Chapter 3. A Drowning World

Chapter 3

Moving

“Mommy, Mommy?”  Arie’s small voice cut through Lauranya’s grief.  Lauranya looked up, wiping tears away with a hand.  Her daughter was a blurry bundle of blond energy. “Mommy, I brought you a tissue!”  Arie held out a tissue only slightly sticky from the trade bar chocolate.

Lauranya swept the child close, hugging her tightly.

“I love you!” she whispered fiercely.

“I love you too, mommy!”   Arie squirmed from the tight embrace, tugging on Lauranya’s hand..  “Mommy come see what I built!”  

Lauranya allowed herself to be pulled from behind Jhen’s desk to see the child’s loc–n–bloc creation.  The blocks had been stacked in a tall tower shape, with the blue blocks on the bottom and red blocks on top.

“See?  It’s the God’s tower in the water.”

“Water at the bottom,. Lauranya whispered.  She turned to look out the window to the tower.  The scientists had rolled their eyes and wrote unheeded reports on the used materials for a 30-story building just for the guests and Gods visiting, when those same resources could have been better used for more research funding.

“Out of the mouths of babes.” She smiled.  Lauranya ran to the desk for paper and pen.  She searched the drawers frantically, her fingers crawling over various paper clips, binders and small loose…things.

“He’s got to have one damn pen that works!”  she growled.

“Bad mommy!”  Arie said at her mother’s bad language, putting hands over her ears.

“Oops.  Sorry, baby.  Mommy’s a little…” a little what?  Sad? Angry? Scared? “A little distraught.”  The big word wouldn’t scare Arie but would convey urgency.   “Yes.  Mommy should not swear.  It does no good and limits my vocabulary.”  Lauranya took a deep breath and smiled reassuringly.

Arie giggled and turned back to the loc- n- bloc filling in the rest of the city.  Lauranya scribbled numbers.  She reached to turn on her phone to do calculations then stopped.  No telling if the ship could track the phone; however best not to take chances.

Dr. Jhen had taken his laptop not the main computer with him to the port.  Lauranya fired up the desktop computer.  She did not remember Jhen’s login, so she went in through the back way to boot up the system.  

She breathed a thank you for the foresight of her grandparents.  “Thank you, G-pa for insisting we learn more than one field.”  She could hear Nisuo’s deep but thready voice.  “You will never know exactly what a God or Overseer wants, but the more you know, the better you will be placed.  Learn everything!”  His whip and sword-scarred face burned fierce in her memory.

She looked up from her math to hear the engines of the last shuttle taking off.  She looked out the rain-smeared window, watching the vapors plumes across the sky, raising the shuttle in a bright arc until the clouds swallowed it whole.

Lauranya took a deep, steadying breath.  “30 levels, 6 inches a day… slope of the hills… length and width of the valley.  Need topical maps.” she muttered pulling up the various maps on two screens.  Lauranya tugged at a loose strand of hair while numbers resolved into an answer.

She ran a worst case and a best case scenario.  Neither set of numbers were comforting, but they were a start.  The building would withstand the rising water.  The top six floors should be safe from flooding, even in the worst case.  Should be.  She was betting their lives on her numbers and the information on hand.    

“Two weeks for the water to reach the first floor of all the buildings.  Eight weeks to flood the living quarters.  Weather model says lighter rain and melting snow caps for the next two years.”  The hair tugging continued as she thought aloud. Worst case, she had two weeks to compile everything she and Arie would need for the rest of their life.  

“Looks like we’ll finally get to see how the Lords and Gods live on the top floor.”

Lauranya threw the remaining trade bars into the loose woven throw blanket and bundled up to take with them to their quarters.  She then bent to pick up Arie,  after a moment of pleading the loc-n-blocks joined the bars.

The green and silver nanny bot lit up when Lauranya and Arie came dripping through the door.

“Good morning, Dr. Lauranya and Miss Arianya!”  the nanny bot chirped cheerfully.  Lauranya could swear she heard Jacks laughter at the bot’s overly cheerful tones.  He had programmed the thing after all.  A fleeting smile as as she remembered the short curly haired scientist and his warm brown eyes, followed by a lump in her throat.

“A prototype.” he had said with a dismissive wave when she protested the gift.  “A hobby, which will probably be destroyed when a real Overseer makes landing.” She had smiled and acquiesced, accepting the gift to help Masia with the raising Arie while she and Tine’s were at work.

Arie wiggled out of Lauranya’s arms to give the familiar nanny bot a hug and a kiss.  The nanny bot’s long metallic ring-jointed arms gave the child a loose hug back.

