Zoe’s Tale PART III Chapter Twenty-One
The next morning I found out Dad was under arrest.
“It’s not exactly arrest,” Dad said at our kitchen table, having his morning coffee. “I’ve been relieved of my position as colony leader and have to travel back to Phoenix Station for an inquiry. So it’s more like a trial. And if that goes badly then I’ll be arrested.”
“Is it going to go badly?” I asked.
“Probably,” Dad said. “They don’t usually have an inquiry if they don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and if it was going to turn out well, they wouldn’t bother to have it.” He sipped his coffee.
“What did you do?” I asked. I had my own coffee, loaded up with cream and sugar, which was sitting ignored in front of me. I was still in shock about Enzo, and this really wasn’t helping.
“I tried to talk General Gau out of walking into the trap we set for him and his fleet,” Dad said. “When we met I asked him not to call his fleet. Begged him not to, actually. It was against my orders. I was told to engage in ‘nonessential conversation’ with him. As if you can have nonessential conversation with someone who is planning to take over your colony, and whose entire fleet you’re about to blow up.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked. “Why did you try to give General Gau an out?”
“I don’t know,” Dad said. “Probably because I didn’t want the blood of all those crews on my hands.”
“You weren’t the one who set off the bombs,” I said.
“I don’t think that matters, do you?” Dad said. He set down his cup. “I was still part of the plan. I was still an active participant. I still bear some responsibility. I wanted to know that at the very least I tried in some small way to avoid so much bloodshed. I guess I was just hoping there might be a way to do things other than the way that ends up with everyone getting killed.”
I got up out of my chair and gave my dad a big hug. He took it, and then looked at me, a little surprised, when I sat back down. “Thank you,” he said. “I’d like to know what that was about.”
“It was me being happy that we think alike,” I said. “I can tell we’re related, even if it’s not biologically.”
“I don’t think anyone would doubt we think alike, dear,” Dad said. “Although given that I’m about to get royally shafted by the Colonial Union, I’m not sure it’s such a good thing for you.”
“I think it is,” I said.
“And biology or not, I think we’re both smart enough to figure out that things are not going well for anyone,” Dad said. “This is a real big mess, nor are we out of it.”
“Amen,” I said.
“How are you, sweetheart?” Dad asked. “Are you going to be okay?”
I opened my mouth to say something and closed it again. “I think right now I want to talk about anything else in the world besides how I’m doing,” I said, finally.
“All right,” Dad said. He started talking about himself then, not because he was an egotist but because he knew listening to him would help me take my mind off my own worries. I listened to him talk on without worrying too much about what he said.
Dad left on the supply ship San Joaquin the next day, with Manfred Trujillo and a couple other colonists who were going as representatives of Roanoke, on political and cultural business. That was their cover, anyway. What they were really doing, or so Jane had told me, was trying to find out anything about what was going on in the universe involving Roanoke and who had attacked us. It would take a week for Dad and the others to reach Phoenix Station; they’d spend a day or so there and then it would take another week for them to return. Which is to say, it’d take another week for everyone but Dad to return; if Dad’s inquiry went against him, he wouldn’t be coming back.
We tried not to think about that.
Three days later most of the colony converged on the Gugino homestead and said good-bye to Bruno and Natalie, Maria, Katherina, and Enzo. They were buried where they had died; Jane and others had removed the missile debris that had fallen on them, reshaped the area with new soil, and set new sod on top. A marker was placed to note the family. At some point in the future, there might be another, larger marker, but for now it was small and simple: the family name, the name of the members, and their dates. It reminded me of my own family marker, where my biological mother lay. For some reason I found this a little bit comforting.
Magdy’s father, who had been Bruno Gugino’s closest friend, spoke warmly about the whole family. A group of singers came and sang two of Natalie’s favorite hymns from Zhong Guo. Magdy spoke, briefly and with difficulty about his best friend. When he sat back down, Gretchen was there to hold him while he sobbed. Finally we all stood and some prayed and others stood silently, with their heads bowed, thinking about missing friends and loved ones. Then people left, until it was just me and Gretchen and Magdy, standing silently by the marker.
“He loved you, you know,” Magdy said to me, suddenly.
“I know,” I said.
