The Harvest Feast was only the beginning of a continuous feeling of festivity which carried on through the New Year. Like the countries the Koinonians migrated from, they celebrated Christmas more than just one day a year. In addition to the strings of lights and decorations already hanging in Metoche, the villagers added bay leaf wreaths wound with dried berries hung on shop doors. More lights were strung, and the traditional setting of the Nativity carved from stone in intricate detail was set in the market garden between the Alleluia House and the Trading Square.
Many homes transformed for the celebration, catering to the traditions of their ancestors with hanging stockings and setting candles in the windows. Trees were scarce on the island so the people decorated with artificial pines, draping them with shimmering glass balls, homemade ornaments made of beads, gourds, or scraps of cloth.
Feronia and Viva took the task of decorating the Flaco farmhouse very seriously. Each room was draped in a heavy dose of lights, garland, and paper. Laken teased his girls that it looked like Papá Noel’s workshop had exploded in his sitting room. “Was all this necessary?”
“For them it is,” Demi assured him with a fond smile, watching her daughters cut out shapes of stars to string from the ceiling.
Andre enjoyed Christmas as much as anyone, but had little time for decorating now that the Citizen portion of Sunesis had begun. Jora’s dream of being able to work as a healer had finally arrived, but she would have to wait a few weeks more to get to Iasis. First up was training at the Phulake guardhouse where they would learn the details of peace keeping on the island and surveillance on the water.
A Phulake officer, like a fisherman, needed to be able to move in and out of Hupsoma without difficulty a few times a year when sharing shifts between Kaluma and Koinonia. They monitored the surrounding waters mostly by visual equipment, satellite and night vision sonar, but also by small watercraft.
Declan was not thrilled to hear they would be expected to join in on circumference patrols around the island in Phulake speed boats. Svana reminded him that he had faired just fine on the dinghies they used for training before the fishing trip and would get through patrols just as easily. With this in mind, Declan found he could handle the offshore surveillance cruisers much better than the rocky swells of the open sea and actually enjoyed himself.
In fact he discovered a love for all of the equipment the Phulake were privileged to use and thought maybe the guardhouse was the place for him indefinitely. Declan was good with electronics, and when encouraged to try, he even found he had a knack for driving the boats as well. “I feel more in control,” he told Andre. “Not like I’m about to be pitched into the water. Maybe if Captain Kirkeby had let me behind the wheel of his ship I would’ve done better.”
“Yeah, I doubt it,” Andre said.
Declan agreed with a shrug, “It doesn’t matter, ‘cause I’m not going to fish. I’m going to join the Phulake guard.”
“Good for you, mate.”
“Thanks. What about you?” he asked, moving over slightly so Andre could take a turn at the wheel. They cruised at a crawl through the water around the southern tip of the island. A pair of Phulake guards sat along the benches watching the shore as they passed and enjoying the fact that the interns were there to do half their work.
“Being a Phulake would be awesome,” Andre admitted. “But I don’t know.”
“Not for you?”
“Not really.” Andre squinted under a pale December sun, gazing across the water in the direction of Kaluma. “I don’t know what I want to do.”
“No rush, right?” Declan shrugged. “We haven’t finished Sunesis yet. You might find you have a gift for wiping noses at the daycare center.”
“Take her back to port, boys,” their instructor ordered lazily. “You’re shift’s about done.”
Andre sped up, turning the nose of the small vessel north along the east side of the island.
“What are you doing?” Declan asked incredulously.
“Honestly, Agabus.” He gently shoved him away from the wheel and took over again. “Where do you think we are?” Turning the boat around, he sped off in the opposite direction and eased around Koinonia’s tip before making for the bay. “I’m hungry,” he said over the whine of the engine and crash of waves. “We go that way we won’t have any time to eat by the time we got back.”
Andre shrugged and let him do what he wanted. He didn’t know the difference, it was an island. Drive around it far enough and they would get back to the pier eventually. To be honest, he had lost track and had to peer at the shoreline to find recognizable scenery in order to know where they were. Obviously he would not make the best Phulake Guard either. Andre guessed he could mark that profession off the list along with all the others.
Back on shore, they climbed the narrow stone stair and entered the stationhouse from the rear, walking up the hall to the front desk to sign their names on the timesheet and hang their Phulake uniform jackets on a row of pegs near the front door. Declan returned the boat keys and chatted with the officer behind the counter while Andre stood by the door. A call came in on the radio from Kaluma Headquarters, and he listened in as the officer gave the go-ahead to proceed.
