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Sora stared at the ruins of her planet from space. “This is awful,” Coperno, her reproduction partner, said.
Sora tilted her head to one side. “You expected anything different?”
“No, but it was still nice to believe in the false hope the Elders gave us that we could return home with no transitional issues,” Coperno said.
Sora nodded. She’d never believed them. Unlike Coperno – and the majority of those from Nursis – she was a product of war. Her parents were soldiers, fighter pilots to be precise, and had sold their skills to the highest bidder until her mother got pregnant with her third child. As required by the law, she and her reproduction partner were forced to settle on the nearest planet to raise their children to their age of majority. Only then could they resume their previous occupations. Sora could still remember the constant bombardments, evacuations, and near misses flying with her parents.
She heard a soft murmur and turned to look over her shoulder. “The Elders are here.”
Coperna took her arm and led her to where the remnants of the settlers from Nursis were gathering. “I know it looks bleak,” one of the Elders said. “But the scans are promising. The majority of our settlements are intact, though there will be some rebuilding necessary. The problem will be food. The most damaged areas are the farms.”
“The Consortium has offered to share with us the secrets to their hydroponic grows, and will give us the necessary equipment,” another of the Elders said. She paused. “But the price they require us to pay is steep.”
“What is it?” someone asked.
“We are to give over our second born, no matter what they identify as, to be soldiers for a term of five solar cycles,” the first Elder said. “Fifteen percent of our harvests are to be packaged and sent to the central repository, along with the same amount of the seeds produced by the plants we grow, to further the genetic research being done on the flora of the galaxy.”
“I’ll accept those terms if it means I get to go home,” a woman said. There were shouts of agreement. Sora didn’t say anything. The Consortium was as corrupt as any government, but they would help impose order on Nursis. That was something the Elders couldn’t manage to maintain no matter how hard they tried.
“Then if that is the will of the majority, we will accept their offer,” the second Elder said. With that, the nineteen Elders turned and left.
It took a month for the farmers to get used to the hydroponic bays. Once they learned how to manage them, the Consortium shuttled the residents of Nursis down to the surface and helped set up the hydroponic farms before handling out supplies. The armada that had driven off the Kitarthi departed, leaving two battle cruisers and five frigates to continue assisting the survivors of the bombardment.
Sora and Coperno returned to their house with their three children. The girls were terrified of everything around them, clinging to their parents as they walked down cracked and scorched streets.
The house was relatively untouched, though the windows would need to be replaced and the main door was slightly warped. Coperno forced it open and the five of them walked in. “Go to your rooms,” Coperno said. “See what harm has been done to your possessions.”
“Yes Coperno,” the eldest of the three said. She led her sisters back into the house. Sora shook her head. Coperno refused to let the children give him the appropriate honorific traditionally granted to the paternal genetic donor.
“I’m going to our room,” Sora said.
“I’ll look over the kitchen and see what needs to be repaired,” Coperno said. The two adults headed into separate parts of the residence.
The door to the bedroom was completely broken. Sora dragged the scraps of thin metal away and walked inside. There was no power, but she found the flashlight that she always kept on a shelf next to the door. It was on the floor, but it still worked.
She turned it on and started inspecting the furniture. There were some cracks, some scratches, but nothing was broken. She looked at the exposed conduits. There were a few circuits that would need replaced, but that was easy enough for Coperno to do.
Sora finally went over to a blank spot on the wall. It was paler than the rest, an obvious sign that something was there. She pressed her fingers against a latch that was barely visible in the dim light. It slid open.
Coperno knew about the small hiding hole. He had one himself somewhere in the house, though Sora didn’t know where his was. He wasn’t aware of what was in it though, and would most likely have insisted she destroy what she kept secreted inside if he did know.
Her treasure was a thin metal case, no wider than a circuit board and about as large as one of the data pads. She cracked it open. Inside was a black and white portrait of a man and woman. Both were dressed in something far more elegant than Sora had ever seen, and they seemed to be gazing at each other with an emotion that she couldn’t identify.
These were the founders of her mother’s genetic line. They’d lived on Old Earth nearly three thousand years earlier, long before the Kitarthi tried to enslave humanity. She ran her fingers across the front of the image. One of her mother’s ancestors had sealed the portrait in a protective composite of some kind, preserving it for all time. This picture was the greatest treasure her mother had, and she’d given it to Sora before leaving Nursis to resume her life as a pilot. Sora sealed it back in the case and put it back in its hole. She closed and locked the panel before rejoining her family.