Chapter 8 -- New Beginnings
Mel took the box from his hands and glanced down at it, curious at its light weight. A wooden box that size should have weighed more than this by itself. Whatever was in it could not have been that heavy. The wood was not like any she had ever seen: deep blue, faintly oily to the touch, definitely not indigenous to Earth. She examined it for a few moments, fascinated, before remember that Cole was waiting. She pulled off the lid and stared down at the little metallic rod nested in more of the dark blue cloth.
"What is it?" she asked, picking it up and turning it over in her hands, wondering at the significance of the blue cloth even as she puzzled over the object in her hands.
"It's called an atomizer, Mel." Cole swallowed before continuing. "It's a weapon. It… kills, disintegrates molecular bonds in organic material."
Mel nearly dropped it. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"Hopefully you'll never have to use it, but I want you to have it. Just in case."
Mel nodded slowly, replacing it in the box.
Cole quietly explained, "When you picked it up, it keyed itself to your genetics, Mel. Only you can use it now. It can never be turned against you. I want you to carry it with you everywhere until your training is complete."
Mel nodded slowly. She might not have liked it, but he was right. She was doubly vulnerable now. This was a precaution that she needed to take. "Thank you, Cole."
"The other… only if you want it." Cole handed her a sheet of glossy plastic. "This is a commission into the Tracker Corps, Mel."
She blinked, startled.
"It's provisional only, Mel. The commission would make you… a civilian adjunct to the Corps. It gives you the right to apprentice as a Tracker, to carry out the duties of a Tracker on your own sovereign soil only, and only in regards to one specific case."
"The escape?" Mel asked, staring at the strange writing on the sheet.
Cole nodded gravely. "It gives you the right to apprehend such individuals as work for Zin and to hold them pending trial. Once your apprenticeship is complete, it gives you the right to apply to the Corps for a fully commission if you so desire. A full commission gives you more rights. Interrogation, holding on suspicion, holding for questioning…"
Mel nodded slowly. "This is… big."
"Yes, Mel, it is." Cole nodded his agreement. "And the decision must be yours alone. You can still help me in many ways even if you decline this offer," he told her. "Take as much time as you need to think about it."
She shook her head. "All or nothing, Cole. I'm with you in this 100%. You… you would be my training officer?"
Cole nodded. "Yes, Mel."
"I'm in. Where do I sign?"
Cole indicated the sheet. "Put your thumb in the square on the top. It will take a genetic sample, and life-force reading."
Mel nodded and put her thumb there, staring at the slight tingling sensation.
"We can frame it if you'd like," Cole added softly.
She grinned and nodded. "I'd like that. That it? I'm… in?"
Cole shook his head. "Give me your left hand."
Mel extended it slowly, allowing Cole to press it firmly against the bundle of cloth still clutched in his own left hand. He took the box from her other hand and placed it on the table.
"There's an oath you must take as well," Cole told her. "To finalize it."
Mel nodded. "Sure. How's it go?"
"By that which makes me Cirronian," Cole began, nodding to her to repeat after him.
"By that which makes me Cirronian," she repeated softly.
"By that which makes me Human," Cole added, because Mel's status as a hybrid demanded that she swear by both.
"By that which makes me Human."
"By that which makes me a citizen of this galaxy, this universe."
"By that which makes me a citizen of this galaxy, this universe," Mel repeated, surprised to feel energy rushing into her hand from both directions. Trusting Cole, she made no attempt to pull away.
"I solemnly affirm by that which I call holy," Cole continued, his eyes clouding with tears as he recalled when he had been the one taking this oath.
Mel was startled by the tears, but thought she understood them. Memories, good and bad, were being dredged up for Cole by this process. "I solemnly affirm by that which I call holy," she whispered.
"To uphold the rule of law."
"To uphold the rule of law," Mel agreed, reaching out with her free hand to smooth away his tears, loving the way he could cry without shame.
He smiled lovingly at her as he continued, "And to protect the freedom, well-being, the very life…"
"And to protect the freedom, well-being, the very life."
"Of all sentient forms, regardless of creed, evolution, or species."
"Of all sentient forms, regardless of creed, evolution, or species," Mel repeated, aware that Cole was no longer the only person in the room crying.
"By that which makes me Cirronian."
"By that which makes me Cirronian, by that which makes me Human," Mel said quietly, anticipating the next line.
Cole smiled his approval and spoke the last line of the oath. "That the sacrifices of those who have walked this path before me be not in vain. Now and forever."
"That the sacrifices of those who have walked this path before me be not in vain," Mel whispered, smiling. God, what a beautiful oath. And she knew as she whispered the last words that she was bound by it, "Now and forever."
Cole smiled his approval and freed her hand. When she moved it from the cloth bundle in his hand, he unwrapped it and offered what lay within to her, careful never to touch it himself.
"My own Collector?" she whispered, staring.
