In the Shadow of Heaven

by

javert

Chapter Thirty-Seven - All Of Us Pirates Would Have Been Martyrs, Part II

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All Of Us Pirates Would Have Been Martyrs, Part II

“Why must the mirror lie to me? From the glass on the window I look into her eyes. She’s a sinner so hated, she’s awful to see. So why does my mirror tell me lies?”

-from “Mirror Regret”, song by Laquan Hope

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Yan woke to the sun streaming in through the window, and with Iri's arm draped over her waist. One, or both of them had kicked the blankets off during the night, and the quilt lay crumpled on the floor. Yan disentangled herself and got up.

The morning passed by in a blur. There was a breakfast that wasn't so much hurried as it was chaotic. Sid's family all had tasks that they needed to do around the farm, so they scattered after wolfing down cereal or toast. That left Sid to "coordinate" getting everyone moving. There weren't enough bowls for everyone, so Yan ate cereal dry off of a plate. She didn't mind.

Karl was going to drive them all back into town, and from there they could make their way through various modes of transport to the elevator. Still, it was a while before everyone was actually ready to leave. While everyone on the Fleet team could be up and out at a moment's notice, Sid had to go and say goodbye to all of his family members, show Yan some of his old haunts, and generally procrastinate enough that Yan worried they wouldn't make it out before night. Hernan was the one who put a stop to it, telling Sid that he had better get control of himself and let them all leave. Sid bid final goodbyes to everyone, and with some relief the group squeezed into the van so that Karl could drive them away.

They spent the rest of the day in transit from one place to another, with hardly more than a minute spent in any one place. The elevator ride back up to Galena Station was long and tedious. Yan watched out the window as they ascended the long wire tether. Storms gathered above the nearby ocean, and Yan watched the clouds grow and move. It wasn't meditative, but it suited her mood.

They finally made it back to Galena station, and only had to wait another day and a half for the ship that would take them to Emerri to arrive. Yan felt anxious about it. The tension that had been growing in her stomach turned into solid knots of worry. She could barely eat. She didn't even know why she was so nervous. She wasn't worried about the journey; after all, they had traveled on the Skyfish just fine. Maybe it was just that the whole series of events were coming to their inevitable conclusion, and endings made her nervous.

Their very last leg of the journey, aboard the Kinetic, went smoothly. The trip between Galena and Emerri was a relatively short one, just a few jumps. The most agonizing time was the wait right before the last jump. The ship had to come in just outside the system, and then had to make a final jump that would place it in orbit. This final jump always had to be done by the most skilled navigator, since it was placing the ship in a densely (for space) populated area, and an accident could be fatal. It wasn't the thought of the jump that was scary, it was just the feeling of being so close to the end of the journey, yet trapped just far enough away.

They jumped in after a miserable eight hours of waiting and docked with the Emerri station. Then there was the long, slow ride down to the planet, and the plane flight from the base of the elevator to Yora.

It was night when they arrived. Yan dragged her heavy suitcase behind her into her apartment. It was cold, dark, and empty. Yan hated it. It was odd, now, to no longer be in such close proximity to Iri and all of the rest of the Fleet team that had accompanied them. Sid was right down the hall, but Yan didn't want to bother him. She would just have to cope with the loneliness of her apartment. She turned up the heat and unpacked her suitcase.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Yan took out her phone and called Sylva. She waited as it rang and rang, but there was no answer. Sylva probably wasn't expecting her back. It was an absurd hour of the morning where she was, anyway. Yan sent her some texts when she decided there was no way Sylva was going to answer the phone

> hey Sylva

> I'm back

> I'll call you tomorrow probably

> I'm fine.

> hope everything's going ok with you

> goodnight

Yan went to bed, not eager to face the next day, but not willing to stay awake either.

The next morning, Yan woke with her phone blinking with what felt like hundreds of notifications. All her friends had sent her messages in the night. She answered the messages from Harbin, Genna, and Anni with quick replies, as that was the lowest priority and lowest stress thing that she could do. There were messages from Sylva also, which she tackled next.

< glad you're back!!!

< I missed you so much!!!

< call me whenever, I'll try to be awake later

< are you really ok?

 

Sylva was probably at work at the moment, so Yan didn't reply. She would call Sylva in the evening. Was that just putting everything off? Yes, but she needed to conserve her strength, Yan justified.

The next messages were from Ms. Rosario, who instructed her and Sid to meet in Sandreas's office at Stonecourt at ten hours. Yan checked the time. She would have to hurry if she wanted to make it. Apparently she had slept in. All of the changing time zones between planets that she had been going to had thrown her for a loop.

Yan quickly showered and dressed. All the food left in her apartment was questionable at best, since she had been gone for so long, so she forwent breakfast. Yan trudged out of her apartment and headed to Stonecourt. She didn't bother informing Sid or Kino. If Sid was awake then he could make it to Stonecourt without her pestering him, and if he was asleep then she would take it that he needed rest. As for Kino, Yan had no idea what her status was. The message that Ms. Rosario had sent was only addressed to her and Sid, so perhaps Kino had been given different instructions.

