Chief Commonwealth inspector Frederick Rose, in charge of investigating the unsolicited attacks on Mimir sixteen years ago, was killed today when the Aral-class transport he was aboard exploded on lifting from Eldas. He was thirty-six years old. He is survived by his wife, Daciana Mason Rose. They had no children. Officials say there is no reason to suspect foul play in Rose’s death. The Aral class of transports has been under investigation recently due to a flaw discovered in the design of fuel lines.
— Newswire, 23 Duodecem 5237 PD
20 Octem, 5249 PD
“It’s good to see you again, Freder.” Adam Windsor extended his hand to the other man, who leaned heavily on a cane even after all these years.
At least he can walk again, Adam thought. That was a distinct improvement over the last time he’d seen Frederick Rose, when he’d helped Daci smuggle him here, telling everyone that he’d died. He’d owed Daciana that much—and it wasn’t all that much, in the grand scheme of things. Help her smuggle her husband to safety? Child’s play after he’d done the same thing with Rachel and her niece so many years before.
Frederick Rose still looked frail, though. It was clear his health had been permanently affected by the poisons that his pursuers had tried to use to kill him—and when those hadn’t done the job quickly enough, they’d resorted to other methods that had similarly left their mark on the man. When he smiled, though, he was the same Freder Rose that he’d grown up with. “It’s good to be alive to be seen, Adam. What’s brought you out this far?”
“Your wife. I need Daci. Where is she?”
“Uh-oh.” He glanced over his shoulder, down the corridor, then back at Adam. “She’s in the lab, taking a look at some of the latest samples that Dr. Grace sent across, I think. I’ve finished with them already, but she wanted to have a look herself.” He shook his head slightly. “You can take the soldier out of the scientist…” His voice trailed away.
Adam’s brow furrowed. Back to playing with her test-tubes, then. Wonderful. Hopefully she’s come up with something useful. “How is she?”
Frederick shrugged. “Day to day, mostly, like me. Some days are better than other days.” He leaned heavily against the cane. “You didn’t come to take her back to Nova Spexi, did you?”
Adam winced. “There’s a war coming, Freder. We need her.”
He blinked a little. “How do you know? The communications taps haven’t…haven’t yielded…” His eyes widened. “The Oracle.”
Adam just nodded.
“What did she see?”
“War, Freder. Do I have to say more than that?” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “There’s more to it than that, too, but that’s the more important part.”
Frederick frowned. “What’s the other important part? I can tell there’s another one. It’s all over your face.”
Two people in the galaxy that can read me. Rachel, and him. Adam sighed. “America and Grant are still alive. They’re somewhere in N-E space, as prisoners, but D’Arcy says we’re not sure where.”
“Your tone suggests otherwise.”
He shook his head. “The Oracle had a vision about that, too. Thought it was some kind of nightmare.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“No. Rachel and I don’t think so, and neither does the rest of the Council.” Adam watched his friend’s arm begin to tremble. “Do you need to sit down?”
He waved his free hand. “In a minute. I’ll be fine another minute.” He smiled a little. “It’s much better than it used to be, anyway. Hope you’re not still losing sleep worrying.”
Adam shook his head slowly. “Not since the last time you wrote, no. I’m losing sleep for other reasons these days.”
Adam shook his head again. “No. Something more pleasant, mercifully.” He smiled wryly. Frederick looked confused for a moment, then began to laugh.
“You old bastard. You’re back with her.”
“I never really left her. Severing probably would have killed us both.” He smiled a boyish, almost embarrassed smile. “I moved back in a couple weeks ago. No one knows yet.”
“No one’s noticed, you mean.”
He shrugged. “The same thing, really.” He grasped the wiry man by the arm. “You need to sit, Freder. The strain’s starting to show.”
Frederick smiled ruefully. “Can’t even let me impress you just a little, huh, Grumpy?” He leaned into Adam’s shoulder, the limp more pronounced as Frederick led him toward a lounge just down the corridor. “Wanted you to see how much better I am these days.”
“I noticed, Freder. Believe me, I noticed.” Last time I saw you, you still had a hard time sitting up on your own, let alone walking. Adam suppressed a wince. He needed to visit more often. But how? That would raise suspicion. The Guardians were expected to maintain a working relationship, nothing more. The general view of Daciana Rose was that she was very hard to get along with, especially in the wake of Frederick’s supposed death. They had staged a rather public falling-out to emphasize the point and at least partially explain her very prolonged absence from Nova Spexi, her supposed exile to Urgathe. “How’s the research going?”
