05-06 The Lost Ones

by Ernest Bywater

Copyright 2007 by Ernest Bywater as Ernest Edwards

General Story: In March 2010 a clan is about to have its annual meeting of the whole clan when a disaster strikes that threats the clan's very survival. They have little to fight with, but fight with all they have - their courage and determination to survive as a clan. Will the lost ones be found?

Tags: Drama   Politics   Workplace   Extra Sensory Perception   Royalty   Young Adult   Vignettes  

Clan Amir 05-06

Because of the very hard times under the generals much of the lands belonging to the clans of the now defunct tribes in northern and central Berant are no longer used or owned by them. Some is due to the clans ceasing to be, like the tribe they were part of. With no living owners the ownership goes to the King, and the land is later handed onto various citizens to use and work as part of one of the various programs to rebuild the country. Some is because the clans sold the land to generate income they needed to rebuild their other properties. While some is because they were sold to the government or King for various reasons of state. The end result is the lands owned by the clans become much less than they were prior to the time of the rebellion. The lands the clans do have are now much smaller or much less used.

New Home

In early March, 2010 the remaining members of one central Berant Clan are happy, because some much needed new construction is nearing its finish. Many of the clan buildings and houses were destroyed during the rebellion. They’d been making do with the few that remained while they rebuilt the clan and its resources, like many of the surviving clans have done. For many years they didn’t need a large residence to hold their annual clan meeting, because there weren’t that many of them needing to attend. But now, over sixty years later, the clan has grown big enough to need a larger meeting residence. The year before last they approved constructing a new residence. It’s now nearing completion.

The first two stages are completed, and are fully fitted out with hotel suite like accommodations for all of the current adults with enough spare suites for many years to come. The adults in permanent residence have moved from the old building beside it while they’re helping with the furniture and fittings of the rest of the building. The dining and cooking facilities are finished and fully fitted out while the work crews complete the large entertainment and recreation areas which include a large conference room. There’s still some fit-out required in these areas.

The old residence is already being refitted to give the clan children more room to themselves, and the old entertainment areas have been redesigned to more suit the needs of the clan’s children. All of the facilities are nearly empty, because only twenty adults and seventeen children live here at present. Soon the annual gathering will be held, and the full clan will be present, all two hundred and twelve adults with ninety-four children. All of the children, except the youngest babies, will live in the old residence as a group, to their great delight, and the adults will be living in the new residence with an enclosed walk way joining the two buildings that are only twenty-five metres apart.

The new residence has many modern conveniences, including a system to treat and recycle all the waste products. Water is used for drinking and washing, then treated for use on gardens and in the toilets, the toilet wastes are then processed to be turned into fertiliser for use on the attached farmlands. New type solar panels are attached to provide the energy to power the new building, while the old building will be converted in a few months when enough new panels are available. The panels heat up the water and run the house during the day, they also charge new style batteries to store enough power to run everything flat out for a few days, that’s to ensure there’s enough power for the longest and coldest night. They also operate a new style heat exchange system to keep the house temperature level regardless of the outside weather.

To simplify access for maintenance, and conserve on energy usage, all of the plant equipment is in the building basement under the conference and entertainment area; this is to minimise operating noises disturbing the sleeping residents. The whole new building has a basement under it, but it has a very strong dividing wall making two areas. Because the side under the sleeping area is used for the storage of family archives and heirlooms it’s built like a huge safe, and it includes an alarmed three metre earth coffer-dam area between the two basements as well as the two strong reinforced cement walls of both basements.

The completed building makes the residence seem like a lower case ‘h.’ The long upright is the new building with four zones. When you face the building from the old residence the new adult sleeping area is on the left, and it takes up the full depth of the building for about half its length, in the middle and taking up about a third of the building is the full depth main entertainment and recreational area with the kitchen and dining area on the right taking up half the depth of the building, the area on the other side of the kitchen and dining area is the conference and meeting area, the plant basement is below the right hand section. The enclosed walkway leaves the middle of the central zone, and goes into the top of the old residence, entering into the main recreational and entertainment area which is now set up for the children. Running back from that, and parallel to the adult sleeping area, is the children’s sleeping area. This has a hall running the length of the building with a quarter of the building’s width on one side and the rest of the building on the other; there are thirty small rooms with en suites on the side nearest the adult’s side, and twenty-five medium sized dormitories on the other side of the hall; the small rooms used to be the adult sleeping quarters and haven’t been refitted for the older children yet, so all of the children are still sleeping in the dorms they’re used to using until all of the renovations are finished.

