“Once more unto the breach.” That’s what my brother told me the day they left. I didn’t point out that he was completely unprepared for what he was going to do, that he’d never done anything like this in his life. I figured that Alana Chase and Brendan Cho would impress that upon him quickly—if circumstances didn’t do it before Alana could. I hoped against hope that she didn’t decide to have pity on him and be nice to him for the first time in her life. That would have been a total disaster, and I love my brother too much to wish that on him. I’d rather have a living failure than a dead hero for a brother.
— Kara Grace-Forester, member of the Rose Council (5245-5250)
5 Novem, 5249 PD
Lindsay had cradled his face in both hands and kissed him one more time. “Be careful,” she whispered softly, staring up into his eyes. “Come home.”
He’d swallowed hard and nodded, kissing her back and holding her for a few long moments. “I will. I promise. I promise.”
Ezra had patted his shoulder. “Time to go, Brendan.”
He’d nodded and stared at Lindsay for another few long moments before letting go, turning away, climbing aboard. She’d waved to them as they lifted off. He’d prayed he knew what they were doing.
He was still praying, staring at realspace. They were on approach to Xiangaou, a small moon orbiting a gas giant in a system neighboring that of New Earth. It’d be a short hop from here to the second target installation, in another neighboring system.
Xiangaou wasn’t a settled world. It was an exploited planet with areas set aside for combat training, mining, and limited aquaculture. He’d been born at a world like Xiangaou, on an orbital station. It had been at Xiangaou, however, that he’d been trained, that he’d served.
It held no wonder for him, no pleasant memories. It was a place where he had once lived and had tried very, very hard for many, many years to forget.
“You okay, Brendan?”
He nodded slightly, most of his attention on his boards. “I’m fine, Ez. Just thinking. Dangerous thing for me to be doing right now, I know.” He exhaled silently, staring at the gas giant that was slowly looming, growing as they got nearer. Xiangaou Control would be contacting them soon. He’d have to play his role to the hilt. “Are you sure the dampening field is working?”
Ezra nodded. “We’ve tested it and retested it. It’s working. No one’s going to know there’s more than one person aboard this ship, Brendan.”
Brendan nodded slightly and tried to relax. It wasn’t working. Not for the first time, he wished Lindsay were there. It was her touch that he needed, her voice. They were completely cut off out here, though—no safe way to get a message back home. Not without being detected, which they would be, this close to an inhabited planet. Maybe when they were between this leg of the trip and the next, if there was time. But not while they were in hostile space—and Brendan was under no illusion that this was anything but hostile space.
A loaded pistol appeared on the console near his left hand. Brendan blinked and looked up at Alana, who smiled tightly. “You might need it, Commander.”
He nodded slightly, matching her smile. “Thanks, Colonel.”
She patted his shoulder with her flesh and blood hand—it briefly occurred to him that she had done that deliberately—and then turned and moved back to the far end of the compartment.
The ship wasn’t very big. The cockpit blended into a few sleeping alcoves and a corner mess with a hot plate and a water dispenser. Only the head and a small cargo area were private. Ezra had that area crammed full of supplies—medical and otherwise. Brendan was hoping against hope they wouldn’t need most of them.
“So what’s your plan, Brendan?” Alana stretched, standing not three feet behind him. She was dressed in a plain gray jumpsuit, one that hugged every curve she still had rather than her usual baggy attire. Brendan had considered asking her whether or not she was planning on killing anyone on the trip. He’d decided not to.
Ezra asked instead. Alana had just smiled.
Brendan licked his lips. “Contact Control, tell them who I am, request approach. Dock. Lock down the ship. Find her mother and bring her back here as fast as I possibly can. Then get the hell out of here.”
“Sounds brilliant.” He winced at the sarcasm. What had she been expecting? “Do you really think they’re going to let you waltz around unescorted? That they’re not going to search the ship?”
