Gentle Reminders Serialisation Chapter 23
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 Jump Cannon has been hastily repaired and has blasted clear of the planet which had imprisoned them. The saboteur Langthorn has killed himself, almost taking Maur with him, but there are still questions to be asked. Now one of Maur's family members has made contact with the wayward ship. The consequences for the Rosewell family may be disastrous.
You can visit the Legacy Universe website for more information.
“Mom, I need to be honest with you,” Maur said.
They were on the command deck, all of those present when Langthorn had killed himself, and now the visual representation of Margaret too, standing with a cooking apron on in the middle of the sim platform. She wore a look of anger and worry, the type that only a mother wears when she is concerned for the lives of her children.
She was not a slight woman nor a physically weak one. Margaret had broad shoulders and a back to match, cultured through years of farm work. There was very little fat on her body, and age seemed to only have weathered her looks rather than ruined them. Instead of the sagging arms of most older women, she had toned biceps without the unpleasantness of prominent muscle. After Maur’s father had died, she had a fair share of suitors, most turned away by the protective son at the front door, the more persistent gentlemen graciously declined by the lady herself.
Her hair was curled and dyed blonde. There were a few gray hairs to contend with, but she left a couple there on purpose as badges of honour. She was proud of the life she had lived, even the difficult times, and was equally proud of bearing the badges of old age. Beneath the floral apron, infrequently excluded from her outfits, she would wear similarly pretty dresses. They reflected her sunny features, and the small heel she wore gave her enough height to be just shorter than Maur – he appreciated that, it meant she could still look him directly in the eyes whenever sincere reassurance was required. As she stood in front of him he realised how much he had missed her in the many months since he had last visited Earth. It gave him no pleasure then to have the conversation commanded by the Free Man Nation threat.
“Oh, you’re always honest with me Maurice,” replied Margaret. “I’m sure you wouldn’t change a habit of a lifetime.”
“Mom, I’m being serious, you need to listen.” His words were strained a little, just enough to convince her of his sincerity. She nodded her head and conceded silence.
“I’m in trouble mom,” Maur continued, keeping constant eye-contact with her, “we’re all in trouble. We’ve been marooned because the man you saw kill himself attempted to sabotage the ship.”
“Surely you mean he succeeded? If he marooned you?” Margaret questioned with playful irreverence, still trying to shake off some of the dread building as Maur spoke.
“No, that wasn’t his plan. He was supposed to disable us in space, so that the men and women who sent him could seize the ship. They wanted to seize me mom, they think I have something that they want...”
“And do you?” Margaret asked.
“Honestly...” Maur rubbed his face with both hands, wiping away only a minute portion of stress, “I don’t know. This feels like it has been going on for forever.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. Fuck. The saboteur would talk about a power that I was supposed to lead them to, but these people are twisted, its confusing. They think that humans should separate from the rest of the universe, that they have the right to return the world to the way it was before the Collapse. I wouldn’t ever help them. They despise anything that isn’t human.”
“Do you know about the power? Do you remember any time in your life when you might have come into contact with something?”
“No, nothing of any importance anyway,” Maur said, thinking of the illicit stash still hidden underneath his bed mere feet away from her.
“Well...”, she said, “maybe they don’t mean it literally Maurice.”
“Huh?” He was still trapped in the thought of the brown box.
“Maybe they don’t mean it literally, maybe you are just a missing puzzle piece.”
Maur thought about it for a moment, slotting the idea into his understanding of the situation. She had always possessed the ability to answer the most difficult questions in his mind with unwavering ease. He considered himself as a missing piece of some grander conundrum. It made more sense than any of the other theories he had about why the Free Man Nation was so interested in him.
They were getting side-tracked, Maur thought, and he shook his head before returning to the topic he considered the most important. He believed now that the Free Man Nation was making tracks towards the one member of his family he still had, and she needed to be protected.
“Look, it doesn’t matter what they want from me. It doesn’t matter if my sweat fuels a death cannon the size of Utah, what matters is that these people are going to come to you in order to get to me. We think we can beat them to the farm, but you have to be prepared.”
“Hah,” she laughed. “I am always prepared Maurice. I’ve even made some additions to the gun cabinet recently.”
