The transport from Star Land made a sudden appearance just outside the entrance to Bald Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. As the three passengers disembarked, they were met with armed guards barring their entry. Dahlia recognized the leader, Milo Trask, from their previous visit.

Carter DeHaven stepped forward and made a request to speak to the Chief Administrator. “I have important information for him,” Carter insisted.

“He’s on his way down,” Trask replied. “Certain accommodations are being made for your companions’ entry into the Sanctuary. Where is Ed Just?”

“He didn’t come with us,” Dahlia replied. “But he and his family will be a topic of discussion.”

Trask nodded and smiled. “Wise choice, Ed not coming with you,” he said.

“He misses his family. I’ll need to speak with them,” Dahlia stated. “I’m wondering if it might be possible to arrange for them to leave,” she continued, “quietly, of course.”

Trask was willing to help, he just didn’t want to know all the details. “I’ve been tempted to leave myself,” he joked. Carter DeHaven didn’t find it funny. “There’s an entire citadel full of people who would welcome you,” she replied telepathically. Trask smirked and nodded in response to her veiled invitation.

Dahlia sensed that there was considerable tension in some of the guards. This was something she had trained for; it was a simple method of crowd control from the early days of the recolonization of Earth. She was able to put them at ease by letting herself become the center of calm. Calm your soul and let the calm flow from you to those around you. Their minds drifted to more ordinary concerns about their children’s education or what they were having for their next meal. Dahlia smiled at how easy it had been to distract them. Trask had also let his attention wander a bit before realizing that it was Dahlia who had sent him toward the rabbit hole. A look of annoyance flashed across his face. Dahlia smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

The Trelayne family had packed up all their belongings on the equipment sled and were ready to board the tram when it arrived. The Citadel Security agent gave them one more chance to make sure that they hadn’t left anything behind. The eldest, Dane, and his father, Haydn, trudged back to their former home and gave it a final once over before saying goodbye to their old place.

Marta Trelayne noticed that her youngest, Dina, was not holding her favorite doll. “Where’s Darcy?” she asked of the child.

“He’s not coming,” Dina replied. “We had a fight and he is staying behind.”

“But you’ll miss him,” Marta stated. “I should send someone back for him.”

“Fine,” Dina huffed. “But I’m still not speaking to him.”

While they stood waiting for the Chief Administrator to arrive, Dahlia and Leonard L straightened their uniforms, making sure that everything was buttoned down. They wanted to make as good an impression as possible.

The Chief Administrator greeted Carter warmly, “I see that the prodigal has returned!” He embraced Carter and patted him on the back a few times. “I see that you also brought guests. Care to introduce me?”

“Of course,” Carter motioned to Dahlia and Leonard L to move closer to where he and the Chief Administrator stood. Carter introduced each of them upon arrival. “This is Citadel Security Agent Dahlia DeHaven,” he smiled broadly as he spoke her name. “And this is her partner, Agent Leonard L. He’s an artificial person.”

“Dahlia, Leonard,” he cleared his throat before continuing, “This is our Chief Administrator, John DeHaven.”

“Ah,” Dahlia remarked, “another potential relative. Your father, I presume.”

“Yes, I am his father,” John DeHaven replied. “I am also his boss.” That last statement caused Carter to blush, after which he flashed a wan smile.

“I believe that you still adhere to this quaint custom,” Dahlia extended her hand, which was warmly accepted by John. He clasped his other hand over hers and held on briefly.

Leonard L also extended his hand. Not wanting to be impolite, John released Dahlia’s hand and shook Leonard L’s. The Chief Administrator seemed quite pleased to meet Leonard. “That’s some piece of tech you’ve got there, Miss DeHaven.”

Dahlia smiled at the man, “Call me Dahlia or Agent DeHaven. And Leonard is not a piece of tech, he’s my partner.”

“Nonetheless,” John replied. “Nice to meet you, Leonard.”

