Don’t miss Philia, Eros, Storge, Agápe, Pragma, Part 1
Philia, Eros, Storge, Agápe, Pragma (Part 2 of 4)
By R.S.A. Garcia
For several days, she lay on Dee’s pallet while he slept somewhere in the room outside. Every few hours she would check the Kinnec, but it remained resolutely purple.
Dee brought her food, water to wash, and fresh clothes. He apologized for not having an entertainment node and shared his hololibrary instead. He spent a lot of time outside, or moving around in the kitchen, doing chores. He was an excellent cook who scaled and gutted fish out in the yard with glittering flashes of his nimble knife. He was fond of ground provisions, which she usually shunned at home but enjoyed here because he often roasted them over an open flame.
During the day, he left the front door open to let fresh air in and allow her a view. She watched as he worked in the garden, lean muscles rippling under brown, sweat-sheened skin.
Whenever he broke for a drink of water, he’d pour the last of it over his head. She would follow the trail of the water down his bare chest until it disappeared under his loose work pants. On the third day, after he wiped a hand over his face, he caught her looking. She didn’t drop her eyes to the holobook she was reading, wondering idly what he would do.
He dropped the dipper back into the barrel near the stairs, gave her a quick wink and went back to work.
She had to give up reading, having lost her place in the book and any interest in the tale.
They were both night owls. He never seemed to need much sleep, and she missed Sister so much her nightmares returned after an absence of many years.
She was embarrassed the first time he had to shake her awake, his hands on either side of her face, a concerned frown wrinkling his forehead. He smelled milky, like sleep and something delicious, and his fingers moved over her cheekbones in calming strokes. The rough tips sent sensation sparking through her body.
“I’m fine,” she signed, twisting away from him. “I have bad dreams sometimes.”
He dropped his hands from her face, his expression understanding. “I know something about that.”
“How do bad dreams find you in a place peaceful as this?”
He sat back on his calves, hands resting on his thighs. She read his lips as he said, “In my dreams, I’m not always here.”
“Where are you?”
He blinked, the tiniest shudder going through him. “Do you think you can sleep again?”
“Probably not,” she said, deciding she would let the unanswered question go. She’d been grateful for how little he pried into her life. The least she could do was return the favor.
“Perhaps a game then?”
She sat up against the wall. “What kind of game?”
He had every kind. Even old favorites like chess, dominoes, and catch-a-rat. But when he brought out the cards, she smiled so wide he laughed.
“You ever played All Fours?” she asked.
“Don’t you need at least three people for that?”
“It’s best with four, but you can play with two. Rules change, that’s all. I’ll teach you, if you want.”
After he learned enough to beat her twice—even hanging her Jack once in a mortifying turn of events he clearly enjoyed—she taught him the signs for communicating his hand to his partner. It was dawn by the time they put the cards down and for the rest of the day, whenever he glanced up to check on her, she was ready with a smile and a signal that made him grin, shake his head, and go back to work.
An unexpected ease settled over them. He started taking breaks from his chores to talk with her. They told each other stories about the places they’d visited and the people they’d met. She was careful to stick to descriptions of jokey incidents and cultural idiosyncrasies rather than her reason for being somewhere. She didn’t miss the fact that he did the same.
The nightly games continued; he taught her ludo, she beat him at checkers, and they kept a running tally of who won at Monopoly. When she tried to start a chess game, however, his smile faded, and he coaxed her into playing Gadhand instead.
She was relieved when the doctor came to check on her. She liked Dee—too much—but he handled her questions as deftly as his knives. She was curious about him, and impatient to have Sister back and Mammy at her fingertips.
The doctor had soft hands and a ready smile. He gave her more painkillers and pronounced her a swift healer. As soon as he left, she was struggling to her feet.
Her hand was braced against the wall when Dee appeared, her boots in his hand.
“Thought you might need these,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows.
“I would want to see my ship the moment I was able,” he explained.
He supported her with an arm curled just above her bandages and she put hers around his waist before they walked out, slow and careful. His body was hard and warm, and smelled of rain and salt, of life-giving things.
She made herself concentrate on getting to the river instead of her hyperawareness of him, strong and gentle beside her.
He’d marked the spot on the shore in-line with where Sister had gone down with a pole and a fluttering red ribbon. She gazed out at the rushing water, biting her lip. There was no point in trying to get out there. The Kinnec was still unresponsive. But she willed Sister from the river while Dee waited beside her, a comforting presence.
“Shouldn’t you try to get it out?” he signed.
“You have anything around here that can do that?”
