I walk along an empty street,
Down a boulevard of shattered dreams.
The city sleeps
As I walk alone.
My shadows are the only things who walk beside me,
A shallow heart is all that’s beating,
But I wish someone out there would find me,
Take me home to stay,
But until they do I walk alone.
— attributed to Ryland LeSarte c. 4837 PD; it is asserted by Erich Quizibian that it is, in fact, a quotation of lyric poetry from twentieth century Earth
26 Octem, 5249 PD
“You can’t let him do this, Marshal.”
Adam Windsor stiffened. His back was to his door again, and he was back to looking at topographical maps of the western coast of the continent, plotting the hot spots for any potential landings that might be sourced from the new Earth congloms. A part of him had known that Lindsay Farragut would come to him about Grace’s plan to rescue her parents. Another part of him had hoped that she would accept it and continue with life as normal in a world and existence where nothing was normal anymore, if it had ever been normal at all.
He forced himself to relax and plot another point on the map. “How would you propose I stop him from volunteering to do this, Miss Farragut? Commander Cho made a choice.” A choice that’s probably the best of a host of bad choices, but a choice nonetheless. There’s only one thing that’s certain—Grant and America can’t be left alive in the hands of the congloms. It was a painful but very true thought—and an inescapable one. Rachel herself had said that her sister and brother-in-law could not be left in enemy hands alive. They knew too much.
“Find another way. Find someone else to go. I don’t care how you do it or what you do. You can’t let him go, Marshal. You can’t.” She closed the door behind her as she came further into the office, planting her hands on his desk and leaning against it. He turned to look at her. She seemed exhausted, upset, though she seemed to be struggling to mask that.
The stern expression he’d been cultivating since she’d walked into the office melted, evaporating quickly in the face of remembering her as a frightened little girl struggling to cope with the magnitude of her psychic gift. That was the girl he was seeing before him, not the young woman who had over the years asserted herself admirably at Council meetings, defending herself from critics like D’Arcy Morgause and defending her choices—choices like moving in with Brendan Cho seven years ago, like deciding to participate in research into the origins of the conglomerate system of New Earth, the other several dozen choices that for some reason had been questioned by the Council before they began to think about the fact that it was, in fact, her life, and she was entitled to have a little happiness even though she was the Oracle. “Linny-pie,” Adam said quietly, using the old nickname, the nickname he hadn’t used since she was a little girl, since he’d left she and her aunt alone in that house more than a decade before, “there’s no one else who can do what he’s going to have to do to make the plan work. If I order him not to go, the whole thing falls apart. Ezra and Alana and whoever goes instead of Brendan and your parents all die.”
She flinched, biting her lip. “It’s not fair,” she said quietly. “It’s just not fair, Uncle Adam. It’s not fair.”
“None of this is fair, Linny-pie.” He set down his stylus and moved from the maps toward where she stood leaning against his desk. “The fact that they never made it here themselves isn’t fair. The fact that you had to grow up without them isn’t fair. The fact that your three closest friends are probably the only ones who can save them isn’t fair. The galaxy isn’t a fair place, Linny-pie. It never was and I don’t think it ever will be. We play the hand of cards we’re dealt. There’s not many ways to cheat at the game, and you always pay for that cheating in the end anyhow.” He touched her arm gently. “Why are you so afraid, Linny-pie? Brendan’s good at what he does. Alana Chase is good at what she does. Everything will be okay.”
She shook her head, eyes squeezed shut. “Because I can’t lose him, Uncle Adam. I can’t…it’s a risk and I…I can’t let…” She shuddered, hands curling into fists. “I need him. I need him with me and there’s nothing that’s going to change that. If something happens to him—if he dies—I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know if I can keep living.”
He blinked and touched her shoulder. She straightened slowly, turning to look up at him. She bit her lip, shook her head.
“I can’t be the Oracle alone, Uncle Adam. I can’t. I can’t handle these visions by myself. I need him. I need him with me.”
Something tugged at the back of his brain, urging him to press her for more information—urging him to find out what she wasn’t telling him. He told it to shut up. She needed the surrogate father he had been now, not the military commander that he was. “If it all goes according to plan, Linny-pie, you won’t even have time to miss him.” He smiled paternally down at her. “It’s going to be okay.”
She shook her head a little. “How do you know?”
“How do you know it’s not going to be?”
