“My parents are not dead!”
Like a pebble dropped into a placid pond, my words sent a ripple of agitation from the front pew of the packed cathedral to the rear. Sitting right below my position in the pulpit, Aunt Tess buried her face in her hands. Next to her, Uncle Gunther met my eyes and slowly shook his head.
Feeling a pang of guilt at the looks on their faces, I reached out with my power. As always, I felt Mom’s and Dad’s presence—far, far away but as warm and alive as always. If I lived in a different galaxy and under a different government, I could just announce what my power told me. In this galaxy and under this government, such a claim would mean impressment into Psi Corps, the loss of my freedom, and the loss of any hope I had of finding my parents. With no other way to get my parents back, I forged on with my plan.
“I know my parents have been missing for seven years. I know there’s never been an attempt to collect a ransom. I know my parents’ spaceship has never been found. I know none of you believe me. I know you all think I should just shut up and be the spoiled rich kid the public already thinks I am.”
I paused and let my gaze wander over the crowd, once again still as that placid pond. Their faces displayed stern disapproval, horrified fascination, and consternation. The few newsies covering the service radiated excited anticipation as I turned a boring obit story into a juicy scandal.
“And I know my parents still live!” I returned my gaze to my aunt and uncle, the only family I’d known for the past seven years. “Uncle Gunther, I’m sorry to ruin the memorial service you worked so hard on. Aunt Tess, I’m sorry to revive the pain you felt when your brother—my father—went missing. Truly, I am. But I cannot simply stand before all of these people and pretend they are dead.” I gave my uncle a half-smile. “You hate yes men, Uncle Gunther. Would you have me become one? Would you have me go along to get along?”
Shaking my head, I climbed down from the pulpit and paced before the men and women in the front pew, members of the GenCo board of directors. One by one, I met and held their eyes. One by one, each member of the board turned away from my gaze.
“For the last several months, you members of the board have sidled up to me and, when no one else was around, asked what I would do with my inheritance.” I stopped, straightened my shoulders, and deepened my voice to mimic the voices of the older men before me. “You’re going to be the richest person on the planet, Matt, but you’re still young! You should be busy enjoying your youth—spending time in the company of pretty girls or hoisting a few beers with friends whiles arguing the fate of galactic civilization or something else wild and crazy. You know, doing all those things we old folks tsk about but secretly wish we could do. You shouldn’t be worrying about the responsibilities of running an interstellar corporation! There will be plenty of time for that when you’re old and set in your ways, like me. Have you thought about which board member will best represent your interests, son? Have you thought about who you’ll assign your proxies to?”
I returned to my normal voice. “I won’t insult the ladies on the board by attempting to mimic their voices. Their message was couched in maternal phrases about finding the right girl and settling down, but the rest was essentially the same.”
I laughed and shook my head and paced a little more. I looked at the floor, not the crowd, but my voice carried easily over my silent audience.
“By an amazing coincidence, each of you did your best to convince me that you deserved to hold my proxies. My, but you certainly are a caring lot, each of you angling to convince me you’re my friend, my buddy, my pal. But none of you ever mentioned the one thing I care the most about. Not one of you mentioned helping me search for my parents!”
I ascended into the pulpit once more and looked down on the front pew from on high.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I listened to what each of you said. I carefully considered everything each of you told me. And you’ll be happy to hear that your touching concern for me was invaluable helping me decide the best way to use that fortune I’ll inherit in three days.”
I placed my hands on the edge of the pulpit and leaned forward, just like a priest driving home the message from a sermon.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to liquidate my entire inheritance. Then, I am going to use that money. To. Find. My. Parents!”
Shouts of outrage and alarm rose from the crowd, most especially the members of the board sitting before me. I ignored them, descended from the pulpit, and left the sanctuary by the priest’s entrance at the front of the cathedral.
My bodyguard fell in beside me as I exited the sanctuary. I didn’t tell him I was coming out this way and it impressed me that he figured it out so quickly. So much for a few minutes of solitude after my speech.
“May I offer a comment, sir?”
“I’m surprised you asked, Jonas. Usually, you just go ahead and give your blunt assessment of my incautious behavior.”
“Speaking at your parents’ memorial service is bound to be emotionally trying, sir. My observations can wait if you want time to regain your equilibrium.”
“Did you listen to my speech, Jonas?”
“I noted it while watching for threats, sir.”
“Then you know I believe my parents are still alive. Don’t you think that would immunize me against such emotions?”
