STAR BLAZERS, SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO, and all related names and elements are copyright by Voyager Entertainment and Leiji Matsumoto. Star Blazers is a registered trademark of Jupiter Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Huge shout-out to Annie and Eva, who gave me the courage to let strangers read my writing!
March 13, 2202
After a nearly sleepless night, Carina decided to get up and go for a long walk. The fresh air would make her feel better, and maybe she would be able to clear her head. The Star Force had returned to Earth on Tuesday; today was Saturday, and she hadn't heard a word from Mark Venture. She was sure the crew had been busy, and he certainly wasn't under any obligation to call her, but she had allowed herself to expect that he would and now she was paying the price. Sin of hubris, she thought wryly, remembering her high school literature courses. She headed toward the longest trail around the park, telling herself to stop acting like a silly teenager. If she didn't hear from him this morning, she would call him herself this afternoon. There was nothing wrong with that… but she would wait until after lunch just in case. And if he didn't seem interested in talking to her, well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it.
He had contacted her once, about a week after the Argo had taken off. She hadn't expected it and was lounging with a book when he called, wearing a tank top and flannel pants, a loosely-tied black satin kimono covering her shoulders. She'd been so happy to hear from him that it had taken her several minutes to figure out that the reason he kept blushing and stammering was that her kimono was hanging open, exposing a scandalous amount of cleavage. The memory still made her grin – he was so easily flustered. After she'd wrapped the robe more tightly he had relaxed and looked her in the eye, and they had talked for the better part of an hour before one of the cadets, eager to call his family, had chased Mark from the communication room.
That had been the last time she'd spoken to Mark – about seven weeks ago. He hadn't told her what prompted the call, but in between funny stories of how green the new crew was and Wildstar's struggles in learning to be a captain, he had talked a little about how lucky Wildstar and Nova were to be so close. She'd gotten the impression that he was lonely and maybe feeling a little left out, with the two of them engaged to be married. It was always tough in a friendship when the dynamic changed, and he probably felt like a third wheel. He had promised to call her again, but the day after they spoke both Earth Defense and the Argo had received a message requesting assistance: planet Iscandar was in danger, and the Commander had ordered the Star Force to its rescue. Communication with Earth had been cut off, unless it was defense-related.
The Star Force had been unable to save either planet Iscandar or Queen Starsha, but the Argo had landed on Earth four days ago carrying Alex Wildstar and the child he had fathered with the alien queen. Carina hadn't been able to meet the ship since she had been on hospital duty, but she had helped Doctor Sane and Nova with the examination they gave baby Sasha. That was the first and last time she'd had any indication that the baby even existed – the girl hadn't been mentioned once in the press.
That first night, Carina had hoped for a call from Mark, but didn't worry when she didn't receive one. She had spent Wednesday and Thursday in nervous anticipation, enough so that the boys in the office teased her about it; by Friday she had been jumpy and irritable. She tried not to let her nerves affect her, but the knot in her stomach had been tightening all week. She jumped every time the phone rang or a message came through on her computer, and every time she was disappointed. It was true she had told him she didn't think they should rush into anything romantic when he came home, but they were friends and she'd thought he would contact her, at least.
By the time she reached the halfway point of her walk she had calmed down a bit, planned what she would say when she phoned Mark, and was even considering taking a nap when she got home before calling him. She drew a deep breath of fresh air and took in the day. The early-morning sun shone brightly between the still-barren trees, waking the critters that lived in the park, which chattered and chased each other through the woods. Carina thought back to this time last year; it seemed to her that there were a lot more small animals living here now than there had been then. She was smiling at the thought when she heard the sound of footsteps approaching from around the bend ahead of her: a jogger, out for an early morning run. Her heart leapt oddly, and she scolded herself – Mark wasn't likely to be up this early in the morning, and even if he was, he wouldn't be jogging in the park. Not in the mood to make nice with the approaching runner, she turned away and stooped to retie her shoe. The footsteps turned the corner and then stopped. "Carina?"
It is him. "Mark… Hi!" The knot in her stomach tightened again. Her hand automatically reached to smooth her hair, which she had pulled into a sloppy ponytail this morning, and she smiled anxiously at him as she stood. He looked charming in a navy-blue EDF sweatshirt and cap, his own smile awkward as he started to reach toward her but then dropped his hand. "What are you –" they both began at once, then broke off.
