Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 20
Legacy Universe: Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)
Gentle Reminders is being serialised right here on SFBook with a new chapter published each week.
Previously in Gentle Reminders:
The consequences of the saboteur's actions have been felt by Maur and the Jump Cannon, but also Ulalo Nuragi and the Free Man Nation. Their hunt for Maur has been renewed, but he still finds himself trapped on the uncharted planet.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
They had been stranded now for a couple of weeks. Annie’s crew were mostly pessimistic about their chances of getting off the planet any time soon, but somehow morale remained high. Nobody had been required to hunt since the first encounter with the large beasts, which had not attempted to breach the perimeter defences that had been set up, such was the volume of food gained from the fight. Champion permitted smaller groups to journey out, although not nearly as far as Beta Crew had, in order to investigate the planet further. This led to some interesting scientific discoveries, although they would be categorised as curios rather than breakthroughs.
Entertained, well-fed and safe – the few men and women had very little to be dissatisfied about other than their entrapment here.
This did not stop the spread of gossip however. Having a prisoner on board the ship was enough to start conversations, but word had leaked out about the heated interrogation. Worse than that, some theorised that Champion, Maur, or maybe both, were somehow in cahoots with the saboteur, as few could find good reason why he might have been allowed out of his cell. Once it had been clarified that Langthorn had nothing to do with the maintenance robots zipping out of the ship, the Captain had set him to work, following Maur’s precedent and unaware of the scuffle between the two. With constant supervision, working on basic electrical equipment, Langthorn had proven his ability. All the work had to be checked, ensuring that they were not setting themselves up in a booby-trapped ship, but that was still quicker than assigning the tasks to the swamped engineers and maintenance crew.
It was those few men and women who understood, and even appreciated, the saboteur’s involvement in the repair efforts. They certainly supported him only being rewarded with rations when his work was deemed satisfactory, but some had held conversations with him that bordered civility and perhaps even camaraderie. Maur did not involve himself with this though, preferring to avoid contact with the person responsible for declaring prophesied involvement in some greater Free Man Nation plan.
He had not dared to ask for more information, and instead focused on his own attempts to free the Jump Cannon from this oversized planet.
Maur and Charles had continued to train, although not as vigorously as on the journey to Seeon just that short time ago. Charles remained focused on trying to help his friend develop, but was beginning to realise that the false reality of the sim suites would soon limit his teachings. There was only so much to be learned within a safe environment, and Maur was making excellent progress toward absorbing all of it. His movements between cover were confident, he was able to improvise, and most importantly he was approaching battle with a ferocious desire for victory. He had witnessed blood-lust within Maur, and it was in those moments that his pupil had been most effective.
Maur’s activity wasn’t limited to training and maintenance however, as he and Kerra had taken to supporting Thom in the kitchen. The massive chunks of meat left by the beasts were delicious when cooked properly, but required the support of a few friends to be packed, refrigerated and eventually diced for preparation. Maintenance bots were certainly an effective means of dissecting the creatures during a fight, but the finer nuances of cookery were lost on them.
Thom had only asked the pair to help on one evening, and they had taken it upon themselves to keep coming back. He enjoyed their company, especially given the volume of catering he was tasked with, but it seemed that they far preferred the attentions of each other.
“You’re cutting that too small, Thom said to do the chunks about an inch square,” said Kerra to Maur. They were alone.
“Don’t be silly. It’s fine. Nobody is going to measure their food, they just want to eat it,” replied Maur, softly mocking her.
“They won’t want to eat it at all if they know you’ve had something to do with it,” she smiled at him, with her eyes wide and a hand on her hip. She shared the same gentle sentiment.
Placing her tools down on the stainless steel table top, Kerra ran the tips of her fingers across the top of the shiny surface as she walked around its edge and sidled up to Maur. Grabbing the knife away from him, she stood side-by-side, her hips touching his. As he moved to give her room, the back of his hand made contact with the slice of skin between her white tank top and cargo pants. It made the skin tingle with a pleasing chill, but she tried to shrug it off.
“Look, hold the knife like this,” she instructed, running it through the meat with a finger pressing down on the top of the blade. Neat, perfectly proportioned cubes were the result.
She placed the utensils back down, and intended to turn and face Maur with a triumphant grunt. Instead, she met his gaze and the two found themselves silenced by the proximity of their faces to each other. It crossed her mind for a moment to move in and kiss him, but the common-sense of a soldier kicked in. She moved away with a few coughs to try and clear away the cloudy awkwardness in her mind.
Even after she returned to her post, the two were unable to break the silence. They stood staring at the ingredients in front of them, neither having the courage to address the other. Kerra wasn’t used to feelings like these, and the unspoken agreement not to discuss them was something that made her feel physically sick. Growing frustration built up in her chest, deepening her breathing as she got closer and closer to bursting point. The trigger point came fifteen minutes later, the clatter of Maur dropping his knife – a bell sounding the start of a fight.
“What is it?” she asked in a shout, slamming her hands down into the table at either side of her cutting board with the knife still held tightly.
