Ryath had been impressed with the ingenuity of the Rangers. Mira had pulled it off, and now she and Carlacci must make their way back to the Phoenix. The thought filled her with excitement and dread. What if Dunstan refused to listen to my message? Still, on a less personal level, to return with Peter, unharmed and mission complete would help her standing with Captain Hale and the rest of the Rangers.
Peter and Mira had things to discuss. She knew it was coming. She had seen him fidget and mutter to himself while they waited for her to return.
“Peter. I’ll prepare the ship.” She stood and turned to Mira. “Anla’shok Trassano, it has been a pleasure. Take care not to be captured again. I’m not sure Peter would be able to deal with the stress.” Ryath reached into a side pocket of her pants, withdrew a small box and held it out to her. “If you have need of the Rangers.”
The box contained a data crystal. It looked perfectly normal, but Ryath had implanted a probe set to the Rangers frequency. Upon activation of the crystal, the probe would transmit a distress signal. “Keep it safe. And only use it when you need him.”
Mira rose to take the crystal somewhat reverently. “Thank you. I don’t intend to get caught again.” She gave the Technomage a bright smile. “I am honored to have met you, Technomage Ryath. May your path be smooth and well omened.” Mira could almost feel the heat of Peter’s tension building beside her.
Ryath nodded and smiled to them both. “I’ll wait for you,” she said to Peter before retrieving her box from behind the counter and leaving the two alone.
Peter looked over at Mira, and managed to summon up a smile. He was already guessing how this would turn out — but he wouldn’t have been able to have any peace of mind if he had gone without speaking up.
“You look like you’re on top of the world — very happy and excited,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to go straight back to Centauri Prime.”
Mira hadn’t turned to face him yet when he spoke. She closed her eyes, hoping that it would make this easier, and sat down beside him again. “It is home,” she told her tightly clasped hands. “And now it needs me more than the Rangers do. I could not not return. Knowing what I know, having seen what I have seen, I cannot deny that something must be done. As there are no other Centauri Rangers, who better to start this work?”
Peter’s hand covered her own. “I have to go,” she repeated softly before lifting her head to see the pain and longing in his eyes.
“I know,” he said softly. “I … I love you too much to even think about denying you this. I wouldn’t ever try.
“But there’s something I have to ask you. Ask of you, before you go.” Without removing his hand from hers, he slipped off the couch, going down on one knee and looking up into her face. “Mira Trassano, will you marry me?”
Mira’s jaw went slack. Of all the directions she had feared or imagined that this conversation would take, she never expected this one. “I… no…Yes…” She degenerated into a string of Centauri profanity and pulled her hands from Peter’s. Surging to her feet, she exclaimed, “By the Great Maker! Peter, you are insane! We’ve known each other for so short a time. Not long enough. I’m not old enough to marry and what will you do if I get myself killed playing spy games?”
She sank back onto the couch, suddenly running out of fuel. “I…I don’t know what to do. I’m not sure that this was a fair question. I don’t know what it is that I feel for you. I’ve never felt like this before. How do you know if what you feel between your hearts is Love or Desperation?”
Peter remained sitting on the floor, crossing his legs in front of himself as Mira jumped up, then back down. He didn’t try to answer her first questions, but considered the last one for a minute. “You’re right, it probably wasn’t a fair question,” he admitted. “But when was I going to get another chance to ask? And … there’s not an easy way to tell. I think you could fill a whole library on Earth — probably Centauri Prime, too — with people’s attempts to figure it out.”
He sighed. “The best … test … I can think of right now is this. If our places were reversed — would you have come for me — and then been willing to let me go back, even though it was like ripping your own guts out to do it?”
Mira trailed her fingertips along his forehead and down his cheek. “I would come for you. I will always come for you. If I die, I hope to still return to you. I don’t know if I can let you go. If I actually have a claim to you, how am I to turn away and leave?”
She smiled softly. “My people are often betrothed from birth. They can spend years, decades, in that state before marriage. Normally, because the families are making certain that it will be a good political match.” She leaned forward and softly brushed her lips against his. “I will marry you,” she whispered. “But not now.”
He leaned back, far enough so that she could see into his eyes, which were glistening. “I couldn’t ask for more than that, my love,” he said. “Tell me … do your people have some kind of physical –” he twisted his mouth, searching for the right word — “token, to signify a betrothal? On Earth, it’s not uncommon for betrothed people to have what they call ‘engagement rings.’ Is there anything like that for the Centauri?”
“My family exchanges miniature portraits with the contracts. I’ve heard of families that exchange all sorts of things or nothing at all.” Mira drew a small knife from a hidden fold in her skirt and cut a long lock from the small patch of hair that she cultivated. She offered the strands of hair to Peter with a soft smile. “I have nothing but myself to give, and no time to find something appropriate. Later, I will send you a locket portrait and hopefully something that your daughter will like.”
He smiled as he accepted the lock of hair. “I’ll find something better to keep it in on my way out,” he said, gently folding and tucking it into a data crystal case from his pocket. He drew his brows together, thinking hard. “Ah. I know.” He folded back one side of his long jacket, and unpinned the silver badge of the Texas Rangers.
Offering it to her, he said, “Becoming a Texas Ranger was the dream of my childhood. I made it come true. You are the dream of my life, Mira. And I’ll always be true to you.”
Copyright (c) Mona Hinds, Niki Hipwood, and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.