“No,” Magdy said, and I saw how he was trying to get across to me that he wasn’t just making comforting words. “I’m not talking about how we say we love something, or love people we just like. He really loved you, Zoe. He was ready to spend his whole life with you. I wish I could make you believe this.”
I took out my PDA, opened it to Enzo’s poem, and showed it to Magdy. “I believe it,” I said.
Magdy read the poem, nodded. Then he handed the PDA back to me. “I’m glad,” he said. “I’m glad he sent that to you. I used to make fun of him because he wrote you those poems. I told him that he was just being a goof.” I smiled at that. “But now I’m glad he didn’t listen to me. I’m glad he sent them. Because now you know. You know how much he loved you.”
Magdy broke down as he tried to finish that sentence. I came up to him and held him and let him cry.
“He loved you too, Magdy,” I said to him. “As much as me. As much as anyone. You were his best friend.”
“I loved him too,” Magdy said. “He was my brother. I mean, not my real brother…” He started to get a look on his face; he was annoyed with himself that he wasn’t expressing himself like he wanted.
“No, Magdy,” I said. “You were his real brother. In every way that matters, you were his brother. He knew you thought of him that way. And he loved you for it.”
“I’m sorry, Zoe,” Magdy said, and looked down at his feet. “I’m sorry I always gave you and Enzo a hard time. I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” I said, gently. “Stop that. You were supposed to give us a hard time, Magdy. Giving people a hard time is what you do. Ask Gretchen.”
“It’s true,” Gretchen said, not unkindly. “It really is.”
“Enzo thought of you as his brother,” I said. “You’re my brother too. You have been all this time. I love you, Magdy.”
“I love you too, Zoe,” Magdy said quietly, and then looked straight at me. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I gave him another hug. “Just remember that as your new family member I’m now entitled to give you all sorts of crap.”
“I can’t wait,” Magdy said, and then turned to Gretchen. “Does this make you my sister too?”
“Considering our history, you better hope not,” Gretchen said. Magdy laughed at that, which was a good sign, then gave me a peck on a cheek, gave Gretchen a hug, and then walked from the grave of his friend and brother.
“Do you think he’s going to be okay?” I asked Gretchen, as we watched him go.
“No,” Gretchen said. “Not for a long time. I know you loved Enzo, Zoe, I really do, and I don’t want this to sound like I’m trying to undercut that. But Enzo and Magdy were two halves of the same whole.” She nodded to Magdy. “You lost someone you love. He’s lost part of himself. I don’t know if he’s going to get over that.”
“You can help him,” I said.
“Maybe,” Gretchen said. “But think about what you’re asking me to do.”
I laughed. It’s why I loved Gretchen. She was the smartest girl I ever knew, and smart enough to know that being smart had its own repercussions. She could help Magdy, all right, by becoming part of what he was missing. But it meant her being that, one way or another, for the rest of their lives. She would do it, because when it came down to it she really did love Magdy. But she was right to worry about what it meant for her.
“Anyway,” Gretchen said, “I’m not done helping someone else.”
I snapped out of my thoughts at that. “Oh,” I said. “Well. You know. I’m okay.”
“I know,” Gretchen said. “I also know you lie horribly.”
“I can’t fool you,” I said.
“No,” Gretchen said. “Because what Enzo was to Magdy, I am to you.”
I hugged her. “I know,” I said.
“Good,” Gretchen said. “Whenever you forget, I’ll remind you.”
“Okay,” I said. We unhugged and Gretchen left me alone with Enzo and his family, and I sat with them for a long time.
Four days later, a note from Dad from a skip drone from Phoenix Station.
A miracle, it said. I’m not headed for prison. We are heading back on the next supply ship. Tell Hickory and Dickory that I will need to speak to them when I return. Love you.
There was another note for Jane, but she didn’t tell me what was in it.
“Why would Dad want to talk to you?” I asked Hickory.
“We don’t know,” Hickory said. “The last time he and I spoke of anything of any importance was the day – I am sorry – that your friend Enzo died. Some time ago, before we left Huckleberry, I had mentioned to Major Perry that the Obin government and the Obin people stood ready to assist you and your family here on Roanoke should you need our assistance. Major Perry reminded me of that conversation and asked me if the offer still stood. I told him that at the time I believed it did.”
