammock. “Wise and good. Just keep at it, stay true, and … broaden your horizons a little.”
Van leaned back into her hammock and confessed, “This is going to be so humiliating. After all these seasons of teasing purebred, avowed little Sahnassa about her space fiction fetish, I now have to tell her she was right. She learned some things I didn’t, and now I need to learn them. Can you recommend any good titles, Theo?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I think Sahni needs to be the one who gives you those tips.”
She frowned. “You are so not letting me off easy, are you?”
“If I did, you’d miss another chance to deepen your friendship with that dear Nephti.”
“I guess so,” she said quietly, but with a slight smile. After a pause, she asked, “Theo, do you have anyone? Anyone who’s … close to you or that you’ve paired up with?”
“Difficult in my line of work, being a ‘weirdo’ secret agent. I have close friends, and from time to time, a little romance – as you well know. I’m at peace with it. I can’t complain.”
They heard, at a distance, a male talking – his tone of voice concerned. “Uh oh, it’s Buck.”
“He’s heard me out here talking to you – joined Sahni on the dock a few moments ago. We’d better get back.”
“How do you know?”
He leaned over and pulled a listening device out of his left ear. “I’ve been listening in on their conversation a bit. Don’t worry. I had ours on mute.”
Van’s PawLink buzzed, and she picked it out of her pocket. “Hello? Oh, yeah, you’ll never guess who dropped in on my few moments of peace out here. Yep, Theo. He needs a boat ride back to the dock or should I have him swim? No, I don’t suppose that would be too kind, would it? Yes, but tell her quietly. Yes, in a few passes. Okay, love you. Bye.”
“He was worried?”
“Yeah, with all that’s happened I can’t blame him. Come on, but I think you should row,” Van said with a smirk.
“Alright. Sounds fair to me.”
“You’ll have some explaining to do when we get to the dock, though. Saletta’s going to be there. Unless you plan on disappearing again, you’d better have a good explanation of how you broke through all of de Gonari’s security.”
“You may trust, dear daughter, that your surrogate father is prepared for such contingencies. I actually wanted to join you at your camp out, and I received permission from the Grand Matriarch,” he explained as they settled into the boat. “I just chose a somewhat unorthodox means of transport.”
“You just slipped by all of them? The military and everything?”
“And your wonderful Matriarch now owes me a dinner with herself and Matriarch Rahnahi at her expense and in her private chambers.”
“You two had a bet?” Vanarra asked, disbelieving.
“Yep. Kest will likely not be all that pleased that she didn’t win, either,” he said as he shoved away from the dock and started to row.
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