Due to delays in the delivery of the new energy management and recycling gear the work is late, so the building company has a lot of the installing work done by apprentices and it’s checked by qualified senior staff who’re fully trained in the new systems. The company owner is more of an accountant and landscape artist than a builder. The business has been in his family for several generations, but with the recent death of his father, uncle, and two brothers in a motor vehicle accident it’s left him running everything until his sons, nephews, and nieces obtain enough experience to take over. He’s very reliant on the older senior staff for the building work quality at present.

March, 2010

The new residence is finished three weeks ahead of the annual clan meeting, there’s still work to do in renovations of the old residence to make it more suited for the children, but the Clan Father, Deebarlee, is happy all is now ready for the coming meeting. The regular adults have been living in the residential area and using the old kitchen for the last week while the meeting area and kitchen are finished. Clan Father is walking through the building with the company owner, Charles Barneal, and checking it over prior to signing for the completion of this stage. Rapidly moving about in front of them, and closely checking everything is perfect, are the four senior foremen. Each has a list of everything in his area of responsibility, and each foreman is having a very close look at every fine detail. These men are extremely experienced and old in their trades, and they’re all perfectionists so nothing gets passed by them unless it’s perfectly correct, nothing.

Foreman Peter Markel comes up from the basement, and he’s looking a bit red faced from climbing the stairs. Charles says, “I really must stop Peter from going up and down the stairs as fast as he does, he’s no longer a twenty year old, and he isn’t as fit as he was then.”

Deebarlee just smiles, because he used to play with Peter when they were small children. He’s now seventy-one, and Peter is only a year or two younger than him. He says, “Surely Peter is due for retirement!”

Charles replies, “Yes, well overdue, actually. But I can’t force him to retire. And since the rest of his family died a few years ago, while in Amarant, he has nothing else to live for; but his work keeps him alive. So each year I let the industrial relations people talk to him, and I pay higher insurance premiums to keep him on. He’s worked for the family since he was an apprentice, so he’s like family, and we don’t force family out of their jobs.” Deebarlee smiles as he nods his understanding of the situation.

Peter charges off in the other direction while he yells for a particular apprentice. They smile when they watch him go through the swinging kitchen doors like an unstoppable tank. They continue their inspection of the kitchen, and find all is perfect. A few minutes later they hear shouting from outside, so they rush out through the same exit Peter took.

Two doors and several metres later they find Peter lying on the ground while one of the apprentices applies artificial resuscitation to him, and another is calling for an ambulance. Also, the site first aid officer, a well-trained medical technician, is racing to the scene with two large medical kits, one in each hand.

Arriving at the scene the first aid officer gives Peter a quick check, and he starts swearing while he breaks out a bottle and mask to give Peter direct oxygen, and then injects him with adrenalin. They continue with the external heart massage until the paramedics arrive, and they take over. After getting a full briefing they use their defibrillator to stabilise his heartbeat, but to no avail. They continue to treat Peter while they load him up and rush him to the hospital. He’s pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. No one has the heart to do any more work today, and all operations cease when the staff go home. Being a Thursday Deebarlee suggests they not return until Tuesday, so they can all attend the funeral. Charles agrees, and he tells the staff that while they pack up.

Late March

A few weeks later the work and inspections are finished on the new building. The clan is gathering while it readies for the annual meeting with members arriving on an hourly basis for the meeting the day after next. This is an important meeting, because Deebarlee has informed the clan it’s time he should retire to let a younger person be Clan Father. Often a small percentage of clan members don’t turn up at the meeting. But with the election of a new Clan Father they’re all making a special effort to be on hand, with some already lobbying to support nominees for the position.

Friday evening all of the clan adults are having a big party in the new entertainment area. They’ve been at it all day, because the bulk of the clan members arrived at different times during the day to be ready for tomorrow morning’s meeting. The new facility is getting its first case of full usage with the kitchen in full use all day, as well as the recreational and entertainment area while the adults greet each other and party. The children, finding the adult area a bit too exuberant for them, are quite happy to stay in the old residence playing computer games and watching television or DVDs on the several television sets available to them there.

