Inspired by Victus ship by Reza-ilyasa
A cruiser was pulling into dock. It looked like the Liama. Chawwah pulled the docking logs up on her visor, brushing aside the layers of security between her and them.
It was indeed the Liama. And mother was indeed in command.
There was some battle scoring on the side. There was a small hole, some kind of pod-breech entry, near the crest of the broad, flat top of the ship. But it was the only one, and the internal airlocks must have been working, because they hadn’t tried to patch it.
Chawwah wrapped her fingers together and stretched. Her elbows popped. Cold, not bothered by the thick layer of plastic and glass between her and the docking bay, seeped in. Maybe it rode in on the white light. She turned around and stepped back through the sliding glass doors into the office proper.
Her office, now.
It was octagonal, some kind of crazy architectural compromise between a circle and having flat walls to put bookshelves on and corners to tuck away chairs. There were quite a lot of bookshelves. Father’s.
His pipe kit, still open on the far corner of the massive char-colored wooden desk. His arm chair, back to the desk, as if a whole quarter of the room was for something besides work. That part, between the chair and the bookshelf it faced, had a thick rug thrown over the hard wood.
Chawwah hadn’t had the heart to move any of it.
It was his chair behind the desk, too. Way too large for her. Her feet didn’t touch the floor if she let them hang, and the dark wood was hard and cold. She’d put a cushion on, a bright patch of yellow in the swath of dark rusty browns.
Her mug on the desk too, steam spiraling off the surface of the black coffee. The toast next to it, spread by someone considerate in the kitchens with orange jam, had gone cold before she’d touched it.
Chawwah pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders and looked at the tactical map. It was being projected into the space in front of his desk. Where people came to report. What it was reporting was less then welcome.
The fleets were scattered across the cluster. Father had been fighting on three fronts, and he’d been struggling to keep a fourth closed when—
Chawwah hadn’t seen it. No one had seen it, except everyone who had had been on the ship, and they were dead. But there were logs, records, video of the internals of the ship, even engine diagnostics. She’d wanted to dig in, to bury herself in it, as if her eyes could find the killer where a whole team of investigators couldn’t.
But there hadn’t been time.
And there wasn’t time now.
She needed another heavy cruiser. But the Laima was what she had, right now. The others were deployed, and too important to move. But the fifth fleet needed support in their theater.
The door opened. If that hadn’t been clue enough, mother’s scent was blown in on the gentle rush of air caused by the opening mechanism. Chawwah looked up as her mother swept through the strategic projection and curled her arms around her shoulders.
“Oh baby. Oh my baby.” Mother was crooning.
Chawwah resisted, but only for a moment. Her heart broke, and her shoulders dropped, and she wrapped her mother in a hug. Chawwah held her for a while, listening to her mother trying not to cry.
Her own eyes were dry. There wasn’t time to grieve, not yet. Nothing had come to her but heaviness.
“I would have come imminently, but I had to finish supporting the fifteenth.” Mother explained.
Chawwah nodded. Of course. She would have been forced to execute mother for treason if she’d done anything differently.
But Mother didn’t seem to realize. She went on explaining. “I know it’s hard, honey. I know there are demands here you aren’t used to facing. But we’re still at war.”
Mother would be expecting leave. At least four weeks.
“But I’m home now, honey. Mommy’s home.”
Chawwah pulled away from her mother, just enough to look up into her mother’s face. There were tears shining in the bright blue of mother’s eyes, but they hadn’t spilled.
“Mother, I am sorry.”
Mother’s face crumpled, and she moved to pull Chawwah back into the hug. “Oh, no, honey, this isn’t your fault. None of it is your fault.”
“No, Mother. I am sorry because I need you in sector seven.”
Mother stopped pulling her in. “What?” It was genuine confusion, but by the time it had left Mother’s mouth her eyes had hardened, and her brows lifted, turning puzzled wrinkles into angry ones. Her mouth tightened.
Chawwah pulled out further. “The funeral is tomorrow, Mother. A small one. We’ll have a state memorial later. I need the Liama, fully operational, to be in position to support the fifth by Saturday.”
Mother’s eyes were bouncing back and forth, scanning her face. “I’ll send it with the acting Captain.”
“Captain Hed is competent, Mother, but he’s not brilliant.”
“You aren’t going to flatter me into this, Chawwah. I am not going back into service so soon after— Your father is dead!”
It was a slap to the face. Chawwah felt it. She closed her eyes, waiting for the pain.
It didn’t come.
Chawwah took a long, slow breath, and opened her eyes. “Colonel, please take a moment to look at the strategy with me. Perhaps you’ll see something I’ve missed in the last three weeks.” It came out as cold and hard as vacuum. Too cold, maybe.
Mother straightened, turning all her thrashing anger into the white and focused fury of gunfire, and she stepped back, to clear space for the projection.
Chawwah walked her mother through it. Her own anger had drained, and something heavy and quiet was leaking into its place.
When she was done, Mother was just shaking her head. Mouth tight with defiance.
“Please, Mother.” Chawwah said. “I have no one else to send.”