“Not necessarily, sir. I imagine the impact is different than mourning the dead, but knowing others do not believe as you do must be emotionally draining, as well.”
Jonas knew me well. He had been with me since before my parents disappeared, so that’s not a surprise. The depth of his insight was a surprise.
“After seven years of disbelief, I barely notice that drain on my emotions. Speak your piece.”
“You should not have announced your intention to liquidate your inheritance until the liquidation was in process. You’ve told some of the richest, most powerful people on Draconis that you are a threat to their way of life. It was not one of your better moves.”
I have never been called an idiot quite so politely, but I cringed anyway.
“My apologies, Jonas. I got carried away by the moment.”
“No doubt, sir. I do hope the looks on their faces gave you some pleasure. You should get something beneficial out of this.”
“Oh, it felt great!”
“I further hope that feeling will carry you through the next few days of restricted activity.”
I sighed. “You’re going to tell Uncle Gunther to keep me inside the house until he can try to talk me out of this.”
“I am, sir. It’s for your own protection. Now, am I correct in assuming you will be skipping the reception after the memorial service?”
“You are. I have no interest in being lectured by every member of the board.”
“Very good, sir. I ordered the car brought to the rear exit before you finished your speech.”
Jonas offered his suggestion and my uncle readily acceded to it. It’s amazing how confining a five thousand square meter house and a ten square kilometer lawn can feel when you are not allowed to leave them.
To my surprise, neither my uncle nor aunt tried to talk me out of my plans. Instead, they were understanding. It was an insidious plan on their part and, despite my best intentions, by the second day my determination to liquidate my inheritance began to waver. I had to get out of the house and regain my perspective.
There was one place I always went when I needed to think things over. I went to the docking bay where Dad and I kept our rebuilt spaceship. The two of us had spent hundreds of hours working on the ship when I was growing up. After Dad and Mom disappeared, I always felt closest to them when I was tinkering on the spaceship.
My bodyguards knew this. When they discovered I had slipped away, they would know exactly where to find me. But that was okay. Just one hour alone on the little spaceship would restore my crumbling willpower.
All I had to do was fool a team of the best bodyguards money could buy and slip away. Not an easy task, but I’ve been doing it off and on for years. I’m quite good at it. Of course, the bodyguards are quite good at countering my escape attempts. But this time I had a surprise I’d held in reserve for over a year, something my bodyguards would never suspect until it was too late.
As darkness fell, I turned on the shower in my suite, running the water good and hot to mask me from the house’s thermal sensors. The bodyguards wouldn’t worry because the sensors would pick me up again before I even left the bathroom. Except the sensors would not pick me up! Standing next to the shower, I pulled on my little surprise—a military-grade thermal dampening suit.
GenCo, my father’s company—my company, by this time tomorrow—made the suits and I’d managed to get my hands on one. In truth, I’d gotten my hands on the components for the suit and spent close to six months assembling it. It was time to find out if my suit worked or not.
I activated the suit and left the bathroom. Crossing to my balcony, I slid down a rope to the ground fifteen meters below. I stole across the lawn, flitting from shadow to shadow. No floodlights came on. No alarms sounded. Five minutes later, I was over the wall and gliding past neighboring mansions and away into the night.
I’d done it! For an hour or two, I was free and clear.
Getting over the wall and away from the house was only part of the challenge. I was still a long way from the center-city docking bay that was home to my spaceship. Most days, a couple of bodyguards drove me to the site. Sometimes I drove myself, closely followed by a car carrying two or three bodyguards. For obvious reasons, both of those options were out. So I did what no one would expect.
I took public transport.
It was a short walk to the local maglev station; the help has to get to and from their jobs in the mansions somehow, after all. A couple of minutes later, I caught the first train back to the city. The half full train carried me through a dozen stations, the crowd ebbing and flowing around me. No one bothered me, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Ten minutes from my stop, my comm buzzed. I’d brought one of several unlisted and unregistered comms I owned. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you own the company. In other words, no one should have this comm code. Certain it could only be a wrong number, I let it go to the message bank.
Within seconds, the comm buzzed again. Irritated, I waited for it to go to the message bank again.
“Idiot! Listen to the comm message before calling again. You’ve got a wrong number.”
Based on the vids I watched, people on trains talked to themselves all the time. Based on the looks I got from people nearby, reality was different.