“Nanny, I will be out for a few hours.  Keep Arie safe and occupied until I return.”  Lauranya spoke slowly and clearly as if to a slow adult.  

The bot swiveled its dome head to Lauranya.  The eyes glowed green in understanding.  “Yes, Dr. Lauranya.  I will keep Arianya safe and occupied.”  The robot chirped.  The head swiveled back towards the toddler who was busy unwrapping the couch throw filled with the loc-n-blocs and bars.  “Shall we continue with your lessons in numbers and letters, Miss Arianya?”

“No.  Want to play.”  The child said firmly.

“You may have five minutes of play then we will do our lessons.”  The nanny bot responded.  Arie nodded, use to this answer.

“Nanny bot, there are trade bars for dinner and there should still be water on tap.  Have her fed and in bed at the usual time.”  Lauranya said, her brain starting to spin with supplies and transportation.

“Trade bars are not the most nutritional…”

“Stop.”  The bot stopped mid-sentence. “All nutrition is subject to availability from this point on.  Only bring up food if what is on hand is poisonous or inedible.”  

“Acknowledged. Dr. Lauranya.”  The bot chirped.

Lauranya turned to Arie.  The child was frowning at the exchange between her mom and the nanny bot.

“Mommy why are you mad at nanny?”  She asked, tilting her head to the left.

Lauranya opened her mouth then closed it again, thinking.  With a deep breath, she tried again. “I’m not, sweetie.  I am upset and probably yelling at an object that has no feelings to get hurt.”

“That’s still not very nice.” Arie said with the certainty of a child.

Lauranya knelt down, wrapping her arms around the child.  “No dear, it is not.  Arie returned the hug tightly.  “Sweetie, I need to get a few things set up and I may be gone for a few hours.  Nanny will watch you while I am gone.  I need you to be good.”  Before Arie could ask, “Yes you still have to do lessons but after lessons you may play with the blocs or watch a movie.

Arie squealed at the treat of a movie, giving a tighter hug to her mother.  “Okay mommy.  Don’t’ worry.  We’ll be fine.”  Arie smiled, giving her mother a kiss on the cheek, then went to see what nanny bot’s screen was showing.

Lauranya slipped out of their rooms quietly, just in case Arie had another question that needed answering.  Time, they did not have.  

“Food, shelter, clothing.  Food and shelter first.” Lauranya could feel her heart beating faster and the need to run building.  She leaned against the hallway’s wall, getting herself under control.  Where to start her mind kept circling on the impossible task of surviving in a drowning world like a mouse in a cage.

“Cages!  I need to see what is in the labs.  Seeds.  No animals but generators.  Then the tower.  Then I start moving things.”  With a nod, she pushed off the wall.  “Right.  Lab is first.  One step at a time.” She stepped quickly.  They were running out of time.

The labs were locked. However, Lauranya had her key pass.  No one had bothered to mothball the buildings or shut down the electronics.  The water would destroy any attempt to preserve, so minimal effort was made.  Lauranya’s hands shook for a moment. The Gods wouldn’t know for years of the intellectual property loss.  The scientist had been the largest asset to be saved but even that was a lie.  The other deaths weighed heavily.

The solar generators could last for a couple of generations in space; however when enough water hit them things would start to short out.  The generators were never meant to be waterproof, just water resistant.  She chewed her lower lip.  What if the generators shorted sooner rather than later.  Electronic doors would not open.  Should she prop the doors open or leave them closed?   She hesitated for a moment, thinking to prop the door open with a chair, but the thought of a whiskered cat wandering in out of the rain was enough to check the locks behind her.

“If something big gets in here while I’m collecting items, I’m dead.  So unlocked but take out the electrical locks can be manually opened.”  She headed to her office first.  She sat down, flipping on the computer, experiencing a serious sense of déjà vu of opening Jhen’s computer, causing another moment of hyperventilation.  She drove her nails into her thigh to keep from losing it again.  “No damn time! Concentrate.  Survival first.”  A deep breath through her teeth and the pain from her leg refocused her on the tasks at hand.

The computer flared to life.  She had disabled the voice program months ago.  Having a nanny bot speak was grating enough, having her computer imitate her husband’s voice made her skin crawl.  

“Computer list all solar generators in the compound.”  She thought for a moment.  “Unconnected and connected.”  Lauranya started to flip through the monitors for the labs.  All the large animals had been put down yesterday.  No help there.  Would not have been able to house the cheo goats anyway, they were too big both in eating consumption and room for movement.  Too bad about the chickens or the rabbits though.  

Lauranya stopped her screen on the incubators.  The lights were still on.  She gave a puff of laughter.  The eggs were still viable then.  “Computer list the egg types in incubator 1101, 1102 and 1305”.