Margaret Rosewell’s hobby was quite an unusual one for a woman of her age and attitude. When his father had returned from his service, he brought his standard issue pistol with him. It was intended as a gift for Maur, the intention being to teach him how to shoot with it. Instead, Margaret confiscated it, deeming it unsuitable for her only child.
The confiscation had a surprising consequence. Instead of disposing of the gun she took to cleaning it on a weekly basis. After a month his father decided to test the water, and brought home a second pistol, and she cared for it in the same manner. The third was purchased by Margaret herself, and it was the first one she fired before a burgeoning interest in firearms truly took hold.
The last time that Maur had seen the gun cabinet, it put the arms available on the Jump Cannon to shame. An incredible array of projectile and laser weapons that ranged in colour, size and deadliness. It wasn’t an interest that Maur shared, but it gave him an easy option for Mother’s Day.
“If I might interject,” said Champion, his first words since returning to the command deck, “I am unsure that a single woman will be able to effectively hold off an assault with nothing more than side arms.”
Maur could still feel hate gargling in his stomach, a consequence of the incident in the sim but agreed with Champion.
“Well, Captain, my collection now goes far beyond side arms. I have recently acquired a number of more explosive items. I had the walls of the house reinforced a few years back too, although I doubt Maurice was observant enough to notice.”
Maur hadn’t noticed, and was only slightly reassured by the idea of his mother packing shells and rockets, possibly worse, within a reinforced shell. The possibilities for fatal error were magnified significantly by both revelations.
“It doesn’t matter mom, we’re coming for you and you need to make yourself safe. We’ll keep in touch, but you need to get ready for lock-down. It’ll take us maybe a week, if we’re lucky, and the people chasing us won’t be more than a day or two behind. I need to go for now, you going to be OK?”
“It’s you we should be worrying about!”
“Yeah, right, see you later.”
“Love you Maurice!” she cooed in reply before her projection disappeared. The words emanated a blissful ignorance.
“Hah, Maurice? Are you serious?”
The chuckle came from Kerra, who had just entered the room with freshly healed skin. She was happy, medically so, and it showed as she swaggered down towards Maur without any indication of understanding the danger that they were all in. An arm was slung around his shoulder, cajoling him like they were two members of an athletics team.
“Maurice? No wonder you shortened it, loser.”
He was happy to hear her voice, although a pang of worry hit his chest when he noticed the fresh tele-suture scars where there had been wounds just a short while ago. Maur could tell she was drugged up, Dr. Beat generous as always with the pain-killers.
“Very good, I’m not sure this is the time for jokes,” Maur said, feigning aggravation at her presence.
“Hah, Maurice though? Seriously?” Kerra was still jostling her arm over his shoulder.
“Maurice. Yes, long for Maur, which is what you usually call me, so lets just keep it that way...”
“Your name is certainly one of our least priorities at the moment. We don't have time to mock it,” Yazram said, stepping forward from the shadowy corner he had been standing in. Maur didn’t have much tolerance for fuss at the moment, too concerned for his mother’s safety, and so this melodrama didn’t sit well.
“No, we don’t,” Maur agreed but contempt in his voice. “Captain, are we going to make it to Earth?”
“The ship is doing fine, we’re engaging near-quantum in the next few minutes and nothing indicates that she’ll have any trouble. The launch was always going to be the hard part, we’re good to go. Of course the engineering teams will have to be on constant alert. Repairs will most likely be continuous.”
“However Maur,” Champion continued, “I have concerns about your mother’s safety and I can't help but feel like I should apologise again..”
“What difference would it make if you did?”
There was an unpleasant pause.
“Shouldn’t we tell the local police force?” Thom suggested.
“That doesn’t strike me as a good idea,” said Yazram. “Partly for my own benefit as I would prefer to stay well away from government sanctioned bodies of any kind. More importantly, and less selfishly, I do not believe we can safely assume that the Free Man Nation will not have already infiltrated the police and other bodies. Everything we have learned about them strongly suggests that their influence is intergalactic, but given their motivations it is very likely that their strongest presence will be on Earth.”
“I believe you’re right Yazram,” said Champion, presenting his support to Beta Crew and the others on the command deck. “The best outcome we can hope for is that they do not mobilize Earth based forces against the farm before we arrive. Of course, their forces may be spread more thinly than we expect. Your guess about their presence on Earth is just that, a guess, as is everything else we come up with. Given that Maur is of such considerable value to them then it would also be reasonable to assume that the majority of their force is currently in pursuit of us.”
