Sarhea spent the next week holed up in her quarters, isolated from the rest of the world. Her self-inflicted seclusion served two purposes; it gave her time to rethink her plans and, more importantly, it gave her time to heal. She could not wear her better fitting clothes without exposing her injuries and she knew Mouser, Raith, and no telling who else, were looking for injuries matching hers. She’d spent the first four days perfecting her energy manipulating skills toward the art of healing. After a bit of trial and error, she found just the right combination of the energy’s two elements to promote optimal healing. After those four days, the outward signs of her injuries were, for the most part, unnoticeable. The only remaining evidence of her hunting venture was the minor soreness in her knee.
At the end of the week, Sarhea finally grew tired of her isolation. She got dressed, took up her sat-com and headed toward the nearest dining hall for her first real meal in a week. She turned on the sat-com and dialed in Aleena’s code; she’d not spoken to her friend the entire week. Before she could push the call button, the device began vibrating in her hand. Sarhea paused as she scowled at the device. Aleena was calling her.
“This is Sarhea,” she answered into the awkward device. She always felt so ridiculous when using it.
“Sarhea! There you are! I was beginning to worry. I’ve not seen you in a week!” came Aleena’s voice.
Sarhea simply shook her head. Aleena worried far too much.
“Yeah, I just needed some time to myself. Sorry I forgot to turn this thing on again,” she replied.
“I see…But hey, I was wondering; are you by any chance near the hospital?”
Sarhea paused as she took her bearings in the tunnels. The hospital was roughly 20 minutes travel time from her location. The tone Aleena’s voice had taken worried her.
“It wouldn’t take me too long to be in that area. Why?”
“Leesha and I need some assistance down here. I know you were looking for something to do, so we were curious if you would be interesting in helping with a rather large influx of citizens.”
Sarhea paused at the mention of Leesha. All she could picture was Raith’s hateful glare. She shoved the memory aside. “Sure, I’ll head over now. Just give me a few minutes,” she responded and turned to retrace her steps back toward the hospital.
Sarhea hesitated as she dropped out of the vents into a dark cubby just around the corner from the hospital main entrance. She could hear quite a commotion. She carefully peeked around the corner to see large groups of strange creatures she had never seen before. Most were medium to short in height and all were stocky in build. They had short, prickly fur and small ears that looked rather shriveled. But their most distinguishing feature were the two rather nasty elongated teeth that protruded from near the end of their flat nosed snouts like small tusks. Even the females had them. From all appearances, the creatures looked rather fierce and several members of the group already appeared to be quite agitated.
Guards stood around the perimeter, keeping the strange beasts confined to the area. She looked carefully for any sight of Raith, but thankfully, he was nowhere to be seen. She spotted Aleena through the hospital’s large window. She stepped out and quickly headed toward the entrance. A guard stepped in her path.
“Sorry miss. This is not a good time to come here. If you are needing medical assistance, you would be better served by going to one of the clinics on another level.”
“I was called here to help by Aleena. She works in the hospital. She’s right inside if you need to confirm,” she replied.
The guard eyed her curiously before glancing over his shoulder. “Hey Ric. Get Aleena,” he called to a Cassarian guard by the door.
The young guard nodded and disappeared inside. A minute later, he reappeared with Aleena in tow. Sarhea noticed her friend brighten considerably when her gaze found her.
“Sarhea! Thank heavens you’re here! Let her through-she’s with me,” she told the guard.
He stepped aside and allowed her to pass.
“Aleena, what the hell is going on here?” she whispered as they hurriedly entered the hospital.
“Oh, it’s a complete nightmare! This morning, a badly damaged ship appeared in orbit out of nowhere. They called for assistance, claimed they had found and followed the signal we’ve been sending out since the first attacks to guide refugees to us. But it couldn’t be just any refugees-it had to be Rigons,” she whispered in distaste as she led Sarhea through large groups of the creatures.
It seemed as if there were more of them crammed inside the hospital than were outside. There had to be hundreds of them.
“Why are they all here?”
“All new arrivals have to be properly processed. They receive vaccinations and their nanite treatment. Normally they are confined to the ground levels near where they entered the city, but due to the drone attacks, someone made the brilliant call to send them all here. Rigons are notoriously known for their foul tempers. This group is especially moody, though I suppose I would be too if I had been through what they have.”
“What do you need me to do?”
Aleena led her into a small office off to the side of the larger lobby. Several exhausted women glanced up from their tasks. Sarhea spotted Leesha at her computer. The Kreetian woman brightened at the sight of her.
“Oh good! Good!” she spouted as she stood. “We need more good volunteers. Are you good with talking?” she asked.
Sarhea raised an uncertain brow. “It…it really depends,” she answered hesitantly.
