Jessa sat down on the couch in Rinker’s office. Only in the safety of his office did she retract her armor. The blood from Da Mu’s violent end was drying in her hair from when Jessa ran her fingers through it in panic. Against the blonde strands, it was clearly visible. While she could not see it, Jessa could see the drying red smears on her hands which was much darker and far more sticky. She looked at them for a long second swallowing the ball of emotion rising from her belly into her throat threatening to choke her.
“I tried to do that,” Jessa stuck her hands into the hem of her shirt and rolled them up in it. It was childish and immature no different than a toddler trying to hide something behind its back thinking if it was out of sight. She avoided looking at Rinker as she spoke.
“Not to hurt anyone in our escape but just to get out.”
“It is a hard calculation and usually we don’t get a tally sheet so we know the results before we make the decisions.” Nor do these decisions come with a plethora of time so that doesn’t help either.
He glanced at the now back to a little girl. The armor should be taken from her. Not that he was going to be the one to take it. He didn’t have the strength or the inclination at this time. Not to mention she might be the only thing protecting them from her erstwhile allies.
Sinking into the couch cushions felt like a hug. Of all the places on the Atlantis, his office felt safe even with its formal furniture and lack of fun kid stuff to amuse oneself. Having spent a part of every day with Rinker since her arrival, she knew Heathcliff was not going to suddenly turn into a chatterbox peppering her with questions. Taking a deep breath she started. There was little she could control right now except for the flow of information. She would use this small thing to her best advantage.
“I don’t want to talk about what just happened okay? You asked me a question before we got here. Can we talk about that?” The implications of the attack were something Jessa did not want to think about. In time she would not have to. She would be back in the Union where things made sense.
“Alright,” it was common practice to let the patient dictate the direction of the therapy as long as they weren’t using that control to evade treatment.
“He is Pellan Vell. The man you asked about,” Jessa stated as if Rinker had lost track of the conversation during their walk. “In…on the promenade,” she stuttered. Rubbing her palms on her pant legs, Jessa was clearly nervous and anxious about the topic. “The man that is coming for me is Pellan Vell. He is the chancellor of the Galactic Union. He is also my Dad or at least I think he is.” Her tone trailed off slightly and her volume lowered to almost a whisper at her last sentence.
“A Chancellor?” He started. “I’m not familiar with that position.” There would be much to gain by finding out whatever she was able to explain. Even her jaundiced opinion.
“A Chancellor is the highest position in the Galactic Union aside from the Rectoress. Pellan sets the rules for the people to follow and makes sure all the other governmental officials get along. He is charismatic and smart and funny.” A smile filled her face as she spoke about the man. It was clear she had some sort of hero worship about the man she was speaking of. “He is really nice and gets along with everyone except Adar Vyce but that is not hard. Vyce is kinda scary most of the time. Pellan told me it is because Vyce spends all his time having to run our armadas to protect us and never gets to have any fun. I guess if I had to fight wars all the time I would be in a perpetually bad mood.”
“Wars tend to have a negative effect on mood.”
“I had never been in a war before Halston,” she admitted. “Pellan brought the entire fleet to save me. I don’t know if I would be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Thinking about all the people that were important to her felt like a crushing weight. Jessa looked down and began to fidget with her shirt as the consequences of all her actions fought for her attention.
“Why was it necessary to bring an entire fleet to get one person? That would imply a very large effort to not let a person go.”
Again she was caught in the murky waters of the half-truths Jessa had been sharing. It felt as if Rinker was storing up every word she ever spoke and analyzing them for some purpose other than getting to know her and her culture. “Some people are that important to another person they would move every star in the sky for them.” As she talked, Jessa continued to look down. He would read the lie on her face and know Pellan came but not for her if she looked at him. He had come for the same person Rogan had. It was only by random chance Jessa and Pellan were in the same place at the same time. Still, she left it open not caring about this lie to him. It hurt too much to admit it.
“That sounds like a very reductive answer.” He paused for a moment trying to determine if she understood his meaning.
“I don’t know what that means,” Jessa said playing with her fingernail instead of looking Rinker in the eyes. She didn’t know what the word meant but she probably could hazard a guess that Rinker was trying to find more information.
“It just sounds like a very basic, nu-nuanced response. I think there were far more of an explanation than what you just gave.”
