“Who is it, Scotia? Where did they come from, Scotia? Did they communicate, yet? Why are they here?” Leaders of Eudaimonia gather at the sea wall, each of them with weapons in their hands and worry on their faces, each asking me questions before they’d even stopped walking. While a few are in their defense overalls, most are still in their night shifts, a glaring sign of recently neglected drills. My Lab Assistant Preeky Kala, barefoot and rumpled in an unevenly buttoned lab coat over her prized soft bamboo sleep shift, afro flat on one side and braided on the other, catches my eye as she calmy cuts through the garden and simply stands next to me assessing the scene before us. I’m not surprised she isn’t carrying a weapon like the others. “Told you you were exhausted”, I said to her, “You fell asleep before you finished, huh?” My only friend left on Eudaimonia says somberly, “woke up slobbering, too”, as if it is a crime. “Wonder how heavy those things are. They should beach any minute, Sco”. One of her best traits is that she doesn’t ask me nonsense questions.
“Always the optimist, aren’t you? Thanks, Preeky”, impulsively I put one arm around her in a brief half hug. The trio of re-entry capsules no longer glowed, but bobbed like silver buoys in the lake/sea/ocean a mere fifty yards from our diminishing sea wall. Whoever pops their head up through the hatch of one raindrop-shaped vessel is unrecognizable, moonlight casting their face in shadow as they hoist half their body out and wave with their whole right arm. Rage stirs in my guts and I can’t help feeling a bit woozy as I peer at this New Earther. “At least it is human”, I intuit to Haff, who jumps a little at my voice inside his mind.
Realizing not only can I hear Haff’s heart racing, but mine is speeding up to catch his, I’m distracted by the implication for a second before he replies, “Only one capsule is open. What’s in the others? How does it feel to you? Quarantine would buy us time, even if it’s all good… Remember who they are”. It’s not hard for us to believe we were talking about salsa and eggplant less than two hours ago, high on our love and new telepathic gift. I’m unsure when exactly we accepted unpredictability as the norm. Perhaps it was gradual during those first few weeks after they left us here and made me Culler. Of course, I fought it, but no one else wanted it, either. They argued that it was MY family who performed the hated role for generations. “Good to see you, Preeky, as always”, Haff gives her a brief one-armed squeeze. “Let’s just hope low tide is low enough to keep them from hitting the wall. Spring tide… I don’t want to think about it”. Preeky nods in understanding. Haff doesn’t know I know about the two of them.
“Thought this might be handy, Scotia”, Garvey, his sun-baked face friendly, shouts over a vibration of wind and energetic chatter from our growing crowd, and offers me a vintage pliable plastic mega phone I know he prizes. Smiling at him, I take the cone from one of my biggest critics. The figure in the capsule retreated below and out of sight. “Can we harvest some, give people something to do? We could put a few things in the cellar and pull up the sun shade canopies over the rest if you think that’s a good idea?”, I rapidly ask the Master Gardener and he agrees to my multiple queries with a nod and by tapping one finger against his temple. Yes, I nod back, we could all use a task to slow down our cortisol-marinated minds.
Hoisting the megaphone, I hope Haff is right and take a deep breath, “Thank you for getting here so fast and at the ready to defend Eudaimonia, Everyone! We don’t know a lot for sure, but Garvey got a glimpse of a globe on one of the parachutes, so they probably are from Parnus. We have at least one human, but only one capsule open, as you can all see. We also have ripe food in our gardens which needs securing quickly”. The last part caused some pushback, “If they kill us, what good will eggplant do, Scotia?” and “Shouldn’t we guard the shore”? and “Yeah!” and “What if they attack while we’re in the garden?”. At times like this, I’ve found their leadership fluctuates, and it’s best to let their fears vomit forth for a few minutes. Exhausting, but most of the time I am surprised they haven’t killed me, yet.
Myself, I cannot keep my thoughts from Zehmy. I wonder if he is shy like me or friendly like his father. Or maybe, our son is nothing like us. The sky turns from black to purple before my eyes and pulls my attention to approaching daylight. We have 5 hours from purple sky to get indoors out of the sun, with the last hour requiring protective gear. While it is possible to wear the gear for longer, it isn’t advisable with solar flares. No one has even tried since one of Garvey’s Planters (Walco Prist) fried in his suit. I notice Garvey speaking with a couple of Material Science Gardeners and then they head in the direction of our ever-ripening vegetables, much of it in danger if left for one more sun period. Re-entry capsules and our curiosity would have to wait. Small plant canopies lay assembled and waiting for late spring.