“Oh, it makes no difference. The Rigons are not as bad as they appear. I need you to take information from those who have been given their nanite treatments. Here, it is simple. This form has a list of questions that must be answered for each individual. The interview will be recorded, and then I will translate it and enter it into the system. If there were not so many, I could do this all myself, but there are far too many and if any more time passes, I fear we may have a riot on our hands.”
Sarhea cringed at the thought, causing Leesha to chuckle.
“We won’t have to worry about that if we can process them faster. Aleena, take a break from what you’re doing and get her started,” Leesha said and turned back to her computer.
Sarhea shot Aleena a questioning glance. Aleena simply sighed and retrieved a clipboard containing a stack of papers.
“Come on, let’s get this done,” she mumbled and headed to a second door.
On the other side, another smaller waiting room filled with nervous Rigons greeted her.
“We have to interview every one of them individually?” she whispered.
Several weary nurses were sitting at tables around the room. Their Rigon interviewees looked quite disgruntled. Aleena shot her a confirming grimace.
“They should all be able to understand you by now. The nanites work quickly. If any seem confused, just move to the next in line. Every question on the sheet has to be answered. These other sheets, the ones with the numbers-separate the numbers and give one to each Rigon as the interview is finished, and make sure to speak that Rigon’s number into the microphone. Then simply send them through that other door where their picture will be taken. The sooner we can get them out of here, the sooner we can avoid conflict.”
“Sounds lovely,” she grumbled. Aleena only smirked as she headed for the nearest group.
Over the next several hours, Sarhea worked endlessly at her task. She quickly discovered that despite their rough exteriors, most of the Rigons were quite pleasant to talk to. The stories of their survival were very similar to her own. As the time passed, she found herself with a growing respect for the creatures. There were the few exceptions, especially among the older males, but usually by the end of the interview, even they were in a pleasant enough mood.
“Wow, I’m quite impressed,” came Leesha’s voice from behind her as she finished up with her last interview.
Sarhea glanced up at the smiling woman. “They are not as bad as I imagined. I actually quite enjoyed talking with them,” she replied.
“Well that’s good to hear. There will be more to come. For now, take a quick break, get something to eat. There is food in the office.”
She smiled as she stood and followed Leesha back into the office. It was much quieter inside as many of the nurses and volunteers had given up with the task. It had been fine by Sarhea. Some of the other volunteers had succeeded only in angering the creatures and upsetting the ones still waiting. She had found the atmosphere much more pleasant when she had been the only one working. She took up some food and sat in a chair next to Leesha’s desk. The Kreetian had put her headphones on and was busily entering data.
Sarhea took a folded sheet of paper out of her pocket. During the course of the process, she’d discovered her opportunity to record bits of the backstory she’d been inventing for herself. This was the perfect chance for her to get it entered and hopefully not draw any unnecessary attention. After the confrontation with Raith, it had become urgent for her to get something entered. She was lucky he’d not demanded her name. If he found out she was undocumented…the though made her shiver. She’d answered all the questions and finally had a complete document. She hoped Leesha could read her poor Cassarian script.
Leesha paused, casting her a questioning glance before removing the headphones. Sarhea held out the sheet of paper.
“I need to get this into your system.”
Leesha hesitated before taking the offered page and silently reading it. Her yellow eyes widened.
“Sarhea, this is on you!” she exclaimed and read further. “You’ve been here more than four years without being documented? How is that possible?”
Sarhea shrugged. She had written that she arrived before the first attack. She recalled a story that the Cassarian historian Tobin had told her about the last large group of Cassarian refugees that had arrived shortly before the attack. There had been so many that had arrived crammed on ships that had made an emergency escape from their world of Cassan Minor. Families had been separated and the chaos that ensued left many slipping through the system undetected. Argine had mentioned her mate’s frustration with the undocumented issue within the Malkaian community as well.
“I stayed in hiding for so long, living in the shadows, afraid to trust anyone. After a while, I could bear the seclusion no longer. I slowly began to venture out and discovered this was not the terrifying place I’d let my mind envision. Eventually, I ran into Aleena,” she replied, cringing at the lie. She would have to make sure and inform Aleena. Hopefully her friend would not be too angry with her. Besides, parts of the story were true, just not the part about coming from Cassan Minor.
“So you arrived from Cassan Minor? There’s not too many here from there, if I recall correctly. I hear it was one of later worlds attacked.”
Sarhea nodded. She actually had been to Cassan Minor. It was the first world she’d arrived on after hers was destroyed. It had been a strange place where the inhabitants had used all sorts of modern technology that had never existed on her primitive world. It was there that she learned the Cassarian language and learned about the technology that was now commonplace to her.
“Well, everything looks complete here. I’ll get it entered right away. It’s a good thing you brought this to my attention; only properly documented citizens are supposed to assist with tasks such as this. Your help today has been invaluable, so I’ll let the issue slide-there’s not many who can handle the Rigons’ temper. Just make sure to get this profile completed. DNA analysis is the next proper step.”
