It was Columbus Day, maybe, thought Gina Nolan. She had a headache.
She had been watching the viewer for a while. All sorts of awful news was coming from Earth. She hadn't been able to turn the damned thing off.
Obsessive, yeah, I'm getting obsessive, she thought. Michael is going to laugh at me for being so ridiculous.
She patted her belly once. "I'm getting obsessive," she said out loud. "Whaddaya think of your old mother becoming obsessive?"
The fetus did not answer, not even with a kick. She was about three months along, still getting morning sickness, still feeling wretched. And now there was more to feel wretched about.
She turned away from the viewer, finally, and was about ready to go out and get a little fresh - well, fresher - air when she saw the shuttle land. Right on the front lawn, right on the tree she and Michael had planted. Stupid pilot.
She went outside to complain and saw their uniforms. "Oh, God."
"Ma'am?" asked one of them, possibly the pilot, as she got out of the shuttle, "Are you Mrs. Michael Nolan?" She wore the uniform of a soldier.
"Will you go away if I say no?"
"Mrs. Nolan," said the other one, a man, but it was charitable to call him a man, for he was clean-shaven and short and could've easily passed for twelve, "we are very sorry to inform you ..."
"Don't inform me of anything!" She ran back into the house.
There was a chime. Then there was knocking. They weren't going away.
Tentatively, she opened the door. "Why aren't you going away?"
"You know why, Mrs. Nolan. We are very sorry to inform you of the death of your husband, Michael Nolan, on October the tenth of 2375," the fellow read off his PADD.
"Mrs. Nolan, we are authorized to inform you that there will be a memorial service in three weeks, on Andoria," said the female soldier, "I can send the information to your PADD."
"Oh," Gina said quietly. She just stood there and shook. "Uh, yes, send it. Please, uh, please go away."
"I said go away!"
They left, and Gina patted her belly again. "Pack your bags. We're going to Andoria."
The response was a small kick.Second Stage – Anger
The transport from Proxima Centauri was slow and hot and stuffy.
Gina was standing, but someone, a Tellarite kid, noticed her condition and had given up his seat. Nice kid, once you got past all the hair.
And now she was sitting in the families' section, next to some matron and there were other old biddies nearby and they kept all saying how sorry they were, how hard it was to lose their children but how much harder it had to be for her. And one of them - so thoughtless and nosy! - had even asked if she was going to name the baby for her late husband and Gina had winced and not answered.
No, you stupid old cow.
The whisperings finally quieted, and a clergyman spoke, "Today marks the first memorial service for casualties from what we fear will be a long conflict. We do not kid ourselves. This is not one of those where we will feel we'll be 'home by Christmas'. And, I fear we will be having more of these services erelong. I wish that I did not have such fears."
He cleared his throat before continuing. "The dead are the pride of humanity. They are the ones who we would all do to emulate. They are ..."
It wasn't hot on Andoria. It pretty much never could be. But the room was stuffy and everyone was too close, and the old bat's perfume - the one who'd asked about the baby's name - it was cloying, a flower garden from hell.
Gina struggled to her feet.
"Are you all right, dear?" asked one of the matrons.
"No, I'm not. My husband's dead," Gina spat out. She hustled herself out of there, walking as quickly as she could, as all eyes stared at the pregnant woman who couldn't wait to get out of there.
"It must be morning sickness," said one of the matrons as she turned her attention back to the clergyman.
"And now I'd like to read the names of the dead," he was saying. "Alexander Bashir, ..."Third Stage – Bargaining
Gina escaped into the tunnels. Cities and their streets were connected that way - Andoria was cold and everything living was underground, she remembered. Still, it was difficult not to see a sun, or stars.
The service was just too much. Should she have stayed long enough to hear the clergyman get to the Ns?
Thirty-four years old. Married. Xenobotanist. About to become a father for the first time.
Sheesh. A freakin' Xenobotanist. A plant guy. Why the hell would the Breen - or anyone else, for that matter? - want someone like him dead?
There was a marketplace. She entered its grounds and saw stalls and carts with all manner of odd foodstuffs. Some were recognizable as plants, others as animal matter. Others were - who knew? Anything that still had its own eyeballs was completely out of the question.
"I've got Andorian redbat," said a merchant with a cart.
"Redbat. It's quite good," he said. He was a Ferengi.
