Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
I’ve been a fool for many things, but she who survived the cyber-conversion with me has always been my only weakness. That was true even before we fought and bled alongside each other for six years. At first, we kept a distance. When we both got our own squads, the need for restraint went too. We quickly came to sharing quarters.
You were always the pragmatic one. I was too much of an optimist, even in the midst of a war that saw planets stripped of their atmospheres and entire armies sacrificed. We swore we’d survive; swore we’d stay loyal – to each other, at least.
Then came Mohgren, and the infamous order to retreat. On the surface, all we knew was that every line to command went dead. They left us to fight and die. Unbeknownst to all bar command, the retreat was sector-wide. The Danshe had managed to get portal ships into place at Lagrange points in eleven systems. Their reinforcements were pouring through in numbers we couldn’t hope to defeat.
“Seven years, Cass. I spent seven years crawling around on Mohgren, more swamp creature than soldier.”
I see a tear start from the corner of an eye.
“For five years after that, I worked my way across human-held space. I tracked down every ship that got away from Mohgren. Every. Single. One. You weren’t rostered on any of them. None of your squad were.”
“Two years ago, an old skipper told me he’d seen a Peryton cloak up in the Mohgren system before the fleet withdrew. There were no orders to cloak. Orders were to save power for retreat manoeuvres. Took me a year to find that Peryton. Still had Scalzy in command. Looked like he’d seen a ghost when I sat down opposite him. He told me this crazy story about you getting all het up when the retreat order came. Said you lost it completely, talked the whole squad into deserting. Saved their lives by doing so, because we all know what happened to that fleet when it arrived in the Latullus system.”
You wave for me to sit. Unconsciously graceful as ever.
“He said you just lit out on your own at the first port they hit, never even said goodbye. Nobody had a clue where you went. Took me a while, but I remembered what you’d said about your childhood.”
You tilt your head and smile.
Your voice is hoarser, but still the one I fell for.
“Took me a while to get here, and I’ll not interrupt your new life for long. I just want you to tell me one thing: why?”
I’m waiting for a flood. Of tears, or apologies, maybe both. But there’s no guilt in your eyes. Instead, you hold out a hand, and not towards me.
She comes into the room, lean and barefoot, wearing your old off-duty bodysuit, sleeves rolled up, her wiry hair tied back. I see the circuitry that webs her arms and face, the sensors in the fingertips she extends to you. There’s a smudge of dirt on her button nose. When she turns to look at me, I see the smudge extends along her cheekbone. I recognise it. I get the same when I try to rub my nose while I’m work-
Her eyes are mine. It’s like looking into the eyes of a younger me.
“Sarah, this is your dad.”
There’s no hesitation. She lunges and wraps her arms about me.
“Mum said you’d find us!”
I extend a hand to Cass. No more explanations.