Author's Note: Some quick research on Wikipedia informed me
that Tomahna is actually on Earth. D'oh! I'd always just
assumed that it was an Age unto itself, like Myst. Its location
renders some of "Second Chances" impossible, namely Sirrus's
discoveries while hiking. I've attempted to make light of this
mistake in order to continue using that aspect of the story, because I
rather like it.
Sorry, Myst buffs!
If you find you have the time, we would love to see you again. It has been far too long since your last visit and we all miss you.
I have a couple free days coming up, and I'd love to spend them in Tomahna. You're right; it has been too long.
See you soon.
Chapter 1 – Unspoken Lines
It was a warm day in Tomahna when Catherine set out to meet Atrus's friend.
Her head was full of pleasant thoughts. She could hardly believe that it had already been a year since Sirrus's miraculous return. His change of heart had made an amazing difference in the family. Atrus was happier than he'd been in years, and Yeesha was delighted to have a brother she could trust.
As for Catherine, it made her happy to see her family so happy. True, she and Sirrus didn't talk as much as she could like, but simply having him around meant a lot. He and Atrus were better suited to each other's company, anyway. Once they had stopped arguing, they had realized how much they had in common, and were often inseparable these days. Catherine couldn't express how glad it made her to see that.
The fact that Atrus's friend was coming to visit again made things even better. Samantha—called Sam—had been a friend of the family for so long that she was practically part of the family, and Catherine always felt that things were more complete when she was around.
Sam was waiting, in her customary outfit of a t-shirt and khaki pants, when Catherine pulled up in the tram. She got in with a smile, and Catherine turned back in the direction of Atrus's workshop.
"It's good to see you again," she said.
"It's good to be back," Sam replied. "I can't believe it's been six months since I was last here."
"We've all missed you."
"So Atrus said in his letter." Sam paused, smiling a bit, as if at some private joke. "I'm a little surprised that Sirrus wasn't the one to pick me up."
Catherine tried not to laugh. She had no doubt that Sirrus would have volunteered to meet Sam, had he and Atrus not been glued to paged of notes all morning.
"He and Atrus are pouring over Spire, if you can believe it," she said.
"Really? Already?" Sam asked in surprise.
Catherine nodded. "Atrus has been interested in hearing about Sirrus's experiments there, but he was too polite to ask. I think Sirrus could tell, though, because he finally offered some information a couple of weeks ago."
"I really am surprised. I thought that would never get brought up."
"So did I," Catherine agreed. "But you should see them. They're both enthralled." The tram came to a halt outside Atrus's workshop. As Catherine got out, she added, "Yeesha is on Serenia right now, so you can use her room. And I don't expect Atrus and Sirrus to come out of Atrus's study until dinnertime."
Sam laughed, swinging her small pack onto her back.
"That sounds like Atrus," she commented. Then, "I'm going to go get settled in. Let me know if you need any help with dinner."
Catherine nodded, smiling, and Sam set off down the walkway.
It was still strange to see the bedroom that Atrus had built for Sirrus nestled in the hillside above Yeesha's room. Somehow, it fit perfectly with the rest of the buildings, serving to complete the layout of Tomahna. Sam smiled to herself as she descended the walkway to Yeesha's room. A year ago, she wouldn't have believed unity to be possible.
Yeesha's room was, as usual, full of books and papers, but still quite neat. Sam set her pack down on the bed and looked around, breathing a deep sigh of contentment. There was an air of peacefulness around Tomahna, and it was already beginning to make her feel relaxed. The feeling was a good one, and she headed for the platform below the bedroom to be by the water and enjoy it for a while.
She wasn't particularly surprised when, about twenty minutes later, footsteps sounded nearby and Sirrus appeared beside her, folding himself into a sitting position without an invitation.
"I thought you and Atrus were wrapped up in research," Sam said without looking at him.
"We are," Sirrus replied. "I just wanted to say hello."
Sam waited for what she knew would come. Anything that Sirrus could think of to give himself an excuse to remain seated, he'd say. It had been that way when Sam visited six months ago, and, judging by the fact that Sirrus had torn himself away from quality time with Atrus just to come sit next to her, things hadn't changed.
Sirrus cleared his throat. "Look, er, I was going to go hiking after dinner. Would you like to come with me?"
Refusal was on the tip of Sam's tongue, but it retreated when she glanced sideways at Sirrus. He looked so hopeful and eager that Sam couldn't bring herself to disappoint him.
"All right," she said, a bit resignedly. "I'll come. But don't you dare try to hold my hand again."
Sirrus grinned a grin that made him look like a complete idiot and stood up.
"I'll see you later, then," he said.
