Authors: Kristine Kathryn Rusch
“And the Xenth’s war would have
become our war,” I say. He’s right. The logic is inescapable. It explains my
unease. It explains the lack of preparation the Fleet’s diplomatic team gave to
my team. The Fleet’s team was tricked.
I don’t usually believe in the
duplicity of other cultures, but this is too big a mistake to miss—at least on
the part of the Xenth. And I understand the Fleet’s diplomacy well enough to
know that had we understood the extreme violence of the Quurzod, no one would
have sent my team in unprotected.
“The Xenth’s war did become our
war,” Coop says. “Only the rest of the Fleet fights it while we wait here.”
“We don’t know if they’re
fighting it,” I say.
He stares at me. We know. They’re
fighting it. And while the Quurzod are fierce on the ground, they are no match
for the Fleet in space.
The Quurzod will fight
brilliantly, like Klaaynch did. And then the Fleet will destroy something
important, destroy the Quurzod’s balance.
And they will die within minutes,
leaving the Xenth to fill the void.
Without us, the Fleet will think
they have done the right thing.
I look at Coop. He smiles, just a
little, hesitant, more the boy I remember than the man he is.
“If you knew all of this,” I say,
“why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me stay locked in here, with the
doubts and the memories?”
“I suspected,” he says. “I had no
proof. I just knew you, and your core, and how you would never, ever betray any
of us, nor would you knowingly jeopardize children.”
“They weren’t really children,” I
“They weren’t yet adults either,”
I nod. I will always carry
them—the twenty-three members of my team, and the dozen young friends of
Klaaynch, and Klaaynch herself. They died for my curiosity, for my ever-solid
“It would’ve been easier if you
executed me,” I say softly.
He puts his hands over mine. His
hands are warm. He says, “Anyone who commands lives with these moments.”
I shudder. “But I’m done. I’ve
made my mistake. I should have known—”
“No,” he says. “The mistake wasn’t
yours. In fact, you have done the one thing that might help us.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“You learned street Quurzid.”
I shake my head. “I don’t know
street Quurzid. I know as much street Quurzid as the first contact team knows
when it goes into a new situation. A phrase here and there, nothing more.”
“That’s not what your memory
says. Your memory knows street Quurzid. You might not be able to speak it, but
you have enough of it to help us.”
I want to pull my hands from his.
I never want to go near street Quurzid again.
“How?” I ask.
“When we get back, you can tell
the Quurzod in all of their languages how we both got betrayed.”
“And have them destroy the Xenth?”
I am appalled.
“Yes,” he says so softly that I
can barely hear him. This is not the idealistic man I met on
man is ruthless, utterly ruthless.
“But the Quurzod, they’re
horrible people,” I say.
He studies me.
I wait, but tap my finger ever so
slightly. I have lost the gift of patience somewhere. It vanished in that
“You’re confusing their culture
with ours,” he says.
I flush. I used to say that to
him. So young. So idealistic. I would say,
One culture cannot judge another until
they have a deep understanding of all parts of the culture.
Including the language,
he would say, his eyes sparkling.
And the history, and the things
that have developed that culture. Just because they have evolved a tradition
that we disagree with doesn‘t make our position right.
“It’s not the same,” I say.
“It is,” he says.
other,” I say.
“So do we,” he says. “You asked
me to murder you.”
“I asked you to execute me,
according to our laws.”
He waits. Dammit, he has the
He has made his point.
My shoulders slump. We know each
other well enough that he understands my capitulation without my verbal
“I need you to master street
Quurzid,” he says.
“I don’t know enough of it,” I say.
“Then do your best,” he says. “You
need to become
expert in Quurzid. Then you need to figure out how to
teach our people the language.”
“Not just those on the
“I want a plan of instruction,
something recorded, so that all of the ships in the Fleet can learn it,” he
says. “I want us to be ready as soon as someone hears our distress call. I want
to be able to end the fighting around Ukhanda immediately.”
His hands are still around mine.
He shakes, just a little, as he says that.
“You think we’ll get out of this,
then?” I ask.
“Are you asking if we’ll be
“No,” he says.
“But you put us on rations,” I
“It might be a week,” he says. “It
might be a year. I want to be prepared.”
“The Quurzod damaged the
drive, didn’t they?”
“While we were engaging it,” he
says. “It’ll take some time to figure out what exactly went wrong. That’s why I
He nods, and his hands tighten
around mine. “I need you to figure out what’s wrong with the communications
array. I’m convinced our distress signals aren’t getting through.
I flush, then let out a small
breath. “You trust me to get back to work?”
His gaze meets mine. “Mae.” he
says, “I’ve trusted you all along.”
He has. He’s been the only one. I
didn’t even trust myself.
I bow my head, stunned at his
faith in me. Stunned that I still have a future.
He stands, puts his hands on my
shoulder, and kisses the top of my head.
“Welcome back,” he whispers.
I lean into him for just a moment.
“It’s good to be back,” I say,
with more relief than I expected, and resist the urge to add,
You have no
idea how good it is.
Because I have a hunch he does
know, and that’s why he didn’t leave me behind.
Because I am still part of the
ship. A necessary part of the ship.
And you never abandon the
necessities. No matter how difficult it is to retrieve them.