The screen scrolled through the genetics of eggs listed.  

“Chicken, 3 different types listed, over 25 eggs, but only 5 ducks eggs.  Cannot fault Tass for wanting to experiment on an actual water based bird.  Competent scientist just excellent ass-kisser, just a lousy co worker.”  Lauranya rolled her eyes, unconsciously muttering about the well-worn dislike of the scientist.  “Crap!  Do we have enough food for the chicks? I need to find out.”  She tapped her computer again.  “Computer, list all feed for chickens and ducks.  Also all edible seeds in storage that can be used for crops.  Nutrition density seeds first with care instructions.”  A tap of her finger on the wooden desk.  “Also list soil density needed and soil nutrition needed to maintain with water usage required for maximum growth.” A quirk of her lips.  “Though water probably will not be a problem.”

Her fingers tapped on the keyboard without striking hard enough to type as she thought.  Lots of water would be available but then moving the water to the plants or even to the building would be an issue.  Clean water for her and Arie would be an issue.  They would need clean water on tap for both drinking and cooking. Hygiene would be an issue without water as well.  The ground floor generators would be drowned in 4-5 weeks that precluded using the ones in place.  Lauranya chewed the inside of her cheek, her head starting to hurt.  Another stray thought.  Medication!  What was left?  What had the captain and his crew not taken?  How was she going to apply what was left?  She was not a physician.

“Computer, list all skills needed for …” for what?  Surviving a drowning world, being lost without technology or at least limited technology….who was going to fix the broken things?  “Breathe damn it.  Breathe.”  She reached into her pocket.  Drat!  Her anxiety meds were in her overnight bag, which was still in the concourse at the shuttle port.  She took more deep breaths.  One-step at a time.

“Waiting for command.” Scrolled across the screen as the computer beeped at her.  

She tapped the appropriate keys to keep the beeping at bay.  “Computer print all items pertaining to and instructions for growing food plants in a greenhouse type environment…”  She stopped mid-sentence a sob breaking free.  There were no people, a drowning world, and such a long shot to survive.  Would the Gods’ accommodations actually be waterproof or just water resistant?  Could she find and grow enough food?  Medicine?  What would they need for the years, hells the months to come?

This time she did start to cry, burying her head in her hands.  Was she even doing the right thing for her daughter?  Would it have been better if they had drunk the champagne?  The thought of her daughter dead, frothing at the mouth, choked her even more, but the image of what had been done to the others filled her with a fury.

“No! The Dead Gods be damned!”  She wiped her eyes angrily.  Lauranya clenched a fist.  “So mote it be.  We will survive!”  They would make a go of it at least trying to survive.  The practical side of her brain kicked in.  In a worst-case scenario, there should be something on hand to slide them gently into death’s arms.

She took a deep cleansing breath and continued to dictate to her computer.

Lauranya stepped into the labs.  The computer had listed the edible seeds stock inventory as ¾ full.  The planting from the last year had gone amazingly well but this year’s planting had not started.  The spring rains had never abated.

There were enough of each seed to plant two acres each and still have seeds to eat.   Well, those seeds that could be eaten, she amended.  The fruit tree seeds were not going to be edible, no matter how long she boiled them.  

She looked in the animal lab wistfully. Camdia had done her job though and had euthanized and disposed of the bodies.  The protein would have been useful if not for the strong euthanizing drug in their system, so no salvaging the meat was available.

All four incubators showed green lights.  Lauranya grinned, walking up to the incubators to visually confirm the power on green lights were working. Bless Camdia and her forgetful genius!  That girl could map out genetic codes on reproduction, but she was absent minded on anything not in her area of specialty.  

“Thank you Camdia!  May Yemoja, the all mother, hold you close.” Lauranya whispered.  She flinched and looked around guiltily if someone overheard her prayer.  “No one here but you, woman!”  Lauranya shook her head, hissing her breath out between clenched teeth.  Her back ached from the last time she had prayed to the forgotten Gods and not the Undead god of her world, and gotten sent to the Overseer for correction.

She touched her ear bud, connected to the computer’s interface.  “Computer I will need all growing …raising instructions for chickens and ducks from incubator.”  She stopped for a moment looking at the hatching estimate.  “One week from hatching to full growth.”

This lead to the next train of thought. “How do you even cook one of these birds?”  She spoke into the empty office.    

She flinched when the computer responded. “There are over 200 recipes for chickens and ducks.”  