It was odd to have to think of Kino again, after so long with just her and Sid being partners, but they were all going to be back together now. Until they were sent out again, at least. Yan hoped that wouldn't happen too soon. As far as she knew, there wasn't anything pressing on the horizon, but she also hadn't exactly been keeping up with wider Empire politics while she had been out on the road. She would need to remedy that as soon as possible.

The journey to Stonecourt felt new and unfamiliar. The brightest colored part of fall had come and gone while she was away, and now the trees that lined the streets had only scraggly brown leaves hanging on. It was instinct that led her to her destination more than memory. She was glad to not need her winter gear just yet; though it was chilly and breezy her thick cassock still provided enough protection from the elements.

Yan went in the side entrance of Stonecourt, as she always did. She was greeted along the way by a few security guards who knew her. They inquired about her trip and Yan gave quick but friendly non-answers. Yan checked the time. She had a few minutes before she needed to be in Sandreas's office, but she headed directly there. She didn't have any other place to go.

Ms. Rosario was at her desk outside the office. She greeted Yan warmly.

"Welcome back, Yan! First Sandreas isn't here yet, but I can let you in," Ms. Rosario said. "Is Sid on his way?"

"I don't know, he might have slept in by accident," Yan said. Or because he had taken enough Vena to keep him knocked out for a good few hours. "I haven't seen him yet this morning. Is Kino here?"

"She should be here with First Sandreas in a few minutes," Ms. Rosario said.

"Is there anything I need to catch up on? I feel like I've been out of the loop for so long."

"I've heard space travel will do that to you. But no, I'm not going to dump a thousand dossiers on you the day you get back," she said kindly.

"Thank you.” That was a relief that she hadn't realized she needed.

"I'm sure First Sandreas will be excited to hear about your trip," Ms. Rosario said. She let Yan in to the office. "They should be back shortly."

"When did they get back to Emerri?" Yan asked.

"About a week ago," Ms. Rosario said. "But they had the luxury of much more direct travel in both directions."

"You have to take what you can get when you hitch a ride on Guild Ships," Yan said. "It's too bad there isn't a second First Star."

"You want to spend Empire money on building a Second Star?" Ms. Rosario smiled. "Good luck getting that funding through committee. The First Star is actually undergoing maintenance right now, so it would be nice to have a spare, but stardrives are not something that can just be pulled out of nowhere."

"Why is the First Star getting maintained?" Yan asked. Though she had never been on Sandreas's "personal" ship, she was curious about it. She would have to ask Kino what it was like. "Did they have problems on their trip?"

"No, this is just normal wear and tear maintenance, and some upgrades. You should ask Halen if you want details, or I can get you the spec sheet, if you would like.”

"No, I'm not that curious," Yan said, smiling.

Ms. Rosario winked at her. "I understand. Well, go on in, relax for the next few minutes. I'll call around, see if anyone has seen Sid."

Yan nodded and headed into Sandreas's office. The door shut behind her. The place was largely unchanged from the last time she had been there; it had the same white walls, the same pictures, the same furniture. Yan paced in front of the couches, waiting for everyone else to show up.

She didn't have to wait very long. Halen's power swept over her, checking the room, and then he, Sandreas, and Kino entered. They all looked about the same as they had when they had left. It had only been a few weeks, but it felt like a million years. Everyone stood in silence for a moment, but then Sandreas walked over and stiffly embraced Yan. She was taller than he was by a few centimeters, and she awkwardly wrapped her arms around him.

Sandreas broke off the embrace and stepped back a little. "I'm glad you're back, Yan."

"It's good to see you, too." Yan wasn't exactly sure what else to say.

Sandreas gestured to the couches, and they all sat down. Kino had a moment of indecision on where to sit. The normal status of things had been disrupted: Kino had spent her trip with Sandreas and Halen, and presumably felt more of a partnership with them than with Yan. Still, Yan was grateful when Kino slid onto the couch next to her. Things always felt like less of an interrogation when a person was sitting right next to her.

"Where's Sid?" Sandreas asked.

"Still asleep," Halen said. Being in constant contact with all the security teams gave Halen a distinct advantage when it came to knowing people's status.

"Hm. Is someone going to get him?" Sandreas asked.

"Let him sleep," Yan said. "He's- it's- tired. He's tired."

Sandreas smiled at her. "Okay. Fine. He can sleep the morning away." Sandreas studied her intently for a second. Yan looked away. "Are you ok, Yan?"

"Fine," Yan said.

"I don't know why you even bothered to ask that question," Halen said. "It's nice to be back with an apprentice who wears her heart on her sleeve."

Kino was busy yanking the buttons on her own sleeve, but gave Halen a look when he said that. She hadn't spoken a word yet, and she didn't seem about to.

"I'm glad to hear the diplomatic part of your trip went well, at least," Sandreas said.

"It was set up so we couldn't fail. All we needed to do was provide an excuse for everyone to be in the same room together," Yan said.