"I didn't think you'd be up so early," he said after a pause, looking around. "Should you be out here alone?"
"It's fine – there are guards posted everywhere. I couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd get some air and try to relax." She could hear how quickly she was speaking – a sure sign that she was nervous.
"Oh. Well… which way are you going? I'll walk with you." He started to reach out again, but stopped himself.
"I don't want to interrupt your run."
"You're not interrupting." He chuckled, embarrassed. "Actually, I just came out here to kill time because I figured you were still asleep. I was going to call you when I got home."
"If you're sure…"
"Of course I'm sure. Come on," he said, taking a step back the way she had been headed. She hesitated another moment, then joined him. "I'm sorry I didn't call you sooner," he said. She started to tell him that he didn't owe her an explanation, but he interrupted her. "No, I meant to, really. But they had us in meetings all day every day, and by the time I got home all I wanted to do was sleep. And then last night I had dinner with the family – I thought about inviting you, but you know Mom would never have let it go if I'd brought you with me the first time I saw them after I came home." He stopped, rubbing the back of his head. "Am I talking a lot?"
It suddenly occurred to her that he was as nervous about seeing her as she was about seeing him. She felt the corners of her mouth twitch. "Kind of." She looked into his uncertain brown eyes and impulsively pulled him into a hug, warm and slightly damp from his run. She flushed with pleasure and relief when his arms wrapped around her without hesitation. If he had been strong when he left Earth in January, after two months of full health and active duty his arms and chest were even more muscular than she remembered. As her body began to react to his embrace, her words came out softly. "Welcome home, Commander."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. It's good to be back." He held her tightly for several more seconds before letting go, clearing his throat. "So, I was going to call to ask whether you want to have dinner with me tonight to catch up."
"Absolutely," she smiled. Feeling almost giddy with relief, she grabbed his arm and pulled him forward playfully. "Tell me about your trip! Did the cadets shape up as you went along?"
Nodding, he glanced around to confirm that no one would overhear their conversation. "I'll fill you in on the details later, but yeah, when push came to shove they pulled it together. I think Kitano has a bright future ahead of him, and Orion really proved himself once he stopped worrying about being compared to his father."
"And you're all right? You're happy?"
"I am. Thanks." He looked at her with a shy smile. "The mission was lonely, though. How are things with you?"
She ducked her head so he wouldn't see the blush that crept into her cheeks. "Also lonely. But it's been crazy busy, trying to get the automated fleet up and debugged. Thankfully it's just about there." She gave him a sidelong glance. "Are the rumors I'm hearing about you true?"
"About the command of the automated fleet?" He nodded. "It's going to be announced on Monday."
"That's great Mark!" Her heart swelled with pride as she beamed at him. "It shows how much they respect you. You know, everyone kept saying we needed to put the best pilot we have in that position."
A proud smile began to spread across his face, too, but he stifled it modestly. "It will be an interesting assignment, that's for sure. A lot better than flying transport." He raised his eyebrows. "And if there are any problems, I understand there's a cute redhead working the technical side of the project."
"That is an important side benefit," she retorted, blushing again.
They were approaching the entrance to the barracks, where Carina was dismayed to see a number of photographers hovering outside the gates. They hadn't bothered her when she left this morning, but apparently Star Force members were hot commodities once again. Even though she and Mark were walking several feet apart, flashbulbs popped in their faces. Flashing their IDs, they ducked through the gates as quickly as possible.
Mark looked over his shoulder as he followed her toward her apartment block. "Carina, I was going to ask you to think about where you wanted to eat tonight, but it's likely to be another week before all of that settles down. We probably shouldn't go out."
Disappointment flooded her chest. "Oh… Yeah. That's OK. If you want to postpone –"
"What? No – I was going to suggest you come to my place tonight. It will be more private." He backtracked. "I mean… we can catch up without worrying about who might overhear us, and I can guarantee no photographers. Besides, you spent an awful lot of time feeding me when I was in the hospital – let me cook for you for once."
She looked at him dubiously. "Really? You can cook?"
"Hey, I'm Italian."
They had reached her building, and she faced him with a grin. "All right. I'll bring a bottle of wine, unless you'd prefer something else."
