Chapter 6 -- Transitions
"Okay, so why are we all meeting on the Obs deck?" Harper whispered to Trance.
"And what are those Perseids doing here?" Trance replied, frowning. They had been joined by the Perseid ship only a few hours ago, and a contingent had immediately come aboard to meet with Dylan. Trance looked at Beka and Tyr who were whispering together. "You know, Harper, I get the distinct impression that we're the only two here who don't know what's going on."
"Yeah." Harper nodded. "The Perseids seem even twitchier than usual, and that's saying a lot."
Trance nodded. "Beka, what's going on?" she asked.
"You'll just have to wait until Dylan gets here." Beka smiled at them.
"Okay." Trance shrugged. "Where's Zelazny?"
Tyr grinned and chuckled. "You'll just have to wait until Dylan gets here..."
"Okay, now you're just teasing us!" Harper protested.
Tyr nodded and returned to his conversation with Beka, leading her away.
"Oh, man!" Harper groaned, shaking his head. "That's just unfair." He looked at Trance. "Hey, you're good with probabilities! What do you think is going on?"
"I'm not sure." Trance shrugged. "But I think that there's a good chance that we'll enjoy it very much."
"Well, that's something anyway." Harper sighed. "Oh, there they are..." he pointed as Dylan and Rommie walked onto the Obs deck with Zelazny on their heels. Rommie was carrying a small, flat box in her hands.
They walked to the front of the Obs deck and Dylan and Rommie stood side by side with their backs to the stars. Zelazny stood directly in front of Dylan at parade rest. Dylan smiled and muttered something to her before nodding to Rommie.
"Your attention, please!" Rommie called. When everyone was silent and had gathered around the three in a loose semi-circle, she nodded. "Dylan."
"Thank you, Rommie." Dylan nodded to her. He looked around the room and began in his best public-speaking voice, "We gather here today to observe an occasion which should be cause for both great solemnity and great rejoicing. Today, as in days past, we celebrate the formal Commissioning into the High Guard's Lancer Corps of this woman, in the presence of a representative sample of Commonwealth citizens and in the presence of her family."
"Whoa..." Harper muttered, looking at Trance. She had one hand on her chest and the other over her mouth.
Dylan smiled faintly in their direction. "Through study and service, this woman has proven herself more than worthy of the rank of Officer." He looked at Zelazny. "Do you accept the rank of Signifier in the Lancer Corps and the responsibilities that come with it?"
Zelazny nodded slowly. She looked so nervous that it was a wonder that she was still on her feet. "I do, sir."
"And do you accept these things freely and of your own will?"
"I do, sir."
Dylan nodded. "Then speak to it, as all those who come before you have and as all those who come after you shall."
She nodded and inhaled deeply before speaking. "I, Zelazny Gemini Harper, do most solemnly and on my honor affirm that I will, to the best of my ability, uphold and defend the New Systems Commonwealth Charter and those ideals for which it stands. To this end, I vow to obey the lawful commands of those officers appointed over me and the will of those bodies duly elected to govern the Commonwealth inasmuch as they represent the will of all citizens of the Commonwealth, and further to bear true faith and allegiance to those principles on which the Commonwealth is founded."
Dylan nodded approvingly. "The Vedran Empress once said that galactic civilization can only progress when the many peoples of the stars act as one for the sake of all. It is the charge of all officers and enlisted personnel of the High Guard to uphold this ideal and to hold the line against the encroachment of the Great Darkness and the Long Loneliness that existed before the formation of this Commonwealth. Are you prepared to accept this charge?"
Zelazny nodded. "As all those who come before me have vowed, and as all those who come after me shall, I will hold the line against the night, never faltering in the charge laid upon me for as long as I am privileged to draw breath."
Dylan nodded. "So it has been spoken, so shall it be. Rommie?"
Rommie opened the box she had been carrying and extended it to Dylan who carefully removed a small pin from it and attached it to Zelazny's collar.
