Chaos isn’t just a fact of life, sometimes it seems to be a guiding force in my life. Last night I was planning on a camping trip... Between leaving the condo and arriving at Case’s, everything changed.
When I got to the house, Case was sitting in front of the trid, watching the news. He looked up to tell me something was up as my pager went off.
Next thing I know, I’m on a plane heading south with a whole batch of Citywide, Doc Wagon and military medics.
An earthquake had ripped through Tepic and the surrounding area. Fortunately the epicenter was closer to the mountains than the city, but casualties were high and rescue workers were being flown in from all over.
Since I was already packed, I had enough time to grab a few language disks. Not the standard Berlitz Travel Guide stuff either, somehow I doubt we’re going to be worrying about hotel rooms and sight seeing.
PC got me a good copy of “Atzlaner Spanish for Medical and Rescue Personnel.” Red cross provided a booklet version, but with a chip I’ve got instant access. I made copies of the chip and passed them out to the few who were equipped to use it– I figure right now is not the time to be worrying about copyright infringement.
It was a long, tense trip. There were people in need of help and we knew it was going to take us a while to get there. We all tried to study and sleep while we could. Once we land– all bets are off.
I have to admit though... I saw a lot of familiar faces on the plane. Emmory, Terry, Smiley, Walter... some of the folks from Ft. Lewis. It was old home week, only we all knew there was a job to do, and it wasn’t going to be easy.
Rescue work is difficult enough, but going into Atzlan... it adds a whole new meaning to disaster relief.
It’s late. We’ve been working pretty much round the clock-- working in teams, climbing through wreckage trying to find survivors. When we find someone, we work on getting them out and taken care of.
When we first got here, representatives of the government informed us that they would be handling the rescues and we would take care of the victims once they freed them. That lasted less than a half an hour before all the rescue teams started pitching in.
We had folks from just about every nation and every race known. Humans and Metahumans from the UK, Europe, Eurasia, Asia, Japan, the North Sea, Cal Free State, CAS, UCAS, Amazonia and Atzlan all working side by side. I think the local rescue workers were grateful, even if they’d never admit it to the authorities.
My team was made up of me, Emmory, three guys from Fort Lewis and a woman from Tir Tairngire-- four medics and two medic/mages.
Another one of the official orders that went by the wayside was that we were to only work 4 hours shifts. We worked until we couldn’t work, then we took a break. We did manage to stagger our shifts so that there was always someone working and the support folks never got too swamped.
We were also supposed to camp out according to gender, but we ended up grouping by teams. That way there was no trouble finding your crew when it was time to move. We’re taking our second real break since we got here. I think everyone’s too tired to move. Janna, the mage from Tir Tairngire took the time to comb out her hair, and then insisted that I should do the same. I tried to tell her I was too tired to worry about it, but she just came over and did it for me.
I almost felt like a doll, and yet, it felt nice to have someone else bother with it. It also reminded me that I wasn’t a rat scurrying around in the darkness-- I was a human being, under all the grime.
We were a motley looking band. Janna, somehow managing to look proper, even with a few pounds of dust and grime coating her waist length hair. (I ended up helping her put it back up). The guys from Ft. Lewis managed to look ruggedly handsome in their “jaunty, just out from under a pile of debris” look. Emmory and I ... I think we managed to look like we’d been crawling in the dirt for a few days. Funny that.
According to the authorities, the worse problems are here in the city. When anyone suggested heading for the epicenter to check things out we were told that that was unnecessary and that that area was unpopulated.
I don’t think one person believed that. But we did know they didn’t want us up there. On the bright side, this is a Red Cross mission– Atzlan doesn’t call the shots. The corp officers of the Red Cross tell us what to do, and we follow.
Sifting through the wreckage, I’m glad to say, isn’t what it used to be. Especially not with two mages helping guide our efforts. Janna and McIan have been augmenting each other - one of them ‘looking’ while the other guides them around the wreckage with the ‘guide’ in tune enough with the searcher to know when they’d found someone.
