# # denotes telepathic speech.

by Lise

Chapter Three

They'd been out two or three days, nothing serious, when the lighting balls started coming.

Domino stood up, cautiously, as one of the crackling balls swung down over the hill to her left. Nate jogged up just then, and pointed the opposite direction of the weather. Domino nodded, and they started off. The weather seemed to be ignoring them, a nice change. Domino rubbed her arms as the air crackled along her skin, and she grabbed Nate's arm, ignoring the sting of static electricity.

Nate muttered, "That shift should lead straight home."

Domino nodded, sensing it too. It was easy, now, to see the right shift home, to pick the wall that would reform atoms and molecules and thought processes and dump her in their backyard. Harder, the farther out they were, the farther along the path, but when they were this close, it was almost like her skin was pinging.

Or maybe that was the charged air molecules. Domino couldn't tell.

As they got closer, Dom said, "Why is it that all the shifts we land in have freaky weather?"

"The shifts are hostile -- don't tell me they're not." He surveyed the land. "Something always knows we're here."

"Oh, come on, Nate, don't start in on that--"

Nate tossed her over his shoulder, suddenly, and she felt her stomach heave as he threw her upside down. She shrieked, not really resisting, "You put me down before I have your balls--"

He cut her off. "Ready to go home?"

She tilted her head up -- the shift line was right in front of them, staying still, pliant. "Yeah."

He walked them through.

"Shouldn't they be back by now?"

Patrick moved his thumb out of the way of Kitty's hammer, and shrugged. He answered, "They were just scouting; they should have been back yesterday."

Kitty paused, waving the hammer under his nose. "None of your lip." The nail went in, clean, and she added, "They go off by themselves all the time, and I'm never worried about it like this."

He reached for her, and she backed off, looked at the ground. Patrick said, "Something worrying you?"

"No, it's just." She sighed. "Irene saw--" She blew her hair out of her face angrily. "It's probably nothing, just another Nate. I mean, God knows that most of the things Irene saw were nothing -- these new diaries are next to useless. I'm a freak for getting this worked up over any of them anymore."

Patrick rubbed his chin, and then held the next plank in place. "You wanna do the next one?"

Kitty nodded, grateful for the quick change of subject. "Yeah." She grabbed another nail, and started pounding it in. "It's not like they're going to get lost."

#I thought you said that this was the way home, asshole.#

Nate stiffened, behind her, and ground his feet into the soft sand. They were standing back to back, facing a ring of angry looking tribesmen. There was no sign of the Oasis; the sun was beating down.


Nate answered, #It felt like home, didn't it?#

She eyed the most elaborately tattooed warrior, whose spear was tilted far too close to her throat. Grudgingly, #Yes.#

#Then.# He grunted, and she could feel his weight shifting. #You think you could back off enough for me to try and surprise a few of them?#

#What, and have those spears go through my gut?# She grabbed his wrist, from behind her, and held on. #No fucking way.#

Nate sighed. #Fine.#

#Can't you do something less dramatic?#

He answered, #What?#

Domino's feet were getting really, really hot, even through the thick soles of her boots. Time to get Franklin to fix them, apparently. #We're still close to home. Can't you just,# she tracked the leader's weapon again, as it hovered in front of her, #get us out of here?#

The only reason that the two of them were bickering, making light of the situation, was because they both knew that really, nothing was that much of a threat right now. An inconvenience, sure, but not a threat. Nate was about to turn around fully and start arguing face to face, when an old woman ran over one of the sand dunes shouting in whatever their language was. She looked rather frantic.

He didn't even bother with the telepathy this time, as the men looked at each other wildly and breaking their tight circle. He muttered, "Think they just found out we're not from around here?"

Domino swiveled, shading her eyes. She pointed to the new shift line, over to their right, and said, "No... I don't think so."

Nate followed her finger, pointing at a wandering haze off in the distance, a roiling bunch of clouds, and whistled. "That's not the way home."

Around them, the dark-skinned people started running, dropping their weapons, falling in the sand and getting up again. The shouting was horrible. The two of them stood there in the middle of it all, watching people that might have come straight from the African savannah get sand in their mouths as they fell on each other to avoid the coming line. The line was getting closer, bringing the clouds with it. Domino had no idea what the savannah people thought they were seeing, but she could sense their fear of it.

It probably hadn't rained here in twenty years.

