Over the next days, Ayla pretty much forgot about the dream as she visited Amanda in hospital. The girl was often in and out of consciousness and not always coherent when she was awake so Ayla would sit in silence on those days, with either Amanda's father or mother. Sometimes she would hear the mother weeping about Amanda's lost beauty, and sometimes she would hear her father ranting about the professor.
And then came the day when she was walking through the tube station again and picked up a free newspaper. She read the headline twice.
'High up professor in the Horticultural society arrested for causing the death of his staff and trainees.'
Ayla gasped and read more.
'Professor James Wright has been arrested following the deaths of his staff and trainees during the recent storm. He pushed his way into the airlock, but then barricaded the door so no one else could get in sitting he was afraid that the storm would get into the city. Though anyone who knows anything about the airlocks knows that they have a triple protection system and the storm at the most could only have breached the first or second layer. After rigorous examining of his paperwork, it has also been ascertained that he was in the business of being paid to pass children, therefore taking not the best but the most privilege. A witness has come forward to say that he often sabotaged the tests of other students to make sure the student that was paying was the best. Trial will be in two weeks time.'
Ayla stared at the words again, reading them over and over. Then she turned back around and headed back to the car that had brought her to London. She wanted to get her teacher's advice on whether she should come forward.
'Mrs Zdoni,' Ayla said as she ran into the teacher's classroom.
'Ayla, what are you doing here? School has finished for the day.
'I know, but I was going to see Amanda, the girl burnt in London by the storm, and I saw this.' She put the newspaper down on her teacher's desk, the headline showing.
'I've seen it. It's excellent news.'
'Do you think I should come forward and tell them about the test? How he cheated me out of a place. How he accused me of damaging trees.'
Her eyes glinted. 'I think you will find that he has already admitted to everything, including his treatment of you.' She opened the paper to the fourth page. 'He had no choice really, his paperwork betrayed him.'
'So no one believes I hurt those trees?'
'No, he has even said that he knows that it wasn't you that hurt your tree and that you looked after it really well, making sure that even with the damage it survived.'
'He did?' She smiled and then frowned. 'Oh Mrs Zdoni, I hadn't thought, but my little tree, the storm, it must have been burnt up.'
Mrs Zdoni patted her shoulder. 'I'm afraid so, all the trees outside our city are gone. But think, where we are going soon, there are plenty of trees, and they are protected by a dome.'
'I guess so, but it is still horrible that it is gone.'
'But not in here,' she gently tapped the side of Ayla's head. 'You have your memories and the knowledge that tending that little tree gave you. Knowledge that will help you in the future.'
A few weeks later, and they piled onto couches, about to leave behind most of what they knew and heading off into the unknown.
Ayla had few belongings with her, a bracelet that had been her mother's, and a letter her father had written. A couple of books she'd managed to get hold off about healing with herbs and some of her more serviceable study clothes, light jeans that would protect her legs but if they got wet, dry out quickly. T-shirts, a couple of jumpers. She hadn't been allowed to take much, none of them had. They'd been told that they would be supplied with what they would need, including extra clothes, bedding and shoes as well as cooking implements and things that they would need every day.
Now she sat on the couch, her oxygen mask dangling around her neck and looked out at the massive domed city of Oxford, her home. She was excited about going, but in reality it hurt to leave the area she'd grown up in, where she'd been born, where her parents had lived. She wiped a tear from her eye and listened to their deputy headmaster, Mr Bruce, who was standing at the front of the coach.
'We will be setting off in a minute; I'm going to be travelling in this coach while the headmaster and the other deputy will be travelling in the other two. We will be travelling down with you, and I will be staying in France while the other two will be returning to Oxford for the younger children. Those teachers on this coach and the other ones will be staying in France too. Just in case you don't know them all, I will introduce them. Mr Hunter, will you stand up?'
A man stood up near the back of the coach.
'Mr Hunter teaches year thirteen, the seventeen to eighteen year olds. He has been particularly chosen to join you all because like his name,' he smiled. 'He likes hunting which is something you will all have to learn to do. Now if Mrs Dean would stand up?'
Mr Hunter sat down and near the front of the coach a woman stood up.
'Mrs Dean is in charge of year twelve, the sixteen to seventeen year olds. She is also an excellent cook, who can make anything. She will be in charge of making sure that all food is properly prepared and cooked as well as adding sometimes necessary taste to a meal. Now Mrs Zdoni, could you stand up?'
Mrs Dean sat down and Mrs Zdoni stood up.
'Mrs Zdoni has only been with us a short time but has already proved herself invaluable. She teaches year eleven, the fifteen to sixteen year olds. She is an expert in herbs and using them for healing. She will be in charge of the healers, teaching them, and making sure they only use their skills in safe ways.'
Mrs Zdoni nodded her head and smiled and then sat down.
Mr Bruce looked around the coach. 'And we seem to be missing a teacher.'
Ayla looked out of the coach and saw a man running to them, an oxygen mask over his face.
'Mr Spencer,' Mr Bruce exclaimed as the man reached the coach. 'Put on your masks everyone; seems we have to open the doors.'
Ayla quickly put on her mask, and then heard the whoosh of the door opening. Mr Spencer rushed on, and once the door was shut, took off his mask.
'Mr Spencer is an expert in being late,' a fourteen year old shouted.
'I'm so sorry,' Mr Spencer gasped, blushing as he saw the full coach and everyone staring at him. 'My alarm clock didn't go off.'
'Well take a seat man,' Mr Bruce said in an irritated voice. 'Mr Spencer teaches year ten, the fourteen to fifteen year olds.'
Mr Spencer walked down the aisle, nearly knocking a boy out with his bag. 'Sorry,' he said as he saw an empty seat next to Mrs Zdoni. 'Is anyone sitting there?' he asked.
She shook her head and stood up. 'Let me help you with your bag,' she said, as he nearly hit a girl in the face with it.
'Oh thank you,' he replied, a smile lighting up his face. 'I really am sorry, am I really late?'
Mrs Zdoni demurely shook her head and took his bag off him and put it in an overhead locker. She sat down.
'If you are quite finished talking and distracting everyone Mr Spencer,' Mr Bruce said. 'Can I finish?'
'Oh yes, yes,' he sat down next to Mrs Zdoni.
'Mr Spencer's speciality, alongside his ability to be late for most situations and very clumsy, is he is very good at making clothes. Now that might seem like something that is pretty unessential, all our clothing and needs will be met from outside the dome we are heading too. But there might come a time when we have to rely on what is available which would be animal skins. Therefore that is what he will be doing, teaching you how to use the skins of the animals that are killed for food. We also have other teachers and helpers in the two other coaches, some of who also have specialities and some who will support them. Now if everyone is strapped in, we can set off.'
'So you're the new teacher?' Mr Spencer asked Mrs Zdoni as the coach travelled down the road.
'I am,' she replied.
'And what can I call you? Besides Mrs Zdoni.'
'Oh I have many names, but you can call me Zoe.'
'A lovely name for a lovely young woman.'
Mrs Zdoni smiled. 'You'd be surprised at how old I really am,' she said, a twinkle in her eyes.
'Why you can't be more than twenty five, thirty at the most.'
'Oh I'm much older than that.'
'You can't be as old as me, I'm in my fifties.'
Mrs Zdoni, or Zoe for short, just grinned. 'Like I said...'
Ayla was the first one to see the sea. They'd been travelling for a few hours when she saw a sparkle up ahead and as they turned onto a coastal road, she saw that the blueness of the sea stark next to the scorched land and beach. They kept on travelling past, until they came to a building where men in masks were standing next to a barrier. When they saw the school insignia on the side of the coach, they waved them through, lifting the barrier.
They drove into a large building, shutters shutting behind them before they could leave the coach.
'Hurry up,' Mr Bruce said, especially staring at Mr Spencer.
They walked through a door into a train station and then to a platform where they boarded a train. The train jolted as it started, heading towards a dark tunnel that would take them under the sea to France.
It wasn't a long journey; they arrived in another train station half an hour later where they boarded another bus, with South of France Project insignia. Then they travelled for another three hours until they reached the city of Paris where they would stay the night.
That evening they were led into a large room filled with tables. There were banners on the wall. 'Paris welcomes the students of England.'
As Ayla looked around, and headed to a table, she realised that she didn't know many of the young people in the room, she knew those closest to her but those on other tables were from different schools, different towns and cities. She wondered what these people would be like, would they be hard workers and try their best, or would they be annoyed they had been made to come by the government.
'I know that you don't know everyone,' a voice said from a far table.
Ayla glanced over and saw it was one of the men who had come to Oxford to tell them about the project. Francois.
'We would like you all to mix with others from different schools, so I am going to say a table and then read the list of the people who will have their food there.' He started with table one.
Ayla found herself assigned to table nine where they were served with a chicken casserole that a French student called Coq au Vin. It was served with crusty bread and creamy butter. For pudding they had crème caramel, set custard with a caramelised sugar topping. She had never had it before but really liked it. She just about stopped herself licking the bowl.
After dinner, they were led into a hall, where they were told more about what was going to happen.
'Whatever table you have been assigned to tonight, that is your group. Tonight, each group will share two dormitories with another group. So group one and two will share two, group three and four another two and so on. When we arrive in the project tomorrow, this is the group you will stay in.'
Hands flew up into the air.
'I know you thought you would remain in your school groups, even your teachers did but we have decided that it would be better to split you up, so you get to know each other. We might even rotate the groups in the future. That way, if you get into trouble and none of your school friends are around, you all will know that others will help you.'
They were led up to their dormitories, glancing around at each other nervously. One of the girls tripped on a stair, earning laughter from some of the boys.
'Leave her alone,' Ayla spat, glaring at them as if she was daring them to say a word to her or laugh at her. She helped the girl stand up, and half carried her up the last steps. 'Are you okay?'
The girl nodded her head, tears were in her eyes, and she was biting her lip, but she just kept on climbing the stairs.
At the top the boys, thankfully, went one way, while the girls another. They were led into a bed filled room. Ayla helped the girl to a bed and then bent down and examined her leg.
'It's just scraped she said,' pulling a pot out of her bag. 'My teacher has been teaching me to make herbal remedies, this will help with healing and make sure there is no infection,' she said as she rubbed cream over the injury.
'Thank you,' the girl said and then gulped. 'Are you frightened?' she whispered.
Ayla looked at her quizzically.
'We have been made to leave our homes and all we know, and now will live in a totally different way. I can't help feeling scared.'
'You will be all right,' Ayla grinned. 'By the way, I'm Ayla and I'm from,' she stopped what she was saying for a moment and frowned. 'I used to be from Oxford.'
'Oh I'm Katie and I was from a little town near Manchester.'
'Yeah, most towns haven't been domed but my one, well its special, has a tower in it. For a long time it's been a holiday destination, so they wanted to make sure it survived. I'm from Blackpool.'
When they arrived at the project the next day after spending most of the day travelling, the driver stopped the coach at a large building. Ayla and the rest of her group got out, wearing their oxygen masks. They were taken into the building where they were met by the other man who had visited Oxford.
Jon smiled when he saw them, a dimple appearing by his mouth. 'Welcome. To those that don't know me, my name is Jon and I will be the leader of this group. I was born in France but had an English mother and grew up speaking that language and visiting England, both before and after the storm. I have been chosen to lead your group because of this, and know of some of the challenges you will face but I also know the project having been part of it for the last five years.'
'I thought our teachers were going to be our leaders,' a girl shouted from the back of the room.
'No, they will remain teachers. They are there to teach you and will move between the groups teaching their skills, though each one will be assigned a group to live with. But for the moment, they are staying in Paris for further training and won't be joining us for a week. In that time I am hoping that you will have all started to acclimatise to the project. Any questions?'
A girl put her hand up. 'Are there really no toilets?'
Jon grinned. 'There are toilets, but they are known as long drop toilets. They are basically a hole in the ground with a wooden surround to sit on.'
The girl gasped. 'Are they out in the open?'
'Of a sort, yes, but we have them in secluded areas and they are surrounded by a barrier so anyone walking pass can't see you. We have also put a barrier between each one.'
'And everyone uses them?' another girl asked. 'Even the boys?'
Jon laughed. 'Yes, the boys and men use the long drop toilets but we have dug two lots, one for females and one for males.'
Ayla frowned. 'Dug?'
His eyes twinkled at her. 'Yes, we have to dig them, and when one gets a bit smelly, we fill it in. Now if there are no more questions then we should get on. If you follow me, we will get you kitted out.'
When Ayla stepped into the project she was astounded. Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw, certainly not the last ten years of city life and occasional journeys through a barren land, and not even her faint memories of before the storm. Even the photos she'd seen on her I-book or the ones that they'd shown on the screen in Oxford hadn't shown her what it would be like. Nothing had given it justice. She was surrounded by trees, and in the distance she saw more. Trees whose leaf laden branches reached high up to the sky, to the dome in a cacophony of green. Flowers grew around the base of the trees, pretty petals in all colours of the rainbow.
'Come on,' Jon said, leading the way down a little dirt path that meandered through the trees.
Packs on their backs, they followed him, trying not to trip over tree roots that had invaded the path.
Little birds flew up above their heads, twittering song to each other. A squirrel sat in a patch of sunlight, eating a nut and scurried up a tree when it saw them. Tiny insects danced from leaf to leaf, sunlight catching on their wings.