"Wine sounds perfect. Is 1800 OK?"
"1800." She nodded as he turned toward home and, after watching him for a few seconds, smiled to herself as she opened the door.
Promptly at 1800 hours, she crossed the street separating the female officers' barracks from the male officers' and made her way to Mark's apartment. It was a warm evening; she had pulled out a yellow silk wrap blouse with a floral pattern and a flowing black skirt, and she didn't need a jacket to walk across the base. She had also taken extra care with her hair and makeup; noticing that one or two of the younger officers followed her with their eyes as she walked by helped to calm the butterflies that were fluttering in her stomach despite the pleasant time she'd had with Mark this morning. Still, by the time she rang his doorbell, the butterflies had grown into bats. Their flapping slowed when she saw his warm but nervous smile as he opened the door, and she gave him a quick hug of greeting. He was wearing a cable-knit sweater and khakis – it was the first time she'd seen him in clothes that weren't issued by Earth Defense, and it wasn't lost on her how well the outfit suited him. The scent of garlic and tomatoes wafted toward her from the kitchen. "Mmmm." She inhaled deeply. "Smells wonderful."
"Thanks. I hope you like meatballs. They're kind of my specialty."
"Who doesn't love meatballs?" Noticing with a smile the way his eyes flickered over her when he thought she wasn't looking, she left her shoes by the door. She allowed her own eyes to wander over him as she followed him through the apartment, a mirror-image of her own, into the combination kitchen and dining area. The walls were the standard off-white color, but he had added a set of blue curtains with a matching tablecloth which she didn't remember seeing when she had been here in the past, before he was released from the hospital. Amused, she asked him, "Did you buy a tablecloth and curtains because I was coming over?"
"Maybe," he blushed. "I had to make my house presentable, didn't I?" He stirred the sauce and offered her the spoon for a taste.
It was delicious. "You made this from scratch, really?"
He nodded, passing her a corkscrew to open the wine. "I told you – I'm Italian."
She handed him a glass and they sat at the small table while they waited for the pasta to cook. "I'm dying to get your take on your mission," she said. "How is Alex Wildstar handling things? It must have been hard for him."
"Yes, it was. Starsha told him she would come back to Earth with him, but in the end she stayed behind on Iscandar. She destroyed her planet to defeat the enemy." Mark paused for a moment – he and Alex had something in common. He shook his head and went on. "I think Starsha would have allowed Alex to die with her, if it hadn't been for baby Sasha. She was the reason our return trip took so long. Dr. Sane was concerned about the effect warping might have on a baby, so we cruised home." His face softened when he talked about the baby. "You should see her – she's a beautiful little girl, and Alex absolutely dotes on her."
Carina felt a twinge of unease. Mark knew that she couldn't have children; it was the main reason she was reluctant to let their relationship progress beyond friendship. She gave him a weak smile. "I saw her at the hospital. She is beautiful – I'm sure her daddy is smitten. But is there something… odd about her? They're being very careful not to mention her to the press. I only know she exists because I was working a hospital shift when Dr. Sane examined her after you landed, and he asked me to assist him."
After a brief hesitation, Mark nodded and asked, "How old would you say she is?"
Carina shrugged at the odd question. "Two-and-a-half? Three?" Come to think of it, Dr. Sane hadn't mentioned the girl's age. And wait – how long had Alex Wildstar been on Iscandar?
He shook his head. "She was an infant when we took them aboard the Argo, Carina. It's an Iscandarian trait – they grow to adulthood in their first year, then age at the normal rate after that. It's… It was amazing, watching her grow on the trip back to Earth. I'm not sure what's going to happen to her now," he added. "I hope they don't let the Council get its hands on her."
"Oh, no. That would be…" She cringed at the thought of that sweet little girl being turned over to the vultures in the Council. "But the Commander is a good man, and he has the highest respect for Starsha and what she did for Earth. I'm sure he'll come up with a plan."
"I hope so." He glanced at the clock and stood to drain the pasta, passing her a loaf of fresh bread from the oven to slice. So far the evening had felt very… domestic, she thought, comfortable.
"You know," she teased, "Chris Eager is cooking for my friend Jenny tonight. I'll be comparing notes with her. But no pressure."