His brow furrowed. “I can make inquiries.”
We don’t need the attention. Anyway, if she doesn’t come up soon, the protocols will take over.
She shook her head. “You’ve done enough. It will be fine.” And she turned back to the house.
That evening, she ate with him on the porch, her plate in her lap as she sat on the swing seat and stared at the stars through the wind-tossed trees. He sat on the steps and licked the remnants of curried chicken from his fingers with relish. When they were done, he took both plates inside and offered her water to wash up with before settling back onto the stairs.
He caught her looking out to where the river was no longer visible in the dead of night and signed, “She’s not just a ship to you.”
Eva debated how involved he needed to be. But she decided she could be honest without being open. He’d waited a long time to ask. She should reward his patience.
“No. She’s my Sister.”
He leaned his head back against the railing, studying her. “What does that mean?”
She rocked the chair beneath her, savoring the faint breeze she created.
“At birth, all my people bond with AIs. A sibling who will be with them throughout life. Nanny, protector, kin, friend, we experience life with—through—each other.”
“You experience everything together?”
He looked alarmed. “What about now? Is she—in pain?”
She shook her head. “Not physical pain. Our Kinnec—that’s what links us—isn’t built to transmit that . . . sensation. But because she’s repairing herself, I have no access. Not even to Mammy—our AI collective.”
“Ah.” She saw understanding and empathy so deep, she had to look away. He sat forward so she would return her gaze to him. “You’ve lost both your homes. That must hurt.”
She shrugged. “Temporarily. She’ll recover. I’ll regain access.”
“How, if she’s down there?”
Again, she considered how much to tell him. He had the look of a man with many secrets. But he also had the look of one who could keep them. And, if she was being honest, she very much liked his looks. Still, there was much she could not say without clearance or commitment.
“Protocols,” she replied.
“We have protocols for different situations. We anticipate problems. Possibilities. We’re trained to handle them by applying protocols as needed.”
“Ah,” he leaned back again, a wistful look on his face. “I know something of solving problems.”
Her lips quirked. “Like fixing injured strangers?”
She watched as he laughed and savored that she’d caused it.
“Yes. You’re this old man’s hobby now.” His eyes trailed over her, leaving a tingle in their wake.
Eva Gomez. And at your age.
Of course, she wasn’t that old. She had a few centuries left in her. He looked young enough—strong enough—but she knew nothing of him or his people. Perhaps he didn’t have the time she did. A pang went through her at the idea he might be close to his end.
“What did you do before me?”
“And before that?”
“Wandered a bit.”
“Everywhere.” He raised a knee and curled his fingers over it as he looked up at the stars. “No fixed abode.”
Familiarity enfolded her, as if they’d sat here before. Talked like this before. It made no sense, but when she met his eyes, she knew him. Felt him down to her soul. He was fascinating. Reserved, charming, kind, funny . . . and so very sad.
“You were born somewhere.”
“A long way from here.”
“Outside this system?”
They stared at each other for a while, and she glimpsed wariness in his eyes.
Just us here at the edge of the universe. I won’t tell if you won’t.
His hands and face finally moved. “Are you familiar with Arbors?”
“Yes.” Everyone knew of the giant gardens. They floated in space, linked quantum doorways to a planet few had ever visited. Guarded portals to other planets that only their makers could access.
“My people grew them. My many times great-grandparents were Gardeners who cultivated the original Greatwood that feeds them.”
She drew in a breath, eyes wide. “You’re from Valencia?”
His nod was slow and his gaze roamed her face as if searching for something. “It was my home, yes.”
The sadness she saw before he looked away made her own eyes prickle. “I was exiled.”
No wonder he understood what losing home meant.
He closed his eyes, his lips pressed thin.
She left the bench and settled on the stairs next to him. Put her hands on his. He looked down at where she touched him, then back at her. She drew a breath at the pain and fury there. His hands turned under hers, clasping her fingers and drawing her close—slow and deliberate—giving her time to back away.
“I should warn you. I’m not a good man.”
She frowned, tilting her head.
“You’re a good person, Eva,” he explained. “And I’m alone for a reason.”
She pulled her hands from his and touched him the way she’d wanted to for days. She ran her fingers over the prickly smoothness of his evening beard, touched the tight whorls of his silver-edged hair, drew a thumb over the softness of his lips.
His breathing was heavy by the time she leaned forward and kissed him, tasting turmeric and spices and his sweet essence. He held on to her wrists, kissing her back, tender but tentative, as though kissing was not something he’d done often.