'This is amazing,' Ayla said with wonder as they walked. 'It's just wonderful.'
They walked deeper into the wood, passed rabbits foraging in long grass, nearby they could hear the sound of water. Jon led them towards it and coming out into a small clearing, they saw a fast moving river flowing into the distance.
Ayla moved closer and could see fish swimming through the water.
'Careful,' Jon pushed her back from the bank. 'Don't want you falling in the river.'
Ayla nodded her head and sighed. 'This is all so beautiful.'
Jon looked around at the trees, the river, and the bright blue sky. 'This is how life was meant to be on Earth before we humans damaged it. And even before the storm, there were areas like this, but not many of them had been domed in time to save them from it.' He sighed. 'We will camp here tonight.'
'Ayla,' Jon said. 'Can you help me make a fire?'
'Yeah okay,' she agreed. 'Though I must admit I have no idea how to make one.'
'It's easy, come on I will show you.' He walked back through the trees, bending down and picking up a dry twig.'
Ayla frowned. 'I thought you didn't use wood for fires?'
'We don't chop them down to burn, but we do use what has already fallen from them. It would only rot anyway, might as well be used to make a fire so we can have a hot meal.'
'Oh, I suppose that makes sense.' She smiled and picked up a dead branch. Suddenly she felt itchy, as if something was crawling over her. She looked at the wood in her hands and saw the line of insects running over her hands. 'Eugh,' she groaned, quickly throwing it on the ground, flicking the bugs from her hands and stepping back.
Jon laughed. 'You are going to have to get used to bugs Ayla. In fact I'm surprised you didn't see any when you were planting your tree.'
Ayla stared at him. 'You know about the test?'
'Yes I do, and I also know that you were cheated out of a place on the horticulture course. I surprised that someone who wanted to go on that is afraid of a few insects.'
'A few?' she shuddered. 'There were loads of them.'
He just laughed.
Angry now, Ayla started searching for more twigs, but made sure there were no bugs in them before she picked them up. Then she followed him back to where they were making camp.
'Just put them down here,' Jon said. 'And then can you get me some rocks? Ones a bit bigger than your hands.'
'Are you sure I'm capable?'
He glanced up at her, his blue eyes twinkling brightly at her. 'I wouldn't have asked you if I didn't think you were capable.'
'Oh right,' she stomped off to the river bank and soon found some rocks. Picking up two at a time, she took them back to Jon and went and got more.
'Brilliant,' he smiled at her. 'Can you put them in a large circle and then we will break the twigs up within it and start the fire.'
She nodded and did what he said and then sat back on her haunches and watched as Jon lit the fire.'
'What are we going to cook over it?' she wanted to know. 'Are you going to send someone out hunting?'
'No, whoever I sent would probably get lost. Much better to get to know the area before hunting, and as we aren't where we are going to live yet, then no one can know the area.'
'I bet you do.'
'Well yes, but I've been living in the project for the last five years.'
'Anyway, everyone has had a really long day today, what with the coach journey, getting kitted out and then the walk here. I don't think anyone would be up for hunting tonight. But to make it an authentic meal, I've brought along a couple of dead chickens. Thankfully they've already been plucked, so now this fire is going, we need to make a frame for a couple of spits to roast them on.'
Eating hot chicken, the sun going down but creating glorious colours in the sky above the dome, Ayla sighed and leant back.
'Happier?' Jon asked.
She nodded her head. 'And exciting and more than a little nervous too.'
'Your life is totally changing so I think those emotions are totally understandable. It was hard enough for me, and I could have gone back to my city, but for you, well Oxford is behind you.'
She wiped a tear from her eye.
'I'm sorry; I didn't mean to upset you.'
'Oh you've not. So what happens next?'
'Everyone goes to bed.'
'What? No. I mean what will happen tomorrow and the days after.'
'Ah.' He threw another twig onto the fire. 'Tomorrow, we will hike our way to our camp. It's all ready for us, just waiting for us to get there.'
'It must be very big. I mean our group is like, what, nine people, and there are at least thirty groups. That's two hundred and seventy people in one place.'
'There are actually thirty nine groups, and each one will have ten people in them. Eight students, one leader, me, and a teacher. So that's...' he tilted his head to one side as he tried to calculate the numbers.
'Three hundred and ninety,' she said helpfully. 'Three hundred and ninety people, we'll be tripping over each other.'
'No you won't. You see, the project covers one hundred miles squared; now some of that land is mountainous, but the rest is suitable for camps. Each camp will only have two groups in it, so in our case, we will share our camp with just one other group. So twenty of us. Other camps might be nearby or might be fifty miles away from us.'
'Oh I see.' She started to muse over this, wondering what life would be like now.
'Anyway, like I said. Everyone is going to bed. I think it is time we all turned in, we have a long walk to do tomorrow.'
Ayla nodded her head and headed to her pack, taking out a cotton sleeping bag, which she got in. Zipping it up, she turned on one side and fell asleep.
She was walking on a rocky incline, down to the mouth of a cave. No, not a cave, she realised in her dream state, it wasn't a cave, more of a sheltered ledge, with a big stone hanging over it, shading it. There was a man made structure built to one side from which she could hear the neigh of horses. She could also hear voices.
'Jonokol has told me he will be leaving the Ninth Cave when we go to the Summer Meeting,' a woman said, her voice sounded familiar.
'Well, you expected it,' another familiar voice said.
Ayla inched forward and looked into the shelter; she saw a couple of horses, and a small one that was obviously just born. She also saw two women, one she recognised as the girl who had the same name as her, but she was older. She was holding a baby. The other, a large woman with brown hair, had her back to her.
'Have you decided yet if you are going to be my new acolyte?' the older woman asked.
The girl called Ayla looked down at the straw strewn floor and then back at the woman.
'I think you have no choice. You know you will feel the call one day, perhaps sooner than you think. I would hate to see your potential destroyed, even if you were able to survive it without support and training.' From the way the older woman was standing it was obvious she was staring at the younger woman.
Ayla saw a struggle happening in the younger woman, as if she was trying to break away from a commanding stare. But then her face changed. From the depths of her being, or the pathways in her brain, she found a resource.
Even from where she was standing, Ayla could feel power rising in the young woman. She saw her hold the gaze of the older woman. In that moment she looked wild, her blonde hair flying around from a breeze coming from where Ayla was. It gave her a look of something indescribable, a look of strength, of mastery, of authority.
The older woman glanced away from an instant and when she looked back the younger woman was looking at her with a knowing smile.
The infant in the young woman's arms began to move as though something was bothering her, and her attention went back to her child.
It was obvious that the older woman was stunned; you could see that from the way her hands were shaking. She turned to leave and that was the first time Ayla saw her face.
'Mrs Zdoni,' she said to herself, feeling rather shocked herself. 'It's Mrs Zdoni.'
Mrs Zdoni looked back at the younger woman named Ayla too. 'Tell me now you are not Zelandoni, Ayla,' she said quietly.
The younger woman flushed and glanced around with uncertainty, as though trying to find some escape. 'I will tell Jondalar,' she said, then quickly looked down at the baby.
When she awoke the sky was dark and full of stars but this slowly faded into the golds and oranges of dawn, soon followed by the whole area lightening as the sun rose.
The sight of it was so astonishing and beautiful to Ayla, who was used to waking up to see the underside of a bunk bed, that she forgot about her dream, letting it drift back into her subconscious as she unzipped herself from her sleeping bag ready for a new day.
She soon found out she wasn't the only one up, Jon was already sat by the side of the fire, prodding it with a stick, stirring the embers, putting more wood on.
Ayla watched as he turned embers into a roaring fire, and put a kettle of water over it to heat.
And then he turned and smiled at her. 'Good morning.'
'Good morning,' she mumbled back, rifling in her bag for her tooth brush, toothpaste and a flannel. She headed towards the river.
'Ayla, stop,' he said.
He loped over to her. 'You were going to clean your teeth using the water from the river weren't you?'
'Well don't. It will pollute it. You need to take a bowl and fill it with water and then take it to a place I've set aside for you ladies this morning.' He pointed to a shaded area, where the tree branches nearly reached the ground. 'You can relieve yourself at the back of it.'
Ayla nodded and turned to look for a bowl.
'Here you are,' he handed her a clay one.
'Thanks,' she walked to the edge of the river and filled the bowl and then headed toward the shaded area. Just before she got there, she stopped and turned around. 'Are the boys using this area too?' she shouted, cringing when some of the others flinched in their sleep.
He shook his head. 'I've made another area for us lads.'
She nodded her head and then walked through the branches. Putting the bowl carefully on the ground, she headed to the back of the area, and emptied her bladder. Then she went back to the bowl and had a wash and cleaned her teeth. Then she went and emptied the water over where she'd emptied her bladder.
Going back into camp, she saw that some of the others were starting to move, heading for the area she'd just left or the one set aside for the boys. She put her wash things away, rolled up her bedding and packed that away and then after rinsing out the bowl, took it back to Jon.
'Thanks,' he said, taking it off her and putting it in his pack. 'I could show you how to make one if you want.'
'I'd like that,' she smiled. She nodded to where water was bubbling in the kettle. 'Do you need some help?'
'He nodded his head. 'I'm making us some tea to drink before we start but I can't decide what flavour we should have.'
'What have you got?'
'Normal tea, lavender and chamomile, strawberry and rosehip tea and I've also got some ginseng and peppermint tea.'
'Well I wouldn't do the lavender and chamomile tea, not unless you want to stay here another day. It tends to aid sleep. Best to keep that for the evening.'
'Oh, then one of the other ones?'
'She nodded. 'The ginseng and peppermint one would probably be best, the taste of peppermint always wakes me in the morning and ginseng is known for giving people energy. Is it in a box?'
'Yeah.' He handed the box to her.
She looked at the nutritional ingredients. 'There's only a small amount of ginseng in this,' she said, handing back the box to him. 'You have to be careful about using ginseng if you have high blood pressure, but the amounts of it aren't enough to harm anyone. It should just give everyone a bit of extra energy today.'
'Good,' he opened it and took a couple of sachets out and put it between nine cups. Then he poured in the boiling hot water and allowed it to steep.
'You know, if we are supposed to be living off the land, we shouldn't be using packaged stuff,' Ayla said. 'We should make our own.'
'And we will, once everyone knows what they are doing.' He handed her a cup and then went to give everyone else theirs.
She sipped her tea, and watched a bird fly off into the distance, and for a moment she remembered her dream. But she just pushed it to the back of her mind. She'd been having dreams about the other Ayla for some time, but Mrs Zdoni appearing in the dream; it had to just be her subconscious acting up. She was sure it was just a coincidence.
By mid morning, Ayla was starting to get tired. They'd been walking for a couple of hours by then, through a dense forest of trees that seemed to get thicker with each step. The branches hung down low for much of the time, and kept hitting her in the face. This was made worse by the roots that kept tripping her up. But when it started to rain, plastering her hair against her forehead, she had really had enough.
So rain water dripping down her nose, she struggled to carry on walking. And as she walked something to her didn't seem quite right. And then she realised what it was.
Jogging up to where Jon was leading the way, and falling flat on her face into a puddle on the way, because of a tree root, she grabbed his arm. 'Why is it raining?' she asked. 'We're inside a dome, the weather shouldn't' be able to get through but still we are getting wet.'
He smiled. 'Since this rain started all I have heard is grumbling. You are the first person to question it. And I can tell you, it isn't proper rain because we'd need clouds for that. No this is just one of the times where the project is watered, it is done regularly. Different parts at different times. We only have to walk a short while longer and we will have cleared it. In fact, if everyone had got ready a bit quicker this morning, we would have been through before it started.'
'But why do they do that?'
'The trees need water that is the way they get it.'
'Oh okay, I guess that makes sense.'
'They usually do it at night but they held it off so we would be able to sleep without getting wet.'
'Right.' Suddenly she realised the rain had stopped but when she looked around, she could see a shower of water. On one side the ground was wet and on the other, the side she was on, it was dry and warm.'
After a quick lunch, they had started walking again. An hour later Jon led them into a camp, people already walking around it.
'Hello welcome visitors to our camp,' a boy ran up to them.
Jon arched an eyebrow at him. 'Yours?'
The boy nodded his head enthusiastically. 'It's great isn't it?'
'Yes it is, but then I would think so as I set it up,' Jon almost growled. 'What's your name?'
'Okay Bevan, tell me who your leader is and where I can find them?'
'I um, I think she's with some of the older boys and girls. Over by the meadow.'
Jon nodded his head and started marching off.
'Is he your leader?' Bevan asked.
'Yes,' Ayla answered as she hurried after Jon.
She found him at the edge of a flower filled meadow, his arms around a girl.
Ayla watched as Jon with his arms around the girl, picked her up and spun her around, making her scream with delight. Then he put her down, turned her face to look up at him and kissed her on the lips.
Ayla felt something slipping inside her. She felt stupid, dumb and silly. She'd started liking Jon, his good looks helped, but his knowledge of the project and how to survive in it had really attracted her. But now she would have to put those fledging feelings aside, ignore them because he belonged to someone else. 'I should have known he would never like me anyway,' she thought. 'Obviously he's going to go for a girl his age than a silly fifteen year old.'
But still she felt her heart crushed, like someone had put a heavy rock in there and weighed it down.
She was just about to turn when he saw her.