"Great," he muttered as they sat. "But good for Eager. I'm glad he's found someone." They said grace and began to eat. After the first bite, Carina closed her eyes and purred happily. "This is heavenly, Mark. Why didn't you tell me you had this hidden talent?"
"It's not much of a talent, I'm afraid," he said, although he looked pleased by the compliment. "This is about the extent of my culinary prowess. Other than this, it's basically toast and cereal for me. Maybe some grilled meat if I'm feeling inspired."
"Well, your mastery of the sauce makes up for what you lack in variety." Carina ate heartily and was soon feeling satisfied, relaxed and slightly bloated.
They moved to the living room area to sit and talk. Here, again, he hadn't done much decorating. The only items on the mantle were a tiny model of the Argo and two framed photographs: a family portrait that looked like it must have been taken right before he took off for Iscandar, and the picture of him with Trelaina that had been on the cover of the photo album Carina gave him for Christmas. A couple of extra pillows and blankets made the stiff beige cushions of the institutional couch a little more inviting. "Sit down – I picked up some pastries, too. I'll bring them in."
"Ugh – I don't think I could eat a thing right now, but maybe in a little while." Carina sat in one corner, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs as Mark put the half-empty bottle of wine on the coffee table in front of them. She picked up her glass, smiling at how easily they had resumed their friendship. She had worried that things would be awkward between them, but their conversation was free and easy and he was being a perfect gentleman. Which was good, because she was determined that they would remain friends and nothing more, at least for now. His obvious infatuation with baby Sasha strengthened her resolve in that matter. Mark was great with his younger brother, too, and Carina didn't want to be the woman who prevented him from fathering a child. They were at the age where the marriages of their peers, made in haste during the Gamilon war, were beginning to fail, and female infertility was the number one reason cited for divorce. She cared about Mark too much to do something that could potentially destroy their relationship and leave them bitter toward each other.
"These are not homemade, unfortunately," he said, setting a plate of beautifully decorated pastries on the coffee table and snapping her out of her reverie, "but the bakery assured me they were fresh."
"They look delicious," she said as he settled opposite her, leaning against the arm of the sofa with one foot on the floor and the other on the cushion, his knee bent. They sat in comfortable silence, sipping their wine, until she spoke again. "Tell me what happened after we talked that last night. The rumor going around HQ was that the distress call came in from Leader Desslok?"
He nodded. "It's true. Desslok had returned to Gamilon and found a group of aliens plundering its ore. There was a battle, and Gamilon was destroyed. Blown up. They finally finished the job we started." Mark ran a hand over his face, and Carina reached over to squeeze his foot. She knew the destruction of Gamilon was still an unhappy subject for the Star Force. Even though they'd had no real choice in the matter, they carried the heavy burden of knowing they'd destroyed a civilization. "Victory tastes like ashes," Wildstar had said to Nova at the time. It had become a popular phrase for the Star Force to use when describing what happened on the enemy planet.
Mark went on. "Gamilon and Iscandar were twin planets. When Gamilon exploded, Iscandar was thrown from its orbit. The planet itself began to warp through space, and that's when Desslok called for our help. Wildstar assured the Commander that we could trust him, and the Commander gave us the order to go to Iscandar. He saw it as a chance to repay Starsha for what she did for Earth.
"By the time we got there, the enemy that destroyed Gamilon had returned and wiped out most of Desslok's fleet. We decimated the enemy so that all that was left was their mother ship. We suffered some minor damage and a few casualties, but it was a pretty quick and painless battle for us. We were able to destroy the mother ship when Iscandar warped again.
"But then another giant enemy ship appeared out of nowhere – they called it Gorba, a 'mechanical planet' from something known as the Dark Empire. The Dark Empire needed the ore from Gamilon and Iscandar to provide energy for its war machines. We fought on Desslok's side, and in the end, he wanted us to use the Wave Motion Gun, which would have killed him as well as destroying Gorba. That was when Starsha stepped in. She said she would join us and leave Iscandar to the Dark Empire in order to stop the fighting, but instead she sent Alex and Sasha aboard the Argo and stayed behind, destroying Iscandar and the enemy." He paused again, tears in his eyes. Starsha was a heroine to all of Earth, but to the Star Force she was also a friend. "That was it. That's when we came home."
