Chapter Thirty Seven - Firebird

Newfrance is out of the way.

No where to fly except this one corridor.
I have two weeks at this meander before real food runs out and I'll have
to eat the pills.

I slept a lot, cried a lot, tried to make going home important. I should up
speed, get home in less time, but too lethargic to care.

And then I got a hail.
A Hail?

"Perhaps the truth is uglier than shrunken heads. Perhaps to move
slowly, as a flower opens is the way our relationship can persist."

That was his last definition of our relationship.
I'd misunderstood.
Again.
He hadn't left me. Priam had told me where to meet him.
I had taken it as good-bye.

I'd never been hysterical before. I'd never howled, tears rushing down my face as acid, snot pouring from my nose, while I flailed in a seizure.

I'd aborted his baby.
Why?

I'd figured Priam would leave, when he did, I felt relief.
Relief!
How could I feel relief?
I love him.
And he loved me.
Priam loved me.
He proved it.

He never grabbed a weapon
He never accepted money, when I offered.
He put himself at my mercy.
That was his declaration of love.
That was how they do it.
Or how he does it.
But I didn't understand.
I don't understand.

All I can do is mox a lie. Mox another lie in my endless stream of lies to get me from
here to there.

I left the cockpit, flung rum down my throat. I needed to calm, I needed to get the
ducks in a row. I can do it. I can do this.

Back to the cockpit, I sent a message, got his blip on the screen, we brought our
ships in docking range. I sent out my cocoon, we linked.

"Come," came his voice.

I jumped from the seat, opened the airlock, into the cocoon, his airlock, his ship,
and there he was.

I ran to embrace him, if he pushed me away, his choice.
He didn't.

I was sobbing like an idiot, in fact, I hadn't stopped crying for the past hour, so
this was just a continuation.

He held me to his beautiful body, smelling of springtime When I was only
slightly insane, he put me to sit on the sofa.

"Your appearance is ghastly, what befell you?"

I couldn't speak, just made noises.

"Why did you take so long? After a week I survive on one meal every thirty
hours, I am nearly out of food."

His major concern.

"But this is not about food, is it?" He says.

"No," I admit.

Taking a breath, I looked into his eyes; "After you left, I had to make sure
Doug Hooker knew we were apart. I went back to New York. I saw him,
and I saw the same three Dalmar."

I paused. It was true I had gone to New York and seen Doug, I had also seen
three blond men.

I take a ragged breath, close my eyes, tears squeezing from beneath,
"I went to run, I fell. I lost the baby."

He pulled into himself a moment, sitting with his hands between his knees,
shoulders drooping. I didn't know what to say while I firmed the lie in my brain
so I could see myself. Standing at the top of the stairs, not looking, slipping.....

He sat like that a time, then got up, into his bedroom, returned with the
rucksack. He put it on the carpet before me. He began to unpack it.

A bowl, a cup, a necklace, a picture, a few weapons, a book of paintings, a flashlight..

"This is all that remains of my past."

He was sitting on the floor before me, looking up into my face.

"I hid this bag on Smudge, took berth on a cargo ship. On the return to Smudge,
you caught me."

I could only see his face. My heart was banging against my ribs like a wild bird.

"Dalmars want me because the ship was a Pirate ship. I was born on that ship.
Lived my life there. Twice I was on Sagir."

He looked at the pitiful possessions on the floor.

"This is who I am," he said softly.

And lying Firebird goes, accusingly; "Why did you make me so afraid of the Dalmars?"

"You built your own fear. As you carried my child, if you were afraid, if you
thought Dalmars would harm you, I would exit. Your fear should have gone
with me. It is me they want, not you. As you made certain all would assume we
were not together why should you fear? Unless you think Dalmar realise you
tricked them. Then you are right to be afraid."

I did trick them.
I took a lot of coin from them to turn over Priam.
They knew they'd killed my avatar.
Would they believe they killed Priam's avatar?
Would they...no.

"It was your fear, Firebird," he accused.