Sarhea simply smiled and nodded. She knew she could count on the Kreetian’s help and as busy as Leesha was, there really was not much time to dwell on her small bit of data.
“The Rigons really are not that bad. You just have to understand where they are coming from. I’d really like to help more if the opportunity arises. I need something to keep my waking hours occupied.”
“You make it through the rest of the day and we’ll talk,” Leesha replied with a smile.
“Hey Sarhea, next group is heading your way!” came Aleena’s voice through the now open door.
“I guess it’s back to work,” she sighed and headed back to the other room.
Another busy hour of interviews passed before a sudden commotion from the main lobby erupted. Guttural shouts arose over the worried grunts of others. Sarhea had to pause her current interview and glance at the door that led to the main lobby. The woman she was interviewing wore a worried expression.
“The general…he is very angry! Not good! Not good!” she whispered in fear.
Sarhea’s concerned gaze fell to the door once more. She noticed many worried glances being tossed around the room.
“Wait here. I’ll be right back,” she told the woman after turning off the recorder.
She stood and quietly walked to the door and cracked it open. The atmosphere beyond bordered on chaos. Fearful Rigons huddled in groups against the walls and in the center of the room stood a sizable group wearing battered uniforms. The largest of the beasts stood defiantly before Raith. She quickly shrunk back, leaving only a tiny crack in the door to peer through.
“How dare you keep us confined here in this place, filthy Leonian!” the large Rigon bellowed.
Raith was raising his hands in attempt to calm the angry man.
“Please, General…We are doing our best to move your group to more comfortable conditions…”
“Lies! You force your poisons on us like your kind has always done!” the general shrieked.
Saliva spewed from the angry creature’s mouth at the outburst and hit Raith squarely in the face. It had almost appeared as though the general had intentionally spit on him. Sarhea couldn’t help but smirk at the scene.
Raith managed to calmly wipe his face before addressing the Rigons’ general once more. “Sir, I speak the truth. The medications being given are for your groups’ safety as well as ours. You do not have to take my word-I can bring the doctor…”
“Out of my sight, Leonian! I wish to speak to someone of importance! I need someone now!” he bellowed and stepped threateningly toward Raith. His group of warriors moved with him.
Raith’s gaze was clearly frustrated as he glanced over the angry mob before taking several steps back. He quickly turned to a nearby guard and whispered something to the man. The guard nodded and quickly disappeared.
“Someone is coming. Just please remain calm,” Raith tried to tell them, but they only started shouting angrily amongst themselves. Raith finally backed away and headed for the door to Leesha’s office.
Sarhea’s eyes widened as she shrunk back and closed the door. This could not be happening! She quickly went back to the woman she had been interviewing.
“Everything good, miss Sarhea? I heard General Tsa mention Leonians. There no Leonians here is there?”
There was real fear in the woman’s eyes. It struck her as odd.
“There is one…” she started, but paused when the woman shied back in fear.
“No! Can’t be! We’re not safe!” she whispered in fear.
“No, its ok. I do not know your experience with Leonians, but this one is not like the others,” she started and inwardly cringed to realize she was attempting to defend the high and mighty Raith.
“Leonians hate Rigons! They drive us to poor suited world where we struggle to survive. Then they send death from the heavens that burns us alive! We barely escaped!” the woman interrupted.
Sarhea was stunned. It seemed there was a dark history between the two species.
“This Leonian is different. He was raised here on this world and not by his kind. I have seen him fight the dark machines that attack us, seen him risk his life to keep us all safe, no matter what species we are.”
Her words did little to calm the woman’s fears, but there was also no rebutted response. She continued with her task and hoped that she would go unnoticed.
Raith stormed into the small office and slammed the door behind him. Leesha was the only one in the office. He saw her worried yellow eyes glance back at him.
“Why did it have to be Rigons!” he seethed angrily as he flopped against the back wall. “Things were so much better when the last group of them left Talos six years ago. My men and I risked our lives fighting off the drones that would have taken their ship out long before they made it to the surface. And what thanks do I receive? I get spit on!”
“Commander, please remain calm. I know it is degrading, but you have no idea what these creatures have been through. There is obviously a sore history between their species and yours.”
He gritted his teeth in frustration. “Perhaps, but I was not a part of that. Their leader will not even let me explain that it was my ship he gratefully followed in after we destroyed the drones.”
“Some cannot see past the grievances of their past so easily. Just have patients and be yourself. They will come around.”
Raith huffed in spite. “Easy for you to say. It’s not you they hate the very sight of.”
He pushed himself off the wall and walked over to Leesha’s workstation. He quickly gazed at the list of waiting data to be recorded and the details of the current interview being translated.