“Damn…Never needed to worry about turning off the computer’s voice for the ear bud.” She shook her head, but continued without disconnecting the voice.  “At least it is not Tine’s voice.  Computer, add all recipes pertaining to chickens and ducks with grains from the seeds listed at this location.”  She continued to explore the fowl lab.  “Add that to the manual being printed.”

“Would you like recipes for the grains, legumes and root vegetables with the spices on hand?”

“Yes.”  She said absently, and then stopped.  “Spices on hand?”  She queried with a frown.

“The hotel has a rarity of spices on hand. Some of which are in seed or cove from that could be grown for further replenishment of stock.

Lauranya’s mind raced.  If they left spices, could the ship crew have left other food stock?

“Computer, is there food stocked in the hotel as well?”

“All lower kitchen food stocks including spices were removed…” The computer started.

“Damn you for raising my hopes.” Lauranya said through clenched teeth, her hands turning to fists at her side.  She felt the prickly sensation around her eyes, as tears started to form.  She missed the first few words of the computer’s next sentence.

She almost sobbed, whispering instead “Repeat.”

The computer droned on, “However, the upper suitee portion of the hotel is fully stocked with spices and food items.  Shall I list all foods and spices on stock?”

Lauranya stopped with her mouth open, and then closed with a snap.  “No, wait.” She thought for a second.  “How long will the food last one adult and one child?  Are the cooking facilities only in the lower portion of the hotel or in the upper portion?”

The computer gave three soft beeps while computing. “The food stocks will last one child and one adult for three years on three meals a day.  There are cooking facilities both in the lower and upper portions of the hotel. The upper kitchen is not dependent on the lower kitchen for operations.”

“Computer, can the kitchen cooking facilities be attached to solar generator for use?”

“With the use of one connecting solar power generator, the entire kitchen facility will be operational.”

“What other equipment does the kitchen facility have?”

“Food preparation stations, cooking station, freezer sections and pantry.  The pantry and food preparation areas only require lighting for use.”

Why did the captains leave the food?  Like here did they just assume the kitchen had not been stocked?  All the slaves who had filled the pantry and freezer gone with the first transports off so no-one to correct this assumption.  

Lauranya sagged with relief, leaning against the wall.  Her hands shook for a moment, and then steadied.  Three years they could survive, while she and Arie learned how to raise plants and birds.  

Lauranya passed through the labs, confirming no other surprises until she got to the personal offices next to the children’s lab.  There she paused for a moment as she heard a high-pitched squeaking, like a rusty wheels spinning repeatedly but un-synched.  Lauranya hesitated but followed the noise moving as quietly as she could on the tiled floor.  

The sound got louder the closer she got to the far side of the labs.  Here she found the second bit of good news in the source of the squeaking wheels.  The kids would come in with their parents and given small tasks with personal pet projects.  There were eight cages, each cage holding either one rabbit or a rabbit and her litter.  There were five singulars and three mothers with litters.  

“Yes!”  Lauranya gave a small whoop.  “Bless you, Camdia, again for not thinking outside your orders.”  She leaned close to one of the cages for a better look.  Fat and sassy, the six-legged mammals seemed not only well fed but happy to see her.  The closest one rolled onto its back with all six legs up and loose, as if asking for a stomach rub, with a toothy grin.  This reminded Lauranya of her own pet rabbit before it had been contributed to the family dinner one lean year.  “We’ll get back to you eight as soon as I can.” Lauranya promised, with a smile.  She checked food and water levels.  All seemed to be stocked well enough to last another few days if necessary.

She continued on to the warehouse storage.  The warehouse was right behind the labs, with a walkway wide enough to accommodate two lift jacks at one time. The sound of rain beat steadily on the metal roof walkway between the labs and warehouse.  Any other time she would have enjoyed the effect of the rain, but now it just drummed out in a staccato pattern that reminded Lauranya she was running out of time.

The concrete had been sealed, leaving the floor shiny and reflective.  The overhead lights pierced the gloom, but did not really alleviate the shadowy corners at the ends and at the bottom of the high reaching rows of equipment.  Lauranya swallowed.  The shadows could hide so many things, and usually nothing good.  Taking a deep breath to clear her mind and steady her nerve, she headed deeper into the bowels of the warehouse proper.

The warehouse, even after the ships had cherry-picked the contents, was a vast treasure trove of survival items.  She went to the area listed for holding the solar generators.  There were four.  “Damn you, to the hells!”  Lauranya whispered.  The computer had listed over thirty.  It seemed the various transport crews had helped themselves to the generators as well.  Lauranya had to crawl to them, as they had been pushed to the very back wall, of the holding pen.  Of the four left, one looked to have been cannibalized for parts, the interior wiring and electronic boards showing through a gaping open panel.  The remaining three did not seem to be missing any parts.  One was dented slightly on the side, but not serious enough, Lauranya hoped, to be damaging.