“Nonetheless,” thought Dahlia as she glanced at Leonard L. Over the past year, Leonard L had shown a preternatural ability to understand what Dahlia was thinking. And at that moment, Dahlia was thinking that it was probably to their advantage to let Leonard L be ignored. Leonard slowly allowed himself to be pushed out from the center of attention. Everyone was focused on Dahlia DeHaven and the possibility that she was related somehow to the clan of DeHavens at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. At least, that is what the conversation centered on in the lift.

Haydn and Dane returned from their thorough search of the old apartment with a few stray items, including the shunned Mr. Darcy doll. After being informed of the doll’s persona non-gratis status, Dane tucked the doll into the bag containing his personal items.

The mood on the tram ride was a mixture of sullenness and excitement. Haydn and Marta sat holding hands looking back as the tram barreled along to Star Land. They were leaving behind a lot of memories. Their children might not be so happy to give up the opportunity to play in the fresh air and sunshine. But there was something to do in their new home that Haydn had hated to give up. He loved gardening as much as Connor did.

The tram pulled into a secure bay and the Trelayne family was escorted to a transport while the sled with their belongings was loaded into a cargo compartment. Several relief personnel would be accompanying them on the trip to Hawk Mountain. Before the cargo compartment was locked, Dane rescued Darcy and slipped the doll inside his coat. All this travel was starting to wear on the little one’s nerves. The mild leg swinging from the tram ride had been replaced with anxious swaying. Dane wanted to be prepared for the moment when Dina needed Darcy.

The apartment of the Chief Administrator was on the same floor as the offices. All of the mountain sanctuaries appeared to have the same layout. Leonard L took time to assess the number of guards on the floor and found it lacking. Except for the two guards that remained with the Chief Administrator, security on the office floor consisted primarily of keypads on the doors. And Leonard L had a sneaking suspicion that the code for the day would be the same for all the secured doors on that floor.

Dahlia sat at a meeting table in a room just off the Chief Administrator’s office with John and Carter DeHaven, while two security guards stood nearby. She sat quietly while Carter launched his presentation of what he discovered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary or at least as much as he was willing to disclose in present company. Carter explained about the child playing in the lab without supervision. He detailed the means by which the infection spread. He explained that the contagion died out years ago. “The most recent deaths at Hawk Mountain were caused by malnutrition among the elderly,” he concluded. “Many of them had chosen to feed the younger members of the Sanctuary and forego food. The entire population might have died off if a few hadn’t gone out in search of food.”

“Had their emergency stores run out?” John asked.

“No,” Dahlia replied. “They didn’t seem to know they had emergency supplies. The virus took out key personnel. If a citizen of Hawk Mountain hadn’t committed a criminal act under our jurisdiction, we would never have found them.”

“We?” asked John.

“Citadel Security,” Dahlia answered. “We follow up every thread we find. It started with a report of an assault and a possible murder in one citadel and a battery victim found on a tram in another citadel. We started trying to identify the victim, a man named Ed Just, and it led to the other three. Eventually, the trail led to Hawk Mountain and with the permission of its citizens we stepped in to help. We distributed their emergency rations and restarted their hydroponic gardens. We buried their dead with their approval.”

“What happened to the other three?” John asked.

“Only one was found guilty and punished for his crimes. It was discovered that he had murdered the previous owners of the caravans that they were using to gather food. The other two were released from our custody. And now, here I am.”

“You make it sound so simple,” John replied.

“Why not? It’s Carter’s job to bore you with the details. I’m here on a more important matter regarding the family of one Ed Just.” Dahlia watched as John’s eyebrows raised.

“How is Mister Just?” John DeHaven asked.

“Anxious to be reunited with his family,” Dahlia replied. “Don’t worry, he has no interest in coming back here. He’d like to get his family out.”

“Ah,” the Chief Administrator replied, “that might not be possible.”

While Trask was distracted by Dahlia’s actions to “disarm” the guards, a second transport appeared behind the first. After setting up the transport to receive a call from Dahlia that could be answered by Ed if they didn’t return in time, Loki and Harp slipped silently out of the transport and made their way up the side of the mountain.

