Cold Call

Characters: Terry Hale

“…We are equally sons and daughters of Earth, and we must continue to remember that, if we are to heal and move on.”

It was easier to say than it was to live. Oh, there would be plenty willing to move on… but not for any broad-minded reasons. Terry was not fool enough to imagine Clark walked alone, and right about now, every one of those people shuffling so quick to disappear into the woodwork, they’d leave friction burns.

And then there were the others, who had lost more than just position and favor. There were all the dead to bury, so many of them empty caskets. After seeing some of the faces duty brought her to find, Terry imagined the words were like salt on the wounds to some. An expectation that they be stronger than they were. How does one manage to feel that forgiveness when they’re freedom comes with the death of one they loved? Death at the hands of their own people, in a war that never should have happened.

It was no easier, and perhaps worse to report those who did not die of the war, but instead in one of the many battles over the past couple years, away from Earth. This was the first chance any such reports could be made now that Earth was open again. Terry found herself in the miserable position of dashing the hope that those they’d love had found a better, free place away from the insanity, even if it meant not seeing them again. To say instead that they died well, and for a good cause was no help.

And then those that died by Dunstan Kordieh’s actions….. Terry’s boiling anger resurfaced. The echos of the crime Dunstan had committed were still coming back, but she was in his place to hear those cries of pain. It was he who should have to face them, not her alone. Perhaps it was just as well he wasn’t there that day, because the way she felt stepping away from the last door…. he would have been the final death. Oaths, ethics and conscience be damned.


 

It was dark on the West Coast of North America by the time she dragged herself into the shuttle for the last time that day. She’d stopped feeling guilty about commandeering the shuttle for her solitary use about five flights back. Now she was ready to curl up on one of the back benches and forget going back to the White Star before morning. Let the landing pad try to tow her off to the impound. They’d probably take an hour just trying to find the tow-ring under all the alien design.

“Shuttle, send a signal to the ship that they are not to be expecting me back until at least tomorrow. I’ll check in periodically. And if anyone sentient is getting this, in Valen’s name get out and breath some real air for a while. You’re supposed to be on vacation. Hale out. Send.” She dropped down on the benchseat at the back and groaned as she leaned down to pull out the case of rations and water. “A whole planet of decent food, and too tired to chase it down. Maybe someone’ll deliver….”

Snatching a packet of water and rations each, she slid the box with a boom that wouldn’t stop. After a moment’s confusion, she realized the echo was not one at all, but someone hammering on the hull.

Reporters. “Go and feed on someone else’s carcass!” she growled.

“Do you wish me to activate intercom systems?” the computer asked solicitously.

“No.”

It started to sound like she was on the inside of a drum. No hand could have done it. “Whoever you are, you’re about to have that knocker surgically implanted in your behind. Yes, shuttle, open up the intercom, receiving only.”

A voice, young and female was the first to be heard. “–I don’t think she can hear us.”

Equally young, with the same accent, a male replied with the kind of tone reserved for siblings. “Well she’s got to be hearing this.”

“I mean your words.

“Well she’s got to listen some time. Mom! Open the door, it’s Trevor!”

I’m no mother– Terry froze. “Shuttle, get me visual!”

Two adults, early twenties, she guessed. The male was hitting the ship’s hatch with a tool of some sort snitched from the repair bays. As they looked toward the vid, she saw the dark eyes and hair and faces they shared… and so much like their father. It held her stunned, voice choked in her throat. Her own stepchildren. They’d barely been teenagers when she’d run all those years ago, and after everything here they were….

“Maybe she really isn’t in there.”

That unlocked her limbs, and Terry numbed her hand hitting the hatch release in her rush. The ringing strikes ended, and all that was heard for a time was the hiss of machinery, loud in the expectant silence.

For a few moments they just stared across the small distance, as if they couldn’t believe that they were faced with the success. Terry finally took the first step, and their arms dragged her down the rest to sway in a stupor in the enthusiastic grip of family.

“We really did it! I didn’t think were going to. Do you know how many public shuttles we’ve been on today?” It was Deira babbling, almost faster than she could gasp breath.

“How did you even find me?” Terry asked, rescuing a hand to wipe her eyes clear.

Trevor grinned, looking then like the boy she’d known. “Well we saw you on the news, so we were too late to catch you where it was recorded, but we hacked your file in air traffic control and—”

“Got the list of destinations I’d pre-cleared,” Terry finished with a quiet chuckle. “You realize how illegal that was, don’t you?”

His expression was unrepentant and proud. “Like you’re going to turn me in.”

“We had to. No one would let us through to any of the… White Stars?” Deira named the ships with the hesitancy of unfamiliarity, “Yeah, anyway, we had to catch you before you left again. I don’t know why you couldn’t find us. We’ve still even got the old place.”

Terry’s silence was of sorrow and now shame. She hadn’t looked yet to avoid the pain and the possibility she’d not be accepted. She wasn’t even sure it was completely safe.

A little of that fear showed, and Trevor glanced at his sister. “Dad would’ve been here too but, he didn’t believe we’d seen you on the news. He thought you were dead after all this time.”

“I understand, I–” Terry suddenly stopped, jarred out of her automatic reply. “What?” She couldn’t have heard right.

“Dad. He’s at home right now.”

Terry took a step back and sat down hard on the step. If she had been shocked before, her hands now felt like ice, and the world refused to steady in her vision. It couldn’t be. “Alive?”

Brother and sister shared another glance. “You knew that, didn’t you?”

Twelve years, two wars and all it’s sacrifices, and for what? She felt as if she could cry, or scream, but the half-mad urge to laugh was just strong, leaving her in sputtering confusion.

“No. No I didn’t.”


(c) 1999 Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.