Each one weighed 90 lbs.  There was no way she was going to get these to the hotel by herself.  She stopped for a moment, chewing on her lower lip.  “Right. I need moving discs.  Now, where the hells are the discs stored?”  She muttered to the ghostly silence.

“All frictionless discs are in the first row by the office door, third shelf up.  There are also keys to unlock the lifts, and tarps varying from 6’x4’ to 12’x20’.”  The computer chirped into her ear, causing Lauranya to jump up startled, smacking her head against the metal shelving row above the generator section.  

“You bloody sand wasted piece of…”  Lauranya clutched her head, then clenched her jaws, her breath whistling through her teeth in pain.

She crawled out of the pen to locate the discs she needed for moving.  The discs were exactly where the computer had stated.  She gathered six– two for each generator.  The discs did what they were fashioned for, making a heavy load easy to slide over any surface with the touch of a finger.  These she moved to the warehouse bay door to the left.  She found the barrels with the markings for seed grains.

“Why the hells did you not take these, Captain?” She looked for a forklift to move the grain plastic barrels to the hover lift. “There’s enough here for years of growing…ahh…growing.  You need dirt or hydroponics and most small ships will not have those.  Only the world ships.  And I am betting you didn’t think you could eat those or have room for a growing medium.”  She stopped with her hand on the forklift, closing her eyes.  “Dirt or hydroponics.  How do I grow these now?”  she said, realizing the same dilemma that kept the seeds from being stolen in the first place.  She shook her head.  “Seeds and eggs with power generators.  I will find dirt next!”

With her computer’s help and judicial application of machine help for moving equipment and supplies, she spent the next few hours sorting useful from not so useful into sections near the warehouse doors.  The most useful items went next to the bay doors, while those not immediately necessary further back from the door.  The incubators she would leave until she had a space cleared out in the hotel main floor.

The first trial run of packing the lift, she over-loaded the seed side, causing a tilt on turning.  The seeds did a slow tumble to the left, with the solar generators  with only a thump.

“Esu!”  Lauranya snapped irritably, and then started crying.  “No Overseers and I cannot do a single thing right.”  She angrily wiped the tears away, pressing her lips into a stubborn line.  She straightened her shoulders, with a deep breath.  “The road to the end requires many steps.” she whispered her grandfather Savo’s favorite quote.   It took her two tries to reload the lift correctly with the heaviest items center middle, picking up the various items that had spilled.

“Doctor Lauranya, I have a problem to report.”  The computer chimed into her ear.

“That’s a surprise…?”  Her voice was dry in response, as she concentrated on each item’s placement.

“Excuse me, doctor?”

“Nothing.  What is the current issue?”  Lauranya swallowed her sarcasm.

“The map of the suites shows all rooms to be filled with furniture or bedding.  There is no room for your influx of equipment.”

That stopped Lauranya cold.  She had not planned on there not being room. “Computer, is there enough space to move the furniture into a room or a set of rooms?”

“Not without much lifting.”

“Visual.”

The computer projected a hologram in front of her eyes with the upper floors schematics and furniture.

“Lots of furniture.  Inefficient use of space.”  She tapped her upper lip with one long finger.  More lifting, it looked like.  “Well I will have a lift with me.”  Another thought.  “Computer, keep track of all items I am moving.  I will want to move the equipment into the main lobby while moving the furniture into the rooms.”

“Yes, Dr. Lauranya.”  The computer intoned.

“Arie and I will take the upper suites and I will fill the lower suite with furniture.  Sheets, towels…those will need to be found as well.  Cleansing suds for us and clothing.  Add that to the list of items to find, computer.”

“All cleaning supplies and fresh linens can be found on the first floor in the laundry rooms.  To a lesser extent, there are also cleaning supplies and fresh linens in the laundry room of the upper floor.”

“Oh!  Yes that is perfect.”  She stood for a moment gathering her thoughts and rearranging the order of items needed to be collected.  “Computer add to the list all medical remaining and take notations.  I will need to move the supplies to the upper floor, second room from end right.  That can be our medical.”

“Acknowledged, Dr. Lauranya.”  The computer flashed a holo to her right with the list are ready compiled a line drawn through the warehouse items on the lift.

“Second floor can hold equipment, cables, computer and generators here.” She said pointing to one suite of rooms.  Another thought.  “Computer, are there discs on the furniture or do they have to be lifted?”

“Final inspection has not been completed by the majordomo, so all furniture items are on frictionless discs.”

