The sun was just creeping up over the horizon in the east, the sky blood red, promising another storm in the very near future. Arilyn lay in bed, awake and sweat-soaked, staring at the view outside her window without quite seeing it. The dreams had come again. They always came.
She wasn’t sure what time it had been when her mother had headed for base, but it had been early–sometime south of 0400, when she’d seen Tag’s speeder pulling up in front of Arin’s house. She’d watched two figures climb out and head around the back side of the house, toward the garden door to either the house or Arin’s armory, one or the other. Arilyn hadn’t bothered to reach out to see who it had been. It didn’t matter. Either she’d find out soon enough, or she wouldn’t.
“Where’s Tag and Les?”
Indy shook her head. “Not sure yet. Last report had them en route to Kartuiin to hook up with Alek there.”
“They’ll never make it in time, if they are.”
“Don’t underestimate those two. If it’s possible, they’ll find a way.”
Arilyn squeezed her eyes shut, even though that wouldn’t stop the visiosn from coming. How could her mother stand it? How could Davil stand it? How had her mother withstood it for so long? Half the visions didn’t even make sense. Others vanished from her memory before she could grasp their meaning, leaving only jagged fragments.
Johnny held a datapad out toward Indy, expression grim. “He sent you the GDF Marines and anyone spared from the last holding action. All the people we used for the evac.” The young Marine swallowed hard. “He thought you’d be able to use the extra hands.”
Indy took the datapad, her face the mask of a calm, collected commander, the mask of ice that Tag Rendar and Kingston Taylor both perfected long before Indiana Bridger had. The emotion, the pain, still showed in her eyes, though, big and real and heavy. “I accept your service in the spirit in which it’s been offered to me, Mr. Playbird. On the behalf of the Aurora Force and Governor Dargan, welcome to Xenen. Welcome to the Aurora Force.” She cleared her throat as her voice thickened near the end of her speech. “Colonel Bridger will see to your billeting across the board. You..you and I and the rest of the staff officers will meet at Operations at 0700 tomorrow to discuss integration.” For a moment, it looked like she intended to reach out, to take the hand of the man she’d known when he was only a lost little boy adopted by her best friend, the little boy she’d chased away from cookie jars and scolded along with her own children.
Johnny Playbird snapped to attention and saluted her. Admiral Bridger saluted him back as she fought the tears rising in her eyes. She let her hand drop after a few long, agonizing moments. He relaxed a little more slowly.
“Seventy-two hours, Admiral,” Johnny said quietly. “He said he’ll see you when his duty’s done, or else we’re at your command permanently.”
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. All she could do was nod.
Arilyn wet her lips and stared sightlessly at the window. So much pain…so much suffering…and this is why I’m fighting to live? To be a part of that? She took a deep breath and slowly sat up in bed. Because I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want them to be alone. That’s why.
Besides, if something happened to her, who would keep Davil from going completely over the edge? Neither Mary nor Mikey could do it, and Cait and Innis didn’t have a prayer. No, it had to be her. There wasn’t anyone else.
She waited for a sudden dizziness to subside before she climbed fully out of bed and wrapped herself in her robe. She padded through the silent house to her mother’s study, where the holocomm sat silently, dormant, asleep. She wouldn’t mind, would she? No, of course not. Cay? Well. He might mind…but not for very long. Arilyn slid quietly into the chair in front of the holocomm and punched in the code for the Legacy. She got a voice-only transmission first, a voice on the bridge inquiring about who she was trying to reach.
“I need Lieutenant Bullian, please,” Arilyn said softly, leaning back in the chair.
“One moment, ma’am.”
A few moments later, the holo emitters hummed to life and a tired-looking Davil was suddenly before her, brow furrowing. “Ari? What’s the matter?”
“Can you come home for a few days, Dav?”
Her brother’s image blinked at her, as if startled. “…what? Ari, I can’t come home right now. These maneuvers…half the reason we’re doing them is so I can figure out whether or not these engineering teams can run their ships with the modifications we’ve made to them. I’m the only one that an assess that and help the folks that’re unclear. Hell, I’m the only one that can identify it when something’s going wrong half the time. I can’t leave.”