"There are still plenty of ways an operation like that can go wrong," Sandreas said. "I'm glad that it didn't."

"Did everything go well on Jenjin?" Yan asked.

"There were a few snags, but we accomplished what we set out to do. I'm hopeful that installing a new governor will stabilize the situation there, at least for the next few years."

Yan nodded. "I heard you had some difficulties at the front?"

"I got trapped in a cave for a while," Kino said. "I think that everybody else had a worse time of it than I did." She seemed relatively nonchalant about the whole thing.

"I was quite worried when it happened," Sandreas said. "We all had a little adventure, I suppose."

"That's one way of putting all of it," Halen said. "In terms of physical harm, Kino came out of everything with a concussion. We can all be thankful that there was nothing more serious."

"Are you ok now?" Yan asked, turning to Kino.

"I'm fine. It's all healed," Kino said. "It was nothing."

"She was in bed for a week, sitting in the dark, because she refused help," Halen said to Yan.

Kino shrugged and returned to picking at her buttons. There was silence for a long moment, then Sandreas sighed and brought up something that Yan was hoping that he would forget.

"I know this probably isn't going to be an easy topic, Yan, and I was hoping Sid would be here, but I think that as a group we all need to go over what exactly happened on the Sky Boat, and what could be handled better going forward," Sandreas said. "It's important to me that you someday can be able to look back on this as just another piece of your education."

"As opposed to what?" Yan asked.

"As opposed to being something horrible and unexpected that feels separate from your everyday work," Sandreas said.

"But it was," Yan said. "I didn't go there with the aim of-"

"The things you have to do to stay alive are also part of your work," Halen said softly, cutting her off.

"You're training to take my place," Sandreas said. "All three of you. And when you’re in my shoes, there will be many unpleasant things that you will need to do. When you take my place, you cannot be killed, you cannot die. The work that you do to keep yourself alive is right and necessary, whatever it takes. And we need you to understand that now, so that you can do it more easily in the future. Do you understand?"

Yan nodded, looking down at her shoes.

"Do you understand, Kino? Because you will need to learn this lesson, too."

"Yes," Kino said.

"Do you want me to just tell you what happened?" Yan asked, still looking at the ground.

"No," Sandreas said. "Lieutenant Harber sent us all of the footage, recorded from the shuttle's and the Sky Boat's sensors. We used that to recreate the event in the simulation room. I would like to walk through it."

"Do we have to?" Yan had only been in the simulation room once before, and that was the time when Kino got shot. It did not hold any pleasant memories.

"I won't force you, but it will be to your benefit," Sandreas said. "Perhaps going through the event in a controlled environment will help you take more ownership of it."

Yan absolutely did not want to take ownership of it, but it didn't really seem like she had a choice. Though Sandreas was saying that he wouldn't force her, she was sure that he would be disappointed and judge her. She didn't think that this would help, but she nodded anyway.

"Fine," Yan said. "Now?"

"There's no point in wasting time, other than waiting for Sid to arrive," Sandreas said.

"He can't sleep for that much longer. When he wakes up, he can join us there," Halen said.

She wouldn’t be able to escape reliving this worst day of her life, then. It seemed incredible that anything could top the day her mother died, but this one felt fresh in her memory. She had had almost thirteen years to process her mother's death. It was less than a month ago that Yan had committed what she had been thinking of as her first mass murder, so it was fresh in her memory.

The group went down to the simulation room, through the underground passages to the place where the air hummed with power just as a stardrive did. The room was the same as Yan remembered it, with the same clean white walls and computer terminal.

"Are we starting with the macro or the micro?" Halen asked, fiddling with the terminal.

"Could you run both simulations at once?" Sandreas asked. "Put the macro over there, on half size, and the micro over here, full scale?"

"Sure."

In the regions of space indicated by Sandreas's waving hand, there appeared two distinct simulations. One, taking up half the room, was a region of space where there floated scale models of the Sky Boat, the pirate ship, and all of the shuttles and dogfighters that had taken place in the confrontation. The air in which they hovered was clear, but the walls, floor, and ceiling around them were dark colored to match the starry backdrop on which the drama had originally unfolded. On the other side of the room, though the room's white walls were unchanged, there sat a perfect replica of Shuttle Four, which Yan's whole team had occupied during the encounter. Yan put her hand out to feel it, and to her shock, the wall of the shuttle that she touched disappeared, giving an illuminated glimpse into the inside. Life size figures of everyone who had been present in the shuttle were seated, perfectly still.

Yan looked into her own eyes and shuddered. Her body double was pressed back up against her seat. Presumably this freeze frame was taken when they were under heavy acceleration. Her face was twisted up in fear, and she was holding hands with Sid and Iri on either side. Kino leaned over next to Yan, the real Yan, and peered inside.

"Sid looks scared," Kino said.

"Yeah, he had a right to be," Yan said. "When was this?"

Halen came to stand next to them, looking in on the shuttle. He had a tablet in his hand, which was apparently linked to the terminal on the wall that controlled the whole room.