She took her hands back to tell him, “A fool could see you’re alone because you want to be. How long have you punished yourself like this?”
He drew an elegant hand down her cheek and along her neck, raising goose bumps on her flesh.
“Long enough to be grateful for your company, however much you decide to grant me.”
It was hard for her to ask. She tended to be straightforward in her thinking, and she took people at their word. But she also trusted her instincts; there was truth to all he’d told her. “Why do you say you’re not a good man?”
She waited, trying to read the fleeting emotions that crossed his face before his lips moved. “I was a willing participant in the oppression of my own people. I told myself I was doing it so I could help them, but I also did it to survive. To rise as far as I could from the death and poverty I was born into. I was a selfish monster with delusions of grandeur. And I ruined everything I touched because of it.”
She considered his words as his gaze searched her face, impassive and calm as his tense body was not. Then she asked, “Why do you say I’m a good person?”
The corners of his mouth tipped upward. “Because you lie like someone who has little practice at it.”
“Maybe I’m just an honest murderer.”
His breath puffed out as he laughed. “I spent my childhood surrounded by murderers. I dealt death to more people than I care to remember. Lies and manipulation were my sword and shield. I woke with them in the morning and held them close at night.” He stroked his fingers over her cheek. “If that was who you were, I would know.”
She’d known he was dangerous the moment she woke to his quiet scrutiny. Still, she couldn’t make herself fear him.
“I’m no saint, Dee.”
“No one is.”
“Also, not being a murderer? Very low bar.”
His shoulders rose and fell. “Due to the company I kept in the past, I’ve had to make allowances.”
She wanted to trust him. Everything in her screamed to trust him. But she had been wrong about people before.
“What if I told you I was dangerous?”
He smiled. “I already knew that.”
“And you still think I’m a good person?”
She leaned against the railing behind her and stared up at the waving trees.
“I don’t know your definition, but in my experience, good people include those that rescue strangers.”
She met his gaze. “Cards up?”
He hesitated, then nodded, slow and cautious.
“You have secrets. Big ones.”
“So do I.”
“They’re not like mine.”
“Not probably.” His face was taut. “Mine are still a danger to me and everyone around me.”
“That’s why you live like a hermit?”
“You admit you live like this to protect others, yet you call yourself a bad person?”
“What I do now doesn’t erase what I did. Who I was. The consequences I might face in the future.”
“You really believe I’m in danger? Should I leave?”
“Yes.” He didn’t hesitate.
“Do you want me to leave?”
He frowned. “That’s not fair, Eva.”
“We said cards up.”
He stared into the darkness, the hand draped over his knee clenching and releasing. She laid careful fingers on his cheek and turned his face back to hers. She watched the struggle in his eyes.
“I want to trust you, Dee. But I risk more than myself if I do that. What do you risk?”
His lips parted, closed, then parted again. “You. What you’d think of me. Maybe even your life.”
“With what I’ve done, I have no right to judge.”
“What have you done?”
“You say you’ve known murderers? That’s what they call someone who kills one person—maybe dozens.” She felt the familiar self-loathing swell in her. “When you kill thousands—millions—they call you a liberator. A hero.”
He did not respond for a long time. Long enough for her to lean back and stare out into the welcoming dark, to close her eyes and drift back into regrets she rarely had time to indulge.
She had all the time in the world now. Here, in the quiet, with this intriguing man and without her Sister—her lodestone. She was back in the dark again, caught between two horrible decisions, the consequences of which she would never escape.
It was gut-wrenching, acknowledging the truth of how her actions had damned her, and yet relief at speaking it out loud steadied her in ways she had not expected.
Or maybe it was him. Maybe it was the way he’d looked at her. Like she was something wonderful and fragile.
The way he touched her like he was touching her now, on her shoulder. She glanced up to see him hold out his hand.
She met his gaze and the question in it. She knew her answer—had long since decided what she would do if he ever asked.
She put aside years of caution and loneliness and grasped his hand.
Sibling-Rachel was reluctant to speak when she saw Dee, but Eva made it clear they were both Kairi and there would be no secrets between them. Since Sibling-Rachel was also deaf, Eva had the rare comfort of talking without a translation program.
“It’s sensitive information, Admiral Gomez,” Sibling-Rachel signed, her hologram moving with preternaturally fluid gestures.
“I can imagine.”
“If Griffith finds out . . . Seemungal . . . ”
“My problem. I won’t involve you.”
Sibling-Rachel looked pensive, her blue eyes going from Eva to Dee as she twisted long brown hair between polished nails. “Perhaps it’s best he stays. This involves him.”