“You think Dad is going to ask for your help?” I asked.
“I do not know,” Hickory said. “And since I last spoke to Major Perry circumstances have changed.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Dickory and I have finally received detailed updated information from our government, up to and including its analysis of the Colonial Union’s attack on the Conclave fleet,” Hickory said. “The most important piece of news is that we have been informed that shortly after the Magellan disappeared, the Colonial Union came to the Obin government and asked it not to search for the Roanoke colony, nor to offer it assistance if it were to be located by the Conclave or any other race.”
“They knew you would come looking for me,” I said.
“Yes,” Hickory said.
“But why would they tell you not to help us?” I asked.
“Because it would interfere with the Colonial Union’s own plans to lure the Conclave fleet to Roanoke,” Hickory said.
“That’s happened,” I said. “That’s done. The Obin can help us now,” I said.
“The Colonial Union has asked us to continue not to offer aid or assistance to Roanoke,” Hickory said.
“That makes no sense,” I said.
“We are inclined to agree,” Hickory said.
“But that means that you can’t even help me,” I said.
“There is a difference between you and the colony of Roanoke,” Hickory said. “The Colonial Union cannot ask us not to protect or assist you. It would violate the treaty between our peoples, and the Colonial Union would not want to do that, especially now. But the Colonial Union may choose to interpret the treaty narrowly and has. Our treaty concerns you, Zoe. To a much lesser extent it concerns your family, meaning Major Perry and Lieutenant Sagan. It does not concern Roanoke colony at all.”
“It does when I live here,” I said. “This colony is of a great deal of concern to me. Its people are of a great deal of concern to me. Everybody I care about in the whole universe is here. Roanoke matters to me. It should matter to you.”
“We did not say it did not matter to us,” Hickory said, and I heard something in its voice I had never heard before: reproach. “Nor do we suggest it does not matter to you, for many reasons. We are telling you how the Colonial Union is asking the Obin government to view its rights under treaty. And we are telling you that our government, for its own reasons, has agreed.”
“So if my dad asks for your help, you will tell him no,” I said.
“We will tell him that so long as Roanoke is a Colonial Union world, we are unable to offer help.”
“So, no,” I said.
“Yes,” Hickory said. “We are sorry, Zoe.”
“I want you to give me the information your government has given you,” I said.
“We will do so,” Hickory said. “But it is in our native language and file formatting, and will take a considerable amount of time for your PDA to translate.”
“I don’t care,” I said.
“As you wish,” Hickory said.
Not too long after that I stared at the screen of my PDA and ground my teeth together as it slowly plodded through file transformations and translations. I realized it would be easier just to ask Hickory and Dickory about it all, but I wanted to see it all with my own eyes. However long it took.
It took long enough that I had hardly read any of it by the time Dad and the others had made it home.
“This all looks like gibberish to me,” Gretchen said, looking at the documents I was showing her on my PDA. “It’s like it was translated from monkey or something.”
“Look,” I said. I pulled up a different document. “According to this, blowing up the Conclave fleet backfired. It was supposed to make the Conclave collapse and all the races start shooting at each other. Well, the Conclave is starting to collapse, but hardly any of them are actually fighting each other. They’re attacking Colonial Union worlds instead. They really messed this up.”
“If you say this is what it says, I’m going to believe you,” Gretchen said. “I’m not actually finding verbs here.”
I pulled up another document. “Here, this is about a Conclave leader named Nerbros Eser. He’s General Gau’s main competition for leadership of the Conclave now. Gau still doesn’t want to attack the Colonial Union directly, even though we just destroyed his fleet. He still thinks the Conclave is strong enough to keep doing what it’s been doing. But this Eser guy thinks the Conclave should just wipe us out. The Colonial Union. And especially us here on Roanoke. Just to make the point that you don’t mess with the Conclave. The two of them are fighting over control of the Conclave right now.”
“Okay,” Gretchen said. “But I still don’t know what any of this means, Zoe. Speak not-hyper-ese to me. You’re losing me.”
I stopped and took a breath. Gretchen was right. I’d spent most of the last day reading these documents, drinking coffee, and not sleeping; I was not at the peak of my communication skills. So I tried again.
