I puzzled over her words for a bit, but couldn’t figure out how to ask how she could possibly be responsible for Farley making the flight. I had a couple theories, but decided to think about it longer. So instead, I wondered, “Do we need to move to a new spot now?”
She looked up at her work, then shook her head. “That was the last hull breach, I think. We need to do a pressure test to confirm we’re tight.”
We were sealed up at the moment, so I commanded the pressure up from where I was.
“Are you connected with the controls?”
What I was asking was, could she access the lander’s data?
She shook her head. “I figured out the comm, but I don’t know this system, so I can’t connect up to anything else.”
I nodded. “Yeah. The Dragon avionics are a lot different than a Goblin’s. Fine. I’ll watch the numbers, then.”
For a moment there, I had forgotten that beyond general engineer skills and Normal space piloting, she had basically trained on nothing other than Gobs. As I worked my jaw to stop my ears from plugging while the pressure increased, the lander’s comm chimed.
“This is Resnik,” I said, relaying through my nerveware just like when I’m on Mo.
It was Karimi. “Can you open up, Sir? We’ve got the first wounded here.”
“Hang just a bit, Sergeant. We’re in the middle of a pressure check.”
It reached my target pressure and stopped. “One thousand millibars” I told Red. It was only about seven hundred outside, like up in the mountains on Earth. Sebka B had lower atmospheric pressure overall. I waited a full two minutes waiting for a decrease and didn’t see one, so I let it begin descending again so we could drop the assault ramp for Karimi and company.
“It’s tight enough for the hop to friendly territory, anyway,” I told Red. “We can do a proper spaceworthiness test after we get there.”
She nodded. It was a good enough result for now. If there were any leaks, they were slow enough that the pressurization could keep up. That was what counted, at the moment.
I gave up pondering the question and finally stated, “I’m sorry. I cannot figure for the life of me how Farley coming down here was your fault.”
The corner of her mouth twisted the way it does sometimes, then she hung her head and nodded. “Yeah.”
“You don’t have to tell me, okay? But as far as I’m concerned, it’s my fault. I could have vetoed the mission. I thought about doing it, and I didn’t.”
She looked back up at me and gave me her puzzled frown. I explained, “I wanted to use Mo to drop him closer and rendezvous in Sebka B low orbit. The Sky Boss didn’t like it. When Farley saw that, he got spooked and wouldn’t back me up to talk the Sky Boss into it. So when the Sky Boss approved the run from Sebka A, I couldn’t bring myself to veto it.”
“Yeah, he told me about it. He thought you didn’t understand the risk. He said you’d get us killed trying that.”
I frowned. “What the heck? I was making it less risky for him.”
She gave a small laugh, then squatted down to begin putting her tools and materials together. She still had to put the inner paneling back in place, but that required machine tools, not epoxies, sheet metal and welding supplies.
“You don’t understand, Cap. He was scared to death, and you came up with a plan that looked too much like the one that got his last captain killed.”
“Avary wouldn’t tell me what happened to the last ship,” I said. “Do you know?”
Her red head shook once, sharply. “Not all the details you would want. Just that Colin said your plan looked a bit like what the last guy tried.”
I bent down and grabbed a couple items to give them to her. Yeah I also did it to see why she was hiding her face. Sure enough, there were tears again. I straightened back up once I ran out of items and had no more excuses to stay down there.
She snapped her toolkit closed while I was lifting the welder back into its case. She said thanks and nudged me out of the way so she could rearrange everything the way she wanted it.
While she worked, she said, “All I know is, the Gob was destroyed and everybody that wasn’t in the lander died. Those two techs with him are new to the team. He and the surface team were left in hostile space alone in the lander for like thirty hours. They had two surviving escort fighters, but with no Meta-space drive and no other defense against any Enemy that happened by.”
She saw my reaction as she stood back up and that wry quirk of the lip came back. Only this time, her lip was trembling. In a quieter voice, she stated, “He had to told me, to explain why he was yelling in his sleep and waking me up.”
Now she was getting into stuff she didn’t need to tell me, but I didn’t get a chance to say so, because her face screwed up and she began crying again. This time she just grabbed my sleeve and looked away, but even if I hadn’t seen it, I could hear it.
She had to say it through sobs when she asked, “How could I be so f&cking stupid, Cap?”
I asked, “What is it exactly that you think was stupid? Assuming you’re not still talking out getting stupid over a hot guy?”
She finally looked over to me, tears still streaming down, but she still had enough spunk to stick her tongue out at me.
Then she explained, “He said you were being a foolhardy idiot just like his last captain and I got mad and defended you. I was already getting fed up with his self-centered attitude and his talking bad about you. When he doubled down with that crap, I said you would prove him wrong just like how you proved him wrong about being a scared kid. And then, I just had to go and say he was the scared kid.”
After wiping her eyes with her sleeve, she added, “I had already been thinking about breaking up with him, but that’s when I went ahead and told him we were over.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, her mouth tightly pressed closed to the point of shaking, then she looked at me and demanded, “Don’t you see? I basically forced him to go ahead with it! He thought he could prove himself and get me to come back!”
As I felt a lead weight form in my stomach, I shook my head. All this time she’d been agonizing over that, but now that I knew the whole story, I knew she was wrong. It had never mattered what she did or said. He would have done the same thing.
“You didn’t force him, Red. It was me who forced him, when I approved the flights. After labeling me a ‘scared kid’ and ‘out of my league’, after choosing it over what I preferred, he had no choice except to do it.”
Her frown looked like she was ready to disagree, but the air pressure had equalized by then, and it was time to let the ramp down.
I told her so, then held up my arm. “Your sleeve is already wet. You need to borrow a dry one?”
She had been about to dry her face again. She switched arms while smirking and said, “I have two sleeves, idiot.”
While we waited for the ramp to descend, she asked, “Cap, what do I do if I’m pregnant?”
Red’s Catholic and very vocal about certain subjects, so I didn’t think the option she was weighing was that one. She’s not a girl who would change her convictions when it became a personal problem. So what she meant was…
“You’re wondering about if you should make up with Farley if you’re having his kid?”
She pressed her lips together and nodded as she watched the opening in the nose of the craft grow. The clamshell doors had finished opening; now the ramp was beginning to descend.
“It wasn’t just about him being a jerk to you, Cap. He’s a self-centered jerk in general.”
“Omigawd, is our Red actually beginning to learn?”
She wrinkled her nose at me, then humphed again.
She’d asked me a question, so I answered it, because I had an answer for this one already. I don’t know if it’s the right one, but it’s the answer I knew, for personal reasons.
“If you’re pregnant, you do what my mom did. Gramps told her not to marry the guy unless she wanted to spend her life with him. So she didn’t.”
“That’s why there’s no dad for you?”
“My dad would kill me,” she said. “Or… I don’t know, maybe he’d say the same thing. But I sure hope I’m not pregnant.”
She looked over at me. “You, too?”
“Well, of course, me too, Red. We’re a team.”