There’d been warning signs. At least, that’s what others told her. A shame no one thought to tell her before it happened. Instead, she’d been caught off guard. Dosia and Jory were having a father and daughter adventure. She wasn’t sure what they did on those days. Left on her own, she’d spent the day outside. Sometimes she just wanted to fly.

It wasn’t safe during the day. Not that the fact stopped Marcelina. It did make her more cautious. Because she’d promised Jory to be more cautious after last year when she’d almost been caught. So, it had been months since she’d risked flying up so high during the day.

How far away it came from, Marcelina was not sure. All she knew was that a few hours after noon, as she drifted on the warm updrafts over the ruined town they lived in, there was a massive explosion within sight. She saw the missile and heard the explosion. Thankfully, it was not so close as to knock her from the air.

“Don’t do it,” she told herself.

A shame she never listened to herself.

Marcelina dove low and skimmed the stumpy trees between her and the blast zone. Was the army advancing on them? If so, she needed to know because she had to get Jory and Dosia to safety. The others would get the early warning, but they were on their own. She’d decided a long time ago when the attack on them came she was fleeing. Her family would not be casualties no matter how she wanted to kill those responsible for her situation.

A large building she’d spied before was rubble now. A couple of smaller outbuildings were partially collapsed. Marcelina did not know what this place had been used for recently, but she’d heard rumors another group, not associated with the one she was in, ran out of here. No one moved below. Other than a tinkle of glass as a window dripped down there was no noise.

Recalling her promise to be careful, she did not go swooping down to look for survivors. Even though every nerve in her body screamed at her to do so and do it now. Instead, she dropped to the ground near a small copse of trees. There was no chatter on the comm in her ear. Marcelina wore it whenever she left the camp.

There was too much open ground between her and the building. Marcelina crouched down in the underbrush and waited. As her wings thrummed against her back she heard static in her ear. Was someone nearby? They didn’t have the tech needed for uninterrupted communication. Sometimes they bumped up against another frequency in use.

Hating herself for not doing the smart thing, she thumbed the comm to vocal mode.

“Hello?” she whispered.

“How did I know it would be you who responded?”

The voice on the other end left Marcelina frozen in place. She couldn’t feel her limbs, let alone make them work. It was only an ingrained will to not give anything away to him that allowed her to stifle a scared whimper.

“Why did you kill those people?”

“I didn’t.”

“Your army did.”

“No, Miss Mencher, you and your terrorist organization did. The film footage will show it. I have to say, for an enemy of the state, you do make a grand entrance.”

Cameras? There were cameras in the area? Marcelina’s head whipped around, but couldn’t see anything.

“We did not do this. And it is not my organization.”

“No, Miss Mencher. It’s mine.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Miss Mencher.”

“Couch,” she hissed as if her last name were the most important piece of information in the conversation.

“Don’t worry, dear, we’ll be sure your headstone in the traitor’s swamp has the proper name.”

“You won’t kill me.”

“Oh, I will. Not my soldiers, not my civil servants, like your brother. No, not even an ordinary citizen. I will kill you, Marcelina Couch. Now, go fetch any survivors. Let’s see what hideousness you’ve inflicted on this group.”

The static died and silence rang in her ear once more.

Marcelina didn’t move. Not for several hours. She couldn’t.

The shift of rubble finally made her move. She remembered her own incident. The building had dropped on them. Jory was injured and she’d been left like this. No matter what that man said, she had to go see if anyone survived.

Marcelina dug through the ruins of the building. In the end, she wound up with two broken fingers, a bleeding gash up the inside of one arm, and three corpses. Two of them had been changed. She wasn’t sure if that’s what had killed them or something else. The third had been alive when she’d found him. Unable to help, afraid to move him, she held his hand until he died.