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Plaster crunched under her feet as Sheata cautiously crossed the threshold of her home. She stared at the destruction with an overwhelming sense of loss; soon replaced with resignation. She was alive, and for that alone she was thankful. Above her, sunlight poured into the living room through what had been a tall, cathedral ceiling. Dust whirled up around her as she reached out to pull a finger through the dust on a table now warped by the elements.
‘The engineers assure me that restoration is possible as the foundation is still sound.’ Stephen broke the silence with a soft voice.
Sheata stilled, letting her eyes move around the room. The enormity of the destruction matched her feelings of loss. She gulped, fighting to find words.
‘Tamai assures me that all the children were evacuated before the bombing, but this –…’
‘… Is disturbing.’ Stephen agreed.
‘I had hoped…’ Sheata’s voice warbled with emotion. ‘…to salvage, to find –…’
‘There was a great deal of looting right after the bombings, and even more as the war progressed.’ He explained. ‘I fear we must not hope for the return of any possessions.’
‘Possessions can be replaced.’ She squeezed the back of a damaged chair as she found a weak spot in the floor. ‘They are only things.’
‘Indeed.’ He agreed. ‘The floors on this level have been greatly compromised. We should stay close to the threshold to the corridor where the support is at its strongest.’ He beckoned her back to the door.
‘Our quarters?’ She dared to ask.
‘Gone, as is the entire East wing. It is where the building took a direct hit.’ He pointed down to the end of the corridor to a shaft of sunlight beyond a missing door.
A sense of overwhelming loss washed over her. It was all so very difficult to understand. The government had bombed the very children they were fighting to protect. None of it made any sense whatsoever. Sheata sniffled, swiping a shaky hand across her dampened cheeks.
Without the need to speak, Stephen pulled her to his chest. Together, they mourned the loss of their home and the life that they’d once had here. Soon, it would be time for them to move on.
‘I hear a shuttle.’ Stephen noted.
‘Charles.’ Sheata identified the wave of human thought that she suddenly felt. ‘He just arrived. We should go and meet him. He will, no doubt, react badly to the destruction.’
Outside, Cutter guided the shuttle through the remains of the front gate. He thought of the irony of security. For all they’d done to protect this small piece of land, the results of the war were even more powerful and unsettling. Sighing, he maneuvered the shuttle over top of the collapsed wrought iron gate. Looking beyond, he groaned at what he saw. It was worse than he’d thought.
‘So much good, gone to kelted Hades.’ He angrily muttered as he set the shuttle down in front of the half-crumbled front staircase. ‘So much kelted destruction, and for what end?’
Still grumbling about the senselessness of war, Cutter made his way up what was left of the stairs. The front door screamed its opposition to being opened as he pressed his shoulder against it.
‘Oh, my…’ He hissed as he saw the true extent of destruction on the inside.
‘Charles! So nice of you to make the trip out to join us.’ Sheata called down from the second floor promenade.
‘Sheata! You are a sight for these aged eyes!’ He called up to her, surprised at the odd lack of an echo. The foyer had always been like a sound tunnel. ‘I was expecting –…’
‘Greetings, Charles.’ Stephen appeared at Sheata’s side.
‘I go by Cutter these days.’ He addressed them as they descended the ladder that had been placed for the purpose of egress. ‘I only wish it were under better circumstances. This –…’ He gestured around him. ‘…- is bad, really bad.’
‘The engineers have assured me that it can be totally restored.’ Stephen noted.
‘It can, but should it be?’ Cutter asked.
‘Why would you ask, Cutter?’ Sheata asked with an air of innocence.
‘Now, who’s being the sarcastic one. It’s not like you, Sheata.’ Cutter snapped. ‘Aw kelts, Sheata, you don’t know the half of what happened here during the war.’
‘You may be partially correct in that.’ She nodded. ‘However, I see no reason why this building should not be restored and put to good use again.’
Cutter shook his head and ran a hand over his face before speaking. ‘People around these parts might take some major offense, for starters. For many, just the sight of the front gate will bring out the worst of their memories.’
‘Does the place disturb you so much, Cutter?’ Stephen asked as he watched the emotions in his friend’s eyes.
‘Yes, it does.’ Cutter slapped the end of the banister, sending a cloud of dust and plaster in all directions.
‘Your quarters are virtually undamaged, Cutter.’ Sheata informed him before he reacted any worse.
Cutter blinked at her.
‘The computer is gone; as are your personal possessions, but the room is intact. And, I might add, you have the luxury of still having a door.’ She pointed in towards the upper level. ‘Our quarters are non-existent.’
Cutter gulped, again. ‘My quarters…?’
‘Yes, your quarters.’ Sheata nodded. ‘You can access them safely, if you wish.’
‘I – uh – maybe later.’ Cutter gulped, shifting from one foot to the other.
Stephen raised a brow at Cutter’ behavior. He’d never know his friend to be so uncomfortable about his quartering environs. He made a mental note to address it at a later date.
‘Please, pardon me.’ Stephen touched the new commlink behind his right ear and headed towards the front door to answer it.
‘So, is this as hard for you as it appears to be for me?’ Cutter finally asked Sheata.
‘Yes. Our quarters are gone entirely. There is nothing left to be salvaged. Anything that might have survived the bombing itself has succumbed to looting or the effects of the elements. There is a feeling of loss that is almost overwhelming. So, yes, it is hard.’ Sheata easily admitted. ‘That said, what we have lost here is merely possessions. Possessions can be replaced. Even then, our losses pale in comparison to your own.’
Cutter sniffed and ducked his head. ‘You are aware then that Tamai was cloned?’
‘I wasn’t, until now.’ Sheata nodded her acknowledgment. ‘The reality is what it is, Cutter. We grieve your loss alongside of you. Tamai was a good friend.’
‘Thank you, Sheata, thank you.’ Cutter swallowed hard.
Sheata stepped closer, touching his shoulder in support. ‘I grieve with you, Cutter. If you need to talk, or anything else, come to me. We’ll get through this together, all of us.’
‘Right now, I need to get us out of here before the storm gets here. Radar had it sitting about twenty out. That gives us just enough time to get to my shuttle before it hits.’ Cutter gestured towards the front door.
At that moment, thunder clapped overhead and Stephen stuck his head back inside the building to call back to the others. ‘We need to leave, now. We’ve just been ordered to report to Gamma Medcenter. There was a building collapse with many casualties on the way in.’
‘Aye, aye, Sir.’ Cutter led the jog down the front steps and up to the shuttle. ‘With the intensity I saw on the radar, we can expect even more casualties before all is said and done.’
‘So much for the day off.’ Sheata hissed as she slid inside the shuttle, pulling the hatch closed behind them.