“As one ship, shouldn’t that worry us more than there being ground troops?” Thom asked.
“No,” replied Charles, stepping forward. “We’re better equipped to deal with a chase scenario than facing a large volume of infantry. If we make it to the farm first then we can prepare, we can give ourselves every advantage possible.”
“We’ll need to land...” Kerra halted her sentence to let out some some unpleasant smelling gas, Maur slightly taken aback by the her depleted feminine standards. “We'll need to land with as little fuss as possible then.”
She unhooked the arm from around Maur’s shoulder and looked a little sheepish. The drugs were wearing off, clearing out her head, only for it to be clouded again by the situation in front of them.
“Hmm, yes,” mused Champion. “Although I wouldn’t expect the quiet to last long. The odds are stacked against us, but Maur is part of our family, a family that has suffered loss and heartache at the hands of the Nation. He, and his own, deserve our support until the very bitter end.”
“Thanks. Try not to stick me in an airlock when you next do me a favour though, alright?”
The days that followed were difficult for all aboard the Jump Cannon. Everybody felt an affinity toward the cause, every crewman diligent in ensuring that they came to the rescue of Maur’s mother as quickly as possible. The engineering crews started doing double shifts, struggling to optimise the near-quantum drives and boost them on further. Command deck staff tried to improve the efficiency of their route. The soldiers and weapons teams held briefings to further prepare themselves.
Maur appreciated all of this, and tried to smile in the presence of others to show his thanks for their efforts. He spent the waking hours of the first two days of flight with Kerra, and they finally started to put their relationship in order.
“I know this is difficult for you Maur,” Kerra said, sitting next to him on his bed. She was wearing dirty overalls and the grease stains on her face to match. When she wasn’t working on battle plans with the other soldiers aboard, she was down in the engine rooms using her limited medical training to keep the exhausted teams going.
“It’s difficult for everybody, I’m not the only one in danger. My mother isn’t the only parent that will be worried about their kid right now.”
“Of course not, but the Free Man Nation have made a victim out of you,” replied Kerra sympathetically.
The notion of being a victim didn’t make Maur feel any better. Instead it made it seem as though he had already been beaten, like the Nation had already taken his pride from him. Ever since finding out about the people who kidnapped him in Cirramorr, he had positioned them in his mind as the enemy. Now it crossed his thoughts that that enemy might already be victorious.
“We can’t give up...” he mumbled.
“What? I didn’t mean it.... like that,” Kerra stammered.
“Yes you did, and you’re right. They’ve taken the lives of my fellow crew, they’ve nearly taken the lives of my closest friends, and worse they have pushed me away from them. Were it not for mom there would be no reason to fight, I’d be just as well handing myself over to them.”
“Aren’t we worth fighting for? Charles, Thom, even Champion... and me?” Kerra asked.
“Always, of course, but I don’t understand why you would keep fighting for me. You’ve made it clear how you feel, I’ve stepped over the line and it doesn’t seem like the damage can be undone. I should have never said what I said, it was wrong to put you in that situation - I shouldn't have kissed you either,” Maur said, staring ahead to avoid having to look into her eyes.
“It wasn’t wrong,” she said as she placed a hand on his cheek. Turning his face around gently she forced him to make eye-contact. “I feel the same way you do. I love you Maur, it was just hard to admit.”
“Don’t do this to me. I don’t need charity, I don’t need you to try and make me feel better. It won’t work out if that’s the only reason you’re saying it...”
Kerra leaned in and kissed him softly. The pressure bearing down on them, the looming battle, brought about feelings about how much she would miss him were he gone. There was every chance that in even the best of circumstances that either she or Maur might lose their life on Earth. In the few days they had before landing, she wanted to live and breathe her love for him, confident in it now.
They spent that night together. It was the first time that Maur had ever wanted to wake up next to a woman. As the low flickering light of passing stars glimmered into his cabin, he looked at her sleeping face and felt an overwhelming desire to share every remaining second of his existence with her. She slept in his arms until the next shift alarm sounded, signalling her to return to the engine rooms. Kissing her again in the doorway of his cabin, he felt renewed.