She breathed out.  “Something going right for the moment.  Ok, we will start with the leftover moving items, and I will start arranging furniture over there.  Have a list ready with each moved item and their location so I can put them on the moving lift easily and quickly in order of need.  Priority to food, generators, medical, and animals.  Each moved needs to contain a portion of each.

“Acknowledged, Dr. Lauranya.”

With a shake of her hair, she returned to the task.  The lift was loaded without wobbles.  She used three tarps to cover the generators and other items from the downpour.  

She pulled the lift with her to the bay doors, opening them only a fraction so she could look outside, no whiskered cats in sight.  She opened the door, pulling the lift behind her.  Once cleared of the door, she reclosed it.  

She was soaked to the skin within seconds.  She came to realize her office flats would not work after a few feet on the water slick road.  She was stumbling, catching herself against the lift, as one foot or the other would slip out from under her on the running water covered concrete.  She did not swear at the slips just grateful the water was still running downhill and not pooling around her ankles or higher.  

It was a short walk brought to the hotel, but Lauranya kept stopping every few feet to check the lift, not trusting her packing for this first, most important load.  What should have been a quick four-minute walk was a good 15 minutes.  

Lauranya tried to not think how much more dangerous and time consuming the trips would be when the water was pooling at her feet and rising fast.  She concentrated on her footing and breathing pushing her anxiety aside.

The service door was wide enough to hold three lifts at a time and twenty bodies.  The door was a palm reader, which had Lauranya worried for about 30 seconds.  “Computer have biometrics been set for the Lords building?”

“Not yet, Dr. Lauranya.”

“Ok, let’s give this a try, before I have to gladiator stomp this thing.”  She placed her hand on the door.  The idea of her trying to kick in the metal door make her smile for a moment. the door plate beeped thrice then opened to let her in.

“Generic hands will open it.”  Lauranya was both grateful and appalled at the lack of security.  She pulled the lift into the dry service elevator over the rough stone tiles on wet squelching shoes.  Cold air blew on her from ceiling air vent, causing shivers.   

“Please no key.” She whispered, reaching with shaking hands to hit the upper most floor button.  A heartbeat in time, that felt like an eternity, later, the button lit up.  The locks had not been set.  She leaned her forehead against the smooth steel walls.  The service elevator started to move up and music started to play.  Soothing classical.  Lauranya rolled her eyes at the sporadic touches for the building.  The music reminded her to add another list for compilation.  They would need music on file.  

“Computer, download all music into the hard drives.  Duplicate all information requested not just music, no triplicate into multiple files areas.”  She shook her head.  “Redundancy must have more than one.”  Another thought.  “All entertaining and educational videos as well.”

“Yes, Doctor.” The computer chirped compliantly.

The ride up gave her the time to chew on her lower lip thinking.  Her brain kept turning over the thoughts of what might be missing, like a burrowing rodent tunneling through her brain.

“Shhh…calm…shhhh.” She whispered to herself as she would to Arie.  Her hands were shaking so she gripped her upper arms to quell the hands.  The hands still trembled but not as badly.

The double doors opened onto the bottom floor aerie suitees entryway.  Even with her anxiety spiking, Lauranya stopped and stared.  The entryway was the size of the lab building.  The windows stretched from floor to ceiling, showing a grey drenched view with rain streaked glass.  The stone floor was muted sandstone pavers, covered with natural fiber rugs in geometric patterns in floral and mechanical interwoven. The overstuffed couches were in dark brown and red colored leather.  Lush and luxurious furniture and materials, and Lauranya had to move it all.

She set the grav lift to the side and went to explore the rooms to assess the extent of moving that she would need to do in the hours of the day remaining.

Brother shook the rain from his fur futilely, stretching his front paws out and back legs up.  His tail curling to the side, the tip of his tail twitching, never still.  He gave a yawn.  The assignment to watch the colonists had been tedious at best; however the rain made it an assignment to detest.  However, it was needed.  So here, he sat watching the others living and now their leaving.

 The colonists had taken longer than expected to realize their settlement was in a low-lying area.  This past week had been the most exciting to watch vaguely.  Like watching neon-ants scattered when their pebble mounds were kicked open, lots of motion and hand waving, sometimes even fights.  The men and women with the whips had taken the first three shuttles out, with many of the others in tow.  After that, the loading of passengers and items had gone slower and somewhat smoother.  There was no more scent of blood and fear.

