Brian W. Antoine
January 29, 1995
There are times that I think I'll never get used to having Kalindra hiding in the back of my mind for the rest of our lives. It's something you can almost forget, but something that will remind you of its existence at the oddest times. This time, I was buried up to my ankles in a console I was trying to restore operation to, when I knew for an absolute certainty that she was thinking about me and feeling sad about it. When I slid the crawler out of the access panel, I found her sitting on a box of parts just looking at me.
"What's wrong now?" I asked her as I tried to figure out what it was I was sensing her feel.
"How's the leg?" she asked as she ignored my question.
That was something I'd just as soon have forgotten, and thinking about it just made it start aching again. "It'll heal. If it gets to bothering me too bad, I'll ask Naldantis to take a look at it." That just dredged up even sadder memories.
A few weeks before the Sunbeam III had been ready to launch, I'd gotten my leg pinned between a couple of crates of equipment I'd been overseeing the installation of. It had been bad enough that Kalindra had picked me up and taken off at a dead run for the gate, and Wythdantis.
In all the years I'd know her, I'd never bothered to find out just how old she was. When I'd first met her over 10 years ago, she'd have the first streaks of gray in her pelt, but had still been feisty enough to intimidate anyone she met. I guess I'd never noticed how the streaks had turned into large patches and then merged together. Kalindra had been almost frantic by the time Wyth had answered her door. When we got a good look at her though, it was enough of a shock that I'd almost forgotten how much my leg had hurt. When she explained that she wasn't capable of helping us and had started to cry in her own frustration, I had forgotten.
It was the reason she'd retired, but I hadn't understood at the time. Healers, unlike Mages, rely a great deal on their own stores of energy. Wythdantis simply didn't have the energy reserves to make use of the knowledge she'd spent a lifetime accumulating. Kalindra, practical as ever, had tracked down the only other healer on the planet that knew anything about Human anatomy and gotten my leg fixed, but we both agreed that the Family nas Kan had a debt of honor to repay. Wythdantis hadn't seen the last of us, not by a long shot.
"How's he doing? Is Lythandi still giving him trouble?"
Kal grinned, which helped lighten my own mood. "He'll survive, he might even enjoy it," she said with a chuckle.
During the final days before launch, Kalindra and I had spent a lot of time talking about the events swirling around us. More than ever before, we were both afraid that things were going to get ugly, and considering our adventures of the previous few years, that was something that scared us both. It had made sense to ask Naldantis to become a member of the family. He was roughly Kal's age, he knew alien anatomy and he knew us. The fact that I privately hoped he would distract Lythandi from her attempts at seducing me was beside the point. I still laughed to myself when I remembered the evening I'd answered the door, to find Lythandi holding Naldantis by his tail. "One healer, mostly willing. Did you have anything else you wanted me to pick up from the market?" she'd asked as Nal had stood there grinning. I'd just kept my mouth shut and acted as witness when he'd formally accepted our offer.
All that wouldn't account for the mood Kalindra was in though. "Do I have to guess?" I asked her as I put down the tools I was holding.
"Bob and Jab," was all she said, and it said everything I needed to know. "Robert will never feel comfortable with what it means to be part of our family, but his independence is what makes him worth knowing."
"Even if it makes him a pain in the ass at times?"
"I have, and will continue, to accept that facet of knowing and working with him. If we didn't argue with each other, I'd think he didn't like me anymore. But, I'm not the problem," and I felt another twinge of sadness from her.
"Penny," and I didn't say it as a question.
"Yes," she said with a nod. "Both he and Nahn feel justifiably threatened by her, and it is our responsibility to correct the matter."
"I didn't realize you felt anything for the fuzzball," I said, trying to lighten the mood a little.
"He is Bob's companion, which makes him important. If you ever tell him I said that though, I'll make sure you live in terror the rest of your short life."
I just lay there on my back and stared at her for what seemed like an hour. Then, with a nod, I got to my feet and headed towards one of the labs we'd managed to restore power to after I'd cleaned out every link Penny had installed in my lunar home. Kalindra hadn't said a word, she'd simply said her peace as Klizan of the family and accepted that I would take care of it. She'd be there if I needed her help, but this was a matter between Penny and me until I made a request of her.
It took me a week before I decided what to do, and another couple of days to prepare. It was a compromise, and as such, would make nobody really happy.
* * *
I'd been floating in the Oort cloud for almost a day now. I'd taken absolutely no precautions in hiding my presence, so I was sure Penny knew I was there. For reasons of her own though, she was avoiding contacting me. It was one of her remotes that finally zipped by a high speed, then doubled back to float in front of me while I snacked on a sandwich I'd brought along.
"We need to talk and you need to listen," I told the remote. An hour later, the Sunbeam II de-cloaked about a hundred feet in front of me.
* * *
"Have you finally come to your senses?"
"How badly do you want to live?" I asked her in return. The conversation went downhill from there.
* * *
The fact that I don't believe in God didn't stop me from praying to him that Kalindra would never stumble across the memories of the last 14 hours when I saw her again. Penny hadn't reacted well to the truth. Even though she'd tried to kill both of them, she still believed that I could somehow restore things to the way they had been and that Bob and Jab would forgive and forget. When I started laughing, she'd tried to convince me. All thought of talking to her had gone out the window when she'd latched onto my flight field with a tractor beam and tried to drag me inside.