Cole nodded gravely. "Yes, Mel," he whispered, proffering it. "No hand has touched it. When you take it up, it will become keyed to your genetics."
"Not my energy?"
He shook his head. "For most species, they are keyed to genetics. Cirronians find it easier to key their Collectors to their energy. There is an assumption that no Cirronian would misuse a Collector, so there is not thought to be a need to take precautions. But if it were to key to your energy, any Cirronian or human would be able to use it. It will key to your genetics instead. No one else will be able to use it once you have accepted it."
Mel nodded slowly. "Will it hurt?"
Cole smiled faintly and shook his head. "No, Mel. There is no pain."
She nodded and gingerly picked it up, cupping it in her palm. She felt the energy of it, as she had before, ebbing and flowing. Abruptly, that sense changed. She could feel a slight tingle and then it activated in her hand, exactly as Cole's had the first time. He smiled and nodded his approval, taking it from her.
"It will always activate for you if your emotions are high," he explained. "And I will teach you how to activate it when you are not angry or afraid." Smiling, he gently returned it to her hand where it lay dormant. "Welcome to the Tracker Corps, Recruit Porter," he whispered, smiling proudly up at her. He pressed the cloth into her hands, too. "This color and type of fabric is only used by the Corps. Weapons and Collectors are stored wrapped in it until they are keyed to a specific individual. Many keep the cloth afterwards as a remembrance."
Mel nodded, running it thoughtfully through her hands, examining it. It was as alien as the wood of the box, smooth and sheer like silk, but as tough and durable as any metal. Migar's answer to Kevlar, perhaps. "Do you still have yours?" she asked.
Cole nodded and rose, walking to the war-room and returning a few moments later with a square of fabric like the one in Mel's hand. He sat on the edge of the coffee table, staring down at it.
"Cirronian Tracker in Charge Welyn held my hand against this bundle as he recited the oath for me to repeat. Then Eijan, my training officer, did the same. Nallia and Ashi watched and they were… so proud." He smiled faintly. "It was the proudest moment of my life. All my friends were there, too. Nallyn, Alicia, Kallissa, Tallinn, Somi, Dross, Nevi, Aria, Zin, Etala…" He bowed his head, staring down at the fabric in his hands. "More than the Collector, this represents what it is to be a member of the Corps, Mel. If you had friends who knew, I would want you to be able to repeat this oath in their presence. I am sorry that there is no one else here to celebrate this moment."
Mel smiled at him, grateful for his thoughtfulness. "It's not necessary, Cole. It's enough that I know and you know." She carefully folded the cloth and placed it on top of the box before leaning across the table and touching his throat. "It's almost more special this way. Because it's private, just us. The way it's always been."
Cole smiled and nodded, pleased by the sentiment. "What did you say earlier, Mel? That together there is nothing we can not face?"
Mel nodded. "Nothing. Together, we can face and overcome any obstacle that Zin or anyone else cares to throw our way."
Cole smiled and rested his hand over her heart, his fingers caressing her throat. A loud beeping caught both of their attention, ruining the moment before it could become one.
"It's probably Bendal," Cole said, reluctantly rising.
Mel nodded and followed him into the war-room.
"Go ahead, Bendal," Cole said, typing on his keyboard. He activated the translation matrix but not the hologram, not wanting to waste the energy until he got the new reactor installed.
"Not Bendal, my friend."
Cole smiled. "Eijan."
"How goes the war?"
"Don't say that word, please," Cole sighed.
"Forgive me. It was a bad joke."
"Yes, it was. How are things there, Eijan?"
"War is no longer an immediate threat."
"I sense a very large 'however'," Cole told her.
"Very large, son. The Vardians are less than pleased with recent developments. War is not an inevitability, but neither is in an impossibility. Things remain… uncertain, tenuous. It is better than it was, certainly, if worse than it could be. It is… a fresh start, a new beginning. Those who love peace will not waste it, I promise you."
Cole sighed and nodded. "I understand. Thank you. For the record, Mel has accepted a commission into the Tracker Corps."
"Wonderful news. I'm sure she will aid you greatly if you are half-correct in your assessment of her potential. I'm transmitting you a letter."
"One each from Nallyn and Kallissa."
Cole smiled widely. "How is Kallissa?"
"You can read for yourself."
"Thank you, Eijan."
"I have nothing new for you, Daggon. Only my heartfelt appreciation for everything you have done thus far and will do in the future. My love to your mate."
Cole closed his eyes but did not comment. "I will convey it."
"I must go now. I'm afraid I am much in demand recently. Continue reporting back. Bendal and I will stay in touch and forward any messages to you."
There was a slight pause. "You take care of yourself, son."
Cole touched the blank screen. "You too, old woman. May the Healing Darkness keep you from harm."
"May your path always be lighted. From within as well as without. Luck of the gods, Daggon. Eijan out."
Cole sighed and shook his head, turning off the translation matrix.
"There's not going to be a war," Mel whispered. "That's great news."
"It is… something. But it does not change what we are up against either."