'Ayla,' he said, lumbering over to her like an eager puppy dog. 'Ayla, this is the leader of the other group we will share our camp with. This is my girlfriend Mariana.'
She nodded, tried to smile. 'I...' she stammered and then gulped. 'Where should we put our things?' she managed to save herself.
'I will show you,' he said, and turning around to Mariana, his girlfriend, he kissed her.
Ayla abruptly turned away and started back the way she had come.
'Bye Ayla,' the sound of a girl's voice floated over to her. 'Nice to meet you.'
Ayla could feel tears prickling in her eyes. She turned around to see Jon walking towards her and the grinning, and slightly triumphant, face of his girlfriend staring at her.
'Ayla, are you okay?' Jon asked as he reached her.
'What?' she said, as she looked at Mariana arch an eyebrow at her and then smirk before she walked away.
'You look like you're crying.'
'No, no, just a little dust in my eyes,' she said and smiled up at him, even though it felt like her heart was breaking.
'You have to be careful,' he said. 'Come on, let's go sort out where you all are sleeping tonight.'
Jon led her back to the others and then took them all to the other side of camp where two empty shelters stood.
'Girls will sleep in one and boys in the other. Cooking will either be done on individual fires or on the communal one.'
'Where's the toilet?' One of the girls asked and ran in the direction he pointed to.
'It has been decided that when the group is led by a male, then one of the female teachers will be assigned and vice versa so the girls will soon be joined by a female teacher. Now if everyone wants to get settled, we can take our bags into our shelters and get sorted. I have already organised tea which will be ready when the sun sets.'
Ayla walked into the girls' shelter and put her mat on the ground, her sleeping bag on top. She put her bags by the wall and then sat down.'
'Are you alright Ayla?' Katie asked. 'Has something happened?'
'No, everything is fine,' Ayla smiled, but didn't really feel happy.
Jon led her back to the others and then took them all to the other side of camp where two empty shelters stood.
'Girls will sleep in one and boys in the other. Cooking will either be done on individual fires or on the communal one.'
'Where's the toilet?' One of the girls asked and ran in the direction he pointed to.
'It has been decided that when the group is led by a male, then one of the female teachers will be assigned and vice versa so the girls will soon be joined by a female teacher. Now if everyone wants to get settled, we can take our bags into our shelters and get sorted. I have already organised tea which will be ready when the sun sets.'
Ayla walked into the girls' shelter and put her mat on the ground, her sleeping bag on top. She put her bags by the wall and then sat down.'
'Are you alright Ayla?' Katie asked. 'Has something happened?'
'No, everything is fine,' Ayla smiled, but didn't really feel happy.
That night after an evening meal of roasted meat and grain cakes, they all went to bed and Ayla started to dream.
She was stood on the bluff on the mountain next to a heavily pregnant girl that looked just like her. She was dressed in furs and looking out over the forested land where just in front of a line of trees people could be seen.
'Visitors,' the girl shouted, waddling back to a cave to tell everyone. 'There are visitors in front of the forests, coming in this direction.'
Ayla followed her.
'We haven't had any visitors for ages,' a child shouted with glee.
The pregnant woman smiled at him. 'I bet they will have lots of stories to tell us,' she giggled to the child.
There was a commotion at the front of the cave and Ayla turned to see men and woman standing there, tattoos on their cheeks.
'Kayla,' one of them smiled. 'You look wonderful.'
Ayla gasped when she heard the woman speak and looked at her as she touched the young woman, Kayla's stomach.
'Mrs Zdoni?' Ayla whispered to herself. The woman did look like her and also like the woman she had seen talking to the other Ayla in her dream of the night before.
Suddenly as dreams tend to, it shifted and the woman, Mrs Zdoni, was standing by Kayla's parted legs as she strained to bring her baby into the world.
'The baby is round the wrong way,' Mrs Zdoni shouted. 'It's coming bum first.'
Kayla was groaning.
Ayla, who had never seen a birth before felt like fainting. Especially after what Mrs Zdoni said and did next.
'She's going to rip.' Mrs Zdoni picked up a stone, sharpened to a thin slice and made a quick nick to Kayla's perineum, making the space for the baby's bottom being born bigger. 'Now push with your next contraction,' she told the new mother.
And then the baby was born.
'Welcome to the world little one,' Mrs Zdoni said and passed the bawling child to her mother.
The next morning after a breakfast of porridge made with water and honey, as well as oats, Jon and Mariana took both groups to the meadow. To a cleared out area.
'Have any of you ever fired a gun?' Jon asked.
A boy put his hand up. 'My father used to take me to the firing range,' he explained.
Jon nodded his head. 'Well what we are going to do today is not fire guns, but some of the skill you learnt doing that will come in useful now. Now can anyone tell me, if we don't use guns, what other weapons can we use to hunt?'
The boy frowned. 'Why can't we use guns?'
'Why do you think?'
'Um,' he scratched his head. 'Because the bullet might ricochet and break the dome's glass?'
'No.' Jon shook his head. 'The dome's glass is too thick to be broken by a bullet, so thick you could almost walk over it.'
'Like Blackpool tower?' Katie asked.
Jon shook his head. 'Blackpool tower isn't made of glass.'
Katie giggled. 'I know that, but it right at the top of the tower there is a glass floor for people to walk over. If that broke, whoever was walking over it would fall to their death.'
'Why would someone want to walk over a glass floor at the top of a tower?' Mariana asked.
'I think it is something from the twentieth century, they thought it was exciting to walk over it.'
'People from Blackpool are dumb,' a boy said.
Ayla turned at his voice, she recognised it and she also recognised the boy who had spoken the words.
'Broden?' she gasped as she saw someone from her class in Oxford. 'I didn't see you last night.'
He shrugged. 'Saw your ugly face and decided that I would avoid you,' he sneered.
Ayla rolled her eyes. She was used to his ways, but would have preferred to have almost anyone else where she was but him. Even Amanda in her full glory would be preferable.
'Oy,' Jon intervened. 'There will be no bullying in this camp.'
'Yeah right, whatever,' Broden scowled.
Not for the first time, Ayla wondered why he was so horrible. Unlike her, he hadn't lost his parents; they were good people, pillars of the society of Oxford. He had a lot to be thankful for, but was still nasty to those around him.'
'Just ignore him,' Katie whispered. 'I've met his sort before; they think they are better than everyone else.'
Ayla nodded her head.
'Okay,' Jon clapped his hands. 'Back onto what we were talking about. Today you are all going to have a go and using a bow and arrow.'
Ayla timidly picked up a bow, looking at the curved wood with a string slung from the top to the bottom. She touched the string, feeling how tight it was. Then she picked up an arrow, and tried to slot it onto the string. It fell on the ground. She tried again, pulling the string and arrow back, and then let go. It flew, right into the ground at her feet.
Jon came to help her, putting his arms around her so they could both hold the bow together. He slotted an arrow onto the string and aimed it towards the target he'd set up. Letting the string go, the arrow flew through the air until it thudded into the target. 'You have to aim Ayla,' he said. 'Look through the feathers of the arrow at the target, aim the arrow towards it.'
She nodded and tried again. This time the arrow flew through the air, but too high, it fell to the ground half way between her and the target.
'Keep practising,' Jon patted her on the back and went to help someone else.
She tried again and again and through that trying and her perseverance and despite Broden nudging her, eventually she started to hit the target.
'Good,' Jon smiled when he saw. 'You're a natural.'
Ayla blushed. 'Thank you,' she mumbled and turned to look back at the target.
'I wonder,' Jon said, mostly to himself.
Ayla turned back to him. 'What? What do you wonder?'
'Back in a minute,' he walked to the edge of the field and back to the shelters. A few minutes later, he was back, with something in his hands.
'What's that?' Ayla asked, putting down her bow.
He passed it to her, a strip of stiffened curved leather in the middle of a rope.
'It's called a shepherd's sling,' he said. 'Named after the Biblical story of David and Goliath.'
'Oh, what does it do?'
'It's used for hunting,' he took it back off her and slipped a stone into the leather and then started to spin it around by his side. Suddenly he launched it forward, casting the stone towards the target where it hit and splintered the bark of the tree. Then he turned to her. 'Would you like a go?'
She nodded her head and took the sling in her hand. She felt almost reverent about it, she didn't know why but when she put a stone in the leather, she felt a prickle at the back of her neck. She spun it around like Jon had, whizzing it around, making a whooshing sound. She felt a firm pair of hands on hers; helping her to spin it, and then helping her cast the stone. She watched as it flew through the air.
'Try it with two stones,' a voice whispered in her ear.
'Two stones?' She turned to ask Jon why he had suggested two stones but he wasn't there. He was stood where he had been, a look of admiration in his eyes.
'You are a natural,' he said.
'Only because you helped me.'
'You did just help me with this sling didn't you?'
He shook his head.
'But I felt your hands, and heard you say...' Suddenly she realised that the voice she had heard had not been Jon's, it couldn't have been his voice, his male voice. The person who had spoken had been female and her voice familiar. She had heard it many times in a dream.
A few days later when Ayla left her shelter in the morning, about to head for the long drop toilet, she heard Jon and Mariana talking to someone by the fire. A man was sat down on a log, facing in her direction. He was glancing around the camp as he spoke. A woman had her back to Ayla but the way she tilted her head, the way her hair was tied were familiar.
'Mrs Zdoni,' she shouted and ran towards the fire.
The woman looked around and smiled at her. 'Ayla, it is lovely to see you again.'
'Are you staying?'
She nodded her head. 'I am. I asked to be in this group so I could continue to teach you about herbal healing.'
'Mrs Zdoni is going to teach our groups,' Mariana said and looked at her nails. 'Though I doubt there is anything she can actually teach me.'
Ayla rolled her eyes, shutting them for a moment. When she opened them again, she smiled at Mrs Zdoni. 'You will be in our shelter,' she said. 'Would you like me to show it to you?'
'That would be very nice,' Mrs Zdoni said, rising from the log she was sat on. She looked at the other teacher and Jon and Mariana. 'If you would excuse me,' she said allowing Ayla to drag her away.
That night Mrs Zdoni light snores drew her into sleep. And another dream. She was stood once again on the bluff of a mountain, but there was no pregnant girl next to her. Instead the ground under her feet was shaking and she could see smoke pouring from a crater higher up. Down below where there had been forest was now cleared and a little village had grown up. Not much more than mud huts really, animals raised nearby.
Ayla felt a tug and was dragged forward so there was nothing under her feet. She felt herself pulled towards a girl who looked like she had done a few years before. She was staring up at the mountain with horror. She was holding a little lamb which was struggling to get away. And then what appeared to be snow started to fall; only it wasn't snow but ash.
Ayla had reached her then and could see what she saw. A stream of orangey red liquid bursting from the mountain she'd been stood on.
'It's a volcano,' Ayla said to herself as she followed the girl
'Motherrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!' the girl was screaming as she ran to a hut.
A woman came out of the hut and a second later a burning rock fell on it, catching the straw roof on fire.
'Everyone out,' shouted the woman.
People in panic ran out, screaming, shouting, pushing and in the midst of them came a woman, a large woman, a woman she knew. She wasn't scared about what was and that was when she saw her. Mrs Zdoni serenely walked from the hut, helping others, letting them lean on her.
'I'm obviously been missing her, if I'm dreaming of her,' Ayla muttered to herself and immediately found herself in a different place. Instead of choking ash, there was the smell of sweet flowers.
And a man, the man walked towards her. 'Your dreams are real,' he said. 'What I allow you to see is what has already passed.'
'But how can it be? How could Mrs Zdoni be there in that time and here in mine? And who is the girl that looks like me?'
The man just smiled. You will find out in time,' he promised and then waved his hand.
Ayla felt herself move again, but she didn't go back to the ash laden air but another place, colder. She saw a weary group of people climbing out of what was not more than a carved out tree and stand on a shoreline that somehow she knew was England but a long long time before her time.
They spent the next few weeks just getting to know the area but eventually they were allowed out in small groups and Ayla took the opportunity to visit the nearest camp to theirs.
She wasn't alone, Mrs Zdoni and Katie came too and the teacher pointed out plants along the way that could be used for healing.
'That's an Iris,' she said, pointing out a purple flowered plant. 'If it is mashed down and added to boiling water, turned into a poultice, then it is brilliant for beating infection in a wound.'
'Should we gather some of them?' Ayla asked.
Mrs Zdoni shook her head. 'We'd be better coming back here on the way back to get some.'
Ayla nodded her head and followed the other two down a dirt path.
'This is Chamomile,' she bent down and pointed at some white and yellow flowers. They can help with digestion and make a mild wash for wounds.'
'Ooh, I could do with some of that,' Katie said. 'My twenty first century stomach has been struggling to cope with the meat and grain diet we've been having recently.'
'Well we will get some of the way back,' Ayla said. 'And Mrs Zdoni can show me how to prepare it for you.'
Mrs Zdoni nodded her head.
They walked passed a grove of trees, filled with apples and stopped to pluck some off and eat and rest for a while. And then they carried on.
They stopped by another plant, one with tiny frothy white flowers. 'This is Yarrow and makes an excellent tea for curing headaches.'
And this was the way they learnt; as they walked through the forest Mrs Zdoni taught them some of her great knowledge.
As soon as they reached the other camp, set up very like their own, Ayla was accosted by a shrieking girl who threw her arms around her.
'Teresa,' Ayla smiled, hugging the girl back. 'It is good to see you again.'
