Chapter Eleven

We are not angels, not saints.  We are men and women.  We all have our demons, our secrets.  Those secrets can kill.  I knew a secret like that, once.  Maybe a few secrets.  I wish I could remember which one they wanted to end me for.

— Frederick Rose, c. 5240 PD


23 Octem, 5249 PD

Ezra straightened from his lean as the door to the council chambers came open and Brendan emerged from the shadows of the doorway.  “I’d have thought you’d be in there with Lindsay.”

“I was,” Brendan said quietly.  “They sent me out here to get you.”

“Ah.”  Ezra swallowed, trying not to fidget.  “They’re ready for me, then?”

Brendan nodded slowly, watching his friend as he approached.  “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Do you have any better ones?”  Ezra countered.  It was the same discussion they’d been having for two days.  Brendan wished he had better ideas.  Ezra nodded slightly at the sight of Brendan’s almost scowl.  “Didn’t think so.  Let’s go, then.”

The men entered the room together but separated quickly once they were inside.  Brendan eased past Ezra and up the low steps to where Lindsay was seated, taking up position behind her shoulder.  A quick glance around the room revealed that she wasn’t the only one escorted today—Alana stood behind Rachel’s shoulder and D’Arcy Morgause had a woman of twenty or thirty standing behind his left shoulder.

Ezra was startled to see Field Marshal Daciana Rose in her seat in the chamber.  The last time she had appeared had been before his sister had been added to the Council—the last time Daciana had been there was probably before their father, Zephaniah Grace, had died.  Ezra couldn’t stop himself from staring at the woman, the youngest of the three Guardians, who had aged slowly and gracefully even in the face of everything that had happened to her husband.  Ezra was among the few that were aware of Frederick Rose’s survival—he had been a young doctor brought in on the case after Rose had been brought to E-557, after his supposed death in the waning days of 5237.

I wonder where he is.  I wonder if he’s still alive.  He hadn’t heard anything back since he’d sent the last samples out to Urgarthe other than a brief ‘thank you’ note, which was customary by now.  He hoped he wasn’t dead.  Frederick Rose was an interesting character of a man—especially when medicated.  Ezra rather liked the old Inspector.

Lindsay was staring at him and Ezra suppressed a wince.  Of course she was confused.  He didn’t blame her.

The Speaker cleared his throat.  “Doctor Grace, the Council is pleased that you could be in attendance this afternoon.”

Ezra bowed his head slightly.  “I am honored to be amongst you, Speaker.  It’s not every day that I get to be among the firsts among equals.”  He clasped his hands behind his back, slowly looking at the rest of the Council, each one in turn.  The Speaker cleared his throat.

“Consul Grace-Forester has brought it to our attention that you have given some thought toward a solution to a particularly thorny problem the Rose Council finds itself faced with?”

Ezra nodded slowly.  “Yes, Speaker, I have.  I have had limited consultation with the Guardians on it, and I welcome any input they may have.”  He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small holographic transmitter node.  “May I?”

The Speaker nodded.  “Proceed.”

Ezra smiled briefly.  “Thank you, Speaker.”  He activated the node, which displayed images that went along with his explanation of the plan.  It took almost an hour to explain the reasoning and the proposed tactics.  He held back a few particulars—like who would be on the team heading into the lion’s den of New Earth space, who would be on that three-man crew.  By the time he’d finished, D’Arcy Morgause looked like he’d eaten a sour plum and was choking on the pit.  The girl at his shoulder was starting to look nervous.  The Speaker had leaned forward slightly by the end of Ezra’s monologue.

“Had you spoken to any particulars for the team?”  The Speaker asked.  Curiosity was evident in his tone.

Ezra nodded slowly.  “Yes, Speaker.  I have spoken with Colonel Chase and Commander Cho regarding the plan and both have agreed to assist in the physical strikes.”

Someone sucked in a breath sharply behind him.  Ezra tried not to wince, knowing that it was Lindsay.  He could already sense Brendan’s misery.  I’m sorry, Brendan, he thought.

Ezra licked his lips.  “I had intended to be the third man on the crew.”

The Speaker’s brows went up.  “Might I ask why you would make that decision, Dr. Grace?”