Carina had listened raptly to his story, as very few of the details had come down from HQ. "Do you think this 'Dark Empire' is a threat to Earth? We're not prepared to go to war again so soon."
"It's possible. We defeated them at Iscandar, but we know nothing about them. We don't know whether there are more of them out there, or whether destroying this 'Gorba' eliminated the threat." Mark sighed heavily. "Wildstar believes helping Desslok will work to our advantage, at least. He thinks we'll be able to call on Desslok at any time if we need help."
"But you're not so sure about Desslok." It wasn't a question – she could sense his discomfort.
He looked at her sharply, then chuckled and nudged her with his foot. "I can't hide anything from you, can I? I had almost forgotten what it was like to share a brain."
Shrugging, she squeezed his foot again, leaving her hand to rest on his ankle without thinking. "Disconcerting, isn't it?"
"A little," he grinned, and then his expression became more serious. "No, I'm not so sure about Desslok. I can accept that he's our ally, that he's on our side, although I still have a hard time with it. But that doesn't change the fact that he's responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths, does it? I have trouble seeing him as one of the Good Guys."
"I suspect a lot of people on Earth would agree with you."
His jaw was clenched. "I understand that it's important for us to stay on Desslok's good side. He could be a strong defender of Earth if we ever need him. But the way Wildstar interacts with him – it's as if they're old friends. To me he's still a fascist dictator. And he told Wildstar before we left that he's planning to rebuild his empire. That doesn't sound to me like he's interested in working for peace."
Carina considered what he said, running her fingers over his leg absently. "Have you told Wildstar how you feel?"
Mark sighed again. "We talked about it. I respect his ability to be diplomatic, and he says he understands my point of view. But I'm also worried about what it does to my military career. I honestly don't know if I could control myself if I were face to face with someone whose attitudes are so antithetical to mine. That could prevent me from being assigned my own ship."
After a pause, she said, "I'm not sure what to tell you – I'm not really the person to give advice on diplomacy. I don't always have much of a filter between my brain and my mouth."
Smiling gently at her, he sat up to reach for the wine bottle. She jerked her hand away when she realized it was still on his leg. Time to break that habit. "No need for advice, love," he said. "It feels good just to get it off my chest." She blushed at the endearment and adjusted her posture, curling her legs beside herself. After he topped off her glass he sat back with both legs on the sofa, his feet propped against hers, and she changed the subject.
"So is that what you want? To captain a ship? I guess I think of that as more the career path of a combat guy than a navigator." She didn't like the idea of him being permanently assigned to space duty.
"Well, probably not a battleship – I don't have the right instincts for that – and working on a transport ship is incredibly dull, but I would love to captain an exploratory expedition someday, if we're ever in that position. If not, I may try to find something a little more stable, like teaching." He looked at her for a long moment, and she felt the old spark between them flare to life. His voice was suddenly soft. "I guess it depends on where life takes me." Don't get caught up in the moment, she reminded herself, her heart pounding. She struggled to come up with a light, pithy reply, but was spared the necessity when he broke eye contact with her and reached for the plate of pastries on the table, clearing his throat. "But what about you? You've never had an extended space assignment, have you?"
"Only brief trips." She accepted a cookie gratefully. "My skills aren't really a match for a transport assignment, and it's almost unheard of for a woman to be assigned to a warship, or even to a base doing research and construction on another planet. I've never even experienced a space warp."
He laughed. "Don't lose any sleep over that. You get used to them, but your first few warps leave you with motion sickness to a factor of a thousand."
"So I hear. Anyway, I'm not really in a position to think about long-term goals right now." She paused. "I think I've mentioned to you that my father is starting to get forgetful. I ignored it when I went home at Christmastime – he's really not in bad shape – but my brothers have been calling me. I think they want me to step in and do something about Katie. No one is worried that Dad can't take care of himself, but they're concerned about her."
"But what do your brothers expect you to do? They're the ones living in the States. Can't they do something to help your father and your sister?"
Looking away from him, she sighed. "Well, Georgie's fiancée's parents are having health problems, too, and Richie's wife is pregnant and they can't take on any more responsibility. And anyway, I'm the oldest girl, so I'm expected to take care of it." She felt her irritation with her brothers rising. "I don't have a problem with helping my family – I love my father and my sister. The problem is that they want me to move back to the US and deal with it there. I could probably take a family medical discharge, or an extended leave, but why should I have to? My brothers think since I'm not married, I shouldn't have a problem with uprooting my life. But I like my life here. I like my job." She glanced at him. "And there are people here I care for. I don't want to leave."
