Jala was anxious to return home after completing her mission. The pristine atmosphere of the Grid made her lungs ache. Her bronze skin began to itch despite the protective layer of mud she had applied. She closed her eyes and faded into the shadows at the far end of Addison’s office. When she opened them again, her eyes beheld the golden glow of her father’s reading lamp seeping through the edges of her bedroom door. She inhaled deeply and let her breath escape in a contented sigh - in spite of all the dangers in her world, it felt good to be home. 

Her father looked up from his book expectantly as she walked into their small living room. Though he had seen many times how capable his daughter was, he still worried for her safety when she was on a mission. “It’s done” was all she said as he moved to embrace her. 

“Was it difficult? Did he put up a fight?” he tried to sound casual when in truth he could not wait a moment more to learn the details of her task. 

“He tried. It was easy, Papa. So much so that I wonder why we haven’t done this sooner.” Jala grabbed a towel and walked toward the front door. “I’m going to wash up before the rendezvous. The others should be back soon.” 

She stepped out into an expansive courtyard that held a variety of communal resources. On her way to the bath house she stopped by the clinic to see her brother. She knew he would be worried about her as well, and wanted to reassure him that she was safe. She approached his cot and cringed at the pallor of his skin. His blue veins bulged in his arms and neck as his sunken eyes met her gaze. 

“You made it!” he croaked out as she knelt by him to stroke his hair. 

“You sound surprised, Jice! Do you have such little faith in me?” she teased. A broad grin stretched the skin across his face. 

“Never a doubt, but I’m glad to see you just the same. I’ve been working on that new incantation I…” his voice was broken off by a series of deep coughs.  

“You should be resting, not working!” Jala shot him a stern look.

“Sometimes I forget that I’m your older brother, Jala.”

“Shall I send the nurse in on my way out?” 

Jice glanced at the notebook on his desk and then closed his eyes and sighed. “I suppose you should. Thank you. Will you be by later?”

“Tonight’s rendezvous might run late - tomorrow?” 

“See you then, sis.” Jice smiled up at her as she rose to leave. 

The End

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