Once they’d located our next target... we’d all survey the area and the layout of the debris and figure out the best method of getting to them. Usually it was a case of using temporary supports and digging them out. A few times it meant lowering one of our team in with a rope and equipment.
Being one of the smallest people on the team meant more often than not, I was the one being lowered in. By late afternoon we had most of the city covered. There was still a lot of digging out to do, but there was still the question of people between here and the epicenter.
Atzlan officials were quick to remind everyone that the roads we’d be taking barely existed. The Hummers and Rovers that’d been delivered were too big and bulky for the trails. That left 4 wheelers, dirt bikes and mules.
They started to object that you couldn’t send medics out on bikes. I loved being able to poke holes in that one.
The evening and night were spent getting equipment together and regrouping. It was pretty obvious that where the government couldn’t keep rescuers from their jobs, the could limit it to the civilian personnel.
The new team became me, Emmory, Janna, Terry and Smiley... Doug
I thought a lot about Case and Ethan... funny, I’m here in the middle of a country run by a corp that wouldn’t mind killing me off... digging people out of collapsed buildings...and I’m worried about them.
I guess it adds some semblance of normalcy-- like Janna brushing her hair...
Only thing I do know is I could really use a bath.
When we headed out we were accompanied by a government sponsored guide/ interpreter. Just as they couldn’t stop members of the rescue team from doing their duties, we couldn’t stop them from ‘helping’ us.
There was something in the woman, Rosalia’s, expression that was a combination of suspicion and smugness. She was there to make sure we didn’t see anything we weren’t supposed to see. That, I’m fairly certain about.
It really would have been nice if we could have just done our jobs without politics getting in the way– but I guess that’s too much to ask when you got Corps running the show. Even the Red Cross is a corp now– but at least it’s a non-profit corp.
Rosalia didn’t seem very happy with our transportation. Come to think of it, she didn’t seem all that pleased with anything we did. We tried to range out– scout around... she wanted us to stick together.
Trying to explain to her that we needed to look for any homes or travelers that had be caught in the quake or the aftershocks. She kept telling us, ‘there’s nothing here... ‘
There was an awful lot of ‘nothing there.’
By mid day we found a couple of hikers who’d gotten caught in a slide. Broken legs, concussions, dehydration. Rosalia recanted... slightly.
Smiley and Terry took them back on their ATV’s. As Janna, Emmory and I continued our search. It was slow going, which was just as well, it gave the guys a chance to catch up. As I see it, that’s going to be our main problem– transporting people out.
Remember what I said about politics... double it.
We’d gotten about half a mile from the rockslide when Janna reigned her mule in. I skidded my bike to a stop. We were surrounded by ‘traditionals’. Rosalia told them that the government would be very upset with them if anything happened to us.
Sometimes I think that’s exactly what she and her government want. She made it sound like we were official governmental inspectors instead of rescue workers. I can’t tell if she did that on purpose or not. We were forced off our bikes, and Janna from her mule. They inspected the bikes and our kits. The bikes had tracking devices placed on them, but our kits, being personal, were clean.
A man with an Enfield that must have been at least a hundred years old, gestured for us to start moving.
It was a long hike and no one told us anything except to move... any miss communications were cleared up with a prod by a gun or rifle barrel. After what seemed like forever we arrived at the remains of a small village. Some of that ‘nothing’ between the city and the epicenter.
Rosalia started telling them that we weren’t going to do anything and that she was going to report them to the proper authorities... I stepped in and asked how many injured and if everyone was accounted for.
It was the first time I’d seen one of our captors crack a smile. Everyone was indeed accounted for, he assured me. There were a few that needed to be checked out– they’d sent two people down the mountain to get help.
Our two hikers. When they hadn’t returned a search party had been sent out– our escort back to camp.
We bandaged up the worst cases, got them ready for transport– tried to convince the leaders that they needed to be taken to a hospital and checked out there. I could see the animosity between the ‘traditionals’ and Rosalia. It was kinda hard to miss.