Mark slid over and took her hand. "Couldn't you bring them here? You can keep your job with Earth Defense as a civilian contractor."
She nodded. "That's what I'd like to do, if it comes to that. It's just that the boys are starting to put pressure on me to come home. They don't get that this is my home now." She squeezed his hand and let it go. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to unburden myself on you."
"Hey, I've unburdened myself on you plenty of times. It's not fair to you, what they're asking you to do. You need to think about what's best for yourself as well as for your father and sister."
"Thanks. I appreciate the support." She grinned. "It feels good just to get it off my chest." Mark refilled their wine glasses again, and they sat back to discuss lighter subjects. Before Carina knew it, the clock chimed 2330. "I think I'd better get you home," Mark said regretfully.
She rolled her eyes at him. "You don't need to 'get me' anywhere, Mark. I think I can manage – it's only four blocks."
"Uh-uh." He shook his head as he stood. "I don't like this habit you have of wandering around by yourself. It's not as safe out there as you think it is. Especially in the middle of the night."
It was obvious that he wasn't going to let her go without him – he was already reaching for his pea coat. Well, his concern was touching. She would accept it without argument.
As he locked the door behind them, she leaned against the wall. "Thanks for having me over tonight, Mark. It was a lot of fun."
He took her arm and led her into the night, where the temperature had dropped considerably since she walked over earlier. "It was fun, wasn't it? I have to admit, Carina, I was a little nervous about seeing you. I was afraid it might be strange, meeting in the real world outside of the hospital."
"I know. I was worried we wouldn't have anything to say to each other." Happily, that fear had been unfounded. They walked in silence for a couple of blocks, until a strong gust of wind sent a shiver over her. She had been trying to ignore the cold, but the wind was bitter. "Wow, it's really gotten chilly."
He let go of her arm and took off his pea coat, draping it over her shoulders against her protests. She had to admit the warm coat felt wonderful – she pulled at the lapels to wrap it more tightly around herself. His scent was all over the fabric, and as she breathed it in a tidal wave of emotion washed over her. All of the feelings she'd held at bay since he left in January came rushing back, bringing tears to her eyes. Oh, no. Hold it together. She took a deep breath to calm down…
And sniffled gracelessly. He looked at her. "Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, her voice unsteady. She cleared her throat to cover it, but he wasn't fooled. He took her arm and turned her to face him.
"What's wrong? Did I do something?" He looked so worried that she couldn't help smiling. She put her hand on his cheek.
"No, sweetie, of course not. It's just that…" This was one of those times when she didn't know how to filter what she wanted to say. "It just struck me how much I've missed you. I'm so happy you're home, Mark."
She watched his expression change from concern to surprise; to happiness; and finally to something she couldn't define. Eyes darkening, he murmured, "I've missed you too, love. It was so good to spend time with you tonight." He stroked her cheek and took a step toward her. She held her breath, forgetting her misgivings, but at that moment a patrol robot that had been approaching them suddenly shone its light in their faces and asked them for identification. Carina was secretly relieved for the interruption as they jumped apart. After submitting to a retinal scan they moved on, his arm around her shoulders but the moment lost.
When they reached her building she relinquished his coat to him, straightening the collar after he slipped his arms into the sleeves. She slid her hands down the lapels and said softly, "Thanks for the escort, Commander."
The look in his eyes made her heart skip a beat. "Any time, Lieutenant." Running his hands down her arms, he spoke sternly. "I mean that – I don't like you being out there alone. If you need an exercise buddy when you go to the park, call me. If I'm not on duty, I'll go with you."
"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks. You're going to Nova's for brunch tomorrow, right? Want to pick me up on the way?"
"Sure. I'll come by a little before noon."
She didn't want to let him go, but it was time. "Goodnight, Commander."
"Goodnight, Lieutenant." He hesitated another moment, then leaned in and kissed her forehead tenderly before letting go of her arms and turning toward home. She watched him for a few seconds as she had done this morning, sighing this time as she opened the door. This might not be so easy after all.