Peter Carlacci let his head fall against the back of the chair and covered his face with his hands. He’d finally sent Candace to bed after several hours discussing the latest news. The Centauri Republic, already under suspicion of attacking trade routes, had formally seceded from the Interstellar Alliance. With open warfare ready to break out at any moment, the Anla’shok’s world had just gotten more complex — and even more dangerous.
Most of the command staff were already aboard the Phoenix, supervising final preparations for departure. Peter himself had been given twelve hours grace. Half of that was already gone. By the time Candace awoke, he’d be gone – likely into battle. If that didn’t dissuade her from her determination to become a Ranger herself, he didn’t think anything would.
A knock on the door startled him awake. He got to his feet, wincing at the pain of a sore neck, and opened the door.
Mira did not so much step in as tumble, compelling Carlacci to catch her under the arms and set her upright. She leaned against the wall with a giggle. “Ah, Peter, you’ve saved me. Now save me again. Let me have some of that fine brevari I gifted you with!”
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough already?” he asked, looking her over with concern. He knew that Mira could, and did, drink to oblivion in order to celebrate. It was a Centauri thing, something that had a religious significance. But present circumstances didn’t exactly call for a party. And while Mira’s voice was on the edge of laughter, her eyes were red-rimmed with tears.
“Nonsense! I have not yet become one with my inner self!” she declaimed, moving toward the small cooling unit.
With hands on her shoulders, Carlacci deftly steered Mira into his chair. “Before you do that, do you think you could tell me a few things?”
“What’s this all about? Does it have to do with the news about the Centauri?”
“Yes! No!” She hiccupped. “Both.”
A sudden, alarming thought struck him. “You’re not getting kicked out of the Rangers, are you?”
“Not at all! In fact, I am to be trusted with a very special assignment. I was just told a little while ago.”
“Special assignment?” Carlacci sighed long and hard as he understood the significance of this. “You aren’t going to be staying with the Phoenix, are you,” he said after a minute.
She shook her head violently, sending fresh teardrops flying. “I’m being sent to Centauri Prime on a secret mission. I’m going under blankets.”
“Undercover,” he said, but the correction was spoken purely by reflex. The news about the Centauri leaving the Alliance had hit him like a punch to the gut, but this felt as if his guts had just been torn out. “How long?” he managed to say.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Oh, Peter. I feel so happy — I will be able to be with the Family again! But — but –” she sniffed into her sleeve — “I feel just awful about being happy. I have to leave you! Now you’ll be all alone.” She looked up at him with eyes full of tears. “What do I do?”
He knelt on the floor in front of the chair, reaching out for her. She leaned into his shoulder, sobbing. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and just held her there.
“It’s all right,” he told her. “We have to go where we are called. I’ll be okay. And I’m very glad you’ll be able to see your family again. I know how much you’ve missed them.” He rocked her gently back and forth. “Shh. It’s all right.”
Finally, she sat back, wiped away tears, and managed a smile for him. “And now, dear Peter, may I have some of that brevari?”
He tried to smile back. “One drink,” he said. “We’ll share it. And I’m keeping the rest, so we can both become one with our inner selves when you come back.”
“You’re on,” she said.
“You’re — hey, you got it right!”
They fell into each other’s arms, laughing until the tears came again.
After the drink, Peter walked Mira back to her quarters. They stopped outside her door. “So, your ship leaves in the morning too.” He sighed. “Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“Only if you promise the same.”
“Okay. I promise.”
“I … I’ve never met anyone quite like you, Peter Carlacci.”
“And I’ve never met anyone even remotely like you, Mira Trassano.” He leaned forward and kissed her. He held the kiss for a long time — not long enough to start something he wasn’t sure if he could finish, but long enough to promise he’d try when they met again.
Back in his own quarters, Peter quickly packed his own bag, wrote a short message to Candace, then departed for the shuttle port. It was time to go to work.
Copyright (c) 2002 Mona Hinds and Jamie Lawson. All rights reserved.