My father’s greatest strength—the greatest strength he passed on to me and my children, perhaps the greatest legacy he’s given to the Farragut family is his stubborn streak. It’s possibly also the worst.
— Ian Farragut, circa 4901 PD
16 Novem, 5249 PD
“Damnation!” Adam’s hand closed around the inch-thick shaft of wood that had thumped against his arm and shoulder, glaring through the dim at Frederick, who stood at his bedside, holding the other end of the cane. “What are you doing up, Freder? And why the hell are you hitting me with your cane?”
“Shaking you didn’t work. Get up and get dressed. Lindsay needs you out by the cliffs, and quick-like. Daci’s already getting dressed.”
“Mmph. Adam, what’s the matter?” Rachel pushed herself up on an elbow, eyes full of sleep and hair in disarray. She studied Frederick with a slightly puzzled expression. “What’s going on?”
“Something crashed out beyond the cliff,” Frederick said. He was the very picture of calm—it was easy to see how he had risen so far, so fast within the Inspector General’s office all those years before. “Lindsay is there. She sent me back to get you, but I can only run so fast. Get up, both of you. She needs our help.”
“Not our help,” Daci said from the doorway, backlit by light from the hall. “You’re staying here, Frederick.”
He barked a laugh. “Not a chance.”
“There’ll be too many people. You’ll be seen.”
“It’s dark,” he said. “And I’m twelve years older. There’ll be chaos. No one will notice.”
Rachel and Adam exchanged a look. Adam just shook his head and threw the covers back. He rolled out of bed, trying not to listen to husband and wife argue behind him as he started yanking on clothes.
Then it hit him. Something crashed out by the cliff. What kind of something? And from where?
He swore under his breath when he couldn’t find his shoes in the darkness. Rachel was up, now, getting dressed.
“They’re over here,” she said, knowing what he was looking for. She tossed him one and then the other.
“Thanks,” Adam grumbled, shoving his feet into the shoes and lacing them up. “Freder, do we know where it’s from?”
“Not sure,” he said. “But she said someone aboard was screaming. She heard them when they were still a couple miles up and a lot of miles out, if I’m any judge.”
“Damnation,” Adam muttered again, then headed out into the hall. “Rachel, use my comm and get two squads scrambled from headquarters if you can. We’re taking the skimmer.”
“I’ll follow on foot,” she said, groping around in the darkness. “Don’t let her do anything stupid.”
I’ve never known that girl to do anything stupid. She’s been raised too damn well. Adam just nodded, taking Frederick by the arm. “If you’re coming, move fast.”
Frederick choked on a laugh and limped along with Adam as if his life depended on it. Daci muttered a few choice words behind them and hurried to keep up.
“What if it’s an invasion force?” Daci asked.
“Lindsay wouldn’t have heard screaming if it was,” Adam said. “More than likely some kind of refugees.” And Ezra Grace is still out in the wilds of space. Damn. “Rachel!” Adam yelled as they reached the door. “Call Dr. Vilenauva, too!”
“On it!” she called back.
Then he was out the door, crossing the dark, dew-damp yard toward the skimmer. He threw himself into the driver’s seat and waited just long enough for Daci and Frederick to make it into the backseat before he sent the skimmer hurtling down the roadway toward the cliffs beyond the north side of Nova Spexi.
He could see the faint glow beyond the cliffs and felt bile rise in his throat.
Not raiders. Something worse. Always something worse.
Victims. Refugees. His stomach dropped.
He drove faster.
● ● ●
Lindsay plunged from the darkness beyond a line of brush and into the hellish glow of the crash site. She could hear the moans and cries, the screams of the trapped and injured over the sound of crackling flames.
Please come quick, Kara. Please get here fast, Uncle Adam. These people need more help than I can give alone.
Still, she moved toward the nearest cry, one mingling with the moan of someone wounded. The sound came from beneath a sheet of metal that once might have been part of a bulkhead. It seared her fingers as she seized the edge and tanked with all her strength to move it aside. She felt faint pressure from the other side. Someone was trying to aid in their own rescue.
That’s a good sign.
The metal twitched free and Lindsay quickly sidestepped to avoid becoming trapped beneath it herself. Tucked into a hollow space between the bulkhead and a row of seats were two teenage girls, the elder of them wounded, and a younger girl of maybe eight or ten. The little girl took one look at Lindsay and burst into tears.
“Are you an angel?”
It wasn’t the primary tongue of the Commonwealth that the little girl used, but thanks to Alana, Lindsay was fluent in the corporate tongue of the Eurydice Compact.
So that’s where they’re from. Lindsay answered the girl, also in the Compact’s primary language. “No, but I’m here to help you all the same.”
One of the teenagers reached out and drew the smaller girl against her chest. Her eyes filled with fear as she heard Lindsay speak in that tongue, arms tight around the child who must be her sister or cousin. “Where are we?” she asked. “Who are you and where are we?”
Does she think they never made it out of Compact space? How could she believe that? They must have been in jump for days. Weeks, if they were on the far end of Compact space. “My name is Lindsay,” she said. “You made it to the colony. You’re in Foundation space.”
The teenager sucked in a deep breath, tears welling up in her eyes. She swallowed hard. Lindsay touched her arm.
“Come on. Help me with your friend.” She nodded to the injured teenager and started to maneuver around smaller pieces of debris so they could carrying her clear of the wreckage. The teenager scrambled to help and the child moved a little ways away, standing in a clear patch of grass, hugging herself. Together, Lindsay and the teen lifted her injured companion and carried her over to the girl.
