Kyrus pulled his veil tighter to his face and crouched over his bird’s neck as the stinking wind howled across them both. The city of Nadumon was gone. Bees struggled against the force of the wind to cling to his back and his sarband, their buzz an undertone of reassurance as he and Werfas both clung to injured children and forced their birds to keep moving.
“I don’t think we’ll find anyone else,” he said at last and half-fell off his warbird, clinging to the goad to keep it still.
“One more mandery sweep, wingbrother,” Werfas said. “All right?”
“All right.” Ky closed his eyes. *Code search: deenay human. Living organism.* He could feel Werfas backing him up, solid as a wall. Just as cliners could ‘remove’ substance, they could refuse to remove substance. *Searching.* On the edges of the blast zone, where trees had been stripped of their branches and bark and oilbushes still burned, someone could have been caught in the rocks. *Searching.*
He pushed out, against Werfas’s backing, probing thinner and thinner… let himself snap back into himself and let the bees collar his wrists. It didn’t hurt anymore, it helped. He could feel their support of his energy and his life, instead of startling when they stung him. He felt as if he had a moving necklace and bracelets of bees. “There’s nobody left alive around here as far as I can reach,” he said.
“Let’s get these kids back to the medics, then.”
Kyrus just nodded and clucked to his bird. It was so tired it just stood, head low and wings half-spread to cool itself off and he had to pull on the breakbeak chain to get it moving. It was so dark now that they had to move very slowly, with the critically injured tied to the saddle. The canyon narrows were all high enough for the Nadumon’s moas so they didn’t have to worry about braining anyone on an overhang.
The lightest injuries had been closest to the bugout, and had walked in under their own power, but they got worse up outside of the approach canyon and on the hardpan it was horrific. Kyrus had directed the bees he had with him, split off from the hive in attendance around his da and had managed to get them to save some of the people he found. It was a mandery that he’d never have thought he could do, learning to be a warrior, but the first victim he’d found, a mother shielding her baby, unconscious with horrible burns over her back… he’d had to try. She’d nearly given her life protecting her little girl but Ky had checked on her every time they’d brought someone back.
On either side of the bugout doors someone had piled oilbushes and started fires on either side of the doors. The firelight shone up the length of the canyon, flickering greenish on the yellow-striped rock. Da and Ilax had mandered a curtain between the half open doors, leaving the bottom open for the people streaming in, and out.
The boys dragged their exhausted birds to where the medics and their helpers could unstrap the last survivors and take them away slung in blankets. The one little boy Kyrus had found, cried for his mother as they carried him in. Others came and led their birds away, to check them and feed them and settle them in the corral that someone had come up with in a side canyon.
Kyrus found himself sitting under a camp light that someone had fixed to the rock ceiling, with a round of flatbread in one hand and a cup of nopale soup in the other. It was hot, and filling and he’d learned a long time ago that any food was better than none at all so he consumed it gratefully.
He’d been afraid that the cavern would be full of the cries of the wounded but it seemed that the Nadumon had phenomenal healers and they’d put everyone into a kind of healing sleep. Owner code stuff.
“It’s the one kind of code the original owners didn’t skimp on,” the Head was saying. “Some of the things we were originally sent to do out here was to fix bad programming and incompatibilities between programs. Some were so cheap that they’d just stopped and in a terraforming system that kind of thing can have disastrous consequences… so our ancestors were actually sent out here, to this biosphere, with an injunction to get this part of this continent transforming again.”
“So, somehow, Prime’s records of you were lost? Is that what our theory is?” Ilax sat next to her, in full-on ‘soothing politician’ mode.
Head Filchang did the almost spastic shrug that seemed common to the Nadumon. Kyrus even remembered it in the ambassador in Milar. “It seems obvious if he tried to erase us. He didn’t succeed.” To Kyrus’s deep embarrassment she began to cry, tears soaking down into the edge of her borrowed veil. “We’ve lost nearly a third of our population. A third! We were just getting to the point where we needed to expand. We were going to build the dam for two reasons, one was for water retention of course –“
“—Let me guess,” Da broke in. He was actually lying on his bedroll with his head on Ilax’s knees, recovering from all the mandery he’d been doing all day, as well as ordering the Asses around. “Especially since the water stopped falling from the moon.”
“Exactly so,” the Head said. She’d recovered herself somewhat, taking notes on a paper on her knee. Someone had gotten her another flat tablet and she was using that to back her page as she wrote. “But we had enough of a fall to begin generating electricity so we could expand the town.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” da said. “We have the lin so we can consult with my husband’s Unity, but as Radiance I think I have a place that could be modified for your people to settle in Lainz.”
The look on Ilax’s face and Head Filchang’s face was priceless, but Kyrus didn’t see either one, since his eyes were still closed.
Ky got up abruptly from his eavesdropping. “Wingbrother… you finished? I can take your cup and we can see if that woman is any better. Maybe find out her name, if she’s woken up.”
Werfas grinned at him. “Sounds good… then I want to lie down for several thousand years nap.” With my arms around you, he didn’t say. He didn’t need to.