Brother, watched, captivated by the dichotomy of the family units.  He had seen pale skinned parents with children of much darker pigmentation or the opposite. Some parenting unites were made up of one light and one dark with their children either dark or light.  In his one hundred and fifty years, he had seen fair parents produce fair children and darker parents produce darker children.  Children with parents of light or darker skin usually had a combination somewhere in between.  For the colonists, there did not seem to be the norm.  Brother’s curiosity was piqued.  There had to be a reason for the unusual genetic combinations unfortunately it wasn’t as if he could approach one of the colonists and ask how this happened.  It was as if nature had been denied her normal randomness to follow an unknown but set law of genetics at someone else’s’ behest.

Brother was looking forward on riffling through any books or notes left behind.  Sister and the council wanted to know why the Dead Gods had come here and if they would be coming back.  Brother just had his curiosity to settle.  He shook his ruff again and settled into a slightly more comfortable position on an uphill brush covered vantage point.

The last shuttle was leaving today.  He saw the last of the men women and children start to bring out their bags, handing them off to the men and a few women of the ship.  He flicked an ear as he saw the bags tossed to the side.  Every other loading he had seen the bags had been thrown into the ship, but not this one.  An odd thing.  And odd things should be watched closely.  Therefore, he watched and waited.

There was a steady stream of people entering the shuttle port, in twos and threes, some family units with children, other’s single adults.  He watched the last two people outside, one small child jumping into puddles whose infectious laughter even from where he as camouflaged, her blond hair in wet tangles down her cherub cheeks.  She tried to outrun her mother with squeals the howls of outrage at being caught but the slender woman with matching green eyes and longer blond hair in the same sun streaked shade as her daughter. The captured child’s howls cut off as they entered into the port.  

Brother waited patiently for the ship to take off so he might start to examine the works left behind.  Ten minutes passed when the odd happened.  The woman with the small child came running out of the port.  She stopped for a moment looking around frantically before darting to the non-living facilities.  Brother stilled, including the tip of his tail.  The ruff on his spine starting to rise at the smell of fear and fresh blood reached him faintly.

Moments later, men and women boiled out of the shuttle port, running to the living quarters.  There was hand waving and yelling for a few minutes then those who had stormed the living quarters came back out grim faced and empty-handed returning to the shuttle port.  Within minutes, the shuttle took off.

Brother slipped from the brush, eeling under wet bushes and chin high native plants, careful not to disturb the forest floor detritus, making no sound as he went to step on to the concrete grid worked roads.  

He went to the shuttle pad first.  Something had happened here.  Something unusual.  Between one-step and the next, he shifted from a large feline four footed shape to his human two.  Clothing did not shift so he stood naked at the entrance of the shuttle building.  The doors opened as swiftly for him as any colonist; however it was the smell that made him recoil a half step, shaking his head.  Even in his human skin, Brother could smell 20 times better than his non-shifting companions of two legs.  Here he smelled Death, and it had come neither gentle nor kindly.

He walked through the glass covered vegetation area first.  No death, only plants dying slowly.  Yet the scent accompanying Death’s was not that of decaying vegetation but an almost overwhelming chemical smell of things not natura,l emanated from the floors wall-to-wall seamless rug.  He walked on this rug, soft on bare feet yet there as a slightly crunchy texture underfoot to the carpet.  

He sniffed the air, turning towards a door to the right, pushing it open.  A small death in this room.  A man with pulped facial bones.  Not an easy death but the killer was desperate by the looks of the wounds and the man unprepared for the violence that befell him.  He sniffed the air.  Blood, feces and the scent of a woman and a child.  The blond woman, Brother thought.  There was nothing else of interest in the room where human waste was deposited, as softly as he had entered, Brother slipped back out.

The next door to open was on the right and most of the death smells emanated from this room.  Brother opened this door cautiously, fearing a trap.  The door opened easily if messily.  The pulled skin and muscle with much blood, from one small girl’s hand, slicking the tan room rug so the door slid easily was the first sight that greeted him.  The multiple bodies with self-inflicted death wounds or foaming mouths were the first hint of poison.  

Brother walked gingerly over the dead to the table filled with empty bottles and the remains of various food items.  Not touching anything laid out, he leaned his head over to sniff a small cookie.  He wrinkled his nose and sneezed at the amount of poison lacing the treat.   A growl broke from his throat.  Poison, a coward’s tool.

With narrowed eyes, he slipped from this room back to the foyer, only to freeze feet from the door. He dropped to the floor, crawling behind a container of plants raising only his head to observe.  The blond woman with the small child was exiting from the building across the way.  Her main hand held her daughter’s hand as she furtively looked around ready to jump out of her skin at the slightest sounds.  Her other hand carried a blanket, oddly bulky.  She and the child hustled into the building where most of the others had lived.  

Brother watched, the door close behind her, thinking. She would know why these people were dead and why she had fled from the ship that would have taken her off the drowning world.  However, was it worth her knowing about the islanders or guessing about the sea dwellers?  Should he offer her the island for sanctuary?