“I dropped my knife... it’s no big deal...” he replied as his head bobbed back up above table height. Maur looked confused, a childlike mystification had struck his face when he heard Kerra’s outburst.
“No! I mean what is this? What are we doing with each other?” she said, exasperation lacing her response.
“Well... we’re helping Thom coo...”
“Don’t be a dick Maur! You know what I mean!” Kerra’s voice was still raised although her eyes were welling up now. “I want to know what we are doing with each other, what all these awkward pauses and hesitant touches mean. I can’t stand this unexplainable pressure any more Maur... I know it isn’t cabin fever, I’ve felt that before, but I don’t know what it is!”
Maur was trying to process this all in his head, but came up short every time he tried to make sense of it all. True, he knew of the tumultuous mix of silent emotion between them, but discussions with Charles, and the embrace during the crash, had confirmed to him exactly how he felt. Knowledge wasn’t always power though, and he lacked the latter to be open about the former. Instead he had buried his head in the sand, but this difficult conversation had found him there too.
Further soul searching came up with nought, and he had not spoken for far too long. Maur could see Kerra getting uncomfortable, starting to fidget and move around with low puffs of agitation. There was nothing else for it, and Maur settled for honesty over eloquence.
“I,” he stopped, “I love you Kerra.”
She was startled by this despite asking for it. The uneasy movement of her body coming to an absolute halt. Statuesque in her stillness, it took her just as long to make sense of this simple statement as it had for Maur to come up with it.
“You... love me?” she asked, eyes closing slightly as she questioned with disbelief.
“Yes,” Maur replied, pushing out his chest a little to keep the illusion of confidence. “I love you.”
It came out far easier the second time, but the repetition hadn’t helped Kerra any. Her stillness cracked once more, returning to the shifting movements of a person under duress. With beads of salty water in the corners of her eyes, she dropped the knife that had been gripped so tightly throughout all this. With a hand clutching into her bright hair she darted from the kitchen, crashing through the swinging galley door.
Maur took a moment to rub his hands against his face with a mixture of regret and exasperation. He had not known what to expect as a response, but Kerra’s extreme reaction certainly wasn’t in the plan. At a pace he pushed himself through the door after her, jogging just fast enough to show the onlookers that he was in control of the situation. They were looking at him like a guilty party. Of course they hadn’t seen the conversation, only the crying girl running through the halls. Men and women lined the corridors, arms crossed and gossiping between themselves. He would have to make sure that the gossip spread in the right way, and that he wasn’t painted as a villain.
He made it as far as the female cabins and entered the corridor that led around to Kerra’s room. The door was slightly ajar, just a slip of light creeping out onto the floor in front of him. He could hear quiet sobbing inside, and so with hesitation he placed a hand on the door and pushed it aside.
She was crumpled on the floor, her head resting on her bare arms against the white linen covering the bed. He couldn't quite tell whether or not she had heard him come in, and was given a moment to look around the room. It was a bizarre mix and he had never seen it this close before.
The walls were lined with pictures of her parents, girlfriends and even a few of her with deceased members of the Jump Cannon crew. They were lined with coloured ribbons, and little bits of paper that described the time and place where the photographs had been taken. It was touching, as were the souvenirs of her travels. Small figures, hovering replicas of buildings and mountains and more. He was in just one of the images, along with the rest of Beta Crew, framed on the table next to her bed.
None of the souvenirs were things that he recognised.
Alongside all these mementos was an array of mounted antique weapons. In spaces between the crowded frames there were knives, firearms and some more exotic choices that too were decorated with feminine touches and the small notes. Floral perfume gave the room its scent, but the weapons set the tone. This was unmistakably the personal space of somebody who had spent their life fighting, but it also seemed that within it she was fighting with the balance between life and war. Maur did not feel that the room achieved that balance.
He moved towards her, beginning to reach a hand out in front of himself. A prepared smile crept across his face, as he got ready to laugh the whole thing off as a joke if the sobbing didn’t stop. He had meant every word, all three of them, but he would not use them to hurt her.
“Leave me alone Maur,” she said between gulps of air. “Just leave me alone.”
“Look, I’m sorry Kerra, it was just a joke...”
“No, it wasn’t. You meant it.”
The backup plan had fallen at the starting block, and he had nothing to follow it up with. Dropping the smile, it seemed that he would have to continue to resort to honesty. Refraining from grunting as old injuries flared he positioned himself on the floor next to her, back to the bed. With knees close to his chest, he let his continued presence hang in the air, hoping that it would eventually bring her around.
To his surprise, she sat up quickly, and flung herself around to sit next to him, still swiping tears away from her eyes. She tried to laugh a couple of times, desperately searching for a way to bring herself around. The solution didn’t come, she still felt hysterical.
“Why now Maur?”
“What do you mean? You asked...” he responded, carefully choosing his tone to avoid sounding inflammatory.
“You could have just blown me off! You didn’t need to actually come out with it, to actually say what you said.”
Maur thought about it. There was a tornado in his head, spinning his feelings round and round. Flipping between affection, anger and his desire to stop her upset, they were still not enough to overpower the truth.
