Author's notes: This stort story is part of the Roachia series, set back in time even before "Home by Sunset". Would probably make the most sense if read after "Under the Cover of Darkness".

I wish to extend an apology to all my fans out there, wondering where my next story was. I never anticipated such a dry spell. It is not so much that I don't have ideas -- I have plenty of them. I even have another TS/Mac/Mag 7 story that is within fifteen pages of completion. Just that Real Life and a vicious writer's block has conspired against me. I'm hoping this story will kick me out of it.

I am dedicating this story to Sealie, who's been bugging me for another Roachia story for ages, and won't allow me to forget this universe. I'd also like to wave at Shallan, wishing her a better 2002, and to Malu and Kerensa, my best cheerleaders.

Please send any comments to spacecloud@juno.com

Enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: Most of characters are not mine. I'm borrowing them out of deep reverence, affection and respect. I will accept only personal fulfillment, and no monetary gain. If you do sue, you will not get much and I will send over my Black Lab mix, who will stare at you pathetically for hours and probably con you out of all your food.

Please do not reproduce, copy, or otherwise use any part of this story without permission from the author.

Rated PG, due to an occasional swear word.


HARRY'S PROMISE



C.L. Combs






Harbor Bay, Harry Jackson's home, 275 A.L.

Anger filled his soul as his hand tightened around the letter. The crumple of the thick paper made no impression as he silently cursed narrow-minded and short-sighted people. He had to make them listen.

Only the touch of small fingers snapped him out of his blind rage. "Grandpa, are you mad at me?"

Harry looked down into the face of his only grandchild. Realizing Jeff was sensing his rage through his touch, the old man struggled to contain his emotions. The anger shifted to the background as the rugged face softened. He gently patted the soft, light brown hair. "No, Bud, I'm not mad at you."

The solemn brown eyes of the nine-year-old gazed back, puzzled. "Then who are you mad at?"

"Just some pig-headed... never mind. You still want to go to the Gathering festival next week?"

"And see some real, live guides and sentinels?" Jeff nodded his head vigorously. "Yeah."

"Good." Harry glanced at the clock. "Now you better get moving. You're suppose to meet Mrs. Colton out front in two minutes to go to the show."

Jeff glanced at the clock to check the time. "Oops. Bye, Grandpa."

Harry waved as the boy ran out the door. Then he sat back down at the kitchen table, staring at the letter.

Idiots. How could they simply reject his grandson as a potential guide, simply because the gift was only on his great-grandmother's side? Jeff was already much further ahead than most boys his age in school, so he certainly had the intelligence. Nor was he some book smart nerd who never left his bedroom. After watching him play ball with the Colton boys, Harry knew Jeff was athletic, another plus for a guide. The clincher, though, was his gift of empathy. Harry could remember his grandfather Keegan having the gift, and being told that only the most powerful guides had such gifts. He knew Jeff would be a great guide if given the chance.

However, that was the problem. All boys of Guide lineage between 9 and 12 years of age took guide tests. Those test determined which boys would go into the specialized training for guides when they turned 12. Unfortunately, boys outside of the accepted lineage were rarely allowed to take them.

Harry growled under his breath. His own grandfather, Keegan Jeffery, thought those rules were wrong. Perhaps now was the time to prove him right. Harry knew deep in his gut that if Jeff took the test, he would score high enough for admittance. He simply had to find a way to get Jeff in. He reached for the com. He still had family connections at the center. Maybe one of his cousins would help.


Two hours later

"...won't be easy, Harry."

Harry drew a breath to launch into the tirade against another rejection.

"But I'll see what I can do."

Harry paused, not quite sure he heard right. "You'll try?"

His cousin Evelyn chuckled. "Of course I will, Harry. I remember Keegan telling us that women were guides in pre-launch days. Surely if there were female guides, we girls can pass on guide genes. I'm just not sure I can swing anything this year."

Anger began to rise. "Evelyn..."

"Jeff is only nine, Harry. He's got time."

"He's ready now. I can feel it."

"And he'll be even more ready if he has to wait a year. Besides, Clark'll be here next year, and it would help Jeff's cause if a cousin who's already a guide is pushing for him, too."

"Clark won't be there this year?"

"No, he and Troy drew the short straw and have to sentry the east coast. But that means they'll be off next year, and I'm sure Clark and even Troy will help. Clark felt sorry for the little guy at... well, a couple of years ago."

Harry nodded to himself, his own soul still wounded by the deaths of his daughter and son- in-law. Clark had been the only one to coax a smile out of his grandson the week of Laura and Ian's funerals. Admittedly, it had been a weak smile, but it was obvious the guide had connected with the boy. "I still want to bring Jeff to the festival next week."

"Oh, that would be great, Harry. I have room for both of you, since Clark won't be here and Randi's moved out. Even if we can't get Jeff into the tests, he can at least see the Center and get an idea what they're about. In fact, I'll look for Clark's old school books; some of the history and test quizzes will help Jeff prepare."

"Thanks, Evelyn. I want Jeff to pass those tests."

"From what you've said, he'll probably fly through them. Don't worry, Harry."

