Kadamba looked up the long gravel drive to the cabin. He could see the yellow plastic tape across the door. The last time that he’d stood looking at that door, two blasts had taken the lives of two innocent people. He thought about Jerry and Margaret. They were just some old couple enjoying their last years in this majestic setting.

Pulling the police tape off the door, he went inside. Everything was mostly how he remembered it, except for the dull brown spatter stains on the wall. Some things had been rearranged, but he was surprised by how much hadn’t been. It would likely be a few days before his crewmates arrived, and he was happy that there was still canned food in the pantry. He could stay here in the mountains and not worry about having to go into town. No one had seen him come, and he’d prefer if no one saw him go.

The old couple had a spare bedroom, and Kadamba made himself at home there. As he sat in the bed, he realized how different his life had become. For the first time in his life, he was alone, without obligation or confinement. He’d been in prison, the military, on the spaceship, with Dr. Tarea, and even with Violet, but he’d never been free like this. He wasn’t sure what the future would bring, but he was sure what would happen in the next few days.

Even though he knew it was a dream, coming to the Landing had its benefits. For one thing, it was always the same. The grass was always green. There was never any trash. Outside the Landing, the weather might change, but inside, it was always the same.

The sun was shining brightly, and Ka began to walk around. As always, it was almost silent, except for a distant squeaking sound. There really only was one living thing in the Landing, and that was Ka.

Ka saw Alorus in the distance. He was swinging on a swing in the playground. Ka moved stealthily, getting closer and closer to the boy. He wanted to see the child’s face when the child didn’t know he was nearby. It was the same, nearly emotionless face that Ka had come to know all too well.

“I see you, Ka” the boy cried out, as he stopped pumping his legs and allowed the swing to begin making smaller and smaller arcs. Ka walked into the playground and leaned back on the backrest of a nearby bench and watched the swing slow itself.

When it finally stopped, Alorus looked at Ka, like he was trying to figure him out.

“You didn’t kill the little girl,” said Alorus, stating it almost like a question, but also more like a fact.

“No, of course not,” replied Ka.

“Why not? Aren’t you here on a mission? You’re supposed to hunt and kill these Transprophetics,” Alorus reminded him.

“If these Transprophetics had been adults and maybe been a real threat, then maybe I could have killed them, but she was just a scared little girl. I simply couldn’t kill an innocent kid.”

Alorus just looked at Ka. It wasn’t an accusing look; it was more confused than anything. Ka, expecting the boy’s usual accusation, was prepared to hear him say something like, “Well you killed me.”

But the boy didn’t say anything. He just started pumping his legs again, pushing the swing higher and higher.

The morning sun was bright, and the air was brisk. Kadamba was happy to be in the mountains. He walked to the lake again. It was peaceful here. He closed his eyes and listened to the birds while breathing in the clean mountain air. He sat on a boulder for a while, wondering if there were places like this back on Koranth.

He slipped into the small canyon and found the remote for the return vessel. The surface of the lake was absolutely clear as the return vessel broke free of the water. Kadamba swiped and tapped a few places on the screen, then looked up and watched the spaceship dissolve into ashes that fell to the surface of the lake and began to spread out. With a few more taps, the ashes of the remote drifted away in the light breeze.

He walked back over to the boulder and sat down again. A single mountain towered on the horizon. Before they had betrayed the man, Jerry had called it Wóablakela Peak, and he challenged them to find it named that on any map. He had claimed that it was the name given to the mountain by a Native American medicine man. The medicine man would climb to the peak to seek inner peace and find the strength to serve his people. The mountain had a more Western-sounding name now, but Kadamba like the way Wóablakela Peak sounded.

Hearing the sound of a vehicle approaching, Ka released a loud sigh. He wished he could have just come down from Mount Wóablakela, at peace with himself and willing to serve his people. But he was not at peace, and the will of his people was not what he could serve.

She’d complained once about the blood that spattered on her from Jerry and Margaret, so it was almost like a favor. The bullet passed through her head, spattering Commander Conall Bornani before Kadamba turned the gun on the Commander. Both lay dead a few feet from where they had stepped out of the car and greeted him. It was unceremonious. He didn’t say a word. He simply drew the gun and shot them both before they could react.

He looked at the bodies, as they lay on the ground, and he wanted to feel remorse. He couldn’t get a day to go by where he didn’t think of Alorus. That boy didn’t deserve what had happened to him. He thought of Garrett Greyson and how his own inaction had let the man bleed out on that stage. He wished that he could have stopped Dr. Tarea, but it had been too late. As he looked at his crewmates on the ground, he didn’t feel guilty. He wasn’t sure in that moment that he felt anything at all.

Over the rest of the day, the remaining members of his crew from Koranth returned to Fat Bottom Lake in pairs. Each of them met the same fate as Commander Conall Bornani. Kadamba wrapped each of their bodies in a tarp, a blanket, or a bedspread. He stacked them in the living room of the cabin. The pile reminded him of the stacks of firewood outside the cabin that Jerry and Margaret would never get to use on cold winter nights.

He walked through the house with the can of gasoline, emptying it on the stack of bodies. He stood outside the door, looking at Dr. Tarea’s Zippo lighter. In some ways, he wished that Dr. Tarea’s body was in that stack. It would be fitting for that cruel bastard to burn with the other crew members.

“Every religion I know on this planet and others has some words that are said for the dead. Words that are usually meant to give comfort to those left behind.” He looked closely at the stack of bodies. “I have no words for each of you. You died to your family and friends when you left Koranth. Whatever words were said there are good enough.”

The lighter seemed to float in the air as it sailed towards the stack of bodies. As it landed, it appeared like a candle in a dark church – one small flame burning in the blackness, pushing back the ominous emptiness of the dark. Then in the space of time that it takes to blink, roaring flames engulfed the pile.

Kadamba closed the door of the pickup truck. It wasn’t the old truck in which he first left Fat Bottom Lake, but it was close enough. He pulled out the stack of airline tickets that he’d purchased and the new passports he’d acquired. Lhasa Gonggar Airport was his final destination. He hoped that in the mountains of Tibet there would be another Wóablakela Peak where he could go and find peace.

• • •

Chapter 34 Chapter 36

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