Once we finished up, we were rounded up and they prepared to march us out– further into the mountains, closer to the epicenter. When we tried to object about the villagers and transporting them out, we were told that it would be taken care of and it was none of our concern.
And so we had a guided tour of the destruction. We were only allowed to stop where they said we were needed, only allowed to treat the people they said we could treat. It was worse than the bureaucracy we’d faced in the city. At least they hadn’t resorted to pointing guns.
When we finally arrived at their encampment we were dog tired. We were herded into a small hut with a dirt floor, and guards on every side. One of them told us to ‘Make yourselves at home.’
There was no furniture, no blankets... no water. Other than that... We ended up making due, using our kits to prop our heads up. By that time... I don’t think anybody really cared.
I’m awake now... having heard a jaguar in the distance. Too many memories... to many old fears to sleep right now. I can hear the guards whispering, but I can’t make out the words.
I wonder how Case and Ethan are.
This morning we were informed that we were hostages. The one guard that had smiled when we started treating the injured after Rosalia told them we wouldn’t looked slightly apologetic. They wanted us to write letters, asking the government to please help us.
Just as we refused to not help people, we refused to write. I am not going to write to a government that’s tied that tightly to a Corp. that wants me dead– and I’m not going to write anything that’s going to cause more worry and or concern for the people I care about.
There was some sort of smirk in Rosalia’s eyes that just jarred my nerves. I’m beginning to think by insisting on doing what we’d come here to do– we’d been played by her people.
I got the impression that Janna and Emmory had noticed it too. At least they didn’t have Smiley or Terry.
When the ‘traditionals’, now clearly identified as the Kachakashqa Amaru,(Freedom snakes) noticed we weren’t writing they studied us and then looked at Rosalia. I couldn’t catch half the words, but the general gist was ‘Why aren’t they writing?’
I definitely couldn’t understand what she told them, but whatever it was– they weren’t happy about it. The brought food and water over for us but when we reached for it, they pulled it away and pointed at the paper...
The message was very clear... be good little hostages and do as your told...
It took a long while before we all complied... and I’m pretty sure we all found a way to get our real feelings out. Janna wrote in Sperethiel, Emmory... used a Doc Wagon code... me... I told them to tell Aaron that if all goes well... I’ll see him soon.
Not that I’m planning on dying or anything, but I have no desire to be a pawn, or a martyr– or a hostage. The folks in Seattle will understand– I did not want to write the letter and I don’t want people to think I’m living in fear for my life.
Rosalia seemed to smirk even more as we finished our letters. I really do not like that woman– or the fact that she is with us all the time now. We couldn’t talk without her knowing what we were up to.
The day passed very slowly. There was nothing to do but sit... sit in the dirt outside our hut... sit in the dirt inside our hut... We weren’t allowed to walk around. When we stood, we were told to sit back down. Rosalia would tell them things from time to time...
If my translations are correct– she’s been telling them that the government would never yield... not for the lives of four ‘rescue’ workers.
There was something in her voice... she was playing them like she played us– but since she was the only one that spoke the language fluently...
I was beginning to wish I’d gotten the Berlitz version of the phrases– at least then I could have asked for a better room– something with a shower.
This morning we were rousted from our hut. It was early-- probably about 0500. We were forced to march away from the encampment and were finally led to yet another camp, further up the mountain.
We were within sight of a rather large cave opening. I knew some rebel groups had Coatls working for them.. I couldn't help but wonder if they were camped in front of one of their allies' lairs.
Rosalia started to say something, but was immediately dragged away towards one of the huts to our left. I may not like or trust the woman-- but I didn't like the way they were treating here. None of us did.
Not that it really mattered. They had the guns. One by one we were herded into different buildings. Emmory's reaction to it was the worst of all. I told him to stay calm-- that everything would be all right. It's kinda touching... 'ol big and bulletproof turning out to be the nice protective type.