“You may, of course, Speaker.”  Ezra shut down the holographic projections and tucked the node back into his pocket, collecting his thoughts before he began to speak.  “It’s not in me to ask anyone to do anything I would not, given the opportunity, do myself.  I know that what I have proposed has the potential to be dangerous and ideally, whoever the third man on the team ends up being would have some, if not extensive, medical training.  We have no idea what conditions Grant Channing and America Farragut may be in when they’re found.  Further, if any of the two penetrating operatives are injured, they will require medical attention.  Given Colonel Chase’s modifications alone, whoever is sent along with medical training will also have to be capable of dealing with advanced cybertechnology.”  He spread his hands a little.  “I have that training.  Moreover, I’m able to deal with whatever difficulties might arise medically given my extensive training and work here in the colony.”  He paused for a moment, took a breath, then exhaled it before continuing on.  “Furthermore, I’m a known face in the scientific and medical communities in New Earth space.  If something, by tragic chance or misadventure, were to happen to this team and the mission, I do have some limited political and social capital to burn in order to get us out of New Earth space and home again.”  Ezra looked down at his shoes, knowing that what he was about to say next sounded like the very height of egotism.  “You can’t simply disappear a luminary of your times.  The ramifications would be staggering.  People would realize, and realize quickly.  Neither Chinasia Corp or the Eurydice Compact could afford what would come next if something were to happen to me.”

“That’s precisely why a civilian such as yourself should not be allowed to go, if this plan is by some twist of logic approved.”  D’Arcy had leaned forward, fingers steepled and elbows on the table in front of him.  “The colony can ill afford to lose a luminary such as yourself, Dr. Grace.  Your departure from E-557 is an impossibility.”

That…sounded dangerously like a threat.  Ezra stared at D’Arcy Morgause for a long moment.  “I…I’m uncertain I’ve understood your implication, Consul Morgause.  Are you saying that even if I chose to go on a research trip to the Commonwealth held-territories of New Earth space, or to Taurena Luna for a conference, you would…do what?”

D’Arcy Morgause was silent.  Ezra felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

He needs to be gone.  It was a knee-jerk, instinctive thought, triggered by a fight or flight reaction somewhere deep inside of Ezra.  He wanted to rip D’Arcy’s throat out.  He hoped that thought didn’t end up in circulation.

“Are you considering either of those trips, Dr. Grace?”  There was Kara, coming to the rescue—to his rescue, and the Council’s, but not D’Arcy’s.  D’Arcy was slowly making a bed that he’d die for lying in.  He just didn’t know it yet.  But Ezra was standing there, watching Alana’s fingers twitch, watching Rachel Farragut quell the rising fires of rage behind her eyes.  For all the small intelligence empire the man had built, he was a fool, and a large one, with an ego too large for his own good—or that of the Council at large.

Thanks, Kara.  He shook his head.  “No, Consul Grace-Forester.  That was strictly a hypothetical question posed for sake of clarification.”

She nodded and leaned back, looking toward the Speaker, who seemed to be considering what had been said—and had gone unsaid.  He slowly looked toward Marshal Windsor.  “Marshal Windsor, do you have thoughts on this plan?”

Marshal Windsor cleared his throat quietly.  “It will need some refinement,” he said carefully, “but it’s just crazy enough to work, so long as the principal actors agree to the plan unconditionally and that we can get intelligence enough to support them.”  He threw a pointed look in D’Arcy Morgause’s direction.

D’Arcy actually flinched.  “My people will have a full report on everything we have managed to gather on the subject to your desk tomorrow morning, Marshal Windsor, as we discussed before your trip to Urgathe.”  He looked toward Marshal Rose and then back toward Windsor again.  “A trip, it seems, that was successful.”  He looked at Marshal Rose.  “Tell me, Marshal, do you have any wonderful technologies cooked up that can protect this planet from the conglomerates in New Earth space that will be falling on our heads any day now?”

The sarcasm that dripped from the man’s voice turned Ezra’s stomach.  The Speaker motioned for him to have a seat with Kara.  Ezra nodded in thanks, listening to the Council’s byplay.  Faction lines were solidifying slowly in the face of a coming disaster—only D’Arcy truly seemed to think that a war might not happen, that the threat was being blown out of proportion.  Some of the consuls, however, clearly wished they could believe that—at least for a little while longer.

