Ship's Log: 20 April 2642; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. We have completed a short overhaul of the Aurora at the Gersal Ring Yards and are preparing to depart for Universe S4W8 for training purposes..
On another note, Commander Meridina is leaving the ship for personal time. Her request for an extended leave has been granted due to the ordeal that the Goa'uld Amaunet put her through. I hope that time back home will help her recover mentally from the experience of being made into Amaunet's host.
Robert met Lucy at the airlock on the Ring Yards station. The Ring Yards were just one portion of the massive orbital ring built around Gersal's moon, with which the Gersallians refined the mineral wealth of their moon, built and maintained their starships, and supported the workers who made this possible. By mass it was one of the largest structures in the entire Alliance and the product of over twenty centuries of continuous construction and amalgamation of older Gersallian lunar stations.
Gersallians and Humans looked virtually alike, so it was hard to tell which of those walking around them were of either species, at least from seeing their faces. Clothing style proved the most effective way of telling the differences - Gersallians tended to prefer an overcoat or even a robe, some wearing long flowing dresses over trousers. It was a style that was employed regardless of gender, with yellows, oranges, and light reds favored, and specific design patterns or forms of overcoat and robe referenced regional differences back on their homeworld. Humans were more varied in their choice of clothing, going from jacket or shirt with trousers to jumpsuits.
Aside from Humans and Gersallians, Dorei were somewhat common. Alakin appeared here and there as well, and Robert noticed the pointed ears of two Vulcans - acolytes by their robes - who were boarding the next airlock over. A Minbari in worker caste garb followed them, chatting amiably with a Bajoran cleric.
A voice spoke over the loudspeaker. Initially it was in Common Gersallian Dialect, which Robert recognized a few words from. The voice repeated itself in English. "Orbital transport Luteran is departing in ten minutes from Airlock 42. All passengers please report to Airlock 42 immediately."
As the voice repeated a third time, this time in Lushan Dorei, Robert felt Meridina approach. Even in this teeming flow of life - a literal one too, as Meridina had shown him - he could feel her presence standing out amongst the others.
He could also feel how different it was now. He could sense the anguish inside of her, the pain of what she had been forced to do.
Meridina had been taken as a host by the Goa'uld Amaunet. Amaunet had used her body, her swevyra - "life force" - and the powers it granted, to wreak havoc during the peace talks with the Goa'uld. Several of Stargate Command's people had died at Amaunet's hand. Lucy herself had nearly died stopping Amaunet, and in turn Meridina had almost died when Lucy killed Amaunet.
And now she has to live with what Amaunet did to her, with her, Lucy was thinking. Robert could sense the thought with surprising ease. While some aspect of these "swevyra" powers were still difficult for him to use, mental linking with Meridina and Lucy was becoming easier with each passing week.
While they were in uniform, Meridina was wearing the traveling robes of a Gersallian Knight of Swenya, or swevyra'se as the Gersallians called it. A blue robe with the hood lowered was over a beige-tinted vest. A tied strap around her waist held up the loose, baggy trousers of the same color. Her dark hair was brushed downward, sweeping out slightly around the ears before curling back so that the ends pressed against her neck. She had only a small bag being carried on her shoulder. As a Knight of Swenya, Meridina owned little.
A small, sad smile came to her face when she saw them waiting. "My friends," she said simply. "I am glad to see you."
"We wanted to see you off," said Robert.
"I appreciate the sentiment," Meridina stated. She looked to Lucy. "I know you wished to come with me, Lucy, but I will be fine."
Lucy forced a smile to her face. She knew how much Meridina was hurting on the inside. She'd seen her with her defenses completely lowered. "I just don't want you to be alone."
"I will not be," Meridina assured them. "Now, I believe you have duties to attend to, yes?"
Robert nodded. "Julia and Nick are handling the new crew, but we're due for the supply run to Beta Durani 4." He looked at the time with his multidevice. "So we're due to jump out in about four hours."
Meridina nodded. "Indeed. Do not worry. I shall see you again in a couple of your weeks."