I gave a sheepish smile to the nearest passenger. “Sorry. Someone keeps calling and they never leave a message.”
“Then why don’t you answer it and tell the person of their error?” The passenger, a middle-aged woman, shook her head in disapproval. “The caller could be flustered due to an emergency, have coded the comm wrong the first time, and keep hitting the repeat button. Young people today have no manners. I’d never have ignored a comm when I was your age!”
I pulled the comm out of my pocket. “Thank you, ma’am. I hadn’t considered that and will remember what you’ve told me.”
That earned me a slight smile and a nod. The woman turned back to her reader.
I thumbed the comm and, in case the woman was still listening, adopted my polite young man voice.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recognize your comm code. I believe you may have miscoded.”
The woman’s smile widened. She had been listening.
“Where are you, sir?”
“You’re not the only person with unlisted comms, sir.”
“Apparently my comms aren’t as unlisted as I thought. How did you get this code?”
“There’s a record for every comm code, even unlisted ones. And your uncle is chairman of the board of the conglomerate that manufactured your comm.”
We pulled up to the last station before my exit. Almost everyone got off at this stop, including Miss Manners. She gave me a little wave, which I returned.
“As I asked before, sir, where are you?”
“I’m on the maglev train, heading to the docks in the center of town.”
“How many stations are left before you reach the docks?”
“We just pulled away from the last station.”
“Can you look about your car without appearing to do so, sir?”
It was dark outside the car and well-lit inside. I could easily see the interior of the car reflected in the windows. I didn’t know what had Jonas so worried until I saw the reflection of the six men about my own age sitting a few rows behind me.
“There are eight other people in the car. Two men sitting by themselves and six guys about my age in the back of the car. The six guys keep looking my way.”
“Do you see a transit officer or a more crowded car?”
I looked up through moving tunnel of linked cars and back through the reflections.
“No to both, Jonas. Suggestions?”
“Are you armed?”
“It’s against the law to bring weapons on public transport.”
“Next time you pull a stunt like this, please disregard such laws. I’d much rather deal with the police than the coroner.”
“I’m glad you think there will be a next time, Jonas.”
“I will get you out of this, sir, if for no other reason than the pleasure I will take from giving you a verbal flaying. Back to the matter at hand. Is anyone in the car ahead of you?”
“Three people, all older, none together.”
“Good. Stay in your seat until the train begins slowing for the next station. Rise slowly, as if you’re just another traveler getting off the train. At the last second, bolt for the next car and out its door.”
“Got it. What then?”
“The platform exit will be to the right. Head out onto the street and turn left. Watch for an oh six green Jusair. The driver is one of us.”
“That car is older than me, Jonas! Are you—”
“Pay attention to the situation, sir, not the year the car was built. Is the station in sight?”
“Then it’s time to put away the comm and concentrate on the plan.”
As much as I wanted to get away from Jonas and the others earlier, I no longer wanted to be alone.
“Jonas, does this have anything to do with my announcement?”
“I know you are, sir. And, if I may be allowed to say, it’s about damned time.”
Despite myself, I gave a short laugh.
“I’ll talk to you soon, sir.”
Standing as the train slowed, I pocketed the comm unit. My eyes flicked to the reflection in the windows. The six guys in the rear stood, all of them openly eying me. I lifted my arms as if stretching. The guys in the back grinned at each other, thinking I would be an easy mark.
I broke off my stretch and sprinted for the next car. Shouts erupted behind me, followed by the clatter of footsteps as the gang came after me.
The train slowed to a crawl as it pulled up to the station. Between me and the door, an older man rose to his feet and turned toward the aisle.
“Watch out, sir!”
The man started at my shout and looked at me. His eyes widened and he slumped back into his seat. Fearful eyes tracked me as I dashed past him.
I turned my attention to the still-closed door. Should I hope the door opened in time or run to the next car? A glance toward the next car showed a pair of young guys blocking the aisle. Great, the gang behind me had friends in front of me!
The door hissed and began opening when I was five meters away. Never has a door moved so slowly! I turned sideways and slipped through the partially open door. A hand snatched at my sleeve, but I pulled it free and ran to the right, just as Jonas instructed.
Two of my pursuers slid through the door like I had, but the others piled up against the slow-moving barrier. At least I’d managed to put a few more meters between me and most of them.
I dodged around a few people, all of whom shrank back as I passed. From their reactions, I guessed this kind of thing wasn’t as unusual to them as it was to me.