“I will be addressing any technological advances I may have made at Urgathe to my peers among the Guardians first, Consul Morgause, and to the Speaker himself before I grant any hope, false or otherwise, to the Council proper.”  Marshal Rose’s voice was quiet but bore the same steel that Ezra had often heard in the voices of other women who were confident of their position and authority.  “As to your allusion that the threat we face is not imminent, I wonder why you would doubt what the Oracle has seen.”

“I doubt it,” he said slowly, “because the Oracle has not told us the bulk of what she has seen.”  His gaze fastened on Lindsay.  Beneath the table, Brendan took her hand and squeezed it.  Ezra watched them.  Brendan was tamping down a surge of temper.  Lindsay managed to be the picture of poise, expression blank and her voice smooth, cool.

She held up her free hand.  “Would you like to see it, Consul Morgause?  Or do you enjoy the ability to sleep through a night unbroken by nightmares?”

D’Arcy recoiled.  Not a psychic himself, he was suspicious of those who were but had for many years tried to hide the suspicion that bordered on paranoid fear.  His family was an old one in the colony and in the Foundation, and it had been in part his name that had earned him his seat on the Council.  It was only a matter of time before he did something foolish that cost him—and potentially the whole of the colony—dearly.

I guess that’s why the Guardians have the power over our defenses.  The Guardians were drawn from the remnants of the Psychean Guard, born from Guard stock—Daciana Rose and Adam Windsor were both psychic themselves, Aidan Church was from a psychic family but had been born without ability, which had suited him well enough throughout his years of service.  When the enemy had ways to hunt psychics, sometimes it behooved them to have highly ranked officers who were blank spots to those hunters.

The Speaker cleared his throat again, drawing attention back to himself.  “Perhaps, Consul Morgause, we should direct questions regarding plans for our defense in the face of omnipresent threats from New Earth space to Marshal Windsor?”  Despite the Speaker’s mild tone, it was clearly not a question, not a request.

Marshal Windsor inclined his head to the Speaker.  “My thanks, Speaker.”

The Speaker nodded.  “Would you like to speak to the matter at hand?”

“Only at the Council’s sufferance.”

The Speaker nodded.  “Proceed, then.”

Marshal Windsor nodded slightly and leaned forward in his chair.  “Since our return from Urgathe, Marshal Rose and I have been in closed meetings with Marshal Church.  We’ve been working on a plan to heighten our ability to defend E-557 and the rest of the Foundation claim of the Eridani Trelasia system.  Some of the measure I’m about to describe have already been taken, as any of you with sons or daughters in the Service already know.

“We have increased atmospheric patrols and will be running an extensive audit of all community-based defenses within the next seven to ten days.  Volunteers are getting trained on vacuum-capable small craft and we hope to be able to begin system-wide patrols inside of the week.”

Ezra glanced toward Brendan.  No wonder he looks like something hung out to dry.  His friend nodded almost imperceptibly.  Of course.

“In eleven days, I expect to be taking an out-system trip with Consul Zenak to discuss possibilities for Mission Systems to build us some warships.  Fast.”

“Warships.  For a world dedicated to living in peace?”

Marshal Windsor glared at D’Arcy.  Marshal Church spoke before his colleague could fire off some sort of scathing retort.

“Even our predecessors in the Foundation understood that the people must be protected, hence the need for a standing military force, commanded by those not necessarily wholly bound by the Foundation’s pacifistic ideals.  Did not even the great historian of our age Quizibian say that war is always waged, whether we act or not?  I would much rather have the resources necessary to defend my home at hand than to find myself bereft of them in my time of need.  Our fear that having things like weapons and warships means that we will use them cannot be allowed to cripple our ability to defend ourselves.”  Church took a sip of water.  “I took an oath to defend this colony, this world, and its people.  I intend to honor that oath, whether you approve of our methods or not, Consul Morgause.  I suspect most of the men and women in this room would agree with me.”

“Thank you, Marshal Church,” Marshal Windsor said quietly.  “As I was saying…there’s reason to believe that Mission Systems will be able to get us at least one heavy cruiser inside a month.”

“A month?  How is that possible, Marshal Windsor?”