As he did so, Rommie spoke in a clear, ringing voice. "This day, the Commonwealth gives thanks to have this woman on its side. Ever after, may this woman give thanks to have the Commonwealth on hers. We are, both parties, equally blessed by her inclusion into the High Guard."
Dylan smiled and shook Zelazny's hand. "Congratulations, Second Signifier Harper."
"Thank you, sir." Smiling, Zelazny pulled him into a bear-hug.
"Whoa..." Dylan gasped, trying to regain his balance. "I guess that means you're happy?"
She smiled and released him. "Sorry, sir. I'm just excited."
Dylan smiled and nodded. He looked up at everyone. "I believe that this is the part where we celebrate."
Rommie smiled and hugged Zelazny. "Congratulations, Signifier."
She grinned. "Thanks, Rommie. You take good care of everyone for me, okay? Especially Dylan. He's just too broody for his own good."
Rommie smiled and nodded. "I will. Go, speak to your parents."
She nodded and shook Rommie's hand before walking towards Trance and Harper. She was intercepted by Tyr and Beka.
"Congratulations!" Beka laughed, hugging her.
"I couldn't have done it without the things that the two of you taught me." She smiled and hugged Beka again before turning her attention to Tyr. "You know, Ubber, this means that you'll have to start calling me ma'am."
"I think not..." Tyr growled, catching her in a bear-hug.
"Thanks for everything, Tyr, especially all the great fights over the years and the accompanying wisdom."
Tyr nodded and released her. "Your parents still seem rather dazed. You might now wish to explain everything to them."
She nodded. "Good idea. Thank you both for everything. If you're ever on Mobius, drop in on me."
Beka nodded. "You bet."
Zelazny smiled and hugged them both again before joining Harper and Trance, who did indeed still look fairly dazed. "Hi."
"Whoa..." Harper repeated softly.
Zelazny grinned. "We wanted it to be a surprise."
"It was!" Harper laughed, hugging her.
"We're both very proud of you, baby..." Trance told her, smiling.
"I'm glad. I'll... be leaving with the Perseids in a few hours."
Trance nodded. It was not unexpected.
"Where... where will you be going?" Harper asked quietly.
"Mobius. To the new Military Academy. I'll be... showing them what I know for a while. After that, I'm not sure where I'll be stationed. Maybe right here?"
Harper grinned. "That would be great."
She smiled at him. "Hopefully by then I'll be more than an O-1."
"Why the Lancers and not the Argosy?" Trance asked.
Zelazny shrugged. "Unlike you guys, space is not my first love. I'd be just as happy planet-side. Besides, the Lancers need me more." She smiled at Trance and took her hands. "You know, mom, I never used to believe in your 'perfect possible future', but I think that, just maybe, the seven of us together might bring it about."
Trance smiled at her. "I knew you'd come around some day, baby."
She nodded. "Maybe... maybe it's not so much a matter of everything being right as it is a matter of some things being right. The important things."
Trance smiled and nodded. "Now you see."
Zelazny smiled and nodded. "Hey, I'm going to steal my dad for a few minutes, but I'll talk to you again before I go."
Trance smiled. "I'll hold you to that."
"You'd better..." Zelazny took Harper by the arm and led him from the Obs deck. "So... I don't really know anyone on Mobius, and I was thinking... it could be easier to settle in if I had a pen-pal."
Harper smiled. "I'd like that, Zelazny."
"So, I guess I'll write to you as soon as I have an address." She smiled. "Will you visit me sometimes?"
"Every chance I get."
"Well, not every chance. You need some time to chase after girls..."
Harper blushed. "I haven't been doing that very much lately..."
"I'm teasing. I'm just a big meanie..." Zelazny grinned. She reached behind her back and pulled her shriller out of her waist-band. "I want you to have this."
"Gee, thanks." Harper grinned and accepted the whistle. "I don't have anything to give you..."
Zelazny kissed him on the forehead. "You gave me something a lot more important than a tin whistle." She grinned. "Just... don't blow it when Tyr's in the room. I'd like my new pen-pal to live long enough to get my first letter..."
Harper laughed and solemnly promised not to blow the shriller while Tyr was around.
