“It’s good to hear your voice, Seph.”
He meant it, too. It had been far too long since he’d heard his former protégé talk, on the comm or in person. Of course, he’d seen her give speeches here and there, but to actually speak with her…
Not since I died.
On the other end of the comm, Sephora sucked in a sharp breath, as if she hadn’t quite expected to actually hear his voice. “You’re alive,” she whispered.
“Mostly.” Frederick leaned back in his chair, wincing slightly at twinging muscles and the incessant ache of his bad leg. Truth be known, both legs were bad, and his back was, too, but he tried to categorize them as bad and less pristine than they should be. “Where are you?”
“The lighthouse,” she said, her voice quiet, almost choked. “Where have you been?”
“Where do you think?”
There was only silence for a moment, then, “The Colony.”
“Bullseye,” he said softly.
“Why aren’t you dead? Everyone thinks you’re dead.”
He knew what question she wanted to ask. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back, touching the headset he wore to make sure that it wasn’t about to slip off. He was in what had been Zephaniah Grace’s study before his passing years before. There was a secure comm unit tucked into a corner of the room, a relic from the days when Ezra and Kara Grace’s mother was still alive and still plied the space lanes as a free trader. It was quiet at the big house in the wake of the attacks and he hoped it would stay that way for a little longer—but he wasn’t entirely optimistic that would be the case.
“I’m still here,” he said softly. “I was almost dead. It was months before I even came out of the coma. By then, the universe thought I was dead and it seemed safer to let it stay that way. I’ve been here since then. Daci…” he sighed and started again. “Didn’t you ever wonder why she vanished so quickly? Why she came here and then never left again?”
“I guess I did, but I always just kind of thought that she was mourning in her own way.”
“She came here to be with me.”
“I understand that, now.”
Frederick stared at the ceiling, heart feeling like lead in his chest. He hadn’t called her to catch up—he wished that he had. There was a purpose to his call, though, an important one. “Do you still have the case?”
There was a hesitation, then she said, “Yes.”
“And everything that was in it?”
“It’s safe, Frederick.”
“Are you alone?”
Another hesitation. “No,” she said after a moment.
He nodded slightly to himself. “Who’s with you? Ben?”
“And Padraig Danson. He’s with the Colonial Office.”
Frederick searched his memory for the name and connected it to a face. He nodded to himself. That was safe enough—the three were safe enough, as safe as it would have been if it was Sephora on her own. “All right. I need you to do something for me.”
“If you’re going to ask me to leave, I don’t think I can.”
“I don’t think you have a choice,” Frederick countered, his voice gentle. “Inspector Winston was hurt pretty badly when we were attacked.”
“You were attacked?”
“We’re not sure who yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we figure it out. The Commonwealth and whoever attacked us know that. They’ll try again. You need to come before they do, Seph. It’s important.”
“Frederick, I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay,” he said softly. “You’ll figure it out.”
“I can’t just up and leave.”
He heard Ben swear in the background. “You can go wherever you want,” Ben’s muffled voice said in the background. “You’re the fragging Inspector General. Do it, Seph. For God’s sake, do it.”
“Bring your family,” Frederick said.
“What family?” she countered, her tone a little bitter. “It’s just me…I don’t know that Ben would want to come.”
“How could you say that?” her husband asked in the background. “Seph, I would follow you anywhere if you’d let me.”
Frederick’s stomach twisted. “You were going to start a family, Seph. After Mimir. You told me that.”
“After it was settled, Frederick,” she said in a barely audible voice. “And it’s never been settled.”
“And it never will be,” he said firmly. “Bring Ben and come, Seph. Bring the case. I’ll explain everything.”
As much as I dare to tell, anyway.
Some secrets were just too much to share.