Harp reached the top of the mountain and started to scan the numerous communication towers. It wasn’t long before he located the junction box that he was looking for. He attached the relay unit after removing the rusted bolts that held the box covering the circuitry to the ground. A quick scan of the circuits later and he was attaching the monitoring equipment to the central communications circuitry.

Harp placed the cover back in place and screwed the bolts back into the concrete pad and started back down the hill.

Loki found the shack half-way up the mountain that was essentially the back door into the mountain sanctuary. It was part of the emergency escape system. There were no alarms or locks as the door only opened outward requiring a push from inside. Loki didn’t need to be inside to push the door open. It creaked a little before it finally gave way and let him slip inside. He then took the stairs down to the level where the family of Ed Just lived and made his way to the suite of rooms they called home. He pressed the button on the intercom and waited. A few minutes later, he pressed the button again and said, “I’m here about Ed Just.”

“He ain’t here,” a woman’s face replied.

“I know, but we need to talk about Ed,” Loki replied.

“He ain’t dead neither, so stop trying to convince me…” she started to explain.

“I know,” Loki interrupted. “That’s what I’ve come to talk to you about. Can I come in?”

The woman’s face disappeared briefly, then the door slid open. As Loki walked inside, a young boy tried to bean him with an apple. “What the hell,” could be heard as the door slid shut.

“Who the hell are you?” Edna Just demanded. “Are you here to kill us?”

“No, I’m here to take you to see Ed,” Loki explained. “But it means you have to leave here forever. You would need to pack up everything of value, clothes, personal items, the like and move to a new place. You would have more room, fresh air for the kids, schools, no rationing. Ed already has secured a place to live and has been contributing to the citadel for several years.”

“Just like that?” Mrs. Just asked. “We just pack up and leave, no questions asked?”

“As long as they will allow you to leave, you are welcome to join our colony,” Loki replied.

“They won’t let us go,” she replied. “We tried to leave and they said no.”

“I can get all of you out, but you’ll have to stay close to me,” Loki instructed. “And no talking on the way out either. Not a word until I say it is safe. Understand?”

“And live among a bunch of aliens?” Mrs. Just challenged.

“We aren’t aliens,” Loki protested.

“I saw what you did with that apple,” Edna challenged. “It just stopped short of your nose and then fell into your hand.”

“Some of us are just humans with special abilities like me and some of us are intelligent machines, like my partner. But a majority of the population are normal human beings, just like you and Ed,” Loki explained. “You would be living in a society that recognizes raising children as work that contributes to a society. If you have a skill that you wish to share, there are always students willing to learn. There are formal and informal schools, access to technology, and freedom to explore the unknown as we rediscover our home world.” He let all that he said sink in before asking, “Are you interested?”

The Just family members nodded and followed Loki to the stairwell. He led them up to the escape door that he had come in through and down the mountain to the waiting transport.

“I see, because then others might know that the outside is safe again?” Dahlia responded. “Or is it because you have convinced everyone that Ed Just is deceased? His family might get upset to learn otherwise, not to mention everyone else here,” Dahlia spoke earnestly. “I’m not here to upset your balance of power. I just want to get them out. It can be done quietly, but it will be done.”

The Chief Administrator sat in silence for a little while trying to wrap his head around how to handle this uninvited guest and her reckless demand. He had not noticed the absence of her partner. But it wasn’t necessary for him to notice, not in the long term. Carter had noticed and had dispatched Trask to retrieve him.

Leonard L had slowly backed himself out of the room while Dahlia kept everyone focused on her. He walked down the corridor to the server room past a stairwell and entered the code of the day into the keypad. He was intercepted before he could enter the room and escorted back to the meeting room by Milo Trask and forced to sit at the table next to Dahlia.

“I caught this one trying to sneak into the Computer Center,” Trask explained. “I’ve no idea what mischief he intended.” Carter seemed satisfied that whatever shenanigans Leonard L had planned had been successfully thwarted.

Dahlia knew that when the time came for push to become shove, it was going to take a tremendous amount of psychic manipulation to get everyone out safely.

“I was just curious about the system setup,” Leonard L explained. “From what I could see, it is the same setup that they have at Hawk Mountain.”

“Is that all?” Carter challenged.