Mel nodded. "Together, there is nothing we can not overcome," she repeated. "Remember that, Cole."
He nodded and smiled up at her, rising and approaching her. "Eijan sends you her love," he said. Impulsively, he added, "Enixians display such affection like this." He leaned towards her and drew her earlobe between his lips, applying gentle pressure with his teeth.
Mel shivered at the gentle pressure. "Whoa…" she breathed, half-closing her eyes. "I… think I like the Enixian version of a hug…" she managed in a shaky voice.
Cole smiled and pulled away, resisting the urge to follow up on the Enixian display of affection with a much more human one, firmly reminding himself that a relationship was out of the question right now.
"I thought you might," he told her, smiling sadly down at her.
"Are you going to read your letters?" Mel asked, picking up on his sadness and guessing its cause.
He nodded, grateful for the change of subject. "Yes, Mel. It's been too long since I've heard from either. I had time to send them short notes before I came back, but there wasn't time to hear back."
She nodded. "I'll give you some privacy then. And… go call about those meetings."
"Thank you, Mel."
As she left, Cole opened the letters, reading both before framing a response to either. Nallyn and Tallinn were well, and Nallyn was recently delivered of a fifth child, a daughter named Nallia. Nallyn, Tallinn, and their five eldest sent him all love and wished him greatest luck, as did both of their extended families. There were individual messages from the families themselves, and short notes from the children. Cole smiled at these, especially the message from Ashi, now Nallyn's second youngest, who had just learned to write.
Kallissa had become a widow since they had communicated last, he saw with great sorrow. Casein had been a good man and his death was a great loss to Cirron's Security Corps. Taurin and Daggon, their children, were well and growing up fast. A brother and sister-in-law of Casein had taken over their upbringing, leaving Kallissa to her job and her grief. Remembering how much she had helped him in his time of need, he found himself wishing that he could be there for her. Her grief seemed less in light of her responsibilities, too many to indulge in self-pity for long, but Cole had no doubt that it was weighing heavily on her. He offered her what comfort he could in written form and added a heartfelt wish that he could be there for her. He sighed deeply, tears in his eyes as he considered what the loss would do to the beautiful, happy woman.
He was just transmitting the responses to those letters when Mel knocked on the war-room door.
"Come in, Mel." He smiled up at her.
"There's an AA meeting tonight," she said quietly. "We just have time if you want to go."
Cole considered for a moment before nodding and rising. "I think that would be a good idea, Mel."
"Do you want company? Moral support?" Mel offered.
Cole did not have to think before nodding. "I would appreciate it."
"Okay." Mel nodded and took his hand in both of hers. "We'll get through this, too, you know."
"I know," he whispered. "With you by my side, there is no obstacle I can not overcome."
She smiled up at him. "Let's go then."
"Yes, Mel." He nodded and followed her.
"They say that admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards recovery," Mel told him quietly as they drove. It was the only remark offered by either during the drive. It was met with a silent nod.
The moderator greeted them cheerfully and urged them to make themselves comfortable and to help themselves to the coffee and cookies provided. She spoke to them for several more minutes, explaining the general layout of the meetings and telling Cole that there was no need to say or do anything the first couple of times if he was uncomfortable. Others started to drift in, a very mixed group: young and old, professionals, students, blue- and white-collar workers.
They looked up, startled to see a familiar face.
"Cole. Mel." Jonas greeted them softly, obviously as surprised as they were.
Cole spoke first, his voice quiet. "Mel says that admitting you have a problem is the first step."
"Sure is, son," Jonas told him gently, patting his shoulder. "You're going to be just fine."
Cole nodded. "I know I am, Jonas. I have…" He glanced at Mel. "Everything to live for and a lot of friends to help me."
"That's the spirit." Jonas nodded approvingly. "It gets hard sometimes, but remembering what you have, who you're really doing it for, helps. And if you ever need to talk, you call me. Day or night, Cole, and I mean that. I've been where you are now. It's hard, but not impossible."
Cole smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Jonas. I appreciate it."
"Come on, let's grab some seats," Jonas suggested.
He spent the next few minutes explaining about the twelve steps to Cole, and talking about the importance of supportive friends and relatives. The last was spoken with an approving smile in Mel's direction and an endorsement of Al Anon as a good program for family and spouses of alcoholics.
When the meeting started, Cole was among the first to rise. His voice was nervous, but he spoke without hesitation. "Hello everyone. My name is Cole and… I'm an alcoholic."
Well, as long as the problem is mentioned, I might as well point out that 12-step programs are proven to work… And admitting you have a problem really is the first step. Oh, yeah, and:
AA (12-step program for alcoholics) website: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/
AA's online intergroup site: http://www.aa-intergroup.org/
Al Anon (a resource for family-members) website: http://www.al-anon.org
Al Anon's online intergroup site: http://www.ola-is.org/
Alateen (a resource for the children of alcoholics) website: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/