Jessa shrugged. “It wasn’t the first time he did it. He came for me once before.” Jessa held the rest of the story to herself. “I would..will,” she corrected herself, “tell you about the other time but maybe not this second?” It was easy to live in one’s dreams and stating that maybe Pellan came the first time not for her but for another reason made her feel alone and desperate. Rinker had enough skill and experience as a therapist to know how to circle a topic without addressing it directly. Instead of pressing Jessa was surprised he allowed the topic to change by asking another question.
“He sounds very important. And your father, you think?”
Jessa looked up at Rinker as he posed the question about her paternity. “Pellan,” she repeated the name. “Yes.” Her tone was confident before she suddenly recanted. “I mean he has never said it directly but,” Jessa shrugged.
“I would think your technology is sufficient to remove any doubt in that arena. If not, ours certainly is.” They certainly could remove any genetic doubt and since they already knew that there was some a direct genetic connection to Ian, this person couldn’t be her father unless we were talking about a multi-universe sort of situation would he suspected and would have explained so many things.
“No,” she yelled out holding her hands up in a visceral reaction that was far more emotional than his comment should have elicited. “That is not necessary. We don’t have family relationships like that. I mean we do but okay I don’t.” Biting the inside of her cheeks, Jessa took a moment to regroup her emotions.
“You have a mother, presumably a father is as important.”
Jessa shrugged not sure what to say. “I think of Pellan in that role but he never really did any of the dad things they are supposed to do except for leave.” As the words left her mouth, Jessa felt a wave of guilt crush her.
“Okay, that is not the truth. My mom said it was her choice to leave my dad. My mom said one day she would tell me about my dad. She said he lived far away and eventually I could meet him. Pellan knew my mom and has always treated me differently than the other Guardians. He tells me I am his special girl and that one day he and I are going to be able to be together without having to hide how much I mean to him. Why would he tell me I am special if I am not? Why would he sneak me out of my bed in the middle of the night to spend time with me in the garden? Why would he bring me golden cakes and kukiharu that are just for me and no one else?”
“Another decision that you don’t really know what the result is, but you try to make the best one you can. But nobody is perfect.”
“Sometimes it is better to not ask questions you don’t want an answer to. It stops people from lying to you.” Jessa had learned a long time ago to avoid asking direct questions to the things she wanted to know most.
“It is also a good way to stay ignorant. ‘There is nothing more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’”
“Conscientious objection is the quickest way to the Altar of Cleansing. There is nothing wrong with dying for your faith or the Union. The only sin comes from throwing away that life without a purpose. I don’t think at baarah… I mean twelve,” she threw the number out hesitantly, “I have found my life’s purpose.” Rinker did not question or correct her about the attempt at using their numbers. She needed to take more chances like this but hide when she erred. Without the Elders on the ship, Jessa needed a way to survive on her own and it felt daunting.
“Hmmm, sounds painful. I’m not sure I feel good about a religious tenet that encourages ignorance and punishes an attempt to attain further knowledge. That’s how fascists stay in power.”
“I don’t know what a fascist is? I don’t think I have ever heard that before but I can guess it is a person hat tries to control the facts…like some of my teachers back on Cildar. They only want you to learn what they tell you.” Jessa felt an overwhelming need to connect with someone and not play the cat-and-mouse games of minding one’s words like adults did.
Rinker had to fight himself to keep himself from telling her to look it up like a parent or a teacher. “Not exactly, but you are in the neighborhood.”
Jessa smiled and brightened for a fleeting moment. It was not that her new friends did not give her praise or say positive things. When she wasn’t being a varphat Ian, O’Neill, and a few others tended to compliment her or engage in conversations she enjoyed. Rinker was always kind but far more sparse with flattery or praise than the rest of them. When he gave it, Jessa could not help but like it. Feeling a happy high, she continued talking.
“I didn’t ask questions before they moved me to the position of Guardian Novar. When I did everyone tends to give me the response of you don’t need to worry about that right now or that is an adult problem. Even here,” Jessa looked at Rinker. “When I ask you or especially Ian what is going to happen I get the ‘I don’t know’ or the even better ‘Let me worry about that okay’ response. The problem is it doesn’t stop me from thinking or worrying.” She paused for a second before adding, “Pellan is the same though as you guys. When I ask him things at times he replies that is a problem for me to handle so don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.”
“Sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes, we want you to figure it out for yourself. Knowledge earned is more valuable and poignant that knowledge given. Not to mention, part of the point was that you are making decisions on what others have told you, and I want you to learn enough to make the decisions for yourself. You’ve been doing too much of just following what others have told you to do.”