I reached the escalator down to street level. The stairs were not moving, but I had never considered simply riding the thing down anyway. I hit the stairs and leapt down five steps. More people trudged down the stairs ahead of me, blocking my way.
Leaping another five steps, I shouted, “Get out of the way!”
Most of the people scooted to the right side of the motionless stairs without looking back, but one man refused to move. His shoulders stiffened at my shout, so he had heard me. I guess he was just tired of young punks ordering him around. I sympathized—I really did—but his stubborn reaction might get me killed!
Thanking the education gods that gymnastics was still a sport taught in expensive private schools, I brought both feet together and jumped from three steps above the stubborn man. Tucking, I used the man’s shoulders as a vault. He shouted in surprise when I flipped from his shoulders. I unfolded from the tuck and prepared for a blind landing. You always land blind after a forward flip, but I could only guess how far I had to fall to reach the ground. I guessed wrong.
My right ankle twisted beneath me as I hit the floor at the bottom of the escalator. I went limp and rolled, trying to save my ankle from a sprain or break. Pain blossomed from the ankle as I came to my feet. Ignoring the pain, I staggered toward the street just a few meters away.
Shouts of alarm rang behind me as the gang chasing me shoved people out of their way. Limping as fast as I could, I risked a look behind me. The guys closest to me lay tangled among the people they’d barreled into while chasing me. The rest of the gang pounded down the other side of the escalator, people below them jumping out of their way.
Hoping my ankle would hold for a few more seconds and hoping even more that Jonas’s associate was on time, I turned left and ran on. Pain lanced through my ankle with every pounding step I took. From the shouts and footsteps behind me, my lead over the gang was no more than five meters.
Shouts of joyous rage rose behind me. “We got you now, punk!”
Powerful repulsers whined behind me, drowning out the shouts. A green Jusair shot across my path and the passenger door flew open.
The voice was young and feminine and, somehow, familiar.
I dropped and rolled toward the car. The second I was out of the way, a steady stream of blaster bolts flashed over my head. Cries of pain and fear broke from the gang on my heels. The firing stopped as suddenly as it started.
“Get in but stay low!”
I rose to a crouch and dove into the car. The driver put the car into a tight spin and I found my head laying in her lap, a bare midriff right before my eyes. My ankle throbbed and I had just escaped death by the skin of my teeth, yet my mind focused exclusively on the belly button mere centimeters before my nose.
“Are you okay, Matt?”
The familiar voice drew my attention from my navel gazing. I rolled my head and looked up. The soft glow from the dashboard lit blonde hair framing a very pretty and very familiar face.
“Yep. It looks like you’ve been busy since the semester ended!”
I struggled to sit up, but Michelle just pushed my head down into her lap again. I really liked the view from her lap, so didn’t struggle.
“Um, not that I’m complaining, Michelle, but what the hell are you doing here?”
“Saving your ass, Matt.”
“Yeah, and thanks. Seriously. But I was expecting one of my bodyguards, not someone from school!”
Michelle laughed and patted my head. “Silly boy, I am one of your bodyguards.”
“Since we first met, back in sixth grade!”
Michelle checked her exterior view cams, either oblivious to the bombshell she’d just dropped or pretending to be.
“Okay, you can sit up now.”
My mind whirled through school memories before settling down on the day I’d met Michelle. Well, the day I first saw her, anyway. Every boy in our class fell in love with her the first day she came to our school. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in school—that title belonged to Jayna, with her best friend Brenda a close second—but Michelle didn’t act as if her looks made her some sort of royalty. You never felt Michelle was looking down her nose at you when she talked to you. Unlike many of the other guys in school, I never fell out of love with her.
Michelle spoke again, interrupting my memories. “I said, you can sit up now, Matt.”
“Oh! Sorry, Michelle.” I sat up. “I was… It’s just… You surprised me. I never knew I had a bodyguard in my school. Especially one as pretty as you.”
Oh, crap, had I just said that out loud?
“I mean, as young as you!”
Michelle laughed and it was filled with good humor rather than the scorn I’d expected. She glanced at me, her blue eyes reflecting the same humor I heard in her laugh.
“That’s very kind of you to say, Matt.”
“Um, that you’re pretty? I know you’re not blind or stupid, Michelle. You’ve got to know that already!”
“No, it’s not that, though it is charming the way you just blurted it out.”
“Then I really don’t understand. Unless you think we’re not young.”