He shook his head. “They’ll scan the ship and when they don’t find anything, they’ll leave it alone. They’re not going to waste the manpower. They’ll let me waltz around unescorted because in their brains, I’m still a good little soldier that finally found his way home, probably chock-full of good intelligence on E-557. The deep scans that I’ll get when I step onto the station will confirm my identity. They’ll assign me quarters and leave me alone at least until tomorrow morning.” Except I won’t be here in the morning. I’ll have grabbed America Farragut and we’ll be gone. “If things start to get dicey, I can play factions off each other. If the intelligence we have is right, then there’s two generals currently vying for supremacy here. Katsuana controls the stations and Hatchii controls the ground. All I have to do is tell Control that Hatchii ordered me to ground—if my memory serves, he was my penultimate commanding officer twelve years ago—and we can get the hell out of here when I have America before they’ve even realized I’ve gotten her.” I hope.
“You’re sure that’s going to work?”
He nodded, smiling grimly. “It’s going to work.” It’d better. He glanced over his shoulder toward Ezra. Ezra frowned and shook his head slightly. Now that they were out here, in the middle of hostile territory, he was starting to have second thoughts.
We should have made you stay home, Ez. You are not prepared for this shit.
“Make sure you both stay away from the windows, though. Not sure that the polarization is as good as we think it is.”
Alana nodded. “I have every intention of that.” She leaned against a bulkhead and started checking her metal hand.
“Neurotoxins or sedatives?” He hadn’t asked what she’d loaded. He hadn’t been sure he’d wanted to know.
“What do you think?”
He winced. Neurotoxins. “You’re really out to kill someone, aren’t you?”
“So are you, Brendan. Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re here because you’ve got a bone to pick with these people, too.”
He winced. I do. But that’s why I’m taking something from them. I don’t want to have to kill anyone. Misguided as they are, they’re just doing their jobs. He was going to have to, though. He picked up the pistol. Silenced model. He nodded slightly and slid it into his holster. “You’re going to watch the hatch, aren’t you?”
Alana smirked. “No one’s getting onto this ship that’s not you or America Farragut, Brendan. Period.”
He wasn’t sure if that should frighten or comfort him. He finally just nodded.
His implant itched. He tried not to scratch at it. It was a newer model, one that didn’t require him to be hardwired into the console. It was better, though the ship’s activity seemed to comprise a low-level buzz in the back of his brain, constantly threatening to give him a headache. He wondered not for the first time if the buzz had always been there when he’d had an implant or if this was something new. He picked up the passive scan of the ship before his board ever alerted him to it.
“Better lock and load. I’m getting a passive scan.”
Ezra looked at Brendan, then at Alana. “Pilots always that tuned in?”
She shrugged. “I’m about twenty years out of date when it comes to pilots, Dr. Grace.” She sat down on one of the bunks and watched Brendan manipulate the controls to adjust their course slightly, aiming them directly at one of the stations in specific.
“Incoming hail,” he murmured absently, then nudged the controls through his implant to put it through. A voice came over the comm lines, complete with the attendant crackling of distortion.
“Unidentified craft, you have entered Chinasia Corp sovereign space, Xiangaou Prefecture. Identify.” It was a woman’s voice. It didn’t surprise him. That was one of the jobs normally assigned to women of the Corp.
He switched over to the Corp’s tactical language, knowing that she’d understand it. “Xiangaou Prefecture Control, identify Cho five five seven four three niner two one. Repeat, identify Cho five five seven four three niner two one.” Brendan licked his lips and waited. Either they’d be shot out of the sky, or this would work. They’d know in a moment.
The woman on the other end switched tongues, too, to the corporate language. “Interrogative Cho five five seven four three niner two one. How did you escape?”
He laughed bitterly, answering in the tactical language. “They lost interest, Control. I ran. Request docking at three seven niner five. Repeat, request docking at three seven niner five.”
“You are cleared to three seven niner five. Stand by for further information.”
“Thank you, Control.” He toggled off the voice pickup.
Ezra’s brow was furrowed. “What did she ask you?”
“How I escaped,” Brendan said, not looking back toward them.
“How did you escape?” That was Alana.
He shook his head slightly. “I told him that they lost interest in me and I ran. Likely story to the people here. It’ll go over well.” He licked his lips. “We’re cleared to docking. You two keep your heads down. With any luck…” He exhaled. “With any luck, this won’t take too long.”
