The Rose Foundation membership ascribes to various creeds and beliefs. Some are pacifists, believing that if they harm no one, no one will harm them. Unfortunately for these men and women, for all of their great knowledge, they fail to realize one thing: pacifism is a myth. One way or another, war is always waged, whether from action or inaction, and someone always gets hurt. This is a universal constant throughout history, a thing that can be traced back to our earliest recorded origins on Old Earth. We, like most species, seem to be hard-wired for violence.
— Erich Quizibian, Roots of Disaster: Predicting the Death of the Human Race, c. 5073 PD
19 Octem, 5249 PD
Brendan scrubbed a hand over his eyes, feeling like he looked more tired than he actually was. At least his cadets were showing some improvement in the simulators, though not nearly as much as he would have hoped.
Maybe I should give them a day off, let them recover a little before throwing even harder simulations at them. To his surprise, Marshal Windsor had said nothing negative about how hard he was pushing his students. In fact, he’d given tacit approval for Brendan’s activities. Brendan wasn’t sure if he should be unnerved by that or impressed by Rachel’s apparent powers of persuasion.
He turned quickly on his heel and tried not to regret it as he over-spun and struggled to balance himself. I’ve been spending too much time in the simulators. The mess his equilibrium was becoming was a certain sign of that. “Hey Ezra. Someone having a bad reaction to their implant or something?”
The doctor shook his head. “Nah.”
“Then why are you here? You never come to base. You’re a freaking pacifist.”
Ezra rolled his eyes. “Says the combat pilot that’s my best friend. I came to find you, snarky bastard.” He straightened from his lean against one of the thicker saplings that dotted the base grounds, dressed casually in pants and an open button-down shirt, ID clipped firmly to his breast pocket—mostly for the benefit of the newest group of cadets, who wouldn’t know who he was until he came in to give the lecture on wetware implantation and maintenance. “Want to take a walk? Got some stuff I need to talk to you about.”
Brendan arched a brow, then shrugged. “Yeah, let me get out of the flightsuit. Meet you at the gate in ten.”
Ezra nodded, seeming a little distracted.
What’s in his shorts? Brendan wondered as he walked away. He shook his head. Either Ezra was going to tell him, or he wouldn’t. That was just the way it was.
He took a quick shower and changed his clothes, then met Ezra at the gates to the base a little over ten minutes later, hair still damp and feeling more human than he had when he’d climbed out of the simulator—though only a little less worn.
“You look like you feel better.” Ezra shoved his hands into his pockets.
Brendan shrugged. “Maybe a little. Better than the alternatives, anyway. I forgot how much aerial combat takes out of you.”
Ezra smiled wryly. “I wouldn’t know. Rough stuff?”
Brendan nodded. “Hate to see what some of the cadets look like by the time they make it back to their barracks. One of them was telling me that she practically needed a spatula to scrape her bunkmate out of bed this morning. They’re starting to call me a slave-driver. Waiting for the nicknames to start up behind my back.” He rubbed at an eye. “Some of them have figured out why I’m doing it, though. Pretty sure some of them have, anyway.”
“Because there’s a war coming.”
Brendan nodded. “I think some of them got a clue when Windsor kicked three of them out of his office when they showed up to complain about how hard I was working them. I think maybe I’ll give them tomorrow off, though. No sense in their being exhausted every day of their lives before the war even starts. Time enough to be tired then.”
“Do you want me to give any of them stim-packs?”
Brendan winced. “No. Never. I can’t believe you’d ask.”
Ezra shrugged. “They’ve gotten me through a long night or two.”
“I didn’t realize that.”
“Never had a reason to mention it, Brendan.” Ezra raked a hand through his dark curls. “Usually when I’m trying to finish some research that’s got me in a time-crunch. Haven’t done it in years, though, thank god.” He smiled wryly. “Figure I’m getting old enough that I can covet my sleep and finish it in the morning.”
Brendan shook his head. “You’re something else, Ez. You really are.” He tucked his hands into his pockets. “Where are we going, anyway?”
“Gabe has a table set for us at the café.”
Brendan shot Ezra a suspicious look. “What do you want, Ez?”
“Because my brother-in-law has a table waiting for us at the café, you automatically assume I want something. Why?”
