SPRIGS OF LAUREL
By Delia Lavender
(I do not own the television series "Terra Nova". Nor do I own any of the characters -
such as Alicia Washington, Nathaniel Taylor, or any other character mentioned
in the series. I write only for fun.)
She was lucky...she knew that.
There was actually a chance that she might survive.
They had sent her back eighty-seven million years - although that was farther than she'd wanted to go. It was just too bad they couldn't have arranged to drop her off a little short of the goal...
She would, for instance, have been happy in the 19th century. She could have been a dressmaker in a Parisian garret. Perhaps she could have met Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, or possibly Bram Stoker...
But time travel wasn't like old-time public transportation. It didn't make frequent stops, and you couldn't just pull a cord and get off.
She was an antiquarian. She'd taught history in a primary school...until her lover, who was principal, had dismissed her after a ten-year affair. He'd had a chance to "marry up"...to marry the district superintendent...
"Oh, stop it!" she reminded herself, for what must have been the hundredth time. Her current situation was troublesome enough. She didn't need to brood over the past. She couldn't affordto brood over Evan.
Because something was very wrong. She could sense it. She shouldn't be in Terra Nova. Not now. Nobody was ever accepted this quickly...
She'd applied while despondent, only a couple of months ago.
She'd applied for the Eleventh Pilgrimage. She couldn't have expected acceptance until the Twelfth - assuming she lived long enough.
She'd been suffocating in her low-level studio apartment, when two oversized soldiers arrived at her door...
Lieutenant Alicia Washington was worried. Commander Taylor hadn't been himself, lately.
Usually he distracted himself...these black moods were not unfamiliar to Wash, but usually he turned to her for relief.
He trusted her. Usually he buoyed himself up with a night of drinking, a few days of hunting or even, on an occasion or two, with a vigorous night in her bed.
But now he was quiet. He stared out the window and brooded. He confided nothing.
It just wasn't like him.
There'd been no trouble with the Sixers lately. She could think of no unusual occurrences. He'd been silent since the arrival of the last batch of applications, with their hologram attachments.
Could that be it? Come to think of it - he hadn't asked her to review applications with him, which was unusual in itself. She'd assumed he simply hadn't gotten around to them, yet.
Had he seen the applications? Had something in them disturbed him?
Often the holograms were tragic. You were, after all, looking into the faces of desperate, dying people.
And the holograms weren't censured. The applicants were allowed to present themselves in any way they chose...no matter what their "specialty" was.
Some of these attachments were actually entertaining. Wash and the Commander had spent many hysterical nights, eating popcorn, drinking and watching the performances.
The man who applied by imitating various dinosaurs...he had been pretty funny.
The woman who'd claimed to be a farmer...she'd demonstrated with a potted plant.
The twin animal trainers - they'd brought a quartet of "dancing" gerbils.
And of course there were the strippers, both male and female...
But some of the holograms were too depressing for words.
Had he watched them yet? She ought to check out their viewing history...
"...so I'm pretty much alone in the world. There's nobody here to stop me...not anymore. I'm sure your population is going to increase – I hear there's no quota on the babies you produce. So...later on...ancient history teachers will be useful to you. Any future generation should know about its past. How else can we avoid mistakes? And then there's the finer side of life. What about art and architecture? What about dressmaking? I sew dresses...see...I designed this myself. I'm sure that the ladies of the colony would appreciate a dressmaker..."
Commander Nathaniel Taylor had watched the hologram a dozen times. He'd watched as the young woman had addressed the camera. As she'd risen from her chair and twirled, showing off her long, layered dress...displaying her skills as a dressmaker...
His Lyanni...she looked so much like his Lyanni...
And, to top it off, her name even resembled Lyanni's.
The applicant's name was Leilani Caruso.
"Sweet Leilani...heavenly flower"...he remembered the words to the old, old song.
He sat still in his chair. He suddenly felt like crying.
She'd admitted the soldiers, after her scanner had verified their credentials.
They actually were soldiers. And they were affiliated with Terra Nova.
They smiled as she opened her door. Despite their size, they were very young...somewhere in their early twenties. Facially, they'd looked like brothers.
The taller one spoke first. He had dark hair and a nice smile. He inclined his head slightly, in a little gesture of courtesy.
"Miss Caruso, we're Michael and Albert Bison. We're here to deliver a message: you've been accepted for Terra Nova - effective immediately."
