The land had returned to what it was meant to be. Seventeen-year-old Anora Maddock looked up into the ongoing, star filled night above her home. It was almost half an hour past midnight and the sky had never looked so clear. She lived in a place called Tabor Colony with her father and brother. She was waiting for the rest of the officers to finish their work and board the plane. She took a long breath of the clean, pure, unpolluted air. She remembered her grandparents telling her about the smog and dust storms that had covered most of the planet. How her great-grandparents had to move from their home near the coast before it was swallowed up by rising sea levels. These were environmental issues, nothing compared to the war waging in the middle of it all. A lot had to happen to get the world to this point, to ensure people like Anora, and her older brother Omri, had a peaceful childhood. Their parents worked for the military, more often than not the children would find themselves playing around the base. It had taken great efforts to get the world back to where it was thriving.
Anora was not one to sit and contemplate her history lessons from school. She did what was needed to get through school so she could become a member of Asylum, the rescue officer program integrated by the current Prime Minister Tammany Hart. The very day of her seventeenth birthday Anora was at the military base talking to Commander Ezra Song, signing up to go through Entry Stage 1. Despite the fact she still had another month before graduating school. Entry Stage 1 meant six months of geography and history lessons, basic first responder training, conditioning and health assessments, and briefings on those they would be helping. This was her third mission as an officer. Most of the work was sitting in the base thinking of strategies to get to those in need and filling out mountains of paper work to get permission from the government.
The Prime Minister’s proxy, Dallice Garvin, ordered through chain of command that Anora and the other rescue officers of Tabor Colony to take a huge shipment of supplies to an island just off the shore of what used to be the continent of Asia. Garvin had written a letter to the troupe personally thanking them for taking on such a high risk mission. He had the government send extra supplies to be certain they would be fully capable of taking care of whoever they met. Two weeks of duties had been rearranged and rescheduled so the officers could focus on this one mission. Anora had assessed and reassessed the supplies for hours. Then they went over the protocols of landing in an unknown area. A great deal of preparation was taken in order to insure they made the most of this trip.
Although it had been a century since the Black Crusades, there were still refugee ancestors scattered in the far parts of the world. Anora worked as a rescue officer with the military, her main job was supply and recovery. The office, first started in Tabor, had been working since the end of the crusades locating these ancestors, ensuring their safety and helping them restore civilization. It was a relatively small program encouraged by Prime Minister Tammany Hart. A few of the displaced people had to be taken back to the Effaith Colony so the higher up officers could take care of them and get an idea of what kind of environments the group would have to work with. Effaith is where the capital and main political functions were. It was located in the approximate area of what was once Wales.
This was a particularly perilous trek, the island was a short plane ride away from where Plague had been rumored to fled when the Black Crusades had ceased. Several of their aircrafts had been shot down, causing whatever survivors to live in the area. This was another reason the government gave for the continent to be sealed off. The last remaining descendants of Plague living in remote areas of Asia. Some figured they were rebuilding. Ephraim always laughed at this statement, what would they have to build with.
This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Anora, they had been trying to reach this people group for decades. Before Anora or Omri had been born. Song had requested this assignment two years prior. As soon as schooling in Tabor is completed, the options are Asylum, military, logging or work in the shops around town. Anora didn't have to think long on which she would be choosing. She loved the idea of traveling, going to places seldom touched or seen. The factor alone that sold her was travel. The others, the serving and helping those in need, were characteristics Anora seemed to have inherited from both parents.
The remaining nine officers loaded their packs onto the plane. Anora took a seat next to a window beside her fellow officer Lacey Rayne. The rest took their seats, Urban Weir sat in the co-pilots seat next to Song and put the plane into motion. No more than a few minutes later and they were off for a six hour plane ride. Anora watched as what used to be British Columbia, the Canadian Rockies and her home became further away. The military base close to the mountains, with houses and shops scattered out away from it, then finally the logging yards and trucks on the very edge of the community. The land surrounding the colony was beyond words. Untouched for years after the Black Crusades, many of the old cities and towns had been destroyed during Plague attacks or the governments' pathetic attempts at retaliations.
