Characters: Tomás Darquin, Candace Carlacci Devine
Darquin trudged into his quarters and let out a proud, prodigious yawn when the doors slid shut behind him. The worst was over. His and his crewmates had just pulled off a miracle. He was ready for a shower, some rest, and some serious off-duty time.
He plunked himself down on the corner of his bed, about to wrench himself out of his tunic when the comscreen chirped. “Messages?” he groaned.
“You have a total of three messages. Status report from Chief Engineer Touissant. Status report from Security Officer Tianmun. Pre-recorded vidmail from Candace Carlacci, marked as Critical-3.”
That woke him up. Only Rangers of command rank or higher had access to high priority codes. She couldn’t have cracked a Ranger interweb node on her own, at least not yet. That meant someone else had given her permission.
“Play the Crit-3.”
The screen flickered once before Candace’s face appeared. “Hi Chief.”
She took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders. “This is my punishment, to tell you what I did — and what I didn’t do!” she added defiantly.
Darquin rolled his eyes, muttering to himself. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging start.
“I have to tell you everything, and then it’s up to you whether you tell Pop or not. He is gonna be all right, isn’t he?” She sighed. “All right then, here goes …”
Candace crouched at the corner of the low wall that marked the edge of the main landing field at the Rangers’ base in Tuzanor. She’d managed to get this far without being spotted or questioned. Not bad, she thought. She’d slipped out of her dormitory after lights out, over to one of the dojos for a practice staff, and out here to the edge of the landing field.
But all of that had been easy compared to what she had to do next.
She took another deep breath, thinking of her mentor’s features when he had relayed the news from Rolui earlier that day. “We know only that your father has been gravely injured,” he said. “He has not been conscious since.”
“You’re not sending anyone out there after him?”
Nelier’s expression, usually jovial or kind, took on a stern cast as he answered. “The Sorna’silat has been repaired enough to travel. It will pursue its attackers and deal with them,” he said. “Then — and only then — will it, and its crew, return to Tuzanor. This is the way of the Anla’shok, Miss Devine. If you would join us when you come of age, you would do well to understand that now.”
She did understand it. But when she started looking at the ships sitting on the landing field, contemplating them, she realized the Anla’shok way wasn’t her way. Not yet, anyhow. But now she was going to make sure the only family she’d ever known was okay — even if it took covering half the galaxy in a … borrowed … ship to do it.
Finally she spotted a single-seat standard Minbari Flyer. All she would need to do was convince the flight computer she was an authorized user, tell it she wanted to go to Rolui, and it would do the rest.
Her gaze left the Minbari shuttle and flickered across to the control tower. She could find a data crystal with authorization codes there. She’d learned that earlier in the day from studying the spaceport control systems on her computer.
Taking a deep breath and tightening her grip on the practice staff, she made a quick dash across the field, crouched low. In the shadows near the control tower doorway, she flattened herself against the building, then slipped inside.
She could see a lone technician working at a terminal bank. Right next to him was a shelf with several racks of data crystals. If her research had been right, any one of them would work. She tried to slow the breath that seemed to roar in her ears, and shifted her grip on the staff. She didn’t want to knock the tech out, but she’d only have one chance —
A chime. She held her breath. The tech was receiving a call. The words were too low for her to hear. When the call was over, the tech turned away from the terminal and went upstairs, off the floor and out of sight completely.
Candace grinned. She couldn’t believe her luck, but she didn’t want to waste it either. She grabbed one of the authorization crystals and snuck out.
A few more quick dashes — and she was at the Flyer. Now it was up to the crystal in her hand. She tapped it into the lock, holding her breath again — then let it out slowly as the hatch, without a sound, swung open.
She scrambled through the hatch. Dropped into the pilot’s seat. And reset her auth crystal into a data reader on the control board. The lights on the instrument panel before her blinked twice, then the computer spoke in pleasant worker-caste Minbari. “How may I serve?”
“Computer, I want to go to ….”
Then she paused.
She’d gotten this far. There was no reason to think she couldn’t make it all the way to Rolui. But when she got there…what then? She recalled what Nelier had said — the Phoenix would pursue her attackers. To where? How would Candace be able to follow?
She slumped in the seat. “This is stupid,” she said aloud, in English.
“I do not understand,” said the Minbari computer.
“Computer, cancel. Shut down.” She watched the lights flicker and go out, shaking her head. “I can’t do this.”
“A wise decision, Miss Devine,” came a voice from behind.
She spun in the seat, gasping. Nelier was standing in the hatchway.
“You … you knew?”
“I guessed. And so followed. The computer would have been overridden, had you not come to your senses.”
“I’ve been really stupid,” she sighed. “Gonna get it now, I guess.”
“I’m sure you will,” Nelier said. “Come.”
The images from the recorders tracking Candace through the landing field and aboard the flyer faded, to be replaced with her face again. “So that’s the story, Chief Darquin,” she said. “Full confession. Like I said before, up to you whether you tell Pop — and whatever else you see fit to impose as punishment for me. Whatever you guys decide, I’ll do my best to take.
“I’m not supposed to ask for favors, but … don’t leave me in suspense too long, okay? Please?”
The screen blinked out as the message ended.
Darquin frowned. “Computer, send this reply: ‘Sorry, kid, but leaving you in suspense is exactly what I’m gonna do. See you in a few days.’ Darquin out.”