After saying goodbye, Harry looked up to spot Jeff standing in the doorway, puzzled. "What tests, Grandpa?"

Harry waved the boy over to him. Gazing straight into the serious brown eyes, Harry asked, "How would you like to take the guide tests?"

Jeff's face lit up. "So I could become a guide like Keegan?"

"Right."

"Cool." Then Jeff's nose wrinkled. "But I haven't studied or anything."

"I know. But I suspect you already have all you need to know up here." Harry tapped the boy's head. "But don't get your hopes up! I haven't gotten you in yet."

"But you'll try?" Jeff asked.

"I'll try."

"Cool!"

"Now go pull those weeds in the flower beds." Harry turned him around and gave him a little push. The pride he often felt watching the boy swelled inside him.


Two nights later

Harry was floating in a gray mist, relaxing peacefully. Then a voice called, "Harry."

He sat upright. The voice sounded familiar.

"Harry"

"Oh, keep your shirt on." Harry pushed to his feet. Funny; his movements flowed, like they had in his youth.

"Didn't my daughter teach you any manners, boy?"

"Grandpa?" Harry spun around, only to be caught in an embrace. "Grandpa!"

"Yes, my boy." Keegan pulled back, looking just like Harry remembered him.

Harry gazed at him a moment before a thought struck him. "Ah hell, am I dead?"

"Harry!" Keegan looked at him sternly. "Watch your language."

"I can't be dead. My grandson's depending on me."

Keegan squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. "No, you're not dead. And I know about Jeffery. He's a fine boy, Harry."

"Yes, he is." Harry nodded proudly, then paused. "Wait a minute. My Laura was only a toddler when you died. How do you know about Jeff?"

"I foresaw Jeffery before I died, Harry. I've been keeping an eye on him -- and you."

"Then you know about Laura?"

Keegan nodded sadly.

Harry glanced around again. "Okay, then why am I here if it isn't for catching you up on the family?"

Keegan sighed. "You must promise me something, Grandson."

Harry blinked. "Promise? What kind of promise do you need from me? You're dead."

"Jeffery is very important, Harry. To safeguard him, you can't take him to the Gathering Festival."

"What? Why the Hell not?" Ignoring the glare the curse had pulled from Keegan, Harry continued, "Jeff has your gift. I know he can be a guide!"

"Harry, listen to me; Jeffery does have the ability to be a good guide, but it isn't his fate."

Harry sank into a seated position, feeling like his heart had been crushed. "Not his fate?"

Keegan sat next to him and draped his arm over his shoulder. "I know that's hard for you to hear. You were hoping the Center would take care of him if something happened to you, right?"

Numbly, Harry nodded. "I'm not a young man, and Jeff still has a lot of growing to do. As a potential guide, they'd make sure he's all right."

"I know, but I need you to listen to me, Harry." Once he was sure Harry's attention was on him, Keegan took a deep breath. "A dark time is coming, Grandson. The first labor pain is about to strike."

"Labor pain?" Harry asked skeptically.

"Listen! This is very important, Harry. If you take Jeffery to the Festival, you will both die."

"What?"

"And Jeffery MUST live. He is the only one who can help the colony survive the dark time and transition into the new life. That IS his fate, Harry. Your grandson is the key for our people's future."

That was a lot for Harry to absorb. "So Jeff isn't suppose to be a guide? He's suppose to be some hero?"

"A leader, Harry."

"So you were wrong? Guides can only be from the male side?"

"No, I was not wrong. And if you promise to keep Jeffery from the Festival, I will make you a promise."

Harry sighed. "I promise. I don't want anything to happen to my boy."

Keegan smiled. "Then I will make you this promise: While you will not live to see them, Jeffery's children WILL be guides. His eldest, along with his sentinel, will lead the others of their generation into the future."

"Oh, that's nice," Harry replied sarcastically. "A promise that won't come true until I'm gone."

"Gone, but not forgotten," Keegan pointed out. "You have kept me alive by telling my stories. Jeffery will keep both of us alive by telling his children."

"Anything else you need me to do?"

"You will remember something next week. Follow the old riddle and give the treasure to Jeffery."

"Old riddle?" Harry shook his head. "I don't remember you being this cryptic before."

Keegan laughed. "That's what happens when you're dead."

"Then I hope I live a good, long time."

"Live for Jeffery, Harry. He's depending on you."


Next morning

"What do you mean, we're not going?"

More harshly than he had planned, Harry replied from his view out the window, "You heard me."

Confusion mixed with anger in Jeff's voice. "But you said we were going!"

"And now we aren't."

"But..."

Harry steeled himself against the tears he knew were in his grandson's eyes. "I'm through talking about it. We're not going, and that's it!"

After a moment of silent, a soft voice asked, "Did I do something wrong?"

Harry turned away from the window. "No, Bud, it wasn't anything you did. We're just not going this year."

A new, hopeful note entered Jeff's voice. "Maybe next year?"

Harry shrugged, not knowing if next year was included in his promise or not. "Perhaps."

Disappointment still shone in Jeff's eyes, though the anger had eased. "Okay. May I be excused?"