Michelle patted my leg. “No, it’s that you never knew anyone was guarding you inside the school. It means I’ve done my job well.” Like flipping a switch, Michelle was suddenly all business. “And mentioning that job, I need to check in.”
She touched a button on the dash and a vid screen sprang to life. Jonas looked out from the screen. His eyes flicked between Michelle and me.
“You’re both safe and unharmed, Michelle?”
“I think Matt turned his ankle running from the gang, but otherwise yes to both questions.”
With an economy of words our literature teacher would have admired, Michelle related her end of the pick-up. When she finished, I described what had happened after Jonas signed off and before Michelle arrived.
“Now, Jonas, don’t you think you ought to tell me what’s going on?”
“Yes, but not over the vid.”
“Fine. Michelle can bring me home.”
“Good. And we can have your ankle checked when you get here. Michelle—”
“No, I should not bring Matt home. There are too many eyes and ears around. Have Matt come home with a girl and I can guarantee some servant will make a few credits selling that information to the newsies.”
“Being known as Matt’s girlfriend would give you a good reason to be by Matt’s side at all times.”
I liked the sound of that!
“Maybe, but Matt should know everything we know before agreeing to something like that.”
Jonas pondered for a moment. “Okay, what do you suggest we do?”
“Meet us at Matt’s spaceship. It’s where he was going, anyway, and a sealed spaceship is about as safe from attacks and from eavesdroppers as anything we’re likely to find.”
Jonas bestowed one of his rare smiles on the girl. “Good idea. I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Is there anything else?”
“Yes. Call Mom and let her know I’ll be home late.”
“Will do. See you in thirty.”
My eyes flicked back and forth between Michelle and the now-blank vid screen and my mouth dropped open.
Michelle giggled, the business-like bodyguard replaced by a young college coed in the blink of an eye. She reached out and gently pushed my mouth shut.
I blame my next statement on the unsettling events of the previous ten minutes.
“How long has Jonas been your father?”
That brought a long, loud laugh from Michelle.
“All of my life, Matt. That’s usually how these things work.”
I felt the blush rise up my face. God, how could I have said something so stupid to the girl I most wanted to impress?
Michelle reached out to me again and gave my hand a gentle squeeze. “It’s okay, Matt. You’ve had a lot of shocks and surprises tonight. If you ask me, you’re holding up really well.”
She steered into the docks and found a parking spot close to my ship. When we climbed out, she put an arm around me.
“You’re just a guy showing off his spaceship to his new girl, okay?”
I put my arm around Michelle and pulled her close. “Well, if you insist…”
My recent few minutes of sheer terror were all worth it for that short walk to the spaceship. Okay, maybe not entirely worth it, but holding Michelle and feeling the sway of her hips against mine made up for a lot. Inside the spaceship, I actually did show it off to Michelle.
Then Jonas arrived and my life changed forever.
Michelle opened the airlock when Jonas arrived. My head of security smiled fondly and gave Michelle a peck on the forehead. She kissed his cheek in return. I found the simple, intimate gesture between father and daughter sweet, painfully so. More than a third of my life had passed since I’d had such a moment with my parents.
Jonas eyed Michelle’s short, pleated skirt and bare midriff.
“You wore that to a rescue, Michelle?”
Michelle looked my way and rolled her eyes. “No, Daddy, I wore this to a club. Which you called me away from for this rescue.”
“A club is worse! What kind of signals do you think that outfit sends in that setting?”
“Maybe that I like to dance?”
“Do you think that’s the only message the boys at the club picked up, pumpkin?”
I watched and listened in fascination. I’d never seen this side of Jonas. Heck, I’d never even imagined it existed!
“Daddy, I cannot help what a bunch of stuck up, trust fund boys think when they see me. Besides, I dressed conservatively compared to the other girls.” Michelle turned a grin my way. “You should have seen Jayna. She might as well have written ‘slut’ on her forehead!”
“I don’t care what your friends wore, Michelle. The point is—”
“Jayna is not my friend.”
“The point is that you know you could get called into work at a moment’s notice—like you did tonight. Your clothes must reflect that reality.”
Michelle pointed at her shoes, open-toed with flat heels. “I wore sensible shoes, Daddy. And I’ll bet you Matt’s inheritance that my legs have more range of motion in this skirt than yours do in any pair of pants you own!”
I burst out laughing. “She’s got you there, Jonas. And you’ve got to admit she did a great job rescuing me.”