The station PA system repeated the prior boarding call. Meridina looked to the airlock. "I need to go now. I trust you two will continue the exercises I showed you?"
They nodded, giving each other aside glances.
"Then there is nothing more to say." She bowed her head to them. "Mi rake sa sweyvra iso, Robert and Lucy."
"Mee rockey sa sweevyra icho," was Robert's rather inaccurate reply.
Lucy allowed herself a giggle at his expense. Robert's continued inability to deal with Gersallian phonetics was a source of amusement to everyone else. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina," she said, proud that as troublesome as it was she could at least make the sound right. She gave Meridina a hug.
Meridina was used to such displays of friendship and affection and accepted the hug, returning it with a slight embrace. When Lucy pulled back she gave Lucy the small smile she knew Lucy wanted, needed, to see, and turned to board her ship.
Lucy and Robert watched Meridina disappear into the corridors of the transport craft. Once she was well out of sight, they departed as well.
Julia Andreys stepped off the lift on Deck 6 and found Nick Locarno waiting for her. "Well, I thought we'd meet in the Briefing Room," she said.
"I figured you'd be arriving any moment," he answered. "So I waited."
"Ah." They began walking down the corridor. Their uniforms were almost a matching set, black pants, primarily black shoes, and a black uniform jacket, with the secondary color on the trim of each being the red of ship control and command. Julia had three gold stripes affixed to her collar, showing she was a Commander, while Locarno had two gold stripes to show he was a full Lieutenant. "So why am I assigned to this detail, again?", he asked.
"Because you're the senior Navigation Officer," Julia reminded him. "And we have an entire group of navigation and piloting officers coming aboard to join the crew."
"How many, again?"
Locarno chuckled. "Wow. That many? All at once?"
"Well, Ensign Rutira transferred to the Shenzhou," Julia said. "Ensign Karlan was promoted and is being re-assigned to oversee shuttle piloting at Nasin Station. Ensign Yaratov finished her flight qualifications and is assigned to the fighter wing now. Ensign Kurikt is expecting and has to go back to Alakis to lay her eggs…"
"...okay, okay, I get it," Locarno interrupted, shaking his head. "But it's still a little excessive."
She shrugged. "We have twelve runabouts, a few dozen shuttles, and the Koenig. We need that full complement of piloting officers if we're going to maintain all of our usual operations."
Locarno shook his head. "You love doing this kind of thing, don't you? Rattling off all of these justifications and facts."
A smile crossed Julia's face. "I like to remind you all of just how good at this job I am."
"Well, you don't need to convince me," Locarno assured her.
"Oh, you're looking to take my fun away, huh?" Julia chuckled.
"No ma'am, I am not," he assured her with a chuckle of his own.
After rounding the corner of a corridor the two went up to a sliding door marked Briefing Room 2. Typically used for department-level meetings, it was currently occupied by the dozen new officers that had joined the Aurora crew. Over half looked Human or Gersallian. There were three Dorei, an Alakin, and even an eager-looking Mi'qote girl.
Locarno looked over the new arrivals. His eyes briefly focused on the Mi'qote girl, with her bronze complexion a strange contrast to the snow-colored fur over her cat-like ears on the top of her head. Her tail, made of the same snow-colored fur, swished as she turned to face him with bright green eyes, more feline than Human. She smiled at him and stepped to the side.
The Human woman who had been behind her turned toward the door. Her dark eyes focused on Locarno and Julia. Locarno's eyes met her's.
Recognition shot through his mind. Locarno's expression froze in disbelief.
The young woman was his age, as she would be. Her brown hair was pulled back in a severe bun at the back of her head. Her face had a pronounced round shape to it.
And given the stare, she recognized him too.
Julia saw the look on Locarno's face. Concern flickered over her features. "Nick?", she asked. "Are you alright?" She followed his eyes and looked at the young woman in question, who turned away hurriedly upon seeing Julia's attention and, presumably, her rank insignia. "Someone you know?", Julia asked.