“The whole point of founding Roanoke colony was to start a war,” I said.
“It looks like it worked,” Gretchen said.
“No,” I said. “It was supposed to start a war within the Conclave. Blowing up their fleet was supposed to tear the Conclave apart from the inside. It would end the threat of this huge coalition of alien races and bring things back to the way it was before, when every race was fighting every other race. We trigger a civil war, and then we sweep in while they’re all fighting and scoop up the worlds we want and come out of it all stronger than before – maybe too strong for any one race or even a small group of races to square off against. That was the plan.”
“But you’re telling me it didn’t work that way,” Gretchen said.
“Right,” I said. “We blew up the fleet and got the Conclave members fighting, but who they’re fighting is us. The reason we didn’t like the Conclave is that it was four hundred against one, the one being us. Well, now it’s still four hundred against one, except now no one’s listening to the one guy who was keeping them from engaging in total war against us.”
“Us here on Roanoke,” Gretchen said.
“Us everywhere,” I said. “The Colonial Union. Humans. Us. This is happening now,” I said. “Colonial Union worlds are being attacked. Not just the new colony worlds, the ones that usually get attacked. Even the established colonies – the ones that haven’t been attacked in decades – are getting hit. And unless General Gau gets them all back in line, these attacks are going to keep happening. They’re going to get worse.”
“I think you need a new hobby,” Gretchen said, handing me back my PDA. “Your new one here is really depressing.”
“I’m not trying to scare you,” I said. “I thought you would want to know about all this.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Gretchen said. “You need to tell your parents. Or my dad. Someone who actually knows what to do about all this.”
“They already know,” I said. “I heard John and Jane talking about it last night after he got back from Phoenix Station. Everyone there knows the colonies are under attack. No one’s reporting it – the Colonial Union has a lockdown on the news – but everyone’s talking about it.”
“What does that leave for Roanoke?” Gretchen said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I know we don’t have a lot of pull right now.”
“So we’re all going to die,” Gretchen said. “Well. Gee. Thanks, Zoe. I’m really glad to know it.”
“It’s not that bad yet,” I said. “Our parents are working on it. They’ll figure it out. We’re not all going to die.”
“Well, you’re not going to die, at least,” Gretchen said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“If things really go swirling, the Obin will swoop in and take you out of here,” Gretchen said. “Although if all of the Colonial Union is really under attack, I’m not sure where you’re going to end up going. But the point is, you have an escape route. The rest of us don’t.”
I stared at Gretchen. “That’s incredibly unfair,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere, Gretchen.”
“Why?” Gretchen said. “I’m not angry at you that you have a way out, Zoe. I’m envious. I’ve been through one attack. Just one missile got through and it didn’t even explode properly, and it still did incredible damage and killed someone I care about and everyone in his family. When they come for us for real, we don’t have a chance.”
“You still have your training,” I said.
“I’m not going to be able to engage in single combat with a missile, Zoe,” Gretchen said, annoyed. “Yes, if someone decides to have a landing party here, I might be able to fight them off for a while. But after what we’ve done to that Conclave fleet, do you think anyone is really going to bother? They’re just going to blow us up from the sky. You said it yourself. They want to be rid of us. And you’re the only one that has a chance of getting out of here.”
“I already said I’m not going anywhere,” I said.
“Jesus, Zoe,” Gretchen said. “I love you, I really do, but I can’t believe you’re actually that dumb. If you have a chance to go, go. I don’t want you to die. Your mom and dad don’t want it. The Obin will hack a path through all the rest of us to keep you from dying. I think you should take the hint.”
“I get the hint,” I said. “But you don’t understand. I’ve been the sole survivor, Gretchen. It’s happened to me before. Once is enough for any lifetime. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Hickory and Dickory want you to leave Roanoke,” Dad said to me, after he had paged me with his PDA. Hickory and Dickory were standing in the living room with him. I was clearly coming in on some sort of negotiation between them. And it was also clearly about me. The tone of Dad’s voice was light enough that I could tell he was hoping to make some point to the Obin, and I was pretty sure I knew what the point was.
“Are you and Mom coming?” I said.
