Tom arrived at the great hall, entering through the small rear door that lead into the kitchen area. Unless he was with someone else he would always forego the heavy main entrance’s thick wooden doors. The original meanings of their intricate drawings and symbols were a mystery to his people. The hall, as well as the rest of Home was deserted when their forefathers stumbled upon it many years ago.
He saw Rita working with the group of visitor women on one side of the large room and Clark on the other talking to the children. He was smiling, playing clap-jack with the two youngest who appeared to be twins. The third, older child was standing behind them, a hand on each of their shoulders. He appeared to be laughing along but there was awkwardness to his smile, as if it were for show; what he was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Odd, thought Tom, nothing nefarious just odd.
Tom noticed that their clothing was loose fitting; they all seemed to be at least two sizes too big for their small frames. The two boys wore tan cloth pants and over-sized long-sleeved shirts which hung over the pant waists almost to their knees. The older boy wore a deerskin leather vest over the shirt. Otherwise they were identical including their bowl-type haircuts and tan leather boots that appeared to be stitched from the same animal hide as the older boy’s vest. The girl twin was dressed identically to the four older women. They wore loose ankle length white and blue dresses. All but one had a pure white scarf wrapped around their heads. They looked like the coverings Catholic nuns wore in the historical documents Tom had read when Ellie was training him.
The single unique scarf was black with a thin white trim leaving no doubt she was the leader of this group.
Tom walked over to Clark and held his hand up to greet the big man. All three children looked puzzled at the sight of this tiny man. The twins giggled into their hands. He ignored them as Clark reached his hand out to grasp Tom’s. Although Clark usually amused himself by gripping the other parties hand in his massive fist and gleefully watched them fight from allowing a grimace to appear as he crushed their hand, he was always cautious when greeting his leader. He could easily break Tom’s hand without even using all his own fingers.
“Clark, a word.” Tom nodded to the side and lead him a few steps away from the children. He released Clark’s hand and continued. “Ellie has sent two teams to watch the woods beyond the Southern End. There are at least three people hiding beyond the edge of the marsh. They’re larger than any of these seven so I’d guess they’re men of their tribe. What do we know about the group we have here?”
“Not a lot at the moment Tom.” Clark began, “Rita’s given nona water to the children, Ellie will be able to assess them soon.” He nodded towards the women on the other side of the hall with Rita, “as far as that group. Rita is doing a cursory examination of them now. Only the eldest one talks, she gives her name as Charlotte. The others just follow her lead. We don’t know much other than their cover story is false. I’d say they’re an advance party scouting us out, checking our defenses.”
Clark had kneeled on one knee to be eye to eye with Tom.
Tom said, “Ellie cannot determine what language they’re speaking to each other. Ellie needs us to engage the others so their leader translates, Ellie will be able to learn the language and we’ll get a better idea what they’re up to. Have they made any requests?” Tom asked.
“Food and shelter of course,” Clark replied. “I haven’t asked what they want long term yet. I was waiting for you to talk about how we want to handle them.”
“Get a couple of men to stay here with the Doctors then head down to the corn and set up a defense line. They probably won’t move until nightfall, they’ll think we can’t see them. Meet me back in the SLCC when you’ve completed the defense.”
Clark stood and said respectfully, “as you wish sir, I’ll be an hour at least, I’ll see you later.”
As he walked away, Tom thought how easy it would be to order Clark alone into the marsh. To command, ‘Go and find out who is out there and bring back a prisoner.’ Surely the three, whoever they are, could overpower and take or even kill Clark. Then Rita and her voluptuous body could be mine. Ellie couldn’t control it, couldn’t stop it. Maybe from that far into the marsh Ellie’s connection to Clarke would be broken and he’d be just be a normal man, not one with adrenaline spiked strength courtesy of Ellie and her bots. Tom watched as Clark walk out the door having to stop himself from giving the order for Clark to walk to his death.
He turned and walked towards Rita and the female visitors.
His mind was still on the myriad unfortunate accidents that could befall his rival as he approached the group. He didn’t notice the nail that had come loose and stood less than a half inch out of the wooden plank flooring. His thick boot heel caught the nailhead and he tripped forward towards the women clustered around Rita. As he stumbled and fell forward, one of the three women with Charlotte jumped forward and caught him. As she helped him up she held his hand and touched his cheek, for an instant he thought her hands were moist, almost oily. Suddenly he felt a warmth spread throughout his body. The hair on the top of his head stood as goosebumps rose on his skin, his stomach contracted and felt full as if he just ate a satisfying but not gluttonous meal. His legs felt warm and the muscles rippled as if a soft pair of hands was gently rubbing the surface. His balls tingled and his manhood began to stiffen.
Their eyes met and he forgot all about Rita and Clark. There was a beautiful stranger holding his hand, touching his cheek and gazing into his eyes, she was small, not as short as he was but easily the closest to his height he’d ever seen. He wanted her, he wanted be with her and run away from this place. He wanted to take her where he could make his own decisions and have a child of his own. Somewhere there was no Ellie telling them when to plant and who to screw. It didn’t seem strange to him at all that these thoughts and feelings suddenly manifested themselves.
He made a decision to defy the decree he knew Rita would make about her, even if it meant betraying Home and the people he lead. He wanted to be free of Home and Rita’s watchful eye and constant voice in his head.
At that instant, as if she knew he was thinking about her, “Leader Tom,” that annoying high pitched voice in his ear, “your pulse rate has increased and I see your blood pressure is rising. Please report to the health center to be examined.”
Without releasing the hand of the beautiful temptress before him, he turned to the large blank screen at the end of the great hall knowing that’s where Ellie’s ‘eyes’ were and mouthed the word, ‘no.’ Charlotte saw this, knowing what was happening.
He knew what he wanted to do. He knew that some sort of incursion was coming, when the attack started he would act on it, he just had to wait.
Behind him, standing with the twins, observing, soaking in every detail of this strange village, Charlie saw the small man become infected by one of Charlotte’s team. He knew although that person was small in stature, his allegiance could be huge. Charlie needed to get a message back to his father; by next night, they’d have their healer.