Friday, February 4, 2011

Eggs, cawfee, and confession

The BCG galley was almost empty by the time Celina and Maia entered. They'd dropped Tanya off at school together and spent a few hours on the Trader's Way, buying amenities that Maia considered essential for their new home. They made chit-chat, talking about the city and their respective impressions. Maia shared her half-joking idea to go into the pomander business; Celina mused on the possibility of starting a ward in the hospital for victims of "heap stench." They walked hand-in-hand, and Maia was chagrinned that she didn't remember the last time they'd done so.

But as the sun rose higher in the east, their stomachs intruded on the shopping, and they made their way back towards the squat BCG complex for breakfast.

Ellen Cranby was still cooking, and they both took plates piled with eggs and sausage. If the food was anywhere as good as it smelled, Maia mused, it was no wonder the caravanners raved.

Maia navigated them to a corner of the room, with several empty tables on all sides. It wasn't hard; the only other people eating this late seemed to be happy to keep to themselves. Maia sat with her back to the wall, angled so that no one could easily read her lips. She realized it was a habit she'd picked up in the last few weeks in Peace River. Celina watched her, her face worried. Out of habit, Maia flicked on the white noise generator nestled in her pocket.

Celina picked up her fork and poked the eggs. Maia could see the wheels spinning behind her eyes. She raised her fork, chewed, swallowed. Finally, "Where did you get shot? I thought you were liaising for the ESE talks?"

Maia's thoughts flicked back to the previous night, when they'd both been lying in bed and Celina had insisted on inspecting the abdominal wound herself. She had always been amazed at how her wife's touch could switch from sensual to clinical and back in a matter of moments. Celina had seen countless gunshot victims at the hospital in Peace River, and at the field hospital in Baja before that. Maia would never have been able to dismiss it as anything but what it was, and she hadn't tried.

She sighed. "When you left with Senovo, Chambers and Delacroix decided they needed to go to ground. They weren't getting the results they needed working with PaxSec, following rules that they wanted to avoid..."

Celina put a hand on her wife's wrist. "Maybe you should start at the beginning. What were you doing in Okavango?"

Maia looked into her wife's blue eyes. No doubt Ben had told her about the rescue mission; maybe he'd even told her about the assault and the assassination. And no doubt word was going to get around about what had happened in Peace River, once Sam started boasting or Strauss sent back messages to his Khayr-ad Din friends. There was no point keeping secrets anymore; Celina was going to find out one way or another, and it might as well be from the source.

Maia took a steadying breath. "Right. From the beginning."


The remnants of breakfast had grown cold long before Maia stopped talking. She talked for a long time, holding nothing back. Celina listened, hands cradling her empty cawfee cup. Sometimes she asked questions. "Submerged under water?" she'd asked with a shudder that echoed Maia's own, back when they'd swam through Okavango's hidden tunnels. "From above?" she'd asked, when Maia talked about the final raid on Thoras' palace." Maia nodded, "I can para-glide now. I'll teach you, if you like. Falling is the easy part; it's the landing that's tricky." She didn't mention how Chambers had nearly fallen all the way into the palace compound before scrambling at the very edge of the tower's roof.

The questions became more pointed when she spoke about Peace River. Celina wanted to know about Dubeau-Solvinski, about Lenaris. She'd cringed when Maia mentioned the Prospects and the tunnel below the BRF headquarters. But mostly, she listened. She listened until Maia had related it all: all the gunfights and the hastily-conceived plans and desperate chases.

"And then I had Kain check the house to make sure there weren't any nasty surprises left by the BRF, and then we left. I don't really remember most of the first half of the trip out -- Chambers had me pretty heavily sedated -- and then we caravanned the rest of the way here. And that's it, I guess."

It was, as Chambers had implied, cathartic, like confession to a priest. She felt the weight of the secrets and lies lift off her chest. She only hoped that she hadn't wrecked her marriage in the process.

Maia watched Celina's reaction, searching her face for signs of validation or condemnation. Her wife didn't say anything. The silence stretched.

Finally, "Did you kill anybody? In Peace River?"

Maia looked down at her plate, mind spinning. Celina misinterpreted the gesture. "Never mind, you don't need to answer."

She shook her head. "No, you deserve to know." She looked back up. "Yeah, I did. Or at least, I think I did. We didn't exactly stick around in the aftermath. Two times, when we raided the BRF headquarters, I fired on some of them who were trying to bring me down. And the other... you remember what I told you about Harpster, the Forzi? We were trying to draw him out into an ambush at a bar near his headquarters, and I was stationed around back. Well, there were more of them than we expected. Four of them came down the alley where I was waiting. I think I killed three of them. The fourth ran; I don't know what happened to him."