The Marshal smiled wryly at Arigato, who’d expressed surprise and perhaps a touch of suspicion.  “They have one mostly finished already and three other ships in various stages of completion that were ordered by the Psychean Guard twenty-nine years ago.  Mugabe and I intend to press the claim on them.”

“You honestly think they’ll take the claim of a refugee seriously?”

Mugabe Zenak stared at D’Arcy.  “They will believe the claim of the one whose signature is on the requisition forms.”  He said quietly.

“You’re not from Mimir, Mugabe.”

“It’s not my signature we’re referring to, D’Arcy.”

D’Arcy blanched.

Marshal Windsor smiled.

Well played, sir, Ezra thought.  Well played indeed.

“Do you think it will work?”  Arigato Daichi asked.  It was not an invalid question, by any means, but it was phrased more delicately and respectfully than D’Arcy’s had been.

Marshal Windsor nodded.  “Consul Zenak and I have discussed the legalities of the situation and we think it will.  It’s my signature on the forms and that can be authenticated through surviving records and recordings as well as DNA and print-tech.”  He glanced toward the Speaker, then back toward Arigato.  “We also have something to offer them in exchange.”

Arigato’s brows went up.  Kara leaned forward, as did Reine Oronoko.  The grandmotherly Amelda Watson leaned back, tilting her head to one side, though something in her look said that she had figured out what the colony had to offer Mission Systems.

“Raw materials,” Watson said, tapping a fingertip against her lips.  “You’re going to offer them raw materials.”

“We’re going to rip up mountains for four ships?”  Jensen Moore was often as quiet as Rachel Farragut, often forgotten.  Now he was almost out of his seat, staring in shock at his fellows.  “We can’t do that.”

Zenak held up a hand.  “Calm down, Jensen.  They won’t set foot on E-557 unless they want to settle here and live by our rules.”

“Then where–?”  Moore cut himself off.  Marshal Rose was grinning at him.  Moore shook his head, looking amazed and abashed at the same time.  “The asteroid ranges.”

Marshal Windsor nodded.  “Yes.  The asteroid ranges.  Specifically the range half an AU out from here.  We’ll provide the raw materials for them to finish our ships and then the materials to build several more.  Estimates put that at maybe one asteroid.”  He tapped a fingertip against the table.  “We won’t compromise our ecological integrity here to defend the planet and the system, Consul Moore.  I believe in the sustainability clauses as much as anyone in this room, if not more.”

Moore nodded slowly, having sunk back into his seat.  He was quiet, almost thoughtful.

Ezra glanced toward the Speaker.  The man’s expression was impassive, but his eyes were tired.  This experience was already beginning to age him and the war wasn’t even here yet.  Will he last to the end of the war, when it comes?  He didn’t want to think about whether or not they’d survive one when it came, which was inevitable.

“They’ll be monitored closely,” Zenak said, hands folded in front of him on the table again.  “And we will dispatch some of our own people—whomever would like to volunteer—to work with the Mission Systems people who come here.”

Arigato looked doubtful.  “This is presuming they agree?”

Zenak nodded.  “Presuming they agree.  It’s a good deal for them, though, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t.”

Reine Oronoko tilted her head to one side.  “Perhaps because they have no desire to lock horns with one of the conglomerates?  Who does Mission Systems generally supply with ships?”

Marshal Windsor glanced to Marshal Rose, gesturing for her to take that question.  Rose stood up slowly, hands clasped behind her back.

“Mission Systems tends to sell a few ships here and there to Taurena, but mostly they cater to private enterprises out of NeCom—pardon me, the New Earth Commonwealth—and the smaller space-faring or religious conglomerates like the Wanderers and Argopian LLC.  They enjoyed a positive relationship with the Psychean Guard and actually provided most of the early aircraft that were used here on E-557, before Jacob Argos and Ayo Taiye started up their shop here.”  The Argos and Taiye shop had produced and repaired most of the ships currently flying.  They were machinists of the first order and had passed their skills down to their sons and daughters.  Kimoa Taiye-Argos ran the shop now with her sons.  “We have history with them, and a good one.  They know that as long as they play by the rules set for them, we’re not going to screw them.  That’s incentive enough to keep everything on the up-and-up.  The same can’t be said for dealing with most of the conglomerates in New Earth space these days.”