"I don't know." She felt faint. "Can I, uh, can I sit down?"
"Sure, only twenty -" then he thought better of it and vacated the stool he was on. "Sit down." Gallantry wasn't exactly a Ferengi virtue, but if she fainted or barfed, he wouldn't get any more profit that day. It was more expedient to just let her sit.
"What brings you to Andoria?" he asked. "Redbat! Getcher Andorian redbat here!" If Gina didn't know any better, she'd've sworn he was a vendor at a baseball game.
"The memorial service."
"Oh. That was unfortunate."
The understatement of the decade.
"Right. Um," she was suddenly hungry. The whole pregnancy had been like that. Barfing and then binge eating, binge eating and then barfing. Of course, sometimes the binge eating led to the barfing, but she didn't want to think about that. The redbat didn't seem to have eyeballs still on it. That could work. "How much for one redbat?"
"Thirty-five latinum slips."
"That seems rather excessive," she said.
"Are you suggesting we should bargain?" asked the Ferengi.
"I'm suggesting that that's a bit high," Gina replied, "I'll give you twenty."
"Twenty, uh, two."
"Hmm," a crowd had gathered, humans, Andorians and Vulcans from the memorial service. "Customers!" he smiled, teeth sharp and menacing.
"You know," she said loudly, "I'm just a poor pregnant widow. How can you overcharge me for a damned redbat?"
An Andorian security officer overheard her. "Is he bothering you?"
"I'm just hungry, and my husband is gone, and ..."
"Give her the damned redbat."
"Do you have a license for this cart?" asked the security officer.
The Ferengi hissed through his teeth. "Twenty-six, and that's my final offer."
"These are being sold for fourteen slips not three hundred and fifty meters down that tunnel over there," said the security officer, "Pay him fourteen," he said to Gina. She did so.
Reluctantly, the Ferengi handed over the redbat, which was on a stick. "I'll never make a profit this way," he grumbled.
"Thank you," she said to the security officer.
"I think they just like to bargain," said the Andorian.
"Yes, it's like, it makes you wonder what they would give up if something truly valuable were at stake. How do - well, what can you give - when it's really important?" she asked.
"You're here for the service, right?"
"Yes, I am. And it makes me wonder, if I were a better person, or if Michael had been, or if we hadn't done those little selfish things that everyone does, would he still be alive?"
"I don't think it's a tradeoff," said the Andorian.
"Sure it is," said the Ferengi. They were still fairly close to his stall, and he could hear their exchange. "The afterlife requires a price to be paid. If you don't have enough, you can't go."
"That's not exactly what I'm talking about," Gina said. "It's more, what would have happened, I mean, can I retroactively work hard, and be unselfish and all of that, and have it all taken back?" She looked up at the tunnel's ceiling, for you could not look up at the sky from in there. "God, what is it that you wanted from us? What can I do? What can I pay? I will be good. I will be charitable. I will hold my tongue when all I want to do is tell people off. I will serve you in any way you deem fit."
"I don't think -" said the Andorian.
"And I will do all of that," Gina said, "I offer you this, God, and I even offer you my life if I must. But will you," her voice began to quaver, "will you let Michael live?"Fourth Stage – Depression
The ride back, the transport from Andoria to Proxima Centauri - it was another festival of too much togetherness, too much heat, too much humidity and too many smells.
It was kind of a combination of wet wool, wet dog and overripe Limburger cheese. Someone had a bit of still-kicking livestock with them. That was not supposed to be allowed.
It was too much, and this time she didn't have a seat. Three-quarters of the way there, it overcame her, and she threw up, not quite making it to the head.
An attendant - a Denobulan - cleaned up as she watched and apologized profusely and tried not to let the smell bother her and make her engage in a repeat performance.
Finally, someone noticed and gave her a seat. It was an old - well, it's hard to tell with them - Vulcan woman. Gina sat down. "Thank you."
"I had my last one about ninety years ago," said the old Vulcan woman after a few days.
"Oh. Do, um, do you see your kids much?" Gina asked. It was nosy, she knew, but there was nothing else to talk about. It was perhaps another hour to her stop.
"Rarely," replied the Vulcan.
The rest of the ride passed in silence.
The military offered a ride to everyone, to get back to their homes once they'd returned to the right planet. Everyone sat as far away from Gina as possible. No one wanted to take a chance on another dose of half-digested Andorian redbat.
