The Enclave shield was a suffocating pressure over her. Selena fell with her back against the wall and stared in disbelief at the closed conference room door. She should have said something.
For the first time the fleet was listening to the Jhandarmi. She should have confessed her connection, told them why she’d done it, they might have understood. That had been her opening and now…
Now it was gone.
She’d betrayed the fleet and kept silent because Tyrling was a paranoid yaldson who didn’t trust the fleet.
That was also her fault. She’d brought too much of the pain she’d felt with her to the Jhandarmi offices. It colored the way the grounders viewed the fleet. It twisted their minds, poisoned every interaction.
Even now the Jhandarmi standing guard at the doors were watching her.
:Selena?: Titan’s ping bounced off the tightest shield she had as the doors opened.
Carver and Tryling walked out, both too busy with their own thoughts to notice her.
Keeping her face impassive she pushed off the wall and walked down away. Grounders on one side. Fleet on the other. All ready to pounce if she let any sign of weakness show.
There was only one place to escape them all.
Stepping into a dark shadow near the portraits of the second wave colonists she engaged a code she thought she’d never use again.
The world shimmered, losing color until it fade into white nothingness. A chime sounded, and she stepped through the portal into the captain’s mess of the Persephone.
Alarms rang out all at once and three years’ worth of reports flooded her sense. With one brutal mental swipe she silenced them all.
The ship lay quiet. There were no engines to hum and make the floor thrum like the slow heartbeat of the universe. There were no crew members left to run, and shout, and scream in pain as the brutal assault from the Balaur ships ripped the Persephone apart.
Even her own breathe seemed like the echo of a ghost, absorbed by the silence.
At her approach the ancient door to the mess slid open with a whine of complaint. An automated program sent her a notification for estimated time of repair, over three million hours. Hundreds of years…
She dismissed the notification and stepped into the empty hall.
Small skutter repair bots shaped like the fabled horseshoe crabs climbed along the walls making repairs. They scurried away with the a small scritch-scritch of metal legs against metal bulkheads. It was fine, she knew where everything was.
It didn’t take conscious thought to walk to the altar room.
The door remained closed. :This area has not been cleared of debris. Use not recommended,: the system sent the message to her implant.
The door slid open revealing the scarred black table that the Caryll crew had used for battle maps in the final days of the war when the battleroom was overflowing with injured sailors. There was blood, dried and flaking, on the edge of the table.
Quentin had died there as she tried to repair the ribs mangled by a bulkhead door closing on him. He’d succumbed to internal bleeding while she patched the visible wounds.
She’d left the medkit there.
Now, she rummaged through the old box and pulled out the bright blue nanite patch she needed. Slapping it on her neck over the jugular vein. The gel on the patch melted from the heat of her body and the nanites swarmed her bloodstream in a heady rush. It would have been nice to lie down, but her quarters were gone, reduced to galactic dust and memories.
Running her had along the wall to maintain her balance she stumbled to the command deck and collapsed on her chair.
Duty stations flickered, striving to become fully operational despite the battle damage. Most of them died feel back into abyssal darkness before completing the reboot.
Selena rested her head on the back of the chair. Knowing what she had to do wasn’t as easy as doing it. Her muscles clenched in anticipation of pain.
She visualized the events of the past few days and started hardcoding them for archive storage. There was no way to erase the physical memories stored in her brain, not safely at any rate, but she could keep her implant from bringing up the memories again.
It was a savagely brutal psychological attack.
Titan had fought beside her – fought to protect her – and now she had to break every connection to him. Forced herself to give up every hope because there was none left.
There was no way they could move on from what she’d done. And the longer the memories lingered, the more pain she’d endure.
The emotional pain became physical, as if she’d set herself on fire to burn off all trace of the fragile connections she held for only a handful of hours. Salty tears stung the cuts on her cheek.
“I loved him,” she whispered.
There was a whirring sound of a computer turning on nearby. “I do not understand that command.”
Selena wiped her face with the back of her hand as the cut cycle ended. “I fell in love, Persephone, there is no command to obey.”
“Love?” The neutral computer voice was replaced by the more feminine tones of the ship’s AI.
“Shall I play some sappy music.” There was a grin in Persephone’s voice. The AI changed with each new captain, learning and changing until it reflected the captain in voice and sensibility.
The pitch and timbre were a little off, but Selena recognized herself in the AI. It was a reflection of her when she had been confidant and proud.
“No music, Persephone. We’re not celebrating.”
In front of her the main viewing screen lit up with fractured light cut in facets by cracks from equipment and bodies thrown at it during the final attack. A distorted face appeared.
Selena shook her head. “The screen is a lost cause, Persephone, turn it off.”
Persephone obeyed. “Would you like me to draft a Declaration of Courtship?” it asked.
“He’s not from an allied crew.”
“Would you like me to draft plans for a kidnapping?” Persephone asked.
Selena sighed. “That method of courtship was outdated before the Malik System was settled.”
“But it’s still on the books.”
Had she really thought like that as a young captain? Probably. The AI was probably quoting from her personal files. “We’re not kidnapping anyone.”
“Would you like to see the updated repair schedule?”
“No, thank you, Persephone.”
“Would you like to reschedule regular updates about the repair schedule?”
She clenched her eyes shut. “No. Don’t contact me until the repairs near completion.”
