Monday, September 21, 2015
July 14, part 5
I know Tep would have my head if he found out I went from Medical and the ‘visit’ with my dads straight to Oses. The Doc was not happy that I looked so worn out. I really was beat. But with confirmation that Nang was on the loose and more than likely looking for me and my baby, I needed to find out what the weapons commander’s inquiries had unearthed.
Oses had been in contact with the Atlanta site’s security team. He confirmed all my dads had told me, along with a few more details.
“Nang attempted to de-clan his Imdiko and Nobek,” Oses reported, his brow furrowed with disapproval. “His complaint was that he clanned them not realizing that he might one day have the opportunity to clan a Matara. With his clanmates being as fiercely homosexual as Betra is hetero, he could not hope to gain an Earther female for his clan. At the mediation, his Imdiko and Nobek claimed Nang was not merely interested in clanning a Matara ... they insisted he wanted you specifically.”
“Was this before or after he got into my fathers’ communications with me?” I asked, my heart thudding painfully. This was scary as hell.
“After. Two days after his bid to de-clan was rejected and therapy was ordered for the entire clan, he took that shuttle and left Earth.”
“Any sign of him since?”
“There was a report of a Kalquorian matching Nang’s description signing on to an Adraf freighter at the space station orbiting Neptune.”
“The one Earth allowed the Solns to operate before the war,” I remembered. “It was shut down when the fighting started since the Solns refused to drop Kalquor as a trading partner.”
Oses nodded. “The Galactic Council re-opened it to help facilitate Earth’s evacuation. Kalquorians have been in and out of that station since the end of the war, so there is no way to be sure it was Nang who was seen.”
“What about the shuttle?” I asked. “Leaving it behind would be a definite giveaway that he had been there.”
“No sign of it anywhere.” Oses scowled. “That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, however. Adrafs are profiteers. It could be that Nang was desperate to book passage and gain cover while he was at it. He may have paid for his right to work on the Adraf freighter by giving them the shuttle. They probably disassembled it to put in their cargo hold to sell for parts elsewhere.”
“Let’s say it was Nang,” I said. “Was that freighter heading to Kalquor?”
Oses shook his head, confirming what I’d suspected: he’d already investigated everything possible. “No, but it is making stops at various outposts. Nang will most likely not stay aboard it to avoid being caught. He’s probably left it already. I expect he will jump from ship to ship, making his way to the Empire that way. Getting into Kalquorian space will be a trick given our strict examination of incoming foreign vessels.”
“He’ll find it hard to come in on one of your ships since there’s an alert out for him,” I mused.
Oses smiled his most predatory smile. “Damned hard. I’m not saying he can’t pull it off, but it will take some doing.”
“There is little chance he’ll be on Kalquor in nine months.”
“Next to none.” Oses came close to stroke my hair, comforting me. “Pet, you should be all right even if Dramok Nang makes it to the home planet. I’ll personally see to it that the Matara Complex’s security knows you have an obsessed stalker. I’ll also make sure the local police force is aware of the problem. You will not be left alone to fend for yourself and Anrel.”
“Just the same, I’m worried,” I admitted. “It sucks to have to depend on others so much.”
Oses nodded. “I would hate that too. I can’t imagine how helpless you must feel. But you will be all right, Shalia.”
I’m glad one of us feels that way.
I went back to my quarters. It was time for dinner, but my appetite was nil. I was too tired to think of anything except that Nang was coming for me and Anrel. I tried to lay down and sleep, sure nightmares would come.
They didn’t because I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, unable to rest for the constant thought of Nang, far away but on his way. Who knew how far he would go, what he would do in his state of mind?
I’d known a woman back on Earth, a decent lady who dated a man she thought was the answer to her every wish and prayer. Her husband had died, leaving her the sole supporter of three young kids. Her new man was a charmer, a guy who seemed rock solid ... until he started showing up at her work and following her everywhere, including the grocery store. He spied on her to make sure she didn’t speak to other men. He made it clear that he would not tolerate her leaving him. Freaked out, she tried to call the relationship off anyway. He abducted her kids and disappeared with them. After a terrible couple of weeks with no idea where her babies were, he started comming her messages and pictures of the children. He said that when she agreed to marry him he’d bring the kids back. They’d live happily ever after as the prophets had told him they were fated to do.
Fortunately, that tale did have a happy ending ... of a sort. The police were able to track the man down soon after he got in touch with my acquaintance. He was arrested. The children, who he had taken good care of, went home to their mother. The most chilling part was the kids reporting that the boyfriend had constantly told them, “Your mom will join us soon. As soon as she does, we will all go to the Kingdom of Heaven, where we will spend eternity together.” Then he showed them bottles of juice, which he said they would drink to toast their new beginning.
The bottles were all found to be laced with poison. The five bottles, one for each of them, were deadly hereafter cocktails.
I don’t know that Nang is that obsessed or unbalanced. I do know that for Anrel’s sake, I will do everything in my power to not find out.
Maybe that was why I got up and went to my com. I had to do something, anything to feel I had some kind of control over the situation, some way of protecting my daughter. I called up a frequency I hadn’t tried in months. I waited for no one to answer, the way they had not the last dozen times I’d attempted to reach them. They knew my frequency and avoided it.