Finally, she was dropped off. 712 Washington Street. What is it about humans, she thought, that we name everything for dead heroes?
She dropped her bags on the front step and fumbled with her key. But then something possessed her, and she turned around to face the front yard.
There was, still, the toppled tree, cloven in two by the military shuttle having landed on it a few weeks previously. It had died just as easily as Michael had, as readily as her future had.
She walked over and knelt down in front of it. A kick inside reminded her that she wasn't alone. "You won't know," she said.
The lump, that lump had been growing and festering. It was not the Junior-shaped lump in her womb. It was the one in her throat. It was close, so close.
Her mother and father had called while she was on Andoria, and she had gotten through that. And everything else had gone by, a fast-moving blur, colored the colors of a tree, a transport, a redbat.
"You won't know," she whispered again, and the lump got large, way too large, suddenly, and it choked her.
Wet face, wet hands where she covered her face, streaming nose watering the dead sapling, it was all flowing.
"You won't know," she repeated.
She stopped for a moment and looked up. A neighbor had come over. "Mrs. Nolan?" he asked, "We heard. I'm so sorry."
Shaking, she allowed the man to help her up. "Let us know if there's anything we can do," he said.
You won't know.Fifth Stage – Acceptance
"Thanks for coming," Gina said, "No, Dad, I'll get that."
"It's all right," he said.
They always, always, always put the dishes into the sanitizer the wrong way, she thought. Eh, whatever. It's fine. Go along to get along, go along to get along.
"Well, we weren't going to let you spend Christmas alone," her mother said, "And we'll be back when the baby comes."
"Yes, of course," Gina said.
"Have you thought of names?" her father asked.
"Yes," she said, "maybe Gabrielle. It means heroine of God."
"Not for Michael? You could go with Michael, or maybe Michelle," her mother suggested.
"No, I can't," she said.
"Moving right along," her father said, "I saw they gave you a flag and a lot of other things."
"Yeah." As if a flag could fix things.
"Do you know where the square is?" her mother inquired.
"Yeah, it's a few blocks from here. It had to be a small street, so that not too many people would get messed up. Washington Street was out of the question. It's too long. But this little street, it opens out into a little square. Here, let's walk there," Gina said.
They walked together. It was December twenty-sixth. There was no snow; the terraforming of Proxima Centauri involved a lot of radiation and its byproduct was heat. The place, usually, felt a lot like Miami on Earth.
A few blocks, a few hundred steps or maybe a few thousand or so. "It's the next street," she said, but it wasn't.
"Are you sure, Gina?" asked her father.
"No, wait, wait a second. I'm all turned around. Hmm." She walked over to a street sign, then clicked on her PADD. "Stupid map isn't updated yet."
"Wait, I think I found it," her mother said.
"Yes, that's right, it crosses Kennedy Street," Gina said.
And there it was: Michael Nolan Square.
It was only a block wide on each side. It was not really a square at all; just an intersection. Nothing that exciting. There was a plaque.
Her father went over to the plaque and read it aloud.
This square is dedicated to Xenobotanist Michael G. Nolan, born July first, 2341. Nolan died on October tenth, 2375, at his lab in Beijing, when the Breen attacked Earth. He left a wife and a daughter.
"It was," he said, "probably a lot for you to request that the government do this."
"Well, it's not like, uh, he wasn't a battlefield hero," Gina admitted.
"It doesn't mean he wasn't a hero," her mother said.
"I suppose that's so. But he wasn't, like, he didn't go out with a blaze of glory or anything like that. He was probably just, just pouring something from one test tube to another or something of the sort. And he didn't even know, I bet. That, that kind of comforts me, that he didn't know. I, uh, if there's anything I can, I can thank the Breen for, it's for making it swift and sudden. He was minding his own business. Millions of other people were in business meetings, or checking their PADDs, or daydreaming or something. And then they were suddenly gone."
"It's not fair," her father said.
"It wasn't meant to be fair," Gina said, "and that's not just because of the Breen. It's, in general. It's never meant to be fair. It's death, and while I think it holds account books, I also don't kid myself. It's not a simple equation. It's not like we gathered all the bad people together, and then told the Breen to have at it. It's not that. And it's not God taking the most righteous or that kind of bull, either. It was just a bunch of people who drew the unlucky card that day. If I didn't have my teaching job here, I would have been living in Beijing, too. And then Gabrielle and I would be gone, too."