I must have waited in my hut for almost two hours before a man came in and rattled off something in Atzlaner Spanish. I didn't catch much of it... translated what I could. I stood and told him, straight from the phrase book. "I'm a medic-- I'm here to help."
"So you speak our language?" he asked, with a slight New England accent.
"Only as much as is on disk," I told him, showing him my chip jack.
He raised an eyebrow. "Indeed." After he studied me a moment, he gestured towards the table. "Please... sit down."
I nodded as he pulled out a pile of papers. My 'letter to the government' was on top. I waited for him to start. "I am Pacal Juerez--and you are?"
"Jessica Miller," I answered evenly.
"Ah, Miss Miller," he said as he looked at the pile of papers and handed me my letter. "I must ask you why you wrote this letter," he told me slowly. I could tell he was trying to figure me out.
"We were told to..." I answered equally slowly.
"You were told to write letters to your people-- explaining that we were protecting you and giving you safe passage through our territory ..."
I shook my head. "That's not what Rosalia told us..."
I let out an exasperated sigh. "We aren't your hostages?"
He looked at me and tilted his head. "Where did you get the idea..."
I looked at him and sighed. "Maybe it was the part where your people started pointing guns at us... or the part where they said 'Hostages' ..."
"Hosti... " He paused then shook his head. "No... Hostiles... we were concerned that some of our more militant brothers might attack... that is why we brought the injured to you... so that the guerillas would not take out their aggressions on you..."
I studied him for a moment. I knew there was more he wasn't telling me-- I guess we all have our secrets... but this was getting weirder and weirder all the time.
"What were we supposed to write?"
He paused for a moment and then let his breath out slowly. "You were supposed to inform your people that you were all right, and that we were guiding you through some of the worst stricken areas."
I was beginning to start putting things together when we could hear and explosion back the way we'd come.
Pacal looked up, rather startled and exited the hut, I was right behind him. I think I startled the guards but he signaled them to stand down.
"That's the village..." I gasped.
He turned and nodded suspiciously. If I'd had the time to think about it, I'd have been suspicious too, but right then all I could think about were the people in the village.
He seemed to relax slightly, then smiled at me. "They're safe," he assured me. "We moved them out hours before we brought you here."
Pacal led me back into the hut as I started piecing things together. He told me to relax and that he would be back once he was sure everything was safe. I had a hard time with that and I knew I wouldn't really relax until I'd figured out what was really going on.
If he was to be believed, his people had picked us up for our own protection and brought us everyone they found who needed help. If Rosalia was right then we were hostages and they were trying to use us to meet some sort of demands.
Either way-- if we had been back in the village we'd be dead now.
We were kept separated and guarded for most of the day. It was late by the time Pacal returned. With him was another man, whom he introduced as Yachacheq. The man smiled and told me it was a pleasure to make my acquaintance.
His accent was harder to place. It was more formal, making me think UK at first– but it wasn’t like any accent I’d heard before.
Yachacheq asked if he could review my language disk. I hesitated briefly. Ever since Aaron and the steam tunnels, I’d kept a version of my journal on whatever disk I had slotted. I just didn’t like the idea of someone having access to it. Not like they couldn’t have just taken it.
With a sigh, I pressed the eject button and handed the disk to him.
He placed it in a scanner and started viewing the information on the disk. I could hear the machine whirr as the disk spun up and kept spinning. He was reading it way too fast to get anything out of it... or so I though.
When he finished he smiled and nodded. “It is a rather thorough dictionary,” he said to Pacal. “But it is very specialized.” Then he turned to me.
“I would be interested in reading your journal sometime,” he told me.
I was surprised, but nodded. “It’s just....”
“Personal,” he finished. “I understand.”
I took the disk and reslotted it. “Thanks.”
Yachacheq said something to Pacal, but again, I could only catch a few of the words. It was something about “Truth is what you see...”
Then they apologized for separating us as they had. “You will be together again... soon,” they assured me.
After they left I was tempted to write more in the journal– but instead I ended up re-reading it... from the beginning. Its amazing how much I’ve changed... and yet remained the same.