Anora was ready for this, ready to begin the major part of her work. Her mother had worked for Asylum, she had been killed during a training exercise when Anora was eight. They had been testing new equipment that would help them drop supplies without putting people on the ground. The hatch caught, when Helena went to shove it open the plane caught turbulence. She fell out of the plane. They were never able to recover her body. The rescue officials decided to discontinue the effort to drop cargo in the air. Anora's brother Ephraim had recently been chosen to work on mechanics and robots that would take the place of humans in dangerous situations.
Anora pulled her knees against her chest and rested her head as they reached 39,000 feet. She was trying to get some sleep, it was going to be a long, strenuous day and perhaps disappointing. They had not a bit of information on the people they were helping, so for all they knew it could be a bust mission. After what seemed like seconds of sleep, Urban Freigh was pushing on Anora's shoulder to get her awake.
"Maddock," his roughed voice broke through her sleep. "We're here."
"Okay," she stretched out her legs.
She was dressed in her black pants, light green shirt and tan jacket, the rescue government issued uniform. Her dark brown hair worn just at her shoulders was pulled back. Her dark brown hiking boots doubled as her work boots since she had not yet been issued a pair. This was fine with her, she had these boots for years.
They had started to unload supplies as dawn was breaking. Anora was surveying the area with Lacey to find the best spot to leave the supplies. There were signs of life and hunting, there were markers scattered through trails made by repeated walking. Not far from this was a grove easily crossed to get to the village. The officers took in the landscape surrounding their aircraft. Hills rolling as far as they could see and lots of jungle type trees. Every now and then brightly colored, exotic petals could be spotted through the greenery. The humidity made Anora's hair stick to the back of her neck. Quickly, she reworked it so it was higher.
Four of the older officers, including Commander Song, went to the village to tell the people about the supplies. Anora and Lacey had made it back to the plane where all of the boxes had been pulled out of the cargo hold. Urban was checking everything, making sure nothing had been damaged. Anora helped transfer the materials into bags that would be easier to carry to the village. The four officers came back to take the items back.
"They seemed to think we were ghosts," said Song. "It was hard to make out what they were saying, even with this translator. I don't think they have ever seen other people. We tried our best to explain what we are doing here. Our best option may be to leave everything and hope they figure it out. Maddock, get back on the plane to try to radio back home, tell them what we've found and that we have made contact."
"Yes, Ma'am," Anora said turning to go into the plane. She sat down in Urban's seat next to the tele-unit.
After a few attempts and tweaking the signal she finally got through to the base.
"Ark Military Base in Tabor Colony," the man's voice on the other end said.
"This is Asylum Officer Anora Maddock on location," Anora started to say. "Reporting we have made contact with villagers."
She waited for confirmation when she heard a crash on the other end of the radio. The operator swore loudly before a second crash. It sounded like chaos and explosions. Anora couldn’t understand what was going on. In her life, there hadn’t been an attack anywhere. It had been the most peaceful fifty years anyone had experienced. It was hard to explain what a war zone was like when so few had actually been alive through one. It was the unfamiliar chaos that frightened Anora. Then she heard gunfire, another explosion followed by white noise. Anora quickly grabbed the short range to tell Song to bring all of the other officers back on board, to release the cargo where they were and leave.
“Commander, we need to go,” Anora said.
As hard as she tried, she could not steady her voice. As she looked down at the radio in her hand, she saw that her entire body was trembling. All of her training was erased in that second. The grip she attempted at calm slipped as quickly as the radio went out.
“Excuse me, Maddock? What are you talking about?” Song yelled. "I am about twenty yards away from the plane, what do you need?"
“Something has gone terribly wrong at home, we have to go back now. The radio is dead, I can't get a signal.” Anora said, her voice catching at the end. She allowed herself a few breaths to get the lump out of her throat.