"Thank God you were here," her mother said.
"I just drew the lucky card. Like I did one other time."
"One other time?" her father asked.
Gina nodded. "I drew the lucky card when I met him."Sixth Stage – Healing
October 10th, 2380
Gina's arm was being pulled out of its socket.
What is it that makes four-year-olds so damned strong? she thought.
But it was, in a lot of ways, okay. Gabby was a typical kindergartener, and this was a special, special day at Decker Elementary.
It was the five year anniversary since the Breen Attack on Earth, and the school was showing off its students' art about that horrible day.
Gina remembered. Of course she remembered. She had been at home, a day off from teaching Earth History at the university, and was having some morning sickness which was giving way to kicks and cravings. Gabrielle Nolan.
And then a military shuttle had landed, and told her that Michael had died, at his lab in Beijing, on October tenth. 2375. Five years ago, that very day.
And she had carried on, somehow, some way. The wounds had scabbed over, and while she hadn't forgotten, she was also tired of it. Every year, dutifully, she would be trotted out, like the other widows, and forced to relive it all for cameras and dignitaries and whoever felt like giving some sort of a fancy speech about it.
But this time, it would be different. She'd just go to the school's commemoration. Nothing more.
And now Gabby was pulling, pulling, pulling, breathless with excitement.
There were rooms with artwork, paintings and drawings hung on the walls, even a few small sculptures, of papier maché and wire.
Gabby brought her to the kindergarten room. She was the youngest one in her class, probably too young but Decker Elementary had taken her anyway. Smart kid, smart like her father had been, a Xenobotanist just minding his own business when fire and flame had, perhaps, rendered him asunder and he was no more.
Ah, the kindergarten room, where it looked like all of the paintings and drawings should have been displayed on refrigerators. Gina half-expected to find handles on the walls and, perhaps, be able to open them up and get a snack. Milk and cookies? A sliced Andorian redbat sandwich, perhaps?
A lot of the artwork was hung low, at a child's eye level. "There it is! There!" Gabby screeched, rushing through the crowd.
Gina followed her daughter and bent down, feeling her bones creaking as she did so. She had not seen this fingerpainting before. That had been the school's intention, to keep the artwork a surprise until this day.
The painting was mainly a cacophony of blacks and greys, with some browns. There were lightning bolts in the sky. A stick figure in front. Other figures behind had their little stick hands on their horror-stricken faces and Gina wondered if anyone had shown her daughter Edvard Munch's The Scream.
And in front of the central stick figure there was a red scrawl, in a vaguely rounded shape, colored in, an orangey red.
"Who is this in front?" she asked Gabrielle.
"Oh. And, uh, what's this red thing that's, uh, in front of him?" Please, God, is it blood? Fire? A bomb about to go off? His heart, separated from his body? Please please please God, don't let it be something awful. What kind of a damned school is this, scaring my kid and encouraging her to paint and draw such horrors that she can't comprehend?
"Mommy, you're not listening!"
"Oh, sorry. What's the red thing?"
"It's a tomato."
"It's 'cause Daddy liked plants."
"That's right, Baby." Gabby knew that much. But she didn't know anything else about Michael, not really. "Do you wanna maybe have spaghetti and tomato sauce tonight? We can get fresh tomatoes and make sauce tonight, okay?"
There was a sound of a child crying. Gina, like a lot of mothers, had super-sensitive hearing when it came to weeping children. Why isn't anyone else hearing? Maybe because I'm still kneeling at kindergartener level?
She looked around and spotted a little Klingon girl. Gabby must have seen her, too, for she ran over. Gina got up and walked over there. "Are you lost?"
"I can't find Daddy!"
"Oh, well, let's see, do you know where your painting or drawing is? I bet your Daddy is near it," Gina said.
"Well, we can go with you and since I'm taller I'll look around for you, all right?" Gina said.
The little Klingon girl led them to the next room. First graders. The drawing was one of fire and flying debris and, above it all, a face with almond-shaped muddy brown eyes and cranial ridges, took in the scene and witnessed it. "What's your name?" Gabby asked.
