August 13, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Six

The storm began just after dark, the wind and rain chasing them to their tents. The squall had persisted until the early hours of the morning, now the only remains were silver-grey clouds, scudding hurriedly across the sky. The sun was just rising, tinting the clouds a pink along the eastern horizon, when Skylar opened his eyes.

Rising from his hammock and slipping on his boots, he tucked his laser away in its holster and stretched. Hearing a soft sound, he ducked from under his shelter to see Jenna trying to start a fire with wood soaked through from last night's rain. Skylar noticed the tarp which had covered the woodpile lay in a puddle next to the pile of soggy logs.

Seeing her, he felt again the frustration of trying to speak with her last night only to have Mike hanging around constantly, teasing and flirting. Skylar was sure Jenna had welcomed Mike’s advances just to thwart him. She almost seemed nervous to be too close to him, which puzzled him. If he could just get her to trust him then he could gather the information he needed.

He removed a small, flat cylinder from his pack, concealed it in his hand, and casually wandered over to the fire pit.

"Good morning, Jenna." Kneeling beside her, he continued, "Why don't you go grab the eggs and I'll see if I can get this thing started for you?"

Jenna stood up. "We'll just have to wait until the sun dries out the wood a little. It's no use trying to start damp wood. I should have checked to see the tarp was fully secured over the woodpile last night instead of taking Charles’ word for it." She sighed as she moved a step away from the sodden fire pit.

Skylar smiled up at her. "Well, I'll have a try at it anyway. I may have better luck."

Jenna stepped to where they had cached the food the night before and Skylar quickly shoved the cylinder under the wood and pressed the button on the side. The bottom of the cylinder began to smoke and he could hear Jenna's steps returning from behind him. He prayed the incinerator would start the wood before she reached him and saw it.

The cylinder began to burn, and just as Jenna walked up beside him the damp wood burst into flames. She sniffed the air. "What's that peculiar smell?"

Skylar started. He was so used to the smell burning cinadium gave off, he hadn’t thought the unique and somewhat stale odor might be offensive to someone not accustomed to it. He shrugged his shoulders.

Jenna continued, "Smells like some kind of burning fuel. Did you have to use lighter fluid to get it started?"

Skylar fed some small pieces of wood to the growing, hungry flames and shrugged. "Sort of. Not really." He kept his attention on the fire.

Jenna, exaggerating the effort grandly, sniffed loudly several times. "I think you used some sort of fuel to start it. If I didn't know better, I'd say..." she sniffed again, "cinadium."

Skylar jumped to his feet, turned, and grabbed her arms.

"Cinadium!" he echoed. "Where did you hear that word?"

Jenna’s face showed her alarm at his near-violent reaction. She swallowed hard and took a deep breath.

A surge of heat burned Skylar’s face. He hadn’t meant to scare her. He loosened his grip, but only marginally.

Jenna took another deep breath, becoming outwardly calm, though her eyes betrayed her inner turmoil.

Just as she opened her mouth to speak, Glen came striding up, his voice angry. "What’s going on here? Is there a problem?"

Skylar dropped his hands to his sides and took a step back but continued to stare intently at Jenna. The next move was hers to make. Jenna dropped her eyes to the ground again and stood silent.

Realizing how the scene must have appeared to anyone out of earshot, Skylar decided that now was not the time to press the issue, but press it he certainly would. Later. As soon as could get her on her own.

Replying to Glen's question, he said, "Nothing's wrong. Excuse me, I need to strike my gear and stow it for today's travel."

Turning sharply, he moved past Glen toward his tent, his mind whirling. He pulled out his log, recording everything he knew about Jenna; every scrap of conversation he could remember. It wasn't a very long entry. He shook his head to clear his confusion. Quickly stowing the datapad, Skylar soon had his gear safely folded and put away. By the time he was ready for the day, the others were up and about and Jenna was just finishing the preparations for their breakfast.

When camp had been struck, they set out again. Glen took the lead with Coco, followed by Jenna guiding Blaize. Skylar once again took up the rear, this time so he could have time to think calmly. There was so much he needed to sort out, yet to get anywhere, he needed answers from Jenna, and she was avoiding him.

She almost seemed to be afraid of him—but if she knew what cinadium was and recognized his laser pistol, it would follow that she knew about Cavaliers. Why the fear, then? Everyone in the Fellowship knew the Cavaliers were the good guys. Of course, Earth wasn’t part of the Fellowship yet. So many questions…Skylar sighed and gave himself up to his surroundings. Until he could talk with her, the answers wouldn’t come.