Weather: Windy and biting cold.
Encounters: Two faction leaders, and The Hearing.
Expenditures: None, but I would pay for a hot drink.
I left Jasper behind to talk with Beta’s spirit. I could hear their soft voices as I walked away. Climbing down the shield wall I kept the corners of my vision on The Hearing below me. They stood unmoving and grouped, effigies of the men I had witnessed before in the woods. They were statues with their white eyes forward and the hoods of their robes up against the wind. My skin prickled into goosebumps as I passed them.
Senelala waited outside the door of the abandoned shore market waiting for me. “I think I’ve ruined everything.” I whispered to him and laid my forehead on his shell. I hated keeping secrets, and I had kept the biggest one of all. How could I keep talking with Beta now? What would Jasper do?
I inhaled a couple deep breaths of the chilly air and focused on the task at hand. I would walk into the meeting like nothing had happened. I would tell The Healer of The Hearing’s mysterious arrival. I slid the groaning metal door open and stepped into the abandoned market. It still smelled of fish and metal. Hooks and nets hung from the wooden rafters of the ceiling.
Standing in the center of the room was the small group of negotiators. I sidled up next to Bullet, who was recording the conversation on her tablet. The government faction leader wore the uniform of a medical professional.
He spoke with a confident voice, “This outbreak is not too large for us to handle.”
The leader of the village group was practically shaking, “You know nothing of this outbreak.”
“Then why don’t you enlighten me?” The government official spat out.
The Healer held up his hands, “Alright, boys. Let’s calm down. Why don’t one of you tell me about the missing people.”
“What missing people?” The government official asked, looking extraordinarily puzzled.
“Exactly!” The village leader shouted. “You haven’t even noticed that there are hysterical outbreak victims going unaccounted for!”
“We have everyone with symptoms logged and monitored.” The official jabbed a finger toward the medical center.
The village leader turned toward The Healer, “A small group of us have been hiding victims in the hope of your arrival. You will not find them in one location, they are scattered in houses around the village. We wanted the option of your medical treatment. We do not want our people sedated like the last outbreak.”
The medical official looked incredulous, “What are you talking about? You’ve been preventing people from treatment?”
“We’re hoping for better treatment! I don’t want my son changed!” His eyes were sunken from exhaustion and heartbreak.
“What other options do we have?” The government official rubbed his temples. “We are monitoring everyone. This is the only treatment we have found for a hysterical outbreak so far.”
The Healer raised his hand like a kid at school and waited.
“Go ahead.” The official sighed.
The Healer grinned, “I may have a solution. Give me one week. Let me meet with the victims in the village.”
The official’s eyebrows pulled together in thought. “Five days.” he murmured and looked sternly at The Healer, “You have five days, and then we are taking over every unaccounted case.”
The Healer looked toward the leader of the village group, “What do you think?”
“Let’s do what we can in five days.” He shrugged.
The government official nodded and started to stride out of the room. He called out, “You will be reporting your every move to me, though!”
The Healer bowed to the government official’s back and turned to us. “Well, looks like we’ve got five days!”
My heart quickened when his eyes locked on me. He threw his arm around my shoulder, “You look like you’ve got something to share.”
“The Hearing is standing outside the shield wall.” I said matter-of-factly. Jasper walked into the building just as I spoke. His eyes were rimmed red from tears. I looked over his vest pockets for the indention of the candle, but I didn’t see anything. He nodded at me, his eyes kind. I allowed myself a deep breath. It seemed we would handle this later.
Bullet whipped her eyes to me, “The Hearing? What? Where?”
Jasper pointed toward the location of The Hearing, “They ain’t comin’ in. Just standin’ there in the rain.”
The Healer was jogging out the door already. We all followed behind running through the rain up to the edge of the shield wall. The Healer climbed the wall so quick he was a flash among the metal. We all gathered at the edge and looked down at the blind men. I could hear the edges of their robes flapping in the wind like the wings of birds.
“There’s something going on in this village.” The Healer said gravely. “Something bigger than the hysteria.”
“What do you think they are doing?” I asked, thinking of the way their stillness mimicked Beta’s. I wished they would start humming their song, but they stood silent.
“They seem...stuck.” Bullet said, it was the most confused I had heard her voice up to this point.
The Healer looked around the village of Purl from our high vantage point. “Alright, we’ve got a lot to accomplish. Bullet and Jasper, will you try to lead The Hearing into the town? Somewhere dry? Sarah Jane, you and I are going to ready the Nightrays. We can all camp in the abandoned market.”
Bullet and Jasper climbed down to The Hearing. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the blind men started to follow in a group with their hands out in front of them.
“They can’t navigate without their song.” The Healer said. “They can’t hear their song.”
Jasper and Bullet helped each robed man through the passageway into the port. I studied the Healer’s face as he watched the procession. His eyes looked exhausted. All I could think about was the secret I was keeping from him.
“Should we go?” I asked. He nodded.
We walked silently back to the shore market. Beta and Senelala sat against the wall of the metal building. Beta’s eyes were closed.
“Let’s go, Senelala!” The Healer patted his shell and led him into the market. We unloaded the Nightrays from Senelala’s back, sweating and panting from the effort. My exhaustion settled deep within my muscles once the boxes were unloaded.
“It’s been a long night.” The Healer sighed. We cracked open the box of the Nightrays to feed them the little slimy fish The Healer kept in oiled canvas bags. I let the shield-shaped fish swim under my hands; I loved the leather-like feel of their backs. We sat beside the box watching the purple and blue lantern lights of the Nightray’s tails.
The Healer looked at me, “Can I be honest with you?”
My heart quickened, “Of course.” I glanced over to Beta who sat in my shelter on Senelala’s back.
“I regret bringing you along with me.” He said with his eyes focused on the cracked stone floor. I felt myself break a little, inside.
“Why?” My voice felt small in the gargantuan empty warehouse.
“You may not know this, but before Beta was sedated we had another profession. We were Smugglers, we transported illegal and regulated goods to people all over Juniper Vale. It should never have been dangerous, but our last job went completely wrong. We got a request for explosives, a village wanted to try to tunnel through a hill blocking their goods export route. I agreed to the job, but Beta thought it was a bad idea. He was right. The whole operation went south, and Beta was caught on the edge of an explosion. Surely you’ve noticed the scar across his face? He has a lot more than that. The government detained him and tried to give him medical care, but he was uncooperative. You would never know it now, but Beta was unruly. The government didn’t mean to sedate him to the level they did, but people make mistakes. We are trying to use old Earth medication on a wild moon. Sarah Jane, I don’t want anything to happen to you. I can hardly live with myself knowing what happened to my brother.” His voice shook.
“Nothing’s going to happen to me.” I wanted to tell The Healer that Beta could hear every word of our conversation. I wanted to tell him that he was here with us.
“You can’t know that, Sarah Jane. Bullet and Jasper know the risks. They know what they are getting into.” The Healer leaned his tired head against the wooden crate. “You just followed me. Who does that?”
“I told you I was searching for something.” I said and leaned my head against the crate as well, so our eyes could meet. “I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I don’t regret a thing.”
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