"Okay, well, we will wait with you and if it takes too much longer we'll go ask Miss T'Mel to help us, all right?"
Gina straightened up. Klingons, Klingons. There were a few in the rooms, perhaps with their children, or maybe they were local people, showing support for the school.
A Klingon man came nearby, looking worried. "Excuse me," Gina said, "is this one of yours?"
"My one and only," he said. He bent over and Freela hugged him. "Thank you," he said as he straightened up.
"Her drawing is really good," Gina said, "you and your wife must be very proud of her. She's very talented."
"Just, just me," he said. "Your husband must be looking for you and your daughter."
"No, it's just me," Gina said. That funny, tentative way of finding out if someone is attached. It wasn't like it had been when she was younger, when she had met Michael. That had been so much more casual. It had been Hey, good lookin'! But now things were different.
Miss T'Mel came over and called for quiet. "We have ribbons for all of the participants, and special gold ribbons for the best in each class. The winner for the First Grade is Freela." She pinned the ribbon on the squirming child.
"Oh! Oh!" both little girls were excited. Gabby was almost as thrilled as if she had won something, too.
Gina looked at Freela's father. "I, those eyes in the picture. The face - that's supposed to be your wife, right?"
"Yes," he said, "that is supposed to be Lannis."
"My daughter also drew her father. I'm Gina Nolan."
"My name is Kittris," he said, shaking her hand.
"Kit," she said, and realized he had a softer, gentler grip than any other Klingon male she'd ever met. He was shorter than her, by a little bit. Just like Michael had been.
"Yes, it's close to that," he said, smiling a little. Smaller than Lannis, he thought to himself. Same brown eyes.
An impulse seized Gina. "Are, um, are you doing anything, uh, afterwards?"
"Define doing," Kittris said.
"Uh, well, I don't mean much. Just, um, maybe we could take the girls for ice cream."
"Ice cream. And Freela could wear her ribbon."
"Yes, she could. It's a beautiful day. I know it's not like any other day."
"It isn't," Kittris said, "for it has ice cream and a ribbon in it."Seventh Stage – Ice Cream
The ice cream parlor was kind of an interesting affair, a mix of kids' confections and grown-ups' desires. Gina was able to get green tea ice cream – the proprietor was Asian – and Kittris followed her lead once she explained that it wasn't too sweet. The girls both got rocky road, and there were many drips down little arms.
"They seem to be having fun," Gina said.
"Yes. There is nothing like a happy child," he said.
"You seem different from other Klingons I've met," she ventured.
"Oh, well, we have lived away from Kronos for years, ever since, well, since not too long after Lannis was killed. You get different, you assimilate into another culture."
"So you went here right, uh, almost right afterwards?"
"No, I, actually, I'll tell you from the beginning," he said, "After Lannis was killed, Freela was very small, so I moved in with Lannis's parents. And that was, uh, it was not easy."
"I didn't get along too well with my father-in-law," Gina said, "he's gone now. Ever since then, my mother-in-law has mellowed a bit. I guess we, uh, we have it in common."
"Perhaps," he said, "it was, well, I managed to get work on Andoria so we went there."
"Oh, what do you do?"
"I'm a butcher," Kittris said.
"Oh, no, I slaughter human foods as well – beef, chicken, turkey, mutton, venison …."
"That's deer, right? Venison is deer?"
"Yes. Humans are a bit squeamish when it comes to calling them deer. I learned to call it venison."
"I – can I ask you something, maybe a little out of left field?"
"I suppose," then a little louder, he said, "Freela, come here, you are dripping on your tunic."
Gina smiled at that. "It's, uh, your handshake. It's lighter than a lot of – well, any – Klingons I've met, male or female. Yet you work as a, well …." Her voice trailed off as her daughter approached. Gabby knew the term butcher but probably didn't realize exactly what that entailed. Gina wasn't so sure she wanted Gabby to get all of the details that day.
"I learned that the animals, it's not only easier to treat them gently, it's also better," Kittris said, "the meat is better, but it's not just that. It's that they do not suffer. There is no honor in making an innocent suffer."
Gina got the feeling he wasn't just talking about animals. "You said you were on Andoria. What made you leave there?"
"It's very cold there, and you live in tunnels. It can be very difficult after a while to not see the sky. I do miss Tiana, though."
"Tiana?" Gina suddenly got a little nervous.