“No matter what happens during the next hour, we all need to be actively engaged in surviving! Those capsules probably don’t contain food for us, but they may need protein.” There; now they shut up. Although I hated causing panic, it was the tool they responded to best. Taking another big breath, I prodded their fear, “If many return, make no mistake-they WILL take”, I paused for effect, “Everything. Do you hear me? Every. Single. Thing. Now, please! Help Garvey secure some of the harvest. We must use our time wisely! Haff and Preeky will stay here and wait for Dr. Gronne and any others. Let’s go!” I march purposefully to our garden without looking back, not feeling half as confident as Haff often tells me I look. Hoping the work might provide my mind with some respite from picking at my most tender motherhood wound, I found myself almost running.
Grabbing an ancient wheelbarrow with worn wooden handles from the long gardening shed/greenhouse, I nodded to a few of those who followed me on my way back out, “Thanks, Adanni and Pesha. Thanks, Jory and Visset.” Not as many as I’d hoped, but I never knew who I could count on in Eudaimonia, except Haff and Preeky. Heading for the squash, I heard Haff’s voice in my mind, “Sco? Can you hear me Sco? I love you, Baby. I’m in this with you”.
“I love you, Haffney”, I imagine this zipping back and settling beneath his copper head of curls, both relief and hope tempering my aura of dread a bit. If there was any chance of us seeing Zehmy again, Haff would make it happen, I knew. Picking up the largest squash in the garden, a waft of citrusy floral teases me as I whisper, “thank you”, right before I cut it’s vine a few inches from the top with my pocket knife and place it in the wheelbarrow, quickly turning to express my appreciation to another. We were hungry sometimes, mostly at the end of summer when our stores in the caves ran thin. Pressure behind my eyes comes along with the effort to concentrate on only squash. I sqeeze them shut tightly then reopened them. A cool soup, made by Preeky and a few others came to mind, with my fried millet cakes in the caves this summer. My mind circled back to wonder about the person in the capsule, and if there are others. Why? As I placed the 6th squash in the wheelbarrow, I paused to make note of who else picked this year’s harvest, but couldn’t make out everyone in the predawn shadowy light. Drs. Kilgore and Alfonso, partners and colleagues of Haff’s in Bio-C, had almost a full wheelbarrow of eggplant, the two dressed in yellow coveralls and talking low in a steady murmur. Seriously academic, and older than most of the Eudaimonia Leaders, they mostly kept to themselves, just as Haff and I do. They didn’t notice me until I rolled up behind them with my wheelbarrow of a dozen large squash. As descendants of Elites, Haff and I felt we must frequently prove ourselves not only valuable, but likeable. Haff is much better at the second part than I. “Thank you Dr. Alfonso, Dr. Kilgore”. A quick and simultaneous nod on their way toward the cellars makes me think they might appreciate our precarious position. Or, they may just be afraid of me.
“Baby, I need you to listen to me. You need to hide, Scotia. It was Dusan we saw in that capsule. Dusan came back, Sco! He came back for… “, Haff’s increasingly tense message faded to silence, our connection cut off somehow.
“Haff? Haff! Tell me you’re ok, Haffney”! Instinctively, I left the wheelbarrow and slid between the container that served as our gardening storage shed and another which housed seeds, harvest, and Garvey’s personal living space. Dusan and I were betrothed at thirteen, which everyone knows. But no one knows Dusan is also my nightmare, not even Haffney. Shit. Even leaning against solid metal, the world is spinning. I have to move. Panic is driving me as I race to our container and my S-bag hanging just inside on a hook next to Haff’s. Slipping rubbers I’ve only worn once in the past two years over thin wool socks, Dusan’s hawkish face fills my vision and memories threaten me from several directions. My racing heart won’t let me stop, has no space for logic or love or anything other than getting as far from the shore as I can. Spoiled by my parents, I didn’t consider what my relationship with Haff would do to Dusan’s reputation, to his pride. But, he’d punished me enough.
nice cliff-hanger ending!