We weren’t released from our huts until late evening. Dinner was simple– but after a day of not eating it was a veritable feast. Our first order of business was to make sure everyone was all right. Once we were sure of that we sat down and ate with our... hosts.
Pacal explained to us that this area had been considered sacred by his people and was one of the few places where we were safe. Even the most militant of ‘freedom fighters’ would not violate the sanctity of the place.
That did not match what happened next. A man arrived with his entourage... to worship.
To sacrifice was more like it. With him was a pregnant woman, being carried by four rather muscular men, and a little girl. The girl seemed... dazed confused. The Kachakashqa Amaru moved away from a flat rock, that I realized wasn’t just a ‘rock.’ it was an altar.
They moved closer to us... I couldn’t tell if it was to protect us or to give them more room. Either way, we had a very good view of what was going to happen.
As the four men set the woman down in front of the ancient altar the man guided the girl to the stone. I shuddered as I realized what was going to happen. We had to stop it... somehow...
I was trembling when Pacal put a hand on my arm. “Jessica... is something wrong.”
I stared at him wide eyed. “Yes... something is very wrong!”
He looked at me and then at the priest. “It is their way.”
The tremble became more of a shake as rage took over. “NO!”
Pacal looked at me, surprised by my intensity. “She is nuk... nothing.”
My eyes flared then... nobody is nothing. I’m not sure what I did from that point on. The only thought I had was that I could not let this happen. Not again. Not when I was able to fight.
That was yesterday.
I woke up inside the cave. I was laying on a medium sized bed. With Pacal on one side and Yachacheq on the other. They smiled when they saw my eyes were open. I felt odd... like I had been drowning one moment and surrounded by angels the next.
Only these two were no angels. “The girl...” I gasped.
“She is resting,” Pacal answered gently.
“I told you,” Yachacheq responded. There was something in his voice– approval... smugness?
They told me to take it easy, and I admit, I felt peaceful– but shades of the old nightmare came rushing back. “What happened?”
Again Yachacheq seemed amused and yet approving. “Tell her...”
“You... offended the priest... refused to let him heal his wife his way...”
That was fine by me...
“You tried to get him to let you and your friends heal her your way... He refused, saying the only way to heal her was through blood. You offered to take the child’s place... we offered them Rosalia... and again you refused... Then... the priest looked into your eyes and... let your friends treat his wife.”
Bits and pieces of it came back as he told me what had happened, but it was disjointed... fractured.
“His son was born about fifteen minutes later... breach birth... the woman.. Janna used her magics to do what the priest would have done.... she is resting now...”
I nodded slightly woodenly as I remembered what had happened next. He had given the girl to us... in payment for what we’d done... and then.. In celebration, he’d killed Rosalia.
I clamped my eyes shut as the images filled my mind. Rosalia... the steam tunnels... the warehouse in Chicago. It had been too much ... even now I was trembling.
“Shhh,” Yachacheq urged as he rested a hand on my forehead. “Rest...”
Again I drifted off...
It was late when I awoke again. I was feeling much better and yet still.. I can’t describe it... its like... waking from a nightmare... and you aren’t sure if you really woke up or are still dreaming.
Yachacheq was with me. He smiled and offered me a cup of water. “Drink,” he urged gently.
I took it and drank but it was almost mechanical. When I finished he took the cup and handed me a disk. “I am sorry... I would have rather read it... with your permission– but I needed to know...”
“Why I reacted the way I did?”
He nodded. “I will get you some food...”
He watched over me as I ate and then once again urged me to rest. “But....”
“She was a traitor... she would have killed you and your friends to bring more strife to our people.”
I nodded. “But...”
“But she was helpless, and not an immediate threat...” He said knowingly... it was almost exactly what I was thinking.
“You are indeed a marvel Jessica Miller,” he said softly. “Now rest hiirru manka inkil.”
As I drifted off, I reflexively translated his words... “iron.... flower”... iron flower... I like that.