"She was Freela's Andorian nanny. Do you remember Tiana, Freela?"
"Yes, of course!" said Freela, "She used to make me stewed tuber roots."
"I've had redbat. Have you had that?" Gina asked.
"What is it?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well, it's a kind of meat," Gina explained.
"Daddy brings home meat," Freela said.
"I guess you would," Gina said, "where do you work?"
"There's a market on Ninth," Kittris said, "I, uh, I can, I am certified, to prepare meats that are kosher, if you need that."
"Oh, we don't, but that's good to know in case we ever change our minds."
"Hanna's family keeps kosher," Gabby said.
"Oh she does, does she?" Gina asked.
"I, forgive me, it's still difficult. I've lived among humans for a long time, but I can't always tell the ethnicity from the names."
"Well, Michael was Irish. That's where the Nolan part comes from. But I'm actually Italian. My maiden name is Righetti. I'm a descendant of Dave Righetti."
"Should I know this human?" he asked.
"He was a left-handed pitcher, American League Rookie of the Year in 1981," Gina said.
"Um, this is, it is a sport? Is it the one with the spheroid?"
"Spheroid. Hmm. Oh, that one's football. I'm talking about baseball."
"Oh, that's, there is a stadium outside of the city, right?" he asked.
"Yes, that's right. It's minor league. I, uh, we haven't gone yet."
"We have not, either. We have gone to the one that takes place on ice," he said.
"Oh, that's hockey. Or it might be curling," Gina said.
"It was a, I don't think I know the word in your language," Kittris said, "the thing was, uh," he made a gesture with both hands, making Cs with his fingers and holding them facing each other, "it looked sort of like this. That was the thing they were moving around and trying to get into a net."
"That's a puck," Gina said, "so it was hockey."
"That is good to know."
"What does targ taste like?" Gina asked as the girls went over to a sandbox area to play a bit.
"It's rather strong. More gamey than venison."
"Hmm, it might still be okay for Bolognese."
"What is Bolognese?"
"It's a meat-based sauce for pasta. You make it, usually, with beef and pancetta and carrots, celery and onions. A little white wine, but I don't add the wine when I'm cooking it for Gabby. Oh, and tomato paste but I like putting fresh tomatoes in, instead. I think they taste a lot better."
"Fresh meat is definitely better. You can really taste the difference. I, uh, I could set aside some for you at the market, if you wanted me to," he said, and the statement hung in the air for a second.
Gabby came over. "Mommy, I'm tired."
"Okay, Baby, we'll go soon," Gabby skipped back to the sandbox. Gina turned to Kittris and said, "Uh, Kit," she paused, "uh, Tris…."
"Just Kit is fine."
"Kit, do you, uh, could I trouble you to, um, maybe, if it wasn't too far out of your way, to maybe deliver the targ? I would pay for it, of course."
"Where would that be?"
"712 Washington Street," she said.
"We live on Coolidge," he said, "it is not too far out of the way."
"Maybe you could taste the finished product."
"I, uh, onions don't always agree," he patted his own belly.
"I can go light on the onions."Eighth Stage – Rituals
"You sure Gabby and I are invited?" Gina asked.
"You are," Kittris said, "I am the Tawi'Yar so, yes, I am to have an escort and may bring my, my offspring. I have gone on the Kal'Hyah and then tomorrow is the big day."
"Can I wear the black dress?"
"If you wish. But do not outshine Lukara."
"Of course not. It's her and K'Trelan's day."
"Yes. And Freela and Gabrielle must be on their best behavior."
"Wouldn't have it any other way," Gina said, silently hoping that her teenaged daughter would tone down the drama for a rather dramatic event indeed – a traditional Klingon wedding.
The women helped Lukara get ready. Gina and Gabby hung back, while Freela – who was a few years older than Gabby, and was Lukara's niece – enthusiastically took part. "This shade of red is most exquisite," she said to the bride, "You look beautiful."
"Soft, like a human?" Lukara asked a little anxiously, as she adjusted her collar a little. A kinswoman offered her a small crown which she put on and then began to fussily adjust in front of a wall mirror. Near it, there was a display that scrolled through the old time and the date – August fourteenth, 2390, 8:45 PM – and then converted it to the current star date – 67618.8.
