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These Ancient Bones

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Nile sits on a park bench, a cup of tea clutched in her hand. Before her, green grass and trees spill out to the shores of a sparkling lake. Glittering towers, draped with greenery, rise up from the city around her.

Chicago.

Home.

But this is not the Chicago of her childhood. Several hundred years, along with multiple environmental and restorative justice movements, have left their impact. Inequality and injustice still exist but every day people chip away at them a little more.

Nile takes a sip of her tea and watches a group of young kids playing tag in the grass. It’s not the future she had imagined but it's a softer, kinder future then she had hoped for. She hopes that she played some small part in its creation.

She wanders down the lawn and along the lakefront, breathing in air that would have been choked with the smog thousands of cars in her day. Now it tastes of freshly cut grass and lake-blown mist.

The Field Museum still stands along the shore, looking not much different then it had in her day. She goes inside.

She’s standing before the ancient skeleton of Sue the Tyrannosaurus when she sees movement out of the corner of her eye. She can’t help but grin as she spots Nicky and Joe strolling up, arm in arm.

“Well hello,” says Nicky with a smile as Joe pulls Nile into a hug. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“Haha, Nicky,” Nile snorts as she disentangles herself from Joe to give Nicky a hug. “Sometimes I just like to come stare at things older than myself.”

The other two laugh as they look up at the ancient bones.

“Looks a bit like Andy did during the Victorian era,” Joe jokes.

“Tall, bony and ready to bite your head off?”

“Exactly.”

The two men each wrap an arm around Nile and hold her between them. She breathes deeply, savoring their warmth.

“It’s good to see you again, tesoro,” Nicky murmurs in an old French dialect that no one but they speak anymore. “How was it being back?”

“I missed you both,” Nile says, “It’s been tough. On one hand it's good to see Chicago grow and change for the better but…” she trails off with a sigh.

“But it's also hard to watch what was important to you disappear,” Joe says, knowingly.

“Exactly. Like, there's a school now where the house I grew up in was. And I know my mama would have been so happy. She was a teacher. She would have loved the idea of a school being built on the grounds of our old house. But for me, as long as the house stood, I could still go back and look at it. And not feel my age, all the years…” A misting of tears line her lashes as Nicky pulls her in close.

“Oh Nile,” he murmurs, “I know it’s hard sweetie, we have all been in your place.”

“I know, I know. I’ll get it together.”

“Nile, Nile. That’s not what I’m saying. You don’t have to ‘get it together.’ We all understand what it’s like. And we all love you so, so much and will support you through this no matter what.”

“Thanks Nicky,” Nile sniffles, “I don’t know what I would do without you all.”

“Nor us you” Nicky says, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“Speaking of family,” Joe says, “They are probably waiting for us right now.”

The three wander from the museum and down the steps of one of the underground transit tubes that serve the park. An autonomous shuttle is already waiting for them. It whisks them up town, under the old Wrigley Field, and into the heart of the shining towers that have grown up around the city’s shuttle port. They find the others, already gathered, leaning against a railing overlooking the lake. Out in the distance great pylons jut from the water, each one supporting a massive launch vehicle.

Quynh hears them first coming first, turning to greet them with a smile on her face. Booker is right behind her, arms already outstretched to pull her into a hug. Finally, behind the other two, Andy. Tired, loving, beautiful Andy. Their leader, their rock, her best friend. She smiles at Nile.

“Good to see you, kid.”

“You too, old woman,” Nile grins.

“Ready to head out?” Andy jerks her head at one of the launch vehicles in the distance. Steam rises in coils around its engines, already heating as they prepare for use. As Nile watches the first ferry depart the docks, carrying passengers out to the craft. Turning around she looks back at the city of her birth. It’s glittering spires and bustling life. She takes a deep breath, feeling her family pressing themselves around her with their strength and unconditional love.

“You know? I think I am.”