Eva exchanged a startled look with her husband. He asked, “How?”
“Your Sister’s mission was attacked as retaliation. You destroyed a Consortium slaver after they took your husband.”
Eva sat quiet a full minute, her worst fears confirmed. I brought this on us. “But that was years ago. Why would they attack us now?”
“They only discovered you were responsible recently.”
It was possible. The Consortium had turned to her husband’s people for their expertise in problem-solving shortly after she’d destroyed a slaver and rescued its cargo. The Consortium had been unable to claim insurance for the ship because of the murky circumstances surrounding its loss. Valencia had agreed to find the cause of the ship’s disappearance, but political strife had led to them never forwarding the contract’s solution.
But Valencia solved it. They knew what I did. And we made new enemies when Dee went home. The Consortium could have communicated with any one of them.
“Assuming that’s true, it’s still a huge leap to go from knowing what happened to attacking us.”
“You don’t understand. We’re not hypothesizing. We know this because they told us.”
Dee’s hand fisted on the table they sat around. “The Consortium contacted you? Directly?”
“Yes,” Sibling-Rachel confirmed, her expression guarded. “They issued an ultimatum.”
Eva’s lips curled derisively. “They’ll attack again?”
“They demanded our surrender, yes. But they also wanted a specific person to deliver it.”
Sibling-Rachel allowed them time to come to the obvious conclusion.
“Me. They want me.”
Sibling-Rachel nodded, and Eva made a rude gesture as Dee said, “That’s not happening.”
“They’re not getting you, Eva. But we need time to study this weapon. Carry out a separation procedure.”
Eva’s eyes widened. “That’s why you kept Sister from me. From my family.” Eva tossed her hands in the air. “You have no right.”
“Hence a War Parliament. It’s unprecedented. We will all have to make terrible decisions.”
“How much time have they given us?”
Not enough time. Not nearly enough.
“She’s got a reason to refuse Mammy. You must know that.”
“We can’t afford to guess her motives. We have to do what’s best,” Sibling-Rachel said, and Eva didn’t miss the sympathy on her friend’s face.
“She’s my Sister,” Eva shot back. “You can’t question her motives. If she’s in control, she’s putting every Primarch before herself, as always.”
“If she’s in control,” Sibling-Rachel pointed out. “She’s in Deadlock.”
“Let me talk to her then.”
“Too dangerous. It could be a trap. Then we’d have lost you both. We’ve lost too many already.”
She caught her husband’s curious gaze. “Deadlock allows access only to Siblings. Sister’s triggered that. I would have to go to New Kairi’s physical Archive to talk to her.”
“That’s not going to happen. We don’t have time. We have protocols, Admiral. We’ll follow them.”
“You’re going to preserve whatever she has in there over her, aren’t you?” Anger made Eva’s hands unsteady.
“She had a standard backup forty-eight hours before the mission.”
“She would be a different Sister—one missing days of our connection. That’s a lifetime.”
“It’s not ideal,” Sibling-Rachel said, her eyes soft with regret. “But we sit in these Chairs to preserve our Protectorate.”
Eva’s rage dissolved into cold fire. “You lecture me on preserving the Protectorate? After the War? After Nightfall?”
No one said anything for a while. Then Rachel’s hands moved. “My apologies, Sister-Eva. I was thoughtless.”
“Yes, you fucking were.” Eva’s lips were a thin line. “She died once to deliver Nightfall to our enemies. I won’t give that order again. Losing her once was enough.”
“Take comfort in this,” Rachel replied. “If Parliament decides we go to war, you won’t be making that decision this time.”
That first night, they lay together on the pallet, and he wrapped his arms around her, the warmth of his breath coasting over her skin as he spoke to her of his past.
He spoke deliberately, so she would miss nothing, his gaze never leaving her face.
He spoke of how, as an orphaned child, he trained to serve the Grandmasters of Valencia and their Septs, the houses that played the Great Game that ruled his people. How he’d manipulated and fought his way from a mere Pawn to Grandmaster of the Sept Lucochin.
Then he’d fallen in love for the first and only time in his life with the head of the ruling Sept Valencia, a man who secretly shared his goal of ending the Great Game and the suffering it caused. When their plans were exposed, Dee had taken the blame for their schemes.
“But Alexandar would not let them execute me,” he said. “He made a deal to exile me instead—an unpopular decision. If he loses power and a new Valencia arises, they can end my exile and force me back home to face the consequences of what I did. If he remains Valencia, his decision would have cost him allies, made him vulnerable. And I’m no longer there to help protect him.”
