Exhaustion threatened to devour him as he stepped inside the firehouse. Emit needed to remove all the heavy gear as each piece seemed to cause his aching muscles to disintegrate. On this planet, he wasn’t as strong as on his home world, and he became fatigued much more easily in the higher gravity environment of Simterra. Typically, he did not mind as he could simply train harder, but today had been one of the worst days he could remember.
The scene was still fresh in his head. He couldn’t close his eyes without hearing the screams of the trapped victims and the smoke hissing defiantly. The damage to the building had been extensive, and it was clear that next to nothing would be salvageable. It had been a hopeless situation from the beginning. The call to the dispatch had come too late. The building was already almost entirely consumed with blazing inferno when the first company arrived. As his crew had been called to the neighboring town to assist, the smoke choked any survivors who managed to escape the scalding, angry flames. The death count was eleven so far, but only seven had been identified.
It was days like today that made Emit Relevart wonder whether or not being a firefighter was for him. He had only been a firefighter a year, but already he was thinking about quitting. I cannot do that, he thought. He had made a commitment. He was bound to Bella, even if she had chosen another. He picked this profession so he could be close. He had to remain near should she call… should she need him… should I need her.
Emit shook his head and pulled his firefighter’s scarf from his neck and wiped his face. Black ash streaked his skin and mingled with his sweat. He couldn’t understand his emotions. Feelings were not encouraged among the men of his world as they unduly complicated things. One might hear rare stories of romance, but a couple in love was the exception rather than the norm.
When he first arrived on this planet, he thought a degree in political science and law would assist his cause. He had been a young, well, young for his world, man, naive and idealistic, hoping his education and skills would help him to negotiate on behalf of his people, to bring about peace between the two sides of the civil war, and broker an understanding with the other races like the Sims. Emit studied negotiation and conflict resolution as an undergraduate, and then worked his way through law school. He was a quick study, and his excellent memory and genetic advantages made school a breeze for him.
Then the Xenosi attacked the Great Southern Air Force Base, less than three months after he received his degree. He nearly gave up hope. His queens recalled him from Simterra, and he was forced to return home. They had a plan,and their plan did not involve peace. Emit struggled with his calling, having found a “better way,” in his opinion and experience off world. As an adviser to the royal court and a member of the sovereign family of Xenosa, Emit had no choice but to serve his sisters.
And yet as the wars continued to rage, and his family grew divided on their reasons for their cause, Emit became more and more disenfranchised. He questioned his purpose. Why go to Simterra? Why live among the people? Why study their ways and learn their customs and look like them? If only to gain a tactical advantage when the Birth Queen, Ai’nam, attacked the planet? If only for her twin sister, At’rom to continue a campaign of terror? He did their bidding, but then choose a different path. He would return to Simterra and spend the remainder of his days in self-imposed exile.
Emit returned to the planet of Sims, chose a degree in the nonthreatening, environmental science, and settled into life as a student once more. He had been happy as a student before. It would be easy for him. And yet this time, he encountered suspicion and prejudice, discrimination, violence, and hatred. There were some Sims who distrusted anyone who was different, and he certainly was not a normal Sim. He created a back story, gained proper documentation, changed his name, adapted his image, and they still were suspicious. Only one person treated him as something more. He never expected to find a love. And he had chosen his career path so he could remain close to love, so he could fulfill his duty as her deval’le’ac, her protector. That was a mission he could not fail.
And yet today, he felt as defeated as when he was recalled to Xenosa. He was unable to save those people, the ones who had died in the apartment fire in Harmony. Somehow the deaths were more real to Emit than just a list of names. He had seen faces that belonged to those names, or the remains of them. “This is what keeps us going,” his captain had said. “We work to keep days like this from happening.” Keeps us going? The words echoed in Josh’s brain. We failed, did we not? There had been nothing left.
Emit cleaned up, trying to avoid consuming all the hot water in the firehouse showers. He combed his hair, shaved his five o’clock shadow, and changed into civilian clothes. As he walked down the stairs heavily, he popped a piece of gum in his mouth. He hoped the minty freshness would erase the taste of smoke in his teeth. He clocked out, and poked his head in his boss’ office to tell the captain he wasn’t sticking around for the firehouse dinner. Somehow four-alarm chili didn’t sound appetizing even if his stomach was growling. Forty-eight hours on call was stressful enough. Eating a meal with his colleagues, as nice as they were, meant loud, boisterous conversation, and he merely wanted to be alone. It was the middle of the day, so one of his roommates would be at work, and the other was most likely at her garden club meeting at the Arboretum Society. He waved to his colleagues as the shift changed. His colleague, Maura Simpson tried to convince him to stay, if only for a slice of her famous jalapeño and honey cornbread.