Rommie walked up. "There you are, Zelazny..." She paused. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt..."
"It's okay, Rommie. We were just saying our till we meet agains." Zelazny smiled. "Did you find a uniform that'll fit me?"
She nodded. "I'll be waiting in your quarters when you're ready to try it on."
"How do I look?" Zelazny asked Rommie.
"A little... heavily armed." Rommie frowned. "Those boot-knives are not regulation. Neither is the one down your shirt..."
"Neither am I." Zelazny smiled at her. "Besides, it's not like the naked human eye can see them. Other than that?"
"You look wonderful. Your parents have every reason to be proud. They all do." Rommie smiled.
"Thank you, Rommie. You take good care of them for me, okay? Especially Dylan."
"You said that once before."
"Did I?" she asked. "Then I must have meant it."
"Why? Why Dylan in particular?"
"He bears a heavy burden, Rommie. It's not easy for him, and it's harder because he sees himself as largely alone in the universe."
"But he isn't..."
"I know that, same as you do. The trick is getting him to see it."
"I'll do my best. Are you ready to go?"
Zelazny nodded. "I'm nervous..." she admitted. "But happy and... excited."
Rommie smiled. "I would be, too."
"You know, you're pretty cool for an AI."
"Thank you." Rommie smiled, pleased. "You're pretty cool for... whatever you are."
Zelazny laughed as they started for the docking-bay. Trance met them halfway. "Rommie, can we have five seconds?" she asked.
"Of course." Rommie nodded and stepped away.
"I'm so proud of you, baby..." Trance muttered, taking her hands.
"Thanks, mom. I'm proud of you, too. You've done a lot of good and you will do a lot more."
Trance smiled. "You're a good girl, Zelazny."
"One favor, though, okay?"
Trance nodded. "Anything I can do."
"Tyr and Beka. I notice things are moving more slowly this time around..."
Trance nodded. "They don't have the shared pain to bring them together like they did."
Zelazny nodded. "Yeah, but... thing is, Beka once confided to me, made me swear never to tell anyone, that after the Andromeda was destroyed, Tyr was the only thing that kept her from going back on Flash."
Trance frowned. "She never told me that. She's very strong, though, Zelazny."
"I know that. But even the strongest among us sometimes need help. You of all people should know that, mom."
Trance nodded. "You're right about that. I'll do what I can."
"Until we meet again, then." Zelazny smiled at her. "I love you, mom."
"I love you, too, baby." Trance hugged her and walked her to where Rommie was waiting. "I'll run ahead and tell them that you're coming. Wait until they see you in that uniform."
Rommie smiled. "Ready, Zelazny?"
She nodded and walked with Rommie to the docking bay. Dylan insisted on taking dozens of pictures of all of them, and Zelazny did not protest too strongly. It would be nice to have a souvenir of these people who had, for so long, been her family. After one more round of hugs and good-byes, she followed the Perseids onto their ship, feeling more at peace than she had in many years.
Harper looked up at the tapping on his door. "Yeah?"
"Harper, it's Trance."
She walked in, looking curiously at the shriller he was holding. "That's Zelazny's, isn't it?"
"She gave it to me. To remember her by." Harper grinned. "Like I'm liable to forget her after the bombshell she dropped on me."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about..." Trance began quietly.
Harper nodded slowly. He was both eager and reluctant to know the whole story. "Trance, if you don't want to talk about it, that's fine, too... Your choice, you know?"
She nodded and sat down next to him. "I think it's important that you understand. You seem so confused by everything."
She smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "Then I should tell you. It's important to me that you know, if only for her sake."
Harper nodded. "Okay, shoot."
Trance nodded and closed her eyes. "It's still so hard to think about, but... then I remember that Zelazny was the result." She smiled at him. "You were always so good to me. We were very best friends."
He nodded, smiling slightly. "I remember. We... still are, aren't we?"
"If you still want to be, I would be honored."
"Of course I want to be your friend, Trance. I would want to be your friend no matter what."
She smiled and nodded. "I can show you, instead of just telling you, if you want."
