Chapter 9: Of Those Who Could Not Go...
Carina ren Talove stepped into the small room, the door sliding closed behind her. The gentle hiss of the door sealing behind her prompted the man at the window to turn and regard her quietly.
“Carina…” he said, firmly.
Without batting an eye, she replied in kind: “Captain…”
She saw Reyis level his gaze at her, as he often did, before he gestured to the chair in front of the modest desk. “Sit, please.”
Carina lowered herself into the chair, watching as ren Keterek took his seat on the opposite side of the desk. She noticed the room now: small, sparsely decorated, quickly assembled. It had only been three days since the Captain had been appointed. In typical ren Keterek style, it was clear this was an extremely temporary situation; he would soon have his office on the Laeril itself. There was no point in fluffing up an office on the planet when he was likely moving his office to the ship.
“I have it on good authority that you’ve decided against being my First Officer,” he began, steepling his fingers.
Carina felt the pang of surprise rise through her, and she took in a quick breath. She hadn’t told anyone of her decision. “How did you--?” she began to ask, and then let the question die. The Captain always had a way to find out more than anyone expected.
ren Keterek sat back in his chair. He let out a soft breath. “I understand your reluctance to leave your brother behind--”
“I made a promise to my father that I would care for Toma,” she interrupted, opening her eyes. She felt a touch of heat reach her cheeks and she pursed her lips. “This is not really any of your business, Captain.”
“You are wrong about that, Carina,” he said quietly. “The Council chose you because I recommended you. I recommended you because I know that you’re the best First Officer and the best navigator this mission can possibly have.”
“You can find someone else who will do well,” she countered. “Do you expect me to leave my brother behind? Do you expect me to turn my back on him in his time of need?”
ren Keterek shook his head. “No. But I don’t expect you to turn your back on your people, either.”
She was already gripping the arms of the chair, to rise to her feet when Reyis raised his hand, and his voice. “I know this is a difficult decision, Carina.” He took a deep breath. “You cannot save your brother, but you can save your people. There are millions of Letarri whose lives depend upon this mission. You’ve been flying with me since you left navigation school; I know what you are capable of. You can yell and scream at me, you can plead your case as much as you want, but you are the best. I won’t have any other.”
Carina stood, staring at the captain. Would she stay and risk the mission? ren Keterek was adamant about it-- he would have no other. Could he force her to go? He wouldn’t want to, but his responsibility was to the Letarri. More importantly, could she leave her duty to her people?
“He is my brother.” She said it quietly, breaking the silence.
The soft voice of ren Keterek replied, “They are your people.”
She countered, “I will not leave him without performing a veytna when he is gone. He deserves the proper rites as a Letarri.” She felt tears welling in her eyes and blinked them away.
“Give him the veytna before you go. Honor his name and his deeds, and let him know that you love him and will miss him.” He paused, and then added, “And then honor him by saving our people, by giving them a place to call home.”
Carina felt her lips tighten. The veytna was not normally done while a person was still alive, but these were not normal times. Her heart ached at the thought of leaving him behind, but ren Keterek was right: millions were depending upon the vanguard ship, and if she wanted to honor Toma, she would be on board that ship, as its First Officer.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. “Alright, then. I will accept the appointment. I only wish…” She trailed off, looking up at ren Keterek. “I only wish it had not come at such a cost.”
* * *
The communal treatment ward wasn’t nearly as busy as during her last visit. As before, she pulled the curtain around the bed, sealing them away from the outside world. This time, though, there was a certain calm within her.
“You were right.” The words came out of Carina's mouth with surprising ease, as she lowered herself into the seat beside his bed.
Toma grinned. “Nice to hear you say that before I go,” he replied. “Or before you go, for that matter.”
Carina smiled at his comeback, then found herself welling up with emotion. She took a breath and then looked away for a moment.
“You called him, didn't you?” she asked when she felt strong enough to look at him again.
“ren Keterek. The Captain.”
“No," Toma answered. "But he came to visit me.”
Carina blinked and looked at him, bewildered. "He came to visit you?”
“Yeah. Nice guy. He brought some image logs of you two from some of your tours. Showed them to me. Told me a bunch of stories, too -- which I know were all true because they all ended with you saving everyone.”
Carina was still stunned. “But, I never told him where you...” her voice faltered.
Toma didn't seem to hear her.
“He was here for a few hours,” he explained. “He said he wanted to share all this stuff about your adventures together. Something about a bunch of missions being recently declassified?”
Declassified? There hasn’t been any... Carina caught herself and then smiled inwardly. Thank you, Captain.
“I didn't know about all those people you saved from the raiders near Orestes Outstation. And that fire rescue on Pelonnes Station in the Xanzhura market? You evacuated 15 children to your ship by leading them through service vents? That’s incredible, Carina.”
Toma continued and Carina reached out to hold his hand. An entire chapter of her life was now open to share with him anew, and she didn't waste a moment of it.