This is a continuation of a story begun in the post “Chapter 1. Part 1.” If you enjoy it, please like and share it with others!
CHAPTER 15: THE TASK AT HAND
I couldn’t believe my eyes when recognition dawned on me.
“Pathena?” I asked incredulously. “What-? How-? Where-?” I couldn’t finish any of my thoughts.
“Nicholas, what are you doing here now? How did you get here?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“I could ask you the same question,” I said. It took a moment to breathe in the reality of the situation. “I thought you were dead. I knew you were dead!”
“Well, I’m not dead,” she said.
“I can see that. But… how? How did you get here?”
“That’s a long story,” she said, looking over her shoulder, “and I’m supposed to be selling right now so I can’t tell it to you. Pretend you’re thinking of buying this.”
I looked down at the rug and nodded approvingly, rubbing my hand on it.
“How did you get here?” she asked.
“I bet it’s a longer story than yours,” I said, implying that I couldn’t tell her now. She understood. “I’m going to get you out of here. I have friends who can help.”
“No!” she almost shouted.
“What do you mean ‘no’? I can get you out of here. What have they done to you? Who made you—”
“I can’t. It’s not time yet. You’re early. I – I can’t!” she said loudly, and with that she turned and ran into the crowd leaving the rug on the ground at my feet. I tripped over it in an attempt to follow her and fell flat on my face. When I stood up I had no idea where she had gone, and it was no use trying to figure it out. There were just too many people. I looked around frantically but just made myself dizzy, so I retreated to the wall again. I couldn’t understand what was happening. The idea of Pathena being alive was hard enough to accept, but that she was here in this other place in the universe and that she was obviously trapped here by someone was even harder to wrap my brain around. I closed my eyes and breathed steadily in and out a few times.
Doctor Lee whispered in my ear, “We need to go back to the group. This is too strange to try and deal with on our own. We have plenty of time to come back and find Brew and Plink. We need to sort this out while we still have the chance.”
I nodded and opened my eyes, then started retracing my steps back to the main gate of The Settlement. I saw a small brown lever protruding from the wall next to the door and pulled it without thinking. The door opened easily, and I practically sprinted the half mile back to the rocks where the rest of the group was hiding. I collapsed to my knees breathing hard and trying my best to form words. None came.
“What’s wrong?” asked Thrump.
“Why are you back so soon? Did you find them?” Chak asked.
“What happened?” asked Shishu.
I was trying to answer these questions, but simply couldn’t speak. I was gasping for breath.
“For the Higher-up’s sake, give him some room! Let the man catch his breath.”
To my surprise it was Fwish who was speaking. It was the first time I had heard her speak seriously, and I was grateful that she had chosen this moment to do so. It was unusual enough that everyone did what she said and backed away. Fwik then approached me with water, which I drank eagerly. After a few moments, my heavy breathing subsided, and I started to tell them what had happened.
“Pathena was in there. She was in The Settlement. We hadn’t gone one hundred yards into the place when we saw her selling rugs in the marketplace. She’s alive! She’s a slave! We have to help her!”
I stood up shakily, grabbing Thrump’s hand for support.
“Nicholas, are you sure you’re alright? It’s hot. I think your mind is playing tricks on you. You told us she was dead.”
“I know what I told you! I can’t explain it. I don’t know how she got here; all I know is that she’s here! She’s alive.”
“Okay. Okay. Nicholas. Let’s assume you’re right,”
“I know I’m right!” I shouted.
“Sorry. Since you’re right… what do you think we should do about it?” Flye was speaking calmly.
“But how?” she asked.
“I don’t know! You’re Umbili aren’t you? Can’t you just charge in there? Storm the place? You’re stronger than humans. Just attack!”
“Do you even know where she is in The Settlement?” Thrump asked.
“Well, no. She ran off into the city. She told me she couldn’t leave. She had to stay, and I lost her.”
“Well it sounds like she doesn’t want to be saved,” said Chak.
“But I want to save her!” I yelled. There was a tense moment between the two of us.
“Nicholas. How can we save her if we don’t know where she is, why she’s here, or how to find her?” asked Flye.
“I don’t know, but we can’t just do nothing. I—” I stopped for a moment considering what I was about to say. “I love her. Can’t you understand? I love her. I can’t just leave her here. Not like this.”
Shishu spoke next. “I understand how you feel Nicholas, but sometimes we must let go of the ones we love. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what we want, and what we think is best, in order to do something better.”
“And what something better did you have in mind?” I shot back at him.
“As clichéd as this sounds… saving the world. Are you ready to sacrifice the world for the sake of the one you love? Because, at the present moment, saving her means losing her also. She is in this world, whether you like it or not.”
“What are you saying Shishu? I should just abandon her? Let her die here. Go on living knowing that I could have done something about it?”
