"A warrior?" Ruby said, jumping to her feet. "I can't be a warrior."
The woman warrior, Devick, was equally incredulous. As she complained, Gordon translated. "She is a pink. She cannot be allowed to know our secret ways."
"She is a pink," the Kinsha agreed. "We are grays. These are colors only. With so few grays left, we must adapt if we are to survive in this broken world. This girl has the heart of a warrior. She is true. Once trained, she would never betray us."
"I'm no warrior," Ruby argued. This time, Gordon translated for her. "I'm a kid. And I can't join you because I already have people. They're out there somewhere, probably looking for me. I can't abandon them."
"They are not your family," the Kinsha said. "You have no family anymore."
"That's not true. I have a brother. He's back in what's left of our home."
The Kinsha looked puzzled by this statement. "I sense no brother in your lifestream."
"He wouldn't come with the rest of us. He wanted to stay with the cocoon."
The Kinsha's confusion deepend. He stared at her for almost a minute. Ruby turned to the others. Both Gordon and Devick remained silent, watching the old man.
The old man spoke, much more quietly than before. "I have seen your heart and your past," Gordon translated for the Kinsha. "Yours is a strange world. Far stranger even than the world of Gordon Yet when I seek what you call 'cocoon', I find only darkness. I cannot touch it. This is... disconcerting."
"It's why we left our home," Ruby said. "The cocoon gave us nightmares. It poisoned the plants."
The Kinsha frowned. Another minute passed before he continued. "I have much to consider. There is danger in this. Danger to our village, danger to all the world."
"Should we investigate it?" Devick asked.
"No." This last statement startled Ruby. The placid old man had suddenly become urgent. Ruby knew what he'd said before Gordon translated.
The old man closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Make no move before I have pondered the things I have learned here."
"We'll take the girl back to her camp," Devick said. "We know where it is. Their pink-skinned scouts are louder than a wolfboar giving birth."
The Kinsha's eyes popped back open. "No. Keep her here one day. She can stay with me for a time. Then put her to work."
"If you wish it, it will be law. She will dwell among the Vayna for one day."
* * *
The morning passed with Ruby and the old man sitting alone upon the platform above the Vanya village. The guards left. Apparently they no longer saw her as a flight risk. Ruby tried to sit still, mirroring the old man's posture and position. When he opened his eyes mid-morning and found her mimicking him, he seemed amused. Ruby gave up sitting and paced the edges of the platform, watching the activity in the village below.
At one end of the clearing, Ruby spotted a pen of what, at a distance, might have been small dinosaurs. They were the height of ostriches, but stouter, with thick legs and reptilian faces. The creatures did little more than eat and stare at passers-by. Ruby longed to get a closer look.
At the far end of the clearing, men and women stood in formation, the one called Devick facing them. As she called out commands, they performed a martial arts ritual, punches, kicks and acrobatic feats that moved so fast and fluid, Ruby couldn't keep up. The Kinsha wanted her to be a warrior? She'd pull every muscle in her body if she'd tried some of the things they were doing.
The fighters took turns squaring off in pairs to spar, and the action took on a new frenzy. They moved with gymnastic grace, performing flips and bends that made Ruby's head spin. One woman caught her opponent in the face with a roundhouse kick, knocking him unconscious. This did not surprise the onlookers. They carried the victim off the field and continued sparing.
Ruby was so entranced by the feats of the warriors, she didn't notice as the stairs creaked under the weight of approaching footsteps.
She spun around. There stood the colonel, his left eye blackened but his posture tall.
"Colonel? What happened?"
"I'm fine," he said with an embarrassed smile. "They don't like it when you creep up on their village. Zeke got it worse than I did. He didn't even get off a shot before they had him."
"Is he okay?"
"He'll be walking with a limp the next few days."
"How did you find me?"
"My granddaughter told me everything that had happened since you got lost."
"Granddaughter? What are you..." The obvious truth finally caught up to her. "Mai Martin. You're her grandfather."
"That's right. She said you two had had quite an adventure."
Ruby shrugged. "I guess. Is she okay? I didn't see her leave."
He smiled. "Darndest thing. We were getting ready to send out a fresh search party this morning when we heard her screaming. Found her a hundred yards from camp, hanging from a parachute that had caught in a tree. She said a doll made it?"
Ruby nodded. "A Fixie. I found it in a shop in the woods."
"And is the Fixie still with you? A tool like that would be handy."
"I haven't seen it all morning." Ruby bit her lip. "Can we go now?"
The colonel frowned. "Not yet. It seems the gray chief has declared that you will stay here until tomorrow morning."
"But you're here now. Can't you talk them out of it?"
"They're firm on this point. I can retrieve you in the morning. Not before. In the meantime, they've promised that no harm will come to you. As I understand it, this is a way for them to get to know you and for you to get to know them. You'll be our ambassador."
"But if I have to sit on this platform for another hour, I think I'll go crazy."
The colonel smiled. "Sit tight, Miss Tanner. I'll make certain that this is your only day here. If they go back on their word, we'll come back with more guns."
"Don't hurt anyone."
"Don't worry." He took a step and leaned in closer to Ruby. "According to that professor, they've been sending out scouts to figure out where all their people have gone. Not all of those scouts are coming back. The grays are eager for allies, and that's something we need as well."
"They offered to let me stay," Ruby said.
"Do you want to?"
"No, but... we don't have a lot of options, do we?"
The colonel stood up straight. "You never know. This is a new world. More options might be just over the next hill."