'Isn't it wonderful here,' Teresa garbled but then saw their teacher. 'Mrs Zdoni,' she shrieked. 'You got Mrs Zdoni as your group's teacher? My group just got a teacher from Sheffield. He's really boring.'
'Give him time Teresa,' Mrs Zdoni advised. 'He will be getting too used to this environment like us all.'
'I guess,' Teresa smiled and grabbed Ayla's hand. 'I've got something to show you,' she said, dragging her to the side of one of the shelters.
And that was when Ayla realised how different this camp was, there were looms set up, and someone, maybe Teresa, had been busy making material.
'I don't know if you have seen any of the goats,' Teresa said. 'My leader Nata says they are mostly found around the mountains. But some stray as far as here. We've been going out each day and collecting the fur they've left behind. Nata showed us how to make it into thread and how to weave it.'
Ayla looked at the material on the loom. Some of it was a light grey while other parts lighter, some even white.
'I've tried to weave stars into the material,' Teresa said.
Ayla nodded her head. 'It looks wonderful.' She reached out and touched the material. 'And it's so soft. Katie, feel this.''
Katie touched the material too. 'It's lovely,' she smiled at Teresa. 'You are very talented.'
'Have you met Katie before?' Ayla suddenly asked. 'I don't think you have. Katie, this is my school friend from Oxford, Teresa. Teresa, this is my new friend Katie, she came from one of the only domed seaside towns, Blackpool.'
'I think I went there once,' Teresa smiled. 'When I was little, before the storm. I remember eating candy floss.'
'My favourite,' Katie grinned.
Teresa led them into the centre of the camp. 'Maybe Mrs Zdoni can have a talk to our teacher, might make him a bit less boring,' she whispered.
Everyone was eating when they arrived, sitting around a big fire, but the leaders and teachers welcome them and soon they were eating a meaty stew.
'How are you finding life Mrs Zdoni?' the male teacher asked. 'It is very different to what we are used to.'
'Indeed it is,' Mrs Zdoni said.
They chatted for a while and then the three of them started to walk back to their camp, after promising Teresa they would visit again soon and telling her that she was welcome at their camp too.
Nearly everyone was asleep when they got back, so they all went to bed too.
Ayla dreamt she could hear a girl crying. The sound sometimes loud and sometimes soft, but they didn't stop. She saw a girl nearby, tears on her face.
'Why are you crying?' she asked but the girl didn't answer, just disappeared, faded away but the crying continued.
And that was when she realised that the crying wasn't part of her dream. She forced herself up through the clouds of her dream and opened her eyes to the dark interior of the shelter.
And she could still hear crying.
Throwing off her bedding, she stood up and through the dark walked towards the sound, trying not to trip over the others sleeping.
She could see a little light coming through the doorway and headed for that.
'Hello,' she called. 'Are you okay?'
She saw a dark shape crouched by the dying embers of the fire. A head turned towards her but she couldn't see the face that was in shadows. Only hear the crying had stopped for a moment.
'Ayla?' a voice squeaked.
Ayla frowned. 'Katie? Is that you?'
'Yes,' the voice said with a sob.
Ayla stepped closer. 'Are you okay?'
'My stomach,' Katie said. 'It really hurts.'
'It does?' Ayla bent down by the fire and put some kindling on it. Then she blew the ashes until it started to burn again.
Katie was now visible in the light of the flames. Her face was pale, sweat on her forehead and she was pushing her hands against her stomach.
'I think I need some of that chamomile tea,' she said and was promptly sick.
'I'll get Mrs Zdoni,' Ayla said and rushed back to the shelter where she found the woman and shook her gently to wake her.
'Whaaaatt?' Mrs Zdoni slurred, still more than half asleep. 'Who's that?'
'It's Ayla. Katie is outside and she's not very well. She says her stomach hurts but from the look of her, she needs more than chamomile tea.'
Mrs Zdoni nodded and put a dressing gown around her shoulders and put her boots on. 'Where is she?'
'By the fire.'
They walked out together to fire and found Katie riving on the ground, squealing with pain.
'Go and get Jon,' Mrs Zdoni said, as she put a pan of water over the fire to heat. 'Tell him how ill Katie is. I think she probably needs to go to hospital.'
Ayla nodded and ran over to the other side of camp where the boys' shelters stood. She stood at one of the entrances and shouted through the doorway. 'Jon.'
'What's going on?' a boy's voice said.
'Shut up, we're trying to sleep here,' another one muttered.
'What's wrong?' Jon's voice came from the shelter.
'It's Katie, she's really ill. Mrs Zdoni asked me to get you.'
'Okay,' Jon said. 'I will get dressed and be over in a minute.
Ayla started to move away and then looked down at herself. She'd been so concerned for Katie that she was wondering around in pink fleecy pyjamas with ducks on. She glanced towards the boys' shelters and saw a couple of the boys pointing at her and laughing.
'Shut up,' she said as she ran back to the girls' side. First of all, she went into her shelter and put on a dressing gown and her boots and then went back to the fire.
Jon was there when she got there and he was frowning.
'I don't like the look of this,' he said. 'I agree. She needs to go to hospital.'
'But we are miles away from a hospital,' Mrs Zdoni said. 'She needs help now. I will make her a tea to help with the pain.'
'Yes, you do that,' Jon said, in a distracted voice. 'I will go and inform the project organisers that we need an extraction team here as soon as possible.'
He ran off.
'How will they get here?' Ayla asked.
Mrs Zdoni shrugged. 'I don't know, but I hope they aren't too long.' She looked at Ayla. 'There's a bag in my belongings, it is made of fur and filled with packets of herbs. Can you get it for me please?'
Ayla nodded her head and ran to the fire. Taking a branch waiting to be broken up from the pile, she broke off the side branches and stuck the top in the fire until it was well alight. Then she went back to the shelter and stuck the other end in the soil near the entrance so the light shone into the shelter.
'What's going on?' one of the other girls asked, blinking at the light that flooded half the shelter.
'Mrs Zdoni needs her bag,' Ayla said, heading over to where the teacher slept. 'It's got herbs in it that she can use for healing and pain relief. Katie is ill.'
'Oh I think I've seen that,' the girl said, pushing back her cover and standing up. She walked passed the other still sleeping girls to Ayla. 'She put it in her backpack.' The girl knelt down and opened the bag, pulling out what looked like a very old bedraggled fur bag out. She opened up its flap and looked inside to where there were little packages of herbs, some wrapped in paper and some wrapped in leather. She passed it to Ayla. 'Do you need any help with Katie?'
Ayla shrugged her shoulders. 'I guess. She's by the fire with Mrs Zdoni but if you are coming I suggest you put something over your nightdress. Jon is there too.'
The girl nodded and grabbed a pair of leggings, pulling them on and putting a fleece jacket over her nightclothes. She grabbed her boots and stuffed her feet into them.
Together they went back to the fire.
Katie was screaming now, bent over double, she clutched a rolled up blanket to her stomach.
While Ayla had been getting the bag, Mrs Zdoni had put another blanket on the ground next to the fire. She looked up at them and half smiled and half frowned. She took the bag off Ayla.
'Can you and, um...' she looked at the girl next to Ayla. 'I'm sorry I don't know you name. Can you both put her on the blanket and try to get her a little more comfortable?' She pulled a package out of the bag and opened it. Taking a little, she put it in the now boiling water. Then she took the pan off the fire and put it on a stone to cool.
Ayla and the girl, meanwhile, had moved Katie.
'It hurts Ayla,' she mumbled, the only thing she said coherently.
'I know,' Ayla said, tears prickling her eyes. 'Help is on its way.'
'She's really ill,' the girl said after they had moved her. My little sister was like that years ago. It turned out she had appendicitis.'
Ayla looked at Katie, and then at the girl. 'I hope it isn't,' she shuddered.
'I fear it is,' Mrs Zdoni said. 'I just hope it isn't too advanced but I fear it probably is. She was complaining this afternoon of a sore stomach wasn't she?'
Ayla nodded her head. 'What have you made?' she pointed at the cooling pan of water.
'Something to help take the pain away. Green grams, ground up. If this is appendicitis, then it will help fight the infection. I would have given her some willow bark too but Jon said he'd been given some tablets for an emergency. He's gone to inform the project organisers and to get their permission to use them.'
'They will give permission won't they?'
'They'd better.' Mrs Zdoni had almost growled and went to test the temperature of the water. 'I think it's cool enough to drink,' she said and strained some of it into a cup. 'Ayla, can you get her to drink this?' she passed the cup to Ayla.
Ayla nodded her head and walked over to where Katie was whimpering. She helped her to sit up and held the cup to her lips, so she could sip the liquid. She choked a bit on it, but managed to drink it in the end. She had just about finished when Jon came back, followed by Mariana.
'I've called the project co-ordinator and he is sending a rescue team here. Should be here within the hour,' he panted, passing a packet to Mrs Zdoni. 'It's Tramadol,' he said. 'A form of morphine.'
Mrs Zdoni nodded her head and ripped open the packet and took two tablets out of the blister pack. She walked over to where Ayla was still helping Katie drink the best of the green gram liquid and bent down.
'Katie, I have some pain relief tablets here, they are very strong and should at least take the edge of your pain.'
'Okay,' Katie's voice quivered.
Ayla took the tablets off Mrs Zdoni and put them on Katie's tongue. Then she put the cup back to the Katie's lips so she could gulp the rest of it down.
Ayla laid her down then, but stayed next to her holding her hand. 'You will be fine,' she said, over and over again.
The girl who had helped Ayla earlier came over and took her other hand.
Bit by bit, Katie stopped thrashing around and by the time the rescue team had arrived, flying a helicopter near the roof of the dome and coming down to land in the nearby meadow, she was asleep.
'She will be okay,' the girl said as they watched men carrying Katie off in a stretcher.
'I know,' Ayla wiped a tear from her cheek. She turned to the girl. 'Thank you for tonight,' she said.
The girl shrugged her shoulders.
'I don't even know your name.'
'It's Erica,' the girl said as she reached out and took Ayla's hand. Squeezing it.
Together they watched as the helicopter rose into the air, and headed off to the edge of the dome from which Katie would be taken to a nearby city hospital.
It was going to some time before Katie could come back. She spent about a week in hospital, having her appendicitis removed. But they wouldn't let her back into the project until she was totally better and healed up, so although they heard through Jon what was happening, they didn't see her.
And in that time, Ayla started to know the area better. She often went out collecting plants for medicinal needs and for food with Mrs Zdoni, learning all she could from the woman. And then other days she would join the hunts, using her sling to catch rabbits and other small animals, or her bow and arrow to hunt larger ones.
Each night they would prepare the meat, and the hides for clothes and shelters. Soon she was going out on her own, doing her own thing and talking to the trees again.
Sometimes she missed Oxford though, and wondered how everyone else was doing back there.
One night, she dreamt of a building, one that she had visited when she was ten, one that was in the open air, just stones propped up to stand on end in a circle. Or at least that was how it had been when she visited it but in her dream, she saw another circle, a wooden one and saw the starts of the great stone circle that one day she would visit.
And she saw one of the huge stones as it was dropped into the ground, crush a man's foot. She saw two women run to help him, one young like herself, could have been her, and the other was Mrs Zdoni. She watched as they took him to a nearby shelter. She listened to them as they started to treat him.
'Isala,' the woman who looked like Mrs Zdoni said. 'I can't save it; we are going to have to amputate.'
'Okay mother,' the girl obviously called Isala gulped, her voice trembling. 'What do you need?'
'No, you can't take my foot,' the man shouted.
'I'm sorry Andrar,' the woman tried to calm him. 'But if I don't cut it off, then you will get an infection in it, which will mean you would lose your leg, if not your life.'
Ayla watched as Isala started boiling water and going through a bag very like the one Mrs Zdoni had used when helping Katie. She saw her putting dried leaves in six bowls, pouring hot water over them. She gave one of the bowls to the woman.
'Henbane tea,' the woman said and helped the man to sit up and drink it. 'This will help, it is for pain relief,' she smiled and then after laying him back down went to examine the rest of the bowls.
'This is good Isala, I am proud of you.'
The girl, Isala, nodded her head and grinned but then looked at the man with a worried expression on her face.
The dream moved on, and Ayla saw the woman who looked just like Mrs Zdoni, holding a stone knife, holding it over the foot of the man. She saw her hand come down as she started to cut. She saw blood squirting out, covering the woman and girl, soaking the bed the man was on.
And then she woke up. And looked around her at the dim interior of the shelter.
'What on earth are these dreams about?' she whimpered. 'Was that Mrs Zdoni she saw, and the girl who looked like her, she called her mother.' She shook her head in confusion and pulled back her bedding. She wanted to go for a walk.
Weeks turned into months and months into years, and in that time Katie had returned, well and healthy, bringing along a scarred and changed Amanda. Away from the influence of her father, the two girls once again forged a friendship, looking out for each other, helping and assisting with each other's tasks.
It was like the past twelve years hadn't happened and at seventeen years old, they were as easy in each other's companies as they were when they were five.
Of course times were hard, for the last two years they had had to learn a new way of life, hunting, gathering, and caring for nature whilst still having the knowledge of the late twenty first century.
Some days they would spend hours together, alongside other friends like Katie and Erica and other days they would all do their own thing.
So one day over two years after she had arrived in the project, now confident about her surroundings, Ayla would wander the forest. But that day she went much further than she usually did.