There’s an unusual cold spell this year, and the heating systems are on in both buildings, not on high, but enough to keep all of the rooms at a nice comfortable short sleeve temperature all night. The children start going to bed about nine, and the adults all follow over the next hour or so. By midnight everyone is in bed, asleep or falling asleep, everyone except Deebarlee. At ten thirty in the morning the annual clan meeting will start, and the first thing to happen will be his resignation as Clan Father, that’s about ten hours away, and the end of forty-six years of being responsible for the clan as a whole; a responsibility he took on at twenty-five years of age when his Aunt Anaire asked him to.

Slowly he walks through the residence while he thinks about the events of his life, the ups and the downs, and how he’s guided the clan to new prosperity and growth during his tenure as Clan Father. He’s sad to be handing over the reins, but he knows he’s no longer up to doing the job properly. For the last time in his life he fulfils his role as Clan Father by going to check all of the children are in bed and safe while they sleep through the night. Just after one in the morning he passes along the connecting walkway, and he enters the children’s recreation room. Smiling while he closes the door, and he goes about the room turning off three computer games and two televisions that have been left on. In the dim night lights he smiles when he lifts up his great granddaughter, Leela, and carries her out of the room; she’d gone to sleep in front of the television, a very common occurrence for the sixteen year old girl. She often sits up until after all the other children are asleep, to make sure none have any difficulties getting to sleep.

Closing the door into the hall behind him Deebarlee walks down the hall, he’s about to turn into the middle dormitory when the girl stirs in his arms, and she looks up at him. This, too, has happened before. She smiles, and he places her feet on the floor. She’s about to open the door to her dormitory when they hear a loud explosion, and he’s knocked off his feet into her. Instinctively he wraps one arm around her to keep her in front of him while he extends the other arm to cushion their fall. He’s hit in the back, and he losses consciousness.


Major Lancer of the Berant Police Force finishes his regular check of the readiness status of all of the equipment at the Northern Berana Emergency Services Depot facility, and he steps outside to have a cigarette, it’s eleven minutes past one in the morning; he knows because he looks at his watch while he walks outside. He’s looking out toward the mountains to the west while he raises the cigarette lighter to the cigarette in his mouth. The cigarette and lighter are forgotten when he softly says, “My God,” while watching a huge fireball rise into the sky several kilometres closer to the mountains.

Dropping the unlit cigarette he slaps his right hand against the emergency alarm button on his right hip when his left reaches up to his left shoulder to grab the radio microphone secured there while he turns back toward the door he just came out of. His mind is still reeling in shock from what he just saw when the sound of a big explosion reaches him. He talks on the radio saying, “Berana Control, North Commander. Huge fireball and explosion about seven kilometres dead west of my position, am taking everything I have, send me everything else you can get, that was big. Over.” He hears a stunned voice confirming his message while he charges down the hall. Emergency services staff are pouring out of the ready-crew bunk rooms. They all heard the alarm and explosion, so they jump into their gear, and they start toward the equipment. Major Lancer is ordering the duty radio operator to activate the major emergency alert to get all of the emergency services up with all personnel on duty, and to put a call in for rescue helicopters to help carry injured. Either no one was near that fireball and nothing is needed, or they won’t have enough of anything, because this is a very big emergency.

Twenty kilometres south of Major Lancer the officer in charge of the Southern Berana Emergency Service Depot is hustling his crews out the door in response to the same explosion, they didn’t see it, but they all heard it, and the information from Major Lancer gives them a direction to go. So they’re loading up with everything they have, and they’re heading out to help, because this is their job too.

Children’s Residence

Slightly stunned by being knocked down and having her breath knocked out of her Leela can tell Clan Father Deebarlee is badly hurt, but she knows her emergency instructions well, and she follows his standing orders. While she crawls out from under her great grandfather she looks to the welfare of the clan, she pulls out her mobile phone, and she hits the panic button on it. She smiles when the screen quickly acknowledges the transmission and receipt of the signal. Every mobile phone in the clan will now be ringing and waking people up, if that blast didn’t. Also, the automated emergency call is going out to the emergency services, and giving the location of the residence with it.