“No,” Dad said.
This I expected. Whatever was going to happen with the colony, both John and Jane would see it through, even if it meant they would die with it. It’s what they expected of themselves as colony leaders, as former soldiers, and as human beings.
“Then to hell with that,” I said. I looked at Hickory and Dickory when I said it.
“Told you,” Dad said to Hickory.
“You didn’t tell her to come away,” Hickory said.
“Go away, Zoe,” Dad said. This was said with such a sarcastic delivery that even Hickory and Dickory couldn’t miss it.
I gave a less-than-entirely-polite response to that, and then to Hickory and Dickory, and then, for good measure, to the whole idea that I was something special to the Obin. Because I was feeling saucy, and also because I was tired of the whole thing. “If you want to protect me,” I said to Hickory, “then protect this colony. Protect the people I care about.”
“We cannot,” Hickory said. “We are forbidden to do so.”
“Then you have a problem,” I said, “because I’m not going anywhere. And there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it.” And then I left, dramatically, partly because I think that was what Dad was expecting, and partly because I was done saying what I wanted to say on the matter.
Then I went to my room and waited for Dad to call me again. Because whatever was going on between him and Hickory and Dickory, it wasn’t over when I stomped out of the room. And like I said, whatever it was, was clearly about me.
About ten minutes later Dad called for me again. I went back into the living room. Hickory and Dickory were gone.
“Sit down, Zoe, please,” Dad said. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Does it involve leaving Roanoke?” I asked.
“It does,” Dad said.
“No,” I said.
“Zoe,” Dad said.
“No,” I said again. “And I don’t understand you. Ten minutes ago you were happy to have me stand here in front of Hickory and Dickory and tell them I wasn’t going anywhere, and now you want me to leave? What did they tell you to make you change your mind?”
“It’s what I told them,” Dad said. “And I haven’t changed my mind. I need you to go, Zoe.”
“For what?” I said. “So I can stay alive while everyone I care about dies? You and Mom and Gretchen and Magdy? So I can be saved when Roanoke is destroyed?”
“I need you to go so I can save Roanoke,” Dad said.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“That’s probably because you didn’t actually let me finish before you got on your soapbox,” Dad said.
“Don’t mock me,” I said.
Dad sighed. “I’m not trying to mock you, Zoe. But what I really need from you right now is to be quiet so I can tell you about this. Can you do that, please? It will make things go a lot more quickly. Then if you say no, at least you’ll be saying no for the right reasons. All right?”
“All right,” I said.
“Thank you,” Dad said. “Look. Right now all of the Colonial Union is under attack because we destroyed the Conclave fleet. Every CU world has been hit. The Colonial Defense Forces are strained as it is, and it’s going to get worse. A lot worse. The Colonial Union is already making decisions about what colonies it can afford to lose when push comes to shove.”
“And Roanoke is one of those,” I said.
“Yes,” Dad said. “Very definitely. But it’s more than that, Zoe. There was a possibility that I might have been able to ask the Obin to help us here on Roanoke. Because you were here. But the Colonial Union has told the Obin not to help us at all. They can take you from here, but they can’t help you or us defend Roanoke. The Colonial Union doesn’t want them to help us.”
“Why not?” I asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It doesn’t make sense if you assume the Colonial Union wants Roanoke to survive,” Dad said. “But look at it another way, Zoe. This is the first colony with colonists from the CU rather than Earth. The settlers here are from the ten most powerful and most populous Colonial Union worlds. If Roanoke is destroyed, all ten of those worlds are going to be hit hard by the loss. Roanoke will become a rallying cry for those worlds. And for the whole Colonial Union.”
“You’re saying we’re worth more to the Colonial Union dead than alive,” I said.
“We’re worth more as a symbol than as a colony,” Dad said. “Which is inconvenient for those of us who live here and want to stay alive. But, yes. It’s why they won’t let the Obin help us. It’s why we don’t make the cut for resources.”
“You know this for sure?” I asked. “Someone told you this when you went back to Phoenix Station?”
“Someone did,” Dad said. “A man named General Szilard. He was Jane’s former commanding officer. It was unofficial, but it matched up with my own internal math.”