His comment made Jessa furious. “I know what happened was not what was supposed to happen. Your XO told me that he was going to help me,” Jessa felt anger bubbling up inside her. “He said everything was going to be okay too and it wasn’t. It isn’t. People got hurt,” she yelled and felt her eyes filling up which she wiped away brusquely with the heel of her palm. “I did what he wanted and it did not work out okay. I called you,” she stabbed a finger at Rinker, ” and all you cared about was trying to turn me against them. Ian,” Jessa replied.
“He was wrong,” he paused. “He lied.” He said bluntly.
“So who am I supposed to trust?” Jessa snapped. “I tried to trust your crew and your XO helped me to escape only to let your crew slaughter,” her voice choked and she blinked rapidly. The death of the two elders felt like a dream and not a reality. It was why Jessa was able to fight instead of crumpling into a ball. When the shock wore off, Jessa would struggle but right now all she could do was focus on her anger and frustration. “You slaughtered my people. You said you were the good guys and we were the bad ones but we did not kill anyone. We did not hurt one person in that shopping place on the ship,” she tried her best to describe where the attack occurred. Using the term we let Jessa stay in the only reality she knew which was rapidly disintegrating around her. “Rogan said you were vile lairs who would warp the truth. Rogan said if I trusted him everything would be fine but,” she began to pace and breathe heavily.
“You are a child to him.” She was a child to Rinker as well but he wasn’t going treat her as such. “He told you it was going to work out to protect you from fear. The truth is we don’t know the answers to some things. We don’t know who’s going to win a fight, we don’t know who is going to live or die. Is that what you wanted to hear.”
Two months ago, Jessa would have hurled something at Rinker berating him for spreading falsehood and lied purporting the Galactic Union never lost. Two months ago, Jessa had not been on Halston. “I just want someone I can trust and believe in. I want someone who is not going to lie for their own benefit.”
“It certainly wasn’t something he haunt you with. Leaders sometimes have to put on a brave face to help give confidence to those who follow.”
“Our leaders inspire and don’t need to lie to people to have them follow them. They are protected by God. They are divinely called upon by God to fulfill their duty.” Jessa looked around the room as if searching for a way out. She had never tried the door and had no idea if it was locked but where would she go if it was open? Turning her face to Rinker she spat. “Why did you not help me when I called?”
“You called me,” he looked at her.
“Yes because I needed help,” she looked at Heathcliff as if begging for a reason why he had not suddenly turned into a superman and saved everyone.
“I want to help you, but I’m not magic. I do my best, but look at me. I’m just a man. Not a very intimidating man… your spooky girlfriend, Marquise Sadistic Slutty McStaberson almost killed me three times before you showed up and almost killed me twice after.”
“I would not have let that happen,” Jessa snapped. “That is my job as an Elder. To protect those who need it. To alter the course of events so that the Union can free people from decisions that lead to war, death, and all the bad things in the universe people do to each other in fear. You have a chance to do all of that and you didn’t.” Jessa let her anger wash over her. She was so angry at the universe right now and Rinker was taking the brunt of it. She needed someone to blame and he was a convenient target.
“What can I do to change the tide of battle… nothing. But I still believe and hope we will win. Because against all, we want one thing to let each person make the decisions, hopefully the best decisions for themselves.”
“You want the truth, you might not want to hear it.”
“Your truth is only to turn me against everything I know,” Jessa yelled out feeling her body shake from a combination of stress and emotions.
“Turn you against them? I was helping you make the right choices, your ‘friends’ are bad people that do bad things. They the conquer planet and kill those who disagree. Hell they don’t even have to disagree. All the have to do is ask the wrong question. You know this, at the very least they are holding your mother hostage against you and I suspect they destroyed your home world.”
Jessa’s lips shook. Nothing made sense anymore and she was having a harder time refuting the things Rinker was saying.
“You made your choice. It was the moral one. It was the right one. Does that mean we’ll live happily ever after. I don’t know. I hope so.”
Jessa sucked in a breath sniffing back her nose. “Everyone is telling me what to do but they only want me to do what they want. So I did what I thought was best and now all I can do is wait for,” she choked back the end of her sentence. It did not matter if she told Rinker she knew they were going to come for her and planning on throwing her into their version of an oubliette. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing she was scared of the consequences today. She would take his advice and make her own choice and right now it was to hide how scared she felt. “I am not going to wait for anyone to make any more decisions for me.”
“I don’t have to. Pellan is coming for me because that is what Dad’s do right? They pick you up when you fall and dust you off and say everything is going to be okay.” Her tone sounded more like a question rather than a statement.