“I hope the interviews are going more smoothly than the vaccinations,” he mumbled.
“They are in fact. We keep running low on Rigons in the room. Sarhea has a way with the creatures that they seem to like. Even the ill-tempered ones will speak to her. Most of my other help gave up long ago. The process has actually sped up since they left.”
“Really? There’s actually someone who can stomach these beasts?”
“Commander, you have to let go of that mindset. Things will never change if you don’t.”
“I know,” he grumbled as he turned to the camera screen that looked over the interview room.
He was curious as to who could get a Rigon to talk. He spotted an interview in progress, but the pair was almost off camera. He reached over to adjust the camera’s angle. Something was suddenly annoyingly familiar about the thin woman whose back was to the camera. She appeared to be Cassarian. The current interview appeared to be finishing. The Rigon woman was smiling as she reached her hand out to the Cassarian as she stood and then left the area looking oddly cheerful.
Raith froze as the Cassarian’s face finally came into view. He bristled as he zoomed the camera to confirm. It was that woman who had the nerve to lie to him! He spun back to Leesha.
“That woman! How did she get in there?”
Leesha’s eyes widened as she scooted her chair over to see. She shot him a confused glance.
“That is Sarhea, the woman I just told you about. I requested her help because she had expressed earlier interest in helping out if the chance arose. If it had not been for her assistance, we would have already had a riot on our hands. Is there a problem?”
“I’m not sure just yet. How did you come to know her?”
“She is a friend of Aleena’s. I met her several weeks ago when we had a rush of children come in sick. She and Aleena had plans that got canceled due to the issue. Sarhea stuck around to keep the frightened children calm. I had a chance to visit with her briefly after all the children were treated and she expressed interest in being of further assistance. It is good for those who have been through what she has to stay in contact with civilization.”
Raith raised a brow as he glanced back at the screen. Another Rigon was sitting before the woman chatting pleasantly. He turned back to Leesha.
“What she has been through?”
“Yes. She is part of the group that escaped the massacre on Cassan Minor before it was destroyed. She’s been living in fear, lurking in the shadows for years. It is only recently that she decided to come out, to trust the world around her again. I know she has been a major asset here. I hope she decides to stick around.”
Raith scowled at Leesha’s account. This Sarhea was either very talented at deception or what she had spoken in anger that day had been the truth. It still didn’t dismiss the fact that she had brazenly defied him. He had seen the fury burning in her gaze, the way she had struggled to keep from lashing out. She was a loose cannon with a short fuse. Even the way she had attacked Kaden supported the notion.
“Oh good. It appears she is done with her interviews. Perhaps you can meet her, hear her story.”
Raith’s scowl deepened as he watched her get up from her table and gather her things. He did not have the energy for another confrontation today.
“Maybe another time. I really need to be going. Though I would keep an eye on her should she stick around,” he replied and quickly turned toward the door to the lobby.
He froze. Through the protective one way glass, he could see the Rigon general and his men still fuming near the entrance. Sarsan had not yet arrived. There was no way he would be able to leave before the elder Taloan arrived to assure their belligerent guest. He sighed heavily in frustration.
The other door suddenly opened.
“All done, Leesha. How long before the next…” The woman’s voice trailed off when her gaze spotted him.
Raith’s posture instinctively stiffened and he tried his best not to glare at her. That didn’t keep her surprised expression from fading to one of deep distaste.
“Commander Raith,” she acknowledged flatly.
At least she had the sense to address him properly. He folded his hands behind his back.
“Ah, yes, Sarhea, is it? It seems we meet again, though interviewing Rigons is far from your previous venture,” he replied in a similarly flat tone.
He noticed her cast a quick sideways glance over to the now confused Leesha. Her annoyed blue eyes locked on him once more.
“Yes, well it seems I was not well suited for the cleaning crew. I just couldn’t get it right. It appears that I fit in better dealing with creatures others misunderstand and have no patients for.”
Her comment made him bristle, but he managed to keep his rising anger at bay. Movement from the main lobby announced Sarsan’s arrival. Finally…
“Well, let’s hope you’re as good at your task as you claim. The hardest interviews are yet to come,” he replied with hard eyes before turning to the lobby door.
He pulled it open and quickly stepped out. There was just something about that woman that rubbed him the wrong way. He could sense something stewing beneath the surface, something she tried hard to hide. He had caught a glimpse of it a week ago and it had triggered a warning in him. And now she was slowly making a presence for herself in influential circles with those that he had long trusted and respected. When things calmed down with this latest crisis, he would have to do more checking into her background. At least he had a name to go with the face-Sarhea…
Sarhea finds a place to contribute when a new batch of refugees arrives at Refuge City.
An important group of new characters is introduced here. Key members will play an important role later in the story-Hope you guys enjoy!
CotL and characters © ME