The senior emergency operator at Berana Emergency Control Centre, Mary Chedway, is already busy sending all available units from across the city, and even the volunteer units from the surrounding countryside to the suspect area. There’s only one volunteer unit not responding, and it’s the closest. She’s about to try them again when she notices another operator signalling for her attention. They now have the exact location of the problem, and they know why that one unit isn’t responding: they’re the ones who need the help. The exact location and information on lack of response is sent over the radio net. On hearing this Major Lancer is very concerned, because he knows if any of those people were up and about they’d already be on the official net calling the situation in; this doesn’t look good, not good at all.

While she makes it to her feet Leela looks up to see her fifteen year old cousin, Harry, coming out of his room as he puts his jacket on. She calls to him, “Harry, check the front dorms and the rec room. See if anyone is in them.” Her thirteen year old brother follows Harry out of the room, and she says, “Lance, check all of the old adult bedrooms, make sure no one is in them.” Both boys nod yes, and do as told, she’s the Emergency Warden for the building and is in charge. Thirteen year old Janice comes out of the room Leela was about to enter, and she has her first aid kit as she’s the designated first aid officer for the building. “Janice, see to Clan Father.” Behind her is her twin sister, Jenny, “Jenny, grab the rest of the girls from in here and start getting all of the other kids fully dressed for cold weather with good boots on, then get them outside to the meeting point.” Both girls nod yes, as these are their assigned emergency duties.

Jenny steps across the hall to grab the sign-in book while sending the other teenage girls to check the dormitories of the younger children. Leela enters her dormitory to get a warm coat.

When she walks back out Harry comes back to say, “No one in the front dorm or the rec room, thankfully, they’re both smashed in. I can’t see the main residence, but there’s a fire over that way.” Leela nods receipt of the information while she heads down the hall to go outside to see what the situation is.

While she walks briskly away she says, “Harry, get the older boys, and get all of the camping gear out to the meeting point, make sure you’ve a couple of boys handy with a stretcher for Clan Father.” He confirms his orders while he starts grabbing the teenage boys, and he sends them off for the camping gear that’s kept in a store room near the back door. Two of them are soon back with a camp-bed as a stretcher to lay beside Clan Father while Janice is still working on him.

Once outside Leela walks off to the side to get a good look at the main residence, also the lack of adult response on the phone by now worries her. Reaching a point about twenty metres to the side of the residence she gasps, and starts to cry. All she can see is a large hole in the ground where the meeting area was, and a low pile of fiercely burning rubble where the sleeping area was. The front end of the children’s residence is also a pile of rubble. Gulping hard she turns back to work hard at keeping the living alive and well. As the senior known surviving member of the clan emergency service it’s her job to get the children to safety, and to see to the future of the clan. The clan must survive, that’s her first priority, and where she must direct her efforts for now.

While she walks back to the residence rear door she takes out her phone, and she hits a speed dial number, one she hoped she’d never have to use. By using this number she’s effectively accepting no one above her in the clan emergency service is still alive or operational. She reaches the back door to find Jenny ticking off names as the younger children come out to go through the fence to the grassed playing field about twenty metres behind the residence.

Mary Chedway almost smiles with relief when a particular circuit on her board comes alive with an incoming call. Her happiness is short lived once she hears a very young female voice, say, “Berana Control, BerVol three eight, please send us all the help you can. I think I’m all that’s left here, and I don’t have anyone to fight the fires or check for injured. We’re too busy with seeing to the safety of the children. Over.”

Softly, Mary responds, “BerVol three eight, Berana Control. We’ve already got everything on its way to you, everything from this whole side of the city. They’ll be there as soon as they can, all going code three. Over.”

Leela says, “Berana Control, BerVol three eight. Thank you. Out.”

Mary gets on the main radio, “North Commander, just had contact from BerVol. Operative three eight is in charge on scene, I strongly suggest you take over when you get there She’s asked for all we can send, because she’s got no one available to fight the fires or check for injured. Over.”

Major Lancer says, “Berana Control, what the hell’s going on there? Over.”

Mary replies, “North Commander, I doubt anyone knows. BerVol three eight is a sixteen year old girl we recently trained as a building fire warden for the children’s residence. She’s flat out evacuating children, and she wouldn’t be contacting us if any adult was still able to, so I think she’s the only trained volunteer still on her feet. So get your arse out there. Over.”