“Because you’ve been my best friend for ten years and I think by now I know you.” Brendan shook his head. “I’m not angry, I’m just curious now.” And god knows I won’t turn down something Gabriel Forester cooks.
Ezra shook his head, wrinkling his nose. “Let’s just say that there’s something pretty big we need to talk about. Couple—well, no, more than a couple—lives hang in the balance on this one.”
Okay, now I’m really curious. What’s going on in that head of yours, Ez? What have you applied your genius to this time? It clearly wasn’t something medical. Something medical wasn’t anything that Ezra would come to him about. He had plenty of colleagues networked across E-557 for those sorts of discussions and debates. “Are you going to keep me in suspense until we’re sitting down, then?”
“I figured I’d start getting to the meat of the discussion after you had something to drink, yes. Gabe got some early wine from the Allegheri’s vineyard. He said it was pretty good. You’re off-duty, right?”
Brendan nodded, and some white from the Allegheri vineyard made his mouth begin to water a little. “Going to give me a taste?”
“I was going to let you have a whole glass.”
“Not that. Of what you’re going to talk at me about.”
“Oh.” Ezra’s brow furrowed a moment and he looked around, almost furtively, then shrugged. He dropped his voice lower. “It’s about America Farragut and Grant Channing.”
Brendan blinked. This is going to get interesting. “What about them?”
“That…” Ezra’s voice trailed away. “That, I think, you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out, Brendan.”
At least until we get to the café and I’ve got a glass of wine in front of me, no doubt. Brendan just nodded, not arguing. Sometimes, it was safer that way. It wasn’t a long walk, anyway. He’d know what Ezra was dancing around soon enough. The question was really about whether or not he’d like what he heard.
They walked down the edge of the wooded roadway that led from the base into Nova Spexi proper, down one of the byways that wended its way through a series of homes and shops on a journey toward the coast. Most of the roads in Nova Spexi that headed in that direction met up with one main drag that headed out toward the water but ended well before the beach. The café Gabriel Forester ran was at the seaward side of town—on very quiet mornings and nights, you could almost hear the water a few kilometers away.
The table set for them was a small one on the corner of the deck outside of the café itself, one tucked away from the street and away from most of the other tables. It was a quiet day, though not chilly like the past few days had been. This one only had the barest hints that autumn was coming, and coming fast. Brendan took the chair that left his back to the wall, stretching as he settled in. Ezra paused and exchanged a few words with Gabriel before joining him.
“Gabe’s going to bring out some bread and the wine in a minute.”
Brendan nodded. “So what’s going on, Ezra? What about Lin’s parents?”
Gabriel dropped off the wine and the bread. He said nothing, just left the goods and made a quick getaway.
Brendan was starting to get nervous. The hell is going on here? “Ez?”
Ezra broke off a piece of bread before beginning to talk, slowly at first. “What would you do if you could help Lindsay get her parents back?”
I already don’t like where this is going. He reached for his glass of wine, though he didn’t raise his glass just yet. “Why are you asking that question, Ez?”
“Just answer, Brendan.”
He sighed, rubbing his forehead between his eyes. “Just about anything, and you know it. I love her, and she deserves to have her parents here, with her, safe. It would make her happy. Well. Happier.”
Ezra nodded slowly. “We have a plan.”
That should not be causing the dread coiling in my innards, Ez. “All right.” He drew out the words, making his hesitation and discomfort clear.
Ezra looked like he’d just barely suppressed a wince. He reached for his wineglass. “We’re thinking that a small team going in under cover can probably get her parents out of the facilities where they’re being held with no casualties and a minimum amount of collateral damage.”
I’m really starting to not like this plan. “Do we even know where they’re being held?” Of course, I probably know where one of those facilities is. It’s the other one that’s the question. Not that I want to go back ever again. I never want to see New Earth space again. Ever.
“We’re waiting on confirmations. Rachel is working on that.”
“You brought Rachel into this? How many people are in on whatever plan you’ve come up with, Ez?” If he’s been talking to Lindsay about this, I might have to hurt him. Brendan leaned forward slightly, cradling his wineglass between both hands. “You still haven’t told me what it has to do with me, either.”
He deadpanned. “I think you can guess on that, Brendan.”
“Of course I can guess. You want me to go back there and possibly get myself killed. Who else is in on this?”
