Characters: Peter Carlacci, Candace Carlacci Devine
The joys of parents are secret, and so are their griefs and fears. – Francis Bacon
“Candace! Candace, are you up there?”
The girl’s dark eyes opened wide at the sound of her father’s voice, only belatedly realizing she’d been drowsing, up here in her secret place. Well, not secret any more. She shrugged a little to herself, and got to her knees to lean out over a side wall of the old tower.
Beneath, the patterned browns of his clothes blending in with the tangled growth of a forgotten garden, a tall man stood, looking up. His eyes were sparkling, mirroring his playful smile.
“Yeah, Pop, I’m here,” she called down to him. “Come on up, there’s room.”
He nodded, and set to scaling the tower, finding ample finger and toeholds among the stones. He wondered how old it was — probably at least a thousand years. That was commonplace here on Minbar, a fact which still inspired a little awe. In a minute or so he was in a small chamber midway up. He realized then the structure had probably been much taller, long ago. A watchtower, most likely, from the days when the whole planet was an armed camp.
“That was pretty quick. You’re good at climbing,” she said.
“All part of the job. Just a good thing I haven’t lost my touch.”
“How did you find me? This was my secret place.” Her lips formed a small pout, and Carlacci had to bite the inside of his own lip a little to keep from laughing.
“Sech Naleyn said she’d seen you here before, when she was walking through the garden. Don’t worry. I think you and she are the only people who ever come here, and she’ll keep your secret if you ask her nicely.” His smile widened into a grin as he saw his daughter visibly relax.
“That’s true. If I’d known she’d seen me, I’d’ve asked her already, and she wouldn’t’ve even told you.”
“Probably so,” he said, chuckling. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class right now?”
“There was a big test, don’t you remember, I spent half the night cramming? Anyway, I finished early so they let me go.”
“I see. Well, I guess I’d better tell you why I came to bother you in your secret place,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ve got an assignment, and I have to leave in the morning.”
Her eyes widened a little. “So soon? You just got back from Earth last week!”
“There’s a lot to be done, ratonita. You know that. And you know it’s important.”
“Yeah,” she said. After a moment, the mild disappointment gave way to rabid curiosity. “So where are you going?”
“The Abbai system. What can you tell me about it?”
Candace put her hands together, almost like a Minbari greeting, and dropped her chin onto her fingertips — her favorite pose for thinking — for about half a minute before beginning to recite.
“The Abbai Matriarchate. Homeworld Abbai IV, colonies on Abbai III, factories in orbit around planets seven and eight. Civilization’s been around for about 6000 years, very high on tolerance, respect, social and economic equality. They’ve had spaceflight for around 800 years, and are one of the most technologically advanced races in the known galaxy. Also one of the most peaceful, non-aggressive.” She paused, then said, “How’s that?”
“Well done!” Carlacci craned his neck and looked out at the sky. “Come on, you can help me get my things together before dinner, and afterward we’ll see how many games of backgammon you can take from me.”
Once they were on the ground, Candace asked, “When will you be back?”
“I don’t know. A few weeks, at least. But I do have some good news.”
“Oh?” She looked over at him, and he realized with a sudden start that she had to look only slightly up to meet his eyes. Not long before the little mouse will be a grown woman, he thought.
Had it really been twelve years since he’d first looked down at the tiny baby in the children’s creche on Io? Twelve years since he’d had fatherhood thrust on him in the form of a promise to a dying friend? You can rest easy, Marie, he thought, not for the first time. Your daughter is becoming a helluva girl.
“Pop? Well? What’s the good news?”
“Sorry,” he said, coming out of the reverie. “When I get back, I’ll have a regular ship assignment for a while. The Phoenix.”
(C) 1999 Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.