"You can do that?"
She nodded. "Just close your eyes and give me your hands."
A little nervous, but trusting Trance completely, Harper slid his hands into hers.
Harper had fled to his room some hours earlier. He was not sure what was worse, the spreading pain in his gut or the sympathetic looks from the rest of the crew. Probably the looks from the crew, he decided. Trance looked worse than he felt, blaming herself for her inability to find a cure. He looked up at the knock on his door, wondering whether it would be Tyr or Dylan. He could think of no other reason for anyone else to visit his quarters than 'to keep the eggs from hatching' as they had all come to refer to killing him. Even Rommie had stopped trying to comfort him.
"Come in..." he muttered dully, wondering if it was normal to not feel scared. Maybe he was just too weak to feel any more. "Trance?" he asked, surprised, as she walked in.
She nodded slowly and closed the door. She hovered there, looking uncomfortable and, as always these days, sad.
"Come in, Trance." He looked up at her with a sigh. "What's in your hand?"
"Oh..." Harper stared at her with wide eyes. "I thought Tyr or... or Dylan..."
"Dylan's pacing around Command looking miserable and Tyr's... well, he's pacing around the Obs deck looking miserable. They can't do it, Harper..."
"So..." He swallowed hard. "You're going to?"
She nodded miserably. "Please don't be angry with me, Harper..." she whispered, tears forming in her eyes.
Harper rose and wrapped his arms around her. "Please, don't cry, Trance. It's going to be okay."
She sniffled and shook her head. "No, it's not!" she wailed, sobbing.
Harper led her to the bed and sat her down, hugging her tightly. "Trance, please don't be sad. I'll give myself the shot, okay?"
She shook her head. "I promised to take care of you, Harper... This just is not what I had in mind."
Harper smiled sadly at her. "Don't cry, Trance. It's going to be okay."
"Why does it hurt so bad inside?" Trance whispered, burying her face in his neck.
"You've never lost anyone before, have you?" Harper asked gently.
She shook her head, not looking up at him.
"Oh, you poor baby." Harper gently rocked her. "Don't worry. It... it gets easier. Time makes it easier. You'll... get over it."
"I'll never get over you..." she whispered, looking up at him. "I'll never forget you and I'll never forgive myself for not helping you."
"You're helping me now, Trance, by keeping these eggs from hatching." He smiled reassuringly. "It's going to be okay, Trance, I promise you..." He kissed the hand that was not holding the syringe. "I just want it to stop hurting, Trance..."
She nodded, still crying. "I wanted something that wouldn't hurt, but we really didn't have anything like that, so I mixed some other things together. It'll take a few hours to work, but it won't hurt..."
He smiled gently. "I knew I could trust you. Hell, Tyr probably would have enjoyed himself anyway..."
"Harper, you know that's not true!"
"I know. So, it'll take a few hours?"
She nodded. "In about two hours, you'll start feeling drowsy, and then you'll fall asleep a little more than an hour after that. Your... um, you'll go pretty quickly after you fall asleep. Are you ready?"
Harper nodded. "Want a drink? While we... wait?"
Trance swallowed hard and nodded. "I think I could kind of use one, yeah."
Harper reached under his bed and pulled out a bottle. "Picked this up on Loran Drift. It's supposed to be good stuff."
"I hope so..." Trance muttered, priming the syringe. "Harper, I..."
"Shh... Trance, you don't have to say anything."
"I care about you very much, Harper. I'll feel so lonely without you."
"Give me the shot, Trance. We'll have plenty of time to talk after that."
"All the time in the world wouldn't be enough, Harper." Trance leaned forward and gently kissed him. "I am going to miss you so much."
"Me, too, Trance. But, you know... some species believe in an afterlife. And that's... hopeful."
Trance, whose species did not, as a rule, subscribe to a belief in the afterlife, nodded and smiled at Harper. "You could... keep an eye on all of us..." she whispered.
"Sure could." Harper unbuttoned his sleeve and rolled it up, extending his arm to Trance. "You especially. I'll keep an eye on you until you join me, gorgeous."