"Not like a human!" thundered an older kinswoman – Azetbur – who snorted a bit at Gina and Gabby. They had only met her that day, and Azetbur already was not impressed by either of them.
Gina looked away. Did they always have to be like that?
Gabby said to her, "Mom, I'm bored."
"The ceremony will be done soon," Gina said, "and we don't have to stay for the entire reception."
"You mean you don't want to drink bloodwine all night," Gabby said.
"That too," Gina admitted, "I am guessing no one does the Chicken Dance at these things."
"What are you speaking of so secretively?" asked Azetbur.
"We were just saying that your wedding rituals are different from ours," Gina said carefully. She was used to covering up those sorts of inside jokes that she shared with Gabby, Freela and Kittris, "For example, at my own wedding, my father walked me down the aisle, and gave me away."
"Gave you away?" Azetbur was incredulous, "You clearly were not wedding a Ferengi, like that woman Grilka did that one time."
"She was marrying my father," Gabby said, a fourteen-year-old's defensive bravado.
"And where is he?" accused Azetbur, "that you would take up with the widower of Lannis? Have you no honor, and no morals?"
Gabby was about to answer, something angry and not well thought out, but Gina put her hand on her daughter's arm. But it was Freela who spoke. "Michael Nolan died on the same day that my mother did, almost fifteen years ago."
That seemed to pull Azetbur up short. "Was he a great warrior, like Lannis was?"
"He was a xenobotanist," Gina said, "and was most likely at his lab in Beijing when it all happened. I imagine that one minute he was there, just minding his own business," she paused. It did still hurt at times, and now was one of those times, "and in the next, he was gone."
Lukara came over, apparently satisfied with the crown's placement. "He and my elder sister died a long time ago. There were many welcomings at Stovokor that day."
"And in your faith?" Azetbur asked, a bit interested and not accusing, "Were many welcomed?"
Gina thought for a moment. "I like to think that heaven or Stovokor or whatever you want to call it, I like to think that it's not segregated."
Azetbur said, "The dead all walk together. Some, to Gre'thor. The worthy ones, they got to Stovokor," she thought for a moment, "I do not believe that any of those who perished in the Breen attack were sent to Gre'thor. All were honorable."
"One need not use a bat'leth at the end in order to be admitted to Stovokor," Lukara said, "Come! We have kept K'Trelan waiting long enough. I wish to be wed before this day is over!"
They followed her into the main hall.
The ceremony was ritualized and very nearly operatic in nature. At one point, Kittris, Freela, Gina, Gabby, Azetbur and all of the other guests had to ritualistically attack the happy couple with Ma'Stakas. Lukara and K'Trelan fought them off and then they kissed. Then everyone filed into the adjoining banquet hall. Drums began to play.
Freela and Gabby almost immediately took out their PADDs. "Hey!" Gina said, "No PADDs today. You can do that tomorrow."
"But Mo-om!" Gabby protested.
"Just, show some respect, all right?"
"Yeah, you're right, Gina," Freela said, tucking hers away.
Gabby cast about for something to do before the first course was served. "Hey! Is that your cousin Kor?"
"Yes," Freela said, reddening and looking down.
"He's kinda hot," Gabby said, "You should go over and talk to him." She steered Freela over there. Kor was perhaps a few years older than they were, and he was also looking around for something to do, or at least it appeared that way. Freela giggled a bit and tried not to show her interest as Kor, too, pretended to be indifferent and other young male cousins milled about.
Kittris came over to Gina. "My obligations are all fulfilled."
"Thank you for taking us," Gina said, "It looks like Gabby's got herself a project. You, uh, you mind her trying to fix Freela up with Kor?"
Kittris laughed a little, "I recall when she was very small, of course. She isn't any longer. I suppose I should expect such things."
"Uh, Kit, why haven't we gone to anything like this before?"
"Well," Kittris said, "my family, and Lannis's family, I think they did not know what to think about you and Gabrielle, way back, when things between us were new."
"So we had to be together for ten years before they figured out that you can't get rid of me?"
"I suppose," Kittris allowed, "I also should tell you, it was important to me that your first experience of our rituals should be with Lannis's family. I wanted them to understand that I am not discarding her memory. I am not replacing her with you."
"And I am not replacing Michael with you, either." Gina smiled, "Lukara is also one of the first members of the family – from either side – to accept me. She's a wonderful woman. I was glad to see her get married. I consider her a friend."