“And you trust him?” I asked. “No offense, but the Colonial Union hasn’t exactly been on the up-and-up with us lately.”
“I have my issues with Szilard,” Dad said. “And so does your mom. But yes. I trust him on this. Right now he’s the only one in the whole Colonial Union I actually do trust.”
“What does this have to with me leaving Roanoke?” I asked.
“General Szilard told me something else when I saw him,” Dad said. “Also unofficial, but from good sources. He told me that General Gau, the Conclave leader – “
“I know who he is, Dad,” I said. “I’ve been keeping up with current events.”
“Sorry,” Dad said. “He said General Gau was being targeted for assassination by someone in his own close circle of advisors, and that the assassination would happen soon, probably in the next few weeks.”
“Why’d he tell you this?” I asked.
“So I could use it,” Dad said. “Even if the Colonial Union wanted to tell General Gau about the attempt – which it doesn’t, since it probably would like to see it succeed – there’s no reason to believe that Gau would consider it credible. The CU did just blow up his fleet. But Gau might listen to the information if it came from me, because he’s already had dealings with me.”
“And you were the one who begged him not to bring his fleet to Roanoke,” I said.
“Right,” Dad said. “It’s because of that we’ve been attacked as little as we have. General Gau said to me that neither he nor the Conclave would retaliate against Roanoke itself for what happened to the fleet.”
“We were still attacked,” I said.
“But not by the Conclave itself,” Dad said. “By someone else, testing our defenses. But if Gau is assassinated, that guarantee dies with him. And then it’s open season on Roanoke, and we’ll get hit, fast, because we’re where the Conclave had its biggest defeat. We’re a symbol for the Conclave, too. So we have to let General Gau know he’s in danger. For our own sake.”
“If you tell him this, you’ll be giving information to an enemy of the Colonial Union,” I said. “You’ll be a traitor.”
Dad gave me a wry grin. “Trust me, Zoe,” he said. “I’m already neck-deep in trouble.” His smile disappeared. “And yes, General Gau is an enemy of the Colonial Union. But I think he might be a friend to Roanoke. Right now, Roanoke needs all the friends it can get, wherever it can get them. The ones we used to have are turning their backs on us. We’re going out to this new one, hat in hand.”
“And by we you mean me,” I said.
“Yes,” Dad said. “I need you to deliver this message for me.”
“You don’t need me to do it,” I said. “You could do it. Mom could do it. It would be better from either of you.”
Dad shook his head. “Neither Jane nor I can leave Roanoke, Zoe. The Colonial Union is watching us. They don’t trust us. And even if we could, we can’t leave because we belong here with the colonists. We’re their leaders. We can’t abandon them. Whatever happens to them happens to us too. We made a promise to them and we’re going to stay and defend this colony, no matter what happens. You understand that.” I nodded. “So we can’t go.
“But you can, and secretly,” Dad said. “The Obin already want to take you off Roanoke. The Colonial Union will allow it because it’s part of their treaty with the Obin, and as long as Jane and I stay here, it won’t raise an eyebrow. The Obin are technically neutral in the fight between the Conclave and the Colonial Union; an Obin ship will be able to get to General Gau’s headquarters where a ship from the Colonial Union couldn’t.”
“So send Hickory and Dickory,” I said. “Or just have the Obin send a skip drone to General Gau.”
“It won’t work,” Dad said. “The Obin are not going to jeopardize their relationship with the Colonial Union to pass messages for me. The only reason they’re doing this at all is because I’m agreeing to let them take you off Roanoke. I’m using the only piece of leverage I have with the Obin, Zoe. That’s you.
“And there’s something else. General Gau has to know that I believe the information I’m sending him is good. That I’m not just being a pawn again in a larger Colonial Union game. I need to give him a token of my sincerity, Zoe. Something that proves that I have as much to risk in sending him this information as he has in receiving it. Even if I or Jane could go ourselves, General Gau would have no reason to trust what we say to him, because he knows both Jane and I were soldiers and are leaders. He knows we would be willing to sacrifice ourselves for our colony. But he also knows that I’m not willing to sacrifice my only daughter. And neither is Jane.