Lindsay bit down harder on her lip. “I’m scared, Uncle Adam. I’m really, really scared.”
He nodded, folding her into his arms and pinning her against his chest. She didn’t struggle, just whimpered and hugged him back, the way she had when she was small and he’d come into her room to comfort her after she’d had a bad dream.
“I’m afraid if I let him go, I’m never going to see him again. That they’re going to figure out how to keep him there, or that they’ll kill him. That they’ll Sever us and make him forget that he ever lived here, that he ever had a life here, and me and all of our friends. I’m afraid they’ll all die, that something’s going to go horribly, horribly wrong and I won’t be there to stop that.” She shivered a little. “I want to go with them, but I know that the Council will say no, that you’ll say no—that everyone will say no because it’d just be too damned dangerous, that I’m too valuable to risk. But I want to be with them. What good am I if I don’t have anything left to balance me out?”
It was a slight shock to him that she had confirmed that she and Brendan were actually Bonded. He’d suspected as much, but neither had actually ever said that they’d gone through with it. That they would keep it a secret made sense to him—the fallout could have been tremendous, given all the issues she’d had with the Council in the past. He knew that Rachel must have known for certain—hell, she’d probably encouraged it. There was probably a very, very short list of men and women who knew for certain what the pair had done. Ezra and Kara Grace, Rachel, and probably one or two others. That was fine. Secrecy was a legacy they still carried back from their foundations. Secrets kept them alive.
He gave her a squeeze, then looked down at her. “You’re right, I wouldn’t let you go with them. Couldn’t. Your father would kill me when he got here if I did.”
She laughed a little at that, though she still sounded like she was on the very edge of tears. “Would he?”
Adam nodded gravely. “Grant was very protective of your mother and your aunt. If he hadn’t liked me, I never would have gotten anywhere near Rachel.” Lindsay had never asked him about her parents. Those questions, what few of them that came, always went to Rachel. It was as if when she was a child she’d never thought of Adam as having any answers for her about her mother and father, lost to her when she was such a young child. “When he found out about she and I, he threatened to castrate me if I ever hurt her. Guess I’m in for some trouble when he comes home, huh?”
She laughed a little again and squeezed him. “I think you’ll be okay, Uncle Adam. All of that wasn’t your fault.”
Only some of it, Linny-pie. Only some of it. “I suppose you’re right, and I did do a few things right.” He rubbed her back gently. “You know, after the war started, when your aunt and I finally managed to find your parents—and you—we didn’t know they’d had you. You were about six months old and so, so quiet. I wondered if you were mute, really, until that first time I heard you cry. You were so tiny, especially when Grant held you. He’s a big man, Linny-pie, almost as big as Aidan.
“A year later he told me that I had to take you and Rachel and leave. He ordered me to violate every oath I’d ever taken to the Guard and to Mimir to get you and Rachel safely to this place. I almost said no.” It was hard to think about. His dedication to his homeworld had warred with his love for Rachel, his loyalty to the Inner Collegium and to Grant Channing in specific. Grant was six years his senior and had been one of his first commanders—and a dear friend, though perhaps not so dear as Frederick Rose had been. “He wanted America to go with us. She wouldn’t. Rachel didn’t want to go, either, but who was going to take care of you if she didn’t? They couldn’t keep you safe on a battlefield, and that’s what New Earth space was for us then. The Commonwealth couldn’t protect most of the Guard refugees anyway. It was here, hiding, or death.”
“You knew that?”
He nodded slightly. “So did your father. That’s why I said yes. It was a chance for our society to survive, for our knowledge to survive. You and Rachel and I and the other refugees who made it here, we’re almost all that’s left of the Guard.” He sighed a little. “And even here, in a place we helped build for ten generations, we’re still feared. We helped make this possible, and still some people here would just as soon have us live in a commune on some island somewhere far away from them—or not on the planet at all.”
Lindsay was quiet for a long few minutes, then sighed, closing her eyes and tightening her arms around him a little. “When did you move back in with Aunt Rachel?” She asked after the long silence.
The change in subject almost made him laugh in relief. “A couple of weeks ago. It seemed like time.”
“I never understood why I had to keep it all a secret like that. Not until Brendan and I…” Her voice trailed away and she pressed her lips tightly together. “It must have been hard, Uncle Adam. To stop…feeling her. To stop being with her. I remember her crying some nights when I was little.” She licked her lips. “I don’t want to go through that.”