Lancer’s response is a very soft, “Shit! Affirmative, out.”

The Scene

Major Lancer leads twenty-two emergency service vehicles onto the site; a mix of fire trucks, ambulances, paramedics, rescue services, and police, but mostly fire trucks. He immediately has the fire-fighters start to deal with the fires while the rest start setting up flood lights and looking for injured in the wreckage and nearby. He’s shocked by what he sees, because the rubble visible is less than a tenth of the building that was here when he stopped by to talk with Deebarlee the day before yesterday. Other volunteer and regular emergency personnel turn up, and they’re soon put to work to help get the fires under control and check everything out.

As per standing orders one of Lancer’s lieutenants, Paul Channing, immediately circles the whole scene, and he finds the children in the field. They’re busy setting up large tents, and preparing to camp out. Knowing about the last radio exchange with control he starts to look for the young girl he helped train over the last three weeks. He finds her standing to one side talking to a group of several teenagers.

Seeing him approach Leela looks up, and says, “Lieutenant Channing, can we please have a paramedic come back here, because great grandfather needs better medical care than we know how to give.” She’s waving at a large still form on the ground. Paul nods yes as he makes a quick radio call for a paramedic and ambulance to come around to this field.

The qualified medical people arrive, check Deebarlee over, and they soon confirm he has some serious injuries and needs to go to a hospital. They’re about to put him in the ambulance when a Rescue Service helicopter arrives, so he’s placed in the helicopter, and taken direct to Berana Central Hospital, the helicopter will get him there much quicker than the ambulance. One of the paramedics goes with him.

After getting things started out front Major Lancer walks around to the field. Arriving near the tents he finds Lieutenant Channing, and is taken to a mid-teen girl. She turns to him, and stands straight while saying, “Major Lancer, I’m Junior Fire Warden Leela Berclow, I’m the senior emergency services operative first on the scene. This is beyond my skill and knowledge. Will you please take over command of the scene so I can concentrate on the children’s care? I’ve no idea of what the situation is out the front of the block, but I’ve evacuated everyone from the old building, and turned off the power and water to it.”

It’s clear she’s only just holding herself together, but she is doing that, and her job, too. Snapping to attention he gives her a salute, and says, “I’d be honoured to take over command from you Warden Berclow. Thank you. Can you give me an idea of how many people are missing?”

With tear filled eye she says, “Yes, Major, I can. We’ve two hundred and eleven adults with seven children under eighteen months still to account for, one of my assistants is preparing a list of names. You may release the names any time after you get them, because all of the living relatives are right here, with the exception of great grandfather who’s on his way to a hospital, and some in-laws we don’t know how to reach. The few we do know how to contact have been notified by phone.”

Lancer softly replies, “Thank you, we’ll see what we can do,” before he turns away to organise the search. His heart goes out to the efficient young girl who just told him over two thirds of her family are likely to be lying about up there dead, and he now has to find their bodies for her. Arriving back at the front he gives the figures to the team leaders, and says, “I don’t care if we have to examine every millimetre of this ground for kilometres around, we will find every one of those missing bodies and all their parts. I just left the senior family member putting together a list of names for us, and if a sixteen year old girl can do a job like that in a time like this, then we can damn well do our best to see she has the family together to bury them.” Shocked at the extent of the devastation and the death toll, and very surprised at the age of the person left in charge, they all snap off salutes before they depart - all of them are determined to do everything they can to help her.

Come the Morning

During the hours of darkness the fires are extinguished, and the rubble is sifted for remains. They’ve found one hundred and thirty-nine bodies, seven of them small babies. With the dawn the job of searching is easier and faster; by ten in the morning they’ve found all two hundred and eighteen dead. They’ve been placed in body bags, and lined up along the road. The emergency services people have been working non-stop for just on nine hours, for most of them their shifts ended at seven that morning, but none are prepared to go off shift and leave this job unfinished. Major Lancer checks everything is right, and he orders the investigation people to start seeking the cause of the trouble while the rest start to pack up. He heads round the back to see Leela.

When he nears the entrance to the field he finds some police officers standing guard to ensure no one disturbs the children. Passing them he sees Leela sitting at a familiar looking small portable table and chair, when he nears her he can see someone has brought his own field desk around for her to use. She looks up at his approach, and she nods while she finishes checking the list. A moment later she simply hands it up to him, and stands up. He takes it from her.

