I set up a bedroom in the bookshop. There’s an office here, a cozy spot in the back, and I dragged a couple of the comfy chairs in there to make myself a little bed. Nice and quiet. And not too far from the others.
Except Ford. He can stay outside, for all I care.
All right, I’m being unfair. He was pretty gracious about thanking me for my role in defending us from those Hub ships. And by that I mean he didn’t try to interrupt the story, or pretend I’d made it up. Progress.
It’d been a couple days since the fight, and a couple decent nights of sleep to boot—that’ll work wonders on a person’s mood, I tell you. I was just taking my first sip of coffee when my tech scroll started to ring. I didn’t even know it could do that. Beeping, I’ve heard. Ringing? Never.
I unrolled the scroll, and I came face to face with… Well, you, Colonel Nadir. Or so the text below your picture claimed. I’d imagined you differently, you know. Thought you’d be a touch younger, but you might have a few years on me even.
Not to be rude. The gray looks good on you. I swear.
I knew it was a recording—we’d never be able to talk in real time, if you’re still back at Eos base—but still, I hesitated. We’d never done a recording before, and I couldn’t guess what it might mean.
A little nervous, I pressed play.
“I’ll get to the point,” you said, which endeared you to me. It really did. “I don’t know where the bots came from, or why they’re tagged with Alliance symbols. I’m looking into it. If I find the answer, I’ll share it with you.”
If you can, I assume. If you can.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to send backup to the station,” the message continued. “The war’s… It’s not good, Kay. The Hub caught us unawares, and we don’t have resources to spare. Mandel’s lost to us. All of it. But given everything you’ve shared about the ships you unearthed, I have clearance to invite you back to fly for the Alliance. You can leave today and join us on Eos base.
“Good work, Captain.”
The scroll went black.
As for my thoughts, well. They were tumbling around like a pair of tossed dice. I’m not sure I could’ve strung a sentence together, the shock ran so deep.
Unfortunately, a voice said, “You’re leaving us?”
I looked up to see Ethan standing in the bookshop doorway, with Mila next to him. The looks on their faces, Colonel. They were both wide eyed and pale. Complete betrayal.
“You have a line to the Alliance?” That was Mila, because obviously an adult’s going to pick up the more important line of questioning: that I knew about the war. That I knew the Alliance wasn’t coming, and that Mandel was up in flames. All that stuff.
“I can explain this,” I said. It’s a cliche line, but it’s better than ‘it’s not what it looks like.’ Mostly because it was probably exactly what it looked like. They’re not idiots.
And they might’ve given me a chance to explain, if Ford hadn’t been standing there, too.
“Maybe it’s best if she does leave,” Ford said. Did I say we’d made progress? I take it back. He opened his mouth to say more, but then David was there to shoo him away, and the others were stomping away before I could pull three words together to defend myself.
Or apologize. That would probably be the better course.
David didn’t follow them, though. None of this was news to him, but I’ll keep that information to myself. No use throwing him under the transport, you know?
He came inside, closing the door gently behind him.
“I know you’re too nice to say ‘I told you so,’” I said. I didn’t like the tremor in my voice, but it was there nonetheless. No use pretending otherwise.
David leaned against the cube pedestal. Didn’t come closer to me, but didn’t retreat either. “Are you?”
“Am I what? Going to explain it to them? I’ll try. But I wouldn’t forgive me, if I were them.”
He shook his head, looking at his hands. “Are you going to leave?”
I guess some adults do consider that the more important question. For unknown reasons.
I’m sorry, Colonel. But the answer is no. I know what you’re going to say—that I’ve been begging you for a spot in the Alliance, that I’ve been asking nonstop to become a pilot again. But this place needs me. The people need me. Even if they’re angry, even if they never come around? You’re telling me the Alliance might be hanging them out to dry. That we might never get any backup out here.
So respectfully, Colonel, no matter how much they hate me? I’m gonna stick around. And I’m going to defend this place like it’s my home.