While Sam was determined as he could be to get the excavation started, there was a hint of doubt cast over his face as he left Esther to her devices. Nowhere else to go, she retreated back into the tent with Mira – and was greeted to a pleasant surprise.
Both feet planted firmly on the floor and a hand on the bed’s frame, she struggled to keep herself upright, but managed it all the same. The injured gynoid looked up to give her partner a wave with her free hand – and almost immediately bent over.
“I’m still having a lot of trouble,” she admitted, lowering her rear back onto the cushion. “But I am definitely doing a lot better now than I thought I would be.”
Esther walked up to assess if Mira’s attempts at standing had caused the wound to reopen – and to her relief, it did not. “I’m actually a little surprised,” Esther began. “This injury damaged you more than I thought it would have – with or without the regenerative nodes to reseal everything.”
“That should tell you how deep the trap punctured,” Mira said with a sigh. “But enough of that. What happened with you and Sam?” Before Esther could answer, the sitting gynoid prodded, “Did you tell him to keep Shafer away?”
After briefly explaining why Shafer’s intrusion earlier was necessary for the luocans to carry out, Esther went on to discuss what the plans were for her and Sam as far as the passageway went. “I don’t know if Sam will actually be back today or not,” she concluded.
“And if he doesn’t come back, maybe you could sneak into the passage yourself – perhaps see if you can find out more information about that generator.”
“I can’t risk that,” Esther claimed. “I was already down there once and someone still managed to find me anyway. If they find me again, who knows what the luocans here will do?”
Mira tensed a little when she realized that once again the luocans had set up a wall in the middle of the road. “You aren’t even tired,” she argued. “You didn’t take a moment to even think about that!”
“I have thought about it!” Esther fought back. “You just can’t tell because we don’t have our link anymore.” It felt like every time they spoke to each other now, something would come up to remind them that the bond they now shared would not compare to what they had in Rhobane. The roadblocks given by the lack of connection made Esther want to ask if perhaps Mírre had sent the two of them here by mistake – but she knew that Mira’s response was going to an instant negation of such an idea.
Continuing, Esther was practically pleading for Mira to stop pushing her. “There is no need to rush things when Sam is already going to bring me down there anyway. I just need to wait.”
“All we’ve done is wait. Especially me; I’m practically a background subject as far as our mission goes all because of an injury I sustained on the first day. Don’t you think Mírre would want you to do it?”
As the conversation had gradually increased in volume, Esther attempted to bring things back down as she lowered her voice. “I don’t know what she would want. Because she is not with us.”
With that, the two of them went silent again until Mira turned herself on her bed, her legs pointed in Esther’s general direction. “I guess if I’m going to be stuck here, maybe we can find something useful for me to do around camp.”
There had to have been something for her to do now that Amity was gone. Still Esther had to ask: “Are you sure you can work with your legs yet?”
“I just need some support,” Mira claimed.
Though Esther was hesitant to believe a little support was all the gynoid needed, she did not feel the need to cause any further argument. “I’ll see if Macy has anything.” Though even saying that managed to elicit a barely-audible grunt on Mira’s end as Esther started turning away to get help.
By now all the girls were still in their tent, Macy in there with them to instruct the lot of them as they huddled around. For once it seemed a single person was able to round up the entire lot of them, as opposed to a single person with some assistants. Walking through the tent flap and witnessing the now-controlled children brought with it an air of commonality Esther had not expected to find here.
Rather than going to help herself, Macy instructed Toni to go along with Esther to grab something for Mira.
“They’re just some crutches Macy has in the back of her tent,” the girl explained. “Just don’t break them; they’re the only ones we have now.”
With that little comment, Esther began to wonder if they actually would break under an etternel’s weight.
Toni instructed Mira to stay by the tent flap as she took a deeper dive for the supports she was looking for. Patient, Esther complied – up until nearly ten minutes had passed without any word from the girl. It was difficult to see Toni from where Esther stood – and from her less-than-advantageous vantage point, she leaned a little closer in to see what was going on. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Fine!” shouted Toni. “It’s all fine; I just haven’t found the stupid things yet.”
Esther almost wanted to ask if the crutches were even in the tent in the first place. She thought she could hear a swear on the girl’s end before leaning in a little further and watching her heave a sigh of relief.
“Found them!” Toni cried at the same time she turned her head to witness Esther peeping from behind the flaps. Once she came back, Esther could see the droplets of sweat decorating the top of her head beneath her curly hair. Without a word, she handed the crutches over to Esther, who took them without issue.
“Thank you,” said the woman, almost turning away as the wooden utensils rested in her hands. While part of her wanted to worry about how well lumber would do with Mira, she instead took note of Toni’s stressed expression. “Is everything okay?” she wondered.
As if confused, Toni flicked her gaze upward with an electric reaction. “It’s fine,” she said, emphasizing the second word. Perhaps realizing that Esther had caught onto her, Toni sighed and shook her head. “Alright; it’s not all fine. I’m just kind of stressed out about Amity.”
