8 – Meris
Meris checked her vid-phone for the fourteenth time. Wyll still had not responded, which was…odd.
“Myranda, has Wyll contacted you yet?” She kept her voice low, to not disturb Alazar, who had just fallen asleep again. He seemed to be resting peacefully, now that his fever had broken. He’d even managed to open his eyes and say her name a few hours earlier. Now, her concern was for Wyll; it wasn’t like him to ignore them like this.
Myranda shook her head, a tightness in her forehead and jaw that betrayed just how worried she was, as well. “Neither has Zac.”
“Do you know where they went?”
Myranda’s lips pressed into a thin line. “No. It was part of Wyll’s plan. We aren’t supposed to be able to give up their location if we get picked up. They don’t know where we are, either, for the same reason.”
Meris made a noncommittal sound. She wasn’t sure where they were, either. Leo had taken them to some sort of farming community she had never heard of. Scania Farms claimed to provide the best dairy and meat in all of Sindria, yet she couldn’t think of a single instance of buying anything with their name on it… How Leo found it and arranged for them to stay in one of the abandoned cottages along the lush Helsing Sea coastline while Alazar recuperated was still a mystery, as well.
Leo turned from the window he’d been staring out of and faced the two women. “Something has happened to them, hasn’t it? They’ve been arrested, or – or -“
“Don’t say that!” Myranda’s voice cut through the dingy room. “They probably just had to go dark for a while.”
“It’s been eight hours.”
“I know that, Leo.” She picked at a loose embroidery thread on the pillow she held in her lap, on the surprisingly comfy couch she was seated on next to Meris.
The fire Leo had built in the stone fireplace to take the edge off the cool coastal wind as it sliced through the drafty cottage crackled noisily and cast golden flickers on the field-stone hearth. Meris glanced over and jumped up when she noticed an ember had popped out from under the firescreen and rolled much too closely to Alazar’s cot. She kicked the red ember back onto the hearth and stomped out the smoldering spot on the very bottom edge of the musty blanket they’d covered him with.
Alazar stirred and reached up to trace the back of her hand with his fingertips, as if trying to get her attention. But when she turned to look at him, he had opened his eyes and was staring at his surroundings in confusion. He seemed to relax a little when his gaze found Leo at the window. He then turned his head and saw Myranda on the couch at the foot of his bed.
Then he turned his eyes upon her. She couldn’t pretend she didn’t see the light that sparked to life in them, nor ignore the pain it caused deep in her gut. She forced a smile. “Welcome back again, Alazar. Do you need anything?”
The light in his eyes dimmed slightly. Another twinge of pain and guilt twisted inside her. “Where are we?”
“Leo, you want to take this one?”
Leo turned to Alazar and smiled ruefully. “Meris thinks I’ve taken us to the literal middle of nowhere.”
“She’s not too far off.” Myranda went back to picking at the loose thread.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Alazar. Suffice it to say we’re safer here than anywhere else I can think of.”
Alazar shifted, trying to sit up. Meris put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m not so sure you should try that just yet.”
He gritted his teeth and pushed against her, apparently determined to sit up or split open his incision again, whichever came first. “We’re wasting time here. Why aren’t we at a Nexus Hub already?”
Meris and Leo shot a look at Myranda, who frowned slightly. “We can’t, Berent beat us to the press, remember? The whole NewVerse thinks you, Wyll and Zac led the attacks on the Stell-Ore employees.”
He stared at her a long moment. “I thought that had been a dream. I had… so many dreams lately.”
“Sorry, but this is no dream.” Myranda twirled the thread, which Meris now noticed was a deep red, in a circle around her finger. “We were hoping Wyll and Zac would have an idea of what to do next, but we… lost contact with them.”
Alazar flipped the musty blue blanket off of himself and rolled onto his side. He paused for a moment before pushing himself up and swinging his long legs over the side to sit on the edge of the bed. He was breathing rapidly and looked like he was going to collapse. Meris placed a hand on his shoulder to steady him. “What are you doing?”
“One… We need to… keep moving.” He was out of breath, that easily. “Two… I need the toilet.”
Meris felt her face flush. “Oh, well luckily this place actually has plumbing.”
Myranda stood up. “I’m the doc, I’ll help him.”
“But I’m a guy, I’ll give him a hand.” Leo approached his boss, but then stopped cold. “Oh, eww, not literally, though, sir.”
“Thanks, Leo, that makes this so much less awkward.” Alazar frowned, but Meris could see laughter in his eyes.
She stepped aside and let Leo help Alazar to his feet and out of the room. Once they had disappeared into the bathroom, one of the only three other rooms in the cottage, she turned to Myranda. “He can barely sit up or stand. What are we supposed to do now? We can’t fight Berent and his men and protect him at the same time if we get attacked.”
“You and Leo will have to do the fighting, I’ll do the protecting of my patient.”
“But what do we do? What is the plan now?”
Myranda tilted her head back slightly and exhaled noisily, something Meris had seen her brother do when stressed. “I don’t know, Meris. Why don’t you tell us what the plan is? You’re the one who started this whole crusade to begin with.”
Anger bit at her tongue, goading her to lash out. Instead, she reined it in as best she could. “I did not start anything. Berent and his men did. All I wanted was to expose the truth. Do you think I planned to be on the run with the man I saw murder my fiance, and his sister, who is the wife of the man who ordered it done and with the man I originally accused of being behind it all? This -” she flicked out a hand to indicate their surroundings “- is not where I pictured myself today.”
Okay, so maybe she didn’t rein it in very well after all.
“And you think I did? Did you think any of the rest of us did? But this is where we are. But this is also where we can’t stay. Alazar is right about that.”
“Granted, but I don’t know what we can do instead. We need Wyll and Zac.”
The two men came back into the living room. Alazar flicked a glance at Meris before addressing Myranda. “How long since the last contact with them?”
Myranda was chewing on her human’s cuticle. “Over eight hours.”
“Then we have to proceed under the assumption that they’ve been compromised somehow.”
“I know no one wants to think about this, Leo.” Alazar stepped away from Leo and supported himself against the fireplace mantle, giving Myranda a sympathetic look. “But we can’t hide out forever. We need to come forward, now.”
“How? We’d never make it through the next big town. Have you forgotten that everyone in all seven colony-planets is out for our blood?”
Alazar shook his head. “No, Meris. Not our blood – mine. And you’re going to give it to them.”
Leo and Myranda started speaking at once. Meris simply stared for an extended moment before she had to ask, “What are you talking about?”
“You bring me in, tell them everything that really happened and hand me over. Of course, they won’t want to believe you at first, but they’ll have no choice but to investigate your claims. They’ll still put me on trial, I’m sure, but Berent has nothing to tie me to any of this. What was my motive supposed to have been for killing my crew and starting a rebellion among my employees? Did I just go mad? If so, then why in the worlds would anyone have supported me? His whole argument will fall apart if the Council starts pulling the right thread. But before I make my case in the court of law, I’m going to wage my war in the court of public opinion.”
Meris exchanged looks with each of them, then a smile stretched her lips as his plan fell into place in her mind.
“Meris, do you still have available memory on your vid-phone?”
Her smile broadened. “Yes, Darius, I do.”
Chapter 7 Chapter 9