"This is right before the pirates jumped in," Halen said. He put a solid hand on Yan's shoulder, which was surprising but surprisingly not unwelcome. He must have noted her sudden spike in... relief? And he laughed. "You've found I'm not so bad after all? I'm glad."

"Don't push your luck," Yan grumbled. "I've had a lot to think about."

He squeezed her shoulder, then let go, dropping his hand to his side. Yan felt he had been trying to send a message through the power, but she hadn't caught the meaning in it. They didn't know each other that well, yet. She looked over at him with a questioning expression. He smiled at her.

"We can talk later," Halen said.

Sandreas, who had been investigating the larger setup across the room, walked over to join their gathering.

"I suppose it is the micro that draws the most attention from the crowd," he said. "Are we ready? Shall we play out the drama before us?"

Kino gave him a flat, annoyed stare. "Theatrics," she said.

"Ah, you're right," Sandreas said. As an explanation, for Yan's benefit he elaborated. "Kino got to witness some of my, perhaps unfortunate, love of drama when we were on Jenjin."

"I've been telling him for years that you would have made a better playwright than politician, but he's never once listened," Halen said. "Anyway, I'm ready to begin. Yan?"

"Fine." It wasn't as though waiting would make this whole process any easier.

Halen consulted his tablet, and the scene within the shuttle came to life. Yan watched herself jerk, presumably reacting to the pirate ship jumping in. Although she had replayed all of these moments over and over in her head, to the point of feeling like she could recreate the whole scene beat for beat from her memory, she hadn't realized just how expressive her body was, and how she moved unconsciously. Yan certainly thought she had been sitting still for most of the ride.

They watched the scene play out between Yan, Sid, and Lieutenant Harber at the front of the shuttle, and then Halen paused the playback.

"So, Yan, could you explain to us your thought process here?" Sandreas asked.

"More than what I," she pointed to her body double, "already said?"

"We on the outside, from these recordings, can't tell what passed between you and Sid, or what was actually going through your head," Sandreas said. "If you could give us any insight, I would appreciate it."

"I felt the ship jump in, first of all. Nobody else would have noticed that, not until it started running hot. So I had to make sure everybody knew that a ship had jumped. I guess I kinda started panicking..."

"Completely understandable, if not ideal. What then?" Sandreas asked.

"Sid asked me what was going on in the power. He had his eyes closed, so he didn't know what was going on at all. I basically told him what the situation was. I think I said something like 'we're the only ones who can help.'"

"Was that true?" Kino asked. "Were you the only ones who could help?"

"The Sky Boat, with her dogfighters far away, is not in a very defensible position," Halen said. "Big ships are not very maneuverable, and are large, easy targets. The dogfighters are what do all the real damage in a firefight, and the Sky Boat only had one or two left onboard- the rest had been sent out to scout." Halen explained all this to Kino.

"But the God's Engine could have accelerated," Kino said.

"Fleet ships are better put together than the average Guild ship," Halen said. "But in a real fight, it wouldn't be useful for one ship to accelerate away, the other would just try to match them. None of it is substitute for jumping, and the Sky Boat couldn't jump out."

"Okay," Kino said.

"So then Sid decided to mutiny? You didn't tell him to?" Sandreas asked.

"No, of course not," Yan was almost aghast that anyone could think such a thing of her, but clearly, she had been part and parcel to the whole situation. "Sid did that all himself."

Halen laughed.

"Well, he was in the right to take command," Sandreas said. "You both were the ultimate authorities on this mission, and I regret that it was not communicated to you clearly beforehand."

"Why didn't you tell us that?" Yan asked.

"It was an attempt at a leash," Sandreas admitted. "You knew that you couldn't do anything you liked on the diplomatic side of things, but I was hopeful that you would also feel constrained to remain inside the stated mission with regards to your travel, lodging, and recreation as well. I'll admit that I didn't plan out specific orders for this particular worst case scenario."

"There were specific orders for other worst case scenarios?" Yan asked.

"Mainly involving trouble on Olar itself," Sandreas said. "That seemed much more likely than a pirate attack. They're so rare. Harber was following the standard Fleet protocol for members travelling on non Fleet ships if the ship they're on comes under some sort of duress. That protocol does not usually take into account the presence of sensitives."

"The chance of having a pair of fully trained sensitives on a ship being attacked by pirates is so astronomically small," Halen said. "The manuals don't tend to take things like that into account."

"Don't pirates specifically attack ships headed to and away from the Academy at the end of the year?" Kino asked.

"The main transports on and off Emerri at those peak travel times tend to be the most heavily armed Guild ships, for that specific reason. But I also said fully trained. Most Academy students are children who would be helpless," Halen said. "We're getting off topic, though."

"Is the lesson here just that I always have control over the situation?" Yan asked. "You said that in your letter, basically."

"Don't be afraid to take command," Sandreas said. "Sid had the right idea, even if he went about it clumsily."

"I'll try," Yan said.

"Would you consider your role here to be a leadership one, anyway?" Sandreas asked.

