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Invisible Smoke

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Serena had just finished her breakfast when she saw Shermarke approaching their table with another man, unfamiliar to her. Frowning slightly, she sat up straight, trying to make herself look as imposing as possible, anticipating trouble from the serious look on their guide's face. "May I help you?" she asked grandly as she gestured for them to join the table, and Shermarke gave her a small smile as they sat down.

Cameron and Charlotte seemed taken aback by this turn of events, and looked to her for some clue as to what to do. She gave them an encouraging smile before turning her focus back to Shermarke, waiting for him to say why he had brought another person to their hotel. The wait wasn't long, and then their guide was taking a deep breath in preparation to talk. "While you were at the base yesterday, speaking with the Captain, I was walking around, waiting for you. And that is where I met with Gabriel here, who had quite the story to tell. I think that you might want to hear it, Doctor Campbell."

She nodded and leaned forward, picking up her juice and taking a small sip as she tilted her head to one side, giving Gabriel a quick up and down in order to get a feel for if she trusted him right off the bat. There didn't seem to be anything that set off her warning bells, and so she took a deep breath before letting her face relax into a slightly soft smile. "All right, Gabriel, please explain yourself."

The man nodded before starting to speak with the same almost lilting accent that Shermarke had. "The day of the attack on the camp, there were three doctors who were taken by the rebels. They used the chaos and confusion of the explosions to secret these three away. From the whispers and rumors that have been flying around, apparently there is a large amount of people back at the rebel camp who need the attention of trained medical officials, and the only way to have that was in assuring that they could take some of the good doctors hostage."

"There were two other people who went missing like Mum?" Cameron asked, a deep frown on his lips. "You have to take us to them! There are two other families like us who are suffering under the delusion that their loved one is dead, and we have to rescue them!"

Shermarke gave him a patient look, and Serena had to swallow her laugh, since she knew what it was like to be so youthfully impetuous. "There is just one small problem with that way of thinking, Cameron. These are currently just rumors, and even if they are proven to be true, there are not many people who would willingly walk into a hostile environment. There is an overwhelming likelihood that it would be heading into certain death."

"But my mum!"

"Will still possibly be alive, even if we take time to put out feelers and see if there is any truth to these rumors. I wanted to present them to Doctor Campbell first, since she is the one heading this mission to find out the truth about your mother, Cameron. So, how should we proceed?"

"I think that we should proceed with caution. Obviously, I want to know more about what's happening at the rebel camp, but I need to know for certain that Bernie is there, before I commit to putting more lives at risk. If we can get definitive proof, perhaps I can persuade the Captain into sending out a team to look for her."

"I want to be part of the scouting team," Cameron hissed as he glared at Serena, and she shook her head. "Why not? I'm a man!"

This time, Serena couldn't hold in her laugh, and she shook her head as she tried to get control over her reaction, since she knew that he was quite offended by her laughter. "I'm sorry, Cam, I know that you think that you're grown, but you're still a child compared to me or Shermarke. And the people that he might hire to help us suss out the truth of where your mother is and what's happening to her will also be trained, grown, men. You can't compare with the training that they will have, since you have been training to be a doctor for so many years. If you were to head in there, guns metaphorically blazing, there is a very real possibility that you could get not only yourself killed, but the people around you, as well. So no, if there is a scouting team, you will not be a part of it."

Cameron threw himself back in his chair, his lip thrust out in what Serena could only describe as a childish pout. In that moment, she could see exactly what Charlotte had been speaking about the previous evening, and she looked over at the young woman, seeing that she had the same amused expression dancing around her features that Serena was almost certain she wore as well. "I know that you don't think it fair, Cam, but Serena is correct. You don't have the training necessary to just run headlong into danger."

He shot a black look at Serena, and she shrugged a little before turning her focus back to Shermarke. "I hope you know that I trust you to find a good scouting team and head out to look for Bernie and the others, since this is your country, and you know how things work here. Please, gather together a small scouting party and look for her. And if you do find them, come back to this hotel, if it's safe, and bring me with you. I have more experience as a doctor than Cameron does, and will be able to assess if and how quickly we can move the people before we do so. I know it will be a tremendous risk, but it's one that I'm willing to take, since I've lived my life to the fullest capacity, and Cam and Charlie still have so much life ahead of them."

"I will see if that is feasible, Doctor Campbell. I have two other men in mind that I think would be able to scout the area with Gabriel and me. I know that discretion is tantamount to getting you the outcome that you desire, so we will move quickly and quietly."

Serena nodded as she settled back in her chair, giving Gabriel and Shermarke a quick smile before leaning down and picking up her purse, rummaging through it to pull out her wallet and taking out a good amount of money. "I know that this isn't a lot, but this amount should help you get started. Let me know when you return how much more you'll need to cover expenses and whatnot. I won't let it be said that I don't pay what I owe."

Shermarke nodded as he took hold of the money, quickly slipping it into his shirt pocket as he looked around to make certain that no one was watching them. "This should be an ample amount of money, but I will let you know if more compensation is required. I have your mobile number, and I will try to check in with you as much as I can, but it might be sparse, depending on how deep we have to get into the countryside."

"I completely understand. The kids and I will do basic tourist things while you're out, since there's not much else for us to do until we get news. May the gods favour you in your endeavour."

He gave her a small smile as he dipped his head before getting up from the table, Gabriel following his lead. As soon as they were out of earshot, Cameron leaned forward, glaring at her in pure anger. "Why would you do that?"

"Because of the very way that you're reacting right now. If Shermarke and Gabriel find your mother, we are going to need cool heads going into that situation, we cannot afford for you to go off half-cocked like some vigilante and end up getting yourself, the team, and your mother killed. Bernie would be furious if I allowed her son to get hurt because I didn't hold him back from his own folly. If I have to lock you in your room on the day that we get news of what's happening out there, I will do it. My life is expendable, in the scheme of things, and rescuing Bernie from whatever she might be facing, if she's still alive, is my only goal while here. If I can do that and survive to bring her home? That will be a boon granted me by the universe that I do not deserve."

Cameron looked ready to protest, but Charlotte placed her hand on his upper arm, squeezing tightly. "You will listen to Serena in this, Cameron. After all, she didn't have to bring us here with her, she could have just gone and only told us once she had a result. But this way, we get to see Mum as soon as she's found, rather than waiting around and not knowing anything. What do you think is better?"

His glare lessened a little as he slumped back against the chair, blowing out a long breath through his nostrils. "I suppose that you have a point, Charlie. I don't have to like it, though."

"No one ever said that you did, Cameron. But my first job is to keep you safe, while my second is to rescue your mother, if she is alive. I feel that she is, as well you know, but…"

"You're tempering your reactions already," Charlotte finished for her, and she nodded a little as she picked up her coffee and took a long sip. While this wasn't quite how she had expected things to play out, she was grateful to have Charlotte there, acting as the balance for Cameron so that she didn't have to worry quite so much about his getting into trouble as the search for Bernie moved in to a new phase.