“Well, Dad, the Sixth didn’t fall apart while you were gone,” Mikey said to his father as their shuttle glided toward the ISD-II Justicar, the seat of Michael Bullian, Sr.’s command. The pilot frowned when his father didn’t answer, glancing sidelong at the other man, who hunched over an oversized datapad with a stylus, muttering under his breath. “Dad?”
His father glanced up, blinking as if startled. “Were you saying something, Mikey?”
“Never mind. What’re you wrapped up in? Someone frak something up while we were gone and I didn’t hear about it?”
One corner of his father’s mouth twitched toward a smile and he shook his head. “No, nothing like that. Just a design I’ve been tinkering with since we left home.”
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Indy murmured, sliding her arms around his waist and burying her face against his chest. She listened to the quiet thudding of his heart as Mike folded his arms around her, inhaling deeply the scent of her hair. The wind keened outside the covered hangar. The transport stood about twenty meters away, on the rain-sodden tarmac. It was due to depart within the next twenty minutes, and he had to be aboard. If he wasn’t aboard, he’d never make the military transport dispatched to Wayfarer to take him and other personnel out of the sector, back to their postings.
She leaned in the doorway, arms crossed across her chest, watching him as he rolled up articles of clothing, stuffing them into his duffle bag. Even after so many years after he quit being a pilot, he still carried the long, cylindrical duffle bag meant to fit neatly into the small cargo compartment of an X-wing.
“When’s your transport leave?”
“Couple days,” he answered, stuffing another shirt into the bag before looking up at her. “You’re in uniform.”
Her throat was so tight, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Arilyn squeezed her eyes shut against the tears welling up, hands clutching at her pillowcase, balling into fists. I can’t just let it happen. I can’t just let it happen. But I have to, don’t I? Don’t I? But I can’t just let him…
She choked on a sob, shaking her head hard. “What if it’s not real? What if it’s not real and I stop him from doing something good?” She grabbed her pillow, held it against her face, screamed into it—screamed for so long that she was out of breath when the lights came on in her room.
Sleep had come restlessly, elusive for hours despite her exhaustion, and now she awoke cold, shuddering and sweating, twisted in her covers. Rain pounded against the windowpane, thunder rolled above, rattling the house to its foundations with its deep growl. Arilyn squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to be awake but knowing unbroken, dreamless sleep would continue to escape her grasp.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, sun rising like blood in the sky. The rain would come soon, the ache in her knee told her that. She stood by the window and watched quietly as Chase and Slate set off on a morning jog, heedless or uncaring of the coming storm, putting feet to pavement.
Arms slid around her waist from behind and she sighed quietly, smiling up over her shoulder at her husband. “Admiring the view?”
“How does it look?”
Robyn sighed, hanging up her jacket on the rack by the door, avoiding her husband’s gaze for a moment. He’d been waiting for her—she was late getting in. She shook her head slowly, finally looking at him. “Our defenses can’t stand up to an assault like the one against Xenen. They just won’t handle it.”
William Scarlett, governor of Conceli VIII, winced visibly. “What can we do about that?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Request a detachment of NRM forces, I guess, to keep an eye out for trouble. Get our evac plans in order. The military-grade reports that are being disseminated…”