"I guess? I did tell everyone what to do," Yan said. "But if I hadn't been there, I'm sure they could have done it themselves. Sid, at least." Yan vaguely remembered the argument that she had had with Sid, right after this whole disaster. They had both tried to say that the other was the leader, but it was true that Yan had done most of the planning, though it had all happened so quickly and on the fly.

"Well, it's a valuable skill to see what needs to be done and tell others what to do. Though we'll see later some of the execution was lacking, the ability to make decisions and follow through on them is important," Sandreas said.

They watched through the whole thing, pausing every so often to talk through what had just happened. They had a long discussion about strategy, as Yan had picked her targets in the wrong order. Sandreas tried to impress upon her the need to pick the actually important targets, not just the targets that felt important. Yan had gone after the boarding party, rather than all of the dogfighters that had been around. It was likely that the crew of the Sky Boat could have held off that wave of boarders while Yan stopped any further damage to the body of the ship caused by the dogfighters, and prevented any other boarding parties from latching on by destroying the shuttles. Yan just hoped that in the future she wouldn't have to do some Halen Training that involved picking targets based on logic rather than emotion. Yan didn't know how such a thing would even manifest, and she wasn't really willing to find out.

Overall, Yan was able to keep calmer than she would have expected during the whole process. She felt detached, which was the opposite of taking ownership of her actions, as Sandreas had wanted. Watching her old self, reconstructed from video and audio recordings, standing and talking before her, Yan could think 'that was something that she did'. Looking at the event through this perfect, distancing lens, it gave Yan a space to literally see herself as an outsider. Her letter-perfect body double went through the motions, and Yan got to watch her past self get hurt, hurt herself, but that was a distant pain. The three dimensional people in the shuttle moved like perfect actors in a perfect play, and at the end of it, Yan could stand and take a bow, the drama concluded, the actor still alive and separate from the work.

She felt sure that the guilt would come back when she left, but maybe having this analytic memory of the event overlaid with the memory of the event itself, that might help.

It was too bad that Sid never showed up. Halen tried getting in contact with him at one point, calling his phone and asking the guard at the desk in their apartment to page him, but it was of no use. Iri and Hernan were both taking a few days off after the whole adventure. They had earned some vacation time. There were plenty of other spies Halen could send to keep an eye on the two (three, counting Kino) of them, but apparently Halen didn't feel comfortable sending whoever was watching Sid to go fetch him. He would just have to go through this experience later.

Kino didn't participate very much in the dissection of the experience. She didn't have a lot to say, but she was definitely paying attention, and asked the occasional clarifying question about the strategies that Sandreas and Halen walked through, as alternatives to what Yan had done. She also paid attention when Yan was asked to describe her motivations or internal thoughts during certain moments.

There was a part of Yan that wanted to put Kino under the microscope and hear all about what she had done when she had apparently gotten lost in a cave, but of course there was no footage of that that could be programmed into a simulation. Besides, to hear Kino mention it, it had hardly been dramatic at all. She had gotten separated from her team during a rock collapse of unknown origin, pushed them out of the way with the power, got hit by some rocks, and then wandered around in a daze for a while before deciding to just drill her way to the surface using the power. Considering that she had a concussion at the time, it wasn't surprising that she didn't have many juicy details to relay about her mental state. Not that it would have been surprising even if she didn't have a concussion; Kino had her natural emotional wall.

They played with the simulation until Sandreas had to go meet someone else over lunch. Yan supposed she was "lucky" that Sandreas had been able to spare the time that he had. He must have had a lot to catch up on after his trip. Yan wondered how he was ever able to go off planet. Running the government and staying up to date was much easier on a planet with an ansible connection and all the staff right nearby. Before he left, Halen pulled Sandreas to the side, and they had a quiet conversation. By the way that Halen's hand was sitting on Sandreas's back, half of it was probably passed between them silently. Yan didn't feel anything moving in the power, but it might have been drowned out by the simulation room's constant throb, or it may have been that Halen had been practicing trying to make his use of the power undetectable. Either way, she didn't stress out about it. She simply waited for them to finish, examining her own clone's face. Not like the clone was in a particularly flattering position, but that was only to be expected, considering the situation.

Sandreas left, and Halen came back over to Yan and Kino.

"You done looking?" Halen asked. Yan nodded, almost reluctant to leave her clone. If the clone went away, then she would be back to being the only Yan, the only one responsible. But it had to be done; she couldn't stay here forever.

Halen pressed a few buttons on his tablet and the whole simulation vanished, returning the room to its blank, white state.

"Kino, you're free to go. Someone will let you know if you're needed later, but there's nothing for at least a few hours," Halen said.

"Okay," Kino said. She didn't leave quite yet, though, glancing at Yan.

"Yan, let's get some lunch," Halen said. He gave Kino a look, raising his eyebrows and looking pointedly at the door. Kino got the hint and scurried away, letting the door to the simulation room slam shut behind her.

"You tired of hanging out with Kino?" Yan asked.

"I've spent every day with her since we left. I have almost nothing left to talk to her about," Halen said. "You, on the other hand..."