“You hope,” Alana said quietly.
“Yeah,” Brendan murmured. “I hope.”
● ● ●
“They should be in Corp space now, huh?”
Adam turned from the starplot in the middle of the darkened base operations center. Most of the staff had gone home for the night—it was getting late, the sun had long ago gone down. He nodded at Lindsay. “Couldn’t sleep?”
She shook her head. “I keep worrying about him. I want to reach, but I’m afraid that would put him in danger. That it would put all of them in danger.” She slowly sat down in a chair that during daylight hours would belong to a flight controller. She stared at the starplot for a few long moments. “Where are they, Uncle Adam?”
He stared at the starplot for a moment, then tapped a system. The plot zoomed in, revealing a solar system dominated by a few gas giants and an asteroid belt. “Zhang-aouh, Xiangaou Prefecture. If calculations are correct, then they should have made the system a few hours ago. Might already be on-station at Xiangaou.”
She nodded a little, staring at the system. She could almost—almost—see the tiny ship they’d set off in, moving in to dock at a station shaped like a cylindrical pincushion. She sighed softly, shaking her head and quietly marveling at her own imagination. “How long do you think this leg is going to take?”
Adam shrugged a little. “We allowed three days in the timetable, though it might be faster. Commander Cho is an excellent pilot and he may well have been able to drop into realspace closer to Xiangaou proper than most. It’s also going to depend on how easily he manages to get into the area where we think they’re holding your mother.”
Lindsay nodded, biting her lip. “It’s not going to be good, Uncle Adam,” she whispered. “It didn’t feel like—or look like—it was going to be good, when I had that vision of her. It just…it was bad.” She stood slowly, moving closer to the starplot, watching the animation built into the program for the starplot cause the gas giants to spin and slowly orbit their sun.
“There’s a reason we decided to let Dr. Grace go along, Linny-pie.”
“I know,” she said softly, watching the central gas giant spin lazily. “Kara’s furious. She was hoping someone would talk him out of it, or tell him he couldn’t go. She’s terrified he’s going to get himself killed.”
She licked her lips. Of course he’d ask. As if I’d seen. She’d seen, of course. The vision had come unbidden when Kara had hugged her—Kara hugging her brother as he climbed out of the ship, then turned back to help with a stretcher. The vision had fragmented, then, but Lindsay could tell it was something she’d be witnessing with her own eyes. The hell of it was that she hadn’t seen Alana or Brendan in the vision—just Kara, Ezra, and a couple of medical teams. She almost wished she’d seen more. “No. I don’t think so, anyway.”
Adam nodded slowly. “But you don’t know about the rest.”
It must have been written all over her face, the doubt, the pain. It hurt so much, the not knowing. It frightened her. She sighed a little and shook her head. “I’d almost rather not know anything, you know? If he…if doesn’t come home, I don’t want to know he’s not coming home. The waiting is horrible, but at the same time..” Her voice trailed away and she bit her lip, looking at the floor. She swallowed. I don’t want to be alone right now. I don’t want to go home to an empty house and an empty bed. “…can I stay with you and Aunt Rachel for a few days, Uncle Adam?”
He blinked at her. “What?”
“I don’t want to go home to an empty house. It just…it just makes it worse. I keep thinking ‘what if he doesn’t come home? What will I do?’ I can’t stand it.” She stared at the planet again and at the moon that orbited it. Would he make it away from that place alive? She almost reached for him through their bond—almost—but something stopped her. Something told her that maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea.
Adam followed her gaze and shook his head slightly with a quiet sigh. “If you really want to, Linny-pie, we can find the room. I think.”
“Find the room?” She looked at him. Find the room? There’s plenty of room. You two are sharing one room. That leaves another two bedrooms in the house. One was mine and one was his. Maybe she’d sleep in his bed at her aunt’s cottage, like they had when they were younger, before they’d built their home deeper into the highlands. “It’s just you and her, isn’t it?” She snapped her fingers. “Marshal Rose. She’s staying with you, isn’t she?” Why wouldn’t she just stay at the barracks, though?
Adam nodded. “Aye, and she’s sleeping in your old bed.”