“No Nicholas. I’m suggesting that you do something about it. Carry the seed. Complete the journey. Finish the job. The Settlement will still be here afterward, and we can worry about Pathena then.”
“That’s not an option. I have to help her. You’re all hypocrites! It was worth our time to save the ones you love, but suddenly it’s not worth our time to save the one I love. Is that it? Well, I can’t go on like this. I can’t go on knowing she’s a slave here.”
I turned and started to walk back toward The Settlement. “I’m going to find her! I’m going to help her!” I shouted over my shoulder.
“Nicholas Alexander you will stop!” Chak was speaking in the huge ominous voice he had used back on the shores of Troy. I whirled around, angrier than ever.
“No I will not! You can’t scare me with that anymore. You need me way more than I need you, do you understand? I see the way the Umbili look at me, and I hear the way they talk about me. I’m their last hope. You can’t intimidate me and control me anymore. Do you understand Chak? I’m not your slave, and I will not follow someone who does not know what it means to lead. A leader inspires confidence in his followers, not fear. You are a tyrant, and until I have saved Pathena I will not do anything you attempt to tell me to do. Remember, I can disobey, and I think I’ll exercise that ability right now!” I didn’t wait for a response; I just turned back around and stormed toward The Settlement.
It wasn’t until the halfway point that I realized someone was following me. Shishu, Flye and Doctor Lee were all making their way toward me, and gaining fast. I decided to wait instead of trying to outrun them and when they reached me I said steadily, “Don’t you dare try to stop me.” As I did I reached into the pouch containing the time seed, and held it high in front of me, poised to bring it crashing to the rocky ground and shatter into a million pieces. Flye saw what I was doing and backed a few paces away, but Shishu took a step forward, gently grasped my arm, and lowered it.
“We are not going to stop you Nicholas. We came to help you.”
“I thought you couldn’t help me. I thought you said I should stay the course, and finish the job.”
“I had to see to what lengths you were willing to go in order to save the one you love. I know what it means to love so much that you would lay down your life. I know from personal experience. I had to see if you were willing to sacrifice it all, and I’m here to try and make sure that you don’t have to.”
“You died… to save your partner?”
“Yes, I did.”
“And I came to help as well. I was instructed by the Higher-ups to help the human finish the job, and considering your resolve, I’ve decided that helping you save Pathena is the job,” said Flye.
“I am simply accompanying the greatest friend I have left in this little group,” announced Dr. Lee. I smiled. A short awkward pause followed these pronouncements of allegiance. Flye was the one who broke the silence.
“So what are we going to do?”
Immediately, I launched into planning mode. “Well I suppose we should start by finding Pathena. She’s somewhere in The Settlement. Security was relaxed, so it should be no problem to walk back in. Shishu, clear something up for me: I know that the humans in there don’t like Umbili, but what do they think of Umbra?”
“We are nothing to them. They hate Umbili, but Umbra aren’t worthy of a strong emotion. Umbra don’t ever go there simply because of how alone we feel: not because we would be treated badly, but because we wouldn’t be treated at all.”
“Good. Then you can come in with us this time.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea Nicholas? If they see you going around with an Umbra cloud following you, they will definitely mistrust you,” said Flye. “No offense,” she added, nodding toward Shishu.
“Well, I’m not planning on being associated with him. I just need him to be able to get in,” I said. “No offense,” I added.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” I said. “Flye I need you to tap into your foresight. I need you to look ahead as far as you can and see where we actually end up finding Pathena, and see if you can figure out a way to get directions there. Dr. Lee, once she does that, you fly in and make sure she’s right. Make sure Pathena is where Flye says she is. You remember what she looks like right?”
“Well, once you find where she is for sure, you come back and take me to her. Shishu will follow me in at a distance. Once I get to her, Shishu can run up, grab us both and jump us out of The Settlement and back here. Any sort of disturbance we cause will be someone else’s problem because we’ll be out of there instantaneously.”
“That actually sounds good,” said Flye. “Of course it all hinges on whether or not I can find her ahead of time.”
“Yes it does,” I said hesitantly.
“I honestly don’t know if I can or not. It sort of depends on your resolve to find her, my concentration, and a good deal of luck. But I’m willing to try,” she said.
“Excellent. It sounds as if we have a strategy. Shall we put it into effect?” said Dr. Lee.
“I have one hesitation,” said Shishu. “What if we somehow interfere with an attempt to save Plink and Brew? What if our possible disturbance causes some disastrous consequences for our other rescue mission?”
Flye was the one who calmed his fears.
“Shishu, what if’s will drive you mad. Take it from someone who can see the future: focus on the task at hand, and let the what if’s sort themselves out.”
Her resolve with this statement resonated within the group. Focus on the task at hand.
Want to keep reading? Go to the next section! >>> “Chapter 16.”