Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate.
Roads Go Ever On BY J.R.R. Tolkien Roads go ever ever on, Under cloud and under star. Yet feet that wandering have gone Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone. Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known.
Difficulties 𝍔 & On The Verge 𝍓
Wet earth and decaying foliage could not hide the odor of smoldering death. Zara moved up from the gentle slope of the stream to an old trail used for many years. She examined the tracks along the path running in both directions and determined the marks were old. Only one human track was recent. It was a man as large as Sgt Holmes; only the imprint was from a foot clad in leather made from the python’s skin. A tribal man.
Zara followed the scent of death that beckoned her toward the opening of a large cave. A vibration in her tracking watch halted her search. Zara scanned the jungle around her as she felt three long pulses, code for where-are-you. She pressed the upper right button that sent her grid coordinates back to Sgt. Holmes, so he could get a fix on her location and move the squad up to where Zara was. She darted up the embankment to the cleft in the wall of stone and eased in. Steely eyes adjusted to the dark as Zara sniffed the hell welling out of the ground from an opening in the sandy floor.
Lying on her stomach, Zara peered into the hole, then pulled her laser baton, put it on low power with wide dispersal, and illuminated the narrow gap. Far below was water filled with skeletons of people and animals. It was an underground cave cut out from eons of rainwater flowing from the rock of the mountain above. She took off her tracking watch and threw it in the pit. She kicked the sand and made claw marks at the edge of the hole to make it look like a struggle took place. She saw the cave formed where the stone split open, and another stone fell and lodged overhead. She jumped up with the grace of the leopard, caught the ledge formed at the top and hand over hand, she traversed the cave, swung out on the left face of the exit, leaped to the right, and began to climb up the steep grade to the forest above.
I am free, she thought. I am free. Tears streamed down her face as her taut muscles strained in the climb until she could stand. Before her was the falls and the verdant valley she was told of by her mother. Zara paused to catch her breath and hurried into the jungle treeline to hide among the leopards, pythons, and giant lizards that hunted everything that moved. Holmes would not look for her if he fell for her ruse.
The team stood dumbfounded around the hole where Zara must have fallen in. Somewhere trapped under all those bones and rotted clothing, hide and hair, Sgt Holmes’ dreams of settling down and raising a family evaporated into a vision of Zara’s last breath. He hid his emotions in a hardness that his men could not penetrate. The men bowed their heads with the shock of losing one of their own to this damned jungle doing a shit mission for a scared Colonel. “Let’s go, men. We have a job to do.”
“Do you want me to call it in, sarge?” One of the men asked.
“No, not yet. Let’s just keep going. Zara got us to the gorge; we’ll do the rest for her,” Holmes replied. He reached down to his radio transceiver and turned off the signal from Zara’s tracking watch.
The squad moved in silence along the river up the gorge toward the falls. Their anger and loss smelled bitter from the sweat that soaked their uniforms and gear. Murder filled their eyes that held only dispassionate boredom before.
Ezra climbed out of the cockpit and looked at his finger. The drop of blood the health scanner had extracted would bring the giant lizards. He wiped his finger on a small stone and threw it on the other side of the river to distract the scaly beasts.
Rae hugged Ezra and thanked him for helping her. He smiled. For Tala Rae, he would do whatever her life demanded of him. Eggman, however, grated his nerves a little. This invisible demon must be a demigod, one of mischief. Ezra could see that Rae trusted and adored this enigma; he decided not to trouble himself with Ralph’s presence. When Rae released him from her embrace, Ezra walked downstream with the softness of Rae’s voice lingering in his mind. He must do his duty to watch for predators and place his desire for Rae’s love in a safe place for later.
“Rae, you have to hear this. Get back into the seat and put the headphones on,” Ralph called out from the speakers in the cockpit.
“Why, What did you find?” Rae asked.
“Please hurry your bootie up,” Ralph pleaded.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Captain. This damn spell checker AI for my text to speech converter is on the fritz again.”
“Can’t you turn that damn thing off and just go naked,” Rae scolded.
“By your command, I am naked as a newborn baby,” Ralph replied in his best obedient voice.
“That’s more like it, wait, what? Nevermind, what did the scan say?”
“Rae, Ezra is as healthy as they come. His biological age is about 22, but his chronological age is 34. He is one super-duper-uber dude, Rae.”
“That’s good to know,” Rae said, her voice trailing off into thoughts of Ezra in anticipation of something more disturbing coming next.
“His DNA is 99.8 percent the same as yours. He is Eosian, and genetic markers make him the son of Dr. Ramos, the explorer. His maternal record is indigenous Eosian origins.”
After a long silence, Rae strained under her breath. “Dr. Ramos disappeared 40 years ago on a mission just like ours.”
“And was never found,” Ralph added.
“That means Ezra has family back on Eos, Rae said. If we get rescued, I have to convince him to come back with us.”
“If we get rescued?” Ralph asked. His question hammered Rae. How would she break this to Ezra? Will he understand what this means?
Rae watched Ezra’s stoic face as her mind raced over what to do. She concluded as he walked up to check on her, she would not leave him, no matter what came their way.