“Yes,” Leonard L replied. “That is all.”

John seemed satisfied with Leonard L’s answer and continued with the discussion regarding Ed Just’s family. “We need some assurance that Ed Just is alive and well and that his family will not be harmed.”

Dahlia pulled out her video and punched in a number. Ed had been waiting for the call in the second transport. His first question was exactly as rehearsed, “How is my family?”

“Mr. Just,” Administrator DeHaven asked, “how are you?”

“Alive, no thanks to you and yours,” Ed snarled. “Present company excepted, ma’am,” he added.

“Bygones,” the Administrator replied. “I’m sorry that we can’t let you rejoin your family, but we have rules.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Ed sneered. “It’s a shame about your boy and all,” Ed went on sarcastically, “That whole rule about not letting people back in and all. But why not just let my family out and declare them dead. All they got is me.”

“I’m sure that someone else would miss them,” Administrator DeHaven replied.

About halfway to their new home, the lack of a nap took its toll on Dina and she started to whine about being tired and hungry and wanting Darcy. Dane encouraged her to lay her head upon his lap after pulling Darcy from his jacket. She cuddled up against him and soon fell asleep.

It was still morning and they hadn’t arrived at their destination yet, but everyone seemed tired. Dane hoped that Connor would be there to greet them when they arrived or he just might slug him when he showed up.

Connor chose an apartment near the stairwell on the level with the exterior mountain entry. The door had been altered to allow travel in both directions. It had plenty of rooms and beds for his family, minus himself. He wanted to make it easy for his siblings to spend time outside in the sunlight whenever possible.

Once safely aboard the second transport, and out of sight and earshot of the posted guard, a rather loud family reunion ensued. Shouts of “Papa”, “Daddy”, and “Pops” were accompanied by much hugging. Ed’s wife, Edna, waited until the children had their turn at greeting their father before she made a move toward him.

As the children cleared the way for her, she put her hands on her hips and declared, “Well, look at you, no worse for wear for a dead man.” Ed laughed and replied, “I’ll show you just how dead I’m not later, woman.” He moved toward her. She met him halfway and they hugged and kissed.

Ed had everyone sit down for the trip back to Adventure Land. He told them all about how a scavenger had rescued him. He described in great detail the house that they would move into and the community of Rou that he had joined.

Dahlia and Trask had their hands full keeping the urges to imprison or kill the visitors in check. Both John and Carter DeHaven were downright xenophobic. It was all Dahlia could manage not to give the two men matching aneurysms. Once Dahlia knew that the Just family was safely out of harm’s way outside the sanctuary, she would give up on trying to get them out diplomatically.

Midway through dessert, she dropped the matter entirely. “You have been such gracious hosts,” she stated. “I shall have to accept your decision to keep the Just family safely within your walls. Mrs. DeHaven…”

“Ruth,” the elder woman interrupted.

“Ruth, what did you say this delicious dessert was called?”

“It’s a fruit compote with peach ice cream,” she said smiling.

“It’s absolutely marvelous!” Dahlia declared. Dahlia wasn’t sure that she believed what she was saying, but it kept the goodwill flowing.

At the end of the meal, John DeHaven offered his guests quarters for the night and Dahlia graciously accepted. Trask led them to secured quarters on the opposite end of the floor. The small room was designed to hold prisoners and could not be opened from the inside by ordinary people. But Dahlia and Leonard L were not ordinary people. As the door closed on the duo, Trask remarked, “Sleep well, Cinderella.”

“I’ll try, Prince Charming,” she responded. Trask had been letting her know that the door code expired at midnight. There was honestly no need for him to speak in code as the conversation took place telepathically.

As the last hour of the day approached and it was clear that the population was neither out nor about at this hour, Leonard L unlocked the door by triggering the magnetic lock to open. Dahlia kept watch for any activity, but there were no night patrols. The emergency stairwells had no alarms fortunately. The red glow of the stairwell lights was sufficient to allow them to run down the steps safely. The two agents pushed open the exit door, ran down the mountainside, and slipped quickly inside the transport. Within minutes, they had popped back home.