Before I begin this chapter, permit me to wish you all a happy Hanukkah, Solstice, Hearth’s Warming, Kwanzaa, Christmas or any other holiday you may celebrate. I hope you have a lovely and joyous time with your friends and family. Happy Holidays and thanks for the continued support.
Now, on to the narrative.
Allison had never rushed quite as quickly to a mission site before. It wasn’t like she’d been dating Yuri for long, but their time together had meant a lot. She couldn’t bear to see it cut short.
She and Lucy still arrived at roughly the same as Kat and Leon, in spite of her haste. She stared in awe.
No matter what angle you looked at it from, it was out of place. In this desolate area with scorch marks, dilapidated buildings and dried blood, was a stunningly beautiful garden full of blooming flowers, maintained shrubs and trees.
It was like a painter had painted a war zone and a second painter had come along and put an idyllic garden on the other half of the canvas resulting in a disjointed landscape. Allison couldn’t see the end of it, nor could she see any sign of Yuri, but she couldn’t help but admire its beauty.
“Have I gone insane or did someone put a tropical garden here?” Leon asked. “I’m seriously asking.”
“If you’re insane then all of us are,” Kat said.
“We just have to go in there and get them, right?” Allison asked. She moved to take a step forward but Lucy stopped her.
“Wait a moment,” Lucy said. “It could be some kind of trap. Hands on your weapons. I may need you to cover me.”
Lucy stepped inside “It smells real,” she said. She knelt down and touched the grass. “Feels real.” She tore a small piece of grass and chewed it. “Tastes real too.”
“Someone’s dog could’ve piddled on that,” Allison said. “Just saying.” She, Leon and Kat moved to join Lucy.
“My gun’s gone!” Leon exclaimed.
“Mine too,” Kat reported.
Allison checked her holster. “And mine.”
“My weapons are gone too,” Lucy said. She pulled out her scanner. “And I’m not reading anything. There’s some kind of interference.” She looked back at the way they’d come. “You three wait here. I’m going to test something.”
She stepped back out, confirmed that her weapons were still gone and pulled out her communicator. “Ophelia, do you read me?”
“Yes, thank goodness!” Ophelia cried, her voice sounding exasperated. “You and the others just vanished!”
“We entered an area with a powerful interference field,” Lucy said. “If Farah and Yuri came in here they may still be alive. I don’t think communications will work from inside.” She looked back at the others. “You three picking this up?”
They shook their heads, holding up their non-functioning communicators. Lucy beckoned to Allison. Allison stepped over to her, her communicator turning on the moment she left the garden.
“As I thought,” Lucy said. “Ophelia, we’re going to go in and find Farah and Yuri. I’ll send someone back here every hour to give you a progress report, or if we encounter an emergency. I think it prudent for us to stick together as much as possible.”
“Agreed,” Ophelia said. “We’ll try to find a way to break through the interference. Good luck.”
“Thank you. Lucy out.” Lucy ended the transmission and stepped back into the garden.
“Not going to tell her we’re unarmed?” Kat asked.
“Nope,” Lucy said. “She’d insist that we return and I’m not ready to give them up for lost yet.”
“Damn right!” Leon declared. “We take care of our own.”
The four moved deeper into the garden, eventually losing sight of the war zone entirely.
“You aren’t reading anything?” Ophelia asked.
“Nope,” Grace said. “Whatever that field is, nothing within is registering. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“At least try to find a way to identify the interference,” Ophelia ordered. “We can use that to roughly measure the affected area.”
“That I can do,” Grace said. “There’s gotta be some trace.”
“I’m going to the hangar,” Paul said. “I can’t monitor their life signs any way and they’re going to need a quick response if they place an emergency call.”
“Make it so,” Ophelia said. “Grace, once you know the perimeter, send it to Paul.”
“Consider it done,” Grace said.
“This place is so peaceful that it’s hard to believe we’re still on Yujin,” Kat stated.
“I don’t like it,” Leon said. “It’s too bright and hot.”
“You’d think they’d have fought over it so much it would’ve been destroyed,” Allison added.
“Maybe they couldn’t bring weapons in here either,” Leon speculated.
“I don’t believe that would stop them,” Lucy said. “The factions here will beat each other fang and claw if they have no weapons available. There must be some other counter-measure in place.”
“Kat could punch Leon and we’ll find out,” Allison suggested.
“Why me?” Kat asked.
“Maybe later,” Lucy said. “For now, it’s probably best for us to keep out of potential trouble. We still have to find Farah and Yuri, after all.”
“How far do you suppose we’ve walked?” Allison asked.
“About four kilometres,” Kat answered.
“And still no sign that we’ve reached the end,” Lucy muttered. “How very curious. I wonder if this garden lasts all throughout?”
“I see something else,” Leon said. “Way out in the distance.”
Lucy opened her eyes. “Leon, put me on your shoulders so that I can get a look.”
“Fine,” Leon said. He lifted Lucy up. She quickly motioned for him to let her back down.
“It’s some kind of crystalline spire,” Lucy said. “And it’s not alone. I can see signs of at least three more of them. Let’s keep going. We may find civilisation and, if we’re lucky, Farah and Yuri.”