Celina's voice was quiet when she eventually spoke. "How do you feel about killing again?"

Maia looked back down at her plate. She realized that all her whirling thoughts on the trip out of Peace River had been focused on her companions: on Chambers' psychological games and Delacroix's tortures and Sam's strange philosophy of gunslinging. She hadn't even thought about her own part in the fights, except the gut wound that had pushed itself into her mind at inopportune moments. She felt ashamed.

"I don't know," she said. "Part of me wants to say that they would have killed me if I hadn't killed them first. But another part says that there was no reason for me to be there at all."

She took her cawfee cup and fidgeted with it. "Look, I killed my fair share of keffers in the war, and I never felt guilty about a single one of 'em. Hell, if you sent me back in time, I'd do it again. Gladly. But back then, we all knew what we were fighting for. Now..." She sighed. "I can't imagine any of the people I killed were upstanding citizens; in fact, I'd put even money that they were pretty despicable, but I'm not sure they deserved death."

Celina took Maia's hand, gently. "You managed to get yourself back into a war. It's just not a set-piece battle. They question is, are the aims worth killing for?"

Maia thought hard. Helping the BCG oust the Forzi from Peace River wasn't her goal, and she wasn't ready to kill for it. She regretted now killing Harpster's goons, though not enough to make any sort of reparations. But saving Peace River, yes, that was worth killing for. Maybe not torture, maybe not ripping a man's throat out (she thought bitterly), but she would kill for Peace River, imperfect as it was. And she'd be willing to do it again.

"I think so," she said at last. "If you can still live with me, knowing what I've done."

Now it was Celina's turn to pause, and Maia saw the wrinkles as her wife's mouth turned down. "I love you," she said. "I just want you to be sure that this new war you're fighting is your war, not theirs. I know Tom got me the job here, and I'm grateful. It's a hell of a lot better than pushing paper back in Peace River, and Tanya's happier too, I think. But that doesn't mean you owe them anything. You have to decide if you want to fight for what they're fighting for."

Maia looked around the galley. Small windows admitted the late-morning sun, picking out the few stragglers. Even Ellen Cranby had stopped cooking, off to do whatever it was she did after breakfast was over.

"On that note," Maia said, shifting uncomfortably in her chair, "I may need to leave again. Kain has a mission that might take us back to the ESE. He wants me to come with him. It'll be dangerous, and it might be for a while."

Celina looked out the window, and then back to Maia. "What's the mission?"

Maia shook her head. "I don't think he wants it spread around too much yet. It's a good cause, if it's actually true and he's not just being paranoid. If it's legit, I could save a lot of lives. I might also kill again."

Celina let her hands fall to her lap. "How long?"

Maia shrugged. "Two seasons, he said. Maybe not all of them in the ESE, maybe some back-and-forth between here and there. We wouldn't leave right away." There was an awkward silence, and Maia leaned forward. "Look, I promised you in Peace River that I'd be around more, and I meant it. If you don't want me to go, if you want me to stay here with you and Tanya, then I will, and damn Kain and his plans. You're more important."

Celina took a deep breath. "Promise me, if you go, that you really think about what you're doing. Think about whether following Kain is doing good, for the world or for you or for whoever you're going down there to save. Don't just go because you think you have to."

Maia closed her eyes for a long moment, before looking back at Celina. "I promise." Then she sighed. "Which means there's an uncomfortable conversation I need to have, and probably sooner rather than later."

Celina gave a wry smile, breaking the tension that had built up at the table. "Good luck. I think I'd rather face a collapsing mountain of garbage."

They stood up and collected the empty dishes as Maia flicked off the white noise generator. Ellen's breakfast really had been excellent, Maia reflected, and she looked forward to future meals when she could enjoy the food instead of focusing on her inner demons.

"Pomanders," Maia replied, harkening back to their earlier conversation. "They'll be all the rage in less than a season, or I'll turn in my saleswoman badge."

Celina smirked. "One thing at a time, love. C'mon, we've both got work to do."


Charlie Bottoms said...

One minor quibble -- Sam *never* boasts. Never ever. Sometimes he tries to explain things he's done, but it's always in a confusing (a REALLY confusing) attempt to try to teach others how easy it is to do. "Why don't you just let the bullet go where it wants to go?" That kind of thing.

Sam would never say that he shoots guns. He LETS them shoot.

Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.