AS DAWN BROKE, the first few fingers of light pierced the dark. Clouds ran to cover the moon. A woman dressed in white huddled against the chill of night, a chill that seeped into her very marrow. Pulling the heavy cloak about her did little to ward off the cold. Arms pulled tightly about her she bowed her head and wept. Wept till deep-racking sobs finally over took her and her slender body shook. The quiet stillness of night slowly passing into day, oblivious of such grief.
The Carthagian Prefect, Rhé Elissa-Dido, lost in sorrow, was unaware that someone stood behind her concealed in dark shadows by a cluster of shrubs. Someone, who, up until that moment, had been unaware of her presence, someone who, like her, had come to a quiet place to be alone to reflect through a night of solitude. But instead, had inadvertently shared a night of soul-searching.
Fleet Captain Hel Jarvik moved out of her concealment, drawn to the emotion of the woman sobbing. The terrible sound of a heart breaking. The ache in those plaintive notes reaching deep inside her, touching her soul. She moved cautiously forward and then stopped a few feet away, arguing with herself. Propriety told her it wasn’t polite to approach the stranger, let alone invade their moment of grief. Though her heart told her otherwise.
Hel made to leave, to slip off into what remained of the night, but stepped on a fallen twig. It cracked underfoot. She looked down at the offending appendage then looked up. Looked straight into an oval face surrounded by light and shadow. The sun had partly crested the mountains behind the woman, radiating light about her so that she glowed.
The mysterious woman pushed back her cowl to reveal a sculptured face, crowned with luxuriant curled hair as black as space itself.
“How simply wonderful. The universe always sees fit to listen in on me whenever I choose to have a theatrical moment.” The voice was soft, low and resonant. Use to commanding, Hel noted.
“I’m flattered you think me the whole universe, I am but one.” Hel responded with a formal bow from the waist, dressed as she was in full military uniform.
“One is all it takes.” Rhé answered, eyeing the blond Valkyrie resplendent in black, noting the insignia, a full-ranking officer of the Line.
Hel heard the weight of sadness in the words, and was intrigued.
“One alone, against the night.” She quoted the Fleet motto. The regal-looking woman seemed to regard her a moment. The perfect brow creased imperceptibly.
“But I wasn’t alone, was I?”
“No.” It was all Hel could think to say.
The sun was climbing higher. The stranger now seemed on fire, backlit with blazing light. Eyes followed her gaze, turning to face the sunrise.
“Beautiful.” Came the single word, exhaled on a breath.
“Yes.” Hel heard herself say, but she was no longer looking at the sun rise.
The woman turned back to face her. A hand reached up and brushed at a still damp cheek. Hel looked away for a moment aware of the fact she’d witnessed such an intense and private moment. She glanced about the small clearing. The soft golden light made everything look surreal, serene. It belied the turmoil of emotions that still raged, deep inside her, screaming for her attention. She ignored them all, turning back to face the stranger and found herself being regarded head to foot.
“I’m sorry.” Hel said into the ensuing silence. Eyes continued to regard her. The face before her, unreadable.
Like a soft sigh, the woman said, “So am I.”
The words hung between them a moment. Hel didn’t know what to say, she wanted to stay and question the woman. Wanting to know what had brought them both to this place, of all places, at the same time. It made her think about her mother’s words and her prediction. Had that moment arrived?
Turning slowly, with grace, Rhé faced the rising sun. “Show’s over, better buy a ticket, join the queue, I save the Galaxy next week.”
Hel paused but a heartbeat.
“Next week’s too late, tomorrow would be better.” She took a couple of steps forward. The woman turned back to face her. Another heartbeat passed. Hel thought she saw the woman’s lips curl into a faint smile.
“Tomorrow’s booked, heal the sick, raise the dead, you know how it is.”
Funnily enough, she did.
“How about the day after tomorrow?” Hel asked in the same offhand mocking tone the woman used. “Are you free then?”
“Possibly…I’ll check my schedule.” Rhé mimed thumbing the pages of a non-existent old-fashioned book. “Oh, look, wouldn’t you believe it. No, nothing planned, not for today, not tomorrow or, as a matter of fact, for the rest of my life—” Rhé paused, staring at her hands as if realizing what she was doing, aware of her audience. Her arms fell to her side.
The face came up slowly. Liquid chocolate-brown eyes once again regarded Hel. There was a look of resignation that seemed forever etched into the lines at the corners.
Sucking in a quiet breath, Hel took the final step and now stood in front of the other woman. Rhé, in turn, pulled herself up to her full and diminutive height, staring up at the officer, almost in defiance. The officer towered over her. Their eyes locked.
As if in self-defense, Rhé turned away. “What did your mother feed you as a child?” The tone was clipped.
The sun was now well above the far mountains as light bathed the land, glinting off a distant sea.
“The usual—” Hel began feeling her mouth twitch.
“That being what…the seeds of wild weeds?” Rhé intercepted.
Hel grinned. “I was born in space.” The lighter gravity and living for extended periods of time in space, made all the difference.
She knew from the way the woman was dressed and more, the way she carried herself with a straight back, and that certain poise, that she was Carthagian born and bred. She had already assessed the woman was probably a member of the Delegation that was there, on Central, petitioning the Council for aid and supplies. Carthagia was under siege and in desperate need, a world caught between space, time, and warring sectors, as well as warring factions. A fact Hel knew all too well, having spoken vocally out about sending aid, namely her ship and any other that would join the fight, only to be reprimanded—in no uncertain terms—by the Admiralty.
It wasn’t their fight.
Hel, however, had other ideas about that.
The retort, when it came, was tart. “Space? Really? I’ve never met anyone yet who could breathe vacuum.”
Hel stifled the laugh that erupted by coughing into her fist. Not the response she had expected. The woman was quite the surprise, given what she had witnessed earlier.
Today, she mused, just might turn out better than she had hoped for.
I wanted to share this short snippet with you, and no, before you ask, it’s not part of what I’m writing for NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s the opening gambit to a short story that’s been tumbling around in my head for some time. I hope you enjoyed it for what it is, a teasing taster.