Champion had declined to give him any set tasks during the week long trip to Earth. Maur certainly understood why, the stress was preoccupying and might lead to mechanical mistakes that the ship could ill-afford. Still, the invigoration of spending the night with Kerra and the consuming boredom got to him by the third day. He found Charles in the locker room, his armoury descended from the ceiling.
His rifle was lain out on the ground in front of him, cleaning tools being worked on the barrel as Maur walked in.
“Champion given you some time off?” Maur asked, sitting down on the nearest empty seat.
“I wouldn’t quite call it that,” came the reply. “It’s just that the assault teams can only plan so much. We won’t really know what we’re up against until it arrives and over-planning can lead to mistakes in the heat of battle.”
“Yeah, I guess,” said Maur, feeling awkward that his rhetorical question had received such a frosty response.
“I haven’t had a chance to say before now, but I apologise for participating in the plot that saw Langthorn kill himself. We should have told you beforehand, but time was, and remains, absolutely of the essence. If I had the time again though, I would have found an opportunity to fill you in.”
“Don’t worry about it, but yeah, prior warning would be good next time you want to hold a pretend trial,” Maur said.
“Hah,” Charles forced out a chuckle. “You have my word. Is there something I can help you with? I’m guessing you didn’t come find me just to chat.”
“Oh come on, I can’t just come and talk to one of my best friends?” Maur said, starting to joke.
“Less sarcasm please, out with it.”
“Fine, you got me Charles, I want something. I want to spend the next few days doing two things. One, I want to spend every moment I can with Kerra.” Maur showed a wide grin, bringing one to Charles’ face too as he realised what was being suggested. “ And two, I want to spend every remaining moment in the sims with you. I need to be the soldier you’ve said I can be, I need to be able to kick the crap out of these fucks from the second they put their feet on my family’s soil.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you are so interested in both. I will have to clear it with Champion, although I’m sure he will understand.”
The final days of their journey blended a mass of emotions together for Maur. Unshakeable fear that his mother might come to harm, joy that he and Kerra were finally together and the calm anger that his training with Charles always afforded him. In moments of clarity he would consider the Free Man Nation, he would think of his importance to them, still mystified, but above all he would feel the desire to rid their influence from his life by any means necessary.
Annie faced few setbacks, and despite her impaired function the crew achieved more from her than anybody would have thought possible. The target time of a week passed by a full day, but in light of the damage that Langthorn’s sabotage had inflicted upon them, this was a truly incredible feat. A memorial was held for Natalie within the last hours of their near-quantum travel, the men and women who worked closest to her finally able to down tools without guilt. She had seen them free of the planet where they had crashlanded, and her body was ejected from the ship, in accordance with her wishes, just as they went into orbit around Earth.
From his place on the command deck, Champion looked down on his home, unable to feel the warmth that returning there should have brought. Back on Pura he had longed to see Earth, but now with such deadly peril ahead, he wondered if it might be the last time he would see her from space. Staring at the vast oceans and landmasses, he prayed that he and his crew would outlive the coming battle.
He walked down to his quarters, finding Marc 14 waiting for him as always. He thought about how long he been keeping their relationship secret from the staff, and wondered if this had ever been the right thing to do. They had been partners for years now, for almost as long as he had owned the Jump Cannon. Champion vowed to himself to see the man safe, to keep him out of the reach of the Free Man Nation, who would no doubt see 14 dead. He imagined that a relationship between a human and a lunark would disgust them, and the Captain took pleasure from that.
“We’re here. I need you on deck to assist with the re-entry,” Champion said to him, running a hand across 14’s face, sitting together on the sofas.
“You can do this,” Marc 14 said sensing his partner’s concern. “You can lead us to victory.”
“I’m sure, but at what cost will victory come? Please, lets just get back up there...”
* * * * *
“I have not assembled you here because I believe you to be the best crew for this ship, I have assembled you here because are the only options available to me. Should any of you die over the course of this journey, or any other, your body will not be returned to your family. It should be enough to know that whatever minor progress you assisted me in making was for the benefit of the Free Man Nation. Board, anybody still on the ground in five minutes will be executed.”
A short speech made by The Gentle Reminder in acceptance of the Cathode Ray.
* * * * *
Come back next week for Chapter Twenty Four of Gentle Reminders (Book One in The Rosewell Sequence)