Season Content notes: fictional bigotry,
Joan waited in the darkness of the tunnel, and prayed as she hadn’t prayed in years. She’d stopped believing in God years ago and without God, she hadn’t seen the point in keeping the traditions and rituals. It hadn’t been until years later that she realized in walking away from those traditions, she’d also lost her people.
She’d never admitted how much that loss had hurt, not until she huddled in an improvised and reinforced escape tunnel listening to the dust and debris settling.
“Hear, O Israel –” she couldn’t hear anything except the ringing of her ears. Not even the words coming from her mouth. But she’d stopped /hearing/ the Shema and all it meant years before. It wasn’t just about God. It was about family. People. Belonging. The lord is one — /and so are we/.
And she had cut herself off from that.
Amal grabbed her hand, pulling her. Without thinking, she nodded (of course, he couldn’t see her) and grabbed Ahnold.
Carefully they felt their way through the tunnel, praying — figuratively this time — that it wouldn’t decide to collapse on them. On the other side, they shoved the washing machine out of the way and dusted each other off.
“What now?” Ahnold asked.
“We have to get out of here,” Sarge said. “We don’t want anyone to know we were there when that whatever it was went off.”
“Joan, are we free of the ward?” Amal asked.
She tried conjuring a small light spell. “Yeah.”
“Alright, try to get us out of here without the neighbors noticing. Then we’ll go around the block and split up. We’ll meet at the backup location in three days. We’ve all got emergency supplies in drops, so we should be okay until then.”
“Right.” Joan took her time setting up the stealth spells. They could not afford to rush. When she was done, they all crept upstairs and out the front door — the neighbors weren’t even home to notice them.
Once out the door, she saluted the team and headed west. Once she was in a safe place, she could use magic to try to find out who had attacked them. Not that there were many options. The usurper must have found them somehow. Nervously, Joan fingered the contact card she’d carried with her for 6 months. It didn’t have any trackers — tech or magical. She’d tested it six ways to Sunday. Besides, if the card had given them away, why hadn’t someone tried to take them out before now?
No, this had nothing to do with the kid. Something else had given them away. “I hope you’re okay kid,” she muttered to herself, “but I am so taking down your mom if I get the chance.”
Did the kid feel safe there? Did she have people she belonged with? Joan hoped so. But if the kid did, then Joan would be ripping them away from em.
With a sigh and a shake of her head, Joan turned for her grandmother’s place. Savta might not be home, but she’d never mind Joan dropping in. And some time in her grandmother’s tradition-grounded space… Joan might not belong there anymore, but it would still be a comfort just then.
Lerato and her team got home late, exhausted, and messy. They’d heard about the explosion on the net when they were halfway to the location. Then they’d started running. The house was (obviously) in pieces when they got there. But the fire was out, and when they showed their EMS cards (fake), they’d been allowed to join in the efforts to dig through the ruins and look for survivors (or bodies). It had been Jolene who noticed the nearly-destroyed tunnel. She hadn’t said anything at the time but filled the others in on the way back to base.
The worst part was none of them saw anything about what had caused the explosion. The only thing they knew, was that something had happened before the explosion to alert The Dragon something was coming.
They’d been back at base only a short time when the phone rang.
Lerato and Jolene looked at the phone, looked at each other, looked back at the phone.
With a wince, Jolene answered the call. “Hello.”
“The code is braid, Chicago, 1400, Donagh was framed.”
“Yes, mx. We don’t have much to report. The house you said they were in exploded shortly before we arrived. We were able to insert ourselves into the ‘rescue’ operation. No bodies, but a possible escape tunnel. As far as we know, no one else noticed the tunnel.
“Mx, is there anything you can tell us about how you were alerted?”
“I’ll send copy you in the final report. Obviously, we are more interested in this group than we were when you received this task. I can tell you that we know they were in that house less than a half hour before I called you.
“Use that to get eyes on them again. I will be in touch.”
T-minus 1 year 64 days
Brigadier General Cheung of the Space Force was wrapping up (and looking forward to a late dinner) when someone knocked on their door.
“Come in,” they called, grumbling about last-minute things when they were trying to get out the door.
The grumbles cut off abruptly when Lu Xia Wu stepped into the office and closed the door behind hir.
“Would you mind turning off your surveillance briefly, general?” the dragon asked.
Cheung hesitated a moment, assessing their unexpected visitor. They would not be surprised if Lu Jia Wu was the dictator’s choice of assassin. But they couldn’t imagine the dragon would walk openly through Space Force’s main headquarters intent on an assassination.
They carefully keyed in the sequence that would turn off all surveillance in their office.
“Thank you, general,” the dragon stepped further into the office. “May I sit?”
“Yes, of course,” Cheung hurried to wave to one of the seats across from their desk. “Can I offer you a drink?”
“No, thank you.” The dragon seated hirself and took a moment to look around the office. Zi nodded as if in approval. Cheung bristled a little — the lackey of an usurper had no right to pass judgment on them! But tried to keep their reaction off their face.
From the look on the dragon’s face, they failed.
“I was worried when she gave you control of Space Forces. As usual, she knew what she was doing.”
That was neither question nor command, so Cheung chose not to respond.
“You’ve extended Ms. Littlesun a great deal of trust, General. I hope you feel that trust has not been abused.”
Still, Cheung said nothing. This sounded like a fishing trip, but the dragon would not have come for a fishing trip.
“We have — largely through chance I must admit — learned that a group of rebels is planning to assassinate you, General. They believe they can kill you in a way that will implicate Ms. Littlesun.
“It will take some time, but we can track down the rebels who wish to attack you. However, if we capture them, we lose our chance to trace their communications back to the ones who gave them their orders.”
Cheung leaned back in their chair and steepled their fingers. These people always managed to come up with something completely unexpected.
“You wish to allow this attempt to proceed.”
The general nodded. “You did not need to tell me this. You could have done as you wished.”
“That is not how trust is earned.”
Needed to wrap this season up early. Next week we’ll start a month of snippets followed by a new schedule that I had notes on… somewhere. Anyway, after Snippet month it’s Season 2 of The Bargain and continuing with What You Will.