She was too astonished to reply. She'd just stood there and sputtered...
"Here...have a hit off my oxygen tube," offered Albert, the bulkier, lighter-haired brother. He extended the tube toward her mouth, slipping it between her lips " Breathe deeply, Miss Caruso. There now - you look better already. We know this is unexpected," he continued, "but your...skills...are badly needed. We're here to help you pack. We know you're not prepared...so we'll take care of everything."
"But...why...why now? I haven't..."
"It's all right," said Michael, placing a large hand on her shoulder "There's a limit on what you can take with you...and you haven't had a chance to think about it – we realize that. We're here to assist. We'll go through your things, and you can choose what means most to you. And we'll help you select suitable clothing..."
"I'm grateful, but..."
"Come along, Miss Caruso...time is limited. We're due at Hope Plaza, within a couple of hours."
Albert had nodded in agreement and then turned away, walking across the small room toward her closet. On the way he paused briefly, picking up the photo of her grandmother, which stood on the little table beside her bed. He looked it over carefully, then put it in the knapsack he carried over his shoulder.
The photo of Evan he ignored.
Oh, Lyanni...he'd never thought to see a face like her's again.
He watched the hologram on auto repeat...maybe he'd been mistaken. Maybe it was illusion...
No. Miss Caruso resembled his lost wife. Not just an accidental resemblance of figure, nationality and features, but one of expression and mannerisms.
Her large, dark eyes...so earnest and melancholy. The small flash of pride, when she spoke of her accomplishments. The way she sometimes used her hands when she spoke...
Poor girl. They had enough teachers at Terra Nova - at least for now. The colony women had little need for dresses. Even in the cities of 2149, dresses were only worn on the most formal of ceremonial occasions.
A shame, really. He liked dresses...he liked the old traditions...
He himself had revived formal courtship in Terra Nova. As Commander, he had insisted that women be treated with respect...just as he had treated Lyanni, when he had courted her. He remembered how, every morning at dawn, he had left a sprig of flowering laurel on Lyanni's doorstep.
Miss Caruso...Leilani...seemed the sort who would appreciate a proper courtship.
His eyes misted.
He was desperately lonely. Every morning when he awoke, he caught himself reaching out for Lyanni...it was as though a deep part of him would never accept her absence.
And nothing filled the empty space within his heart.
Not Terra Nova. Not work, not the challenges of leadership, or the dangers of jungle patrols.
Not even Wash - although he knew that she loved him.
She was his comrade - his most trusted confidant. He did love her...
In the same way he loved Briggs Bison, his best drill sergeant.
But he didn't particularly want Briggs in his bed. Wash at least was a woman...but she was almost as tough as Briggs was. Perfectly capable of tossing him out of bed, should she take a notion to.
It was wonderful if you enjoyed a scuffle...and necessary if you required one. When your misery and physical need finally pushed you over the edge. He had uneasy memories of pounding drunkenly on Wash's door, in the middle of the night. It wasn't fair...he didn't want to do that to her, ever again. She deserved better - she deserved more than that.
But what could he do? He needed another kind of woman...
A woman who could stir his emotions and bring out his chivalry. Someone he could provide for and protect...
But he would never marry again. That part of his life was over...that part of his life had died with Lyanni.
But Lyanni would never have objected, were he to find release and companionship with the right woman. She would never have wanted him to pine in loneliness...
What he really needed was a proper mistress...but one who wasn't "proper" all the time...
He was an excellent judge of character, and Leilani seemed to fit the bill. She stirred him...and she was feminine, as Lyanni had been.
She was also sensitive, intelligent and tender-hearted. He could see it in the hologram...he could tell it from her history.
If he saved her...if he brought her to Terra Nova...she would be grateful. She had been a mistress before, so she knew the ropes. She would understand him, understand his needs...
Her's was a common enough story. She'd been taken advantage of by an old-style cad. He hoped that Evan Culpepper, that cold-blooded monster, was miserable in his marriage to the ugly, lard-butted school superintendent...
And he probably was. According to the available data, his bride had a disposition fully matching her face. Culpepper would have money, but nothing else...
Or maybe he was already scouting the new teaching recruits, looking for another Leilani...
Evan Culpepper...he'd like to bring him to Terra Nova. He could just imagine dragging him, shackled, into the jungle. Some of the local Carnotaurus could use a free meal. One, in particular, was rather thin...