Lindsay shrugged. “I can sleep in Brendan’s old bed. It’s okay, It’s comfortable enough.” She smiled wryly. Probably still smells like him, too, but I’ll go home and get our blankets anyway.
Adam hesitated and she noticed, brow furrowing as she looked at him.
“What’s wrong, Uncle Adam?”
He exhaled slowly, shaking his head. “Time you found out anyway.” He shut down the starplot and checked to make sure his link was in his pocket.
She blinked, her eyes adjusting quickly to the dim. “Time I found out about what?”
Adam took her hand. “You’ll see.”
“…and we’ve waited a long time for this, Inspector Rose. Time to finish what was started.” The figure in black drew his weapon and aimed it unerringly at the slender, slightly gaunt man leaning on a cane.
“Freder, down!” Adam Windsor body-checked the man with the cane as the figure in black’s gun went off…
Her uncle was steadying her, eyes wide. “Lindsay?”
She let out a little gasp, shaking herself before looking up at Adam. “Who’s Freder?”
Adam went sheet-white. He grasped her by the shoulders with both hands. His lips barely moved, expression one of shock, almost horror, voice barely a whisper. “What did you see?”
She shook her head slowly, starting to shake. “I…I don’t know. There was a gun and you knocked someone over…and I didn’t see anything else.” She put a hand to her head. “So who is he?”
Adam licked his lips, pulling her into a gentle hug. “Don’t tell anyone what you just saw, Linny-pie,” he murmured. “Freder is Frederick Rose.”
Her brow furrowed and she looked up at him. “Marshal Rose’s husband? But he’s dead. I remember that—Aunt Rachel cried for a week. Did that…did what I saw…did that already happen?”
Adam didn’t say anything, just shook his head slightly. “Freder isn’t dead, Linny-pie. Daci and I just fooled everyone into thinking he was.”
She gave a little gasp. “Does Aunt Rachel know?”
He smiled wryly. “She does now. Has for a couple weeks. Come on. He’s been dying to meet you.”
“Meet me? Why?” She pushed some hair out of her face. Because I’m the Oracle, or because of something else? Probably because I’m the Oracle. Marshal Rose knows that. I don’t know why she wouldn’t tell her husband about me, especially since Aunt Rachel was their friend, and my guardian…
“He knew your parents.” Adam led the way out into the corridor, going quiet. He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to ask another question, not speaking again until they were in his skimmer and on the way back to the cottage. “Do you need anything from your house?”
“I was going to get some blankets, but that’s all right, I’m sure you still have some of the ones I’d be looking for.” Lindsay chewed her lip. “Why so secretive, Uncle Adam? Why cover it up?” It must have been something awful. Somewhere she’d known that there had been something terrible that had made her aunt cry for so long all those years ago. She’d just never quite figured out—or asked—what it was. It had seemed silly to, really. Rachel had gotten over it, moved on. Lindsay had started having visions that seemed important. And then Brendan had crashed and Rachel had taken him in, too, despite Alana’s protests. In the wake of all of that, her aunt’s distress—and her curiosity over the reason for it—had passed into the dim recesses of her memory.
He exhaled as the skimmer slowed and he guided it up the roadway toward the cottage. The moon was full and high above them, overshadowing some of the paler stars in the sky. The air was crisp, chill, promising the seasons to come. “There were people trying to kill him. He knew too much about something—that’s what we think. They didn’t want the rest of the galaxy to know. So they tried to kill him.”
“But they didn’t.”
“We made everyone think they did. To keep him safe.” Adam shrugged slightly. “He’s been at Urgathe with Daci for twelve years. Been safe, since you could count on one hand the number of people who knew he was alive.”
“You never even told Aunt Rachel, did you?”
Adam shook his head slowly, stopping the skimmer next to the cottage, in the shelter of some trees. “No. I didn’t tell her.”
Because you didn’t think you could trust her? Or something else, Uncle Adam? She stared at him for a long moment. He didn’t move to get out of the skimmer at first, just stared at his hands for a few long minutes before looking at her.
“I had my reasons, Linny-pie. Closely akin to the ones that made me move out. You understand, don’t you?”