She closed her eyes, and felt a twinge off to her right. Her skin felt tight; she was going to definitely be sunburned later. She looked at Nate, and then started jogging away from the shift line. Nate followed, without question.

The sun beat down on them, and then faded away, little by little, in the shade of clouds. They picked up the pace, and Nate growled, "You have any luck to get us out of this?"

"Might do." Home felt like it was close. If they could only-- "There." A line, so faint that they'd missed it because of the other one, behind a palm tree. "That should be it."

Thank god, Domino thought, and they plunged through, feeling the first heavy drops of rain take the sting of sunburn away.

"I'm just saying, it's weird, is all." Franklin turned his spit. "I'm sure everything's fine, though, because it's only been a few days--"


He stood up, and smiled apologetically to Granada. "I'm sorry. I'm going to have to..." The woman was already waving him away, taking over the roasting spit with practiced ease. She was a damned good asset; easy-going, handled food like a pro, and backed him completely.

Franklin walked down the path, towards the yelling, and wondered what might be wrong. He called, "What is it?"

"Bobby." Kitty was at his side as soon as she spotted him coming up, and she added, "I think he's having another episode."

Immediately all business, Franklin said, "Where is he?"

"The... the kitchen."

Franklin went up the steps, and tried to quell the knot of nervousness in his stomach. Things weren't going well with Bobby; they never seemed to. It was sad, and it was hard to take, and Franklin could feel his nerves frying, one by one.

"Bobby?" he said, gently. "Bobby, are you in here?"

He heard a little muffled wail. Franklin saw Bobby's shoes before he saw the rest of the man; he was pressed up against the kitchen cupboards, sitting with his legs splayed on the dirty tile, and his head in his hands, almost laying down. Franklin's throat closed.

When he was a child, Franklin had known Bobby Drake -- not well, but he had met the man. He never, ever seemed to exhibit such a, penchant, for breakdowns as this. Every single Robert Drake that Franklin had known since then were the same. None of them were... whole. Franklin gulped. He started to say, 'are you okay?' but it was apparent that he wasn't.

He sat down, cross-legged.

Bobby looked up. He rubbed his eyes, fiercely, and pulled himself up a little, and said, "I was just, washing the floor."

Franklin didn't know what to say. He gulped again. "Okay."

Bobby looked at the little puddle, and it froze over, glistening, shining, pretty. He blinked, and it was water again. Franklin reached out, carefully, and stroked Bobby's shoulder. Bobby shuddered.

"I feel powerful."

Franklin tilted his head. "You do?"

Bobby nodded. "But-- I shouldn't." Bobby sat up, suddenly, pulling away. He stared right at Franklin. "I'm not crazy. You might think I am, because I can't, hold it together, but I'm not."

Franklin chuckled, and wanted to say, 'you should speak with Lorna,' but it seemed too bitter. Instead, he replied, "Why don't you have a bath, and I'll get one of the kids to scrub the floor. It'll do them good to do some chores."

Bobby nodded slowly, unsure, this time. "Okay. I-- I could finish up if you want, though. I can do it."

Franklin stared at him, sadly. A tear ran down Bobby's face, rebellious, and splashed onto the grimy floor. Oh, Bobby. Franklin stroked his arm again, but just said, "If you want."

"We'd better be home this time."

"Dom, open your eyes."

She did. The gardens stared back at her, and there was movement out of the corner of her eye. Lorna, she thought, and snorted. She said, with a yawn, "Fucking finally. I hate the desert."

"Mmm." Nate stretched, and slung his pack to the ground. "C'mon. We'll get someone to pick this stuff up. I, for one, want a bath."

They went into the house, barking orders at a few of the kids to lug their gear in, and found Franklin sitting at the kitchen table drinking a mug of stale herb tea and looking sad.

"What's up, Franklin?" Domino plopped down, and got up again just as quickly to get some water. "You look like your cat died."

He snorted softly. "Funny."

"Seriously." She gulped down the liquid, and then spat into the sink. Fabulous. There was sand in her teeth. "What's wrong?"

"It's-- Bobby. He's not adjusting."

She sat back down, and looked at him. Nate had already gone upstairs. "Fuck."


"How's everything else?"

"Dom," Franklin said patiently, "You were only gone for two days."

She shrugged. "Gimme something to do, then."

"You could help Patrick and Kitty put up the new housing. I think they're still at it." Franklin looked a little cheerier. "We've got some new arrivals, a family even."