Frederick eased himself slowly down into a plush chair and put one leg up on a nearby ottoman. It was a neatly appointed room, one that he and Daci clearly spent some time in, given the comfortable seating and a wood-burning stove in the corner, composite logs neatly stacked nearby. “You don’t really want to listen to the technobabble, Adam.”
He smiled wryly. “It seemed polite to ask.”
“Grumpy, polite? I think the world is coming to an end.” Frederick leaned back, expression slowly smoothing out, most of the pain etched there erasing itself. “It’s going well enough.” He adjusted himself in the chair, looking up at his friend. “Why did you come all the way out here to talk to Daci? You could have just called.”
“She probably needs to come back with me, Freder.” He tried to quell the guilt that brought bile into his throat. “What she and Aidan and I are going to have to do to get this planet—this system—ready for war isn’t really conducive to the distance and…well, insanity of getting in and out of here.” Urgarthe was mountainous and the complex Daci and Frederick lived in here was set into a deep valley with narrow access. Daci had insisted that the lab be in a place that could be easily buried or otherwise disposed of if something went wrong there. Frederick had been in no position to disagree.
Frederick sat very still, staring at Adam even as the Guardian looked away. “That’s why you didn’t say why you were coming.”
Adam just nodded, unable to speak.
“I…” Frederick’s voice broke. “I need her, Adam. You can’t just take her away from me like this. Not after…no. Adam.” His friend’s voice broke in the middle.
Adam tried not to sound desperate. Desperation was weakness. That wasn’t him. Unless it’s Rachel or Freder. God. “I don’t have much choice, Freder.” He finally met Frederick’s gaze again. “We’re going to need ships, orbital defenses, all of that. She’s an expert when it comes to defenses that are costly to the aggressors. She knows what we need and she’ll know how to deploy what we’ll manage to get. The colony needs her, Freder.”
Frederick shook his head slowly, voice quiet, broken. “We were never supposed to have to worry about this. E-557—the colony—it was supposed to be a safe haven. The rest of the galaxy was supposed to leave us alone. I was dead. She was doing research. Guarding the planet. Doing a job. Like I was doing a job.” He swallowed, stared at his hands. He didn’t mention that more than a few people had tried to kill him for doing a job, the particulars of which he couldn’t even remember, thanks to the supposed accident that should have taken his life. “Was supposed to be a new life. A safe life.”
“Was supposed to be the same with Mimir, Freder. The rest of humanity really doesn’t seem to care what we want.”
Frederick nodded, then leaned forward and buried his face in his hands. Adam winced and moved to the chair. He put his hand on Frederick’s shoulder and squeezed. Despite how frail he looked, there was muscle corded like steel beneath the surface. Frederick shook his head slowly. “I can’t stay here. I can’t go anywhere else. And now I have to give up one of the very few things I do have that make my life bearable.”
“I’m sorry, Freder.”
“I know,” Frederick whispered. “I know, Adam. I wish I could say that helped.” He straightened, leaning back against and looking up at Adam. “Don’t stand there and watch me cry, Grumpy. Go tell Daci her exile is over.” He took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “She won’t want to leave me here alone. She’ll refuse to leave, I’m sure. Tell her…” his voice trailed away for a moment, then returned, ragged but still strong. “Tell her I said to go. She has my blessing.”
“She won’t believe it if it’s not true, Freder.” And I’m not going to lie to her for you, either.
“She’ll believe you because it’s true, and she’ll hate us both for a while because of it.” Frederick sighed. “I always knew it could come to this. I just never thought it would.”
“We were all in denial. Me included, most days.”
Frederick nodded, closing his eyes. “I wish it wasn’t going to happen.”
“We all wish that, Freder.” Adam squeezed his shoulder again. “You going to be okay?”
Frederick nodded slowly. “I’m going to have to be. Go talk to Daci. I’ll…make some lunch or something.” He smiled wryly up at Adam. “After I rest for a few minutes, anyway.”
I’m sorry, Freder. Adam nodded a little and eased away, already mentally preparing himself for the talk he was going to have with Daciana and the impending explosion of the former ordinance expert’s rage.
Daciana Mason Rose was in a laboratory, though she wasn’t playing with any test tubes. She was watching a holographic representation of a ballistics test that must have been going on somewhere in New Earth space, from the looks of things. Her once-short dark brown hair was woven into a messy braid that started at her brow and then fell down her back to between her shoulder blades. She looked like she was still in her pajamas. She turned at the sound of his entry, her expression like a storm coming in off the water.
“Why is Frederick so upset, Adam? Tell me you didn’t come all the way out here to make him upset.”
He kept his own expression a mask of stone. “Because I told him the truth. You don’t answer your comms anymore. If you had, then you’d know why I was here and why he’s upset.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t like your tone, Adam.”