D’Arcy Morgause was shaking his head but stayed quiet, apparently still smarting from both reprimand and jumping to the wrong conclusion.  Ezra watched him for a moment.

It’s only a matter of time before he stops playing by Council rules and starts being a threat.

Marshal Rose settled back down into her chair as Marshal Windsor began speaking again.  “In addition to acquiring these ships from Mission Systems, we have been in contact with the Argos and Taiye shop with regards to more aircraft and also with Deithrich and Doylen regarding new forms of body armor as developed at Urgathe by Marshal Rose.”

“It sounds as if you have preparations well in hand, Marshal Windsor.”

“Yes, Speaker, we do.  In fact, by our calculations as of last night, our largest concern will be man-power.  That problem will likely solve itself, though.”  Windsor slowly sat back down in his chair.  “Am I to assume that the Council is satisfied with the status report?”

The Speaker nodded.  “I am satisfied, at any rate.  You will make materials available to the Council if they have more questions?”

Marshal Windsor nodded.  “I will be as forthright with the Council as the Council has been with me, Speaker.”  It was a thinly veiled poke at D’Arcy Morgause.

Ezra briefly wondered how much longer the man would be the spider in the middle of E-557’s intelligence web.  His skill was questionable, at best.  I wonder how he even got that job.  The man Ezra would have asked—his father—was several years dead.  There would be no information from his old man on this one.  He glanced at Alana, wondering for half a moment if she knew how D’Arcy had gotten the job.  Her face was a blank mask.  He decided she probably wondered the same thing often enough.  I’ll have to ask Kara.  She might know—or at least know who came before him.  Rachel may know more.  Rachel probably did know more, but it had been hard to catch her the past several weeks—it was easier when Marshal Windsor was at Urgathe for three days.  Ezra was still trying to puzzle out why.

“We can ask no more than that, I suppose.”  The Speaker smiled wryly, then sighed and stood.  “I thank Dr. Grace for his forbearance and foresight.  We will make a decision on your plan, Doctor, soon enough, I hope.”  He managed another wry smile.

“Thank you, Speaker.”  Soon enough to do us all some good, I hope.  If they decide to reject the plan, I don’t know what they’ll come up with to replace it.  Something better, I hope, and something better to keep them alive.  Ezra cast another glance at D’Arcy.  We need them alive, Rachel said, or out of the picture.  I hope the Council opts for the former rather than the latter.

●   ●   ●

            “That went well enough, don’t you think?”  Rachel had forced levity into her voice as she climbed out of the skimmer in front of her cottage.

Adam grimaced.  “D’Arcy Morgause is a snake in a man’s skin.”

“No one’s arguing that point anymore, Adam.  He’s going to be trouble.”

Daciana shook her head, coming around from the back of the skimmer and scrubbing a hand over her eyes.  “There’s no way to remove him, though, and no one to replace him.  Commander Cho and I had that conversation this afternoon at the base.  He’s fairly certain that Morgause has something up his sleeve that he doesn’t want anyone to know about and is confident that he’ll be able to pull whatever it is off because there’s no one to replace him with.”

“Kara Grace circumvents him easily enough.”

“She’s too young.  Inexperienced.”  She’s crafty, for certain, but she grew up here, spent no time off-world.  D’Arcy has the same problem, but at least he traveled a little.  Kara’s not prevaricating enough, which is probably a good thing.  “Wouldn’t ask her to do that, anyway.  Not when there are more qualified people to do the job.”

Rachel hadn’t been home since he’d brought Frederick and Daciana back with him.  She’d been busy with Brendan and Lindsay, or with Ezra, or Alana.  She’d been out.  It was strange.  It was her house—their house again, now, but it had been hers alone for years—and she didn’t know who was inside, or that anyone was inside.

“I’m not really sure who,” Rachel said as she opened the side door, the one that led into the kitchen.  “Especially if we’re talking about someone who’s never worked for him.”

Adam shook his head a little.  “I’m sure a candidate will present himself or herself soon enough when we start investigating the possibilities, Rachel.”  He smiled and kissed her cheek as they moved into the house.  “Want me to put on some water?”

She nodded.  “Please.  I’ll make cookies or something in a little while, I think.”

“Hope you’re not going through all this because I’m here, Rachel,” Daciana said as she closed the door behind her.  She hung up her uniform jacket on one of the hooks near the door.  “You shouldn’t bother, if you are.”