Michelle bestowed a bright smile on me. “Thank you, Matt.”
My words drew Jonas’s attention away from Michelle’s clothing and onto me. “You’re right on both counts, sir. Now, let me take a look at that ankle.”
Jonas poked and prodded for a moment. “It’s not broken or sprained. I can give you something for the pain, but there’s no need for medical nanites. It will heal by morning.”
I waved away the pain med he offered. “I’m worried about my life, Jonas, not my ankle. And I’m worried about Michelle’s life and your life and the lives of my other bodyguards. So, what’s going on?”
Jonas rose to his feet and started pacing. Since her father needed the meager floor space in the lounge to pace, Michelle came to the couch where I was stretched out. I started to sit up.
“Your ankle should stay elevated, Matt. Just lift your head for a second.”
I did and Michelle slid onto the couch beneath my head. It was uncomfortable, holding my head up like that, but I didn’t say anything. Then Michelle put her hand on my forehead and pushed my head down onto her lap for the second time that night.
Best. Night. Ever.
“You’ve already figured out most of it, Matt. One of the major shareholders, probably a member of the board of directors, wants to stop you from liquidating those shares you’re set to inherit tomorrow. Your well-known tendency to slip away from your bodyguards’ protection gave them hope they could make your death look like random violence.”
“What if I had just stayed holed up in the house until it was time to attend the inheritance appointment?”
“I suspect the attack would have been much more public and much more obvious. And a lot more people would have been endangered.” Jonas stopped pacing. “It took me a couple of days to put all of this together, sir. Had you not slipped out of the house, I’d be having this discussion with you, your aunt, and your uncle right now. Drastic measures are called for, sir.”
That put a damper on the best night ever, even when Michelle began stroking my head in sympathy.
“So you’re saying I have to give up my dream of finding my parents and announce it to the public?”
“That would be a start, sir, but I’m afraid it’s going to take more than that. To stave off attacks, I strongly recommend that you assign full control of all of your shares to your uncle or some other member of the board.”
“Meaning I couldn’t vote or sell my shares.”
“For how long?”
“I suggest a minimum of seven years.”
“And if I don’t make the announcement, I die and you and Michelle might get caught in the crossfire?”
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
“That is so not fair, Daddy!”
“Life isn’t fair, pumpkin. You know that.”
“Do it.” It came out as a harsh whisper.
“Are you certain, sir? I admit I believe it is necessary, but should you choose otherwise I will abide by your decision.” Jonas’s eyes flicked to Michelle. “I will, of course, take the precaution of removing Michelle from your security detail.”
I felt Michelle draw in a breath to protest her father’s pronouncement. “That won’t be necessary, Jonas. After all, it’s not like I really have any other choice.”
Jonas sighed and shook his head. “No sir, you don’t. Let’s get you home and I’ll get the announcement out to the board and the newsies.”
“Matt should stay clear of his home until the news is out, Daddy. After all, that’s where the assassins would expect to find him.”
Jonas nodded his head slowly, agreeing with his daughter’s assessment. “Where do you suggest I take him, Michelle?”
“Nowhere. Let him spend the night here. At least let him mourn the loss of his dream in the place where he’s most comfortable.”
Jonas thought for a moment. “I suppose I could send for a couple of bodyguards.”
“Matt already has a bodyguard here, Daddy. I’ll stay with him.”
Jonas’ eyebrows climbed to his hairline. In other circumstances, I’d have laughed.
“I’ve got this, Daddy.”
Jonas’s fond smile returned. “I guess you do. Okay, pumpkin, I’ll call once it’s safe for Matt to come out.”
Michelle let her father out and sealed the ship’s airlock. When she returned, Michelle slid back into her place on the couch, once again resting my head in her lap. She met my gaze and I saw her blue eyes were bright with unshed tears.
“I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now, Matt, but holding it in won’t help.”
A single tear spilled from her right eye and rolled down her cheek. With that tear, the dam holding my emotions in check burst.
I buried my head against Michelle and sobbed.
Sometime later, purged of tears and emotion, I fell quiet. Michelle stroked my hair, silently giving comfort and understanding. I wrapped my arms about her waist and gently squeezed, my cheek pressing into her soft stomach.
“Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad.” My ragged whisper blew across Michelle’s skin.
I rolled my head and looked up at Michelle. Tear tracks coursed down her cheeks and her eyes still shone with sympathy. She smiled and wiped her cheeks.