I'd designed the Sunbeam, I'd built it, I'd repaired it and I'd watched over every change that Jab had made when he had believed I wasn't looking. Penny had still surprised me with the changes she'd made the last few months when we'd both started trying to beat each other into submission. I like to think that Penny wasn't actually trying to kill me, since it would have ruined what plans she could remember having. Not knowing for certain though is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
* * *
<beep> <beep> <beep> ...
The countdown had begun and there was nothing either of us could do to stop it. I'd tried the same trick a few hours earlier and Penny had gotten around it by dragging the abort code from my mind. This time, I'd wrested control of the power plant from her and triggered its self-destruct, and erased the abort codes. In about 5 minutes, the Sunbeam II was going to become brighter than the Sun, and scare the hell out of the planet I was supposed to be protecting.
"So this is how you end it," came the exhausted voice I'd learned to fear during the last few hours. "Bob convinced you to be his pet assassin."
I ignored the dig. We'd both be a long time forgiving the things we'd said to each other, if we ever got the chance. "You still have the same two choices," I said as I tried to keep the hole in my side from leaking blood all over the inside of my environment field. "You can abandon everything and leave, or come with me and start again."
"I could also sit here and commit suicide."
I looked that the remains of the Sunbeam and remembered what it had taken to disable the drive systems so she couldn't leave and threaten anyone else. "Ok, you have three choices then. Whatever you decide though, you have 2 minutes before the decision gets made for you," and I listened to the <beep> continue its progression.
I'll never know what she thought of during that last couple of minutes. The bond we shared had been almost the first thing shattered when the battle had begun. I had just decided to make my final run to get away from the blast when I saw the few remaining lights on the flightdeck go out, and spotted a small blue globe of energy separate from the ship.
It was going to be close, and I wasn't even sure that this wasn't a final ploy of hers to keep me in range of the detonation that was approaching. Reaching under the collar of my shirt, I pulled on the chain around my neck and removed a small crystal I'd fashioned what seemed like an eternity ago. Holding it in my hand, I extended my arm out from my side and started counting. I had 20 seconds before the detonation, and I needed 10 of that to try to get out of range. Penny, or at least the energy kernel that was the core of her existence, came to a stop and just sat there in space.
At 12 seconds left, I started to draw on the energy to form my flight field.
At 10 seconds, I said a silent good-bye and started to accelerate with everything I could imagine. I was barely moving though when I spotted Penny start moving also. Maybe she realized at that point that I would have left her to her fate. In any case, I delayed just enough to let her merge with the crystal I still held in my hand, and then started accelerating again.
I not only stayed around too long, I underestimated the power of the detonation. The energy that flooded over the two of us as I blindly drove for distance was more than enough to scramble my thoughts and my body. I had no idea what effect it had on Penny. The only thing that saved us was the fact that Kalindra had ignored my request for her to stay out of my problems. About the time I felt my shields shredding and the air explode from my lungs into the vacuum around me, I felt a familiar flare of emotion in the core of my mind.
*You are my mate," was the last thing I remember hearing. *Your problems are mine too!*
* * *
It had been the first time in a month that I'd removed the chain from around my neck, but where I was going I would have been tempting the fates to have carried it with me. I'd waited until Bob and his kids had headed into Coeur d'Alene for supplies and left Jab soaking up the sun on the docks outside their home.
"Nice day, isn't it," I said as I stepped from the sand to the dock. Jab was resting on his back with his feet in the air. The moment he heard my voice, every claw he had went <snick> and he rolled over and glared at me.
"Mage no be welcome here. You need go now."
"There is something I need to do first," I told him as I sat down and crossed my legs beneath me. He didn't say anything, but the holes his claws created in the dock told me exactly what he thought of me staying around. This was something I needed to do though, so I suppressed my urge to teleport to safety.
Slowly, I moved my hands to open my backpack and removed a cloth covered object that Jasm had given me under protest. "Nahn mal Eo," and I started to unwrap the dagger that Jasm had told me had been in her family for centuries. "To the best of my ability I have rendered a threat to you and your family harmless."
Jab looked at me in shock at he recognized both the dagger and the ritual I was trying to remember. "The person you knew as Penny will never again bother you, your family, or those you hold in honor. I have not killed her though, and so I now take formal responsibility for her future actions. On the day you feel I have betrayed you, I will offer up my own life as payment," and I pushed the blade towards him, hilt first.
We sat there and looked at each other in the mid-day heat, until I felt my back starting to burn even through my shirt. Then Jab extended a paw and took up the dagger that had been given to his family as a sign of recognition by some long forgotten warlord. "Bob not care about words. Mage speak many word, not always know what mean."
"I'll deal with Bob when I figure out how. Jasm told me how to deal with you, and I'm trying."
Jab looked from the dagger he was holding to my chest, then up into my eyes. "Mage still not understand Nahn, but get credit for trying. Now is time for Mage to go back to furry friend and keep silly grin on face."
Since it looked like I was going to get away with my skin intact, I got to my feet and tried to unstick my shirt from my back. "Jab, I think we're about even on that count. You don't know why I am the way I am either. Maybe someday we'll finally understand why we each act the way we do."
He didn't reply but did nod his head, and with that dismissal I turned and dove into the summer sky.