“Factoring in the average lifespan of an augmented human and your recent history it seems unlikely you will be alive when repairs are completed,” Persephone said matter-of-factly. “The recommended course of action is to halt repairs, set a course for the sun, and retire this vessel.”
“I know,” Selena said. “And we we’ll make that trip together soon enough. Maybe after this mission. If I survive.”
The ship accessed her implant, downloading the data points that made up her life. “Please log the nature of the mission so I may calculate the survival probabilities.”
Selena shook her head. “I’m going to go see the man who tried to kill me.”
“Which one?” Her lips cracked as the corner of her mouth lifted in a grin. “There haven’t been that many people who tried to kill me.”
“In your last known engagement you were shot at over four thousand times,” Persephone corrected.
She snorted in amusement. “They weren’t aiming at me. That was a general barrage, not a personal grudge match.”
“Today you were shot at seventeen times and were near an explosion that resulted in abrasions and a minor concussion.”
“I don’t think I can be blamed for the explosion. Besides, I have a nanite patch on. I’m fine.”
The top left corner of the main screen brightened until the hazy gray and white projection showed a generic Caryll face. Persephone scowled at her. “I don’t believe you are using an accepted definition of the word fine, captain.”
“That does seem likely.”
The right side of the screen was less damaged, and Persephone opted to show a picture of Titan Sciarra on the largest unbroken piece. His vivid green eyes shone like gems.
“You spent a great deal of time with this individual today,” Persephone said. “Would you like me to contact the Sabiha so you can speak with his captain about a transfer? I have multiple officer postings available at this time.”
The memories she worked to archive flew across the screen. A hand on her shoulder. A look. A sensation of trust and peace.
“These recent events were coded with happiness,” Persephone said. “Your body is exhibiting signs of distress. Reviewing happy events can be calming. Would you prefer to schedule a counseling session? There is no longer a trained therapist on board but I have therapy sub-routines.”
An internal signal chimed letting her know all the nanites in the patch were now in her body affecting repairs. She pulled the patch off her neck and rubbed the lingering itch. “I don’t need therapy.”
“I find the probability of that statement being true to be extremely low,” Persephone said.
“You’re starting to sound like my grandmother.”
“She was an exemplary captain.”
They all had been. Every single Caryll captain had served with honor, until she took the chair. “You can make a note of my failings for posterity.”
“The bioscan I just completed does not show any signs of pregnancy and you are not near ovulation. At your current rate of intercourse you are unlikely to have children. Ever. Would you like a list of genetically compatible males?”
Persephone pulled up a list of words impossible to read on the fractured screen.
“Is that Titan’s genetic worksheet?”
“Yes,” the ship said cheerfully. “He’s a good genetic match and a good officer. He’s advanced far ahead of previous projections.”
“Yeah, I know, he killed a few people to get there.”
“Very efficiently too, from the data available.”
“We are not encouraging the murder of senior officers as a route to advancement,” Selena said with a scowl.
“Since there are no junior officers or other crew of any kind it doesn’t seem to matter.” If ships could pout the Persephone would have.
The AI was programmed to have a very limited self-preservation index, no one wanted a battleship that refused to fight, but every now and then Selena suspected the Persephone had developed beyond what was considered standard for a fleet AI. Bereft of crew the AI should have shown signs of cohesion failure, but Persephone continued to be lucid, even improved, every time Selena checked on it.
Her implant reached forty-two percent energy. “I should go.”
“Would you like your rank?” Persephone asked.
A skutter that had been cut in half at some point crawled up to the foot of the captain’s chair with her sunburst insignia clutched between its front pinchers.
“No. I have no reason to wear it.”
“Where would you like me to store it?”
She shrugged. “With my dress uniform?” The last she’d seen that thing was the day of her promotion ceremony. It was probably in a degrading orbit around the planet just like the rest of the debris of war.
“Would you like to take any weapons with you?” Persephone asked.
“Do you have any further instructions?” The AI’s voice changed in pitch so it sounded almost desperate.
Selena looked around the shattered remains of her life. “Continue repairs. If you find a part that you can’t replicate or access that isn’t on the previous list you sent me, send me an updated list. Who knows, maybe if things go sideways I’ll move back up here fulltime.”
“That course of action is not recommended. Atmospheric integrity is only at thirty percent.”
“Noted.” She stood, feeling sturdier even if she couldn’t shake the sense of loss. Fleet officers weren’t meant to be hermits. But it had to be done. For the good of the fleet. For the safety of the colonists.
Patting the captain’s chair with a forlorn smile she teleported back to the planet and landed in a deserted room of an empty house cut off from everyone and everything. The walls were lined with artwork from over a thousand years of history, the frames bent, scratched, and burnt. The pictures showed Carylls long-dead, worlds whose names history had forgotten, rare flowers which had never bloomed in this star system. It was the art of her family from before they were even the Caryll crew. From a time when they could have been more than simply fleet.
Before she made the final trip with Persephone she needed to find someone she could trust the artifacts with. But that was a worry for another night.
Now there were other concerns. She opened her closet and looked at the rows of grounder clothes sorted by season and color. Tonight felt very black. Dangerous. Edgy…. There. The perfect outfit in black, silver, and bright blue. Kaffton wouldn’t know what hit him.