Yan scuffed the floor of the room with her shoe, making a squeaking sound. "How much is everyone going to obsess over talking things out with me? Can't you go bother Sid?"

Halen laughed. "Sid is purposely avoiding us, but you're responsible enough that I can drag you along for almost anything, even if it will make you miserable."

"I'm going to stop being so responsible then," Yan said. "I can't bear it."

Halen just smiled and started walking out. Yan followed him. They didn't really talk as they walked. Halen led her down several hallways that she had never seen before. It wasn't as though Yan spent a ton of time exploring the depths of Stonecourt. The place was a borderline labyrinth, filled with rooms of every conceivable purpose.

They ended up in a small cafeteria, presumably meant for Stonecourt staff. Yan and Halen were both a little high profile to be eating there, but no one was going to refuse them. It was past the peak hour for lunch, so the cafeteria was mostly empty. They ordered their food at the counter and then sat down across from each other at a tiny table. Halen was comically large for the chair that he was sitting in, but he made it work. The whole place was filled with ugly decor that looked about thirty years out of date. Whether the furniture had been moved here after remodeling some other area of Stonecourt, or if it had just been sitting in this room for the past several decades, there was no way to tell. It gave the place a weirdly homey feeling.

Yan picked at her fries and waited for Halen to initiate whatever conversation he had brought her here to have. Though some of Yan's animosity toward the man had worn away during the time that she had been gone (absence does make the heart grow fonder, she decided), her feelings toward him were possibly more complicated and confusing than ever. Halen didn't seem to be in any particular hurry; he ate his own sandwich as though he had not a care in the world. As they ate, Yan's attention wandered, and she thought about what Sid was doing, and how she would really just like to take a nap, and how bright the lights were in the cafeteria.

"I guess I'll be direct about this," Halen said after a while, wiping his hands on a napkin. "I don't hate you or think you're wrong for anything that you did out there, Yan."

Yan didn't really process that. She took a sip of her soda.

"Yan?" Halen asked.

"What?" She looked up at him. "Sorry."

"I just said I don't hate you," Halen said.

"I don't hate you either, I guess," Yan said.

"I know," Halen said. "And I'm glad. But I need you to understand what I'm saying."

"You don't hate me, I get it," Yan said. She wiggled a fry around in the pool of ketchup on her plate.

"No, really, Yan, please pay attention," Halen's voice sounded as though he were struggling to express something, and that was what finally got Yan's full attention. She dropped the fry back down onto her plate.

"I know this has been difficult for you," Halen said. "I can tell that you're feeling confused, and guilty, and lost."

"You would know better than I would," Yan muttered. "Unless I have something to be doing I can barely think straight."

"Yeah, I know. Maedes told me that you've been a near complete wreck. You seemed fine in the simulation room, but now you're zoning out on me. Did you talk to anyone about this?"

"Who? I talked to Sid, obviously. And Iri, a little bit. But they were there. And Sid is the only one who gets it."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Halen asked.

"Want to or not, here we are," Yan said. "Obviously I don't. But if you think I need to then you'll make me sit here until I do."

"Remember what Aymon said earlier," Halen said. "You are in control."

Yan shrugged. "You're still, like, my teacher." She hesitated to say boss, and couldn't say anything more personal than teacher.

"Aymon will never admit it," Halen started, "but he thinks of you as being much more than just his students. He- we, both care about you quite deeply. All three of you. And I hate to see you feeling like this."

"It's not like there's anything that can be done about it. I'll get over it eventually. According to Iri, anyway."

"I'm sure you will, but I would like to make that an easier process for you, if I can.”

"Don't think that's possible." Yan was being perhaps needlessly pessimistic.

"You know what Aymon did to me, right?" Halen asked. "When we first met?"

"What? Oh, he hunted you down, yeah, you told us."

"More than that, though." He paused. "Yan, it had been his job to find and kill my entire family. He did that, and then he spared my life. But I forgave him anyway."

"Sid thinks you're crazy, that you have that kidnapped kid syndrome," Yan said.

Halen smiled. "Maybe I do, but that's besides the point."

"What is the point, then?" Yan asked. "It's not the same. With you and Sandreas it's like… You had time to get to know him, and then you made the choice to forgive him. I am never going to face the people on that ship, the people still alive anyway. We'll never know each other, so they can never forgive me."

"You say that now, but God works in mysterious ways."

Yan shuddered. "I hope not."

"Every pain fades in time. Their pain and yours."

"I did them wrong, though," Yan said.

"And they weren't going to do worse?" Halen asked. "Listen to yourself, Yan. Pirates! Two months ago you hated me for much less of a crime."

"I know, I know." She was frustrated. "Half of this is just all wrapped up in feeling guilty about leaving the Sky Boat in the first place. I shouldn't have done that."

"Maybe not, but you wouldn't have done any good trapped in the saferoom, either. I don't think anyone aboard the Sky Boat would have thought to use your particular talents," Halen said. "It's over now, though. There's nothing you can do about that."

"I feel like everything that happened there was my fault somehow."