Rachel snorted.  “It’s an excuse to bake cookies I don’t need to be eating, Daci.  Don’t worry about it.”  She hung up her coat and Adam’s before moving into the living room.  At least, she started to.  She paused in the doorway, tilting her head to one side.  Her tone was warning and curious all at once.  “Adam…who is sleeping on our couch?”

Daciana blinked, then glared at Adam.  “You didn’t tell her?”

He winced.  “I didn’t tell a lot of people.  Go wake him while I explain myself.”  It wasn’t going to necessarily be a pleasant explanation, either, from the look Rachel was giving him.  He winced again.  I’m in deep this time.

“Yes,” Rachel said tartly.  “You certainly are, sir.  You certainly are.”  She stepped clear of the doorway, letting Daciana head into the living room.  Rachel almost mechanically pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, eyes never leaving Adam’s.  “What, exactly, did you fail to tell me?”

Adam licked his lips.  He was unable to keep the litany of please don’t kill me out of his thoughts as Rachel stared daggers at him.  “That Freder Rose is still alive?”  Rachel’s stare, the anger, evaporated with those words and she went pale.

“Alive?  Is that who—?”

Adam nodded, slowly sitting down at the table with her.  “Doesn’t quite look the same, does he?”

“No,” she said quietly.  “No, Adam, he doesn’t.  What…I mean…how…?”

He shrugged.  “We were careful.”

“Who…who else knows?”  There was some pain in her voice, as if she was wondering why she hadn’t been told, what had made her so untrustworthy.

“Ezra Grace,” Adam said quietly.

“That’s all?”

He nodded.  “Everyone else is dead.”

A shiver ran through her.  He leaned forward and took her hands.  She shook her head, looking like she was a thousand miles away.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”  She asked after a long silence.  Her voice was small.

Adam winced.  There had been a lot of reasons that he’d chosen not to tell her—the least of which had been her thirst for vengeance against the people who had bombed Mimir.  That anger and hate had later bled into malice for the people who had supposedly killed Frederick, but that had been after she thought he’d died.  Adam shook his head slowly.  “There were a lot of reasons, Rachel.  A lot of reasons.”  He squeezed her hands.  “I was trying to protect both of you.  From each other, I guess.”

She blinked, looking surprised.  “What do you mean?”

Adam licked his lips, shaking his head slightly.  “Freder doesn’t remember whatever they were trying to kill him for, Rachel.  If he ever knew what happened to Mimir, if he ever knew who did it—and he thinks he might have—he doesn’t know now and might never know.”

“Oh.”  The word was almost a sigh.  “Poor Freder…”  Rachel shook her head, leaning forward.  “It’s one thing to not remember, but to know that’s probably what you don’t remember…”  Her hands tightened in his.  She looked up at Adam.  “You didn’t need me asking him questions.”

“Or going off after the people who hurt him, either,” Adam said quietly.  “That would’ve gotten you killed.  I…I couldn’t sit still and let that happen.”

She leaned forward and hugged him.  He exhaled, the tension in the muscles of his back—the tension he hadn’t noticed—suddenly easing.  He slid his arms around her and held her for a few long moments.

“Thank you,” she whispered after a while.  He just nodded, finding himself unable to speak.  His arms tightened around her, then loosened as she pulled away and smiled at him.  “I mean it,” she said.

Adam nodded.  “I know you do.”  I know you do.  But back then?  You never would have forgiven me for it.  Not ever.

Frederick cleared his throat in the doorway.  He was leaning on the cane and looked maybe a little bleary-eyed from having been awakened early.  He smiled at Rachel.  “Hello, Rachel.”

She stood up, shaking her head slowly.  “Frederick…I didn’t…”

“I know,” he said, limping into the kitchen and toward the table.  “They did a number on me before Daci and Grumpy managed to get to me.”  His smile was self-depreciating.  “Though as to whom they were, I haven’t the foggiest clue.”

Rachel approached him haltingly, as if she was still convinced that he wasn’t real, that he was some ghost, a figment of her imagination.  Her fingers trembled as she touched the fabric of his sleeve.  Then she hugged him so tightly he winced.