Don’t play those games with me, Daci. Your husband may be the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother, but my affection doesn’t necessarily have to extend to you, too. It just tends to out of concern for him. “Daci, there’s a war coming. I need you back in Nova Spexi and I need you there now. Aidan and I can’t get this planet defensible against a large-scale attack without your help.”
“I’m not leaving Frederick. You can’t ask me to.”
“No. I can only ask him to let you leave.” Adam shook his head slowly. “You have a job to do, Daci. He knows that. You know that. I know that. That job has to come first. There’s thousands upon thousands of lives depending on that.”
She was silent for a moment, just staring at him. That stare hardened into a glare. Her words were a stiletto carved from ice. “You lost Rachel because of that kind of attitude.”
Adam closed his eyes and tamped down his temper. Rachel and I did what was best for the colony at the time, what was best for Lindsay, what was best for a future here. That’s in the past, now. “You need to come back to Nova Spexi with me, Daciana.”
“I’m not leaving Frederick.”
Adam kept his tone gentle, voice mild. “He says you are, Daci.”
Her gaze was colder than the depths of space. “I can’t believe you asked him to let me leave.”
“He asked why I was here. I told him.” I owe him that much. And more, but there’s not much more I can do. I wish there was. Adam’s voice was still quiet, gentle but firm. “Daci, you knew that once Mimir and the Guard were gone that there would come the day that we’d have to fight for our survival.”
“That wasn’t supposed to happen until after I was dead,” she muttered, turning and stalking away from him. She paced, arms crossed tightly, shoulders hunched. “He can’t have said to go.”
“Would he be this upset if he hadn’t said that, Daci?”
She flinched. She turned away from him again, stared at the frozen hologram. “I can’t leave him here alone,” she repeated.
Adam tried not to sigh. His voice came sternly, now, with the undercurrent of command that was more natural than its absence was these days. “Daciana.”
She held up a hand, then covered her face with it. Her shoulders shook for a moment, then she took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly. “I can’t resign, can I?”
“No. You can’t.” She can’t possibly be considering that as a viable solution anyhow.
“I didn’t think so.” She sighed and stared at the hologram for a few more long moments. “How do we know that there’s a war coming? I haven’t heard any reports about that.”
She flinched again. Her resolve was ebbing. “How do we know the report is authentic?”
“Because it happened in full view of the Council.”
“Oh.” Her shoulders slumped even more. She turned back toward Adam. “I…I have to go to Frederick. He’s…”
Adam just nodded, not making her lie about why she needed to leave the room. He already knew why. “Go on. I’ll find somewhere to wait for you.”
“Wait for me?”
He nodded. “I’m taking you with me, Daci. Today, if possible.”
She winced. “Not today, Adam. Tomorrow, maybe, or the next day.”
She bit her lip, then nodded. She fled the room. He turned toward the hologram and stared at it for a moment, then exhaled.
Sometimes, I hate this job.
• • •
He and Frederick were sitting on the roof that night, staring at the stars like they had when they were kids on Mimir. The stars were different, and they’d become different men, but the moment was the same as all the others. It was somehow comforting that no matter how much things changed, some things stayed the same.
The chill had settled in early in the mountains, a promise of a frigid winter to come. Adam wore his jacket and a pair of gloves. Frederick wore the same plus a stocking cap and had a blanket pulled around himself besides. Their breath steamed in the nighttime chill. Daciana was somewhere below, packing her things to leave in the morning.
They’d been quiet for a long while, just sitting up there, when Frederick broke the silence. “I’m not staying here when you two leave, Adam.”
He stiffened and slowly looked over toward his friend, who was looking at him with that same serious expression that he’d worn when he’d told Adam some thirty years before that he wasn’t staying on Mimir.
“What do you mean? Where are you going to go?”
“Back to civilization, I guess.” Frederick looked away, up toward the sky. “Where can we stay in Nova Spexi until we can build a house or something?”
What the hell is he talking about? Adam blinked. “But you’re dead.” It was the only thing he could think to say in response and it was hardly the most intelligent thing he could have said. He kicked himself for it as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
Frederick laughed weakly. “Not for too much longer, Adam.”
His mind raced. What if word gets out that he’s still alive? Whoever was trying to kill him the first time isn’t going to have quit because it’s been twelve years. You don’t try that hard to kill someone and then just give up on it. The only reason they stopped hunting him was because they thought he was dead. Even if he doesn’t know now what he knew then, before that explosion, they’re not going to care. There’s always a chance he’ll remember. Whatever knowledge had put Frederick in danger was knowledge that he still seemed to be trying to recover. Twenty-eight years after the attacks on Mimir, he was still trying to figure out who was responsible. Maybe he’d known twelve years ago, when those attempts on his life had begun. But Frederick didn’t know anymore. They’d known that within days of him coming out of his coma, here on E-557, when they’d decided that it was best that no one know he was still alive, much less on the isolated world.