"Go ahead, Bud." Harry sighed as he listened to Jeff mount the stairs instead of leaving the house for the Coltons. The boy had the habit of staring out the attic's window when upset. Which unfortunately had happened quite often the first few months Jeff had lived with him. Harry had hoped they were past it. "Damn you, Keegan Jeffery," he whispered under his breath. "You better be right about this."


Four days later

"...fiery columns of ash and rock are roaring into the air..."

"Grandpa!"

Jeffery raced into the Harry's den. Harry caught him, pulling him tight.

"A few townsfolk from Allentown, thirty miles from Sentinel mountain, are trickling in. However, there has been no word from the Center. We are praying for survivors, but it's difficult to see how anyone could have survived the violent explosion and the continuing eruption..."

Harry wanted to believe Evelyn and her family were still alive, that ANYONE from that grand place lived. But somehow, deep inside, he knew they were gone. Some labor pain, Grandpa.

Yet if Keegan had not intervened, he and Jeff would have been there, too. Harry hugged his grandson tighter. They could have been dead at this very moment. Jeff, whom Keegan claimed would be so important, could have been gone in an instant.

Stepping back, Jeff brushed tears off his face. "I don't understand, Grandpa. Why did this happen?"

Harry gently pulled Jeff down on the den's couch. "I don't know. Mother Nature always does what she wants."

"But, all the Sentinels! And Guides! They're gone! The radio said so!"

"Not all of them, Bud. Our cousin Clark and his sentinel are still alive." Harry's heart sank lower. There would be four pairs still out, including Clark and Troy, symbolically guarding the four corners of the colony. Yet all their backing would be gone. Harry feared they'd be easy targets, from both the Roachians who never liked the sentinels, and for those among the human government that never fully trusted the sentinels and guides.

Jeffery brushed away more tears, still feeling far from reassured. "What do we do now, Grandpa?"

A faint memory tickled Harry's mind. "When the ground bleeds red," he whispered.

Puzzled, Jeff looked up. "What?"

Harry gave Jeff a little squeeze. "An old rhyme your Grandpa Keegan once taught me. An important one, too. Let's see if I can remember it."

Jeff waited patiently as Harry thought. "Okay, the first part:

"When the ground bleed red
after the mountain screams out,
Step to the fire
And put your hand out."

"That doesn't make much sense, Grandpa."

"I think it does."

Jeff's brow wrinkled as he thought. "You mean, the 'mountain screaming' means the mountain blowing up?"

"Could be."

"But how could Grandpa Keegan know?"

"He was funny that way, your Grandpa Keegan. When he was old, he sometimes could see into the future."

"So we're suppose to step into a fire now?"

In spite of the tears in his own eyes, Harry chuckled. "No, it's 'Step TO the fire.' Where would we find a fire?"

"The fireplace?"

"Then let's check it out."

Harry followed his grandson to the fireplace in the living room. "So, where do we put our hand?" Jeff asked, studying it like he had never seen one before.

"Hmm, I believe there was another verse." Harry thought hard a moment, then recited,

"Three down from the mantle
Then five from the right,
Important treasure you will find
If you shine a light."

Jeff lifted an eyebrow. It was so reminiscent of the boy's father, Harry felt a pang in his heart. "Three what, Grandpa?"

"Look at the fireplace. What do you think it could mean?" Harry recited it again.

"The stones?"

"Give it a shot, Bud."

Jeff carefully counted three rows down from the mantle, then five from the right. With his hand on the stone, the boy asked, "Okay, now what?"

"Let me see." Harry replaced Jeff's hand with his own, then began pushing the stone. After a moment and a little force, the left side of the stone pushed in. Staring in the hole it created, Harry softly asked, "Get me the light."

Jeff handed his grandfather the emergency light they kept on the mantle. Flipping it on, Harry shone it in the hole. A faint 'click' was heard, then another stone slide out. "Well," Harry muttered, looking inside.

"What is it?" Jeff asked, standing on tiptoe.

"Hold out your arms, Bud." Reverently, Harry lifted out eight books and laid them on Jeff's arms.

Jeff tilted his head to read the handwriting. "Journal, 169 to 175, A.L." He looked back at his grandfather. "What are they?"

Harry brushed a bit of dust off the binding. "Keegan would have met his sentinel Harry in 169. I'd say these are probably his journals."

Expression filled with awe, Jeff stared at the journals a moment before asking, "Then why are they hidden?"

Harry squeezed his grandson's shoulder. "The Center would have demanded they be placed in their own library, had they known about them."

Jeff's eyes grew wide. "Which just blew up."

"Which just blew up." Harry leaned forward so he could look into his grandson's face. "Keegan wanted us to have them. Which means we're going to have to take good care of them."

Jeff nodded, awed with the responsibility. "Guess I'd better put them in the library, huh?"

Harry patted his shoulder. "Go ahead. Just remember to be careful when you read them."

As he watched Jeff carry the books out of the room, Harry took a deep breath. A feeling of destiny swept over him, like the first step of a long journey had just been made. Then he shook his head. He didn't believe in such things. It was good enough that his grandson was safe.

The End

1/8/02: To all my dear fans -- There are more stories coming -- I promise!


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