Declan reached for the door to leave, but Andre stopped him, wanting to know what the news was about.
“…plane touched down half an hour ago. All the Therapon Missionaries and Deacon Boyter have returned in fine condition. The Acclimation Process will begin immediately…”
“They’re back.” Declan met his eye.
Andre waited without reply until the radio went silent. Opening the door, he held it wide for his friend to pass through before following, “Let’s go.”
“I hope they don’t do that to us next year.” Andre sat on a bench in a prayer booth at Erotao with his arms crossed and feet up on the kneeling stool. The curtain was closed, and Lavi leaned against one of the separation walls while Amnon hung around near the rafters looking down into the booth from above. “I’ll stay behind if they do. I don’t care where we are, I’ll finish the trip even without the others.”
“Penniless and alone in the world where you don’t know anyone,” Lavi said.
“Why not?” Andre shrugged. “At least I’d be doing what Theos wants.”
“Theos wants you to follow the guidance of the elders,” Amnon pointed out. “They are the shepherds for a reason. You are only—”
“The prophet,” Andre interjected. “Yeah, I got that.”
“Obviously you don’t,” Lavi observed unemotionally. “Or we wouldn’t have to keep telling you.”
“Did you come here to pray, or just to complain,” Amnon wanted to know.
Andre sat up straight in his seat, wondering the same thing. Leaning his elbows on his knees, he stuck his hair up with his hands in frustration. “They want to try and bring the missionaries home before Christmas. Can one of you go give Velvela some support until they do? I know we’ve already got coverage on the cave, here, and the shores, but Malachi’s back so—”
“We can do that, Agabus,” Lavi assured him. “I’ll send Chesed.”
Andre knew he didn’t have to ask, but he did anyway. “Yeah, have her check on Costa. Please.”
“It shall be done,” Lavi lifted out of the prayer booth, and Amnon drifted down in his vacant place, standing before the Agabus like a subduing presence.
“Now that the needs of your people are covered,” he rested a hand on Andre’s head, “what about you?”
“I could use a little more patience,” the prophet admitted hopefully.
“Good,” Amnon nodded. “Your Father has a lot to spare. Go ahead and ask Him.”
Andre left the Sanctuary as soon as Lavi returned and informed him that Chesed had left for Kaluma. He had already missed half of the afternoon Enlightenment lessons at Agoge, so he drove home instead and found the house empty. There were many things he could have been doing. More that he definitely should have been doing, but the only thing he wanted to do was sleep. It wasn’t often that his mind was at rest enough to allow him to do so, so Andre took advantage and sank onto his bed for a long nap.
On the day they were to return to the island the missionaries arrived by mid-morning so that all the Agabus had to do was walk from his duties at the guardhouse to meet them on the pier. As usual, a crowd had gathered to greet the ferry. Unconventional as it was, the families seem relieved to be bringing their loved ones home early to see for themselves that there wasn’t any lasting harm done by the train accident.
Andre waited until the Panoplia were in place around the bay and gave the signal for the Kaluma ferry operator to allow the passengers to disembark. Sixteen missionaries moved down the gangway one at a time carrying their luggage and meeting the prophet’s eye with giddy smiles. The prophet nodded at each of them in turn with a drawn-out look in their eyes. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, but waited for the last one to pass before turning to follow.
“Hold on.” A voice stopped him from inside the boat. “Don’t leave without examining me, young man. I’d hate to get sent back to that cold, glass box alone with my thoughts.”
Andre whipped around in surprise. He stared in disbelief as Costa moved gingerly down the plank walk with a slight limp aided by a cane. “Komer,” he stammered, taken off guard to the point where he almost failed to do his job.
“Look me in the eye, kid,” Costa met him at the bottom of the gangway. “What do you see?”
“Nothing,” Andre answered truthfully, looking deep within the pupils and seeing only a deep pool of natural color. “You’re clean.”
“Thank Theos for that,” Costa responded before stepping back within the boundaries of his country with an expression of peace spreading across his aged features. “Thank Theos for that. Walk with me, Agabus. This old wound is a burden which will not heal. We have much to talk about.”
Andre shook himself from his astonishment and fell into step with the komer, ready to lend him a hand should he need it on the long walk back to the shore.
“But first,” Costa directed his gaze to the group of people clustered on the boardwalk. “I need to have a word with our elders.”