I nod, excuse myself to use his bathroom. I wash my face, try to get my hair
to look other than a bird's nest.

When I came out he wasn't there. I sat on the chair, looked at his possessions
.He had nothing.

He had no secrets, he wasn't gaming me.
This is who he is.

I'd bet he was the chef on the Pirate ship. Probably got a quick course in
navigation, piloting, electronics, etc. If you're going to live on a ship you have to
know how to live on a ship.

He came back with the food from my ship, matched it to his own.

"I can stretch this for ten days, but I believe we are twelve days from New France
. If we fly as fast as able, and fast two days, we will make it," he says.

"Okay."

"I will prepare a meal now, we will eat, then separate. We liaison again in thirty
hours," he reasons.

He goes into his kitchen, I watch his back.
Oh please don't let me doubt.
But doubt was climbing up my neck.
For he had all the food.

I told myself there were food pills.
I wouldn't starve.
That I had to tell myself that made me cry.
I lay on his sofa and cried, and cried myself to sleep.

When I awoke I was cramped from the couch. The ship was quiet. I went to the
first room, Priam was asleep. I went out, used the loo in the other room. When
I emerged, a naked Priam was sitting on the bed.

"Your ship is in tow, it is slowing us. Your portion of food is warm, eat, go to your ship."

I went into the galley, I was ravenous. I cleaned my plate, almost licked it.
I have no idea what I ate.

"You have slept ten hours, so we liaison in twenty..top speed", he reminded.

Because my ship was being pulled behind his, getting back in was fairly tricky,
I had to suit up, spacewalk.

When I got in; "I'm desuiting now..." to explain the break in transmission.

When I had the suit off and entered the living quarters, my ship was yawing,
I hurried into the cockpit. The tow had been retracted. Priam was gone.

Priam should of waited.
He should have waited until sure I'd gotten into my ship and was safe.
But he hadn't.

He'd retracted the tow at my first hail, and left me out here, in a yawing ship.

What if my engine didn't catch?

I started the engines, let them build nice and slow, bringing up speed softly. Okay,
there was nothing wrong with my ship, but he should have had the courtesy to wait.

It took two hours for me to get to top speed, then I shut engines, let inertia pull me.

I scanned for Priam's ship, didn't see it. Panic started creeping into me.
I couldn't stop it.

Priam took all the food.
He took all the food.
I had to find him.

I was so nervous I was running in and out of the loo.
I must be Eugenic.
I am paranoid.
I am the most paranoid person I have ever met.

Paranoid.

Four hours out, I don't see Priam.

He didn't believe me.
He knew I got an abortion.
He knew I lingered on Earth.
If he knew, why did he wait out here?

He had no where to go.

No, he waited out here for me.
He expected me to come.
He knew I would come.
He wanted me to come.

He had no where to go.

Six hours, where the hell could he be?

I went into the galley, the food pills were still there.
He didn't recognise them as food.
He took all the food, but he didn't leave me to starve.
He didn't take the food pills.
He didn't take them.
Maybe he didn't know they were food.
No.
He didn't take them, and I wouldn't touch them, not until I was so weak
I could barely stand.

I wouldn't touch them. But I did drop a coffee pill into hot water.

Eight hours, no Priam.

I did a map.
At this speed I would reach in Newfrance
in ...eight days? Eight?

If I were eight days from Newfrance...
I should see other ships in four.
Had to.
This is the only route they can travel and gets narrower as we get closer.

There are thirty food pills.
I wouldn't starve.
I would not starve.

Ten hours, I didn't see Priam.

Faith.
I needed faith.
Was faith bred out of my genes?
Faith.
I believe I will see Priam.
I will see Priam. I will.

I could feel every second falling on me like ten kilo weights. Where was he?
Had I passed him?

I checked my coords, reset them, making sure I knew where I was going.
That I wasn't off. Again, I mapped my trajectory to Newfrance.

Twenty minutes had passed.

How fast could his ship go?
I'd bought an X12 for myself.
I'd bought a what for him?
Think.
Think.
I couldn't think.