She bit her lip. “I guess I’m going to have to, Uncle Adam.”
He kissed her forehead. “Come on. I think they’re still up.”
“You mean I’m meeting him now?”
Adam smiled wryly. “He’s staying with us, too. Better you meet him now than later, right?” He climbed out of the skimmer. “Come on. I’ll go get you some clothes in the morning.”
Lindsay nodded slightly, momentarily dumbstruck. He’s dying to meet me. I don’t even know who he is, or why anyone would want to kill him for something he knew. She was a little worried—what sort of visions would he spark? Would he spark anything? God, I hope what I just saw was one of those futures I have a prayer of changing. Some were like that. Others weren’t—they were merely warnings of what was coming, moments in time that could not be altered. Others were the opposite—possible futures, futures that could be changed. I hope that’s one that can be changed.
The lights were on in the living room, but the kitchen was dark. She could hear laughter in the living room, her aunt and probably Marshal Rose—and Frederick Rose, who she’d never met, never known. But he wants to meet me. Adam preceded her into the room.
“Lindsay is going to stay with us a few days, Rachel,” he announced as he entered. Lindsay drifted into the room in his wake. Marshal Rose and her aunt were in their pajamas. The marshal was seated on the couch, wrapped around the man from her vision—Frederick Rose.
It was dark, and cold. A bearded man, taller than her but with her blonde hair glared at a much younger Frederick Rose. It was her father, probably more than ten years ago. He was holding a gun in one hand, back pressed against a corner, and he looked ragged.
“Get out of here, Freder,” Grant Channing growled, not looking at the younger man.
“Grant, I want to help.”
“Get out of here,” he growled again, finally looking at the other man. “The only way you can help us is to stay on your side of the law while we stay on this one. If you can find a way to force the Commonwealth make them pay for what they did to Mimir, maybe we can quit. But not until that day comes. Now get out of here before you’re tarred with the same brush as America and I.”
“What about Adam and Rachel? You let them help. Why not me?”
“You’ve got legitimate connections that are still strong, Freder. I’m not going to put those in jeopardy. Get the hell out of here.”
Frederick Rose stayed where he was. Grant grabbed him by the shoulder and threw him back, back away from where he was facing.
“Go, Freder! Damnation, get out of here.”
“I want to help,” he repeated.
“You want to help? Make sure that my daughter knows someday who killed the world that should have been her home. Make sure everyone knows. Now get out of here! Rachel and Adam aren’t even involved in this. Go!”
He blinked. “They’re…they’re not?”
Grant shook his head, staring at Frederick for a long moment, desperation and pain showing in his eyes. “America made them take our daughter and run. I wanted her to run, too. She wouldn’t listen. Damn her, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“I’m sorry, Grant.”
“So am I, Freder. Now go, before you’re in over your head.”
Freder nodded. “Good luck, old friend.” Then he was gone.
“Thanks, Freder,” Grant muttered, “I’m going to need it.”
She steadied herself in the doorway, eyes widening as she stared at the unfamiliar and at the same time all-too-familiar figure on the couch with Marshal Rose. They were looking at her, him most of all. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again, licking her lips.
Frederick Rose slowly stood up from the couch, ignoring a cane that leaned against the arm of it. His limp was pronounced and for a moment Lindsay wondered how close someone must have come to killing him, all those years ago. She straightened in the doorway and met him partway, offering him her arm for support. He smiled.
“So you’re their angel, huh?” He touched her cheek. “I’ve been waiting quite a long time to meet you, little one.”
He knew them. God, but he knew them. There are so few that…that could say they were their friends. She laughed a little, smiling. Her voice was small. “You knew my mom and dad?”
Frederick laughed and nodded. “For most of my life.” He smiled. “You have your mother’s eyes.”
Lindsay managed to laugh, then covered her mouth as tears gathered in her eyes. She hugged the man she didn’t know and he hugged her back. “My father…he told you to run away and find who was responsible.”
Frederick nodded slowly. “He did, little one. That he did. I wish I hadn’t listened.”
For better or worse, I’m sure he’s glad you did. “It’s nice to meet you,” she whispered.
“Nice to be met, little one. Nice to be met.”