Several scenes from this were m-prov'ed. I know that Dex, and Persephone, and Dyce, gave me words for at least two.

by Lise

Chapter Two

Franklin was banging out some horrible tune on the off-key piano. Alex cringed good-naturedly as he came up, hearing a D that was probably closer to an F sharp. He said, "Little off, there, Franklin?"

Franklin replied with a rousing chorus of, "I've got a barrel of monkeys," which Alex couldn't remember as being quite the way Franklin was singing, since he sure didn't remember the techno-colored monkeys attacking Nate. He figured that in every corner of the world there should be a minstrel rewriting all the old hits.

There was a few seconds pause, and Franklin leaned over. "How are you feeling?"

Alex snorted. "Definitely better than yesterday. A good night sleep on the floor in Mikhail's room, and I'm good as new."

"How's the--"

Alex cut him off. "I'm fine. I feel like I did six months ago." He waved his crutch around in the air. "See? No problem."

Franklin nodded, and went back to the piano.

"I actually--" Alex said between 'Smile While You're Cryin' and 'Jingle Bells', "--came to ask whether you'd seen Bobby."

"Not since he decided to take care of the chicken coop-- I figured that's what he was doing." Franklin looked worried, suddenly. "He's not there?"

Alex frowned. "Kitty mentioned he was finished, and I haven't been able to find him since."

Franklin did a few scales, and closed the piano with a soft click. "I'll join you. It's about time to round Mikhail up for a lesson, anyway."

Alex grinned at him as they go outside. "Your playing was a bit off, anyway."

The answer was a little puzzled. "The wood's waterlogged, I think." Franklin laughed. "I don't know how to tune pianos, though, so it could be that."

They found Bobby staring out the walls, watching the snow fall softly onto pine trees. The whole world was white, and calm, and soothing. There was a little wrinkle in the middle of his forehead. When they approached, Bobby turned and smiled, a little strained. "Sorry, Alex. I must have lost track of time. Did you need me?"

Alex went a little closer, said, "No... I'd just wondered where you went to." He glanced at Franklin. "You finish the coops?"

"Yeah." Bobby turned back to the snow, which tapered off gently. "One of the older hens doesn't seem too well."

Franklin spoke smoothly. "I'll take a look at her." He murmured to Alex, "Did he do that?"

Alex turned to the shield wall, watching the last of the snow settle gently. Bobby was looking at them, more focused. He answered, "I don't know." Tilted his head. "He probably could."

Kitty put her head in her hands, mumbling to herself about the unfairness of life. Pieces of paper were spread out in front of her, like always. Franklin watched her from the doorway, soft smile on his face. He kept his concern out of his face, however, and approached.

She needed a break. He said, "Hey."

She looked up. "Hey to you too." With a wave, Kitty summed up her frustration. "How long were you standing there?"

Franking moved to sit down. "Not long." He patted her shoulder, wishing that she'd relax. "You looked like you could use a break."

"Mmm." She rotated her shoulder. The house was dark, and they couldn't hear anyone else moving around. Nate and Dom were out for the evening. Mikhail was already asleep, as was Lorna. Bobby and Alex were down for the night. Kitty didn't say anything, just absently shuffled a few pages here and there.

Franklin watched her, inwardly wincing. Her face was so tired. "How long have you been at it?"

"Long enough." That meant she wasn't sure what time she'd started; probably too long, in Franklin's estimation. "I just can't seem to get anywhere. As soon as I think I've got it all figured out... things rearrange themselves again."


She held a hand up. "Don't, okay." He nodded, and tried to keep his face calm. She continued, "I know that none of you really believe that this will do any good, but maybe, some day."

He replied softly, "Are you getting anywhere?"

She dropped the pages in her hand, obviously irritated. "No." Kitty sighed. "It's like, translating something that has part of the text missing completely. Certain lines come clear, maybe a few passages, but there's no way to know what I'm missing. I can't pinpoint where or when anything takes place. This one line alone could stand for any of a hundred events in the last year."

"You've done an amazing amount already."
"Yeah, with what we know about already." She grimaced. "I used to be better with research than this."

He stood up, yawning, and put a hand back on her shoulder. When she didn't flinch, he smiled. "Why don't you go to bed for now. Nothing's going to happen tonight, and I need your help tomorrow."

"Right." She bent over, and started gathering up her work. "I'll just finish up here."

He moved to the door with a little sigh, knowing that she'd already dismissed him. "Of course." He knew that she'd be up for hours yet; there was nothing to be done. Franklin bit his lip, the worry seeping onto his face, and then closed the door quietly.

Kitty grabbed a random scrap of paper, and glanced at it. [where, in all the heavens, does a star shine this brightly?] She sighed, and muttered, "Not here, Irene. Definitely not here."

"So you're saying that most of these people just, walked in?" Alex looked around again, amazed.

