As the earth burned, humanity continued its crusade in space.

On the far side of the crater, another explosion sent up a column of fire and debris, the light catching their eye a moment before the report reached them.

At her side Simon exhaled heavily betraying a wave of anxiety which she could see crawling its way onto her youngest brother’s face.

“We should keep moving,” someone said from further up the line.

There was a general murmur of consent and as one the group rose to their feet, each of them swinging swollen rucksacks onto their backs as they stood.  The rigid internal armature that held the thing together dug into the bruises left behind after too many hours of constant use.  Ignoring the pain, she yanked on the straps, synching the pack tightly to make movement easier.  She took another look at Simon.

He was still staring off into the distance, out towards the plumes of black smoke.  Over the din of chaos typical of Pavonis these days, Maria could just make out the rising and falling pitch of emergency vehicles rushing to the site of the explosion.

“They will blame us.”

Maria nodded.  “Yes, they probably will.”

“I wish it wasn’t like this.”  Simon never took his eyes off the horizon.  She could see the pain in those emerald eyes, their mother’s eyes, as they sparkled with tears.

She nodded again.  “We all do.”

“I just—”  He turned to look at her.  “How did this even happen?  It went so fast…”  He trailed off.

“We should get going,” she suggested, careful not to let her demeanor break.  She had to be strong for him, and for Anna, and Judah—

“Joshua knows everything,” Simon said.  “How could he have known…?”

“I don’t know,” Maria replied.  Quickly she added, “We should get moving.”

But Simon was nothing if not persistent.  “Do you remember what father said about him?”

Dad, Maria thought.  Simon and her father had a different relationship than her own—he called him father, formal and deferential, even fearful.  He had been a different man since the birth of the twins—

“It doesn’t matter,” Maria said.  “That’s done and over with now.  We have to keep ourselves here and now, understand me?”

He gave her a look an unhappy toddler might give his mother.  “Yes, but—”

No.” She glared at him.  “Let’s go.”

Simon narrowed his eyes and looked ready to argue the point when a shadow crossed into her peripheral vision, and all at once Simon’s expression changed.  The sparkle in his eyes was back, but this time with the smitten admiration of a puppy for its master.

Or a younger sibling for his older brother.

Joshua was no taller than any other man with little or nothing to distinguish him as in any way remarkable.  His expression was soft, rounded out by a smile that seemed immovable from both his lips and his eyes.  He moved with an elegance that at times made him seem to glide effortlessly across the ground.  Tawny skin and short-cropped hair matched an equally well-groomed beard which was only now beginning to show the imperfections of a day without grooming.

When he spoke, his voice was neither loud nor soft, and yet it had the ability to carry across unusually large distances to reach faraway ears.  That particular talent had been with him since he was young, and since his days in school Joshua had shown a certain talent for public address.  One could see the pleasure it gave him to be before crowds and to perform.

“Is everything all right, tabhai?” Joshua said with a smile.

As though it were a cue, Simon straightened under the weight of his pack and grinned stupidly.

With that natural charisma that had garnered so much support, Joshua patted his younger brother on the shoulder.  “You’re doing perfectly.”

“Thank you,” Simon stammered.

With another smile directed towards Maria, Joshua turned and picked up his pace so as to catch up with the others.  An invisible leash seemed to pull Simon along, stumbling at first before finding his step, and leaving Maria to watch them walk away.

Not even a word, she thought, staring at Joshua’s back.  The bonds of family had been strong enough to keep them together in the early days, but Joshua was never satisfied with what he had.  There was always something else to look towards, something else to understand or discover—or interpret.  And before that?

It was as though he had heard her thoughts, for far ahead Joshua spun in place and looked back towards her.  He smiled.  “Come along, bahan,” he called softly and waved.  “Have faith and you will be rewarded.”

Maria returned the smile, which was enough to assure Joshua, who spun back around and continued hiking.  As he turned away the smile fell from her face, and in its place appeared something approaching a glower.  What had happened?  This had not been how it was supposed to happen.  They had dreams and goals, and ideals needing to be fulfilled.  What did they mean out here, fleeing from their homes and abandoning their parents’ homeland.

Her parents’ homeland.

Still glowering at her brother’s back, Maria started after them, quickly falling in line with the rest of the downtrodden and exiled.

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