"You might feel that, but it isn't true." Halen reached out across the table and put his hand on hers. "Trust me when I say that I know and understand what you're feeling, what you're going through, and exactly what impact your actions had. Trust me when I say it's all going to be alright."

Yan sighed. "On one hand, I guess I believe you, and that's a good thing. But on the other hand, I feel like I can't believe that right now. And another thing is, just, I don't want it to get easier, I don't want it to be alright. I feel like… That's wrong."

"Perhaps. But in the line of duty, there are many wrong and unpleasant things that we must do," Halen said.

"Why?" Yan asked. "Wouldn't it be better if like… I'm going to be in charge, so I should be able to make right and good decisions. There must have been some way to resolve the situation with the Sky Boat without killing anybody."

Halen laughed. "That's a funny way of putting it. But there isn't always a better way to do things." He paused. "You were in charge when you were out there. You made the decisions. I think they were, for the most part, correct ones. It's only afterward that you have time to think 'maybe I should have done something better.' A lot of life is like that. You have to be able to make decisions without being paralyzed with fear about the future."

Yan pulled her hand out from underneath Halen's. She smashed a fry between her fingers, the soggy potato mass dropping down onto her tray. "It sucks."

"Yeah, it does. There's no two ways around that," Halen said. "But you'll survive, and you'll be able to make choices better in the future."

"But not better choices?"

"Sometimes there is no good choice. But you have to be able to go forward anyway."

"That's what you keep saying. I guess there is one thing I'm good at, and that's at keeping working even when everything is a mess," Yan said.

"An admirable trait, but I don't think it's the only thing you're good at," Halen said.

"Trying to flatter me, now?" Yan asked. "It won't work."

"No, I'm not, I just don't want you to discount yourself."

Yan changed the subject slightly. "Are you going to have this heart-to-heart with Sid, too?"

"Probably not," Halen said. "While I like Sid, I don't think he could use anything that I'm saying to you. Aymon will probably find him later."

"Really?" Yan asked.

"Aymon has told me many times about the reasons why he thinks God called each of you to him. In terms of personality, I think that he and Sid are closest."

Yan raised her eyebrows. "I've spent a lot of time with Sid; they don't seem like a matching set."

"Aymon was quite a firebrand when he was younger," Halen said. "He can still let his temper get the best of him when he's bored. Of course, he's matured as a person. He's been Voice for what…" Halen thought for a second. "Twenty odd years now? We have to trust him to put his hot-headed nature on ice. Most of the time."

"Hm. So you got to have this talk with me because you think that was a better fit?" Yan asked.

"Of course. I remember saying before, I don't know if it was to you or to Aymon, you and I are more similar than you would probably like to believe."

"Only in terms of upbringing, maybe. You're…" Yan didn't quite know what to say. Halen was stronger than she was, and more assured, and scary when he wanted to be. More empathetic, too, but that could hardly be considered a facet of his personality- it was more of a God-gift.

"Heh, maybe it's only the experience that comes with age that lets me see it," Halen said. "Part of it is upbringing. Being on a ship shapes the way you see the universe, certainly. But I think there's more than that. " He didn't elaborate.

"Why didn't you ever try to take some sort of leading role?" Yan asked.

"I am not fit for the public eye," Halen said. "That's the short and easy answer. The truer answer is that, I do lead, just quietly. I make invisible decisions every day. I have no desire to publicly direct the masses. I manage my own teams, on my terms, in the way that I think that they would be best handled. I think I've been successful so far."

"Iri said that you were the one who, uh, mentored her? Do you like doing that?"

"I see you've neatly managed to flip the conversation away from yourself. But yes, I do. Iri was quite a different person, a few years ago. She was in a different place in life. Literally. Physically. I don't know if I've quite managed to unlock her full potential, but I think she's glad she transferred out of the wider security force and into my personal care." There was something about the way that Halen said that Iri was different that gave Yan pause, but she didn't press.

"Do you think she likes being my minder? I try not to be too difficult," Yan said.

Halen laughed. "Trying not to be difficult? I think Iri might like it if you made her life more exciting. I think she finds you endearing."

Yan scowled. That made it sound like Yan was some sort of puppy that Iri had adopted. "I'm not endearing, I'm an adult. She's only like five years older than I am."

"Age has nothing to do with it. She just thinks you're sweet."

"I don't know what gave her that impression." Yan returned to picking at the food on her plate. She had barely eaten any of it, and now the fries were cold. She took a few experimental bites of her sandwich, then realized anew how hungry she was, and went in with renewed vigor.

"You'd have to ask her. I'm sure she has a more complete picture of your life than anyone else does, at this point." Halen resumed eating his own sandwich, at a much more leisurely pace.

"Should I be worried about Sid?" Yan asked, talking with her mouth full.

"I should be asking that question of you," Halen said. "You've been with him through this whole thing, and I've been on the other side of the galaxy."

"You know what I mean. You have insights that I don't," Yan said. "I'm too inside of it all with him." She tangled her hands up, illustrating her point.

