It really is quite beautiful out here. Serene. Peaceful.
It felt fitting that I’d ventured to the upper observation plaza as we passed Yulai IX. The system’s blue star combined with the glacial surface of the ice planet cast a soft, almost ethereal light through the glass panes. It brought with it a strange kind of melancholy, as if the cold beams could reach out with numbing fingers to affect anyone they touched. I shifted my weight from one arm to another, wondering if it was the pale glow or the metal rail beneath my forearms that caused me to give an involuntary shiver.
Letting the rail take most of my weight, I slowly formed and opened a fist with my right hand, only wincing a little as damaged skin tightened over possibly bruised bones. I’d keep it bandaged for now. The somewhat startled crewmember I had asked for directions to their medical facilities had helpfully told me of the efficiency of their AIMEDs. I thanked him, ignored his advice, and left with just a compression bandage and a small dose of analgesic spray. While the AIMEDs could have erased all evidence of my outburst in minutes, I wanted it there as a reminder; of how I had once again let my anger get the better of me, and that it still wasn’t a good idea to pick a fight with solid, inanimate objects.
I was well aware of the hushed conversations going on around me, and knew that at least some of them were caused by my presence. The Emerald Ark was on a round tour of the region, its passengers a mixture of wealthy families on sightseeing tours and high-flying executives with more money than they knew what to do with. And me; the only Amarrian I had seen on board so far, and quite obviously the only capsuleer. The booking agent had been more than a little confused by a pod pilot seeking passage on a ‘normal’ vessel, but was soon placated by a swift payment – plus a little something extra- and a promise of no trouble. I was to be just another passenger, taking time out from their busy life to enjoy the stunning sights that the region known as Genesis had to offer.
As the yacht left the ice planet behind, I tried again to consolidate my thoughts. The past couple of weeks had been more chaotic than I’d bargained for; operational plans had resumed, as had my tendency to spend hours poring over combat logs and recordings from my camera drones to pick out even the slightest of improvements that I could make. A joint project with an old friend had also gathered pace, quickly expanding beyond its original remit and requiring both of us to invest extra time and resources ensuring we had the right people in place to see a good return. The world had passed by in a blur, days merging together as I lived one task to the next.
Until two days ago, when I had been roused from an impromptu nap by a comm chirp from a secure channel. I’d blearily shoved at the haphazard collection of data pads and holo-projection slides on the desk in front of me until the offending comm device revealed itself, the glow of ‘MESSAGE WAITING – AUTHORISATION REQUIRED’ burning into my tired eyes. It took two attempts to thumb my approval after checking who the sender was, and the new block of text that appeared elicited a scowl as it blinked far too brightly into existence.
I only got halfway through the second sentence before my tiredness vanished. I sat up and read every word; then again, this time deliberately slowly. On completion, I placed the pad back down on the desk very carefully. I tried to coalesce thoughts, but they wouldn’t form. I wasn’t numb, but even now I couldn’t tell you what it was I was feeling. Part of me wanted to cry, another part to laugh, yet another to just sit and stare in wonder and abject shock. I just sat there for a time, speechless and completely blindsided by what I had read.
At some point, I managed to gather myself. I packed a few days worth of things in a duffel bag and looked up any civilian ships leaving within the next few hours that would still be taking on passengers. The route of the Emerald Ark seemed perfect, with several of its planned stopping points in systems where I had my own ships readily available if I was ready to return.
I must have re-read that message over a hundred times by now, and was still struggling to come to terms with it all. Most of it was now firmly burned into my memory, allowing me to slowly try and unravel it all. A cacophony of different emotions had assaulted me each time; the latest of which was now evident by the state of my right hand, and the almost imperceptible dents on one of the internal panels of my cabin. Was I right? Or had I been wrong the whole time? Some of those events sound cruel, though never intended that way. Was I being cruel? Had I misjudged things? If I had, why had I also seemed to garner such high praise and standing?
Who else had known?
There was a soft rustle to my left, and the rail dipped slightly under my arms. A young girl, maybe six or seven, was having to stand on tiptoe to rest her arms and chin on the polished metal bar. She gave a long sigh, tilting her head in my direction a little, getting a last look at Yulai IX before it slid out of view entirely.
“That’s a very big sigh for someone so young,” I heard myself say, gently.
The girl didn’t move. “People sigh when they’re thinking,” was her simple reply. Very well spoken, a soft Gallentean accent and well-tailored clothes marking her as the daughter of a family of some status.
“Oh,” I answered. “You must be thinking big things, then.”
She wrinkled her nose a little. “Maybe.” Her layered dress rustled again as she rocked back and forth a little on the balls of her feet. “This looked like the place people come to think, so I came here.”
I couldn’t help but smile a little. “I think you’re right. This does seem to be where we thinking people end up.”
We stood in silence for a moment, staring out at the starscape beyond the domed canopy. “They said this would be a nice trip for us. ‘A nice trip away’, they said, ‘so we can all get to know each other better’.” Her voice had started to take on a more child-like sulkiness. “I don’t think it’s been nice so far.”
I cocked my head, curious. “What’s been so bad about it?”
She sighed heavily again, burying her chin deeper into her folded arms. “I don’t like her that much,” she stated quietly. “She’s too happy all the time. It’s strange. She wants to get me to go places with her and do things with her all the time.” There was a pause, then; “My real mother didn’t do things like that.”
Something deep inside me cried out in pain. “You lost her, didn’t you.” It was a statement, not a question. I had a pretty good guess at what was bothering my new companion. “And the new woman your father met is trying too hard to win your affection.” I took a deep breath. “She wants to make everything work, but doesn’t know the best way to go about it.” It was beautifully ironic given my own recent trains of thought. “She just wants to be accepted,” I ended with a short, somewhat cynical laugh. The girl frowned at me, then shrugged carelessly.
“She’s just strange,” was her matter-of-fact response, the sulky tone making a return. “She’s a strange person. I don’t think I like her.” She turned her head away, leaning her cheek on her arms instead.
I thought again of all the words I’d read. Of the countless hours spent picking apart every sentence in the hope of finding answers.
“Don’t give up on her just yet,” I said quietly, pushing off the rail to take a step closer to the girl. She turned back to look up at me; after a moment, I crouched down to eye level with her. “She wants everyone to be happy, just like you do. She knows that you’re important to your father, so she wants to make you happy so that he is happy too. She’s probably terrified that you’ll hate her,” I added with a wry smile, making the corners of the girl’s mouth twitch upwards too. “So she’s trying really hard to get to know you and work out how to make you happy.”
A lump was forming in my throat.
“Just… give it some time, ok? I think it will all work out in the end.”
The girl stared at me for a moment, then slowly nodded. “Ok,” she repeated. “Maybe it will work.”
I smiled as best I could, fighting back the pinpricks of moisture in the corners of my eyes. Nodding my head by way of farewell, I left plaza and field of stars behind, and made my way back to my cabin. Once safely away from watchful eyes, I sat in my chair and finally let the tears of three days fall.
‘Everything ends, and it’s always sad. But everything begins again too, and that’s always happy.’
“I am, and always will be, the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes, and the dreamer of improbable dreams”