Title: Reformation: Chapter Twenty-Six
Miles sat alone in his ready room, eyes darting between the message he’d just received from his son and the data he was getting on the enemy fleet’s formation. They were less than a standard day’s distance from Pandora. Now, he reminded himself firmly, was not the time to turn this ship around and blast Raymond Alexander’s personal residence into atoms.
They’re safe. That was the first thing Garrett had said, that his girls were safe. It was a good way to start, because the story that followed was harrowing enough without a load of uncertainty on top of it. Explosions, deaths, being hunted down and almost captured if not for intervention from Perelan’s ambassadors. Now his family was on the way to an alien planet where the Federation had very little jurisdiction, which was a comfort. The president’s gamble had failed.
You’re next. His son had sounded hollow as he said the words, like all the energy had been burnt out of him. He’ll have them focus on your flagship, to try and take you out. It’ll sow dissension and put your fleet into a state of chaos. You should hang back, let other ships take the brunt of the attacks while you whittle them down.
It was a loving thought, but not a practical one. Miles’s ship was the flagship for a reason—it was half again as big as any of the other vessels, and had the best shields and guns by far. Miles had already pulled his senior staff aside and had them install a program into the tracking systems that was calibrated to center on the energy signatures of the waiting ships, instead of arriving in a flurry and wasting valuable time trying to identify the enemy. He’d gotten some side-eyes for it, but nothing he couldn’t defuse and certainly no accusations, not after laying down the law with his subordinate captains. They could complain about him all they wanted to, but they would follow him into battle and follow their orders or he would install a new captain in their place.
Less than twenty-four hours before they arrived. He should sleep. He should send Garrett more than a rote affirmation of receipt of his message. What he wanted to do was contact the Perel ship directly, but that could draw attention that would be unwise, not to mention deadly for everyone aboard. They wouldn’t be safe until they were actually on the planet. Raymond hadn’t grown bold enough to attack a sovereign alien world, not yet. Not ever if Miles had his way.
His children were in the hands of the Perel. He, in turn, had one of their children on his ship. Miles rubbed his eyes for a moment, then went back to studying the spacescape over Pandora. He was going to do everything in his power to make sure that child was returned, safely, to his home.
There was a strange sort of tension on board, nothing like what Darrel had imagined when he thought about serving in the Fleet. He had assumed that activity would far outweigh any downtime, that excitement would supersede boredom, that duty wouldn’t feel like so much terrifying obligation. He was wrong. They were heading into a fight tomorrow, and far from bluster and brashness, everyone around him was just…quiet. Like they couldn’t quite believe what was happening to them, and didn’t want to think about it anyway. Most of the crew were first and second year cadets, so that stood to reason.
Eventually he took refuge in the room he shared with Grennson, who looked as disturbed as Darrel had ever seen him, all his quills sharp and lifted. “Oh,” Darrel said, finally understanding. “This must feel even worse to you.”
Grennson nodded miserably. “There’s a lot of fear. It’s…without something like adrenaline to combat it, fear is an exhausting emotion to subject yourself to over and over. It grates against the mind, always moving, never silent. It’s radiating at me from all corners of the ship right now, and I can’t escape it.”
Darrel sat down next to him. “Am I making it worse, or do you want me to stay?”
Grennson immediately took his hand. “Stay. You make everything better.”
Darrel had finally gotten over his blushing reaction every time Grennson complimented him, but he still felt a little swell of warmth from it. “Here, sit down in front of me.” He tossed a cushion on the floor. “And try not to stab me, okay?”
“Okay.” Grennson got down on his knees, facing away from Darrel, and Darrel cracked his knuckles and tried to remember what Jason had told him about tension headaches and Perel. Light and gentle, focus on the temples, deep breaths, easy strokes. He set his fingertips along the ridge of Grennson’s eyebrows and stroked outward, following the curving bone to the very edge of Grennson’s temples, then repeating it. Slowly he got into a rhythm, and as he made his gentle motions, his own nerves started to settle. He could see the good it did Grennson, the stiffness of his quills lessening until at last they were feather-soft again, his shoulders gradually lowering until they didn’t almost touch his ears anymore.
Darrel wasn’t sure how long he’d been going, but by the time he stopped he could tell that their breaths, even their heartbeats, were in perfect sync. It was the sort of empathic connection Perel were only capable of with people they were especially close to, and he felt grateful that he qualified. “Do you think you can sleep?”
Grennson nodded. “Do you feel ready for tomorrow?”
Darrel shrugged. “I’ve spent so much time on the sims lately I feel like I’ve been living there. I feel better about being Reyes’s backup, at least. I think that’s the best I can hope for.”
“Then it will be enough.”
Darrel hoped that Grennson was right.
“You’ve got to sleep, darlin’.”
Garrett shook his head, resolutely not looking at his hallucination of Jonah. “I’ve got to finish this first.”
“Sigurd’s working on it. Let him handle things while you take a break.”
“It’s too much for just one person to work out.”
“Especially when one of them is dead on his feet.”
“If you could avoid that word while I don’t know whether you’re alive or not, I’d really appreciate it,” Garrett snapped, breaking his resolution and glaring at the image of his husband. He knew he wasn’t there, he knew it, but he didn’t feel it. It felt like Jonah, and if he let himself go too far down that hall, he wouldn’t be able to back out of it. Especially if Jonah really was… “I’ll sleep in another few hours.”
“Fifteen minutes,” Jonah wheedled. “Fifteen minutes to let Sigurd tie the net tighter without you. That’s all.”
“There’s no time to—”
“There is, darlin’. I swear there is. You know it must be true if you’re the one thinkin’ it.”
Garrett sighed. “Stop logicking me.”
“You’re doing it to yourself. C’mon.” Jonah patted the couch where he was sitting. “Come and sit, just for a little while. Come back at it fresh.”
“Just for a little while.” Garrett’s arms felt like lead as he pushed away from the table, and it was surprisingly difficult to get all the way over to the couch. He sipped from the bottle of water Jonah pointed out on the side table, then leaned his head back with a sigh. It wasn’t fair. Humans had figured out cures to almost every disease and disorder that could come at them, had found a way to practically defeat death itself, and yet there was still no way to go completely without sleep. Oh, there were stimulants that would let you evade it for days, weeks if need be, but none of them came without permanent side effects. Garrett was rather fond of his brain, all things considered—he wasn’t about to sacrifice it for the sake of a few more minutes, even though he kind of wanted to.
“No, you don’t.”
“Stop telling me things I already know.”
“Somebody’s gotta say them out loud.” Jonah was so close, Garrett could feel the heat of his thigh. Or rather…well, it was as though he could, which was better than the alternative. Wasn’t it?
“If you’re that confused, you need more sleep.”
“Anyone would be confused talking to their hallucination,” Garrett defended himself. He had to keep saying that—as tempting as it was to live in the delusion more fully, his actual husband was on Pandora fighting for his life. He’d better be fighting for his life, at least. Garrett couldn’t let himself forget that.
“He’d want you to sleep too. C’mon, kick your shoes off, darlin’, stay a while.”
Garrett sighed. “One hour.”
“Three and a half.”
“Two and a half.”
“Three it is.” Jonah sounded satisfied. “Lay down, relax. I’ll get you up in time.”
Garrett didn’t let himself think too hard about his own sub-conscious promises as he settled on the couch. A minute later, he couldn’t think at all.
Sleep had never come so fast.