Chapter 28

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PROPOSAL

Shahn’Dra and Major Walker each sat on a folding camp stool in front of his command tent. He watched her as she weaved her hands through the air, reaching out for something that she could not yet see, but sensed at the edge of her awareness. Walker wiped the sweat from his brow and flicked the moisture from the tips of his fingers. He grunted as he massaged his leg and hunched forward to stretch the muscles around his healing wound.

Shahn’Dra popped her eyes open and her antennae froze in place. Looking straight ahead, through everything and beyond the furthest reaches of what her eyes could see, she groped her way out of the camp stool to kneel in the dirt. Still staring into the distance, she extended a claw and scratched a rectangle in the ground. Then she drew a circle in the middle. Her finger trembled as she scratched the wiggly sides of a triangle and then tapped the ground in its center. “This,” she whispered, still staring like a blind woman.

‘What does it look like?” Walker asked.

“It is the color of the sky.” She lifted her finger and touched the inside of the rectangle. “And this is the color of night,” she said.

“Where is it?” Walker asked.

“I’m looking at it,” Shahn’Dra said, still staring straight ahead. “I can see it. There. And far away at the same time. Hidden inside a hut that rolls through the desert and growls like a tired animal. Sad.” Her voice trailed off.

Walker looked at the diagram with half-closed eyes, straining to visualize what she was trying to show him.

“This is important,” Shahn’Dra said, tapping the triangle. “What color do you call this?”

“Blue,” he said.

“Why not the color of the sky?” she asked.

“Blue is easier, I guess. Why not blue?”

She lifted her snout to show a playful grin. “Things are the color of the sky because they are beneath it. They are the color of the ground because we walk upon it. They are the color of trees because we cut into them.”

“Green,” Walker said. He had never seen anything green on Shoahn’Tu; not even the plants that grew from the sparse patches of soil that could nourish them could quite be called green.

“Once the color of the sea,” she said.

“Hmm.” He nodded absently.

“But this,” she said, again tapping the triangle, “is, as you call it, blue. It is not connected. It was made this way by men with Dren’Vil in their hearts.”

“Does it mean anything to you?”

“Yes.” She lowered her snout and scooted closer to him. “It is the symbol of the Old Scrolls. They are a key to open the Pyramid.” She pulled herself away from the trance and let her antennae settle back on her head. She looked at Major Walker and asked, “Do you remember what I showed you?”

“Captain Holt!” Walker yelled.

Inspecting one of the Cats hunkered down behind the command tent,  Holt yelled back, “Yessir.”

“What’s the status on the Guard’s Second Brigade?” Walker tried to get up, winced in pain and sat back down, massaging the wound on his leg.

Walking up to him, Holt said, “Easy there, boss. Doc says you need to give it another day.”

“Second Brigade,” Walker grunted.

“Our patrol lost contact, so nothing new since they left their compound.”

“Well, it looks like they might be headed this way. Check the perimeter sensors, set up an OP and start working up a fire plan to defend against an attack coming in from somewhere between here and their compound.”

“We don’t have a lot to go on, sir,” Holt said.

“Well,” Walker grunted, “tell your patrol to get it in gear. We need to start now. We’ll adjust as necessary when they get closer.”

“Aye aye sir.” Holt saluted and then ambled back to the Cat to finish his inspection.

“I know somebody who can help,” Shahn’Dra said.

Walker put up his hand, telling her to wait as Petty Officer Graham approached for his hourly check on his patient.

Massaging the heal patch wrapped around his leg, he asked Graham, “Isn’t there anything you can do about this itching?”

“Means it’s healing,” Graham said, pulling a portable monitor from his pack. He attached a metal plate to the heal patch and inserted its wires into the monitor. He tapped a few keys and tendrils of wire emerged from the plate and dug in to the heal patch. Studying the monitor, he said, “I told the Major, the more he fusses with it, the longer it will take to heal.”

“Can’t you make these moles work any faster?”

“You’re spoiled sir. The moles take two days. On your own, you’d need six weeks. Now, sir, quit fussing with it.” He jerked the leads from the monitor and the tendrils slipped back into the plate. He put both in his satchel and pulled out a syringe. He removed the plastic cap and jabbed the needle into Walker’s shoulder.

“Ow!” Walker glared at his corpsman.

“All that fussing down there – you’ve killed off too many moles. Now, you need more.”

“Well thanks for the warning.”

Graham pulled the needle out of Walker’s shoulder and said, “Think of this next time you feel like fussing with that leg. hmmm.”

“Yeah, alright.” Walker rubbed his shoulder and worked his arm in a circle as Graham walked away. “And Petty Officer Graham,” he called after him.

Graham stopped and turned to face him. “Yes sir?”

“Next time you come around, I need to see an R-51 on your shoulder and some mag pouches on your belt.”

Graham took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes sir.”

Turning back to Shahn’Dra, Walker said, “You were saying you knew somebody who could help.”

“You know him as Captain Brandt.”

Walker blinked and then tilted his head towards her. “Dekker’s XO?”

“I know him,” she said. “He will hear me.”

Walker reached down to massage his leg and stopped short. He rubbed his shoulder instead. “You can try, but listen Shahn, you cannot let him find out where I am. Do you understand?”

“He will believe me.”

“You can’t tell him about this camp. I know this is difficult for you to understand, so now you must believe me.” He groaned and worked his arm again. “I don’t know who to trust right now. You must keep our secret.”

“I will keep your secret. And he will believe me. And he will help. All of these things are possible.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” he said.

Walker thought of the last meeting at MEF. In his mind’s eye, he scanned the faces of everyone sitting at the table, asking himself a question as he thought of each one: Can I trust you?  More than that, who among them could really do anything?  Major Walker had found himself moving among shadows and searching out ways to remain unseen even as he himself was blind to the unfolding events the he knew had been set in motion – buy why?  Not only did he need somebody he could trust, he needed somebody who would listen. Who among them understood the uncertainty of the obvious, the implications of shadows and was still willing to explore the alternatives?

His mind stopped to study one man’s face. He had been the only one to actually say it, to admit that his Cataphracts were the only way to make it an even fight. He would be the one man that was least likely to be in step with whatever forces had decided to attack him on the very ground he was trying to protect. It was a long shot, but it was the only one he had. He wouldn’t have to reveal much – just an intention. He wouldn’t even have to show himself, would he?  If the man refused, nothing would really change.

Walker stood up, pressing his hand against the bandage. “Come with me.”

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©2016 Michael J Lawrence