“Mostly,” Rinker agreed, “But not always. It depends often on the situation. I think there is a lot one can learn by picking your own self up and dealing with the consequences of one’s own behavior.” He said honestly enough. “That is dependent on the nature of the problem and parenting style.”
His comment stung like a slap in the face. She didn’t know how to deal with the consequences or even know what they might be after the promenade. All Jessa knew was that she was alone in facing them and had nowhere to go for help.
“You don’t know anything,” Jessa pulled the edges of her shirt up wiping her eyes. The stress of the day and the consequences of all her actions were breaking her. She was struggling not to cry as the edge of her shirt was becoming too wet to soak up the tears she was trying to stop.
“People have accused me of that before. That’s why I like to ask questions and find answers. I’ve also found those who accuse others of not knowing things are actually arguing positions they don’t know how to defend. It doesn’t mean they are wrong, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean they are right either.” Rinker was pretty sure her religion and her whole culture was a totalitarian regime, but you didn’t convince people by beating them over the head.
“I never said I knew what your Chancellor would do. You asked about what fathers are expected to do… and I offered my best opinion.”
“Can’t someone be both?” Pulling the shirt up over her eyes, she sobbed for a second. Jessa had never felt so lost and alone in her entire life. Until now someone had always been there even if they were not someone Jessa necessarily wanted.
“Of course, that is the best any of us can do. Perfection is an illusion, or for squares, circles, and Borg.” He slid a box of tissues across the table, but didn’t say anything about the crying outwardly.
Jessa picked up the soft paper followed by another one. In a weird way, it felt soothing much like when Rinker tossed the ball to her. It kept her mind focused on a small task. She pulled a third as her movements became more frenzied and rushed filling her hand with the soft, white cloth until she could hold no more. Putting the wad Kleenex to her face, Jessa cried hard for a second using it to both stop her tears from falling and smothering the sounds from her mouth. After a few seconds, she did stop, however. Jessa could cry later. Putting her hand in her lap she looked up at Rinker.
“And I am not crying. My head hurts. I just need a second.” While it wasn’t completely a lie, it wasn’t completely the truth. Her head hurt so bad from blowing herself through the forcefields Jessa could barely hold a thought. The thought she was trying to shake from her head was Rinker’s comment about Pellan not coming for her. She had never even contemplated this as a possibility until right now.
“There is nothing wrong with crying… or not crying in your case.” Rinker said flatly.
“There is everything wrong with crying. Adults don’t cry over making a mistake and kids cry over everything. I am neither one but held accountable as both. It’s not fair for me to be held accountable for every mistake that has happened since Halston. I will own up to what I did but I don’t know if Pellan is going to see it that way. Maybe that is why I am nervous right now. I don’t know how he is going to react. Adults can be so unpredictable.”
“They shouldn’t be. Adults should be steady both in direction, rewards and consequence. How else can young people learn right from wrong.”
“You are not steady in both directions,” Jessa looked up at Rinker and blew her nose. “The only thing I can predict when I come to see you is feeling more anxious as you sit and judge me. You don’t share a lot and I try to give you a chance to talk all the time to talk to me. Aside from knowing your dad is a religious cleric I don’t know anything about you. I mean I know Ian and Chris and best friends, Rand is dating Dr. Lauren, O’Neill loves cake, Ian and Kelly own a dog.” Jessa could feel herself start to cry and not stop as she spoke. Her attempt at showing how she was connecting to the crew was weak and pathetic even in her own ears. “I just wish I could predict how things are going to go when Pellan comes to get me.”
“I guess I’m steady in going in no direction.” He hypothesized. “In our case, I’m not your adult.”
“No, you are not,” Jessa spat with a venomous tone far more angry than his comment called for. Later when she was alone and replayed the interaction with him, she would see it more as a neutral statement of fact rather than an emotion-filled sigh of relief she was internationalizing it as. Everyone on this ship was turning on her. There was no reason to think Ian and Rinker wouldn’t just like the XO and Aimee had.
“I’m not here to teach you lessons. I’m here to help you with your life, but I leave the lessons you want to learn up to you.”
“I don’t need help with my life. I am fine,” she slammed her head into the soft cushions of the couch. Not knowing what else to do, Jessa activated her armor making her disappear in a blink. In a very child-like response, Jessa activated the comms on her suit so that she could respond but Rinker would only have to guess at what to say or do next. “Besides if you are going in no direction there is no way you can help me because you have no idea how why I feel the way I do.” The safety of the suit calmed Jessa. For all Rinker knew, she was now taking a nap or tuning him out.