"Yeah," Nick said, his voice hoarse. He swallowed. "Her name is Jean Hajar." He looked at Julia and let her see how rattled he was. "She was in Nova Squad."
"What is Past…"
Julia looked from Locarno to the woman he spoke of. She'd turned away and found a seat beside another of the new arrivals. She looked to them again with dark eyes that were hiding any emotional reaction to their presence. As if they were just new arrivals. "Nova Squad," Julia murmured, low enough that none of the new arrivals could hear. "You mean your group of cadets when you were in Starfleet Academy."
Locarno nodded. "Yeah," he said. "She and I are the only ones left now."
It was clear to Julia that Locarno was in the middle of some very strong emotions. "Nick, it's okay, I understand," she said. "Just let me do all the talking. I'll arrange to have her trained by Lieutenant…"
"No." Locarno shook his head. "No, I'm fine. I'm alright. It was just a shock to see her, that's all." He nodded toward the table in front of the assembled chairs. "Let's get this started. The ship's due to leave in a few hours, right?"
Julia nodded slightly. "Right." She gave him another worried look before turning away and going to the central chair. Locarno sat to her left. The right seat was vacant. Julia cleared her throat loudly, cutting through the background noise of quiet conversations among the new arrivals. "Attention, everyone."
All of the assembled turned toward them. Spines straightened.
"I am Commander Julia Andreys, First Officer of the Aurora." Julia motioned to her left. "And this is Lieutenant Nicholas Locarno, our Navigation Officer. He and I will be responsible for your acclimation training now that you're assigned to the crew. I know some of you are eager to get into your postings, so let's try to make this quick. You will all cover shifts on the bridge at the conn, at regularly-scheduled intervals, rotating between that duty and duty as shuttle and runabout pilots. In consultation with Commander Carrey, one or two of you will be assigned to the Koenig. Shift assignments will be as follows. Rozowski, Kutap, Rogers, Meritami, you will be on Alpha Shift. Hajar, U'saya, Korimi…"
Upon returning to the ship Robert went to his ready office. Jarod followed him in with a digital pad. "Oh, not you too," Robert mumbled. "And I thought Julia welcoming those new officers would give me a reprieve."
"Julia is all-wise when it comes to these things," Jarod remarked with faux-sagacity. He handed him the pad. "We just need you to sign on the final receipts. All of our requisition orders were filled and we've loaded all of the supplies we can ever need."
"That's good to hear." Robert took the pad and skimmed it. "Anything from Maran about our discovery?"
"You mean about how Darglan technology uses Asgard technology?" Jarod shook his head. "Not yet. He's got a panel of experts looking over everything."
"That's good to hear." Once Robert finished signing he handed the device back to Jarod. "Everything's ready for departure?"
"Pretty much," Jarod confirmed.
"Good. We're due to drop supplies off for the garrison at Beta Durani 4 before we rendezvous with the Phosako at the Durani Nebula," Robert said. "We finally got our orders in."
"Durani Nebula?" Jarod considered that. "That's in a quiet sector."
"The Nazis retreated from there four months ago, but they left a few surprises," Robert said. "We'll be sending them a couple of shuttles loaded with decontamination supplies and dextro-acid consumables."
"Turians, then?", Jarod asked.
"The Fifth Regiment. Or Platoon." Robert shook his head. "I'm still getting used to the way Turian unit organizations work. But their Fifth unit has set up a base on the northern continent to support Phosako and Alliance engineers building planetary-scale defensive systems for Beta Durani 4. They'll need extra food supplies, though, or we'll have to pull them out. Admiral Maran says it's already caused a bit of a scandal on the Citadel that our quartermasters screwed up on dispatching sufficient stores for them."
"I bet." Jarod put the reader in his pocket. "Well, we'll be underway shortly. I'll have the shuttles loaded with the supplies listed on the request."
"Good. We're due to launch them when we arrive in the Durani Cluster in two days." Robert nodded to him. "I'll see you for the staff meeting tomorrow, Jarod."
Jarod nodded back. "See you there."
