"Children of the Blue"
How many times had Marlene told herself that?
Just about every day, she figured. Just about every day now for more than five years.
Five years of living in the jungle basin surrounded by dense rain forest and crisscrossing streams. Five years of planting crops, hunting game, fishing, building huts and rebuilding them after the wind blew them down.
Five years of living off the land.
Five years of living in peace.
She leaned over by the stream and let the cool crisp water flow into the ceramic container. Far overhead a colorful bird sang as it swept through the dense treetops.
Marlene Angel had long since traded in her soldier's uniform for slacks and shirts made of cloth; traded in her rifle for water jars; her tactical strike squad for a family.
The container filled quickly and Marlene stood.
A familiar hand fell gently on her shoulder.
"You don't really need water again already, do you?"
Yuji's was being coy—he knew what she was up to.
"Why sure I do—"
"You just know that your son is down here somewhere, running around. Always the mother hen, aren't you?"
She smiled and turned to face him.
"Well…I'm just being careful. You know, there are still some blue around…out there…somewhere…"
Yuji wasn't buying it.
The sound of running footsteps came crashing through the brush along the stream bank--the sound of footsteps and childish giggles: the giggles of a boy just a few weeks shy of his fifth birthday.
"Takashi!" She yelled happily as she looked at the reflection of her blonde hair and blue eyes on the boy and the reflection of his father's stocky build and fleet reflexes.
The boy raised a finger to his lips asking them to 'shhh' then slipped behind a tree.
A moment later and another set of footsteps came running along the bank. These steps much heavier—the steps of a teenager about to turn into a young man.
It was Bo—the dark haired, slender son of Chief Fuentes, the village's founder and leader. The man who had accepted Yuji and Marlene's group of into their community so long ago—yet it felt like yesterday.
"Where'd he go? Where'd he go?" Bo asked with a grin.
Bo had become a sort of big brother to their son, Takashi. He was sort of a big brother to all the younger children of the village. And he was a symbol of the future for all of them.
Yuji teased: "He grew wings and flew away."
Takashi stood up: "I didn't fly away, daddy…oops."
Bo tagged Takashi on his shoulder. They all laughed.
The bell at the center of the village let out series of slow rings as Yuji, Marlene, and the two boys strolled into the community. The water jug had made its way from Marlene's hands into Bo's—the young man was quite insistent.
"Visitors," Marlene commented.
Takashi chimed in, repeating what they had taught him: "Friendly visitors, daddy. But if it rings fast…"
"…then run fast," Yuji finished.
"Bo won't run," Takashi pointed out.
"Yuji might run now, right Yuji?" Marlene said in a tone that suggested they all knew why the bell was ringing.
Yuji rolled his eyes.
Marlene told him: "More people have come to see the savior!"
"Pibgrims?" Takashi muttered.
Bo corrected him: "Pilgrims."
The family and Bo arrived at the center of the village. Sure enough, a caravan of visitors was gathered there conversing with Chief Fuentes. The visitors were riding pack mules loaded with their own gear and, most certainly, gifts of tribute for the village where the famous Yuji Kaido lived.
Yuji often wondered how he had become so famous in world without telephones; without the world wide web; without even cable t.v. Heck, they didn't even know what was out in that world—only little glimpses and stories of what lay beyond the protective mountains.
However, the pilgrims still came. Sometimes two groups a week, sometimes none for three months. It all depended on how fast the story was spreading and how eager the listeners to learn the truth.
There were eight pilgrims. An eclectic group of various races and genders and ages.
Chief Fuentes pointed toward Yuji as he approached and all the members of the caravan rushed forward.
"Are you really Yuji Kaido?"
"May I touch your hand?"
"Where is the cavern of the Earth?"
"Did you speak to God?"
Yuji held a both hands up and smiled as politely as he could then spoke.
"I am Yuji Kaido. I don't know what stories you've heard, but I'm just a guy trying to live a normal life. It is true that I was a sleeper—I have the b-cells in my body but that makes me no different from you.
"I experienced something…incredible. And the result was that nature was put back into balance. I can't explain it—not the way you want me to, I'm sorry. I still don't understand it all—"
"Where's the cavern of the Earth?"
"Can we see the shining light?"
"We have come so far; please tell us how to live…"
The words and pleas became cross talk.
Bo stepped in. He raised his voice like a carnival conductor.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I can take you to the cavern of the Earth. The shining light that you have heard of has long since faded, its purpose complete. But I can take you there and maybe you can find the answers you seek for yourself."
Bo handed the water jug to Marlene who mouthed the word 'thank you' to the young man. Bo then led the pilgrims away from the village toward that mammoth passage in the cliff side.
"Now that's a good kid," Marlene told Yuji.
"I like him," Chief Fuentes interjected.
Other members of the village started to come out to see what the caravan had brought.
Fuentes continued: "And we all like these caravans, too. What will it be this time? Special grains from up north? Maybe coffee beans or hand-made bows to spear our dinner? Smoked meats or even cocoa?