"Here you go, Carnies...it's your lucky day. Come and get it! Bwahahaha!"
Enough of that. He was Commander Taylor...he could bring Leilani to Terra Nova. He could bring anyone he wanted – he had that authority. He would expedite her application...he would bring her out with the Tenth Pilgrimage. He needed her now, and there was no one to question his decision.
He thought for a moment, making a few mental calculations. He would also expedite the applications of the two Bison boys. Briggs would be happy to see his sons...and he owed his sergeant a favor. The young men were loyal, so he could count on them to protect Leilani. They would help her wrap up the remains of her life - they would see her safely through the portal and into Terra Nova. He would send them a message.
He felt relieved...like a great burden had suddenly dropped from his shoulders.
Oh God...she understood why the Commander was moody.
Wash had waited until Nathaniel had left on patrol. As she watched the hologram, her eyes had widened. She could barely believe what she was seeing.
The resemblance was striking...not perfect, of course...but they could easily have been members of the same family.
Accident of nationality, Wash thought. Leilani was part Hawaiian...her grandmother's parents had been Native and German. They had immigrated to the mainland in 2125, just before a freakish earthquake - followed by a tsunami - had essentially destroyed the islands.
Lyanni had had a similar background. A little Polynesian blood, a little Asian, and a lot of "staff sergeant".
"Staff sergeant" was the islander's code for "assorted European nationalities".
And both Lyanni and Leilani were "frilly" members of the female tribe.
Their type always survived...they seemed to possess an inner compass, whose needle always pointed them toward the most powerful men.
"No...not true." she said to herself. Despite her bitterness, she wanted to be fair.
Lyanni had been a fine woman – Wash had had a lot of respect for her. She had been Lyanni's friend.
But a dressmaker? A damned dressmaker? What was the Commander thinking?
Wrong question. She knew what the Commander was thinking. Poor Nathaniel. A history teacher was one thing...a history teacher was okay...but why would he want a dressmaker?
And then Wash remembered. Lyanni had been a potter. She'd also painted roses on china. She'd once said she liked to feel the clay...
And certainly Leilani liked to feel fabric.
But what else did she like to feel?
Wash was afraid to speculate.
However, as she peered more closely at the hologram - as she remembered what she'd read in the file - she didn't think the woman was a spy...or a gold-digger...or a
prostitute. Actually, she seemed sort of nice...
Not right for Terra Nova - not by a long shot. But could she be right for the Commander? She'd be performing a service, if she could make him happy.
Wash sighed. She was too tough to believe in broken hearts and sacrifice. She'd go on...just as she always had. She would befriend Leilani, and pray that she was woman enough to care for Nathaniel. So the Commander of Terra Nova wanted a dressmaker...Wash would help him obtain her. For the good of the colony.
Why had she been assigned such a nice house? The other single people had been put in the barracks. The barracks were well equipped and certainly pleasant – but they lacked the space and privacy Leilani enjoyed.
The sun was coming up, and people were stirring around. Leilani stepped onto her porch, picking up the sprig of laurel that always waited for her, resting against her rush woven basket.
She would take it inside...she would put it in water, as she had all the others.
She smiled...it was her new friend, Alicia Washington. Alicia was a soldier, but very kind. Leilani had met her on the first day, when she'd gone with a group to feed the Brachiosaurs.
"Good morning, Alicia...how are you, today?"
"Very well, thanks. What are you holding?"
Leilani looked down at the laurel sprig, then held it up to her nose.
"It's flowering laurel...I find one every morning, by the basket. It has a lovely fragrance." and she held it out to Alicia, who obligingly took a sniff.
"Nice. Did you know that laurel sprigs are a sign of courtship, here in Terra Nova? Who's courting you?"
Leilani laughed. "No...I didn't know they were signs of courtship. What a sweet custom! Mine must be from Willy McFall, the little boy who lives up the street. He says he's going to marry me, someday."
Wash also laughed.
"Well...looks like you'll have to wait a while. Willy's only five years old."
She didn't have to force the laugh. Wash was visualizing the Commander's look of amusement, when she mentioned that Leilani Caruso had a five- year-old suitor. He might even laugh, himself...
Anything was better than the sadness that had possessed him, for the past several months.
"Alicia...can I ask you something?"
"Why, of course you can. Anything on your mind?"
The two women retreated into Leilani's house, sitting down together on the cranberry-colored sofa.