“We’re going to be too late if we don’t leave immediately,” she finished.
“Maddock, don’t panic and slow down,” Song responded. “What did you hear?”
“Fighting, it sounded like fighting,” Anora said. “There were loud crashes and gunfire.”
“Fighting, it sounded like fighting,” Anora said. “There were loud crashes and gunfire.”
“You have to be 100 percent sure before I make the decision to abandon this mission,” Song said. “We won’t ever get this chance again.”
“I wouldn’t have said anything unless I was certain,” Anora replied. “Ma’am, we can’t waste any time, I am afraid we may already be devastatingly late if the radio is down.”
“I understand, Maddock,” the commander continued.
“All rescue officers will report back immediately. Leave the supplies where it is and report back,” Song radioed to all the officers.
No one questioned the order, at least not verbally. Within ten minutes, all officers were accounted for and strapped in for a fast ride home. It had initially taken them six hours. The return ride went much quicker, but they were still too late. They hadn’t received any word if the other colonies had been hit. All communications between the colonies had been cut off with the radio signal. There were government officials at the colony working to get all the transmitters working again. The officers quickly dispersed to look for their family members or any other survivors. Walking through the destroyed houses, trying to keep to where they knew the roads would be. Anora kept her eyes up, focusing on anything else than the destruction around her.
Anora’s first look at her home was a sickening one. She had expected to come home to fighting. Nothing. There was nothing. The two-story house she had grown up in, that her parents and grandparents had been raised in, was a smoldering pile of stone and wood. She stood where her bed would have been, looking at her family history scattered around her. Walking among the wreckage, something cracked underneath her boot. Moved her foot slightly, there was a piece of glass reflecting the bright sun above Anora's head. She thought nothing of it initially, there were shattered windows all over the place. Then she moved her boot more and realized what the item was. Now would have been the time to use the gloves she declined to take She bent down and carefully worked her way through the splinters to pick up the frame holding her mother's medal. It had been on the mantel in the front room next to a photograph of her mother. As her eyes traveled through the rest of the house, she noticed other items scattered. Her dad's reading glasses, Omri's fishing poles.
The homes around her were similar scenes, only with young children's items. Ripped apart dollhouses, toy trucks and stuffed animals in shreds marked houses where a child had lived. Overcome with emotion, Anora sat down on the pile of bricks that had been the chimney. She wasn't hysterical, but tears were running down her cheeks. She stared at her home, her neighbors homes. There was not anyone else searching, because there was no longer anyone to search. This thought broke the shock, sending Anora into the labored breathing that comes with sobs, made worse by the gas mask Song had asked her to wear. She had to take it off. The air was fine, other than the burning smell and smoke. She watched her feet for some time, trying to think of what to do next. A few tears dripped down onto her boots, making streams into the ash and dust that had settled on them.
Anora looked around and could see the twenty Asylum officers wandering around the colony in the distance. About five of them had started pulling bodies from the area that had once been the primary school. She was thankful they were far away. The sight of those small, broken bodies would be enough to discredit her from any kind of service in the future. She would have lost it, and been hospitalized. She figured all of the officers would need some serious counseling after this mess, but there was no one to counsel them. With all this in mind, her eyes were beginning to focus on the spot they were laying the bodies, in a row in the middle of the street.
Taking a deep breath, she started searching for anything that could be passed as remains of her brother and father. She went to the area that would have been each of their rooms. Their mattresses were smash underneath mounds of brick and lumber. She didn't think there were any signs of death but that didn't mean much. The house could have taken a direct hit, there was no way of telling. They could have heard the incoming planes and started looking for shelter elsewhere. There were a number of scenarios that could have been their last decision. Anora was so lost in her thoughts, she hadn't noticed that everyone had taken off running towards the military base. It wasn't until about the fifth time Song had radioed, that she realized it was directly for her.
"Anora Maddock, if you can hear me please report to the military base at once," Song said.
