a Seafort Saga fanfic
Notes: Written for kangeiko in the Yuletide 2013 challenge.
"You've been very secretive about our detour here," Tolliver remarked. "It must be a highly sensitive mission."
I grunted, noncommittal, as I reviewed the shuttle console, checking one last time the coordinates for our destination.
"So, who are we meeting?" Tolliver persisted. It had been very difficult to keep my true plans from him.
But it was time, and I relented. "No one. It's just you and me."
I Defused the shuttle into normal space. The view came up on the simulscreen. A space station glinted to starboard, in orbit around a gas giant. But that was not why Tolliver said, "Oh."
The distant star shone blue white, massive and hotter than the Sun of Earth. It cast its rays over an ethereal disk of dust, bands of topaz and amber and gold, like a jewelled sea of clouds, slowly rotating in millennial time, as it had for aeons uncounted. We both stared at it in awed silence. Gazing upon this glory, one could only think of the hand of God.
I looked across at Tolliver. "You said once, you would have liked someday to see Vega."
His eyelids flickered in astonishment. "You remembered?"
"I remember everything about that day." Decades ago, when I committed unimaginable treachery to send the fish into the Sun, in the name of saving the Earth from annihilation. And Tolliver had joined me, knowing it would doom him too. What was this but the most trivial of gestures in comparison?
But Tolliver laid his hand on mine. His eyes twinkled. "Does that make this a date?"
I cleared my throat. "Call it a vacation."
Vega Station had been built as a state of the art observatory, but it had been leapfrogged by newer technology. It was mostly of historic interest now, but it still drew visitors for that reason. So much I gathered from our guide. But we were not half an hour into the tour when my skin crawled at the stares and the whispers, pointing out It's the old SecGen! and It's Captain Seafort!
Tolliver, noticing my discomfort, murmured, "I wonder what Earth looks like from here."
Relieved, I said, "Let's find out."
The old observatory was located on the uppermost deck of the station. But the lift was roped off, a large OUT OF ORDER sign hanging on it.
"We'll take the stairs," I decided.
We were both panting by the time we reached the top. Tolliver leaned forward, hands on knees, wheezing.
A joey in a rumpled security uniform stood guarding the corridor. He straightened when he saw us, tugging down the wrinkles in his tunic. "I'm sorry, sir. It's closed to visitors today."
"What nonsense is this? I made special arrangements to see the whole station."
He skimmed my identification, blanching, but said, "I haven't heard anything about it, sir."
"Nick," Tolliver said. "We can come back tomorrow."
I glared at him so fiercely, he should have wilted. But Tolliver didn't wilt, even though he was still out of breath. God in heaven, we hadn't come here for nothing, not after all those stairs. I turned my glare on the sentry, who visibly quailed. "Do you want me to call the station commander?"
He swallowed. "No, sir!"
I pushed past, leaving him to whisper frantically into his caller.
At the end of the corridor, I opened the door onto a great domed room, ringed with control panels. Half a dozen joeys in mismatched tech uniforms crouched over exposed wires. One lowered his caller, eyes narrowing. "You shouldn't be in here."
"Neither should you," I realised.
A laser rifle swung up towards us, just as Tolliver pushed me down.
Ten hours later, I sat in sickbay with Tolliver, as the doctor sealed up the cut over his eye. I had already been examined and released, with orders to rest my sprained wrist.
"I'm sorry," I said, when the doctor had gone. "This was meant to be a vacation."
"You foiled a plot to sabotage the station. You'll be able to write some very interesting postcards."
Tolliver might laugh it off, but I could not. "I'm cursed to draw disaster wherever I go. Even something as ordinary as a vacation, I can't get right." I rubbed my eyes. "I should never have let you join me on Olympiad. If you were back on Earth, you would be safe."
"But dreadfully bored. I told you. My children are grown. I'm retired from the Navy. What else am I to do? There's a limit to my tolerance for gardening."
"Edgar. Do you remember the first time someone tried to kill us?"
"The missile that shot down our heli on Hope Nation?" His mouth twitched. "How could I forget?"
"You lived with danger every day, because of me. You followed me through every kind of hell. But we're not those young men anymore. You deserve peace."
"Do you know the interesting thing about Vega?" Tolliver said. "It used to be the Pole Star, twelve thousand years ago."
"Yes. It used to be an important star." The star that guided sailors home. But not anymore.
"The stars are still moving in their great circle. In another twelve thousand years, Vega will become the Pole Star again." He met my eyes. "I know where my own pole star is."
In the end, as in the beginning. I could not speak, only squeezed his hand.
"There are more wonders to see out there," Tolliver said. "And you owe me another vacation."
- fin -