“Yes, that’s how I see it. Never once has a woman said I’m fine to a man and it not been 100% true.””
“If I’m actually going in no direction, then if you feel anxious and judged. One of my ancestors, Freud, would say that your feelings are an extension of how you feel about yourself.”
Immediately the suit retracted after Rinker spoke. “See right there,” she waved her hand about as if pointing to something. “You come from a line of great mind seers but have no idea about anything yourself. Maybe you should figure out how I feel for yourself!” The comment did not make sense to Jessa after she stated it but she was so desperate to make Rinker angry, Jessa could not think straight. She wanted him angry because if Rinker got mad he would send her away. She would not have to deal with him and it would save her from seeing Rinker stand there as they hauled her away.
Her mind was a jumble of thoughts she could not keep straight. “Triff,” she blurted out. “Pellan is literally going to kill me over this mistake,” Jessa repeated again wrapping her hands tightly around her middle hugging herself.
“I don’t think it was a mistake in a moral sense. If you mean mistake as it might turn out bad. Well.... there is no way to know.”
“Maybe if you explain his interpretation of the mistake to me I can better predict his response.”
“The mistake is that I came here looking for the Prism when he expressly forbade me from doing that.” Looking down at her hands, Jessa hyper-focused on that. She began to alternately rub her palms on her pant legs or use her fingers to wipe off the blood that stained them red. She didn’t think anyone had been killed by the other Elder’s but she did not know this for a fact. The blood on her hands was more than symbolic. It was a visual representation of all the blood that had been spilled today and the blood on her hands if this mission didn’t go as she had planned it. She had to get it off but so far only small flakes from the dried-on thicker clumps were coming off.
“It might help my understanding if I knew what the Prism is and why it is so important and then why you chose to go after it while your ‘father’ told you not to.” There were three questions in there and about another two that he didn’t directly request.
“The Prism is a device that will let us control the celestial web. It will make our travel just like your transporter. No more weeks to traverse the universe through its conduits. I could use it to be home in the blink of an eye,” Jessa looked at Rinker desperate for him to understand and accept what she was saying. Moving from her spot, Jessa perched on the edge of a cushion barely able to control her emotions and her own body. Her hands shook slightly and she had to clasp them to try and appear to have some composure. “We could meet and find civilizations faster than any civilization since the dawn of sentience. Ideas, technology, and values could all be brought under the Galactic Union and shared with the universe.” Jessa lost the glazed look she had previously in her eyes and replaced it with one of excitement and hope. “Don’t you see how valuable this could be for everyone everywhere?”
“There was a race, 200,000 years ago that allegedly had that technology, the Iconians. They used it to rule most of the galaxy. If legends are to be believed.”
“I believe science come to us as it should, and we are always just less mature than the science we create. It’s just the nature of advancement. It take time to understand the things we create. And to ‘capture’ technology that we don’t have the ability to create… well that is too much for most races. Certainly ours, I think so for yours as well.”
“I don’t know these Iconian,” she admitted, “but that doesn’t mean we haven’t met them. There are more races than any one person could know but how can moving from one place to another be bad. If someone was sick or hungry you could help them immediately.”
“200,000 years is a long time. Most of the planet’s that are Federation members would have been hard pressed to master fire at that time, much less encountering interstellar races. Do you have any historical records that mention this?”
Jessa shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She needed to not be dismissive of his question but find a way to explore this topic to get her own answers. “Don’t get mad at me,” she stated shifting her position on the couch. “I am not trying to hide anything from you but our history is too vast for a single person to ever understand or learn so we are assigned part of it to learn. When Pellan gets here I am sure he will assign you proctors to answer things better but I don’t everything. The only thing that goes back that far is our origin stories which of course is way farther back than whatever time you said because it is at the start of time,” she added still needing the feeling of superiority for the Galactic Union over the Federation.
“I certainly don’t know all of Federation history, much less the history of the races that make up the Federation. That’s why we have really good computers. If I don’t know the answer you can feel free to ask the computer pretty much anything you want. Are your computer open access for the general information and history?”
To continue the conversation, she dropped some of her arrogance and continued to share what she knew. “Our technology comes from all the worlds in the Galactic Union working to defeat our enemy.” Getting more comfortable she licked her lips to try and make this make sense in the most simplistic way possible. The God of the universe is called Ahura Mazda who is the bringer of light. His counterpart and our enemy is Angra Mainyu who is the bringer of death and darkness. Angra Mainyu’s sole goal is to kill Ahura Mazda and sink the universe into darkness and chaos. He sends out his heralder, Lamashtu, to reign death from the sky to destroy anyone that does not follow his beliefs. No one can defeat Lamashtu’s armies when they descend on a world…except for us. God arms us with faith and the weapons to be the protectors of faith and light and follow God’s path of enlightenment. Does this sound like your Iconians?”