Kitty nodded. "Mostly. Some, like you and Bobby, Nate finds. He's trying to gather the Twelve again."

"I see." Alex went quiet, and looked around again. They were between the bunkhouse and the kitchen, staring between rows and rows of little shacks. "How many have you found so far?"

Her voice was flat. "Not enough. There should be Twelve of you-- obviously, we're missing a few."

He tried to change the subject, hearing the warning in her tone. "There sure are a lot of people." Alex leaned on his crutch. "Other than you, that is. I heard someone speaking a language I'd never even imagined at dinner last night."

"That's the way things go, here." Kitty shrugged, scratching her neck. "It's getting really over-crowded, though-- we're going to have to put up new temporary shelters, and even then people are still living three, four to a room."

He glanced around at the one-room shacks, and thought about the house. The privileged got real rooms. "The house you're living in is much bigger than most of these..."

Kitty turned to face him. "Us too. Right now I'm sharing a closet with Lorna, you're in Mikhail's room with Bishop, and Franklin, the one responsible for all of this, is petting Bobby to sleep at night in the pantry. We're all in the same boat."

"And all these people." He waved the hand not holding his crutch up. "They're all part of the Plan?"

His gaze took in the shanty-town, the corrugated metal paneling, the big "pop-up!" billboard that composed one whole side of the bunkhouse. There was a kid with blue skin, sitting in the dirt, bare feet, playing with a length of twine while an older girl sewed up a sack full of rice. A goat was watching her, tied to the post holding up the porch to one of the shacks, hoping for the scraps she dropped.

Kitty looked around. "They're alive, aren't they?" He nodded. "That's basically the plan."

"What's in this soup?" Alex asked.

"Ducklings and--" Domino smacked Nate. Nate grimaced, and amended, "Peanuts, I think. Possibly duck."

Alex spooned the liquid -- a rather thick brown substance posing as soup only in that it was hot and watery -- into his mouth, chewing on a piece of gristle. "It doesn't taste that bad."

Franklin handed him a piece of slightly burned toast. "That's the spirit. You'll survive here no problem."

There was a commotion to the side of the kitchens, and Lorna came in, carrying Rosie on one hip while Patrick put her father on a vacant table. There was blood on his shirt. Franklin rose immediately, going over, followed closely by the rest of the people eating at their table. Domino asked, "What happened?"

Patrick held his hand over the man's ribs, and answered, puffing and out of breath, "We went for more food." He looked apologetically at Nate. "Should have grabbed more men."

Nate nodded briefly, acknowledging the apology and dismissing Patrick's guilt with an arm draped over Patrick's shoulders. Nate said, "Franklin, guess it's time for you to do your thing."

Alex slipped away while Franklin and everyone else was still bent over the injured man. It wasn't serious, so he figured he should just get out of the way. He hobbled out the door and saw the three-year old Rosie, sitting with her thumb in her mouth, playing with a penny. And then he spied Lorna.

She moved rapidly away from him. He opened his mouth, in surprise, to call out to her, but had nothing to say.

Kitty pegged the last corner of the sheet up on the line, and surveyed her work. Eleven and a half sheets, hung neatly on a washing line, billowing in the gentle breeze. Not bad for half an hour's work. Now, to more important things--

"Kitty!" Domino jogged up to her, puffing. "Nate and I were going to go out today -- he thinks he's sensed Xavier about four days from here -- but we need provisions and someone moved our packs. D'you know who nicked them?"

"Your packs are being mended-- ask. Fuck." Kitty rubbed her eyes. "Ask. Ask. --Tina has them, I think." She yawned a little. "And I haven't seen Nate since Patrick came in this morning. I think they went hunting after breakfast, so you've got time."

Domino wandered off, muttering. Kitty watched the sheets, drying in the wind. There was a sudden gust, and one of the pegs fell into the crabgrass below her clothesline. Bending over to pick it up, the wind blew a corner of the sheet into her face, stinging her eyes with wet linen.

Time was always at a premium at the Oasis, since having any free time meant that somewhere, some job wasn't getting done. Kitty allowed herself one hour of daylight a day to work on decoding Irene's visions, and then any time she could fit in after everyone else had gone to bed. It was twilight by the time she got finished repairing the second well, and actually pulled Irene's pages out again. They were getting wrinkled from all the manhandling.

Lorna snuck in, and went straight to bed. Kitty gazed down at the nonsense in front of her, and sighed, sipping cold tea. She said aloud, "This is never going to make any sense."

"What isn't?"

Alex put his few logs of firewood beside the woodstove in the corner with his free arm. On the table was spread diagrams of electrical circuits, scribbled pages of transistors and capacitors alongside pieces of fragmented poetry. He hardly recognized any of it. He sat down on the stool beside the counter, raising an eyebrow. "Planning on building a space ship?"

She inhaled sharply, and then let out her breath in a low, whistling hiss. Answered, "No."


continued >>

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