Author: Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I crouch by the fire, gazing across at the mass of blue curls that bob and sway as she works.
“You can still escape. Shake off the ghosts of the past. Fly higher.”
She smiles sadly at me.
“Did it ever occur to you that I don’t want to fly?”
“You don’t have to limit yourself anymore.”
Reassembling her pistol, she shakes her head.
“You’ve supported me from slave to free trader. Always had my back. Never doubted me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself. But we’ve come far enough like that. I’ve come far enough.”
She loads the pistol, then holsters it.
“There’s a point where your determination to free me so I can be everything I could be, from your never-repressed view, becomes the very thing I cannot escape.”
How dare she! I launch myself to my feet.
Her other hand comes up, slivergun gleaming in the lights of the fire.
“Down, Brutus.”
At this range, the charged load won’t have time to fully open up. But a quarter-metre hole blown through your chest has the same net effect as a half-metre one. I settle.
“I knew this would be difficult, so just hold still and listen. I’m already far more than I ever thought I could be, back when I was licking boots and mopping floors on Cragryn. Your certainty was my only strength. Without it, this journey would never have started. That certainty changed to became my support as my own strength grew. We all have bad days. Your quiet assurance prevented them from defeating me. You’ve been the wall at my back as I worked out how to be an individual beholden to no-one. You became my companion, but you never stopped pushing me. I thought your vision of me being a star fleet owner was a dream. Then I saw it was possible. Finally, I realised I didn’t want it.”
She raises a calming hand. It’s a politeness I appreciate. The slivergun hasn’t wavered.
“It’s not that I can’t go that far. It’s not that my past is playing on my insecurities. It’s just that I know what I want.”
The smile that comes is the one that lifts my hearts.
“You gave me this: the freedom to choose.”
Firelight reflects in her amber eyes as she leans towards me.
“So let me choose, and accept the choice I’ve made. You’ve been my will for so long. Now, at last, I can decide for myself. Live your life. I’ll live mine.”
I sit and weave the light between my claws – not that she can see that. All humans see is a Draconian ‘wiggling its fingers’.
She’s right. In my determination, I’ve come close to being a source of oppression.
I release the light.
“Meriel, you have the right of it. Be free of my dreams and live your own.”
There’s a little laugh and the slivergun is lowered.
“I still need a Master at Arms, Brutus.” She grins. “There’s no way I can bring the Tangaris down if they get rowdy.”
“I recommend broad-beaming them with stunner on its lowest setting. It takes their edge off.”
She stares at me in shock.
“All this time I thought it was your mighty presence.”
“My teacher always told me that influencing brute force requires more than greater force.”
Meriel bursts out laughing.
“And until you work out what he meant, you’ll use the stunner.”
I grin at her.
“A bitter truth.”
“Better put this campfire out before the cargo bay fire alarms trigger.”
“True. Let’s get back to having fun and making a living.”

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