Inbound from Zenith Jump Point
Unnamed G7 IV Star, Deep Periphery
18 November 3039
The excitement aboard Distant Memory and Shearling was so thick you could taste it. Six weeks had passed since the fateful encounter with the Wanderers and they had finally, at long last, arrived at their destination. After three tedious months in deep space it came as a great relief to everyone. Among the Fighting Fusiliers, two more birthdays had been celebrated: Cera’s on the eleventh of October and Jimmy’s on the fourth of November. She was now twenty-four standard years old; he’d turned twenty-nine. There had been the usual parties with cakes and presents, many of the latter having been acquired from the Wanderers. Everyone had a great time on both occasions. For Cera, perhaps her best present had been Marie (before they’d made passionate love that night) telling her that she was hopelessly in love with her. Not simply friends and lovers, but genuinely in love with her. Cera was ecstatic and told Marie she felt exactly the same way.
Now they were about to go treasure hunting.
In addition to the Fusiliers, several of Distant Memory’s engineers were also aboard Shearling for the trip in-system. If there was any chance of fully salvaging the Overlord, of getting her into space again, those engineers would be needed as well as the ones in the crew of Shearling. Along with the added personnel, one of the DropShip’s two free ‘Mech bays was now home to an IndustrialMech that had been leased from a mining firm on Kolovraty. The other bay had been fitted with a special tank holding fuel. If the lost ship was salvageable, it would need fuel to get off the ground.
Distant Memory jumped into the system on the sixteenth of November and quickly began scanning for any other vessels. To everyone’s great satisfaction there were none. When the all-clear was given, Captain Hamilton ordered the jump sail unfurled and a scan of the system itself to be initiated. What they found closely matched the data that had been supplied by the Wanderers. Distant Memory’s sensors were far superior, however, and corrected errors and filled in a lot of gaps.
The star was a G7 IV, a yellow subgiant home to five planets. The first at a mere 0.3 AU was an airless, scorched ball of rock not unlike Mercury. The second at 0.6 AU was a Terra-sized planet with a boiling hot and highly toxic atmosphere. The third planet at 0.9 AU was another rockball with an extremely thin atmosphere and a dayside temperature that made Galatea seem chilly. Orbiting at 1.5 AU was their goal, a bitterly cold desert world that could support life but would never be put in a travel brochure. At the outer edge of the system, at 5.1 AU, was a gas giant a bit smaller than Jupiter. In the space between it and the desert world was a rather sparse asteroid belt.
When everything was ready, Shearling detached from Distant Memory and began the trip in-system, which would take 6.59 days at a speed of 1G. Shearling’s crew were just as excited as the Fusiliers. They finally had something to do, were finally able to get back to work and do what they were trained for.
Wasp and Stinger were fast asleep on the bed and Garadun sitting at his cabin’s small desk when there was a knock at his door. He switched off the computer and got up to answer it. When it swished open, there stood Cera and Marie. Side-by-side, their height difference was obvious. Marie, who was the same height as Garadun at 175 centimeters, stood 10 centimeters taller than Cera.
“Hi, Gar. You asked us to come by?” said Cera.
“Dozo,” he said, stepping back, and the ladies entered. Despite being a single occupancy cabin, with three people in it, it was a bit crowded. Even on a DropShip as fine as Shearling, space was at a premium. Garadun sat at the desk chair and the women sat carefully on the bed. The kittens woke up anyway. They gave little miaows and then snuggled closer and went back to sleep.
“Adorable,” said Marie fondly.
“So what’s up?” Cera asked.
“I was hoping you could answer a question and do me a favour,” Garadun replied.
“All right,” he said, gazing at them steadily. “Is it or is it not going about the company and ships crews that me and Alexandra are an item.”
Cera and Marie exchanged glances.
“So that’s a yes to my question.”
“Everyone assumes so,” Marie explained. “You and Alexandra are very close after all. Ever since I joined the Fusiliers on Galatea, I thought you had more than simply a professional relationship. A very discreet one because of her being who she is of course, and that’s understandable, but a relationship nevertheless.”
Garadun looked at Cera. “That the scuttlebutt?”
Cera nodded. “Most people think you’re involved, just really quiet about it. When I told Marie you weren’t dating, she had a hard time believing me.”
“You seem like a couple in so many ways,” Marie explained.
“We’re good friends, that’s all.”
“You two clicked from the first day you met on Solaris,” Cera interjected. “You think I haven’t noticed the way you look at her sometimes?”
“Who can blame you?” Marie added kindly. “Alexandra’s beautiful, not to mention a really wonderful woman.”
“And she likes you,” Cera insisted. “I know you keep saying she doesn’t, not that way, but I think she does and just doesn’t know what to do about it. Alexandra’s very much the traditional, proper Lyran noblewoman most of the time. A rough-and-tumble Solaris gladiator is well outside her experience.”
“Do you like her, Garadun?” Marie asked gently.
He avoided her gaze, and then took a breath. “Yes, I have some feelings for her,” he admitted at long last. “But it’s not the first time I’ve had feelings for a woman I can’t have. I always make those feelings go away. It’s just been harder this time because of us being in the same mercenary company.”
“Mon Dieu, ask her out,” said Marie. “If you care for her–“
“No, forget it,” he said, slashing the air with his hand. “I have enough problems without humiliating myself in front of the woman I work for. Alexandra doesn’t like me romantically, no matter what Cera says. I’m not ruining my friendship with her and my professional relationship by asking her out and then getting rejected. How the hell could I stay around her after that? I’d have to leave the Fusiliers.”