There Esther saw Mira’s opportunity to get work done. “Is it the workload?” she asked, lowering herself slightly to match the girl’s eyelevel.
“A bit,” she admitted, biting her lip as she and Esther went on their way back. They were almost at the girls’ tent when Toni spoke again. “Do you ever feel like you were so close to someone you could read their mind, but now it’s like you don’t know them?”
If she only knew. “I can sympathize,” Esther said, avoiding any in-depth analysis of what Toni had just said.
Rather than open up again, Toni cast her eyes down at her feet, as if bashful. “Yeah…”
She didn’t say anything beyond that.
With a quick glance to her left, Esther noticed the other girls had started peeking at the two of them from the sliver of space between the tent’s flaps. Tightening her grip on the crutches, she cleared her throat and directed her gaze to the opening.
It took Toni a moment to read Esther’s body language – at which point she shuffled back in like a panicking play extra.
Now back to Mira’s side, Esther provided the crutches.
“Toni gave me these; they should help out.”
“I have seen these before!” Mira replied. “Sometimes people at the medical areas back home would need them for those few times they ran out of wheelchairs.”
“Do you think they’ll work for you?” Esther wondered. Just as she had asked, Mira hoisted herself up, placing the crutches tops around her ancillaries as she hopped about on her one good foot.
Mira gave her partner a determined smirk. “I think so.” She then took a few steps forward, already getting the hang of this new method of walking. Barely able to help herself, Esther returned with a smile of her own; Mira was doing a great job for someone who had never used these things before.
Suddenly Esther remembered: “Maybe we should wait a moment for Macy to get back to us.” Anticipating some protest, Esther attempted to clarify, “Just while she’s still taking care of the children.”
Though not as resistant to her demands as Esther had anticipated, Mira returned her partner’s comment with an air of passive-aggression, which she put on full display as she carried herself back to her bed without a word. “Okay! I still wish we could do this excavation together.”
As much of a disaster as that could have been without a net-link, Esther had to admit that would have been nice. She nodded.
By the time nightfall had made its approach and Esther still had yet to hear from Sam, Macy proposed that she work along with Mira in aiding her with the tasks she and her assistants had to carry out. Esther would have been annoyed by this if she were more prone to human emotion than what her architecture would allow, but rather than complain, she could only wonder what was keeping Sam.
She should have known that Persson wouldn’t have been willing to comply with whatever plan he had. Two days had passed without any word about the excavation. Still Esther did her work, making sure all the girls were accounted for, washing their clothes for them, resolving any conflicts or fights that might have sprouted between two or more girls. The work was not difficult when she had three luocans and Mira to work with, but she could understand where Amity’s general frustration and attitude had started.
It almost came as a surprise that Toni did not wish to speak on the subject they had narrowly avoided the other day. Toni and Esther barely spoke at all, instead opting to only talk when the job called for it. Cynthia, on the other hand, was a lot more social – something which she said was to be expected of Toni: now the oldest assistant Macy had. Esther learned that Macy was making an effort to make one of the girls into a new assistant, but so far nobody had volunteered for the position.
As the newcomers worked among the children, there was a noticeable amount of gossip speaking from one child to another. It took the two of them until their second day as assistants for them to verify that the gossip was about the two of them.
Thanks to Amity’s stunt on her birthday, a lot of the girls had come to believe that Esther and Mira truly were dating. Neither of the two women dared comment on this rumor, yet the idea of them being labeled as lovers was somewhat amusing.
In the late afternoon while the two women, Macy, and all the children were sitting by in their large tent, a shuffling came at the opening. Esther could not have been more relieved or surprised to find Sam at the other side.
“Hi – Macy? I’m here for Esther.” He spoke as if he were a parent pulling their child out of class. The woman in charge did not hesitate to let Esther go – at which point the woman undid some of her extra garments and rolled them up in her arms. All the while she sauntered up to Sam without a word.
It was only once they made their way back outside when the tension between them started to break. “I know, I’m sorry,” he began, almost writhing his hands as he spoke. “We had to wait longer than we wanted before we had the go-ahead.”
“We?” asked Esther as she looked over his shoulder.
“The others are gathered around the east side,” Sam explained. “But anyway – you seem to be getting along with everyone well.” The two of them walked to Esther and Mira’s tent, where she threw her clothes away for now.
“More or less,” she replied. “It’s not like I was left empty-handed with Macy around here.” Thinking about Amity suddenly reminded her: “Have you seen where Amity’s gone, though?”
“Just in a tent by herself. Her tent’s one of the closer ones to the outskirts.
Suddenly she wondered what that girl was doing in there. “Just by herself? Does she talk to anyone?”
“Not that I’ve seen,” he admitted with a sigh. “Amity’s probably still burned out, but she’ll tire out of this phase. They always eventually do.”
Now for something a little different! I’ve decided to go and start making smaller chapters when the need arises.
Honestly, with that said, this chapter should have gone up a week ago as almost all of this was here a week ago. I’ve been gone simply due to a project that I’ve been beta-reading for someone — but now that that’s over, it’s time to get serious!
Discord is open for all, as always!