“So you see, Zoe. It has to be you. No one else can do it. You’re the only one who can get to General Gau, deliver the message, and be believed. Not me, not Jane, not Hickory and Dickory. No one else. Just you. Deliver the message, and we might still find a way to save Roanoke. It’s a small chance. But right now it’s the only one we’ve got.”
I sat there for a few minutes, taking in what Dad asked of me. “You know if Hickory and Dickory take me off Roanoke, they’re not going to want to bring me back,” I said, finally. “You know that.”
“I’m pretty sure of it,” Dad said.
“You’re asking me to leave,” I said. “You’re asking me to accept that I might not ever see any of you again. Because if General Gau won’t believe me, or if he’s killed before I can talk to him, or even if he does believe me but can’t do anything to help us, this trip won’t mean anything. All it will do is get me off Roanoke.”
“If that’s all it did, Zoe, I still wouldn’t complain,” Dad said, and then quickly held up his hand, to stop me from commenting on that. “But if that’s all I thought it would do, I wouldn’t ask you to do it. I know you don’t want to leave Roanoke, Zoe. I know you don’t want to leave us or your friends. I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, Zoe. But you’re also old enough now to make your own decisions. If when all was said and done you wanted to stay on Roanoke to face whatever came our way, I wouldn’t try to stop you. Nor would Jane. We would be with you until the end. You know that.”
“I do,” I said.
“There are risks for everyone,” Dad said. “When Jane and I tell the Roanoke colony council about this – which we will do once you’re gone – I’m pretty sure they are going to kick us out as the colony leaders. When news gets back to the Colonial Union, Jane and I are almost certainly going to be arrested on charges of treason. Even if everything goes perfectly, Zoe, and General Gau accepts your message and acts on it and maybe even makes sure that Roanoke stays unmolested, we will still have to pay for our actions. Jane and I accept this. We think it’s worth it for a chance to keep Roanoke safe. The risk for you here, Zoe, is that if you do this, you might not see us or your friends again for a very long time, or at all. It’s a big risk. It’s a real risk. You have to decide whether it’s one worth taking.”
I thought about this some more. “How long do I have to think about this?” I asked.
“All the time you need,” Dad said. “But those assassins aren’t sitting around doing nothing.”
I glanced over to where Hickory and Dickory had been. “How long do you think it will take them to get a transport here?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?” Dad said. “If they didn’t send for one the second I was done talking to them, I’ll eat my hat.”
“You don’t wear a hat,” I said.
“I will buy a hat and eat it, then,” Dad said.
“I’m going to come back,” I said. “I’m going to take this message to General Gau, and then I’m going to get back here. I’m not sure how I’m going to convince the Obin of that, but I’m going to do it. I promise you, Dad.”
“Good,” Dad said. “Bring an army with you. And guns. And battle cruisers.”
“Guns, cruisers, army,” I said, running down the checklist. “Anything else? I mean, as long as I’m going shopping.”
“Rumor is that I might be in the market for a hat,” Dad said.
“Hat, right,” I said.
“Make it a jaunty hat,” he said.
“I promise nothing,” I said.
“Fine,” Dad said. “But if you have to choose between the hat and the army, pick the army. And make it a good one. We’re going to need it.”
“Where is Gretchen?” Jane asked me. We stood outside the small Obin transport. I had already said good-bye to Dad. Hickory and Dickory waited for me inside the transport.
“I didn’t tell her I was leaving,” I said.
“She is going to be very upset about that,” Mom said.
“I don’t intend to be away long enough for her to miss me,” I said. Mom didn’t say anything to that.
“I wrote her a note,” I said, finally. “It’s scheduled for delivery tomorrow morning. I told her what I thought I could tell her about why I left. I told her to talk to you about the rest of it. So she might come by to see you.”
“I’ll talk to her about it,” Jane said. “I’ll try to make her understand.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“How are you?” Mom asked.
“I’m terrified,” I said. “I’m scared I’ll never see you or Dad or Gretchen again. I’m scared I’m going to screw this up. I’m scared that even if I don’t screw this up it won’t matter. I feel like I’m going to pass out, and I’ve felt that way since this thing landed.”
Jane gave me a hug and then looked to my neck, puzzled. “You’re not taking your jade elephant pendant?” she said.