She gives him a weak smile, more like a grimace, and says, “I think I best go get some sleep. Some of the other teens have already had a rest, and are organising some food for our breakfast. I’d appreciate it if you can arrange for someone to dig a large hole just the other side of the driveway. That way we can have a large mass grave for them all. We’ll find the way to pay them once we can get things sorted, but we do need to start to organise for them to be buried once the coroner is finished with them. Thank you for your prompt response.” He just nods his agreement before she turns, and she walks to a nearby tent while he turns and walks away.

Back at the front of the scene Major Lancer sees the coroner, and a cousin of his surveying the scene. Walking up to the coroner he says, “You best get your field bus out here, since the dead will be buried over to the side there. No point carting them away only to bring them back.” The coroner looks at him for a moment, because he doesn’t like the idea of working in the cramped bus, but he finally nods yes, and he goes off to get it organised. Lancer turns to his cousin Joe, and says, “I don’t know if they’ll be able to pay you for some years, but can you get a crew out here to dig a mass grave for them on the other side of the driveway?”

His cousin turns to look at him while he nods yes, and asks, “Why should they have trouble paying?”

Lancer says, “The senior living active member of the clan is a sixteen year old girl. She may not be given control of the clan funds until after she turns eighteen and applies for full control. That’s why.”

He says, “Shit, the poor girl! Yeah, we can do it, even if she doesn’t ever get around to paying us.”

Lancer continues, “Yeah, it’s tough. She’s also just gone to bed in a tent after being up all night, and organising for some of her older kids to try and feed the rest. She’s now responsible for eighty-six children.”

Joe stares at him for a moment before pulling out his mobile phone. Hitting a speed dial he waits for an answer, and says, “Betty, love, I’m out at the Berdow compound. That’s where the big fire was last night. I need people out here to help feed eighty-seven orphaned children who’ve moved into tents as a result of the fire.” He listens for a moment, and smiles. When he hangs up he looks at Lancer, and says, “That’s Betty, my girlfriend. She’ll have a full army field kitchen and supplies here a.s.a.p. She works in the Protector’s Office, and she knows just who to talk to about getting those sort of things done. I think it’s about time I spoke to her about a wedding, too.” Lancer laughs lightly while he turns to walk around the back again.

Reaching the field he sees some older teens going from tent to tent handing out some fruit. It’s also clear, by the marks in the dew on the grass, they’ve just been picking all of the fruit in the nearby clan orchard. After waving one of the older looking girls over he says, “I’ve just heard the Protector’s Office is arranging to send a field kitchen and some supplies to help with hot food while you get sorted out.” The girl smiles, and thanks him.

Across the country, in Highcliff, the Protector is handed a one page report about a major explosion and fire with the figures on the dead and the orphaned. He looks up at the assistant who brought the report, and he says, “Get the nearest Guards field kitchen there a.s.a.p. I want it on site and providing hot food within the hour. Use helicopters to get it there, if you must. Also check if they need any clothing, bedding, or anything else. I also want to know exactly what happened to cause the fire.” The assistant nods yes, and goes off to carry out the orders.

About forty minutes later some large helicopters land in the field next to the children, and Guards from the Falling Angels start to carefully carry things out of the helicopter. The cooks had started preparing and cooking food as soon as they got the orders. Hot meals are ready for the children within five minutes of landing, while the rest of the kitchen gear and equipment arrives and is set up over the next thirty minutes. They let them know the kitchen will be there to serve hot meals three times a day with nice snacks any time, until further notice. The older teens and children are happy with the idea of good hot food.

Two ladies from the local Protector’s Office, Child Services Unit, turn up to see if they need anything. Leela and Harry get concerned they may insist the children be split up and sent to foster homes, but they don’t mention their concerns to anyone except each other.

Sunday Morning

A well-rested Leela leaves Harry in charge of their make shift camp, she’d slept much of yesterday and last night, and she gets a lift in to see her great grandfather. On being let in to see him she’s very disturbed by what she sees. He’s very pale, and he has a very haunted look to his eyes. He has bandages on various parts of him, but the one around his head really worries her.

