She was happy that morning, overjoyed as she was holding the brown envelope with all their ship’s crew around, eagerly waiting for her to open it. Three years she had studied for this day. She carefully removed the strip and pulled out the paper. Then flipped it over and couldn’t believe her eyes – the diploma!
They all congratulated her and shoved her towards the boss’s office. “Show him it!” they said. “He’ll be pleased!”
At the same time another man entered the building. He was refined and earned several amused sights.
He entered the office before she could go, interrupting her intentions. After an hour she was called in there too and she took the envelope with her.
Her face stiffened the moment she saw how familiar they were talking to each other. There was something wrong here and by the looks of it, she was in the centre of it.
He started in fatherly tone. “Now, I know I promised you the post if you receive your diploma, but the post has to be refilled and I have waited 3 years already. You do understand, I can’t wait any longer.”
She paled considerable, scrambling the papers behind her.
“Now, I wanted to talk to you before I announce it to others, knowing how much you wanted the place.”
He continued for a while, apologizing for his decision and explaining her how she must now stay steady and not feel hurt and how great security risk it would be if she would blurt out something inconvenient if she’d decided to give in to her emotions. He explained her thoroughly that as she had the past of abusing drugs, she must now be careful not to give in to them again.
He was already dismissing her, when he noticed the papers she was holding.
“What are these?”
“Wha… oh, um, nothing. Some papers for Ciril.” She shook her head.
The man behind the boss didn’t consider them nothing, he knew they had brought smile to the faces of the entire office and how they bit good will to her. In that light, he thought it a bit cruel for the old man tell her not to get angry. If he thought right…
The old man ordered them both out and followed fast, gathering all the staff around them.
He didn’t dare to let her out of sight though, but after observing her for a moment, he knew she wouldn’t go into some mindless rampage – her eyes were too empty for that, she seemed cold all of a sudden.
He announced him taking the position of the master there. Captain Marches. He was immediately held back by the deafening silence that fell upon the staff and the new captain knew she had something to do with this.
“Dismissed!” the man ordered and he watched how they slowly, like after a heavy blow, starting moving back to their positions, sending the silent female behind him biting looks.
She immediately took her leave back to her desk and she shoved the papers in the empty trash can beside her table, trying to shrug off the betrayal.
Not a word, she told herself, not a single word – it wasn’t worth it.
She shot the young woman angry stare and shook her head, still not able to say another word. Then the buzzing orb arrived that took its place right behind her and her shoulders slump. She was under surveillance, too. Another shockwave ran through the people around her and she just rose quietly, walked straight to the elevator, waited for the orb to enter, too, pushed the button and disappeared.
He watched the whole thing from his post and though it was strict rule violation, he didn’t say a word. Instead he walked straight to her desk and picked up the papers from the pin, asking, why she had thrown them there if she said they were for Ciril.
The man called Ciril stood up, surprised and reached for them automatically.
“She must of…” he didn’t know how to explain it, especially as he already knew, what those papers were and he himself had encouraged her to go and show them to their boss.
He didn’t give him the papers, instead opened the envelope and dragged out the diploma and he heard the silence again.
“Damn.” He stared at the piece of paper with a silver branch.
He hadn’t considered that in his plans when he took up the post. He was here to protect her, instead he had just caused her lose what she was heading for in years. He was angry now, loathing himself for proposing sending the orb with her. He only thought about the security and as she at the moment was a considerable trust risk, she surely understood, he thought. Damned, had he been in her position, he wouldn’t have understood it either – to be cut off from her goals in mere minutes before receiving them and be stamped as a possible trust risk – he would gone in rampage himself!
What he needed to avoid, he had just doubled the risk of getting.
She better be a smart girl and worth the cause, he thought sourly.
“I wish to speak with her when she returns.” He said coldly, slipping the paper back inside and heading to his office, taking it with him. He was in no mood of discussing something so trivia with a grown up woman as not tossing her diplomas away, but he was knew at the same time that there was nothing to do with that diploma anymore. It was a special course, necessity on his work, but useless anywhere else.
