by Kaye Jeffreys
Athena Marie rode at the head of Zeus unit as its procession of shelter-wagons approached Apollo unit. She sat aboard her open-air multi-rider exposed to the ash and grit. Her shock of white grizzly hair blew every which way as the winds shifted, never sure which way they wanted to blow.The driver of her multi-rider broke away from the head of the line and brought Athena close to where Logan and Reece waited to greet her.
Athena peered down at Logan through her goggles with her one good eye and nodded her greeting. "Logan."
"Thena," Logan nodded back then shook hands with Athena's driver and son who accompanied her.
"There's a storm brewing. The Hermits say it may last a week." Athena clutched tightly to her spider-leg walking stick, a souvenir from a past bug war.
"Will you circle with us?" Logan turned slightly and nodded back to his own unit preparing for the coming storm. The machinery chugging and groaning as their drivers coaxed them into position.
"I wish we could. You have the best cook, musicians, and storytellers. But Dionys Unit is low on supplies, so we must move on to circle with them." Athena motioned toward her unit that continued to file past.
Logan couldn't help a smile under his face scarf. "So when is Dionys ever not low on supplies?"
"Almost never!" Athena cackled and thumped the floor of her multi-rider with the bottom of her walking stick. "In fact, we were wondering if you had anything to send along."
Logan turned to Reece, "You know what to do."
Athena watched Reece return to the Apollo circle. "How is your Nomad adjusting?"
"Much quicker than I thought. She no longer wears her veil and tries to make herself useful. When Jereth joined us, she only retreated from sight for half a day. She and Rose even share a cubicle now."
"And what does she think about our Avenir-born son?"
"Jereth? She is still a bit awed by him." Logan chuckled. "She's never met an actual Star Walker from Avenir."
"I'll bet it's hard for a Nomad to get their mind around people living on a star or coming from one." Athena looked up to the sky as though she could see Avenir orbiting overhead. "It's hard for me to get my mind around the fact that we all came from that star." Then her voice became grim. "We found out the hard way that you can't trust them up there. We lost your sister over it. And now she floats in solitude and eternally frozen in heartless space. She should be here, with us, either alive or buried with her people within the warm embrace of Mother Eclectia."
Athena snapped out of her regret and looked down at Logan again. "And how is Brett?"
"He refuses to accept that he will never ascend the Rims again."
Athena rubbed the black diamond wired into the joint of her spider-leg. "I'll send you Matthon to teach him how to cut. Brett has a mind for detail and precision."
"That would be good."
"Also, take Jereth up to Blue Rim once the storm blows over. His mother may be lost to us, frozen in space, but she taught him where his roots are and he has come to us in her place. Take Zaibry and your Nomad, too. You need to train another diamond hound to take Brett's place."
"But Zaibry is so young, and Jereth and Sanja are both still unaccustomed to our ways."
"Our time of plenty can't last forever. We cannot afford to baby our children, for survival's sake."
Logan sighed. "You are right, of course."
"And what is the one thing that is more important than our survival?"
Athena nodded slowly. "We are caught between the corrupting influence of Avenir and the superstitions of the Nomads. There is no freedom for common men and women among either. We must survive to maintain independence for our children's children."
"There are always the Hermits."
"Aye, but who wants to live like them?" Athena cackled again. "Ah, here is Reece with gifts for Dionys."
The driver and Athena's son jumped out and helped Logan and Reece load containers into the back of Athena's multi-rider.
When they had finished Athena looked up at Zeus unit as they lumbered away over the dunes of black sand. "Our unit has gone off and left us. We better catch up." Athena hit the floor of the multi-rider with the bottom of her stick twice. Her driver started it up and drove away. "Until again." The wind carried Athena's voice back to where Logan stood.
Logan looked up into the sky at the swirling clouds for a moment remembering his sister that floated overhead in her coffin, cold and alone.
Gordy called from behind his cook wagon. "Are you coming, Logan? Or should we circle without you?"
"I'm coming." Logan jogged back to his unit, bringing the memory of his sister into the shelter of their unit's circle.