Locarno was alone in the Lookout eating a late lunch when he looked up in time to see Zack approaching. "Any seats taken?", he asked.
"Not at all." Locarno gestured to one. Zack slipped into it and immediately took a bite from his chicken sandwich. Locarno looked at his own barely-eaten meal and forced himself to take a bite as well.
"So, any ETA on when you and Julie will have Ensign Hong's replacement?", Zack asked. "I'd like to know for setting up my rotation in the training exercises."
"None yet." Locarno eyed Zack suspiciously. He set his sandwich down with a forceful plop. "She sent you, didn't she?"
Zack gave him a look while finishing chewing a bite down. "What do you mean?", he finally asked.
"Julia told you about Jean," Locarno accused. "And she sent you here to get me to open up and talk about it."
Zack shook his head. "You think I need Julia's input on this stuff? The moment I heard a Nova Squad survivor was with the recruits, I knew you'd be like this."
"And how did you hear that?"
Zack lifted an eyebrow. "You know how things go around here. The rumor mill on the Aurora reminds me of the one back in our hometown."
Locarno sighed at that. "What do you want me to say, Zack? That she's reminding me of the worst mistake in my life? That I'm worried about whether I can work with her, if she blames me for her Starfleet career going nowhere?"
"I suppose that's a start." Zack saw Locarno's dark expression and sighed. He set his sandwich down. "Okay, dude. This is me. I'm not Julia, I'm not Mama Hen coming to check on the chicks. I'm just a guy looking out for his buddy, okay? If you don't want to talk about it, we won't."
Locarno was silent for a moment. Seeing the laid back expression on Zack's face made it hard for him to remain irritated at him and inevitably Locarno sighed. "Alright. I just… I never expected to see her again. To see any of them again."
"You invited them to join us didn't you?"
"Quietly, yes," Locarno confessed. "None of them answered. I can't be surprised. I got Joshua killed and nearly destroyed their careers covering it up. So after that, I figured... " He stopped.
Zack saw the expression covering his face and turned. Both watched as Jean Hajar stepped into the Lookout. She was still in uniform, just as they were, an ensign's single gold stripe on her collar. Her eyes clearly swept over them before moving on to take in the rest of the Lookout. She wordlessly moved on to the bar.
"Well, talk about your timing," Zack murmured.
Locarno let out a breath. "To hell with it," he said. "Let's get this over with." He stood up.
"Ah crap," muttered Zack. But he knew well enough to sit and observe as Locarno approached Hajar.
Albert, the assistant lounge host, got to her first, taking an order for a drink. Locarno patiently waited until Albert stepped away before walking up beside Hajar.
She'd seen him coming and turned before he could speak. "Lieutenant," she said respectfully, in a measured tone.
"Ensign." Locarno refrained from sitting down for the moment. "There's actually something of a standing rule in the Lookout that we don't go by ranks here. Not between crew."
"Really?" Hajar nodded briefly. "Well, then, I suppose it's 'Locarno' then."
Her tone was not the best sign that this would go well. But he formally accepted her proposal by nodded and saying, "Yes. Hajar. Welcome to the Aurora. I admit I'm a little surprised to see you. You never answered my offer."
Hajar's face curled into a thin, almost sarcastic smile. "I was still trying to salvage my Starfleet career at the time." The look in her eye became distant. "Not that it did me any good. Or Jaxa."
Locarno swallowed and nodded. "I heard about her."
"She was determined to make it work," Hajar said. "More determined than me, in the end. So, like Wes, I walked out. Made my way as a civilian shuttle pilot." By this point Albert returned with a glass of what looked to be brandy. Hajar accepted it with a nod and "Thanks". She immediately took a drink and considered it for a moment. "Then I heard about the marvelous opportunities of the Alliance Stellar Navy, and that my Starfleet Academy experience would be factored in if I signed up. So six months of expedited officer training and here I am, an Ensign after all." She looked to Locarno. "No thanks to you, Locarno."
There was some real venom in that voice. "I'm sorry for what happened," he managed.