She looked over her shoulder toward the voice as she and the teenager lowered their burden to the ground. Relief flooded through her as she saw Kara racing through drifting smoke toward her, half a dozen others at her back, most of them already starting to fan out amidst the wreckage to dig out other survivors. “Kara.”
Kara wrapped her arms around her friend, then looked around, jaw firming up. “What the hell happened?”
“A ship crashed,” Lindsay said.
“I can see that,” Kara said, glancing at the two teenagers and the little girl. The younger pair were hovering over the elder.
They must all be sisters or cousins or something, Lindsay thought, watching them. Her attention snapped back to Kara as the elder woman’s fingertips dug into the flesh of her arm.
“Did you see it before it happened?” she asked.
Lindsay shook her head. “No. I couldn’t sleep. Took a walk and I started to hear the screams while they were crashing. I saw the ship come down and ran.” Her gaze flicked toward the road back to town. “Uncle Adam should be coming, and Marshal Rose.” And Aunt Rachel and whoever else they’re going to drag along. Lindsay took a deep breath and then coughed on the smoke. “Damnation,” she swore under her breath. “I never realized how vile a crash smelled.”
“I know,” Kara murmured, then shook her head. “Come on. I don’t know how many survivors there are, but there’ll be less unless we get to work.”
Lindsay nodded firmly. “You’re right.” She dried her hands on the seat of her pants, then glanced sidelong at Kara even as she turned away. “I think they’re from the Compact. Does anyone else speak their corp tongue?”
“Just you and me, I think,” Kara said grimly. “At least until the Marshals show up. They’re both fluent, aren’t they?”
“Aunt Rachel, too.” We’re going to have to stay available, I guess. She turned toward the girls she’d helped out of the wreckage, looked at the teenager. “Do any of you speak Standard?”
“A-a few,” the girl said quietly. “But most of us, no. No one wanted to teach us.”
Why would– Lindsay’s lips thinned as she began to realize why she’d been able to hear the screams from so far away.
Psychics. They’re all psychics.
Suddenly, why they were all so frightened made even more sense. She looked at the girls again. “How many of you escaped?”
“There were twenty-five of us on the ship,” the teenager told her quietly. “But I don’t know if we’re all still…” Her voice trailed away. On impulse, Lindsay reached out and hugged her tightly.
“We’ll do everything we can,” she promised fervently. “Everything.”
“Are we safe here?”
As safe as any of us can be, Lindsay thought. She didn’t say that, though. Instead, she mustered up a gentle smile and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, you are. You’re safe here and no one’s going to hurt you anymore.” She didn’t know how she knew that someone had hurt them, but she knew it just the same. The thought turned her stomach.
The Cullings, she feared, would pale in comparison to what was coming in the next war, the one that would soon engulf them all.
● ● ●
“Twenty-three,” Rachel said wearily as she stepped onto Kara’s porch, shaking her head and staring toward the cliff. The wreckage still smoldered, but the worst of the fires had been put out during the night.
“Two dead,” Lindsay said, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. She rested her chin on her knee and stared out beyond the porch rail, watching the play of light on the cobbles as the sun came up over the houses across the street. “Did we find their bodies?”
“A detail’s seeing to the burials right now,” Adam said quietly, leaning against the railing. He stared at his niece for a few long moments. Soot and dirt smudged her face; her fingers were stained with dried blood. She’d done as much as anyone—probably more—than anyone else who’d been on the scene that night. “You should go home and get cleaned up, Linny-pie.”
She almost winced at the nickname, instead she turned her head, resting her cheek on her knee and staring at him. “Did they die on impact?”
Adam concealed a wince. “Yes,” he said. “That’s what it looks like.” I’m no doctor, but that’s certainly what it looks like. And that’s what we’ll tell the rest.
Lindsay pushed herself to her feet. “That’s probably best,” she said softly. “That we tell them that. We’re not going to send them back, right?”
Silence met her question and her gaze hardened as she turned her eyes to her aunt and uncle, to Kara and the rest gathered on the porch.
The girl called the Oracle pulled herself up straighter. “They’re staying,” she said firmly. “I don’t care what the Council says or thinks, they’re staying. Make it happen.”
She marched off the porch and into the street.
“Where are you going?” Rachel asked as she sank down into a chair.
“To check on them,” Lindsay said. “The refugees. That’s what they are. Someone’s got to reassure them and it might as well be me. I’m not that much older and I speak their language.” She smiled weakly. “Anyhow, it’ll keep me busy.”
Adam stared at her for a moment, then nodded. “At least get yourself cleaned up first.”
He sank into the seat she’d vacated as they watched her walk away. Rachel’s fingers twined with his. “There’s that stubbornness,” he murmured.
“She comes by it honestly.” Rachel rested her head against his shoulder. “Did Daci take the skimmer back?”
Adam nodded. He’d sent Frederick with her when the sun started to come up. The man had been a shadow, unseen by most but seeing everything. I’ll be interested to hear his insights later. Twenty-three refugees from the Compact, coming here. If he was any judge, the ship they’d stolen to come here with had been an older one, possibly in poor repair, but they wouldn’t know until they analyzed the wreckage. Regardless, the teenagers and children—because that’s what they were, only three of the refugees were older than twenty—had been desperate to escape the Compact. It was a desperation he could understand to a certain extent.
“They’re all psychic,” he said quietly. “Aren’t they?”
“All except for two,” Rachel said softly.
“It all makes sense, then,” Adam said.
Kara frowned, crossing her arms. “Why now? It feels sudden.”
“It does,” Adam agreed. “Which means things are getting worse.”
Next to him, Rachel shivered. Kara swallowed and stared out at the street.
“It’s going to get bad,” she said quietly.
“Yes,” Adam confirmed. “Yes, it is.”