“Oof.”  Frederick leaned against Rachel to keep from toppling, wrapping one arm around her and squeezing gently.  “Rachel, I didn’t know you cared.”

She laughed almost to the point of tears.  “You idiot.  I’m glad you’re not dead.”

“Rumors of that have been greatly, exaggerated, I’ve heard.”  He winked at her.  “Have it on good authority that I was only mostly dead.”  He let go as she loosened her grip, leaning more on his cane and less on her.  “Do you mind if I sit down?”

She shook her head quickly, staring at him.  “I can’t believe it.”

“Believe what?”  Frederick fumbled his way into a chair.  Daciana watched him from the doorway, exchanging a look with Adam, who smiled wryly and shrugged.

“Believe that you’ve…you’ve been alive all this time and he managed to not tell me.”

Frederick laughed.  “Somewhere along the line, he’s apparently managed to learn how to keep secrets.”  He glanced at Adam and grinned, the grin of the old Frederick, the same gotcha! smile of when they’d been teenagers on Mimir.  Frederick winked at Rachel.  “He probably learned that from you, Miss Farragut.”

She laughed.  “Maybe, Freder.  Maybe.”

“He said your sister and Grant are still alive.”   Frederick had known Grant Channing and America Farragut on Mimir, same as Adam had.  Though while Adam had worked under Grant’s father, Frederick had worked a little under America and Rachel’s mother, Arianna, before he’d made the decision to leave Mimir—a decision that had probably saved his life.  He’d nudged Adam toward Rachel in the first place—they’d grown up together, sure, but Adam had never looked at Rachel that way—and never would have if not for his friend’s intervention.

Rachel’s mirth faded.  She bit her lip and for a moment looked as vulnerable as Adam had ever seen her.  She knelt down on the floor in front of Frederick, shaking her head a little.  “That’s what it looks like.  There’s…a plan to go and get them out of the congloms, but I don’t know if it’s going to work.  I don’t…I don’t know that anything could bring them back to us.  To me.”

Adam winced.  Now’s not exactly the best time to be losing faith in a plan that you helped them with, Rachel.  He exchanged another look with Daciana, who rolled her eyes, then shrugged.  Neither of the pair were paying attention to them.

“Try not to underestimate Dr. Grace, Squeak.  He’s a bright young man.”

She deadpanned, sitting back on her heels.  “You just called me Squeak.”

Frederick raised a brow.  “Of course I called you Squeak.”

Rachel smiled, tears coming to her eyes again.  “No one’s called me Squeak since the last time I saw you.  When you promised me that you’d figure out what happened to our homeworld.”  She wiped her eyes with her palm.  “You said ‘Don’t worry, Squeak.  We’ll get the bastards.  I’ll get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing I do in this life.’”

He winced and Daciana winced with him.  “It almost was the last thing I did.  I’m almost positive.”  He reached in with a thumb and wiped the tears from her eyes.  “As I understand it, we have bigger problems, now, don’t we?”

Rachel smiled lopsidedly, almost laughing a bitter laugh.  “That’s an understatement.  How much did Adam tell you?”

“Probably not all there is to know.  Going to fill me in?”

Rachel laughed.  “After I put some water on.  Are you comfortable there?”

He nodded.  “I’ll be more comfortable when my wife joins me.”  He looked at Daciana, who shook her head.

“I didn’t want to interrupt,” she said, irony laced through her voice.  She moved to the table and took the seat next to him.

Adam went to get out some tea and the mugs, glancing at Rachel.  She smiled at him just a little and paused a moment, taking his hand and squeezing it.  He squeezed back.

As soon as they got Grant and America back, it would be like old times again.

3 thoughts on “Chapter Eleven

  1. im finally over here from Awakenings and what do i find – a story i enjoy reading even more than i did Awakenings… and thats a suprise!

    quite simply superb


  2. A Mark Twain reference and a Princess Bride reference within two lines of each other! Makes me so happy! Are we to assume that the speaker has seen/read both of these? Or is it just some fun by the author?

    • It’s entirely possible. While the story itself takes place several thousand years after the publication/production of either work, Freder Rose was not only from Mimir (which was once essentially a repository for all human knowledge that without Psychean Guard efforts would have been lost), he’s also had A LOT of time on his hands since faking his death.

      Of course, I could have just liked the turn of phrase, too ^_~

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