Chapter Twenty

We fear our futures because they are unknown.  In truth, there’s no reason to fear your own future until you can see it.  Then you fear you can’t change it.

— Journal of Ryland LeSarte, circa 4859 PD


6 Novem, 5249 PD

You idiot.  What the hell were you thinking?  Ezra cursed under his breath again, staring at the mess Brendan had made of his implant and the back of his head.  And he’s done this before?  How the hell did he survive the first time?

“How is he?”  America’s voice was quiet.  She perched precariously on the edge of the bunk behind him, watching him work while Alana manned the controls.  They were in hyperspace, now, headed for an uninhabited system where they could shoot off a message to E-557 before heading to Compact space for Alana’s leg of the mission.

“Not good.”  Ezra shook his head slowly.  “If I’d expected him to pull a stunt like this, I’d have brought different equipment.  I can’t take it out, not here.  I can’t repair it, either.”  He sighed.  At least the bleeding, for the moment, had stopped for the most part.  He didn’t mention that he couldn’t do too much poking around for fear of sparking a bleed he couldn’t stop.  He didn’t have the blood supplies to handle that.

“Is he going to make it?”

Alana snorted from the pilot’s seat.  “He’ll live.  He did a worse number on himself the first time.”

Ezra blinked at Alana’s back.  “You were there?”

She grunted and didn’t elaborate.  Ezra cursed mentally.  Would it kill you to open up about what you know sometime, Alana?

America shook her head slightly and winced.  “I can only imagine how much pain he must be in.”

Ezra didn’t say anything.  He suspected it was going to get a lot worse.  Guess I’m not as brilliant as I think I am sometimes.  He’d been trying to figure out what had prompted Brendan to do what he’d done.  Without being able to ask him or glean it from recent memories—Brendan had been thinking in his native tongues at the time—Ezra could only speculate on why it had happened, and that bothered him.

He eased a fresh bandage into place and turned toward America, who smiled wanly at him.  He shook his head.  “You look like you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in years, ma’am.”

A wider smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.  “Call me Meri.  Most people do.  Did, anyhow.”  She tucked one leg slowly up underneath the other.  “Are you a friend of my daughter’s, too?”

Ezra laughed a little and nodded.  “Yeah, and as long as I don’t get Brendan killed, I think she’ll still be my friend when we get back.  Ezra Grace.”  He started to offer her his hand, then grimaced as he remembered it was sticky with Brendan’s blood.  He offered her a sheepish smile as he got up to go clean his hands.  “Sorry.  You hungry?”

America offered him a wry smile.  “Are you offering something other than a protein shake?”

Ezra shrugged.  “Not much better, but more solid.”

“Then I’m starving.”

He nodded, managing a grin, then ducked into the head to clean up.  There was blood all over his shirt.  He winced, took it off, then washed his hands and chest before rinsing his shirt in the sink and hanging it up, hoping that he’d gotten the blood out.  It was hard to tell in the dim light.  After getting some rations from the cargo hold, he returned to the bunks.  America was leaning against the back wall of hers, eyes closed.  It almost looked like she was meditating, like a Buddhist monk of Old Earth.

Ezra set one of the packets of crackers and dried fruit down by her knee with a water bottle.  He sat on the floor and leaned against Brendan’s bunk.  Brendan was still out like a light, but his breathing sounded good—deep, even, regular.

Let him stay out for a while, Ezra decided.  If he didn’t wake up on his own in the next hour or two, he’d wake him.  Until then, it was better to let him recover from the shock to his system in whatever way his body wanted to recover from it.  Ezra had found that was often the best way of dealing with problems like this.

He ripped open his own packet of dried fruit and tossed a few cranberries into his mouth, beginning to chew.  America opened an eye and looked at him.  “Where are we going now?”  She asked.  “Back to E-557?”

Ezra shook his head.  “Not…directly.  We still need to pickup your husband.”

She blinked a little, sitting forward slightly.  “Where is he?”

“Installation seven seven two niner on Anduril,” Alana answered from the controls.  Ezra hadn’t even been aware she was listening to them.  Her voice was even, firm, confident.  “I think I know exactly where they’ll be holding him, in fact.  Easy op.  I’ll go in, I’ll smack some people around, and I’ll come out with Commander Channing.”

“Anduril…that’s a Compact world.”  America’s eyes widened.  Fear threaded through her voice, dropping soft.  “The Eurydice Compact has him?”

Alana nodded, keeping her eyes on the board.

America made a sound that was half a whimper, half a gasp.  “He’s from the Compact.”

“I know.”  Alana’s voice was quieter, now.

Ezra stared at the back of her head.  Damn, Alana.  What else have you failed to tell us about?

“They’ll have killed him.”

“No,” Alana said slowly.  “I don’t think they have.  Not based on what your daughter saw.  They won’t kill him if they think he’s important…and I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re thinking.”  She stared out the window at hyperspace.