"Not a friend," he said, "but family."
"Do, uh, does anybody dance at these things?" she asked.
"No. We become inebriated and sing old songs and generally smash a lot of glassware."
"But there is music," Gina pointed out, even though it was mainly drumming. "Do you think anyone would mind?"
"I think they would stare."
"All the more reason to do it, then," Gina said, with a mischievous look in her eye that Kittris had long ago learned not to question or defy.
Kittris took her in his arms – he was always careful doing that, as Gina was far more delicate than Lannis had been. They embraced and moved together a little. She smiled at him and kissed him.
Azetbur was standing nearby, with Lukara and K'Trelan. "How long have they been wed?" she asked the newlyweds.
"They have not married," Lukara said, "I think they were unsure of how the family felt about that."
"They should wed," Azetbur said, "And we can witness their rituals as well, and see what happens when a woman is given away. Do you imagine there are any contests of strength or endurance at such nuptials?"
"There is a dance about some small food animal," Lukara explained, "After that, I do not know."
"If she is to be family," Azetbur said, "we should learn her ways, as she has taken the time to learn ours."
In another side of the banquet hall, Kor brought Freela and Gabby over to another young Klingon. Kor said, "And this is Gabby, she's Freela's, uh, stepsister."
"Sister," Freela corrected.
"Sister, then."Ninth Stage – Good-Bye
"Welcome back to the twentieth anniversary commemoration of the Breen Attack on Earth," said an interviewer. "We're here with Gina Nolan and her daughter, Gabrielle. Now, Gina, I understand you are one of the women who were not only widowed during the attack, but you were also pregnant."
"Yeah, that's right," Gina said, glancing around a little nervously.
"Can you tell us a little bit about the days before?" asked the interviewer.
The interview was taking place in Gina's home, so other family members were present but remained out of camera range. "Uh, yeah," Gina said, "I was at home on Proxima Centauri. Doing, you know, usual things. I had a teaching job and I was supposed to be preparing for class, but the news was on, and it was relentless."
"I see. When did you begin to suspect something was specifically happening to your family?"
"I heard about an attack in China, where bombs were dropped. Michael, he had a lab in Beijing. But you know, China's large. I know he wasn't necessarily affected. So I waited for a while, but then the news just kept coming and coming. I mean, you people never, you never let up. And then a military shuttle landed in the front yard and it was obvious."
Gabrielle held her mother's hand as the older woman spoke.
"Let's go back, even before," said the interviewer. "Tell me about life with Michael Nolan."
"It was a regular life, I guess. How do people have a marriage when they work on different planets? It was like that, it was that sort of a thing. And we would deal with it every day, every time one of us called the other. You say these good-byes and they're intense and awful but you can't be casual because you; you never know."
"What did Michael do?"
"He was a Xenobotanist, studying Bajoran dicotyledens."
"There's a square named for him in your neighborhood, yes?" asked the interviewer.
"Yes, that's right," Gina confirmed.
"And Gabrielle is, of course, your child from then."
"I am," said Gabby, looking a little defiant at age nineteen.
"She looks like her father."
"And there you have it," said the interviewer, "another family coping with the aftermath of a tragedy that, for them, never really fades away."
"Why didn't the interviewer talk about Kittriss and Freela and our new family, Mom?"
"I dunno, baby. I guess it doesn't fit the storyline when the pregnant widow marries a Klingon."
"Well, it should," Gabby said, "Kit is my father as much as Dad was. And Freela is as much my sis as, well, as I would've had if Dad had lived."
"Baby," Gina said, "that's all I've ever wanted to hear, or know. Do you know that Dad looks down on you? And he thinks to himself that you've done pretty well for yourself. You've got college, you've got interests. You have friends and a life. He's very proud of you. I know this."
"Mom, did you know Dad looks down on you, too? And he thinks you're doing okay, too. You've got love and a family and you don't let anybody tell you what to do or where to get off."
"Ha, yeah, I guess so, baby. I didn't want to tell that interviewer, but the last time your Dad and I said good-bye, you know what he said to me?"
"You never told me, Mom."
"He said I don't need to be told to take care of things 'cause I always do, and I always know."
"Well, you do."
"You know when I hear him, baby?"
"I hear him in Kit's voice. And I hear him in yours."