"These pilgrims—as silly as they may seem to you—are the beginnings of the same types of trade routes that thousands of years ago turned primitive man into civilizations."
The Chief was always looking out for the good of the village. That's why they all trusted him with their lives and loved him like a grandfather.
Another voice became a part of the conversation.
"Let's hope they brought some penicillin."
The voice belonged to an older gentlemen with two tufts of gray hair on either side of an otherwise balding scalp.
His name was Dr. Gamble and he had found his way to the village little more than a year prior. He had brought with him old country doctor charm but little in the way of medicine—that was one part of paradise that needed work.
Fuentes said to the doctor: "I don't think a hospital medicine cabinet is going to fall into our laps, Charles."
Takashi ran over and jumped into Gamble's arms. The doctor raised the boy high and held him. Takashi hadn't forgotten how the good doctor had made a fair number of his 'booboos' better.
"That, I must admit, is true," Gamble replied. "But we keep hearing of more and more villages and outposts out there, across South America. Maybe one of them has got a good chemist working for them."
Takashi squirmed and Charles Gamble let the boy hop to the ground.
"Takashi, go get cleaned up for dinner."
"Come on now, do what mom says," Yuji supported his 'wife'.
The group watched the boy go. The village was well contained and everyone knew one another—sending the nearly five years old Takashi across the community by himself was no more dangerous then sending him from one end of their house to another. Trust and security were a part of paradise.
"Speaking of other groups," Fuentes said. "I raised Doran's group on Devil's Island earlier today."
The village had one high-powered radio transmitter. The antenna was high up on one of the mountain walls. The unit was rarely used because battery power was a precious commodity. Still, they kept in contact with four other communities in this fashion, sharing weather information, trading survival tips, and sharing observations or news.
Just as importantly, they kept an eye out for any Blue.
Marlene had spoken the truth by the stream—there were still Blue around although none had ever visited the village. Most of the creatures, or so it seemed, had become solitary predators.
Yet the truth was that Takashi had never seen a Blue in his five years of life and the village itself hadn't seen one since before Yuji and Marlene's team had descended upon them so long ago.
Fuentes continued relaying his conversation.
"Doran says some of his guys heard air ships—he said they sounded like transports to him. Now I don't now much about anything like that. But I figured maybe you'd know."
Fuentes was a natural earther. He had seen Yuji's air ships when they had gone to strip them to their frames (taking every ounce of equipment and metal they could carry). But other than that he had no clue what they were or what they did.
"Air ships?" Marlene was surprised.
"More visitors from Second Earth?" Gamble suggested.
Yuji shook his head and told him: "From everything we heard, what's left of Second Earth is empty hulks floating in orbit."
Marlene echoed: "It was abandoned when the military ship was destroyed. Any survivors from up there have long since resettled on the surface."
Fuentes considered and told them: "Maybe people like you. Maybe they didn't strip their ships but kept them."
Dr. Gamble concluded: "Doesn't sound like anything to worry about to me."
"Of course not," Fuentes chided. "You're just hoping they bring you an x-ray machine, right?"
"I'm going to get Takashi ready for supper," Marlene interrupted. "I'll meet you back here in a bit," she kissed Yuji on the cheek, leaving him to discuss the mysterious air ships to his heart's content. Her heart, meanwhile, was with her boy.
"And there I be, staring at this hideous abomination as it bore down on me," William Junker gazed around at his audience of nine
and ten year olds for effect.
The campfire was lit even though it wasn't yet dark because the campfire was as much of the story as the words that came from the teller's lips.
Marlene, still on her way to meet her son, stopped and looked at the veteran soldier as he told yet another tale. Soldiers like Captain William Junker—old ones—were hard to find.
With no more armored shrikes to pilot or ships to fly the Captain was left to his war stories; and he had earned the right to them.
"I checked my ammo—only four bullets left; not nearly enough to fell a 'Double Boat' blue. Not enough to even cause a scratch."
Marlene moved on until she came to the hut their family shared—a combination of sheet metal from the transports, tent stakes and ropes, and animal hides.
She slipped into the darkness of the shelter—no lamp burned.
Movement from her right. She heard the noise of a muffled voice.
A figure stepped forward.
She saw only a little before the pain rushed through her body. She saw a scar; she her son being held with a hand over his mouth; then she saw the bright electric flicker of a stun gun.
Marlene Angel fell over, her body twitching as it lost consciousness.
Dr. Gamble bid his companions a quick goodbye and headed across the village. This left the Chief and Yuji alone in the open space at the center of the collective.
They spoke about the crop cycle for the coming spring; they spoke about the value of the caravans and the possibility of making a longer journey to visit some of the other communities; they spoke of many things.
They spoke without knowing that a finger was softly touching a trigger while a crosshair…fell…silently…on Yuji's…neck.
Marlene: "Yuji…where's Takashi? Why did they attack us? Who were they? Get up Yuji. Yuji? Yuji!"