The humans who began the Diaspora and the generations preceding them made many mistakes. They are mistakes we continue to make today, with our rapacious use of resources, the bleeding of our worlds dry ecologically. If we do not learn from these mistakes, we are doomed to repeat those of our forbearers. This is not a lesson we can afford to ignore.
— Erich Quizibian, Roots of Disaster: Predicting the Death of the Human Race, c. 5073 PD
20 Novem, 5249 PD
“Lin? Are you going to be okay?”
She turned toward the sound of Kara’s voice and smiled a weak, watery smile as she laid a roll of gauze down in the pile on one of the side tables. “I’ll be fine as long as he’s going to be okay.” Her shoulders rose and fell in a slight shrug. “And that’s what this is designed to ensure, right?”
Her friend nodded slightly. “Yeah, yeah it is.”
“Then I’ll be fine.”
Kara smiled lopsidedly and came over, enfolding the younger woman in a hug so tight that Lindsay wasn’t sure if it was shared worry or the strength of the embrace that made it hard to breathe. She hugged her friend back, clinging for a long moment as her eyes stung.
“I’m scared, Kara.”
“We’re all scared, Linny.”
Lindsay took a deep, steadying breath as their arms loosened. “I can’t keep being me without him. He’s my rock.”
“He’s your Farragut,” Kara said quietly, looking down at her.
“To my LeSarte,” Lindsay whispered. Her hand strayed unconsciously to her middle. Kara’s eyes widened.
“And to your Ian,” her friend breathed. “When?”
“It must have been right before he left,” Lindsay said as Kara’s arms closed around her again. She leaned against her friend and squeezed her eyes shut. I can’t lose him now. I just can’t. “He doesn’t know. I didn’t even know until a few days ago, but I know it. I can feel it.”
“Did anyone confirm it?” Kara asked softly.
“Doctor V did yesterday,” Lindsay said quietly. She took a deep breath and straightened, pulling away and looking up at Kara. “She’s here to help Ezra with him, isn’t she?”
“I guess he asked for her,” Kara said, her brows drawing together as her lips tightened into a thin, white line. “I—”
Lindsay managed a smile. “It’s okay. You can’t scare me any worse than I already am, Kara.” She squeezed her friend’s arm and turned away, peering out the window at the endless blue of the sky. They’re up there, out there, on their way home. It won’t be long. “Did you see Uncle Adam?”
“The Marshal said it’ll be another half an hour, twenty minutes,” Renee Vilenauva said quietly from behind them. Her gaze met Lindsay’s as the younger woman turned. “How close can I expect you to be hovering while Dr. Grace and I are working on him?”
She caught her lower lip between her teeth. “Depends on how bad it is,” she said. “And the look on Ezra’s face when he sees me. That’ll tell me everything I need to know.” I’ll be close, regardless. Probably not in the room, but close. She closed her eyes for a moment and forced herself to exhale slowly. “I’ll stay out of the way. I promise.” After I see him once, anyway. After I touch him and know that I haven’t lost him.
Not yet, anyway. She swallowed the bile that suddenly bubbled up in her throat and shivered. Kara’s arm slid around her shoulders and squeezed.
“It’s going to be okay,” her friend breathed in her ear.
Lindsay nodded. “Of course it is,” she murmured back. “He’s got too much to live for to die.”
● ● ●
“It’s an impressive view from up here,” Rachel murmured to Adam as he came up beside her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. From the edge of the ridge, they could see the sea in the distance. The tides were coming in, the waters rising against the pale sand and dark rocks of the shore. “But I can feel why Kara and Ezra stay away.”
“There’s a lot of memories,” Adam agreed, his voice as quiet as hers as he squeezed her close. “The Graces lived a full life, though, both of them.” He kissed her jaw gently. “A spirit healer could cleanse the place and it wouldn’t be bad.”
“It wouldn’t be home, though.” Rachel took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “But you’re not talking about it as a place for us, are you?”
“Daci and Freder are going to need a place. So are Meri and Grant.”
She shook her head. “That’s a bridge to cross another time. Besides, aren’t Daci and Freder going to eventually go back to Urgarthe?”
“Maybe,” Adam said. “Maybe not.” Not if I get my vote. Not if I can talk him into it.
“You’re scheming,” Rachel said, her tone only vaguely accusing. Adam chuckled softly.
“Was there ever a time when I wasn’t?”
Her gaze flicked up to him even as her free hand lifted to stroke his jaw. It was rough with a day and half of stubble; he’d forgotten to shave that morning. One corner of her mouth quirked upward in a faint smile. “No,” she said. “Not ever, I don’t think.” Her free arm slid around his waist. “It’s good to know some things don’t change.”
He drew her against his chest and stared out into the distance, resting his chin on top of her head. “Especially on the eve of everything being different.”
She looked up, blinking. “You think so?”
“Your sister and her husband are coming home,” Adam said quietly. “They’ve been prisoners of two of the conglomerates for almost two decades. Tell me that they’re not going to have horror stories. Tell me that they’re not going to tell us something that’s going to make war even more inevitable than it already is.”
“Adam,” Rachel said his name quietly, firmly. “We’re only going to war because they’re going to bring it to us. What happened to the Whispers made it inevitable. Lindsay’s visions of the war coming to us made it inevitable. My sister and Grant coming home aren’t going to make the war that’s coming happen. It’s just going to confirm who our enemies are.”
