Jamie gave him a perplexed expression. "Singing?"
Voices rose unseen deep within the trees like a gathering storm. Rick couldn't hear the words yet, but their effect upon the environment was immediate as if such song had not stirred the forest in ages. Ice shuddered and cracked away from trunks. In the distance came a grating rumble as if some stream had found new freedom. Frozen vapors recoiled from a procession of Me'Aukins advancing through the woods. Rick counted thirty-two women, all dressed in a riot of bright colors that laughed at the lifeless white around them. Footsteps crunched into the frosty ground in cadence. Their voices sang of renewal, and of welcoming a stranger as their own. Leading them in robes similar to his and Jamie's were the two Callers who had taken the Waiting Weapon's firing code from them. It seemed the stuff of melodrama until Rick saw the body they carried on a wooden bier.
Jamie's hand clenched around his. "My God, it's Andrea."
Instead of the white mesh body suit with its hoses and mask, she wore a long dress the color of evergreens with gold trim ending the loose short sleeves of the matching blouse. It didn't look remotely Me'Aukin as much as some personally favored outfit. Her skin has regained its color and her brunette hair lay curled about her instead of pasted back in netting. She could've been asleep. The singing stopped as the group ascended the knoll, spreading themselves around Rick and Jamie while the bier was gently set before them.
The female Caller turned to Jamie, the woman's face a smooth olive oval punctuated by high cheeks. Age gently lined her large eyes. She extended one hand to Jamie while her other long fingers brushed along the top of Andrea's forehead. The Caller's expression of profound gratitude was echoed in the excited faces of the other Presences. "Call to her."
Jamie shot Rick a look of wild hope before looking down at Andrea's closed eyes. "Andrea!" she half-cried.
The other Caller repeated his mate's gesture, giving Rick his hand while placing the other upon Andrea's forehead.
Rick took a breath. "Andrea Gibbs!"
A Me'Aukin girl in bright blue robes and tunic gave a start, her lips spreading in wonder. "Oh mommy! You came!"
Rick stared at her. She'd spoken in English, not Me'Aukin.
Another voice spoke up, her voice broken and unsure. "I...I didn't know he would leave me like that."
Others joined in, until there seemed a soft litany of recollections streaming from all of the women gathered there.
"The harvester chewed up the fence before I could stop it."
"Father, Crystal Lake's accepted me for the fall term!"
"Let them go! They're sentient beings...people, not some damn lab animals!"
"Steve, you're not kidding? Marriage?"
"You're going to get us both in trouble, Rick."
Finally, the last woman spoke, eyeing Jamie as she did so. "The Waiting Weapon. I felt the pain start..."
"So I am dead." The final words were Andrea's, spoken in clear Me'Aukin. Hands gripping the sides of the bier, she sat upright, her brown eyes regarding Jamie with impassive judgment. "Is this what you wanted?"
"No," Jamie whispered, backing away. "Rick...she's a Presence."
Frowning, Rick drew Jamie next to him. He glared at the Callers. "We'd brought Andrea here hoping you could save her, not kill her!"
"They saved all they could," Andrea interrupted, standing up to face him. She smoothed her dress, the bier disappearing behind her. "I was all but dead when you brought me here. You knew that." She inclined her head to the Callers. "They knew it too. I want to go to Steve now, he's probably quite upset." She hesitated. "This will take some getting used to. I need your permission, it seems." Her glance at Jamie carried an undertone of accusation. "That's because you're both still alive."