"I think that Sid will come out of this the better, just like you will. But he needs to take his own route to get there. And if that route involves trying to avoid everyone for a few days, making questionable choices, and then getting yelled at by Aymon for shirking his duties, then that's what will need to happen. I don't doubt that he will also be fine in the long term. In the short term he's being self destructive, but that's just the way that some people cope."

"Should I do anything about it?" Yan asked. It was true, the drugs, the tattoo, the family visit, the hiding from work- all of these things seemed to be Sid doing his best to come out the other end of the whole affair by digging a tunnel directly through the center of the planet. Perhaps there was even more that Yan hadn't seen and Halen (through Hernan’s reports) had.

"I think that you should continue to support Sid because you two are friends and that's what friends do. But I don't think that trying to rip away the things that comfort him will do any good, and neither will coddling him. Use your good judgement. I trust you have plenty of that."

"Okay," Yan said. She drank the last of her soda.

"I do suspect that Aymon will take a much harsher view of this than I have, so if you don't want to get contradictory advice, don't bring it up with him."

"I really wasn't planning on it," Yan said. "My previous alone conversations with Sandreas have not gone particularly well." Now that Yan thought about it, there had only been a few times that she had been more than incidentally alone with Sandreas. The only one of any note was her original interview, which she privately considered to be a disaster.

"You should get to know him better as a person, and not just as your mentor," Halen said. "I know it's difficult for him to find time for each of you alone, but I'll tell him it's worth it."

"Great." Yan drank the last of her soda, shuffling the ice cubes around with her straw.

"Well, you won't be the first one I've had to tell him to have a little chat with. I forced him and Kino to spend some time together while we were travelling. Before the whole cave incident, I mean. That really put things into perspective for him, I think."

"Kino seems to come out of every disaster relatively unscathed," Yan said. "I'm not sure how she does it, but it's an enviable skill."

"Kino has had a lot of things go horribly wrong in her life. I think that even getting shot, or trapped in a cave in an active warzone, none of that really compares. Although I'm glad that I got to spend time with her, and I'm also glad that she was not involved in the whole piracy mess, I wish that you and Kino had gone together to Olar, rather than you and Sid."

"Why?" Yan asked, curious. "I think Sid and I make a great team."

"Oh, you absolutely do," Halen said. "Sid's willingness to step up and your more, hm, tactical thinking, you compliment each other well. But I think that Kino could use some more experience working with people, and she would have gotten more of that by going with you than she did tagging along with Aymon."

"Oh, this is just the manipulating people into self improvement thing," Yan said. "Not because it would have improved the way things had turned out." She smiled. "I get it."

"And some of the things we did on Jenjin may have been more interesting to Sid, as well, but that's neither here nor there. I just find myself wishing that Kino connected with you both better, is all I'm saying."

"Well, we're all back together, now. I'm sure we'll be spending every waking hour together soon enough," Yan said.

They continued to talk, moving on to more meaningless subjects and less fraught topics. Eventually, Halen had to leave, and he dismissed Yan for the rest of the afternoon. He gave her the same instructions he had given Kino, but with the additional information that he did not expect that they would be summoned at any point. Yan wasn't particularly glad to hear it. Her afternoon was a wide open chasm, yawning before her, and she didn't know what she would fill it with.

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A note from javert

And the gang's back together again! Mostly, anyway. We're winding down to the end of this arc; after this there's only 6 more chapters until we get to the dreaded act 2. I'm eager for you all to get there haha. Well, eager and nervous at the same time (but maybe that's the coffee I've been drinking).

I love Halen tbh. He's like the voice of reason and calm most of the time. Originally when I started writing I intended for Yan and Aymon to be more similar to eachother, but as I developed everyone's characters, I began to realize that it would make more sense for Sid and Aymon to be a pair- they're both kinda massive drama queens, if in different ways. In some ways Yan and Aymon are still foils to eachother, but yeah.

Part of this- not confusion but just growth- came out of originally I had wanted this story to be way more stupid and trite than it now is lol. Take a guess at what absolutely boneheaded plot twist I was originally planning if you want- I'm not going to tell you what it was unless you guess it correctly, but you should have plenty of hints lol. Thank goodness I'm able to change and adapt when I realize I'm about to commit various writing sins. 

The song at the beginning of the chapter is not-so-subtly-inspired by Stan Roger's song Lies. definitely not my favorite stan rogers song, but I figured that stealing from it was thematically appropriate lol.

As always, you're welcome to leave name suggestions for new characters to appear in later chapters. Also this chapter is (once again) un-beta'd, so if you see any egregious errors please shout them out. On a slightly more obnoxious note, if you haven't rated or reviewed the story yet, I'd appreciate if you did. We're about 200k words into it at this point, so I think you can probably give a fair assesment haha.

Hope you all have a great weekend- I'll see you on monday!

edit 5/5/19 - added chapter title. continuation of chapter 16, reference to gordon lightfoot's song high and dry


About the author

javert

Bio: hi I'm noodle, I studied aeronautical engineering in college, then I taught high school math. now I'm [redacted] and [remainder of message lost].

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