After the nurse shows Leela in and leaves them Deebarlee asks, “What happened? And why haven’t any of the adults come to see me? They can’t start the meeting without me.”

She says, “Clan Father, the meeting has been put off for this year, because there was a major explosion and fire at the residence. You were hit by the door after it was blown down the corridor and into us. Everyone in the new residence is dead. It’s just you and us children.”

He looks at her for a few long minutes, and his eyes tear over; his children, grandchildren, and his newborn great-great-grandchildren are dead - all dead. Only him and the children under sixteen years of age, what a heavy burden for a Clan Father who was about to retire. And much heavier still, because the doctor has already told him he’s dying and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’ll be a close call on which will go first, his now addled brain or his body. In either case, he has less than a year, and no promises past the end of the week.

Taking a deep breath he tries to focus on the clan’s needs. They need a new Clan Father, an adult male of the blood, yet all over sixteen are dead except for himself. But something niggles at the back of his mind, something says, ‘No, they aren’t, the lost branch must be found.’ He looks at Leela with great concern, “Daughter, the clan must come first. Until told otherwise you must take on the duties of the Clan Mother. Are you up to this?”

She closes her eyes for a moment, then she nods yes, and says, “I had hoped that wouldn’t be needed. But, yes, I can, because I must. I have since you were knocked unconscious the night before last. Harry has been a strong help, but we’ve no funds. The Protector’s Office has people around asking questions. All of the clan adults are dead, and it’s two years before I’ll be an adult by law! What can we do without money and a guardian?”

He says, “Legally, the Royal Protector is your guardian when I die, which will be soon. Until then I’m your guardian, as the Clan Father.” He sees the shocked look on her face. “Have courage, daughter, the damage is bad. My memory doesn’t work right, and I’ve many injuries they can’t fix. I’ll live a week, or more, yet, but beyond that the doctors can’t say. After that you must lead the clan until we can find the missing ones, the forgotten branch. If only I can remember more about them. I’ll think about this, and I’ll try to remember more.”

She looks up, and says, with a large question in her voice, “Missing branch, Clan Father! What missing branch, and how was it lost?”

He smiles at her, and says, “If only I can think straight I’d answer those questions fully, but I can’t. I can remember I’ve a cousin, one of the blood and close to the line, a first cousin. He and his family have never lived on the clan lands. He married an Amiri girl, and they can be found amongst the Amiri, his name’s Stone, or something like that. We must go to the Amiri to find them, or ask the King to find them for us.” He sits there, and he thinks for a moment. “Daughter, I can’t think straight, but this we must do. We must stay together as a clan. We must go to the Amiri Council or the King to have them help us find this cousin and his family. And we must pray they’ve a suitable adult male of the blood to take over as Clan Father. You and the other older teens must manage things, and organise to get me out of here while you keep the children away from the orphanages. We must do this soon. I leave the planning up to you. I can leave any time, but I’ll need help to walk. The majority of the clan resources will be safe in the vaults. But for money there’s only the safe in my room of the old residence, it still has some money in it, because I hadn’t yet moved it over.” And so they start to plan to find the missing branch. He tells her where the safe is, and how to open it to get out the money. He lays out some basic ideas, and then he leaves it up to Leela to organise what can be organised, because she has a better knowledge of their current needs and plans than he does. Two hours later she heads home by getting a lift from a neighbour’s daughter who works in this part of Berana.

Back home she calls together the older children, and she lays out what they must do. They start to plan. The first thing is to return to the children’s residence to collect important personal items and clothes. The police help with this. They also get the light camping packs and tents as well as find the safe Clan Father spoke of. The safe does have money in it, not a great deal, but much more than they have now. Also, many of the children have some savings they’d been keeping in their rooms. This money is collected and recorded; it will be refunded to them later.

Moving Out

Thirty hours later each child has a backpack and is paired up. The packs of each pair have several changes of clothing each, two lightweight sleeping bags, a lightweight two person tent, a cooking stove with fuel, a camp mess kit, matches, a first aid kit, some fresh food, and some field rations. They’re ready to go camping. When they first moved into the field the boys set up the larger family tents and marquees, because they were easier to set up for large groups. When they leave they’ll leave them behind to hide the fact they’ve left. Thus they hope to buying them some time before their absence is noted.

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