She had been standing by the side of the river collecting a plant that grew there when some small rocks shifted under her feet and she fell with a splash into it. Dragged along by its current, she tried to keep her head over the water, tried to shout for help and eventually she managed to grab onto a rock and pull herself out of the river. But by then she was a long way from camp.
She could have followed the river back or gone to one of the nearer camps but instead she decided to do some exploring.
She found a hut first, alongside what must have once been a road that ran along a cliff face, until it was forgotten. Now there were weeds growing out of cracks and the trees roots were pushing it all up, as if they were trying to destroy any evidence that it had been there. The hut was dusty and abandoned with peeling painted walls and a hole in the roof. Inside was a mess, spider webs hung from wall to walls and the floor strewn with dead leaves that had blown in through the open and broken door. In amidst them were faded leaflets, their print indistinct. Photos showed what looked like the interior of a cave. She stepped outside and looked at the trees, overgrown edging the cliff, she could just make out a dark shape between some of them, like the entrance to a cave. The cave in the leaflets. There were two large stones either side that looked like they'd fallen long ago. There was a gate blocking entrance into the cave, only it was open.
It creaked as she opened it, as she walked into the dark interior of the cave. Going back out, she found a couple of torches in the hut, along with some batteries. Going back in the cave, she swept the torch light around, looking at the walls.
For a moment she thought she was dreaming, because somehow she could see an older woman standing in the cave. She was dressed in hide and for a moment she thought it was Mrs Zdoni again, but then she realised though the woman had grey streaks in her blonde hair, she was the girl that had first taught her about healing, the one with the same name. Ayla, and she was crying.
Ayla stepped towards her and watched as she seemed to fade within the wall. She frowned and then blinked.
'I'm awake,' she suddenly realised. 'I'm awake but I'm still dreaming or seeing the other Ayla. What is going on?'
She sat on the dirt ground until the batteries in the torch started to die and then glanced outside. It was growing dark. There was no way she would be able to get back to camp that night.
'I'll stay here,' she said aloud, looking nervously over her shoulder as if she expected to see a ghost.
She went back outside and found a couple of blankets, dusty but okay, in the hut. After good shakes of them, they were okay. She also found some matches and after striking one and realising it was okay, she started to gather some kindling to make a fire, deciding to make it within the cave.
And so Ayla, the new, spent the night in the home of her ancestor.
Over the last two years Ayla had grown used to the strange dreams which always had a girl or woman who looked like her or one who looked just like Mrs Zdoni. She had seen a couple with a child fleeing an evil woman whilst another woman, remaining hidden, had also followed them and settled where they had settled. And another girl who had stood next to a woman that looked like Mrs Zdoni as the man from Ayla's dream was crucified. Attila the Hun, the Plague in Eyam, Salem's Witch trial and so on. Wherever a girl who looked like Ayla was, there was also a woman who looked like Mrs Zdoni. She'd herded a girl into a room to keep her safe during a massacre and looked after a lost baby until the mother, another Ayla lookalike had arrived. She'd been a cook in a great castle, trying to protect a girl from being raped and in a kitchen while a bedraggled and road weary girl had saved the people from a disease. So when Ayla found herself in another strange place and saw the two, she didn't flinch, in her dream, but just watched.
In the dream, she was stood next to massive iron wrought gates, with gold and black coat of arms on them. Behind the gates was a large white building, one that she recognised from both the history books and also from a school visit as Buckingham Palace.
Next to her was a girl, dressed in a nineteen forties nurses' uniform, with a navy blue cape over it all, she was talking to herself.
'What if the royal family are even now sat beside a window looking out over the city? The little princesses could be pointing at me right now.'
'They'd invite me in for tea and bread and jam,' she chuckled. 'The King would let me try on his crown.'
Ayla saw her look around nervously as if she was scared that she had been speaking too loud and would get into trouble.
'If anyone hears me, they might throw me into the Tower. They might behead me,' she snorted and then sighed. 'To the royal family I am nothing but a lowly peasant. Not worthy of their notice.'
Ayla watched her as she walked away.
A woman stepped out of the shadows. She was wearing a long brown trench coat that was pulled up to her neck. On her head she wore a black felt hat, a ribbon around it. She'd pulled it over her face a bit, so her eyes were in shadows, but still Ayla recognised her as Mrs Zdoni.
She looked towards Buckingham palace and then at the retreating back of the girl. 'You're not a nobody Anya,' she said in a soft voice, that Ayla could hardly hear. 'Your family are royals themselves, descended from Richard the second who had his thrown stolen from him. They just don't realise it yet. But one day your descendant will take her proper place as the Queen of all.'
She turned around and looked straight at Ayla.
Ayla woke with a start, half expecting Mrs Zdoni to be standing in front of her. She wasn't, or at least Ayla couldn't hear any breathing but her own, but she couldn't see anything so she couldn't be sure. The fire had died during the night so the cave she was in was dark. For a minute she felt frightened, thinking she was trapped below the ground, buried alive but then she remembered the tiny doorway and headed, crawling on her knees, towards it. She found that it was morning outside. She could hear birds singing in the day nearby. She stared at the orange and gold lights slowly turning into bright yellow as the sun rose properly.
That was when her stomach rumbled; she put her hand to it and felt the vibration within of an empty stomach. Thinking about it, she was thirsty too and also needed a toilet. She walked into the hut and though it didn't flush anymore, found a toilet to empty her bladder. She also found a sink and when she turned the taps, saw water run out of them. It was obviously still connected to the water sources that served the cities. She let the water run for a while, rooting in the cupboards while she made sure that the water wasn't stagnant. She found an old can of beans but no can opener so put it down again. She'd also found a cup, dusty with spider webs in but it would do. She quickly washed it until it was clean and filled it with the water.
Gulping down mouthfuls, she thought about her stomach and filling it. Thankfully she had her sling wrapped around her arm.
First of all, she got more kindling and built up the fire in the cave again.
Taking her sling off her arm, she walked quietly into the trees, picking up a couple of stones on the way. Senses alert for the slightest noise, she stood and waited. Pretty soon a bird blew from a high branch to the ground, obviously looking for worms of its breakfast, little realising that it might be someone else's first meal of the day. She put a stone in her sling and started to spin it, slowly at first, she stood like a statue, only her arm moving.
Faster and faster, and somehow the bird didn't hear or notice, too busy eating worms.
And then she threw the stone, replacing it instantly with another that she also somehow threw. Both thudded into the bird's body.
Ayla walked over to the still bird, lying on a bed of leaves and picked it up. Then she walked, plucking out its feathers on the way. She grabbed a couple of straightest branches on the way, using one to skewer the bird and the others to hang the first over the fire.
With a full stomach, Ayla decided that she should get back to the camp. She was certain that everyone must be worried about her by now. She just hoped that no one was out looking for her.
With one last look at the cave, and then she started to walk. Through the trees, stepping over roots, climbing up a crumbly small cliff, jumping over a brook. She walked for ages, not really sure she was going in exactly the right direction and hoping she would find another camp that could lead her back to her own, or at least tell her the way to go.
She was thirsty again then, so stopped at a stream and dipped her hand in the water, drawing it to her mouth. Then she started walking again.
The sun was high now; starting to beat down on her but because of the thick glass didn't burn her skin.
And then she saw smoke up ahead. Coming from a small house.
'At last,' she said to herself. 'Hopefully someone there will be able to help me get back to camp.' She started to walk towards the house.
A pair of arms came around her shoulders, and she was jolted off her feet.
'Hello Ayla,' a voice whispered in her ear. 'Nice to see you again.'
She started to turn to see who it was; she had recognised the voice but then felt something hit her at the back of the head. The last thing she knew, as she fell to the ground, her face on the grass, was the sight of a pair of leather shod feet next to her.
She woke up tied to a tree. She was in a little glen, a blue pool nearby, and the late sun was dappling on the leaves as night drew in.
She groaned and wanted to put her hand to her head but they were behind her back, behind the tree trunk. She looked around for he attacker.
'You're awake,' he said, grinning madly at her.
'Broden, what are you doing?'
'Ayla, Ayla,' he said as he walked over towards her. 'I'm getting revenge.'
'Revenge? For what?'
He smirked. 'Well there is the way you have always been a smug so and so in class, thinking you are better than anyone else. Or the fact you got to try out for the test when I wanted to. Or just that I don't like you, and want revenge for the fact you were put in my camp.'
She stared at him, saying nothing.
'But really none are the reason I want revenge. In fact the reason isn't really about either you or me. It goes back further than that, further than our parents, or our grandparents. Back to nearly a hundred years ago when your great great grandmother hurt my great great grand uncle, crippling him, making him unable to have children of his own and making false charges against him that meant he spent most of his life in prison. Our family promised that one day they would make her pay, but it never happened. Then it was decided to make her family and descendants pay and that is where you come into it all. You are going to pay for the crimes of your ancestor.'
'But I don't know anything about her...'
'Yes you do. You've seen her weird paintings and used to talk about her all the time when we were younger. You made me so angry back then but I wanted to make sure that I made you pay properly and to do that, I to do it away from any company. So when I realised you'd gone walkabout, I decided to track you down, find you and make you pap.'
From what I've heard about her, she was a stroppy cow. You are too, though I can't believe she was worse than you.' He took a knife out of his back pocket.
'Leave me alone,' she shrieked. 'Help, help,' she screamed, hoping that someone, anyone would hear her cry for help and save her.
'The rest of the camp think you went the other way,' he sneered. 'I made sure of that. Got my friend Mariana to take them in a different direction, she leads that fool Jon around like a donkey anyway. He'll do whatever she wants.'
'That's not true.'
'Isn't it?' he chuckled. 'She hates him you know, much prefers me. Big brute of a man he is anyway. Just a giant idiot.'
'You're dreaming,' she snorted. 'You can tell from looking at her, she loves him.'
'Then you are mistaken. She only loves his position in the project. Been using him to pull herself up higher for years but now, well let's just say that she had been given a promotion and is going to be leaving the project soon. And I will be going with her, leaving poor Jon behind.' He laughed. 'Not that you will see any of that. You won't see anything once I'm finished with you.' He slapped her across the face and then put his knife under her chin. 'Say goodbye Ayla.'
She closed her eyes, expecting the cold steel to cut into her throat at any moment. She could sense him standing over her; feel his stagnant breath on her face.
There was a cracking sound, and suddenly the sun was brighter through her eyelids. As if something or someone had moved out of the way. She opened her eyes a little and saw him lying still on the grass, a broken tree truck by his bloodied head.
A grey headed old woman, dressed in furs, bent down and picked up the knife. She walked towards Ayla.
'Don't hurt me,' Ayla managed to squeak out.
'Hush child,' the woman said. 'You are safe,' and she cut the ropes that bound her to the tree.
Ayla looked at Broden. 'Is he?'
The woman nodded her head. 'I hit him a bit too hard but I had to do that to save you.'
Ayla stood up and rubbed her wrists.
'How are you feeling?' the woman asked. 'Do you feel up to a little walk?'
Ayla nodded her head. 'Who are you?' she asked.
The woman smiled, her face crinkling along every wrinkle. 'My name is Hope.'
The old woman, Hope, led her through the trees to the little home she'd seen earlier. Smoke was still pouring out of the chimney and then gusted away by the extraction ducts built into the dome. Stepping inside, she smelt the aroma of a meaty stew fighting the smell of freshly baked apple pie. She sniffed deeply.
'Are you hungry?' the woman asked, pulling out a chair at an old battered wooden table. 'Would you like some of my casserole?'
Ayla nodded, her eyes agleam when she saw Hope lift a lid off a pan and ladle stew onto a plate.
'Here you are dear.' Hope put the plate down on the table in front of Ayla and passed her a knife and fork. 'Eat up, you look half starved.'
Ayla didn't need to be told again, she immediately picked up her fork and dug into the food. She put a mouthful in her mouth and closed her eyes, as flavour curled around her tongue. 'This is good,' she said as she gulped it down and put more in her mouth.
'Glad you like it,' Hope said. 'It's a recipe I learnt from my step mother, a long time ago. She was an excellent cook.' She tilted her head as she looked at Ayla. Frowned. 'You know, you remind me of her.'
'Yes, you have the same coloured hair, and the eyes, blue grey, yes, you look just like her.' She shook her head. 'But ignore me; I'm just a silly old woman who has lived far too many years. Would you like some pie?'
'Yes please, I would love some,' Ayla said, as she savoured her dinner.
She looked around as she ate, noticing that there were only women's shoes in the corner and only a woman's coat hung up. 'Do you live here alone?'
'That I do,' Hope said as she carried a bowl to Ayla. 'Used to live in England once, had a husband and children, but when they died, well I came here. This little home has been in my family for a long long time. My father used to say that we had ancestors from the ice age that used to live in a cave not far from here. Laugerie Haute.'
Ayla's eyes widened. 'I found a cave not far from here.' She fished in her pocket and pulled out one of the faded leaflets. 'Yeah, Laugerie Haute, a cave occupied in the ice age. I slept there last night. There is a hut outside and a gate into the cave.'
'Yes, that's right. My father and step mother used to take us there in the summer holidays. We'd stay here, my father added rooms to the original hut, and visit there during the day. I remember standing at the back, imaging living there with loads of other people. Fires ablaze, smoke in the air.' She smiled.