"I've been puzzled about something...why wasn't I assigned to a barracks? I have a separate bedroom...and lots of closet space. The other single people, who traveled here with me, were assigned to single quarters. Certainly adequate, but not as nice as I have. My mentor, the head teacher at the school, called my place "The Bridal Suite."
Wash was very careful. Leilani wasn't stupid - so she was bound to ask questions. But it was really up to the Commander to answer them...she didn't want to spoil whatever plans he'd made...
"Well...there could be several answers. I'm not in charge of housing assignments, so I can only guess. Maybe the barracks were full...or maybe it has to do with your skills..."
Leilani's expression brightened "I should have thought of that. Hardly anyone sews anymore - and there's a machine, right over in that corner. It's part of the cupboard. Sewing takes up a lot of space...so you need all the storage you can get. Maybe someone plans on putting me to work soon!"
Wash almost snickered, but she controlled herself. Yes...someone planned on putting Leilani to work, all right. She hoped the mattress was strong enough...
"Would you like some tea, Alicia? I'm so glad you stopped by."
Wash smiled and nodded her acceptance.
She hadn't had the nerve to ask Alicia all her questions.
And although she trusted her "skills" theory, she was still nervous.
She had a sense of alarm that she couldn't quite banish.
Her sense of alarm deepened when, late in the afternoon, there was a knock on her door.
It was the Terra Nova Commander. She'd seen him before, of course. In fact, she'd seen him frequently...ducking behind a tree, melting around a corner, standing with his back turned away from her.
But always there...somewhere in the background.
She remembered when she'd first seen him. It was the day she'd made the transition. It had been very stressful...Jim Shannon, the escaped convict, had materialized only a few feet away from her. Guns had been drawn and he'd been taken prisoner. People had screamed a lot. Unseen things had crashed through the underbrush, on all sides of them...
The trek to Terra Nova had been hot, humid and exhausting. Michael and Albert had put her between them, grabbing her elbows and urging her forward. By the time they'd reached their goal, she was soaking wet and dragging her feet. As the guards halted people near the colony gate, the Bison boys had pushed ahead, leading her through the mob, escorting her past the front row and out into a large, exposed area.
Why? she wondered. Was it so she could see...or was it so she could be seen?
There was a round tower, just beyond the fortified wall. She knew that this must be the headquarters for Terra Nova's Military Command. The tower was heavily guarded. As everyone watched, an officer had emerged from the central chamber, up near the tower's summit. He was a very strong looking, impressive, dignified man. He'd stood near the bamboo railing, looking down upon them. The crowd quieted, as he began his short speech of welcome and reassurance.
It was the Terra Nova Commandant...er...Commander.
She'd heard about him, of course. An old man so tough, he'd survived 118 days alone in the jungle. Now here he was - handsome, sinewy, with an inspiring voice, a full head of perfectly clipped hair, and a well-maintained beard.
Why did he have such perfect hair? Did he always have perfect hair...even in the jungle? Did he take his barber with him, on patrols?
She'd stopped herself. She didn't want to think about this officer, even indirectly. She didn't want to look at him. The Commander had reminded her of something - of how she'd felt, when she first met Evan. A tiny dinosaur ran by, scurrying past her, heading for the bushes. She watched it in fascination.
"...Welcome to Terra Nova...Welcome home!"
When she'd finally looked up, it was directly into the intimidating blue eyes of the Commander. He was staring right at her.
A shudder ran up her spine. She was suddenly aware of her shirt front...soaked with sweat and clinging to her breasts. The weight of her backpack pulled the fabric taut, stretching it tightly across her chest. She felt like the winner in some tawdry, old-fashioned "wet tee-shirt" contest.
She was terribly embarrassed. She looked away, pretending interest in a passing cloud. But she felt her face grow hot.
But she tried to forget about it. There certainly was no need for concern. He must know about sweat and tee-shirts...surely he'd had sweaty tee-shirts of his own. But his eyes...she didn't like his eyes. She didn't like people with pale eyes. Evan's eyes had been much like the Commander's...it was the first thing she'd noticed about him. She'd loved his blue eyes, in those days. But her lover's eyes had grown cold as a snake's, once he was ready to dump her...
And now here was the Commander - in person, standing at her door. His eyes were not cold, but soft and a little wistful. He was holding out a bouquet of magnolia blossoms.
"Miss Caruso...may I enter your house?"