She did return, but she didn’t go to speak with him. She was in mode of avoiding saying anything and her face didn’t gain color the whole day, making others stay away, too. The moment the clock struck the end of the shift, the whole place emptied in a single swooshing move. She didn’t’ stay behind either.
He watched her leave and scanned through her speech monitor, the orb. It was usually full by the end of the day, the recording device, and they had to replace them every 24 hours. Hers was empty. Besides a mild ‘thank you’ to the lunch lady she hadn’t spoken a word.
To get on the better side with his new employees, he decided to go around the premise and saw and old man behind the counter while cooking at the same time. He instinctively offered his help and was gladly taken up.
“My niece usually helps me while Mikos is sick,” he explained for the lack of hands in the establishment, while piling him up with the new punch of orders to cook, “but she does have a day job and she arrives later.”
He was struck cold the next moment when a stripe of gold ran pass him, realizing it was Kathy. She went straight through the kitchen, welcomed some of the guests and seek for his uncle asking if she could help with something and the old man said he was covered for the day.
“Oh? Did Sparath come?” she shot her eyes at the counter and froze. Not even an oh came from those lips anymore.
“You have an orb with you, dear – have you been naughty again?” he joked, prickling the thing with his finger.
“No, uncle, just something I said brought it’s attention.” He calmed the man. “If…um… if you’re covered, I’ll…” she showed the door and a moment later was through there.
“Hmm, she’s in trouble again, I can tell – I haven’t seen the orb on her for five years now! Not after her boss agreed to take her word and let her go through the rehab without it. I thought more of the man to keep his word!”
He damned himself triple this time and decided to redeem his position in her eyes somehow. In order to help her, he had to get close to the girl, but he seemed to be in best terms on pushing her away.
The next few days were like working in a morgue again. He didn’t get his workers to co-operate, earning more slanders in one week than usually. Her voice detector was also empty, bearing nothing more than few polite comments or one longer explanation on some papers.
Then her birthday came. He was also invited as everybody in her crew were. He had learned they loved the girl and were shocked by his arrival, but thought she’ll turn to herself soon enough if they’d give her more work to dig in. That had saved her several times in the past, they said. They were friendly people though and after getting past the first shock, they welcomed him in the community as an old friend.
She arrived home at six that day. Sighing, switched the light on and got a SURPRISE from around her. She looked indeed surprised- there were almost 50 people there. Then her eyes fell on the captain and her smile vanished. She clomped for the door behind her, backed out fast and without another word, walked away.
She vanished the same evening. He couldn’t believe it at first, for a woman to vanish from a starship, but the orb returned to base that evening as they usually did, but the next one couldn’t track her down anymore. He checked the voice and there were four words only: “Where to, miss?”
It took him less than an hour to track down all the possible vessels taking passengers and who might have taken her away. He went after her and after landing on the first stop point he saw her sitting there, in the cafeteria with hot coffee between her fingers, staring at the stars above them.
He didn’t approach at first, fearing she might run again, just observed her there. She looked calm now, too even, for a woman who had in less than a week lost anything she thought worth to fight for – her job, life and friends. And she just sat there, stared at the stars above and drank coffee.
He landed on the chair against her.
“Why are you here?” she asked coolly, without even looking at him. “You have them all – go back to them.”
“That’s nonsense! I could ask you the same question.”
“I’m having the only cup of coffee worth tasting.” She murmured and showed the girl behind the counter that she wished for more.
He arched a brow.
“I’m thinking, ok?” she offered another excuse.
“My life. How nicely it turned out… Six years of struggling and all blown to heaven.” She chuckled. “And I’m not even allowed to speak about it, because as once an addict – always an addict. And addicts can’t allow themselves to get talkative.”
“Yes.” He scolded himself for that honesty.
The girl filled her cup again and she motioned her to bring him one too.
“Well, you really are top of a nudge talker.” He suddenly smiled. “I’ve heard even monks say more than what you said in a week.”
She wasn’t amused. Instead, she finished her coffee in one long zip, took her gloves and rouse.
“Congratulations on your job, Captain Marches.” She said bluntly and walked out the door, where she suddenly shuddered, let out a sigh and fell. Another casualty in the damned war.