"We've always got new arrivals." She stretched, feeling bones popping and her skin stretch. Damn, that sunburn. "I'm on it." She got up, and said quieter, "He'll be all right. Give it time."

There were a lot of things that Franklin tended to do himself that other people probably could have done. Part of the reason he still manually weeded a vegetable patch, every week, was to make sure that he remembered how things worked without powers and continually 'fixing' things. It was important, he told himself, to make everything at the Oasis grow as naturally as it possibly could.

Bobby leaned against the house, and eyed the carrots. "Are they supposed to be yellow like that?"

Franklin put his spade down, saying, "I think there's a lack of some nutrient in the soil. Gonna have to get one of the more proficient gardeners on it... I guess I have to replace whatever's missing." The carrots tasted all right, and they were food, but a lack of carotene was going to leave a noticeable affect on people.

"Can you," Bobby frowned, and Franklin sensed him trying to sort out his thoughts. Bobby often had jumbled thoughts. "Is it fixable? Whatever's, missing?"

Franklin didn't look at Bobby when he asked. He said, "I think so. Nate probably wouldn't." Bobby didn't seem to hear the odd tone, the harsh little snap, in his voice when he said it.

Kitty found the solitude of the garden often unnerving. She knew that people tended to go there to clear their heads, try to get a sense of perspective, of peace.

The truth was, she preferred the madness of the flea-infested barns, the overcrowded dorms, to simple greenery. The reason was simple; she remembered an old woman, sitting here and telling her things that she hadn't known, about Irene Adler's life without Raven Darkholme in it. The garden, no matter how many days passed, would always have that spectre in it.

To Kitty's knowledge, there had never been a Remy LeBeau through the Oasis. She fiddled with the dial on her little homemade radio, and sighed quietly through the static.

Bishop came in with a tubful of tubers. She grinned wryly, and asked, "Gardening?" but didn't push it when he didn't answer. She knew that he gardened, just like everyone else, to clear his head.

The only other person who didn't seem to garden for peace of mind was Nate. He went out and hunted instead -- was taking a party out that afternoon.

One clear line of broadcast came through the makeshift speakers, a commercial for facial cream, before the static bounced noisily out of them again. She flipped the radio off. Obviously this project was going nowhere fast.

Bishop gave her the tub to peel, and went back outside. There were a hundred jobs for someone Bishop's size and strength. Hauling vegetables around was his vacation.

Kitty started to peel, and watched the layers of tuber end up back in the tub, saved up to compost for later. The skin tasted rotten, though the red grainy inside was pretty much a sweet potato.

"What's this?" Franklin asked, when he came in. "What're you building now?"

It was a question to humor her, and Kitty resented it, suddenly. She answered, "Nothing. It didn't work." She'd take it apart, reuse the parts for something better.

He watched her, expression wiser than his age. She nicked her finger with the peeler. It didn't really hurt.

Three days passed, and the hunting party still hadn't returned. It was Nate who suggested a rescue. Franklin frowned. "No, I think... I think we'll wait another day."

They found find Patrick clinging to a tree trunk, hauling Rich out of the water. They were both gasping frantically. The spears they lost, eaten by the river.

Nate hauled them out telekinetically, and once they'd recovered, Nate swallowed thickly, asked, "What about the rest of-- what about Markin, and Sol? Amy?"

Patrick looked away, feeling nausea war with hunger in his gut. He answered quietly, "Didn't make it. It was all I could do to grab the kid and hang on. Lost sight of Amy right after."

Nate leaned against a tree, heavily, and Patrick put both hands on Nate's shoulders, and squeezed. The air was salty, full of brine. The river's boundary had forgotten its place, looking to eat the land, piece by piece. They made their way back, Patrick keeping a close eye on Nate, who was much quieter, more depressed, than normal.

Patrick couldn't do anything to apologize, but when they got home, Nate pulled Patrick to one side, and gave him an awkward one-armed hug. Patrick returned it, and didn't say anything. They were part of the same grief. Three drowned men, no game.

When Amy showed up a day later, sopping wet but unharmed, Franklin was overjoyed and Alex was amazed. Alex said, "How did you get here?"

Amy answered, "I swim well."

And Nate turned away. Two of his men -- his men, reliable men -- were gone, though Amy made it back in one piece. And the larder was empty.

Amy was safe. His dinner, that hard rubbery squid, tasted like ash.


continued >>

-(main) - (biography) - (discussion) - (stories) - (pictures) - (links) - (updates)-