His sister’s voice came unbidden to mind.  “Observe…do not interfere.” Brother let out a soft growl, shaking dark waving hair in irritation. If he had been on four feet, his tail would be lashing.   He did not like letting the helpless die, but he would not interfere in the Torch’s orders.  It was important.  Even if he knew there was no way the two could survive on their own.

Brother slid to the non-living quarters building, searching for a way in.  The doors would not open.  He searched his memory of watching the normal day to day activity.  Everyone who had entered had used a small rectangular item.  He jogged back to the shuttle port and the room of the dead.  He searched the bodies finding a couple of small rectangular cards that matched his memory for those entering the other building.  

He slipped out of the shuttle port checking for signs of the blond woman and child, the whiskered cats weren’t likely to be moving this way, yet.  Yet being the key word.  He trotted back to the other building, sliding the card in the sideways motion observed.  The doors slide apart with a woosh and push of cold air.

He glided along well-worn carpet of unnatural fiber, rougher on his bare feet than the shuttle port carpet, though soft enough his footsteps made no sound.  He moved around desks and offices looking for paper or odd notes that might help answer questions from the islanders, either belaying fears of preparing for an invasion.  

Brother made a face.  The islanders had a few of the disc guns left and two of the cannon’s left from the ship, but they all knew the outcome if the Dead Gods really wanted them.  The only ones who might survive would be the water shifters or himself as he blended in with the native wildlife.  Parents would slit throats of their children and their own before allowing capture back to the life of a slave.

He didn’t know how to log onto a computer but he had been briefed on what to look for.  The small memory sticks that held precious data.  

Grenich could probably open the files.  The old Silver could work wonders on electronics.  He had asked Brother to keep an eye out for the small half circle pull tabs, showing him what they looked like either inserted or laying out on desks and in drawers.  Those he found, were placed these in a small plastic bag, gleaned from another desk.  Keyma had the tube to actually hold anything of interest and electronic for the trip back.  

Grenich had been very emphatic about keeping the discs dry. Brother winced at the remembered pain of a pointed finger from the Silver’s three fingered hand driving into his chest, leaving small crescent cuts at how the pull tabs were to be kept dry at all cost.  Brother had gotten the impression that Grenich’s threat to skin him had not been in jest.

Brother had found over a dozen when he stopped between offices with a disgusted look on his face as a sudden thought made him stop dead in his tracks and he thunked his head into a near wall.   The sound carried slightly farther than his voice

“The dead, just like the cards.  I’ll need to go back to the shuttle port.”  His voice was quiet but no less chagrined in the empty hall. He rolled his eyes at his own oversight of the obvious.  He continued searching through the offices, leaving the shuttle port for the last place he searched.

“I don’t think I’ll tell Sister about this.”  The chagrin in his voice quiet in the empty hall

A quarter of the way through he stopped.  He heard a door open, so distant from his current position that even his elevated hearing heard the noise but softly.  Brother dropped the rapidly filling pouch onto the floor to shift to his four footed form.  He picked the pouch up in his mouth, silently padding back down the way he had come to observe.

He heard the woman’s voice before he saw her.  “No damn time! Concentrate…survival first.”  A deep breath sucked in through her teeth.  Brother listened two doors down from the office she was in as she talked to herself.  He could smell both fear and sorrow from her but her voice held determination.  He could hear her listing what she needed and could hear what the computer chirped into her ear.  The computer’s voice was very mechanical in syntax even though it was a good mimic of person, like Horran’s computer on the island.  

When the woman left her office to go to the warehouse, Brother followed behind hiding on soft padded feet in the shadows, lurking in the hallways and under desks, making no more noise than fur rubbing against a wall.  She never looked back so engrossed on her survival tasks.  

He watched her load up her lift the first time, seeing the imbalance, he had wanted to shift and help her load it correctly but stifled that thought.  He watched as she broke down as the lift tumbled down, then wipe her eyes and stick out her chin in the most stubborn way and clench her jaw unconsciously.

Brother chortled to himself as she picked everything up and reloaded the lift with far more care this time..  The woman was a fighter.  If there was a chance to survive she would exceed that slim chance and excel.  

Brother stopped following her when she left the warehouse, melting back into the shadows to finish his search in the other offices and labs.  He had seen the results when Sister’s visions and comments had been ignored.  The persons usually brought about mayhem by doing what they had been told not to.  Brother knew if he helped the woman something would break the threads for her tenuous survival and possibly the islanders as well. As much as it went against his desire to help, he would not break that thread.

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