Chapter 21: Forward and Back

Debbie leaned back in her captain’s chair to look over the report just handed to her by, of all things, someone smiling.  Kelvin Houser-Sanchez: three point six kilos, one hour old and hanging tuff.  She smiled herself then, glad of their first happy news in some time.  Word quickly spread throughout the wing and the new arrival was taken for a good sign.  So many were left behind that any gain held profound meaning to the refugees.

Before their departure, while the lottery criteria were being hammered out, there had been a heated exchange over whether to exclude women in an advanced state of pregnancy.  Julian came down like thunder on Captain Voorhees when he suggested it, irritable all morning afterwards.  Later that day, Olga made her first appearance planetside and if anyone had comments they were wisely kept private.

The Rex ascended to the admin building’s roof when the meeting let out, staring out over the great mass of people below.  Debbie noticed him still there hours later and climbed up to join him.  Whatever had its claws in the good captain had little to do with Olga’s condition or the suggestion made at the meeting.  There was a valid point behind it if nothing else and Jules always kept his blood nice and icy when it came to survival issues.  A trait he picked-up from his uncle no doubt.  Knowing better then to come out and ask, she sat on the ledge and listened to him rattle-off an extensive inventory of people and things “Raising his Irish.”

At length he ran out of steam just as the first drops began to fall, soon escalating into a proper rain.  Removing his corners, he aimed his face skyward.  It rained a great deal on Curacao, one of the reasons she hated this place so much.  Julian always professed a great love of the rain, assuming he could enjoy it from indoors.  He didn’t appear to love much of anything just then of course.  There was a grayness about him that rivaled the sky.  Who could blame him?

“I ordered those bodies to be left up,” he eventually said, replacing his cover and nodding towards where the makeshift gallows had stood.

“We didn’t take them down,” Debbie told him.  “Mob did.  They needed the fire wood.”

“And likely the meat,” Julian added.  They all heard the reports of what was happening on the outskirts of the settlement.  The Rex glared down upon the swarm of moving bodies that burst through the walls and spilled into the countryside beyond.  His mind returned him to the garden behind the Viceroy as a small child, recalling the sight of hundreds of tiny worms squirming through the leaf-strewn mud after a rainstorm.

“Look at them down there: dirty, frightened, starving animals.  They might do anything to survive but why?  What difference does it make if we die today or tomorrow; a year from now or a thousand?  What if all trace of us vanishes forever; what does it matter?  It’s inevitable in fact, why bother at all?”

“How can you say that?” she asked him.  “Those are your people down there.”

Julian sniffed.  “Bloody meat is nothing to the rational carnivore, nothing at all to be squeamish about.  Why should I care?”

Debbie glanced down at the crowd briefly but her eyes soon returned to Julian.  He stood like a pillar of stone poised upon the edge of a cliff, serenely unmoving but heavy with the possibility of destruction.  A long quiet passed as she tried to think of something to say but Julian broke the silence.

“All my life, I’ve looked around me and seen nothing but hypocrisy and lies.  Greed and avarice.  The indignation of the guilty and the paranoia of the powerful.  Mine’s a skill set for breaking things, not fixing them.  The fact is I feel more contempt for my fellow Man then anything else.

I feel sick, Debbie, down to my marrow; sick with fear and hate.  I can feel it in my innards, building up in my liver: bloating it, depraving it, bending me around it.  I’ve lost all sense and shape of myself.  My blood’s a rancid, oily mess no leach would touch.”

            Hearing quite enough of this, she got to her feet and walked over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “It’s alright, Jules, we’re going to get through this.”

            “Oh, I know it,” he said, closing his eyes and leaning his head back to catch more of the rain on his face.  “Don’t mind me.  I’m just a gloomy bastard in a bad mood.”  He forced a laugh, trying to put her at ease, but could see his tirade had been disturbing.  Putting an arm around her, he affected a smile.  From nowhere, old words returned to him and he began speaking them aloud:


“The sun is out there, there is light;

Though it seems more a stain somehow

Then the roaring engine of life.

The weeping atmosphere obscures

Its shamed face from all onlookers,

Denying all recognition.

Unwilling to address flower

Or tree, it lies covered in bed.

But, if hopelessly grey and mute,

The sun is out there, there is light.”


Wing Captain Debbie Love let her thoughts wander from the new life to an old one.  She had let Julian slip by.  At first over worry about how it might seem, pirates had a lot of time on their hands while at space and could be a catty bunch.

Trying to get your claws in the captain’s nephew, eh? She always imagined them saying.  Then he was raised to ship master when Farrokh left to form the Pit Vipers.  Very unseemly to get involved with a fellow bridge officer and it could easily be taken for ladder-climbing.  There were few female captains or station masters then.  Determined to be both in due course, and that none should question her ascent to either, she chose to put her career first.

When Jules and his brothers bought the Crazy Horse from Vercingetorix, she had resolved to go with them, backing-out with Mad Jack’s offer of the ship master slot.  She made her decision and lived with it well enough, but couldn’t help but wander the trails of “if” now and again.

            Julian had been crushed, the two seeing each other surreptitiously for almost a year.  Her demand for utter secrecy fueled regular bouts between them but nothing compared to the furniture-smashing exchange when they parted ways at Cartagena.  Admittedly, she could have handled it better and her timing could scarcely have been worse.  Just returning from the funeral of Bastian Pulaski, Rix’s former boarding master and Julian’s close friend, she blurted the news casually as though expecting no resistance.

The whole thing degenerated into a shouting match and the two hardly spoke for years afterward, even though their ships often worked together.  There was no bitterness or rancor between them but it wasn’t until planning for Amber Colossus began that they felt comfortable around each other.  She toyed with the idea of starting things up again, once the operation was over, but by then Julian was with Olga and that was that.

Well, life is cruel, she thought.  A near-impossible task ahead of her, she had no time for lamenting old choices.  Like the man said, “Sometimes the only way forward is headlong.”


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