“Which is almost everyone,” Adam breathed, brushing hair back from his wife’s face. “Everyone with the power to make us hurt.” His jaw tightened. “What if they tell us that the Cullings are coming again, Rachel? What will we do then? Leave every psychic that’s not already here to suffer?”
She sucked in a sharp breath and jerked away, turning toward the cliff and staring blankly at the ocean. “No,” she said after a long moment of silence. “No, of course not. How could we?”
“It’ll be a fight with the Council to get them to approve it,” Adam warned.
“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not.” A shudder ran through her and Adam put his arms around her again, this time around her shoulders as he stood behind her. She leaned back into his chest and shook her head slowly. “We’ll have to see,” she said, her voice barely audible over the wind coming off the water. “Fear is a powerful motivator.”
“For both sides,” Adam said. D’Arcy and anyone loyal to him will dig in their heels. They won’t like anything that brings more psychics to this haven. But it’s all we’ve got—it’s all any psychic has left.
This is where the last vestiges of the Guard are safe. The Foundation and the Guard might as well be the same thing, but they’re not. People like D’Arcy make sure that’s the case. His jaw tightened and he knew that Rachel sensed his sudden shift toward tension. She turned to look up at him.
“Cuore dell’anima mia,” she whispered. “Adam.”
He closed his eyes. She hasn’t called me that in a long time. “I’m sorry. Morbid thoughts. They’re the last thing either of need right now, I know.”
“Especially if Lindsay picks up on them,” Rachel said, stroking his face gently with both hands. She smiled weakly. “All the bridges we have to cross are ones we’ll cross when we get there. We can’t afford to make assumptions at this point. Everything’s changing too fast.”
“You’re right,” he said, resting his forehead against hers. “You’re right.” It was a lie, but he let it pass and so did she. There were some things they should be prepared for because they were inevitable.
It was just a question of what was going to happen no matter what and what they could mitigate or prevent.
His comm trilled an alarm. He swallowed.
“Is it time?” Rachel asked softly.
He nodded. “It’s time.”
They turned back toward the house. His arm settled around her shoulders and together, they walked toward the edge of the landing field that once upon a time, Zephaniah Grace had built for his beloved wife, the mother of his twin children.
Kara and Lindsay emerged from the house a few moments after Adam and Rachel reached the edge of the field, trailing behind Daci and Frederick.
“Where’s Aidan?” Adam asked, gaze flicking to his fellow Marshal.
“Seeing to the perimeter,” Daci said. “I was going to stay with him, but he sent me up here instead.”
Adam nodded absently. His eyes drifted toward his niece. Kara Grace-Forester had the younger woman’s hand in a death grip. Both women were white-knuckled. He barely suppressed the urge to shake his head and stepped away from Rachel. He cupped Lindsay’s chin gently in one rough hand.
“He’ll be fine, Linny-pie,” he said.
“He better be, Uncle Adam,” she said. A bare trace of a smile flickered across her lips, through her eyes. “Otherwise, I get to hurt you, remember?”
He laughed and nodded. “I remember.” I might let you hurt me anyway for what I sent them into. Depends on how badly he’s hurt.
Rachel caught his hand and squeezed. He squeezed back and moved away, joining the others in a ragged line facing the field.
In the distance, a dark speck grew bigger, more defined as it glided toward the field, toward Halo Ridge. Out of the corner of his eye, Adam saw Daci wince.
“I don’t like that wobble,” she said, squinting against the sky.
“Alana will bring them in safely,” Adam said with a confidence he didn’t quite feel. He squeezed Rachel’s hand again. Having her here somehow helped him steady himself, steel himself to tell the lies he had to tell—to his colleagues, to himself.
She’ll bring them in safe. Don’t underestimate Alana Chase. That’s how you end up with a dagger in your spine.
Gradually the ship became clearer. Adam winced as he saw evidence of damage, some apparently from lasers, others the normal—or almost normal—evidence of close encounters with space debris.
No wonder there’s a wobble. Looks like half a stabilizer sheered off.
A few seconds before the ship settled onto the pad, Dr. Vilenauva joined them with three corpsmen and a stretcher. She exchanged a look with Rachel and nodded slightly. Whatever silent exchange had just happened, Vilenauva’s nod meant she’d do what Rachel had asked.
He closed his eyes for a moment.
The shuttle touched down in a wash of hot wind.
The moment of truth was at hand.
Later, he would only remember the moment in fragments, snatches of images. Alana shepherding America and Grant off the ship and to the ground. Shaking his old friend’s hand again as Rachel embraced her sister for the first time in decades. Ezra Grace emerging from he ship’s dark interior only to be engulfed in his sister’s arms.
Laying his hand on Lindsay’s shoulder and squeezing as Ezra led the medical team back into the ship and carried Brendan out.
“At least let them get him to the ground, Linny-pie.”
The pain etched on her face and the heartbreaking tenderness of his niece’s touch as she brushed hair away from her husband’s forehead and kissed him gently before Ezra and the rest whisked him away, into the house.
And Alana grasping his arm, jaw set grimly as she laid a data card in his hand.
“The Whispers is dead, Marshal. God help us all.”