“And how do you presume to discover who the culprits are this time?” Joan Braithwaite asked Momma. Joan and her sister Margaret were what humans would call Momma’s great aunts on her father’s side. She and Stacia lived with them after Momma adopted Stacia. In a way, they grew to be just like them: Momma hard and strict like Joan, Stacia soft-hearted like Margaret. They continued to keep in contact with them, especially for advice.
“The Gordons have flown to the Bassanos’ compound and are interrogating people from the neighboring towns to see if they can identify recent visitors,” my mother-Shori told Joan.
“Are you keeping diligent contact with them?”
“Every half hour.”
“Ruby?” Margaret’s voice replaced Joan’s. Momma turned the laptop so I could see them.
“I’m here, Margaret.”
The smile that spread across her face prepared me for whatever mischievous words she would say next. “When shall I congratulate the Sullivans?”
“We are not worrying about that right now, Margaret,” Joan huffed. She returned her eyes to the screen. “Ruby, we were glad to hear you recovered from the attack.”
“Thank you, Joan. I will try to be more careful.”
“Good. With so much information still unknown, the source could be anyone.”
“The two guardians,” Margaret began. “What did Philip find?”
Stacia faxed them the two documents my father-Philip had come across. “Well, the names they used were of men who were declared missing-in-action months ago. Philip found the real men’s pictures online.” Margaret examined the findings carefully before she handed them to Joan. Stacia faxed the scans of the guardians’ ID cards.
Margaret’s eyes glanced at the fax coming through briefly, but then, she did a double take and snatched the first page from the machine. She didn’t speak for a long time, so we waited and watched her take the other page as well.
“What is it?” Momma finally asked. She furrowed her brow. “Do you know them?”
Joan took the pages and frowned. “Yes. Gabe and Max. They are the sons of Isaac Torbert…sym Vanya Vetrov.”
“I know. This is strange. They left the community young and moved in with their grandparents. The Vetrovs spread the story that their parents were killed in an accident. How long have they worked for you?”
“A little over a year now,” I answered.
“Daniel and Wayne have met with them frequently,” Momma said. “There is no way they wouldn’t have known who or what they were.”
“We never sensed any pretense from the Vetrovs.”
Margaret shook her head. “Maybe not from Artem or his sons, but perhaps his fathers didn’t approve of pursuing a union between you and their youngersons. It’s hard to tell where anyone stands nowadays.”
I paused. “Do you think they would have had something to do with the crash?”
“They wouldn’t harm their own sons. Something deeper is going on.”
“We’ll look further into this,” Joan assured us.
“Be careful,” Momma said.
“You as well.” Joan hung up, and Momma shut off the phone system.
Strange was an understatement. The Vetrovs were somehow involved in the attack on us, but as Margaret said, they wouldn’t harm their own blood. Still, I couldn’t isolate the incidents. If something deeper was happening, I needed to know what, so I could be prepared.
Shortly after, Momma’s fourth symbiont Joel came to us with the house phone, a look of concern on his dark face. “Yes, she’s here, too.”
“Who is it?” Momma asked.
Momma took the phone and put it on speaker. “This is Shori.”
“Shori, I believe we have important matters to discuss,” Nicolai said. His voice was hard.
“We do, Nicolai. May I start by asking…”
“You are in no position to ask anything of me. It is because of your family that our sons are dead.”
“Do you dare accuse us of having something to do with their deaths?” Stacia demanded. “We had nothing against them.”
“And yet you allowed them the same passage as you did the Sullivans, leaving them open for attack.”
My mother-Shori paused. “What do the Sullivans have to do with this?”
“They have been threatening our family for years, and we sent you warning, but you didn’t heed it.”
“The only warning we received was a weak attempt to grasp at a deluded bloodline. That doesn’t give you the right to accuse us or anyone of murder.”
“We felt we couldn’t give you a direct message, otherwise you would most likely confront the Sullivans and draw more attention to us. We trusted you would do the right thing, but you have sided with them.”
“We have not sided with anyone,” Stacia said. “You’re speaking as though you are at war.”
“Until our sons did not return, it hadn’t come to that.”
“Is that why you sent spies to pose as our guardians?”
“Gabriel and Max were planted among you for protection purposes. If anything suspicious happened, they would send word to us. We had nothing against you until that Sullivan boy was seen meeting with your daughter.” Momma turned her eyes to me, and though her expression didn’t change, I felt it was a glare. “One less family to contend with as they poison her mind.”
“I have a mind of my own, Nicolai,” I had to interject. “I assure you there was no conspiracy happening between the Sullivans and me. I liked your sons, and even if I didn’t, how do you justify what you did to the Bassanos?”
There was silence on the other end. “What do you mean?”
“This is getting ridiculous,” Momma said. “The Bassanos are all dead, Nicolai. Someone bit their youngest symbionts and sent them here to attack us. Your spies are missing, but their co-workers are dead, too.”
“I…I assure you, we did not send…Goddess, the Bassanos…This was not us.”
“And just how do you expect us to believe you?” Stacia asked.
“I can tell you where all of our other sons and their symbionts were. Even Gabriel and Max were ordered to leave, but not to kill anyone. We and our mates had a pact with the Bassanos; if your daughter did not choose their sons, they would mate with our daughters when they came of age.”
My mothers shared confused, worried looks with each other. Joel walked away to call my fathers on his cell phone. “Nicolai, there is information missing from all of this. We will call you back.”
“Please do.” His voice was softer when he spoke. “Goodbye.”
Momma hung up. “How can we know more and yet be more confused?”
“The Vetrovs are feuding with the Sullivans,” Stacia said. “How did we not know this?”
“If they didn’t kill the Bassanos, who did?” I asked.
“Do you think the Sullivans had something to do with the Vetrovs’ plane crashing?” Stacia asked Momma.
“They wouldn’t,” I argued, though honestly, how would I know?
Joel returned and put a gentle hand on Momma’s shoulder. “Daniel.”
Momma took the phone and turned on the speaker. “Daniel, I’m here with Stacia and Ruby.”
“Joel filled us in,” Poppa said. “We’re going to call a Council of the Goddess.”