|Episode 126: After the Storm|
Kuroishima was a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, a way station conveniently located halfway along the trade route from Muk’ck to the Delta, in the heart of the PARC. For ease of navigation, its builders had placed the station in orbit around a nameless, desolate rock orbiting a lonely star called Shiroiumi. Running nearly two hundred kilometers long but less than a thousand meters across at its widest point, Kuoishima was a silver sliver in the black heart of the night. When it slid into the planet’s umbra, lights glowed from what seemed like a million different spots along its length, turning the station into a bar of warmth floating in deep silence.
It was, reflected Maccabee, a sight to inspire poetry, though likely of the insipid kind. He preferred to stick to the real, the here and now; as though his brush with death had awakened him, he was drunk on the universe, on cold hard reality. Let others speculate on what lay beyond, on the nature of things and of the spirit, whatever it may entail, that surpasses flesh and the boundaries of physics and biology. Maccabee was more than satisfied with what he could hold in his hands and see with his own eyes, smell with his nose and taste with his tongue. Good enough.
Oudtshoorn was behind them now, and good riddance. Obu had died there, and Fia shortly after they returned to Hornet. Kenyetta had elected to stay behind rather than come with Maccabee again. Three good people lost to him. Not all of it was technically his fault. Not all, but enough.
This, he speculated, sighing and turning away from the window he’d been looking through from the forward observation deck, was why he shouldn’t have stayed behind on the ship. Like a morose child, he’d been brooding since leaving Oudtshoorn, and it was doing no one any good. There was more to be done yet, and it would get done, even if he had to do it all himself. Of course, he’d rather not, and this was why they were here, at this strange place called Kuroishima: he was letting his crew blow off steam.
Nearly two hundred ships were docked or in orbit with the station; between them and the permanent residents, over twenty thousand people were on board that sliver of ceramasteel and plastic, enough for anyone to find what he or she was looking for. No doubt someone would get hurt—either a Hornet crewman or a civilian, or more likely someone from another ship—but the incident would pass; everyone would return happier, more whole, more sane. Everyone except perhaps Maccabee.
Maccabee turned from the window again—now why was he always looking out it?—and saw Amathea Yakazuma step through the bulkhead, letting the heavy blast door shut behind her. Though they were at opposite ends of the compartment, they stood only two meters apart. The observation deck was a small, ceramaplast bubble, outside the main hull and the ship’s armor, barely two meters square; up, down, left, right and ahead, the view was completely clear. It was the closest anyone could come to being out in vacuum without a suit of some kind.
Yakazuma looked small. She was really just a slight woman, barely over one and half meters tall and built more like a gymnast than a wrestler. Of course, Maccabee knew she was deceptively strong, but there was something childlike about her appearance. She wore simple spacer clothes, dark navy cargo pants of heavy, serviceable synthetics, a lighter shirt tucked into the pants, and a cargo vest on top, also dark navy blue. Her black hair was perfectly straight, combed back from her face and tied with a simple strand of cording.
With a start, Maccabee realized he’d been staring at her for nearly half a minute in silence. She didn’t seem to mind, but there was no excuse for rudeness.
“What can I do for you, Amathea?”
She smiled slightly. “Nothing really, captain. I just wanted to look out.” She shrugged. “If I may join you?”
“Of course,” he said, a trifle too quickly.
He watched her walk to the rail that he’d been leaning on and rest her hands on it, gazing out into the night, not towards Kuroishima but at the planet below. A shallow crescent limb was lit up by the brilliant white star, and the deep craters and ravines cast sharp shadows undimmed by any intervening atmosphere. No grey, just a sharp interface between dark and light, like the edge of a knife.
They stood in silence for several minutes, Yakazuma watching the planet, Maccabee watching her, both aware of the soft thrumming of the ship behind them, yet both ignoring it from many years of practice. More and more of the planet slid into view as Hornet followed the station out from the night into the light of day. Gradually, the rocky surface slid towards their left, off the port bow, as the ship changed her orientation to the ground below.
“Sometimes,” began Yakazuma, softly breaking the silence. Maccabee waited her out. “Sometimes, I feel like everything is broken.” He almost felt her take a shuddering breath.
“You miss Robbie.” It wasn’t a question. How could she not miss Robbie Selkirk?
She shook her head. “That’s just it. I don’t miss him. There’s a hole inside me, but it’s just broken; nothing missing.” Again, she shook her head, her eyes still locked on the planet. “It’s hard to describe.” Taking another deep breath, Yakazuma turned to look at Maccabee. “Especially to you.”
“I’m sorry, Amathea,” he said. The words came out softly, almost a whisper, but he wished he could scream, wished he could just break something, or fix something—he wished he could make it better. “I am sorry.”
They stood in silence again. A tear slid down Yakazuma’s cheek. Then she reached up and touched Maccabee’s face, just slightly, just with the tips of her fingers. It was not a caress, but a touch, an acknowledgement.
She turned and walked for the door, opening it and stepping through without a backward glance.
“Amathea!” he called after her. Stopping, she hesitated, then looked around. “Are you leaving me?”
Again, she smiled. “No, William. I’m coming with you.” Then she turned and walked off, letting the hatch slide shut behind her. Maccabee took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and turned to the window again. So, some would come. Maybe not all, but enough. Enough.
He started to laugh, and let the universe fill him again with its simple being.