How do you know that, Alana?

America seemed to take her knowledge at face value.  “I hope you’re right,” she said softly.

Ezra refrained from saying that he hoped she was right, too.  He patted America’s knee.  “Our intelligence has reported that he’s alive, at least,” he said quietly.

America nodded slightly, her eyes on Alana’s back.  If Alana noticed the stare, she didn’t let on.  For a moment, Ezra wondered if she was thinking what he was thinking—how did the former assassin know?  What was it that she hadn’t told anyone?

Was that going to get them all killed?

●   ●   ●

The sky was gray, like steel.  The wreckage of his bird burned behind him as he stood on the promontory, watching fire rain out of the sky.  Scorched earth.  That’s the decision they’d made, apparently.  They didn’t care what they did, what they damaged, who they killed. As long as they got the resources, as long as they held the place, it didn’t matter.  They didn’t care about the trees, the animals, many of the species the last of their kind.  They didn’t care.

His hands tightened into fists.  He was powerless, cut off.  They were bombing Fort Solace.  They were bombing Fort Solace and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

…or was there…

He reached for her, found her.  He’d intended to warn her.  Instead, everything went black…

…klaxons wailed.  A woman jerked herself away from a console, looking at a man perhaps seven years her senior.

“What’s going on?  Who’s attacking us?”

The man shook his head, grasping her by the arm and standing her up quickly.  “Does it matter?  They’re attacking the Commonwealth.”

“…who would do that?”

“It doesn’t matter.  We’ve become the new Guard.  We’re standing in their way.”

“But Padriag…”

“Did you think I told you to take those people and run for no reason?  Get out of here, Miriam.  Run.”

“What about you?”

“Don’t worry about me.  If I get clear, I’ll see you again.  If I don’t…well.  You’ll figure it out soon enough.  Now go!”

She cast one last look at him and ran…

“No,” Brendan mumbled.  His head was pounding.  How long had he been having the nightmares?  How long had he been out?  He wanted to open his eyes but at the same time he didn’t.  The light would hurt.  He remembered that.

“Brendan?  You awake, man?”  Ezra pried one of his eyes open and shined a light into it.  The brightness felt like fire searing his eyeballs into cinders.

Brendan jerked back, swearing and banging his head against the back wall of his bunk.  Black swallowed him again, though only briefly.  The pain hadn’t ebbed at all when he came to again.

He groaned.  The first coherent words he got out were directed at Ezra.  “Shine a light in my eyes like that one more time and I’m going to take you apart with my bare hands, Ez.”

Ezra’s laugh was strangled.

I must look and sound like hell.  Thinking a coherent thought was a struggle.  “Can you give me something for the pain?”  His tongue felt like lead.  He kept his eyes squeezed shut, fearing the light.  It would hurt, and he knew it.

“Yeah, hang on a second.”  Ezra rummaged around for a moment before he slapped an analgesic patch on the side of Brendan’s neck, near the bandage that covered where he’d stabbed himself.

Brendan exhaled slowly.  It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes for the patch’s effects to kick in.  He’d risk opening his eyes once that happened.  “How long was I out?” he mumbled.

Ezra hesitated before answering.  “Ten hours,” he finally said.  “For a little while I wasn’t sure you were going to wake up at all.”

He laughed weakly.  “And break a promise to Lin?  Fat chance.”  She’s going to worry.  She’s going to worry a lot.  Probably already is, if she felt what happened.  For a moment, he considered reaching through the bond for her but quickly thought better of it.  The pain was enough already without adding strain into the mix.  He was fairly certain the nightmares were because of the circumstances, too.  Something she’d seen must have leaked across to him in those last seconds before he lost consciousness.  “Apparently we got clear.”  The pain was slowly starting to ebb, but not disappear.  He hadn’t expected it to disappear anyway—all he was hoping for was something to take the sharp edges off of it, the stuff that made him feel like his skull was full of razor blades and his body was stretched out on a bed of them.

“Yeah.  Alana’s keeping an eye on the controls.”

“I’m surprised you’d trust me with it, Cho.”

Brendan had to laugh.  “Ezra can’t fly, Alana.”

“Hey now.”  Ezra growled a little.  “I can fly.”

“In a combat situation with unfamiliar controls and lots of things you could hit.  Not to mention getting us into hyperspace?  No, Ezra, he’s right.  You can’t.”  Alana was quiet for a moment.  “Are you going to be able to take these back from me on this little jaunt, Brendan?”

“ETA?”  I really don’t think I’m going to be in any shape to man the controls inside of the next couple days, but maybe with a little more sleep under my belt and a lot of medication, I could do it.

“We’ll drop back to realspace in about twelve hours.”

Have we made contact with home?  “For correction?”

“Mm.  And to shoot a message back to the colony.”