But I need you, big brother. She was quiet for a long moment, brow furrowing slightly. “Then I guess I’m going to have to come there for a few days. Would that be okay?”
Davil grimaced. “You’d have to ask Cay. You’re not military and it’s his ship. He’s got to authorize it.”
“Well, then get him so I can tell him he’s authorizing me to come aboard.”
“He’s not here, Ari.”
Then where the hell is he? Not with Mary. Mary’s with Eagle at Aten-Re. They can’t possibly be back yet. “Let me get this straight. You can’t leave, but the group commander can play hooky during maneuvers?”
“Well, yeah. Part of that’s to get Dorrin used to running things if he ever has to, in case something happens to Cay…but like I said, these maneuvers are mostly for me and the engineering crews. Y’know, that whole backbone thing. If they fry out their systems now, they need to figure out how not to do that in a combat situation and more importantly, I need to show them how to fix it in a combat situation if they’ve got to.” He frowned. “…what’s wrong, Ari? You’re not usually like this.”
“I know. They’re getting worse, though, Dav. I can’t…I can barely sleep because of them, and I’m exhausted.”
“…did you take something?”
She shook her head a little. “No. I really don’t want to, y’know? Afraid I’ll sleep what’s left of life away if I do.”
He winced and nodded. “All right. Cay’s on Wayfarer. Auyn business, he said. Molly’s pretty pissed, so Xander Drake’s probably involved.”
Arilyn nodded. Auyn business, huh? Well, maybe I can scrape myself together enough to not frak that up for them. “I guess I’ll just have to go see him in person, then.”
“Be careful, Ari.”
“Always am, Dav. I’ll see you in a day or two, okay?”
“You seem pretty confident that he’s going to let you come.”
Davil shrugged. “You never know these days.”
“What about the Legacy? Have we heard anything?”
Kingston grimaced and shook her head. “Nothing yet, Mary. Believe me, you’ll be the first person I call after I get word on that one. Hell. Karen might call you before she calls me. You’re married to her captain.”
“I just want him to be all right.”
“I know,” the older pilot said softly. “Believe me, Mary, I know.”
“I can’t raise her without him.”
Kingston grasped Mary’s shoulder and squeezed. “You could if you had to. But none of us want you to have to.”
“Ari? Are you okay?”
She swallowed hard, tasting bile, and nodded. “I’m okay. They’re just…they just keep coming. Waves, almost. I can’t stop them. He has to let me come, Dav.”
He flinched. “Ari, you’d have more control if–”
“I’m not having this fight again, Dav.”
“All right, all right. You be careful, okay? Bring a co-pilot if you’re iffy on flying.”
At least he realizes that there’s no way I’d take a shuttle up. “I’ll borrow Fielder or something from Mom,” Arilyn said. “I don’t mind a droid as a co-pilot.”
“All right,” Davil said quietly. “I gotta go. Love you, Ari.”
“Love you, too, Dav. You be careful. Don’t be getting jumped by anything out there.”
He laughed weakly and nodded. “I promise, we won’t. I’ll talk to you soon.”
She nodded. The transmission cut off from his end and she leaned back in the chair in front of the holocomm, staring at the space where her brother’s face had been.
Air burned in her lungs. She gasped, eyes coming open, a shudder wracking her. Alarms were wailing. “Davil! What–?”
Her brother was slumped in his seat, pale, but breathing. She uttered a curse and snapped her attention back to her boards. “Oh shaavit!” Vong all around. How the hell were they going to get out of this one alive? Her blood burned, but she could breathe again, felt strong again for the first time in at least three years, if not longer. Almost one hundred percent, a stark contrast to ten minutes ago–was it ten minutes ago?–when she felt like she couldn’t breathe, when she felt like she was just barely clinging to life by her fingernails.
She yanked on the steering yoke, twisting the ship out of one skip’s line of fire. A string of curses echoed through her brain that she didn’t bother to give voice to.
She didn’t want her last words to be some curses in a dozen languages as the Vong fried them both.
Arilyn shivered, grasping the arms of the chair and staring blankly for a few long moments. Her heart started to beat faster. A few deep, slow breaths calmed it. She rubbed at her eyes and stood up slowly. Somehow, she was going to find a way to stop these visions. She was going to have to.
I’m not sure I can live with them for much longer.