"I'd... I'd like that, Harper..."
Trance looked from the syringe to Harper's arm. She was crying again, but she injected him anyway. There was no use in pretending that it was not absolutely necessary. She was doing him a favor and they both knew it, but the knowledge only made her cry harder. The syringe slid from her hand and hit the floor with an audible click. Trance buried her face in her hands and sobbed, her entire body shaking.
"Trance, Trance..." Harper muttered, pulling her into his arms. "Don't be sad, baby. Please. I... I want to die seeing your smile."
Trance looked up at him sadly. "I don't think I'll ever smile again..."
"Sure you will..." Harper promised, kissing her gently. "Don't be sad. I'm not."
"Give me the bottle..." Trance muttered.
"You know what, I don't think so." Harper placed the bottle on the ground and rolled it away with his foot. "I want you to tell me a story, okay?"
"I don't know any..."
"Make one up."
Trance looked up at him uncertainly. "Once upon a time... there was a princess."
Harper leaned against the wall and pulled Trance against him. "Was she purple?"
"Yeah, she was..." Trance muttered as Harper wrapped his arms around her. "And her people were so... different that no one ever really trusted her very much, until she meant a very special person..." Trance trailed off and rested her head against his shoulder. She looked up into his eyes and was surprised to see him smiling. "What..." she whispered.
"It doesn't hurt anymore, Trance. Thank you." Harper leaned down and kissed her. When he pulled away, she was crying again. "Please, don't, Trance. You don't have to be sad for me any more, Trance, because it doesn't hurt and I'm not scared."
"But I am..." Trance whispered. "And you may not hurt, but I do..."
Harper tightened his grip on her. "No one who hurts should ever have to be alone, Trance, and you never will be. You have Dylan and Beka and Tyr and Rommie to take care of you."
"But all I really want is you." She sniffled. "I love you, Harper..."
"Really?" Harper smiled. "Me too, Trance. I love you, baby. Now, how do I make it stop hurting?"
"Just hold me, okay?" Trance whispered.
Harper nodded and held Trance close, rocking her and humming gently. He kissed her again, and she kissed him, and things progressed from there, and in that instant, all the evils in the universe seemed insignificant in comparison to the fact that they had each other. And afterwards, when Harper began to yawn, Trance held him in her arms instead of him holding her in his, and she rocked him and hummed to him, and he looked content and not at all afraid.
He yawned again and smiled up at Trance, caressing her face and bare shoulders. "I love you, Trance..." he yawned. "And I want to thank you."
She shook her head. "I should thank you. You... really comforted me."
He smiled at her and refrained from making a tasteless joke. "Just returning the favor, Trance." He yawned again. "Thank you, Trance. For this and for everything." He smiled up at her and his eyes drifted shut.
Trance lay there, holding him and sobbing, until Rommie and Beka forcibly removed the body from her arms. As Rommie removed it from the room for burial, Beka helped the distraught girl dress and held her until her sobs subsided.
They pulled their hands apart and stared at each other in silence for several minutes. Harper's eyes were as moist as Trance's.
"A week later, I realized that I was pregnant, and that you were right. I'd never really be alone..." Trance concluded quietly. "She has all your memories, so it was kind of like having you there again. It wasn't the same, but it was something. Something that I had to do when all I really wanted to do was curl up and die."
"It sounds like it was a beautiful thing..." Harper muttered.
"It was." Trance smiled sadly at him. "It was the best I'd felt in months and the best I thought I would ever feel again until I came back here and saw you again."
"Wow..." Harper muttered, wrapping his arms around her and rocking her.
She smiled at him. "You were so brave. And then you actually thanked me."
"Of course I did, Trance." Harper smiled at her and rose, extending his hand. "Let's go for a walk."
"Okay..." Trance nodded and climbed shakily to her feet, feeling drained from the shared memory.
Harper helped her up and they left his quarters together. As they walked, he shyly slid an arm around her shoulder. Instead of objecting, she leaned into him.
Harper smiled. "So, Trance, tell me about our daughter..."