It had been just one week since the conclusion of the most sensational trial in the experience of the UNS Divine Scepter survivors. Several Crusader henchmen, followers of the corrupt and murdered Shaspa Hendricks, were found guilty by a Tribunal of four of the most influential leaders in this nomadic human society. They had perpetrated physical and sexual abuse against Marine personnel as well as those victims’ family members. Given sentences of life imprisonment, they were incarcerated in the ship’s brig awaiting transfer to a prison to be built on the planet below.
ArcLieutenant-General Helena Romano was visiting the home of her CO Thomas Hastings. On this day, Helena was fulfilling a promise to help Hastings’ daughter, Alexis, with her preparations for the entrance exams she faces in a few weeks. Alexis has decided on a Navy career and has applied to the Navy Academy for Officer Training. The entrance requirements are quite demanding, but the seventeen-year-old Alexis remains undaunted and committed.
“Before we start that,” she waves her hand at the tablet before her guest, “may I ask you something?”
Romano looked up from the tablet, locked eyes with Alexis and cocked an eyebrow in question. The younger girl took that look as the invitation intended.
“I’ve seen lots of images and vid records of the planet surface, but what’s it really like down there?” It was one of the most asked questions aboard the ship populated by well over a million souls who had never set foot off UNS Divine Scepter.
The Navy XO smiled at her young friend and began to recount a few details about her few hours spent on the surface during the Marine/Crusader Crisis. “It’s really quite beautiful and… alien… is the word that comes to mind, Lex. We know from the ship’s horticultural pod that Earth soils tend to be brown or red – or even black depending on chemical compounds that make it up. Genesis ground is green!”
Lex’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “What about the atmosphere, Helena? Is it like ours here?”
“That takes some getting used to,” Helena responded excitedly. The air is hot and humid all the time – it also has a bite in your throat when you breathe it in. That worried me at first, but after a while, I didn’t notice it. The doctors tell us it is different but harmless.”
Romano noticed that her charge seemed downcast, and that wasn’t like Alexis Hastings who’s personality was a lot like her mother’s. She brushed the tablet aside and reached across the table to cover Alexis’ hand with her own.
“Lex… talk to me. What’s eating at you?”
The teen looked up briefly and then dropped her eyes as if ashamed that she failed to hide her feelings. She knew there was no point lying or being evasive – not with Helena. She had always trusted this accomplished woman who, in many ways, was like an older sister. At that moment she thought of her mother. Oh, Mom, I miss you so, and Daddy is so lost…
“It’s so hard, Helena. Mom was everything to Daddy and me, and now…” Her voice dropped off as her gaze fixed on Romano’s face. The two sat in silence communicating through their eyes and their hands, still clasped together.
“Go on, honey, I’m here for you.”
Alexis Hastings broke their physical contact and stood up. She turned, walked a few steps to the kitchen counter, leant forward supporting herself with both hands and hung her head. Romano followed her and put a protective arm around the teen’s shoulders. The young girl buried her face in Helena’s chest and sobbed quietly. They stood in this embrace for several minutes until the troubled girl gently disentangled herself.
“Helena,” the teen looked at her friend with tears not yet dried, “are you in love with my dad?”
… to be continued.