He swallowed.  “I’m not going to be up to taking the controls back before then.  Probably not for another twenty-four hours, at least.”  He risked opening an eye.  The light hurt.  He squeezed it shut again and took a deep breath before trying again, blinking through tears.  A little better, but not much.  He groaned.  “Guess I did more of a number on myself than I thought,” Brendan mumbled, slowly starting to reposition himself on the bunk.

Ezra shook his head slowly.  “Why did you do that?”

“Because my implant didn’t have an off switch,” he grumbled.  “I’m pretty sure they were going to try to take control of the ship through my implant.  They were catching some readings.  I assume they couldn’t understand them because psychics don’t fly around here and started to get suspicious.”

Alana glanced at him.  “You flew for them.”

Brendan shook his head slightly and winced as his head throbbed harder, making a mental note not to do that again.  “They didn’t know what I was.  I was a latent.  Crashing on E-557 woke up my abilities.”  He looked past Ezra to America, who was sitting on the bunk across from his, arms wrapped around her knees.

“That happens,” she said softly.  “We used to see it a lot in the Guard.  Trauma sometimes can spark latents.  They’re sometimes stronger than people who were born with their abilities.”  She studied Brendan for a long moment.  “You’re Bonded to my daughter.”

Brendan winced.  “How did you know?”

America smiled faintly.  “Some of us can tell.”

His brow furrowed.  There’s a lot I don’t know.  His stomach growled and he groaned.  Eating would require sitting up, and he wasn’t sure he could manage that without ending upon the floor or worse.

Ezra shoved a ration packet into his hands.  Brendan stared at him.  Ezra shrugged.  “Figured you’d be hungry when you woke up.  Brought extra out when Meri and I ate earlier.”

“Meri?”  Brendan asked, confused.  Who’s Meri?  America waved a little at him.  Oh.  “Oh.”

She smiled a little.  “You’re not very fast on the uptake right about now, are you, young man?”

“I wish I was, ma’am,” he said quietly.  This really isn’t how I envisioned this turning out.  I guess it could have gone worse.  That girl with the keycard could’ve been a trap. Thank whatever’s out there for the very smallest of favors.

She smiled a little more, looking at the three of them in turn.  “So.  Grumpy sent the three of you.”

Alana’s brow furrowed and she turned in her chair to look at America.  “…Grumpy?”

“Adam Windsor.  Grumpy.  You…don’t know him by that name, do you?”  She studied them, especially Brendan, then asked, “How do you know him?”

He licked his lips, fumbling with the ration packet.  “He’s one of the Guardians.  Military commanders of the Colony.  He’s…ah…my commanding officer, ultimately.”

“Really,” there was a bare trace of surprise in America’s voice.  “Who’d have thought?”  She smiled a little.  “What about his wife?”

Brendan almost sat bolt upright.  He has a wife?  As it was, barely stopping himself from doing just that sent pain shooting from the back of his neck down his spine and straight through his head.  He choked on a groan, putting a hand over his eyes.  It didn’t help.  “He has a wife?”  He croaked.  “Who?”

“Who?”  America blinked.  “My sister.”

“Rachel?”  Ezra’s brow furrowed.  Even Alana looked shocked, Brendan could see out of the corner of his eye.

Even Alana didn’t know that.  Interesting.

America nodded slowly.  “You didn’t know that?”

“No,” Brendan said, almost hollowly.  “I lived with her for years.  I didn’t know.  Alana?  Did you know?”

Alana shrugged a little.  “I always figured that Rachel’s private life was Rachel’s private life.  I never asked.  She was focused on Lindsay, near as I could ever tell.  She was more important than anything else.”

America frowned, leaning back.  “Interesting,” she murmured.  “Well.  I guess that’s something I’m going to have to ask them about, then, isn’t it?”

Ezra nodded slowly.  “I’m guessing so.”

Brendan tried not to yawn, knowing that he shouldn’t be tired.  He chewed some of the rations from the packet.  His eyelids were heavy, and his eyes stung.  “Hey, Ez?”

“Yeah, Brendan?”

He handed back the ration packet.  “Wake me when we drop back to realspace?  If we’re going to make contact, I’d like to be the one to do it, if I can.”

“You going back to sleep?”

“Yeah.  My head’s killing me and the patch is only taking the edges off.  Maybe it’ll feel better when I wake up.”  It’d better feel better when I wake up.  He squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled, trying to regulate his breathing.

“I’m going to wake you every hour or so, Brendan.”

“Sure thing, Ez,” he mumbled.  It wasn’t worth fighting.  Ezra was his doctor.  He’d do whatever he felt was best.  “Next time,” Brendan mumbled, “make sure that my implant has an off switch.”

Ezra laughed weakly.  “Yeah, sure.  Whatever, Brendan.”  There wasn’t going to be a next time, and they both knew it.

“G’night.”  He dropped back to sleep fairly handily and was grateful for the quiet, soothing blackness that closed around him.  The dreams, mercifully, didn’t come again.

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