“Oh,” I said. “It’s a long story. Tell Gretchen I said for her to tell it to you. You need to know about it anyway.”
“Did you lose it?” Jane asked.
“It’s not lost,” I said. “It’s just not with me anymore.”
“Oh,” Jane said.
“I don’t need it anymore,” I said. “I know who in this world loves me, and has loved me.”
“Good,” Jane said. “What I was going to tell you is that as well as remembering who loves you, you should remember who you are. And everything about who you are. And everything about what you are.”
“What I am,” I said, and smirked. “It’s because of what I am that I’m leaving. What I am has been more trouble than it’s worth, if you ask me.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Jane said. “I have to tell you, Zoe, that there have been times when I have felt sorry for you. So much of your life has been completely out of your control. You’ve lived your life under the gaze of an entire race of people, and they have made their demands on you right from the beginning. I’m always amazed you’ve stayed sane through all of it.”
“Well, you know,” I said. “Good parents help.”
“Thank you,” Jane said. “We tried to keep your life as normal as possible. And I think we’ve raised you well enough that I can tell you this and have you understand it: What you are has made demands of you all your life. Now it’s time to demand something back. Do you understand?”
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“Who you are has always had to make room for what you are,” Jane said. “You know that.”
I nodded. It had.
“Part of that was because you were young, and what you are is so much larger than who you are,” Jane said. “You can’t expect a normal eight-year-old or even a fourteen-year-old to understand what it means to be something like what you are. But you’re old enough now to understand it. To get an appreciation for it. To know how you can use it, for something besides trying to stay up late.”
I smiled, amazed that Jane remembered me trying to use the treaty to stay up past my bedtime.
“I’ve watched you in the last year,” Jane said. “I’ve seen how you interact with Hickory and Dickory. They’ve imposed a lot on you because of what you are. All that training and practicing. But you’ve also started asking more of them. All those documents you’ve had them give you.”
“I didn’t know you knew about that,” I said.
“I was an information officer,” Jane said. “This sort of thing is my job. My point is that you’ve become more willing to use that power. You are finally taking control of your life. What you are is starting to make room for who you are.”
“It’s a start,” I said.
“Keep going,” Jane said. “We need who you are, Zoe. We need you to take what you are – every part of what you are – and use it to save us. To save Roanoke. And to come back to us.”
“How do I do it?” I asked.
Jane smiled. “Like I said: Demand something back,” she said.
“That’s unhelpfully vague,” I said.
“Perhaps,” Jane said, and then kissed me on the cheek. “Or maybe I just have faith that you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own.”
Mom got a hug for that.
Ten minutes later I was fifteen klicks above Roanoke and climbing, heading for an Obin transport, thinking about what Jane had said.
“You will find that our Obin ships travel far more quickly than your Colonial Union ships,” Hickory said.
“Is that right,” I said. I wandered over to where Hickory and Dickory had placed my luggage and picked out one of the suitcases.
“Yes,” Hickory said. “Far more efficient engines and better artificial gravity management. We will reach skip distance from Roanoke in a little under two days. It would take one of your ships five or six days to reach the same distance.”
“Good,” I said. “The sooner we get to General Gau the better.” I unzipped the suitcase.
“This is a very exciting moment for us,” Hickory said. “This is the first time since you have lived with Major Perry and Lieutenant Sagan that you will meet other Obin in person.”
“But they know all about me,” I said.
“Yes,” Hickory said. “The recordings of the last year have made their way to all Obin, both in unedited and digest form. The unedited versions will take time to process.”
“I’ll bet,” I said. “Here we are.” I found what I was looking for: the stone knife, given to me by my werewolf. I had packed it quickly, when no one was looking. I was just making sure that I didn’t imagine packing it.
“You brought your stone knife,” Hickory said.
“I did,” I said. “I have plans for it.”
“What plans?” Hickory asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. “But tell me, Hickory,” I said. “This ship we’re going to. Is there anyone important on it?”
“Yes,” Hickory said. “Because it is the first time that you have been in the presence of other Obin since you were a child, one of the members of Obin’s governing council will be there to greet you. It very much wants to meet with you.”
“Good,” I said, and glanced at the knife. “I very much want to meet with it, too.”
I think I actually made Hickory nervous right then.