“The Iconians are far before my time and that of recorded history. The legends are that the Iconians were a race with the goal of galactic domination.” He shrugged. “No body really knows for a fact. History is written by the victors so the acts of those who were vanquished or died don’t have much to say about how they are remembered.”
“Halston was not going to be remembered because no one survived. I am not sure learning the Prism was here was worth the price it cost.”
“There is a philosophy that the existence of one person is analogous to the universe. So if you kill one person, you cost them the whole universe so nothing is worth a single life, much like a planet worth of people, but the least we can do is remember those who perished in the continuation of our goals.”
The excitement and zeal soon slipped from her eyes as Jessa sunk back hard into Rinker’s couch. “I made the mistake of telling Pellan about the Prism after Halston. He acted a lot like you. That was why I agreed to come here with the Elders. Rogan said he was in contact with a group of people that knew where the Prism was and who to contact to get it. He said they said they would tell us where my mom is if we brought it back. They needed me to come because Captain Bordeaux would only give it to me. It felt wrong to keep this a secret so I told Pellen. I have never seen Pellan so angry as when I told him about this. He wouldn’t listen to me about anything. Pellan said that he was going to take me away from Kublia Tais and my Quad. I could not let that happen.” Jessa pleaded with Rinker as if he had some say in the matter or at least would support her in her choices. “I had to save my mom. So we reprogrammed the course setting on the Beacon of Light and it sent us here. You know the rest.”
“Why was he mad that you wanted to save your mother?”
“You keep mentioning wanting to save her, but you never give me any information about where she is, why they are keeping her in the first place, and why would any particular prize be the ransom you need.” Rinker had repeatedly stated that keeping/using hostages is not something she should encourage, but it was like talking to a wall.
Jessa stared at Rinker getting quiet for a long moment. “Commander Rinker,” she used his rank trying to be polite and hoping this small measure of respect to him would help her right now. “When Pellan shows up can you be there? You are good at calming people down and I am pretty sure he is going to be so varped he is not going to listen to a thing I have to say.” Of all the things Jessa had to worry about right now, she was more worried about Pellan arriving than not showing up.
“Sure, I’ll be where you want me.” That wasn’t too much to ask for in his book.
“Thank you,” she said visibly relieved.
“Can I stay here with you,” Jessa asked but did not look at the man. “I promise I won’t try to escape. Where would I go anyway,” she tried to make a joke that only made her cry again. “I won’t eat or drink anything. I won’t bother you. I just don’t want to go back to sick bay. I don’t want to be alone and Ian only comes at night and sometimes during the day.” For the first time coming to the Altantis, Jessa was scared. These people held all the power and she was helpless. It was a feeling she didn’t like.
Rinker paused. “I’m not too worried about that. But I’ll have to check with Ian and frankly my office isn’t a really good bedroom certainly not for two.”
“Why does everything have to go through him? Yes, I asked for him the first night but that does not mean he needs to be up my ass every second or be the person everyone has to run everything by before I do it. Why can’t I be in charge of myself or even you?” Jessa suddenly became agitated. “You outrank him. You have more circles on your neck. You engage me as an equal and are working on how to help me make the transition for your people from the Federation to the Union easier. Ian just,” she let his name hang and then crossed her arms over her chest in a childish manner. Jessa didn’t want to cut ties with Ian so she was careful not to say something she could not take back. Jessa liked the predictable routine of eating with Ian and knowing no matter when she woke up or why he was always at her side. She just wanted to avoid him like the plague right now. Jessa shifted in her seat clearly uncomfortable. “Ian was just really mad at me in the promenade. I would rather not be around him until he cools off. That is why I am going to stay here from now on.” Chewing her lip, Jessa did not like the silence or pause in conversation or Heathcliff’s less than enthusiastic initial response to her idea.
“Well we could ask the Captain,” He countered not answering her question. “But the Captain did designate him to be in charge of this situation.” Of course she was the situation and likely somehow his genetic spawn. “Not to mention, Ian isn’t Pellan or any of the other personalities you are used to. He might not respond in the way you fear.”
