The child’s strong grip on Alluria’s hand eased as the doctor’s light sedative began to take hold of the small girl. Laúm didn’t know what to make of her. His entire life, there had been an implicit the Sahu are they, the Sahu are the other, the Sahu are enemy. Finally he had met his first Sahu and she was a helpless waif.
“She’s severely dehydrated and her left foot was fractured.” The doctor pointed to the swelling. “I’m surprised she was able to walk here from the Forbidden Zone.” He peered at Laúm and Alluria over glasses that rested halfway down the bridge of his nose.
“Do we know anything about her?” asked Laúm’s father.
“As you suspected, Jaúl,” said the doctor, “she’s not in our database. Retinal scans suggest she’s a seven year old Sahu. Do you want me to inform the camps of her arrival?”
Lial’s eyes widened. “The camps?” She looked to her son and husband. Jaúl frowned. Laúm nodded. “She can come with us.” Lial crossed her arms. “We will care for her.”
Once the sedative wore off and her eyes fluttered open, the child did not appear to be afraid. When Lial lightly placed her hands on the Sahu’s cheeks, the girl did not follow the custom of lowering her eyes. She stared straight back into Lial’s own, almost as if to challenge Lial’s kindness. Laúm’s mother spoke softly. “You are with family now. We are Quondans and we will not harm you. Come home with us. You’ll be safe there.”
The child scooted across the doctor’s table and dropped to the floor. The doctor nodded his approval as the child’s foot hit the ground and she showed no signs of discomfort or pain.
The family thanked the doctor, wished Alluria a good night, and walked back to their unit. The young girl held hands with Laúm’s mother in the cool of the night’s air. From the west, a light breeze smelled of salt and seaweed. It was late. Morning wasn’t more than a few hours away, and the family was tired—no one more so than Laúm. It would be a big day for him. He was eighteen. It was his ascension.
The family’s single room was small, not more than ten feet square and just as tall. Laúm hung his jacket on a small peg next to the door, and Lial pressed a panel on the near wall that unfolded the wall into a table, a counter, and a small kitchen. The girl stood near the door, unsure if she should stay or if she should turn around and run into the night. Lial walked around her and gently prodded her into the small cooking area from behind.
Jaúl and Laúm waited for their meal at the table. Lial pulled four arammu ration cakes from the cold area. She handed them to the girl who brought them to the table. Then the girl moved to the corner and huddled into as small of a shape as she could. Lial followed her and crouched beside her. Lial stroked the girl’s hair and began to softly sing songs that were familiar to Laúm. They were the same songs that she had sung to him when he was young and frightened. No one ate until Lial finally coaxed the girl to the table and placed the cake in front of her. Lial cut a small chunk from the white square speckled with green and offered it to the Sahu. The girl grabbed it, stuffed it into her mouth, and swallowed it whole. She did this without her eyes ever leaving Lial’s. Laúm laughed and offered her his own. She devoured it just as quickly.
After the meal, Lial undressed the young girl and placed her in the cramped cleaning chamber. Strong violet lights bathed her in gentle warmth. Lial brushed the child’s long black hair with the powered hair wand set to high, and her matted black hair turned to a silken ebony.
“We should try to get some sleep,” said Jaúl.
Lial gathered up the child, and the family turned off the lights. In the dark of the room, Laúm could hear Jaúl’s rhythmic breathing and his mother’s assuring coos. “It’s all right,” she whispered to the girl. “It’s all right.”