I went into the bathroom, washed my face. My brain was the consistency of cornmeal. I went to the com, got the specs of my ship.

For the life of me, I couldn't remember his ship.

Timmy Donahue.
That was the name he'd used.
I opened a link, went to the registry.
Forty minutes.
Forty Five.

Timmy owned an X10.

I went into the cockpit, slowed the ship, it took me one hour to get it down, to bring it to a near stop.

I tried to do the math, but numbers flew out of my head.
But I had passed him. I had passed him, hours ago.

When he told me twelve days, where was my brain?
At top speed it would take me eight.

I went back to the com. I had it work out how far, at top speed an X10 could go.

Should I go back?
Should I wait?
How far had I gone, how long would it take him to catch me?

Had I passed him in space?
Or was he going somewhere else?
Faith.
I needed faith.
I had to believe in him.

I began moving back the way I came, upping scanners to maximum.
And there, way behind me, was Priam.

"Yes!" I shouted, "Yes!" I pointed at the food pills. "Faith! I have Faith!"

I cheered myself for fifteen seconds, but I couldn't lie to myself.
I had doubted.

He took the food and left me to starve!

I couldn't pretend I didn't think that.

Would I ever stop thinking like that?
Would there ever be a moment in our relationship when, if I didn't believe in him,
I didn't not believe?

Priam had not abandoned me!

It would take him over two hours to reach me. I went into the bathroom, showered,
oiled my skin, fixed my hair, put on a nice outfit.

I sat in a semi-lotus position, telling myself to relax, to feel safe and loved.

Eventually, there was the hail, the connecting of cocoons, and I entered his ship.
The food smelled wonderful, but I went to him.

"I admit," he says, "I harboured misgivings, but I told myself, you must come,
I have the food..."

Why does he have to be so honest?

"Priam, move everything, including yourself, to my yacht, and we'll reach in less
than a week."

"What of my yacht?" he says, the word 'my' holding passion.

"We can tow it..." I muse, moving to the table, sitting, anxious for him to join me,
for I'm starving.

He steps gingerly, sits, we begin to eat.

"To tow it best, I'd need to have someone at the controls of your yacht, so that we
can coordinate thrust so I can get full speed on my yacht."

"That is not possible..." he replies.

"It is. We begin acceleration together, slow, then faster, firing at nearly the same
time, so there's no drag, my ship won't be 'pulling' yours."

"So I remain there?"

"No, my avatar flies your ship."

"How long will it take your avatar to get here?"

"About two minutes..." I say, and give the command.

The luggage cart rolls into the room. I say; "default".

As Priam goggle eyes, it begins to morph into humanoid shape. In three minutes
it is a greyish sock figure with two large dark eyes.

"I always travel with at least one avatar, Priam." I flick.

I speak to my avatar in code, it goes to the cockpit, I finish my meal.

Priam clears the table, begins to pack the foodstuff away. I wander to his room,
peer in. Neat as a pin. I don't feel right walking in. It is worse than entering
a stranger's domain. For he is more than a stranger.

I return to the front room, sit on the couch. He puts the food on the table.
He glances at his room, I can see him thinking if he should pack, realising he'd
need a change of clothing.

I can see his thoughts because I realise he is in constant discussion with
himself. He has been alone a lot in his life.

He comes out with his stuff, we go into my yacht. The cocoon is retracted.
I position my ship in front of his, send out the tow, when clear it's connected,
I activate engines, and begin a tandem with my avatar.

I begin to move very slowly, my avatar doesn't let the tow pull taunt, she's right
with me, we are flying in formation under our own power.

As I up, she ups, one/two, one/two,the tow isn't allowed to pull.

I'm keeping my engine underpowered so as not to jerk the tow, and we go up,
up, one/two, one/two, and after an hour when we are at maximum for Priam's ship,
my avatar goes into cruise.