“No one responds the way I think they should,” Jessa got up clearly moving from upset to hysterical. She was struggling to maintain her composure the more the events from the promenade sunk in. Jessa was realizing just how much trouble she was in and no one to help her. “No one would have died if you all just genuflected in our presence. Rogan said you would but Da Mu attacked your captain. You said you were benevolent and trustworthy but your people set us up to be slaughtered by your armies. I set the MECH’s to civil defense,” she yelled at Rinker so hard her throat hurt. “They were programed so that no one could use a weapon on either side. I thought you would all talk to them. I thought we could all come to an understanding but they are now all dead.” Jessa hiccuped a breath in feeling like there was no air in the room.
“You have certainly encountered world that didn’t just choose to kneel before you. I can’t imagine your empire would just take the knee if we showed up in your galaxy? Its surprising to think you would think its expected that another confederation would just bow to an unknown power.”
“Because were are the good guys and you are all too stupid to take a minute and see that. We will take care of you. We will protect you. Roh,” she started to say Rogan’s name and choked on the word. Rogan was no longer her to protect her. He was no longer her to take care of her. The realization on her face soon spread into words.
“Yeah, everything you’ve done so far is ‘very good’. Murder, invasion, intimidation, hostage taking, torture. Yup page one of the good guy manual.” He shrugged. “There is a human phrase, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
His words hit her like a punch in the gut. It was getting harder and harder to defend her position. “This is why your kind is outlawed. This is what mind seers do. You get into people’s heads and make it hard to think.”
“The only people in the world that cared about me are dead. I am lost and I don’t know how to get home.” Anger and fear erupted out of Jessa that she could not contain. She wished she had been playing with Rinker’s ball but in lieu of having something soft to throw she reached out and swiped a lamp off his end table letting it crash to the floor. The expelling of energy felt good. The crack of the pottery base sounded almost soothing.
“We care for you.” He glanced at the rubble at her feet. “Certainly more than you care about my furnishings.”
“You can use your magic machine on the wall to just make one again,” Jessa turned to face him and wiped her running nose with the back of her sleeve. Her words felt hollow and her temper had caused her to lash out but Rinker was still remaining so calm and in control. Jessa felt a compulsion to explain her behavior before Rinker tried to. “My mother is a traitor. Happy now that you have your answers,” she dropped to the ground in a heap next to the broken lamp leaning against the wall.
“Says who?” Rinker responded promptly. “Mothers do things, parents do things, sometimes the wrong thing but its out of love and not out of treachery to an Empire. Another a human patriot said if I have to choose between my country and my friend. I hope I have to courage to pick my friend.”
“That is a naive statement said from the comfort of one’s couch. It sounds great until you are forced to choose. I have had to choose and all my friends are dead. Guess you are going to say I choose wrong so save your breath. Besides, I don’t know where she is and even if I did I could not go to her because do you know what they do to traitors?” Jessa no longer cared how Rinker would react to truth or how it would alter his opinion about her.
“They find the traitor’s family: mother, father, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins…four branches out. Then they find everyone you ever worked with, went to school with, participated in leisure time with and take all of their families. They take everyone and anyone that might ever have known you even in passing and send them to the Altar of Cleansing so that there is no one to remember you or seek revenge for you. This is why Pellan gets so mad when I talk about her. Rogan was the only person that wasn’t scared of anyone and agreed to help me find the Prism to save her and now he is dead.”
“Its been a three thousand years since the Federation thought crimes were in the bloodline. There is no crime another commits that you are guilty for. Is that on one side enough for you?”
“No, it’s just I don’t have a dad so they are safe from Renditioning.” This was the first time Jessa had admitted to being ignorant of her paternal side and not claiming Pellan in that role.
“And what will become of you now, when your friends return.”
“The adjudicator will try my case. If I am found guilty I will ascend to the Altar of Cleansing for my sins and transgressions.” Her voice was not confident and full of devotion to her Union. It was a confession but one Rinker could see scared her more than she wanted to show him.
“So you see,” Jessa wiped her eyes and then her nose with her shirt, “I am screwed no matter what. If I am to be cleansed I will no longer be around to look for her.” If Rinker was mulling over the ramifications of being cleansed, it was becoming clearer that cleansing equalled a permanent state. Because of Renditioning, no one will help me find her because they can’t.” The tension and fear in her voice was clearly evident as she continued to talk. “But if I have the Prism I can search the universe myself for her and when I find her, I can give her the Prism. I can tell everyone she found it and they will see she is not a traitor but a patriot.”