Ayla shuddered. 'I know what you mean. While I was there, I thought, no, it's silly.'
'I thought I saw a ghost, or an echo of someone who used to live there, a long time ago.'
Hope nodded. 'Maybe,' she winked at Ayla as she took the empty bowl and plate off Ayla, replacing them with a cup of steaming liquid. 'I will make you up a bed where you can sleep tonight. You look exhausted. Drink your tea, it's chamomile.'
'Ah,' Ayla sniffed the liquid. 'For restful sleep.'
Hope stared at her with amazement. 'Yes, it is. A drink my step mother taught me to make.' She scratched her head. 'Maybe you are more like her than just your appearance.'
Ayla woke up in the night, but somehow the room she was in was different. No longer was she is a warm bed, a fireplace burning nearby but in a cold and dusty bed, three girls next to her. She stood up and looked at them. Looked at their ripped clothes, the dirt on their faces. Cuts on their hands and feet. One of them was familiar, she looked like Ayla.
Then she saw a man come in. Shutting the door, he put a bag by it and sat down with a sigh. Then he turned around and saw the girls on the bed. His face turned red and he threw back the chair and stomped over to the bed.
'What are you doing in here?' he shouted.
One of the girls, the one that looked like Ayla sat up and blinked blearily around.
'This is my cabin,' the man ranted. 'What are you doing in my cabin? And eating my food too.' He flung a hand to indicate dirty plates sat on the table.
'I, I, I'm sorry,' the girl stammered, putting her arm around her friend who had started to cry. 'We didn't think anyone lived here.'
'Well someone does, me,' he stabbed his chest with his finger. 'This is my cabin, my place to be alone. I don't expect people to just come in and make themselves at home like they own it.'
'I'm sorry,' the girl pulled back the blanket and got out of bed. 'I'm really sorry.'
'Get out,' he screamed. 'This is my place.'
'But we haven't got anywhere else to go,' the third girl said and then started crying.
'Where are we supposed to go,' the second girl said in a timid voice. 'We don't even know where we are.'
'Where you are?' The man stared at the girls. 'What do you mean you don't know where you are?'
'Because we don't,' the girl like Ayla wailed, the tears falling down her cheeks. 'We don't know where we are, we don't know who you are, and we don't even know what day it is.'
The man sat down on a chair. 'How can you not know that it's Christmas day?'
'Christmas day?' her chin started to wobble. 'It's Christmas?'
'Well, yeah,' the man said.
'My parents must be so scared for me.'
'At least you have parents,' the third girl moaned. 'I remember last Christmas with my parents; I'll never have another one with them, because of Simon.'
'Simon?' the man frowned. 'Who's Simon?'
'Her brother. And until yesterday, one of our captors.'
'He and his colleague have been kidnapping girls and women, trading in them. They were taking us somewhere to sell us, Tunisia I think, when we managed to get away from them.' She looked around, towards the windows and the door. 'They are probably looking for us, we should get moving again.' She bent down to put her shoes on.
The other two girls got out of the bed and did the same.
'We really are sorry for using your cabin. If you give me your details, when we get home,' she gulped. 'If we get home, we will send you some money to pay for it all.' She started to walk towards the door.
'Wait,' the man said. 'I'm sorry about shouting at you. I was just shocked to find three girls here. But you can't go, not if what you've told me is true. Look, I don't live in this cabin, I just come here to fish and think but I've left my car about a mile from here. I can get you to safety. Take you to the Gendarmerie.'
'I don't know,' she looked nervously at him.
'Look, I know you're scared and to trust someone must be hard, especially a man, but I won't harm you, I promise. I want to help you.' He smiled; a hopeful smile that seemed to show no malice or evil thoughts behind it.
'Okay,' she sighed. She looked at the other two girls. 'What do you think?'
They nodded their heads.
She looked back at the man. 'I guess the answer is yes.' She smiled.
'Good,' he looked around the room. 'I think you should have something to eat before we go. You three, sit down. I will make it.' He picked up a bag by the door. 'My supplies,' he lifted it up onto the counter and pulled out some packages.
'So what are the names of my visitors?' he asked as he cut thick slices of bread and spread butter on them. 'I should know who it is who I am cooking breakfast for.' He grinned. 'My name is Frederic, though most call me Fred.'
'This is Bianca and Jeanne and my name is Alana.'
'Alana,' Ayla whispered, staring at the youthful face of her great great grandmother. 'The painter of the paintings.'
Ayla didn't remember how her dream ended; it just seemed to fade away until she opened her eyes back in the little room that Hope had given her for the night. Sunlight was pouring through a crack in the curtains, dust motes dancing in the light and she could hear the woman humming a tune somewhere outside.
She pulled off her bedding and put her clothes on quickly, pushing her feet into her boots. Then she went to find the toilet.
She found another room instead. One full of paintings of a blonde haired girl and woman. Just like the ones in the museum, like the ones that Alana had painted. She stepped closer and noticed a squiggle at the bottom of one, a signature.
'They're wonderful, aren't they?' a voice made her jump and guiltily she looked around.
'My step mother was very talented.'
Ayla frowned. 'Your step mother painted these? Because they are very similar to ones I have seen in a museum. I've also seen them in a book about my great great grandmother.'
'Alana is your great great grandmother?'
Ayla nodded. 'At least, my great great grandmother painted paintings like these ones.' She stepped closer and looked at the squiggle. And gasped.
'Then I must be your great great aunt.'
'Yeah.' Ayla looked at the old woman and then blinked. 'What did you say?'
'I'm your great great aunt.'
'My father was your great great grandfather. You are my great great niece.'
'How is that possible?'
Hope's eyes twinkled. 'I said I was old, ninety two to be exact. My father and your Alana met ninety years ago when I was two. They said at the time that the children that were born then would live to their hundreds. Well, I'm well on my way there.'
'You're ninety two?'
'I am, but I believe I don't look a day over eighty. It's all this living in the wilds of France, as nature intended.'
Ayla stared at her for a moment and then shook her head. 'You really knew Alana?'
'I did, and I even saw her paint some of the paintings here. She was always going on about the girls from the past and how they looked like her. She was right wasn't she?'
'They look like me too.'
'Yes, they do.'
Ayla walked over to a painting. 'This is,' she tapped he head as she tried to bring back her memory. 'This is Delania, she survived the plague in Eyam and this is Anna, her and her family nearly staved in the first Irish famine.'
'How do you know dear?' Hope asked.
'I've had dreams.'
'Alana used to talk about dreams too, but she never knew if these girls were real or what their names were.'
'Oh they were real all right.'
'How strange.' Hope had her hand on the wall, but lowered herself into a chair. She was shaking.
'Are you okay?' Ayla came and crouched by her feet.
'I feel the best I have felt for years,' she replied, touching Ayla's cheek. 'Some people said that Alana was crazy, that her experiences had sent her mad but my father and I always believed her.' She put her hand on her chest and grimaced.
'You're not all right,' Ayla said. 'Let me help you into bed.'
'Stop fussing girl,' Hope batted her hands away. 'When it is someone's time to go, then it is their time. And now I have seen you, I can die in peace.'
'Don't say that.'
'Everyone dies Ayla, everyone.' The last words mumbled, she slumped forward in her chair.
'No,' Ayla screamed. 'I won't let you, I won't let you go.'
'You have no choice,' a voice said behind her.
Ayla turned and saw the crucified saviour in front of her.
'Let her go, it is her time. I have made a room for he and it is ready.'
Jesus smiled. 'Just trust Ayla. Trust. Now it is time for you to go.'
'What about Hope?'
'Don't worry about her; just get back to your camp. Time is short.'
Ayla had only walked for a short time, tears running down her face when she heard voices up ahead. Walking in their direction, she found Jon and the others milling around where Broden's body had been left.
And he was sat up.
'She hit me,' he shrieked, holding a bloodied bandage to the back of his head and pointing through the people to where Ayla stood. 'And then left me here to die.'
'What?' Mariana spun around, her face twisting with anger. 'How dare you?' She ran to Ayla, grabbing hold of her hair and pulling. 'Witch.'
'Leave me alone,' Ayla screamed, trying to pull her hair away from the girl.
'Never witch, you can't go around hurting the members of my team and get away with it.'
'I didn't hurt him.'
'Yes she did,' Broden called out petulantly, his bottom lip quivering.
Ayla felt her head was going to be pulled off; Mariana was yanking her hair so hard. 'Let go,' she squealed. 'You're hurting me.'
'Good,' Mariana responded and tugged her hair more.
'Mariana, let her go.' Jon towered over them, trying to force Ayla's hair out of his girlfriend's hand. 'She will be punished for this, I promise.'
'But I didn't hit him,' Ayla said, finally free, but her hair standing up in a mess. 'It wasn't me. It was Hope.'
'Hope?' Mariana spluttered. 'Hope hurt him? Please! Do you think we are stupid?'
'No I don't think you are stupid.' Ayla glared at Mariana. 'Hope is a woman who lives in a home not far from here, or at least she lived not far from here.' She wiped a tear from her eyes. 'Broden had tied me up, was about to hurt me, and she hit him over the head to stop him. She thought he was dead.'
Mariana lurched towards Ayla. 'Lies,' she spat.
'It's all lies,' Broden wept, his face a vision of distress and innocence. 'I didn't do anything to here. She's always been mean to me, even when we were children, she used to pick on me.'
Ayla sighed with exasperation.
'No more,' Jon stared at Ayla with a look of sadness. 'We will go back to camp and have a trial for Ayla.'
'Good,' Mariana said. 'And I know just the punishment for her.'
'Innocent before proved guilty Mariana,' Jon said quietly.
'But isn't that a bit old fashioned now. This is a new world we are living in. The old has gone and the new should take over, or actually the very old should. We have been living a hunters and gatherer way of life for two years now, maybe we should adopt their punishments too. She should be tied to an ant hill for them to bite her to death.'
'Mariana!' Jon sounded shocked.
'What? It's only what she deserves, after what she put Broden through.'
Jon shook his head. 'You seem very protective of Broden all of a sudden.'
'And you her. We shouldn't have gone looking for her, but you insisted. Should have left the girl to wander around before she hurt herself and died.'
'She's part of my team.'
'Yeah, yeah. Anyway, she was part of your team. But not now, not after what she's done.'
'Not proven yet.'
'She did hurt me,' Broden called out. 'She needs to be punished.'
'See.' Mariana glared at Jon. 'You decide, either you are with me and support me, or you are not with me and on her side. Which is it?'
'That's not fair.'
Mariana shrugged her shoulders.
Jon's shoulders slumped and he hung his head down. 'Someone tied her arms behind her back,' he said in a defeated voice. 'And then we will get back to camp.'
Ayla felt her arms pulled behind her, and a rope binding her wrists together. Then someone pushed her in the middle of her back and she stumbled forwards. Just as she walked passed Broden, still sitting on the ground, she looked in his direction.
And he arched an eyebrow at her, in triumph.
'I can't believe she would do such a thing.'
They had arrived back in camp the night before and runners had been sent to the other camps to tell them what had happened and to invite them to the trial. Teresa, Ayla's lifelong friend, had run most of the way to camp once she had heard.
'But that is what she is accused off,' Jon patiently told the irate girl.
'I don't care. Ayla isn't like that. Don't you think I would know? I've spent my whole life with her since the first storm. Shared a dormitory with her. I'd know if she was capable of such a thing. I would have seen something, sometime that would have told me she could be like this. No, I won't believe it, I can't believe it.'
'She has always looked after me,' Katie said. 'Remember when I had my appendix trouble, she helped me then. If it hadn't been for her, then...'
'I know Katie, and I wouldn't have thought she was capable of such a thing myself but the facts are...'
'Wrong,' Amanda weighed into the argument. 'I've known Ayla since I was a little girl. We were friends before the storm and afterwards, were not. But throughout all those years, she never did anything to me, no matter how much I hurt her, or got others to laugh at her. No matter how much I always tried to demean her, she did nothing. Was always kind, and calm and wouldn't have hurt anyone. Broden on the other hand...'
'Yeah,' Teresa agreed. 'He was always playing tricks on people. Putting gum on in girls' hair, having fights and being generally horrible. He used to go around the class, making rumours up about people. This is what he's done now, it's all just lies.'
'I don't like him,' Katie said quietly. 'I often see him watching one girl or another. He's creepy.'
'But he was still hit...'
'But not by Ayla,' Teresa pointed out. 'She said it was an old woman. Has anyone been back to see her? Or gone to look for the ropes that Ayla says Broden tied her up in?'
Jon blushed. 'No.'
'Well don't you think someone should? Ayla said that the old woman had died back there.'
'I know but...'
'Mariana says she is making the woman up.'
'Mariana says something and Jon does what she wants. If Mariana asked you to climb a tree and jump from the top, would you?'
'Of course not.'
'Well, why do you do what she says now?'
His face turned even redder.
'That Mariana has you wrapped around her finger,' Amanda said astutely.
'No she hasn't.'
Mrs Zdoni, coming away from the lonely shelter where they were holding Ayla walked over to them. 'If you are not wrapped around her finger, then show it young man,' she said. 'Stop doing what your girlfriend wants and think for a while. I don't know, you are just as spineless as another man I used to know.'
Jon straightened his shoulders. 'I am not spineless, I will send someone back to where we found Broden and Ayla and look for the rope and the house too. Are you happy now?'
'No, you need to release Ayla.'