"Yes," Sam replied, trying to keep her tone neutral.
She waited until she was sure that Sirrus was out of earshot before she laughed. She knew Catherine encouraged this sort of thing, but really, it was ridiculous. Even if they were both twenty years younger, it would still be ridiculous. Every time Sirrus got within ten feet of her, he behaved like a deranged teenager, and it was starting to get on Sam's nerves. Reformed he may be, but he was still Sirrus.
Sam pushed these thoughts from her head and looked out at the water, letting Tomahna work its calming effect on her.
At dinner, Atrus and Sirrus made the surprising announcement that they were planning to link to Spire soon to retrieve the remains of some of Sirrus's experiments there. Sam could tell that Catherine didn't like the idea, and she had a sneaking suspicion that Atrus would be hearing about it later on.
However, Atrus and Sirrus seemed oblivious to how strange their plan sounded, and they continued to discuss Spire's eccentricities in terms so technical that Sam and Catherine could hardly follow what they were saying.
As soon as the dishes were cleared from the table, Sirrus wanted to go hiking. With some reluctance, Sam went with him, trying to ignore the way Catherine smiled at them as they left the kitchen.
Once they were on their way, Sam asked, "Do you really think it's such a good idea to go back to Spire so soon?"
Sirrus shrugged. "Father's interested in the properties of the Age, and he never got to explore it as much as he wanted to. And since I'm familiar with it, I can show him where to find what he wants to study."
Sam was surprised that he could talk about it so calmly. Despite his change of heart, she doubted that anyone could get over twenty years of imprisonment in only twelve months. However, she knew that it was probably a good idea not to voice these doubts. So all she said was,
"I hope you've both thought this through."
"It's all that we discussed today," Sirrus replied. "I wish you wouldn't worry; you're as bad as Mother."
"I don't think Catherine worries because she doubts you," Sam said, responding more to Sirrus's tone than his words. "I think she worries because she's your mother."
Sirrus said nothing and turned his attention back to hiking. Sam couldn't help noticing how much less meticulous he was about his appearance now. He was far from being a slob, but there was a definite tendency towards comfort in his dress and posture that Sam never would have expected to see in someone like him. She supposed he had been working towards it over the past year. Strange; it almost made him look nice.
They came at last to Sirrus's favorite spot, a place that Sam had to wonder if Atrus even knew existed. It was a beach, far out beyond the main part of Tomahna, where no trees grew and sparkling blue water beat endlessly on red-brown sand. Sirrus loved it so much that his bedroom had been built facing its approximate direction, despite the fact that it couldn't be seen from any of the buildings in Tomahna.
He sat down on the sand now, facing the water and closing his eyes, letting the wind blow through his hair. Sam had seen him do so once before, six months ago. In that moment, he was an entirely different person than she'd ever known him to be. That was why she had almost let him hold her hand then. Almost, but not quite.
Now she stood a little way away, watching the waves roll onto the beach. She had to admit that this place was serene, a little refuge to escape to when things went wrong, or when nothing was wrong and you just wanted to experience unbridled beauty. Again, she had to wonder if Atrus knew of its existence.
"Sirrus," she said suddenly.
"Hmm?" Sirius said without opening his eyes.
"When you were on Spire, what did you think about?" It was a stupid question, and Sam couldn't fathom where it had come from.
"When I wasn't plotting destruction, you mean?" Sirrus's ton held a hint of humor.
"Well…yes," Sam said, feeling embarrassed.
Sirrus leaned back in the sand and watched the waves thoughtfully.
"Haven," he said at last.
"You've got to be kidding," Sam said in surprise.
Sirrus shook his head. "After I figured out what was going on, I started to wonder if I'd have fared better on Haven."
"A 'grass is always greener' thing," Sam said.
"No offense, but I think you'd have gotten eaten ten minutes after linking in."
Sirrus laughed a little. "Maybe. Achenar always was better suited to nature."
They fell silent. Achenar's name didn't come up often in conversation, and Sam was still unsure how to react to it. So she looked out at the water, rocking back on her heels.
"How the hell is there even a beach here?" she found herself asking.
Sirrus shrugged, causing his hands to slide back into the sand. "Who knows? Maybe there isn't. Maybe it's an oasis."
"Or maybe we're imagining it," Sam joked.
"I could live with that."
Sam could tell as Sirrus said this that he really meant it. This was his place, he loved it…
And he kept bringing her to it. The implications of this were unsettling, though Sam had known about them to some extent already. She was still wondering what to do about it.
For now, she just settled herself in the sand a reasonable distance from Sirrus and enjoyed the peace and quiet until he was ready to hike back.