“Gar, it wouldn’t be that bad.”
“Oh, wouldn’t it, Cera?” He stared at her and Marie. “What do you two know about being rejected? You’re both young and beautiful. You can have anyone you want, have had anyone you wanted because you’re gorgeous. Now you have each other. I’m not Erik or Ian or Sun-Lao. I’m not what women want and never have been. I’ve spent my entire life being rejected.”
Marie was subdued by his outburst and looked away. Even Cera felt embarrassed. He was her best friend and she knew he had a temper. But she’d never really had all that anger focussed directly at her. It wasn’t enjoyable.
“And even if, for argument’s sake, she did like me?” Garadun ranted on. “It would never work. She’s a royal, for Blake’s sake! She’ll want kids to continue the Grosvenor line, and most likely marriage of course. Cera, you know me.”
Cera sighed and nodded, looking at her girlfriend. “Now that he’s right about. Gar never wants children. Any girl who dates him has to accept that.”
“Oui, I can see that being a problem,” Marie conceded.
Garadun took a deep breath and let it out slowly, calming himself. “Sorry I snapped at you. Look, now that I know what’s going on, do me a favour, okay?”
“Of course,” said Cera, who never liked it when they had a spat.
“Stop the rumour mill for me, will you? Put it about that we’re not an item and never have been. If you two both start saying ‘no they’re not involved’, people will begin to question the scuttlebutt. Hopefully the truth will get out.”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Cera, nodding.
“I’ll tell people as well,” said Marie, running her fingers through her hair.
“Merci. I appreciate it.”
Marie smiled. “We’re friends, lancemates. Of course I’ll help.”
“If you really want to help,” said Cera with a playful grin, “set him up with one of your supermodel girlfriends when we get back home.”
Garadun glared. “That’s not funny, Cera. Drop it.”
“Why funny?” Marie was puzzled. “You’re a good man, Garadun. You’re loyal and brave and speak from the heart. If how you treat Alexandra is simply how you treat a friend, I can only imagine how you would treat a lover.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him,” said Cera, rolling her eyes.
“Marie, no offence, but supermodels aren’t into guys like me.”
“I was a supermodel.”
“And were you into me?” he countered bluntly, and she had the good grace to look uncomfortable. “Yeah. Thought not.”
“All right, you have a point. But in my defence I was interested in Cera.”
Cera stared at her in wonder. “For how long?”
Marie blushed. “From when we met on Galatea. Secretly, deep in my heart, I mean. I was very attracted to you. I just couldn’t admit it to myself.”
“But all that gushing over Erik–”
“Overcompensation, I think. I wanted you and I was confused.”
“God, I love you,” said Cera and they kissed ardently.
“That’s not fair,” said Garadun, quickly looking away.
Cera broke off the kiss. “Sorry.”
“You know,” said Marie thoughtfully, “I think some of my fellow models would find you very refreshing from the men they’ve dated.”
“Marie, you’re different,” he said, trying to be diplomatic. “You always wanted to be a MechWarrior, right from when you were a kid, right? You’re one of the most beautiful women in the Inner Sphere, so becoming a model was only natural. But you kept your dream and then went out and grabbed it. You got sand. You’re a Hatchetman pilot and you’ve kicked pirate ass on the battlefield. You are not the average supermodel.”
“He’s got a point, baby,” said Cera, nodding.
“Normal supermodels want young men who are rich, handsome, hung like a horse, and are holovid stars or music stars or race aircars or are Solaris Champions or royalty like Ian. They do not want aging, ugly ‘Mech jocks like me.”
“You are not ugly,” Cera protested, frowning.
“Are you saying supermodels are shallow and superficial?” Marie asked defensively.
“In general, yes. Every single model I’ve ever seen on the vid or on the net or in a magazine is dating some handsome, rich holovid actor or star athlete or whatever. Hell, look at you. You’re dating a beautiful MechWarrior.”
“Again, baby, point,” said Cera, wincing slightly.
“All right, so I am,” said Marie, almost embarrassed. “But I am not shallow.”
Garadun shook his head. “Never said you were. I said other models are.”
“Then let me introduce them to a real man,” said Marie with genuine conviction. “One who puts his life on the line for others. I know you don’t like the word, but I think you’re a hero. You’re a good man, kind and honourable.”
“Now she has a point,” said Cera, her eyes twinkling.
“Say you do,” said Garadun evenly. “And when they say ‘Nope, not interested’ like they will of course, then what?”
“Then I will call them fools,” Marie replied with classic French pride.
“Hey, don’t waste your time then. Besides, that’s all a very long, long way away and a completely academic point right now.”
“Well, I think you’re a worthy man,” said Marie and surprised him when she got up and kissed him on the lips before giving him a kiss on each cheek in traditional French fashion, along with a tight hug.
“Merci, Marie, I appreciate it,” he said, hugging her in return. They let go and he felt a little uncomfortable as he repressed the feelings she’d roused in him. She was incredibly gorgeous and his reaction was only natural. He coughed.
“Say, who wants to go blow something up?”
“I’m always up for that,” said Cera happily.
“Moi aussi,” said Marie.
“Right, how about the arenas of Solaris?” he suggested. “Ishiyama?”
Cera grinned. “You’re on.”