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Green Grass of Home
By D. A. Ratliff
Zia Crane giggled. Soft, verdant grass pressed into the soil beneath her feet. Thin tendrils curled between her toes, tickling her bare skin.
She had taken off her footwear as soon as she arrived. It was rare for her to be in a setting where bare feet were appropriate. Here, on this beautiful island, it was entirely appropriate.
For a moment, she stood, arms dangling along her sides breathing in the salty air touched with only a hint of warmth. The ground to her left sloped down to a rocky beach, spilling into a blue-gray sea. She knew beyond the horizon sat land, but she felt alone walking up the slope toward her destination. Alone was what she wanted. She was never alone at home.
As she topped the crest of the slope, the image she had researched appeared before her. The only wall remaining in the ruin of her ancestors’ home was a single narrow wall containing an arched window divided with stone. Vines not yet in bloom crawled their way on the stone façade while the first blush of spring touched the bushes now overgrown around the wall. The window framed the graying sky, and she wondered if rain was imminent.
She shuddered. What must it have been like to live here? To hear the distant sound of the ocean or breathe air lightly scented with the sweet earthy fragrance of heather. A warm sensation flowed through her as she remembered an entry in her mother’s diary. I was taken back by the soft sweet smell that drifted in the air. An aroma as if the earth had been perfumed. Her mother was right. The earth seemed to be perfumed.
She needed to move closer, but her feet were rooted in the soft grass. She wasn’t much older than her mother was when she made the pilgrimage to visit the land of their ancestors. Memories of her mother now long gone overtook her, and for a moment, she wondered had she done the right thing in coming. The yearning for a connection with the past had brought her there. But was it really what she wanted or needed? She didn’t know.
The soft baying of sheep in the distance broke her thoughts, and Zia shook her head. Aloud she called to the sheep. “Okay, you’re right. I need to do this. Stop yelling at me.”
She placed her shoes on the ground and climbed across the rocks at the base of the ruin. The surface felt cold and somehow both smooth and rough to the soles of her feet. At the wall, she touched the stone with her fingertips, relishing the grainy, worn surface. Everything was smooth and slick to the touch at home, but this felt solid and timeless. Something from a past that was only a memory. Sitting on the window ledge, she stared out at the sea. She had seen many bodies of water in her lifetime, but none held the magic of the sea surrounding this island.
Lost in thought, she was startled when a voice interrupted the silence.
Zia turned toward the voice to find a middle-aged woman, hair beginning to gray, climbing the rocks toward her. She managed to speak. “Hello.”
The woman smiled. “I am Margaret. I saw you arrive and thought you might like to chat about what is left of the MacFarland castle. Mind if I sit?”
“No, please do.”
Margaret gathered her plaid skirt about her and settled into the other half of the window. “I feel that you were related to the family who lived here. Is that correct?”
“Yes, the MacFarlands are my ancestors. Like my mother and grandmother, I came to pay homage to them on my birthday.”
“Happy Birthday, my dear. It is only fitting for as I remember, the family was keen on celebrating birthdays. This house in its former glory was filled with laughter, good food, and a bit of good scotch.” She laughed. “Or is that a good bit of scotch?”
“How do you know all of this?”
“My dear, we have looked through extensive records from those times. What happened here was one of the more horrific events that occurred that night. Much was recorded about the family and about the murders. The MacFarland family was the most prominent family on the island. Good, kind people who never met a stranger and never let anyone go hungry. Hard working people, even the last Lord MacFarland worked the fields and tended the sheep. Lady MacFarland organized a sewing club so that the village children always had proper clothes. She also opened a bakery and butcher shop to feed all. They wanted to maintain the pastoral feel of the community. Technology was not embraced here as it was elsewhere.”
“They sound perfect.”
“Aye, I know they sound too good to be true, but on this island, where they could have acted like gods, they behaved as mortals. They believed that taking care of each other was the way to happiness, not in the power or wealth they had.”
“My mother told me that when the war came, the family was unprepared. That they had welcomed the invaders into their home and their guests slaughtered them.”
Margaret dropped her head. “There were a few survivors.” She shrugged. “Obviously there were or you wouldn’t be here.”
Zia chuckled. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“The story as it has been passed down is that the servants who were very loyal to the family rushed the children to the shoreline and into a boat. Two of the servants, a couple, took the children to the mainland while the others returned to defend the family. No one survived.”
“And the war began after that.”
“Yes. History tells us that many of the powerful on the planet were killed that night as the invaders sought to take control. But they underestimated the power of humanity. The war went on for years, the skies alight with flashes of weapons fire. So many died, and the planet was left in ruin. The war itself ended the war. The resources the invaders wanted were so depleted that they gave up, nothing here worth the effort.”
“How many years passed before the Expeditions began?
“At least twenty. It took what was left of Earth’s technology at the time to reverse engineer the invaders’ technology. When they did, well, you know the story from there.”
“I do. Humans left Earth behind for other worlds, and now Terran Command controls over half of the galaxy.”
“Yes, it does. I will leave you so that you may enjoy the remainder of your time in solitude.”
“Thank you, Margaret. You have given me what I needed—a feel for these people. Family is no longer a part of my life. My mother and father died in the Qwan uprising, so I am alone.”
“You are never alone. The souls of the departed remain. They exist in our DNA, and the strength of your ancestors will always be with you.” Margaret stood. “With that my dear, I take my leave. May you remain strong.”
Zia watched Margaret’s warm eyes turn dark as the Android powered down and within seconds vanished as the transporter beam whisked her away. She had nearly forgotten her experience included a history lesson from an android docent.
With an hour left before she had to depart, she walked around the highland and lay in the grass, staring at the clouds and breathing in the cool, fresh air. Margaret’s last words echoed in her head—May you remain strong. The fact was she had to be strong. She had no choice. She would draw on the memory of her family’s resolve.
At the appointed time, a hologram of a young woman appeared, dressed in a smart uniform the same color as the sea.
Thank you for visiting the Museum of Earth. We hope you have enjoyed your stay on the planet of our ancestors. On behalf of the Terran Foundation, we ask for a modest donation so that the rehabilitation of our original homeworld may continue. Your transport is waiting. Thank you again for visiting the Museum of Earth.
Zia began to feel the tingle of the transport beam. Her eyes never left the ruins of the family home as it faded from sight.
She exited the airlock and took a deep breath. Only the pure smell of recirculating filtered air greeted her, not the sweet earthy fragrance of heather or the sea salt air. Looking down at her feet, now ensconced in synthetic leather boots, she remembered the softness of lush grass beneath her toes. As she entered the bridge of the Terran Command ship, she put those thoughts behind. There was work to do.
She approached the captain. “Captain Burgess, Lieutenant Crane reporting for duty, sir.”
The captain smiled. “Good to have you back, Lieutenant. Hope you enjoyed shore leave.”
“I did, sir.”
“Good. Then get to your station. We’ve finally caught up with the bastards that destroyed Earth two centuries ago. Time to teach them not to mess with humans.”
Zia slipped behind her weapons console as the captain gave orders to depart the space station. She reached into her uniform pocket and touched the souvenirs she had taken from the highlands, a small flat rock and a clump of grass blades now covered in silicon to preserve them. Her family was with her. Time for revenge.
Please visit D. A. Ratliff’s blog at https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com