'I wish I could,' he said under his breath so only Mrs Zdoni could hear him.
Ayla couldn't believe what was happening, how people who she had thought were her friends could possibly think that she had hit Broden. But she didn't know about the arguments going on outside, she didn't know how none of her believed she was capable of violence and they were actively trying to set her free.
She was also having trouble believing that Jon would put her through the ordeal she was experiencing. She had thought he was a good man, in fact she was sure he was.
'Just controlled by the evil,' she muttered to herself. 'Mariana and Broden.'
And so with those thoughts in her mind she fell asleep, to the worse dream and the best, she had ever had.
She was back in the cave where she had spent the night, but there was more sunlight coming in now. So much that she could see it wasn't actually a cave, more of a ledge and the two stones that had nearly closed it all off were higher up, as if they were hanging in the air. In the light, she could see shelters set around the shelf, no tops to them so the fires within smoked right through the top and were filtered off by a breeze. And she could see the fires within these shelters, or at least a couple as well as a bigger fire nearer the front of the shelf where a group of people were gathered, sitting on logs and talking.
She edged closer to listen.
'No,' one of the women was shouting, who once again she recognised as Mrs Zdoni, or someone that looked like her anyway. 'That's crazy talk.'
'It is not crazy,' another woman who had grey streaks in her blonde hair. 'It is the way of the mother.'
'No it is not. You are asking us to believe that the mother is not female at all.'
'Because that is the truth.'
'No, I will never believe it, and I won't let you tell my people that.'
'Your people, Zolena?' An older man stood up. From the way he held himself, you could tell that when he had been young, he'd been very strong and good looking. Now much of it was withered away into the body of an old man but when he turned she could see he had brilliant blue eyes.
'You are not first anymore,' the blonde woman said. 'You can't take back what you gave away.'
'But I thought you were the mother's tool, almost the mother incarnate but now I see you were mistaken.'
'You are wrong, the mother is male and female and also neither.'
'But you can't tell the people that. Since you came so many years ago, you have brought so many new ideas to our people, and they have been good and beneficial. Now at the end of your life, what you want to give, is anything but.'
'But I will still give it. I am the first of the Zelendonii. When the summer comes, and we go to the meeting, I will first of all inform the Zelendonia and then the rest of the people. It is time they knew the truth.'
'Your truth,' Mrs Zdoni spat.
'No, the truth. I have always been the one for visions, as a young girl when I went in the Mog-urs' cave, it changed me, made me what I am today. But for years I ignored it, wanted to be a normal woman, with a mate and children. You were the one who persuaded me that I couldn't just be normal, that I had to train, had to become who the mother wanted me to be. For a long time I wandered from vision to vision, none of them with any meaning, like the ebb and flow of the sea, I let myself be tossed around. But then a young man came to me in a vision, let me forward, and told me the truth. He said he had been there at the beginning of time, that he had made the Earth. He told me we had a choice, we could follow him, do his work or we could stay as we were.'
'We should stay as we are,' Mrs Zdoni said.
The blonde woman shook her head.
By now Ayla had realised was the other Ayla.
'He said that the world is changing, the ice is going to draw back and many of the animals we know now will die. He said that if we followed him, we could live in paradise, in a garden. We will be able to live happily there, no hardships that we know today, but we have to do his will and be what he wants us to be.'
'I'm happy here.'
'No, I don't want it, and I intend to make sure that no one else does. If you continue with this Ayla, I will have to discredit you.'
'I'm sorry.' And with that Mrs Zdoni stood up and left the cave.
'Zolena,' the blonde woman shouted. 'Zelendonii.' She ran over to the entrance of the cave.
The man walked over to her, put his arms around her and turned her around. He kissed her on her lips. 'Leave her, if this god is as powerful as you say, then he doesn't need you to fight his battles.'
Ayla felt a tremble through her feet, a tickle really but it quickly changed to shaking so she could hardly stand up. She watched as the blonde woman pulled herself away from the man and ran after Mrs Zdoni. The man ran after her.
And then the cave was plunged into darkness as the stones that had hung over for centuries and generations fell. Right where a tearful man and woman were trying to catch up with a stubborn woman who didn't like change.
Ayla's eyes stung then, dust filling them. She started to choke, gasping for air and everything around her was muffled, as if she was wrapped in a pillow. And then the dust started to clear and her hearing came back.
'Ayla, Jondalar,' Mrs Zdoni screamed as she ran up the incline she had just gone down. 'No, no, no, please don't be dead.'
Ayla watched as the woman reached the top and saw the boulders, bodies underneath.
'No,' she shrieked, falling to her knees and grasping the still white hand of a woman trapped underneath a rock. 'I'm sorry, I will do things your way, please, don't die, please.' Tears were falling down her face now.
And there was no answer, the hand didn't squeeze hers, instead a pool of red slowly edged out from underneath the rocks towards Mrs Zdoni.
'They're dead,' Ayla whispered, feeling more shock at that moment than any time in her young life. 'I can't believe they are dead.'
'Please,' Mrs Zdoni looked towards the sky and shouted. 'Please, I will do anything, just bring them back. Please.'
There was no answer.
Ayla had closed her eyes, not able to cope with the grief on the woman's face, or the death so close but when she opened them again, she realised she was no longer by the cave but in a garden again. Through the mist of her dream, she saw the man who had been crucified, Jesus, walk towards her.
'You killed her,' she cried at him. 'She was your servant and you killed her.'
'Death comes to everyone, I do not choose the time, or make it happen.'
'Circumstances made it happen. If the Zelendonii hadn't run off, she wouldn't have followed and neither would her mate. They would have been safely away from the stones when they fell. Even if Ayla had trusted me, like Jondalar said, to sort out my own problems, it wouldn't have happened. But it did, and everything was changed because of it.'
Ayla frowned. 'What do you mean?'
'She was going to be my instrument to introduce her people to me. When she died, that was gone. Oh I could have used another, but they would not be the one. There wouldn't be another for a long long time. Not until you.'
'Me,' Ayla squeaked.
Jesus nodded his head. 'But in the meantime, I had to make sure you were born, so I set a protector over your family, throughout the generations, she had protected you all.'
'Oh you know already, you have seen her in your dreams with your ancestors.'
'My ancestors? You mean those girls?'
'Yes, and the woman you know as Mrs Zdoni, she has been protecting your family since that rock fall. The Zelendonii that the first Ayla knew, she is the same woman. Never to die, always to watch and protect.'
Ayla stared at him with shock.
'But she is very tired now, and you are here, so soon she can rest. My good and faithful servant, I will welcome her with open arms, as I did those she served and protected.'
And then they were no longer alone. Young women filled the garden, along with men and children. They were all blonde and all like Ayla.
'These are your ancestors, the ones you have dreamt about. They are at peace now.
Ayla nodded, staring in amazement at the girls. She saw Ayla with a young blond haired man, they were walking hands in hand. And she saw Alana, with a man and a little girl that she called Hope.
Jesus gave her a few moments and then started talking again. The time is short, soon you will be leaving to start your new life. You are the beginning of the end, or the start of a new beginning. You will lead your people to the new and to me.'
He smiled down at her. 'I am with you, I will give you the strength you need. Now go, they are waiting for you.'
Ayla opened her eyes to see Jon standing over her. His face was full of regret and disappointment.
'Come on Ayla,' he said, his voice low. 'It's time for the trial.'
Ayla nodded her head and stood up, arching her back to get rid of the stiffness caused by sleeping in a chair.
'I'm ready,' she said quietly.
He led her out of the shelter and to the main fire, where a temporary court had been set up.
'Mariana is going to trying to prove that you hurt Broden and Mrs Zdoni is going to be arguing your case. Mr Miller, the other teacher, and myself are going to be the judge. Good luck Ayla.'
Ayla nodded her head and sat down on the log he indicated.
'We are here today,' Jon said once he had moved to his seat. 'To deem whether Ayla is guilty or not of hitting Broden and leaving him to die. Before we do though, I would like to tell the defence that I sent people back to the area where it all happened. They found no rope that could have tied Ayla up, but did find a house, with signs of recent habitation. But they found no woman, or her body. No one to back up her claims that it wasn't her that hit Broden.'
Ayla saw Mrs Zdoni and some of her friends frown. She also saw Mariana and Broden whispering together.
'I am here today.' Mariana stood up. 'To prove that Ayla, the accused, hit my client Broden. She did it when he was trying to rescue her, help her. For reasons she has not bothered to tell us. She still says that someone else hit him, and that Broden tied her up and was going to hurt her. Today I will prove her guilt.'
'And I am here to prove that Ayla has never shown any signs that she could be capable of such a thing,' Mrs Zdoni added, standing too.
'Sit down old woman,' Mariana sneered. 'You will get your chance later. I call to the stand Tallie.'
A brown haired girl walked forward. She looked nervously at Ayla and then sat down at the front.
'How long have you known the accused?' Mariana asked.
'For just over two years.'
'And in that time have you seen anything that could make you think that she is capable of hurting another?'
'Well, she has always seemed to think she is better than anyone else. Walking around camp as if she owned it. Going off on her own, and trying to be a healer. I've often felt her staring at me, and have felt frightened. Lots of my friends felt that too, both in this camp and other ones. I was scared that one day she was going to hurt me. But she was worse with Broden, she was always watching him, frowning at him. I saw her follow him a couple of times as he left camp...'
'That's not true,' Ayla said.
'The accused will be quiet,' Mr Miller shouted, thumping a stick on the ground.
'I knew that one day she would hurt him. I don't know why.'
'Thank you,' Mariana said, standing again. 'So fellow campers, as you see Ayla has shown herself to be a nasty person in the two years we have lived here. But I would like to hear from someone who knew her growing up. I call to the stand Tommy.'
A boy walked up to the front now, to Ayla he seemed familiar.
'How long have you known the accused?'
'Since I was little, since before the storm. I was in her nursery class and then in her other classes.'
'And how did she treat you?'
'As if I didn't exist. Look at her face now, she doesn't even recognise me.'
Everyone turned to look at Ayla, who just blushed.
'I remember how mean she was the Broden though, always making stuff up about him, trying to get him into trouble. One day he was walking through the cafeteria and slipped on something she'd put on the floor, when his food went up into the air and then down on her head, it wasn't her that got the blame. He got a week's worth of detention for that. And then there was the time we went on a visit to some museum with stupid paintings that all looked like her. He was stood near one and noticed someone had drawn a moustache with a marker. She noticed at the same time, and accused him. Even slipped the marker into his pocket. Being invisible as I was to her, I've seen loads of things happening, she was always doing things and he getting the blame.'
Ayla shook her head.
'The only time she did take notice of me, was one day when she accused Broden and me off putting a girl's plaits in the paint. But it was her.'
Ayla's eyes suddenly lighted up with memory. 'I thought you looked familiar,' she said aloud, despite how Mr Miller was frowning at her. 'You came to our school for one day, just one day. You were from London really, and a trouble maker. You were going to join the school but when you and Broden put that Teresa's plaits in the paint, as well as doing other things, they sent you back. I haven't known you from childhood, only that one day.'
'See, invisible,' Tommy pointed out.
'Quite,' Mariana said. 'Okay, I call to the stand Broden.'
Broden walked to the stand, holding his head, his face white, but it looked more like paint than a pale face.
'You also have known Ayla for a long time.'
'He nodded and then remembered to grimace. 'Since we were little, and what the others have said is true. She is a bully and shouldn't be with normal people.'
'And on the day she hit you?'
'I had a feeling that we should search in the other direction. I was going to tell someone, to get them to come with me, but I couldn't find anyone and was frightened for her. As much as she was horrible to me, I didn't want any harm to come to her. Anyway I found her, but she didn't want to come back, so she hit me. I blacked out then, and was found by the rest of the search party, she soon afterwards. And then she started saying something about me tying her up, which is all rubbish.'
'And did she ever say why she made this story up?'
He shrugged his shoulders.
'You did tie me up. You said you wanted revenge for what had happened to your great great uncle, or something like that. You reckoned that my great great grandmother had accused him of a crime and got him sent to prison.'
'But I know the truth. The woman that really hit you, she was called Hope and my great great grandmother was her step mother. She was called Alana, and your great great uncle was called Simon.'
'Oh so you do know what happened,' he said, and then gulped. 'that is, I don't' know what she is on about.'
'Your uncle Simon was in the slave trade, stealing girls from around Europe and then selling them. He kidnapped my great great grandmother and was going to sell her to goodness knows what life.'
'That's rubbish, he wouldn't have done that.'
'But he did, you wanted revenge on me for something that had happened to him, but he got everything he deserved and not enough by my reckoning.'
'Lies,' Broden flew at her and grabbed her by the throat. 'Simon was a good man, I won't let you tell lies about him.'
'He was a bad man,' Ayla managed to say, though her throat was being constricted. The world around her was getting dark, but she could just make out Jon and Mrs Zdoni running towards them.
And then she felt other hands pulling the hands strangling her from her throat and was able to gasp air into her lungs.
'I will get you for this,' Broden screamed. 'And next time I won't tie you to a tree first, I will just stab you. And there won't be an old woman to rescue you.'
Jon forced Broden to the ground where he continued to rant.
'So everything Ayla told us is true, you really did attack her, tie her up.' But he wasn't asking a question, just stating the truth.
'Jon, leave my client alone,' Mariana came running over, trying to push Jon away. 'Don't listen to the lies of that girl.'
