They teach you from an early age in the Eurydice Compact that to love is to show weakness, that it’s merely a farce, something that can be chemically induced on a whim. They’re wrong, but they rather like repeating the lie.
— Grant Channing, c. 5035 PD
5 Novem, 5249 PD
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Ezra said for the tenth time since Brendan had locked the ship down and left them there alone.
No one had bothered the ship since, but he was getting antsy and it was starting to wear on Alana’s nerves. He didn’t seem to notice her annoyance as he sat on one of the bunks, fidgeting and watching her as she cleaned and re-cleaned her weapons, oiling the knives from her boot and arm sheathes before replacing them, checking to make sure the needles that would deliver neurotoxin were clear of any debris.
Apparently, she’d reached a point where couldn’t take it anymore, couldn’t stand to listen to him worry out loud another second. Her head came up and she glared at him. “Why don’t you just scan the base for him if you’re so hot and bothered?”
“You say that like it’s easy to figure out a ship’s control board without an implant to help,” Ezra frowned.
Alana rolled her eyes and shook her head, then tapped a finger against her temple. She went back to checking her gear.
Ezra winced, catching her meaning. Really don’t want to do that. I think someone would notice, and then wouldn’t we be in some kind of fix? He exhaled and stood, starting to pace. “Should this be taking so long?”
“He said to give him at least three hours, Ezra. Fact of the matter is, it’ll probably take longer than that. Sit tight and knock it off.”
He had, but that didn’t stop Ezra from worrying. What if this plan doesn’t work? What if I’ve gotten him killed? Lindsay will never forgive me, and she shouldn’t. This was all my idea. It’ll be all my fault. He exhaled through his teeth and kept pacing in a tight line, four steps, pivot, four steps. Back and forth. Alana watched him for a moment then shook her head in disgust.
“You make me wish I had something loaded up in this thing already,” she muttered, gesturing to her metal hand. “Relax. Take a pill or something.”
He glared at her. “How am I supposed to relax?” He wasn’t even going to dignify her suggestion that he take a sedative with a response. “My best friend is out there, wandering an enemy emplacement, looking for someone we think is there. We’re not even sure she’s there. What if she’s not? What if they catch him? What do we do then?”
“Then I go in guns blazing. It’s not going to go down that way, though.” Her lips thinned briefly. “For all the hell I give him, Cho is a good soldier with a good head on his shoulders. He’ll be fine.”
She watched him pace for a moment more and sighed, shaking her head. “The Council was right,” she muttered, going back to her weapons. “You’re not prepared for this. It’s a lot of hurry up and wait in these things, Ezra. It’s the nature of the beast.”
The nature of the beast. How many situations like this has she been in? He stopped pacing and stared at her for a moment.
God, she’s beautiful. He looked as she looked up from another combat knife she’d been sharpening.
“Were you just staring at me?”
“No,” he answered quickly. Too quickly.
Either she hadn’t noticed, or she was ignoring it. It was probably the latter, Ezra decided. She was smart enough to catch it, and not as emotionally stunted as she tried to appear to the rest of the colony. Sometimes he wondered if she used her past as a shield to keep people away.
She stared at him for a moment, then looked back at her knife. “Take a nap, Ezra. We’re not going to need you until he gets back anyway, if we even need you then.”
“Are you saying I’m useless?” He almost winced at the defensiveness in his own voice. Alana stared at him for a moment and sighed, shaking his head.
“You are not prepared,” she said simply. “And this whole situation proves it. Maybe some military training should be compulsory.”
“Most of us are pacifists,” Ezra said, still on the defensive.
“Pacifism is a farce,” Alana said simply. “An illusion. As a species, we’re warlike. Even the great luminaries of the Foundation realized that. Hell, Quizibian said it, flat-out.” She stared at him for a few long moments. “Some of them had to lose their innocence to realize that. I’m afraid that’s the way you’re going to end up learning that lesson, too.” She looked back down to her knife and began to sharpen it, but not before he caught a flash of pain in her eyes.
He didn’t know what to say. A part of him wanted to tell her no, that she was wrong, but the words wouldn’t come. Was she right? Was the entirety of humanity…bred for war? Or was that her background talking? She’d been raised and trained for the sole purpose of being a soldier, a killing machine for the Compact. That had to color her perceptions, right? He turned away and stared at the station beyond the windows.
“Maybe I will take that nap,” he murmured. Or at least lay down and close my eyes. And try not to think about this. I don’t want to think about this. Deep philosophical questions…bloody hell. I don’t need that crap right now. My friend is out there, on that station, possibly getting himself shot to bits, and she… His thoughts dropped off and he sighed, sitting down on the bunk.
“I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Shut up, Alana,” he muttered.
“Sometimes genius can’t match up to life experience, Ezra. Another universal truth.” Her voice was gentle, though, lacking the razored edges. Did she feel bad for what she’d said?
He nodded glumly. Life experience is something I’m on this trip to get. Goddamn it. Walking into a war and I have no conception of what war really is. I’m worried about a friend that’s walked into the lion’s den when I should be worrying about my entire planet. What’s wrong with me?
She patted his knee. He looked up at her. She smiled a little.
“First mission is always hard,” she offered. “But you’ll get through it, just like Brendan and I did about a million years ago.”
He smiled back and nodded a little. Brendan’s wrong, he thought. There’s a soul in there, and a good one.
She’s more human than he thinks she is after all. And the shell is thinner than he thinks.