“Duty calls,” he lifted the file the fire captain, Goopy GilsCarbo, handed him. “I need to drop this reference off at the civic center dispatch office.”
“Reference?” Maura repeated.
“Yeah, the chief’s niece wants to work at the dispatch office so he wrote a recommendation for her,” Emit explained.
“Can’t it wait, Relevart?” another firefighter, Mitch Lawson, grinned as he placed Emit in a playful head lock. “I’d like to challenge our reigning champ to a push-ups contest after dinner.”
“I am tired,” Emit sighed, wriggling out from Mitch’s grasp without any effort. “Perhaps LeTourneau will take my place,” he nodded to the third firefighter.
“Naw, man, thanks, I’ll pass,” Neil LeTourneau winced as Mitch punched the man’s shoulder. “I’d like to stay upright during my shift.”
“My chili isn’t that bad,” Maura made a mock-pout before turning back to Emit. “We’ll miss you.”
“You’re heading to the civic center?” Neil interjected. “Please say hello to my sister.”
“Don’t sleep too long, dude,” Mitch laughed, pulling a football from within his jacket. “I need to challenge you to something. Maybe you can come back tomorrow and we can toss the ole ball around or something?”
“You will be too busy working, Lawson,” Emit reminded the jovial man. “When our shifts line up, and we are both off duty at the same time… I will…” he trailed off, trying to recall the correct terminology. “…toss the ole ball around… and I will tackle you to the ground.”
“You’re on, Relevart!” Mitch grinned, pointing two of his fingers in Emit’s direction. “And you’re going down…” he laughed.
I hope not, Emit sighed as he walked away. Going down was never pleasant. He walked to his truck and drove the few blocks to the civic center. He plunked a coin or two in the parking meter and didn’t even bother buttoning his coat as he walked up the steps. The chilled air felt good. Late fall and winter temperatures on Simterra did not bother him as he was accustomed to worse on his home planet and on Orb. He held the door open for a woman carrying packages and then entered the building. Walking across the hallway, he took the stairs as opposed to the elevator to the third floor. The enclosed space of an elevator made him nervous and as a firefighter, he felt he should always be prepared.
“Zero-zero-zero, what’s your emergency?”
Emit stepped into the office of the city dispatch. Only two ladies sat at the back desks answering calls. Everyone else must have been on a late lunch. He smiled pleasantly as he approached the front desk.
“Ms. LeTourneau?” he greeted.
“Oh,” she looked up from her paperwork, startled. “Emit, you can call me Brandi…” she said shyly, a hint of pink breaching her cheeks.
“Ms. Brandi,” he replied politely. “The captain asked me to pass along this information to the office manager.”
“That would be me,” Brandi LeToureneau stood, taking the envelope, and filing it in a nearby cabinet. “The captain would like his niece to work here. I’ll read it later. I have to know how this novel ends…” she flushed once more. “I mean… I’m in the middle of this important work here.”
“Quiet day?” Emit supposed, leaning casually against the desk.
“Yes, um… uh…” she stammered. “I really am just reading until Marylena returns with our lunch,” she nodded back to the women behind her. “Someone has to stay and hold down the fort.”
“Fort?” Emit repeated, bewildered. “Is this building a fort? I did not realize it needed humans to hold it in place?”
Brandi scrunched her face and laughed awkwardly. “It’s just an expression, Emit.”
“Brandi?” one of the ladies interrupted. “There is a car accident in the alley behind Red’s Sports Bar. Lee Butterworth reported the incident involving Bella Goth. I notified the police. Should I contact fire and paramedics?”
“Bella Goth?” Emit straightened so quickly he knocked over the canister of writing implements. “I will go. You said the accident is behind the sports bar?”
“You’re off duty,” Brandi said. “We can forward the call to the firehouse.”
“No, I will go,” Emit insisted, picking up the items he dropped, clearing his throat. “Lee is a friend and my roommate.”
“Are you sure?” the lady looked at Brandi and then at Emit as she scribbled information down on a piece of paper.
“Emit, you look exhausted. Go home and slee…” Brandi suggested, but Emit cut her off, holding up his hand.
“Please… the situation is personal.”
Author Note: Forever back in the day, I watched a movie where one of the characters pretended to be a lawyer and a firefighter. Oh sure, it’s unrealistic, but Emit’s people live for thousands of years so anything is possible. Plus he wanted to remain close to Bella for obvious reasons. Hope you enjoyed!