“Yes, yes I did need to say it.”
She turned her head, facing him directly for the first time since the kitchen. Bottom lip swinging a little lower than usual she gave a look of genuine shock. Maur’s honesty was unexpected to her, particularly given that this was a matter of the heart.
“I needed to say it Kerra. I’ve needed to say it for a long time. You just gave me the opportunity.”
“You didn’t stop to think what it meant though? What it might mean for Charles and Thom?” she quizzed, still not paying credence to the offending statement itself.
“It doesn’t mean anything for Charles and Thom...”
“Yes it does! You can’t be in love with me in the field! Look around Maur, I’m a soldier. I kill things and I do it for money. Most people never learn it, hopefully you have by now, but it takes concentration to pull the trigger! You think I can keep my mind focused if I know you’re sitting fawning over me...”
“Fawning over you? I have never fawned...”
“...oh shut up. I’ve caught you doing it before. Whenever we’re alone now it feels like you might be ready to start a fan club for me. It’s ridiculous how awkward it gets, you think I enjoy it?”
“Well, yeah, you’ve certainly never said otherwise,” Maur said, confidence in their being meant to be together hanging in for just a little longer, heavily under the pressure given by her torrent of denial.
She stood up again, tall and with her hands on her hips, getting ready to talk down to him. The tears on her face had dried now, leaving snail trails the length of her cheeks. There was no sign of her giving into the feelings that Maur truly believed she held for him.
“I have to work with you Maur! You are a colleague! I have to fight by your side, I need you to maintain this ship and above all I need your help to keep this crew alive and breathing. I can’t tell you to fuck off off the ship just because I’m worried you want to see me naked! I’ve been in the military all of my adult life, I’m used to that. What I’m not used to is maintenance boys having emotional outbursts while we make dinner...”
He stood now too with an argument strong enough to warrant him stepping up to her. He wasn’t far from shouting in her face.
“An emotional outburst? What the hell do you call this Kerra?” he said. His voice was loud, but still laced with admiration for her; it seemed to be catching his breath. “You don’t see me crying, do you?” The statement silenced her, and robbed her body of the rigidity of her anger. Instead she looked genuinely hurt now, looking at him with wide eyes, as if getting ready to say goodbye to him forever.
“No, I don’t see you crying, and I should know better than let you see me doing it. This can’t work Maur...”
“Do you want it to?” he asked hopefully, but with an edge of factuality intended to demonstrate his conviction.
“Kerra, I’m not asking what you can and can’t do. I’m asking you how you feel about me. The only reason it’s so awkward is because you feel it too. I know you do, you must. It’s hard for you, I get that. I get that as a soldier with all these guns and swords, all this crap,” he said, waving an arm around at the walls. “I get that it sometimes feels like you can’t give in to the good things in life. I know that because I’m starting to feel it too, I can feel the creep of the need to kill, I can feel how the lust for adrenaline is starting to govern everything I set out to do. You can’t give into that though, it isn’t the only important thing in your life.”
He moved away from her and towards the wall most crowded with pictures. Picking out an image of her parents, the labels helping him to find them among it all.
“Look, when you look at this picture, is the fact that they might be in mortal danger the only thing you can think about? The fact that right now they might have guns pointed to their head?” he said before pausing a second, the look on Kerra’s face telling him that the suggestion had better be promptly followed up with a point. “No, you see your parents, and you know that you love them. You love them and you want to protect them.”
He moved to the her bedside table, grabbing up the one photo that he was in. Maur held it aloft in her direction.
“Now look at this one. Are you honestly trying to tell me that just because you have to fight with these people, with Charles and Thom, that you don’t love them like family too? You can do both Kerra, you can love them and still fight, still protect.”
“This love is no different,” he continued. “What I feel for you lasts whether or not I’ve just watched you kill a man in my defence. It lasts even when my busted ass is lying on the floor of an engine room. I know you’ll be there for me. I don’t see why any of that would ever mean we can’t be together, surely it can only make us stronger as a team?”
Kerra looked at him, the cogs in her head ticking over as she processed everything he had said. The hairs on her arms were standing on end, the ones on the back of her neck felt like they might never settle back down. The argument had sapped her energy, and she stood without her usual gusto and presence.
“No Maur. It won’t make us stronger. One day it will go wrong, one day I won’t be able to rescue you. I’ve lost enough friends to know that the time will always come when either I bury them, or they have to do the same for me. War doesn’t care about love. No matter how strongly you feel. You’re being stupid believing anything else. Please leave. Go.”
There was no more fight left in him, and he started in the direction of the door with his head dropped. He felt chastised and weakened, but his other feelings still weighed down on his shoulders. None of this had helped, it had only made things worse.
Kerra locked the door behind him, and didn’t leave for the rest of the night. She couldn’t get over it all, knowing that she had brought the whole thing down upon herself. Wishing that she had kept her mouth shut, she slumped into bed and hoped that this might all be repairable. Kerra couldn’t convince herself of that, nor that she had been right in what she had said to Maur. Perhaps she did love him.
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Come back next week for Chapter Twenty one of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)