Adam looked down at her, lifted her chin so she would meet his gaze. “You won’t, Linny-pie. I promise.”
She smiled a little. “Can I hurt you if you don’t keep it?”
He laughed, nodding. “Of course you can, Linny-pie. Of course you can.”
* * *
Brendan was already in bed by the time she got home. It was dark outside and she’d spent hours with Adam, going over tactical information and Ezra’s plan to rescue her parents—all in an effort for her to become more comfortable with the situation. She now found herself slightly more confident but still praying fervently the plan would work.
Lindsay slipped into her darkened house and made her way into the bedroom, where Brendan was sound asleep. He lay on his side, one arm under his head, the other hand resting on her pillow. Their bedroom window was open, the chill of impending fall filling the room. She crawled onto the bed, knelt next to him, then leaned down and kissed him gently. He responded drowsily. It wasn’t until three kisses later that he opened an eye.
“Lin?” he mumbled. “What time is it?”
“Past eight, probably after nine,” she guessed, taking off her shirt. “How long have you been sleeping?”
“Three hours? Maybe?” He rubbed his eyes. “Where were you?”
“With U—Marshal Windsor.” I should really check with him and make sure it’s okay to tell Brendan. The alternative will get confusing pretty quickly. “We were talking.”
Brendan winced. “About the plan.”
She nodded, unfastening her pants and starting to shimmy out of them. “It’s okay, Brendan. I’m…freaking out less now, I think.”
“Oh, good,” he mumbled, eyelids drooping again. He was already starting to fall back to sleep.
Can’t have that. She pushed him onto his back and straddled him—
—and almost ended up on the floor as he jerked and yelped in pain. Lindsay clung to the edge of the bed, blinking. “B-Brendan?”
He was half sitting up, now, propped on one elbow and clutching the back of his head with the other. His face was colorless and his lips were moving in silent curses—in all the languages they both knew, which was not an inconsiderable number of tongues.
She inched closer and touched his arm. “Brendan?” It was then that she began to catch the edges of his pain. Oh god.
“I’ll be fine,” he whispered. “Just steer clear of the back of my head for a few days and I’ll be fine.”
“You got a new implant!” You idiot! Why didn’t you tell me? Her tone sounded more angry than she felt. It was more fear than anger that was coiling inside of her. He’d never wanted a new implant, and she’d never wanted him to get one. It was never an issue, not something that ever came up. He was happy without one. Why get one now, Brendan? Why?
“Needed it to make the plan work, Lin,” he said in quiet answer to her unvoiced question. “I don’t need a Corp doctor slicing my head open, now do I?”
She bit her lip, sensing a ripple of fear coming off of him. She sat down with him on the bed, sliding her arms around his waist. He swallowed and leaned against her. “I guess not.” She ran her fingers through his hair for a moment, then gave him a squeeze. “When did you do it?”
“Ezra did it today,” he mumbled, resting his chin on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. You’d have wanted to be there and I didn’t want you there watching and worrying.”
She realized his eyes were bloodshot. She’d never seen someone so soon after they’d had wetware put in. He looked terrible. “It hurts a lot, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he said quietly, hand finally dropping away from his head. “I should have told you. Guess I didn’t expect you to flip me onto my back when you got home.” He straightened a little and grinned at her. “You haven’t done that in a long time.”
“Guess I haven’t felt like I was up for it lately.” It was true enough. Comforting though it was, she hadn’t felt like making love to him in weeks—there was too much else going on, too much insanity, too many memories swirling around in her head that would interrupt or otherwise sour her mood. Her fingertips traced along his hairline to his ear, then down his jaw. “Would you rather just sleep?”
He shivered and stared at her, then smiled a little. “You’d hate me if I said yes.”
She laughed a little. “I wouldn’t hate you, Brendan. You just might not get another chance before you leave.” And I don’t want that to happen. I know that if we don’t, though, that’s what’s going to happen. So just be with me tonight.
“Good thing I’m not going to say no, then.” He stretched a little, smiling wryly. “Just be gentle with me for once, huh?”
She poked him in the ribs, laughing. “You’re horrible.”
“You’re the one who loves me,” he said quietly, arms closing around her.
Lindsay grinned. You’re right. I do. And I always will. I promise.