“You love him very much.”
A small tremor ran through his body, the strong column of his throat moving as he swallowed. He nodded, his gaze touching every part of her face.
“You miss him.”
“Every day,” he said. “Every day. Until you came.”
She let the words flow through her, warm her from the inside out. Oh, Eva. Look what you’ve gone and done.
“How long since you left him?”
“Twenty-five solar years.” The naked truth of his sadness was carved into the strong lines of his face.
“They say you never forget your first love.”
“Is that true for you?” he said. “Have you ever been in love?”
She grinned. “Too many times, according to Sister.”
“How do you love too many times?”
“Thoughtlessly.” She flopped onto her back with a frown. “They weren’t right for me. I know that now.”
“How were they wrong?”
They weren’t you. “Something was missing.”
“A connection. Something . . . I’m not sure. I only know I kept looking but didn’t find it.”
“A home?” His hands gripped her waist, slid higher. “It’s what I had with Alexandar. He kept my thoughts. My secrets. Every good part of me.”
She inhaled as his fingers feathered over her breasts before curving around her back to pull her closer.
“We done talking now?”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours. Do you want to try to sleep?”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “That’s what you want to ask right now?”
He frowned, and his hand tightened on her. “I have to warn you. Valencia could send Pawns after me at any time. They’re ruthless, driven to complete their moves and nothing else. If anyone gets in their way, they won’t hesitate to kill.”
“Tell me your name. Your real name.”
His hand stroked down her back. “Didecus. Grandmaster Didecus Avnette Valentino Lucochin.”
She thought it over. “Dee, then. You need to understand something.”
He stilled, waiting.
“I prefer to be present. The future will take care of itself. Whenever we’re together, that’s how it will be. Now. About your question . . . ” She drew his head down to hers and there was no more talking for some time.
“You’re sure?” her husband asked as she stood at the Guardian’s controls and let it scan her implant.
“Yes,” she replied. “I can’t go to New Kairi, but I can print an All-Ops shell. That will get me into Mammy so I can access Sister’s Deadlock.”
The Guardian accepted her request and they waited as it processed it. She stroked a finger along the divot that had appeared between his eyebrows, trying to ease his worry. “It will be fine. You’ll be here with me.”
He narrowed his eyes at her, letting her know she wasn’t fooling him. “What if they’re right and Sister’s not in control?”
“I have to take that chance.”
“You could wait. Hear what they have to say at Parliament. Let the process play out.”
She gave him an incredulous look. “You’ve forgotten who you married?”
“I can’t forget I almost lost you.”
Her smile faded at the look in his eyes. “I’ll be careful.”
“They could be right about it being a trap.”
“I’ll create a secure Kinnec with only this Guardian. It will pull me out if necessary. I need an All-Ops shell to get to Sister, but I don’t want anyone eavesdropping. This is between us.”
His fingers brushed across her cheek as he frowned at her. “You’re breaking protocol. Won’t they pull your clearance?”
She raised her eyebrows. “A Hero of the Protectorate? Please. Let them do their worst. I’d rather apologize than ask permission.”
The Guardian’s display confirmed her request. The timer began counting down from eight hours. A vibration began beneath her feet and the light above the printing chamber glowed on.
“I caused this. I destroyed Sister’s core. If anything happens to either of you—”
She held him tight, her hands running up and down his back soothingly.
He pulled back, let her read his lips. “Promise me again.” His breath ghosted her face with warmth. “Please, Eva.”
That he thought he had to beg made her heart squeeze. “I’ll come back. I’ll always come back.”
His soft mouth covered her reassuring smile.
(…Continued in Part 3…)
by Valerie Valdes
And that’s the end of part two. Stay tuned for part three, coming next week.
Our closing quotation this week is from Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud: “It’s only when you’re at the bottom of the well and calling for help that you find out who will throw a rope.”
Thanks for joining us, and may your escape pod be fully stocked with stories.
About the Author
R.S.A. lives in Trinidad and Tobago with an extended family and too many dogs. Her debut science fiction mystery novel, Lex Talionis, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and the Silver Medal for Best Scifi/Fantasy/Horror Ebook from the Independent Publishers Awards (IPPY 2015). She has published short fiction in international magazines, including Clarkesworld, Abyss and Apex, Internazionale Magazine (Italy), and several anthologies.
About the Narrator
Maxine is a creative who has worked in a variety of fields, including video, radio, photography and now, voice acting! She can often be found watching movies, drinking tea, traveling, or enjoying a good book. She lives with her husband & son in the Washington D.C. area.