Jon stood up, once someone else was guarding Broden. 'But they're not lies Mariana, he admitted to it all.'
'It's lies,' Mariana screamed. 'She attacked Broden. I won't let her get away with it.'
'Well you would say that, I know you have always fancied her. But I'm your girlfriend, not her. I think it is time you choose, me or her.'
'No, it is time you choose, either you are my girlfriend and back me up, or you're not and you back Broden up. Which is it?'
Mariana's face paled. She didn't like being manipulated like that. 'I...' she started to say, but then with sudden determination, she glared at Jon. 'I choose Broden. Always Broden, not you. Not spineless, wouldn't hurt anyone, easily led Jon. Do you know, me and Broden have often laughed at how gullible you are? Yeah, we have. After we've been together, enjoyed each other.'
'Don't look so surprised. Did you really think a dullard like you would interest me? Broden and I have been sleeping together for the last two year, and he's a lot better lover than you. You who wouldn't even sleep with me, just little kisses now and then. All because you are religious and think that it is wrong to have sex before marriage. All because you wanted to wait. Pah, I didn't want to, so I got it from somewhere else.' She grinned and arched her eyebrows at him. 'What do you have to say about that?'
Jon just turned his back on her and went to help Ayla.
Jon was just helping Ayla back to her shelter, the one she shared with the other girls of her group, when a man ran through the camp. Older than the teenagers, and young adults that lived on the project and wearing a scientist white coat, it was obvious he had come with news from those that regulated it all.
'Other runners have been sent to the other camps,' he gasped, trying to get his breath. 'We have been sent to warn you that you need to get to safety. The storm, or at least part of it is coming back sooner than thought. It broke off from the main body in deep space but its course has only just been ascertained. It is aiming right at the Earth, and should be here in a couple of days. The scientists don't know for sure, but they reckon that it will be fierce enough to melt glass, even the thick glass that domes our cities and this project. Cities have been told to go into the very lowest of their levels, into the subways and tunnels built underneath. The scientists of the project are going to go into a bunker but it isn't' big enough for all the hundreds of young people in the project. You have to find somewhere safe to shelter before it comes and then hope there is a planet left afterwards.'
Jon stood still with shock. 'Where can we go?'
The man shrugged his shoulders and passed something to him. The normal telephones aren't working for some reason, they reckon it could be magnetic interference from the storm. Wherever you go, after the storm had finished whatever it is going to do, use that walkie talkie to contact us.'
'I know where we can go,' Ayla said. 'There is a cave, near where you found me. A deep one.'
'Yes, a cave should protect you and there are a lot of them around this area,' the scientist said. 'Go to the cave.'
'Okay,' Jon said.
'I've got to go now,' the runner said. 'Got other camps to warn.'
'Of course,' Ayla said. 'Run fast.'
The man nodded and then turned around and starting to sprint out of the camp.
'Where's this cave then?' Jon asked.
Ayla wanted to smile, but after the news they'd just heard, she didn't feel like doing such a thing. 'I will show you.'
They gathered everyone together, and told them what was happening. Many started to cry and others put their arms around them.
'We will be okay,' Ayla told them. 'The cave is really deep. We just need to gather enough supplies to last us for about a week and then we should go.'
'I'm not going to any cave with you,' Mariana said.
'Mariana, the dome is going to fail. You could die.' Jon pointed out.
'I'd rather die than share a cave with stinky Ayla.'
'Yeah me too,' Broden said. 'I'll go with Mariana.'
Jon shrugged his shoulders. 'It's your funeral.'
'Yeah, we'll find a cave, just for me and you,' Mariana said to Broden. 'It can be our little love nest.'
Broden grinned at her.
'Fine,' Jon said, and for the second time that day, turned his back on Mariana.
'You need to take supplies,' Ayla said to them. 'And make sure you find a cave that is deep enough to protect you.'
'We don't need little miss know it all telling us anything,' Mariana said, as she roughly pushed passed Ayla. 'Just get out of my way.'
Ayla shook her head and went to help Jon.
They'd reached the cave in good time, taking with them enough food and water to last for a week, as well as bedding. Jon had also had a couple chemical toilets stored away, in case of emergency that should hopefully see to their other needs during the time they were in there. Ayla had told Jon of the cave's history, and he had decided to use the toilets so as not to spoil what was the home of people who lived long ago.
So now they sat in the cave, in a secondary part of it that was further away from the entrance so they should be safe from the storm. Even so they could hear the crackles of it when it came, and feel its fierce heat. So much so, that they put out their own fire and survived with just a few candles burning light into the cave.
A girl crept closer to Ayla during that time. 'I'm sorry,' she said.
Ayla turned to her, and realised it was Tallie.
'I didn't want to say those things about you. But they threatened me, Mariana and Broden, said they would take me somewhere where no one would ever find me. Torture me.' She shuddered. 'I really am sorry.'
Ayla nodded her head and reached out and took her hand. 'It is okay, I understand,' she said.
The girl hung her head down low. 'Thank you,' she said.
Slowly the heat from the storm faded, and the noise ceased. One day about a week after they'd arrived, and starting to grow short of food and water, Jon decided it was time to see if it really was gone. But Ayla wouldn't let him go on his own, and went too.
Slowly they walked into the front cave, seeing blackened scorched marks on the wall. There was a light coming from outside, through the mangled gate but it wasn't the light of the storm, that by now they knew well, but the light of a sunny day.
Pushing the now cold gate out of the way, they walked out into a sunny day. But the ground was bare. The trees gone, just ashes on the ground, and the dome that had protected them, just a melted shell.
Jon used the walkie talkie then, calling for help, hoping it was available.
'What if everyone else in the world is dead but our little group?' he asked Ayla.
'Hush,' she put her hand on top of his. 'It will be okay.'
He gulped and then nodded his head. 'Hello,' he said in a trembling voice, his thumb on the talk button of the walkie talkie. 'Is anyone out there?'
'Hello.' Tears were rolling down his face now, and his body was shaking. 'Hello.'
Static and then. 'Hello, who is this?'
Jon sighed as sigh of relief. 'It's Jon from group nine, camp four.'
'Okay, this is Geoff from control. Can you tell me your status?'
'We are all okay. We sheltered in a cave during the storm, one that used to have tours running through it. Laugerie Haute.'
They could hear typing in the background and then the man's voice came back.
'We have your location, we will be sending a retrieval team to you. Hold tight until then and only drink the water you have. The water, if not dried up, from the rivers and streams in your locality could be poisonous now.'
'Okay,' Jon said and turning to Ayla. 'Did you hear that?'
She nodded. 'I just hope they hurry up, before we really run out of water. It will be bad if they don't get here until then.'
The sound of helicopters came later that morning. Landing in the burnt landscape, dust was thrown up, so the group stayed well back until they were down and the blades were still.
Then everyone started running, passed dead plants, scorched trees. Ayla just about saw Hope's home, burnt to ashes, nearby.
And then she got on a helicopter. A man gave her a bottle of water, which she gratefully drank.
'Is everywhere like this?' she asked.
'Pretty much,' he replied. 'Some places got off lightly, mostly those on the lower side of the world but Europe is decimated.'
'What is going to happen?'
He shrugged. 'I don't know.'
They flew over the dead forests that had been their home for over two years. Along the way they'd pick up a lone survivor, but the rest of the groups, if they were still alive, were being rescued by others.
They flew through the melted glass dome, and up towards the sky. But there were no birds up there, and the land down below was black.
'It's all finished,' Ayla sobbed. 'Everything. This is the day that life ended. The end of the world.'
They were taken to a base that was unlike the dome. The glass dome that had protected it was gone, melted like everywhere else, but another dome of thick metal had been built underneath it, and this had survived. The helicopters had come from there, and many of the men and women saving them.
They landed on the burnt ground outside, but taken through a metal door on the ground, through a tunnel and then into a complex. W
When Ayla closed her eyes, she could almost think she was back in Oxford. The smell of metal, plastic and disinfectant were the same, but when she opened them again, she saw men in fatigues running up and down the corridor they were walking down.
They were led to a large room where other young survivors from the project were waiting too. At the front were tables laden with food and drink, and she filled a small plate and filled her stomach.
Sometimes in groups, and other times in ones and twos, the other survivors came in.
And then the doors were closed and a man walked to the front of the room.
'Is this is?' he asked. 'Is there anyone else out in the dome?'
'There might be one or two scattered around,' a soldier said. 'And we have found some dead, burnt to ashes, but in the main, all the young people of the project are here.'
Hearing this, Ayla looked around for Mariana and Broden, but they were not there.
'Okay,' the man said. 'If everyone will listen to me.'
They all turned to listen.
'When the original storm hit our world, it changed everything but when the second storm came, well we were shocked and knew that one day it would destroy the planet. So we made plans, it was decided that all young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen would be sent to the project. But this you already know. What you don't know, is that was only part one of our plan. This planet is doomed, but you gathered here, along with the children that remained in the cities, are our future. Therefore, we started making ships, ones that would travel space. We located suitable planets that would sustain life and our plan was to send you all, along with the children, to these planets in a few more years. But the storm came earlier than anticipated so our plans have been moved forward. You will stay in your groups, except those who have lost a large proportion of theirs, or even all of them, and you will be put in the ships to travel to these planets. Ten groups per planet which will mean there are around a hundred of you on each, another fifty places will be filled by children, who will then be your responsibility.'
'But what about their mothers?' a girl shouted out.
'Yeah and their fathers?'
They will not be going. No adults will. You all are the future of the human race. The last two years you have been living a hunter and gatherer society which will help you to adapt to your new homes. You young people here, will become the new adults.'
'No more, it has been decided and will happen. Now has anyone got any questions?'
Jon put his hand up. 'Who will be the leaders?'
'Ah,' the man smiled. 'The need for leadership already. That is something that will have to be decided amongst yourselves. Anyone else?'
Ayla put her hand up. 'How will we know what is safe to eat?'
'By being careful. Watching what the animals eat, seeing how they react to it. But first of all, you will be taking enough supplies to last a year. And each planet has water, you will just have to boil it to make sure it is safe. Okay, I have much to do, if anyone has any more questions, then you can ask one of the attendants around the room and they will find out what the answer is. But for now, eat.'
They were assigned rooms to stay in until they left for their new homes and Ayla, after finding out Mrs Zdoni's room went to see her.
Standing outside her room, she tried to calm her nerves and then knocked.
'Ayla,' Mrs Zdoni said. And then she saw the look on Ayla's face. 'You know don't you.'
Ayla nodded her head. 'I know everything Zolena,' she said and smiled.
The very old woman sighed and then pulled the door open wider. 'I have waited a long time for this day, but you already know that. Soon I will at last be able to rest.'
'Can't you come with us to the new planet?'
Zolena shook her head. 'The planets are for the young and I am the oldest woman around here. I'm tired Ayla, so tired but you are young and are the future.'
'Listen Ayla, you are the future, not any of the other young people out there but you. You will go to your planet, you will be chosen as the leader because it is the will of God, and you will create a perfect society, like the Garden of Eden where you can all walk with your God. And one day, in the future, your work will spread to other planets, both those populated from the descendants of the Earth's young people and alien ones, your people will bring the good news to them and bring hope to whole races. But I am not a part of that, I am staying here, where I have lives my many years. I am too old to leave this planet now.'
'But what about the storm?'
'It will come again, and soon, much sooner than the others think. But that time it will melt everything. Oh the Earth will still be here, and in time will develop another protective barrier like the ozone was, but that won't be for a long long time. One day your descendants might come back to the Earth to populate it, and wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?'
Ayla nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. 'How long do the people of the Earth have?'
'A couple of months, that is all. But by then, you will be gone, off on your adventure, living a life full of promise and hope and I will go where all servants of God go, to heaven. I will be with Ayla again, the first one and her mate Jondalar, and with all the other girls I have protected over the years. Kayla, Icaya, Fenala, Thora, Delania, Anna and so many others.' She smiled. 'I am really looking forward to it.'
'Okay,' Ayla responded and felt herself enveloped in the embrace of the large woman. 'But I will always remember you.'
A few days later found Ayla and the other young people and children loaded onto the space ships and blasted into space. Speeding to the planet that had been chosen for them, one hundred and fifty of them, nervously biting their nails of what they would find when they got there.
And then a man appeared, through the wall as if he had just walked in from space. He smiled at them. 'My children, you are the new beginning. You are my long for hopes.'
'Who are you?' Jon shouted.
The man looked towards the trembling young man. 'Jon, Jon, you have known me all your life, do you not recognise me now?'
'It is I my child. I have come to visit you now, for soon when you land on your new planet, my planet, I will be with you there. You will be my people and I will be your Lord.'
'What if we don't want to be your people?' a boy shouted out.
'I will never force anyone to be mine but in time, when you see how good the life is I offer, I hope you will change your mind.'
'I love you,' a girl said.
'And I love you Shelly,' he grinned at her.
'You know my name?'
'I know everyone's names.'
'I have already prepared the planet you are going to but a decision has to be made about who will be your leader will be.'
A few hands were raised.
'Thank you, but I have already chosen. Ayla.'
'Yes Lord.' She stood up.
'This is your leader, she will lead you in your new life, the way I want you to go. Listen to her, she knows much, more than even she realises yet.'
Ayla stared at Him. 'But...'
'You are my chosen instrument. You are Ayla.'