“I wouldn’t give them a damn thing.” He said bluntly. She encouraged his decisiveness with her claims he never took a side. He would have to wind back after he thought about it for a moment. “You don’t call my mother, three circles of my family a traitor and then have me fight, kill and die for you.”
His comment made Jessa focus all her attention on him. It took everything she had not to jump up and hug him. No one spoke with such passion about her mother except for her. Of all the things Rinker said to her in the past seven days, these two sentences felt like a weight had been lifted off of her. Jessa felt justified in all the choices that had brought her to this corner of the universe. If she wasn’t in so much trouble, Jessa would have left his office with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. The reality was she was in trouble and a lot more than she knew how to deal with on her own.
With nothing near her to break, Jessa hit the back of her head against the wall in a loud thunk. It hurt enough to bring a round of fresh tears but it also felt good to have something to focus on other than all her other problems. She hit the wall two more times in rapid succession before leaning forward and resting her elbows and then her forehead on her propped up knees. Da Mu’s dried blood on her hands made them stick to her arms and filled the small space her face was buried in with a iron like scent. It was choking but better than looking at Rinker.
Rinker slid the container of tissues closer to her. “I’m not certain my walls or your fists can take the continued abuse. I can have a dummy sent to my office, if you would like to continue your physical aggressiveness.”
“No but maybe we can play ball. That helped. I mean wasn’t so bad,” she self corrected not wanting entirely to accept comfort from Rinker but still perpetually seeking it.
“I have asked you before. Where is your mother… or how can we find her. Maybe we can rescue her?”“
“Why,” Jessa blurted out feeling a cascade of hopelessness overwhelm her.
“Because she needs rescuing.”
“You only care about what I can give you. You don’t care about her. She means nothing to you or your precious Federation.”
“I haven’t ever asked you a damn thing. I didn’t even ask you to save my life… although I very happy and thankful you did.”
The more she thought about her future the more hysterical she became. “You are not my adult. You said it and it is true. I have no adults. All my adults are dead. I have no one. No Pellan. No, Mom. No, Dad. No Elders. I am alone.” Putting her head on her knees Jessa sobbed so hard it was hard to breathe. “I want to go home but I can’t. I don’t have a ship. I don’t have supplies,” she looked up at Rinker.
“And that’s a tragedy, so lets at least find your mom. I won’t lie and say we can do it, but I think many of us would like the chance to try.”
“Everyone I love I hurt,” she sobbed out words between crying and breathing, “I could not save him.” Jessa looked at her hands with the dried blood before rubbing her hands hard against her knees trying to remove the traces of red. “No one is going to believe I didn’t try to save Da Mu… or Rogan. Oh god,” she put her hands over her face. Nothing mattered to Jessa right now but the myriad of thoughts all screaming for attention in her head. “Rogan saved me. He saved me on Nuat and I just let him die.” Jessa no longer cared about crying in front of Rinker. She didn’t care about anything right now except the helpless feeling in her core.
Rinker wasn’t a liar, if he had a weakness in his therapeutic style were those pity statements that meant nothing but made people feel better. He couldn’t say her mom or father was in a better place. He didn’t believe in God.
“You didn’t let anyone die. You can’t save everyone. There are people who mean a lot to someone, and they are dying every moment of every day. You didn’t let them die either. Your mother, father, Rogan are closer to you so it of course means more. You need to free yourself of that guilt or then you are guilty of each and every person who you might have saved and did not.”
“Did I mean anything to any of them?” Jessa abruptly shifted into a topic that was a hundred and eight degrees from what she had been claiming since she started. “Pellan tells me I am special but we can only see each other in secret. Do you know how hard it is to not be able to talk to someone. To act like you barely know them?” Jessa had done nothing but praise the man however now she was painting him in a different light.
“Rogan took me to Halston only because the person we met there needed to know he had me to find out where the Prism was. Is that why he saved me on Nuat? Was it only because he knew that he would need me later?” Her question was far more rhetorical than inquisitory. Rinker had no idea what was fact or fiction but it was a relief to say it over just think it. Her swell of emotions was taking over her ability to control the information pouring from her mouth. It was as if a floodgate opened and she could not hold some questions back.
“I have spent years looking for my mom but does she even want me? My mom left me on a bench and walked away when I was three and,” Jessa immediately clapped a hand over her mouth and shook her head as if regretting her outburst. Her body froze into a state so rigid, Jessa felt like she could no longer take a breath. The air seemed to be sucked from her lungs and no matter how hard she tried to inhale, all she could manage was a random squeaking sound as if she were being choked.
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