Then a low, dangerous voice came on, one I still recognized after seven months of separation. “Shalia?”
“Esak,” I whispered, hardly daring to believe the Nobek had answered. “Esak, is that really you?” He hadn’t turned on a vid connection.
“It is. You sound ... tired. Are you all right?”
Tears welled up and a sob trembled at the back of my throat. I swallowed it down. “I had my baby. Her name is Anrel. She is beautiful.”
There was a long beat. When Esak spoke again, his voice sounded thicker than before. Maybe he hadn’t turned on the vid because he didn’t want me to see him hurting. Nobeks, especially younger ones, have a lot of pride over such things. Showing certain emotions is akin to showing weakness.
He said, “Of course she’s beautiful. You’re her mother. Congratulations, Shalia.”
The words dried up for a moment. After so long, after all that had happened, I should have had a million things to say. For a few terrible seconds, I couldn’t think of one damned thing.
Of course the first questions should have been easy. “How are you? How are Dusa and Weln?”
“We are all well. Healthy. Strong. Dusa and Weln are working the overnight shift tonight.”
Dusa’s absence must have been why Esak had taken the chance on answering. The young Dramok had been the one to cut off all contact, convinced it was in my best interests. I understood Dusa’s reasons, but it still hurt after all this time.
I took what comfort I could in the sound of Esak’s voice. “How’s your head?” I smiled, thinking of his pride in his ‘marks of honor’. My first Nobek lover had plenty on his skull, thanks to a bomb that had nearly gotten him killed. Such things were glorious to his breed, prizes to dote on.
Esak’s tone was pleased. “My hair didn’t grow back in some places. When others come close enough, they see the scars I earned protecting you and the others. I have impressed a lot of men older with more experience than me.”
“Good for you.”
My voice failed again. Why was it so hard to speak to this man? He had been a lover, protector, friend. For all I knew, he was Anrel’s father.
Thinking of that, I remembered why I had commed in the first place. “I heard about Nang.”
“I’m glad you got my message.”
So it had been Esak who’d sent the cryptic Ask your fathers about Nang. I was willing to bet Dusa didn’t know about that.
“Thanks for the heads-up. From what I heard, he went pretty far off the deep end.”
Esak growled something that was probably some Kalquorian curse word. “Nang has gone to look for you, Shalia. He found out you’re pregnant and thought the baby might be his.”
“That’s what I understand.”
“Have you picked a clan yet? Do you have a Nobek to watch out for you and the little one once you reach Kalquor?”
I heard the desperate fury in his voice. “I have a couple of prospective clans. The Nobeks in them are big badasses, Esak. Total beasts. Plus I have a friend here on the ship who is keeping tabs on the situation. He promises to make sure I’m well protected by the complex’s security and law enforcement on Kalquor.”
I heard a sigh of relief. “That is good. Because Nang ... I think he may have gone insane. His actions are not those of a rational man. He probably won’t make it back to Empire space ... but it’s best to be cautious.”
“I know. Damn, Esak, it’s good to hear your voice again.”
I thought I heard a smile in his tone. “It is good to hear yours too. So very good, Shalia.” His voice softened. “The baby ... she is well? I do not know much of these things, but she must have come early.”
I didn’t want to tell him all I’d been through since leaving Earth. Esak was Nobek through and through, protective to a fault. He’d proven that by going against Dusa’s wishes and letting me know what was happening with Nang.
Instead I said, “There were complications which led to her being born ahead of term. She’s doing fine though.”
“I’m glad. I miss you, Shalia. I think about you all the time.”
I swallowed a lump of hurt that had lodged in my throat. I couldn’t claim the same thing. Sure, Clan Dusa was a presence somewhere in the back of my mind always, but I’d put them in a small little corner of my consciousness. It had been the only way to deal with the loss.
I’d had to leave them behind. Dusa had insisted on cutting them out of my life. So I had moved on after a long struggle with that, deciding to build a life without them. Yet hadn’t there always been the hope of seeing them again someday, of showing them the daughter that might be theirs?
This conversation was opening up old wounds. I almost wished I hadn’t made the call.
Our exchange limped along after that, never reaching a real moment of ease. Esak, a typical Nobek, wasn’t much for talk. He’d always been a doer, a quiet man of action. Plus I think we were feeling too much of the distance between us, the impossibility of a real future together. I know I did. Esak’s inquiries about the baby and myself were careful. It was as if he wanted to know everything and feared it too. We tortured ourselves and each other with our tenuous contact, one that would be severed yet again when we clicked our coms off.
In the end, it was too painful to go on. I thought I heard relief along with regret in Esak’s voice when he said goodbye. “Take care of yourself and the child, Shalia. For my sake, be safe.”
“I will. You do the same. Stay strong and alive for your clan. They need you.”
Then he was gone, that ghost of my past. Once more, a bit of Clan Dusa had entered my life and left it.
After sitting a while, I don’t know how long, I took a deep breath and pulled myself together. I turned my attention to the future, to tomorrow, to my plans and what I needed to do to ensure Anrel’s well-being. I was resolute as I vowed to figure out a way to keep her safe.
I will not look to the past again. With Clan Dusa it holds only hurt. With Nang it holds fear and regret. The past offers none of the answers I need.