“Me, Kara, a little Gabe, Rachel.” Ezra frowned into his glass. “And Alana.”
“And she knows you want me to do…something. And she still wants to be involved?” It can’t be something that involves me dying for sure. Ezra wouldn’t go for a plan that involved that.
Ezra nodded. “She’s the one who said we can’t pull it off without you.”
Oh god. This just gets worse and worse. He exhaled through his teeth. “None of this is making any sense to me, Ezra. What do you guys think you need me to do?”
He leaned forward even more, voice very quiet, barely above a whisper. “We take a small ship, you, me, and her and fake it. We bluff our way into the Chinasia Corp facility and then we bluff our way out. Then we do the same thing at the Compact facility. That’s why it’s you and her.”
You want to come along, Ezra? The hell is with that? “And what about you? Why are you coming along?”
“Someone’s got to take care of America and Grant when they’re sprung.”
“That doesn’t have to be you, Ezra.”
He looked down at his hands. “Call it a feeling, then. I need to be there. I need to be a part of this. Besides, I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t take the risk with you two and something went wrong.” He raked a hand back through his hair. “So I have to go. I have to go with and be there to help if someone gets hurt or something goes wrong or any other number of things that won’t happen because this plan is a good plan and it’s going to work.” He looked Brendan in the eye. “But only if you say you’ll come.”
“I need to think about it.” Think of a way to tell him to come up with a new plan. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to leave Lindsay. They’ll kill me if I go back there. I failed my mission. I don’t want to leave Lindsay alone. I don’t want her to feel me die. I can’t take that chance. I just…I can’t take that chance. The cost is just too high.
“Brendan, we can’t do this without you.”
“I didn’t say no, Ez,” Brendan said evenly. “I said I need to think about it. And I do. This isn’t the kind of thing you immediately say yes to.”
“Alana’s crazy. That’s why she did.”
“She’s not crazy, Brendan.”
“Prove it.” He took a long swallow of the wine. It was good, but he suddenly found himself not in the mood to finish it. “I should go home.”
Ezra waved a hand. “Stay. I can go.”
“Really, Brendan. Stay. Eat. Drink the wine. It’s good wine, isn’t it?”
Brendan sighed, looking away, in the direction of the water so far away. The view had no answers for him. “Sorry, Ez.”
“You need to think about it. I understand that.” He paused. “Do me a favor, though?”
“What?” Something tells me I’m not going to like this, either.
“Don’t talk to Lindsay about it before you decide what you’re going to do.”
Brendan just stared at him. Did he actually just ask me to not talk to my wife about something that’s going to affect both of our lives in a very, very real sense? He swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “How could you ask that, Ez?”
“I want the decision to be yours, Brendan. You have to be right with this before she has to be right with this.”
“You say that like I’m not going to get a choice.”
Ezra shook his head a little, staring at his half-eaten piece of bread. “I’m beginning to wonder how much choice any of us have anymore, Brendan. Kara’s told me what’s been going on at the meetings. She’s told me how high the stakes are. Rachel has told me how high the stakes are. Alana’s informed me in intricate detail how dangerous this plan will be if we don’t do it right. But I still feel like it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right move to make. It’s just…just…right.” He shook his head again. “I can’t explain it, Brendan. That’s just how it feels.”
Brendan nodded mutely, lips pressed together in a tight line. He finally sighed and took another sip of wine. “I won’t tell her,” he said at last. “Not yet, anyway.” But at some point, I’m going to have to. That goes without saying. I’ll have to tell her. I can’t keep this from her forever. I think she’d notice that I was gone.
“Don’t thank me yet, Ez,” Brendan warned. “I haven’t said yes.”
“You haven’t said no, either.”
“No. Not yet.” Not yet. Part of me wants to go with my gut and say no right away. What’s stopping me? He knew the answer. Lindsay, and the parents she’d barely known, the parents she hadn’t seen since they gave her to her aunt when she was a toddler. Two years old.
“You won’t say no.”
I don’t like how sure he sounds. Brendan stared at his friend. “You sound very sure of that.”
Ezra just shrugged. Brendan sighed.
Where’s the harm? Might as well know what I’d be walking into. Get all the details before I say no. He suppressed another sigh. If I end up saying no. He’s pretty sure I’m going to say yes. “All right. Let’s hear the details.”
Ezra grinned and started talking.