She was about half a mile away from the base. There was a few moments when Anora seriously considered ignoring the order. What could they possibly want? She was still crying, and in no state to face the rest of her colleagues.
"Maddock, we have found survivors at the base, report immediately, it's all hands on deck," Song said strained.
Anora wandered back, taking her time, not sprinting like the others. Why would her family had been at the base? It would have been roughly 5 a.m. they would have still be asleep in bed. After being yelled at over the radio, she picked up her pace but only slightly. After twenty minutes of avoiding the base, Anora walked up behind the group of officers working on a door that was warped from the impact of debris. Debris that covered most of the entrance. They all still had their masks on, very intent on opening a door.
"Nice of you to join us," Urban said.
He was dripping from sweat. It was maybe 80 degrees but felt much worse with the sun beating down. Anora ignored his remark. Everyone had strained emotions, she didn't want to snap back at him.
"What're we doing?" Anora asked walking to stand next to him.
Her voice was much different from Urban's. Her voice came out void of all feeling.
"Lacey was nearby and thought she heard knocking, so she called Song over to join her," Urban explained. "After a few minutes they heard the knocking again and tried to call through the door. They could hear muffled shouts but nothing distinct. We've been working here ever since. Did you find anything?"
"No, no one," Anora said. She started pulling rocks from in front of the door.
"How are we going to get the door open once we've moved everything?" Officer Gage Harkey asked.
"Crow bars, we'll need equipment from the plane," Song said through heavy breathing. She took her mask off seeing Anora had abandoned hers.
"The air is breathable?" Song asked Anora.
"Well, I suppose so, I've been breathing it for a few hours now," she said, dropping all etiquette procedures. "I'll go get equipment."
"No, you stay here," Song said. "Gage and Urban, go to the plane retrieve as much as you can. Anything you think we may possibly need in the next 24 hours."
"Yes, Ma'am," Urban said, followed by a salute.
Anora watched him as he walked off. Wondering if he knew that his family was dead, if the comfort of knowing for sure would break whatever was suffocating her. She went to work heaving large concrete slabs out of in front of the door. A truck with a wench would be helpful, she thought. All of the logging trucks were outside of the town perimeter. They would have certainly taken a hit.
"Maddock, I know this is a rough time, but we really need everyone working 100 percent here," Song said.
"I know, sorry I was just distracted," Anora said quietly.
"Let's get this done, let's help these people out," Song said.
"Are there any trucks available?" Anora asked.
"We don't know, no one has made it that far. The debris gets worse as you get to the perimeter," Song said. "As soon as we get these people out I will do an aerial survey of the damage."
After Urban and Gage returned, they were able to brake apart the largest piece of concrete that had been shoved against the door. It was dusk by the time they made a clear path to the door. It was completely jammed into the side of the base.
"What we need is a torch or something," Urban said.
"Take a break," Song instructed. "We need to gather our thoughts."
As they sat around, everyone in silence, a murmur came over the radios. Song looked up at everyone, seeing that no one was missing she scrambled to her radio that was resting against a pile of rock.
"This is Commander Ezra Song," she said. "We are at the base, the Ark on the east side of the mountain. There are survivors trapped inside a bunker."
"Commander Song, it is excellent to hear your voice," the person on the receiving end said. "We feared all had been lost. This is a rescue unit from Effaith Colony reporting to help. The entire planet has been deemed a no fly zone at the moment so we are coming in by road. Is there a way for us to get to you?"
"I don't know, let me get my thoughts straight," Song stammered.
"The loading entrance for the base and shops is a few miles south of us. That area didn't get hit at all, they should be able to get in with little difficulty," Urban said.
"Thank you," Song said. "Relay that to the Effaith officers, Urban."
Urban did as he was told. There was knocking at the door, it was slow and steady. As if one last person was trying their hardest to get out. Anora, who was sitting closest to the door, crawled on her hands and knees to the door. There was a gap so she was certain they'd be able to hear her.
"Hello?" she said at the gap. "You are going to be fine, we have help. Another colony has sent help."