Apologies for the just-over-a-week delay, but hopefully the scene is an enjoyable one to read =)
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Earth Leave never seemed to last as long as Barney wished it to.
He and Léana had remained for three months in Bangui, with Azu and Shasa being exceptionally generous hosts despite their home’s modest layout. The ladies had bonded through the unusual circumstances, with the Irish lass cherishing her anonymity in the locale. They spent a lot of time in the city, with Léana telling Barney how refreshing it was to not be looked upon as a sideshow act.
Barney and Azu had split their time between work and relaxation. The time in Azu’s laboratory was spent trying to figure out the secret of the Carbonado. The batch of black diamond from Mertseger Mons had acted exactly as Léana had described during the meal back on Cloud Colony Nine, leaking the dark liquid before becoming a clear gem. The rest of their days were spent either fishing off the pier at the back of the house, or at some of the crops Azu had played a part in funding and establishing. The native Australian marvelled at the man’s efforts, which had had an effect on the people much like he wished to back in Arnhem Land.
Léana and Barney returned to Nhulunbuy, where they had remained until the time came to report back for duty. She had noted that such tropical weather had bothered her in previous travels, but now it seemed to bother her a lot less. Barney showed her many of the storied places in Arnhem Land, and taking the time to explain the Yolngu folklore behind the various areas. The places to visit were varied, from modest yet pristine waterfalls and walks along beaches looking upon the Gulf of Carpentaria, to secluded inland sites that were believed to have once seen Barnumbirr herself follow the songline across the land.
To make the trip back to Berlin, the flights either headed south-east to Sydney, where they connected to international flights that went onwards to London and then Berlin, or headed north to Indonesia, where connecting flights were made through the Middle East. Due to the previous issues with Léana travelling internationally, the company was happy to accommodate her with another private charter flight, this time between Nhulunbuy and Berlin. Barney, however, was obligated to make a contribution to the costs of the charter.
Upon their arrival at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, a company-branded shuttle bus was available to all the employees reporting back for the flight to Venus. Many of the returning workers knew of Léana, but her altered appearance caused many of them not to recognise her. She kept close to Barney on the trip between Brandenurg and the Berlin Interplanetary Industry Depot, saying as little as possible to ensure no excess attention was paid to her.
After arriving at the depot, it was not long before Barney was reunited with his team. Woody and Kumara were the first team members he and Léana bumped into, the trio warmly greeting each other.
The Americans looked at Barney’s companion. Kumar spoke first. “Who is your friend, Barney?”
Barney gave a grim smile. “That is a story better told when we are on our way into orbit.”
The Pawnee Indian looked to Woody, who gave a nonchalant shrug. “Very well. There is a long flight ahead, so I am sure a good story will keep us entertained for its duration.”
The reserved smile remained. “You have no idea.”
The group walked through the check-in area, dropping off their luggage and signing the required declarations. As Léana checked in, the security staff took extra time in checking her credentials. A high level airport officer was called to attend the situation, while everyone nearby took an interest at the unusual situation. She was eventually cleared to move into the terminal area designated for outgoing Venusian miners and engineers.
Juan and Carolina were near the back of the terminal’s seating area, the pair standing out. Both wore their brightly-coloured football jerseys of Spain and Argentina respectively, yet many an eye was drawn to the graceful South American. The pair came over to greet their team, both looking nicely bronzed from their time.
Carolina gave each of the team a friendly hug, while many of the men sitting nearby looked slightly jealous. “The band is back in town! It’s so good to see you all again.”
Barney returned the embrace. “You and Juan are looking like a pair of bronzed statues, except for the ludicrously bright jerseys.”
She gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. “We are going to be cooped up or in oppressive conditions for the next two years, so Juan and I ensured we followed summer around the world.”
The Spaniard nodded his agreement. “Starting with some nice spring weather in southern Spain, we moved on through South America, lower Africa, and a brief stay on the east coast of Australia. We flew here from Sydney. I was surprised we didn’t bump into you, Barney.”
“I caught a different flight, as I had a guest staying with me for some time back in Nhulunbuy.”
A cheeky grin crossed Juan’s face as he looked to Léana and held out his hand. “I see. It is a pleasure to meet you, my dear.”
She shook his hand, not saying anything. He gave an awkward look to Barney, not sure of how to take the silence.
Barney gave a slight shake of his head. “Do not read into it, Juan. Once we are on our way to Venus, we can all have a catch-up dinner in my quarters.” He turned to Léana, who looked very uncomfortable. “We have quite a story to tell, but I expect you to keep it to yourself until we get back to Cloud Colony Nine and speak with Claudio.”
Woody piped up. “Barney, you sly dog! You got married and didn’t invite us?”
Barney gave a reserved laugh. “No, no. You’ll find the story much more interesting than that, my friend.”
The call to board rang across the terminal.
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