Frederick looked at him and smiled weakly. “You’re worrying about it.”
“Your wife is going to kill you.” She’ll kill you before anyone else has a chance to. “Does she know? Did you tell her?”
He shook his head. “No. But I’ve been thinking about it all day. Since you and I talked. It’d be hell on both of us to be apart. I don’t know how you and Rachel managed.” He looked down and sighed. “‘course, there’s more to it than that.”
Adam eyed him. Frederick was uncomfortable, and the discomfort was written all over his face. It wasn’t pain, but something else. “What is it?”
“I think she’s pregnant. She doesn’t think I know, but I’m pretty sure.” Frederick rubbed his face and sighed. “We’d talked about it on and off for years and it never…never really happened for us. And now, with whatever’s coming, and the stress, I…” His voice trailed away as he stared up at the sky. “I need to be there. I need to be with her. The last thing she’s going to need on top of everything else is worrying about me.”
Adam’s throat swelled and he nodded a little. He could sympathize with that. If I was in his place, and it was Rachel in her place, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing. “She’s going to worry either way, Freder.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “But at least I’ll be able to be there and able to tell her to stop worrying, right?” He smiled wryly. “Six years of trying, and it happens now.”
Adam shook his head. “Do you think she’s sure?”
“I think she’s positive. She just hasn’t found the right way to tell me yet.” Frederick smiled a little. “I think she was waiting to tell me next week.”
“On your birthday.”
He nodded. “Could you think of a better gift than that, Adam? Finding out that you’re going to be a father? When you’ve talked about it and tried and tried?” Frederick shook his head a little, still smiling a little. “I can’t think of anything better.”
Adam found his eyes stinging as he thought about some of the talks he and Rachel had had on the subject. He sighed a little and lay back, stretching. “I envy you, Freder. I really do.”
“There’s still time for you and Rachel, Grumpy.”
Adam shook his head a little, staring at the stars. “Not too much of it, I’m afraid.”
“Maybe,” Adam murmured. There was still another few years for he and Rachel before that door closed to them. The older they got, though, the slimmer the chance that they would be able to start a family of their own became. He didn’t have the luxury of twelve years’ age difference between he and Rachel like Frederick and Daciana did. “I’ll call Rachel,” he said finally. “You two can probably stay with us for a few days, at least, until we find someplace better for you both.” He thought for a moment, staring at the stars. “I don’t think Ezra Grace uses the house his parents built up in the hills. I’ll talk to him and see if I can set you up there.”
Frederick nodded. “He’s a smart guy, that Grace.”
Adam nodded. “Too smart for his own good sometimes, I think. But incredibly dumb about some things, too.” He shook his head a little, smiling ruefully. “He wants to fly into N-E space with an ex-Compact ex-black ops agent and an ex-Chinasia pilot to rescue America and Grant.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Adam shook his head. “Not one bit. And the plan is just about crazy enough to work, too.”
Frederick shook his head. “Are you going to approve it?”
“Depends on what changes they’ve made and whether they’ve convinced the pilot to come along. Rachel said that she thinks I should order him along if he balks. I’d rather not. He’s more valuable when he decides he wants to do something.”
“Aren’t they all?”
“Well, yes.” Adam grinned. “That’s par for the course.” He pushed himself up on an elbow and winced as his shoulder creaked. I’m getting old. “I have to track down D’Arcy Morgause tomorrow and ring his bell unless he’s got something useful to tell me.”
Frederick winced. “You’re allowed to do that?”
“Who’s going to stop me from doing it, Freder? The Council? They’re as annoyed with him as I am, for better or worse.” He shrugged a little, sitting up fully. “He’s holding back information and that’s just…well, to quote Dr. Grace and his sister, not kosher. Not when it’s a matter of life and death for two of the Inner Collegium.”
“Daciana’s always said the man lives and breathes secrets, Grumpy.”
“That doesn’t give him the right to deny information to anyone who could use that information for the good of the colony, Freder, which is exactly what he’s doing.” Adam frowned. “And it could be his downfall, this time.”
Adam nodded. “Council’s getting fed up with his shenanigans. But they don’t have anyone just yet who can take his place. But that’s only a matter of time and of finding someone.” There’s a few men and women I could think of that might be good for that job. He looked at Frederick for a long moment. Like you, old friend.
“You’ve got that look, you old bastard.”
“Whatever it is, I think I’m going to say no.”
“We’ll see, Freder. We’ll see.”