Slowly, I raise my velocity, pulling Priam's ship a little faster. The avatar opens fuel
feed now, fires, it's tricky now, for just as she fires I've got to accelerate, or she'll hit me.

It's two/one now. She fires, I up, she fires, I up, and now, after ninety seven minutes,
my ship is at maximum speed, and Priam's ship is flying behind at the same rate.

I glance at him beside me, switch on autopilot.

"We'll reach NewFrance in six and a half days."

"We can have another meal in six hours, then," he realises.

I was going to say something about his preoccupation with food, but didn't.
I led him to the other cabin, it was shades of brown and beige, where you
could see it, for I'd forgotten I'd packed it with souvenirs.

I was going to take him to the third cabin, when I realised how awestruck
he was taking in all the junk as he were in Wonderland.

Gifts


Slowly he reaches out, touches
an item, begins to examine it.
Looking at his face, I realise he
thought I'd bought all this junk for him.

He gave me a glance of such love, then looked away, as if he didn't want me to
see his embarrassed smile.

If I were two points more dishonest than I am I would say something to make
it seem that I had bought these things for him.

But I didn't say a word.

I didn't say a word, watching him wonder at the little things you pick up in
a gift shop or bazaar, treating them as of great value.

It hurt me to see this, and I pulled out, into my room, into the bathroom, sat
on the toilet, and cried.

Not one thing in that room had been bought for him.

Maybe indirectly...

I bought things from each place I'd gone to prove I'd gone there, to give me
a memory of having gone there, so that I could sit in my house and look at
them, and pretend that when I saw the Great Wall of China I actually looked at it.

I washed my face, my teeth, fixed my hair, told myself, if you ever had to lie,
lie now. Because the truth will hurt. The truth shouldn't be the truth.

I told myself I'd gone to see the sites because my heart was broken and I was
pining over him and I bought all these things as if he waited for me on the ship.

I started to imagine it, putting myself by the pyramids and thinking;

"Oh, I wish Priam was here to see this..." and choke as I laugh, "Oh it would
remind him of salmon croquettes!"

I came out of the bathroom, walked back to his room, he was looking at the little
pyramid. It was made out of the same stones in ratio I forget, and had been vastly
overpriced.

I'd haggled a little, but my heart wasn't in it. The seller, I think, was hurt when I said,
"Oh to hell with it, rob me," and put it into a bag, shoved my card into the reader,
and walked out, leaving him babbling.

"How many days before you left Earth?" he asked.

"Sixteen," I say.

"I didn't think you would tarry so long," he said softly, as he sat on the bed, gently
moving some items to the side. "After seven days I began to...doubt." he admits.

He used the word with caution. He had never used it before, but this was the
third time he'd made a remark which sounded very much like me.
Mistrust. Doubt. Misgivings.

"We don't trust each other, Priam. Though we've never let each other down," I say,
like the sage I'm not.

He is looking at me as if I'm about to say something intelligent.

"I think we use words a little differently, with a slightly different connotation,"
I dismiss as if I hadn't misjudged every word he's said, every thing he's done
since I've met him.

He is still waiting for an intelligent remark.

"It is the connotation, I think," I flip, again with a little shrug as if it's not important.
As if I haven't cried my guts out over him, hadn't had an abortion, hadn't felt relief
when I thought he'd left me.

He tried to get up, staggered a little, "I'm sorry, I am very hungry," he apologises.

"Cook something. Eat your fill." I say.

He went into the galley and I sat looking at the random junk I'd bought.
I suppose they'll go into his treasure bag.

That was a cruel thought, and suddenly other words he'd said dug through my mind.

If he'd lived his life on a ship, what would he know?
Who would he see?
Sagirs who were part of his crew.
He said he'd only been to his home planet twice.

But he said 'they' took the bag.
That's what he had said.

He said 'they' took it, he took it back. In his first version.
In his first version of why he was on Smudge.
First version.
In his second...
In his second version he said he'd left the bag on Smudge gone away,
come back.
In his second version I had caught him when he was going for it....
Maybe if I got a lobotomy I'd do better.

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