"Yeah. Me too," she said. She took another drink and put the glass back on the table with some strength. "Let's get this out of the way, shall we? I'm sorry I ever signed up for Nova Squad. I'm sorry I ever listened to you, and I'm damned sorry I let you talk me into that damned Kolvoord Starburst plot. And if you've come to me looking for forgiveness, then you might as well keep walking, Locarno, because I'm never giving you that. You ruined our lives. You caused Joshua to die. And there's not a damn thing in this world you can do to ever make up for that." She glared at him, their eyes meeting and hers full of passionate ferocity. "You're my superior officer now and I'll respect that. We're here to do a job, after all. But we're not friends anymore and we'll never be friends again, do you understand?"
Locarno nodded briefly.
With that Hajar finished her glass and slammed it on the bar with some heat. She turned and, wordlessly, left the Lookout.
Zack stepped up behind Locarno. "So, how well did that go?", he asked.
Locarno drew in a breath. "About as well as I had any right to expect," he said in reply.
The Luteran finished making its leisurely course to the capital city Jantarihal, situated in the valley below the Great Temple of Swenya and the headquarters of the Order. Stepping out onto the open concourse of the Jantarihal Spaceport, Meridina looked up at the mountains that the Temple was built within and drew in a breath. Ordinarily she would have flown there directly from the Great Ring on a shuttle provided by the Order.
But not this time. She wasn't here as a swevyra'se reporting in at the Temple for assignment or debriefing. She was here for the purpose of simply coming home.
A brown-tinted carrier bus was waiting for her and others. There was no fare for it, the service being a communal one supported by the municipal and planetary governments instead of the private services favored in other societies. Even if there had been one, Meridina's robes and visible lakesh would have seen it waived. Swevyra'se paid for little in Gersallian space, and what little they paid for was at their insistence.
The bus was soon taking Meridina through the heart of the capital. The high, gleaming spires were a lovely sight, built to inspire as much as to function, with smaller buildings of round construction and slanted shapes abounding. Far below the bus, the streets flowed with rich life, a populace going about their way in the bustling roadways and walkways of the Gersallian capital. Meridina could, in the distance, make out Swenya's Column, marking the spot where the Grand Foundress refused the diadem that the peoples of Gersal were ready to place upon her brow, and where she had instead handed down the Precepts that, over a hundred years later, formed the basis of the Gersallian Interdependency.
Many other species found that title strange for a country. There were Kingdoms, Republics, Associations, Federations, Empires… but 'Interdependency'? It was likely from the translation of Gersallian into other languages, for Meridina thought the Human concept of republic and communal organization best fit the Gersallian idea of the Interdependency. Of a people bound together by laws and rules commonly accepted and developed by the populace.
It was not always easy. The history of first contact with the Dorei saw misunderstanding of the nature, and the Oligarchical, merchant-dominated republics of the Dorei had proven especially hostile to their concept of a society where public interest and private interest were not considered distinct from each other.
Humans also seemed to not understand it very much. Lucy had, upon having Gersallian society and law explained, used the term "socialism". Meridina had been intrigued and looked that term up. She thought it a poor fit, since Human socialism seemed to be built on the idea of the government dictating the economy for the benefit of workers, and of class conflict between those with much and those with little. The idea was bizarre. Why would someone not pay another proper compensation for their work? Or allow neighbors' homes to degrade or be shut down? Certainly one might feel envy at another's superior accomplishments or compensation for skilled work of greater demand, but to outright hate them? And surely everyone, especially those responsible for the economy, understood that everyone affects one another and that letting neighborhoods go into decline or workers to starve without food or suffer without medical help would undermine social cohesion and cause conflict? Why, indeed, would anyone want that sort of imbalance between different sections of society? Imbalance undermined society, after all. And it seemed this entire concept of "public" versus "private" was a sign of that.
Perhaps it was simply how other species approached the idea.
Meridina stopped her pondering. She was just avoiding the issue again. The thoughts constantly entering her head. The memory of Amaunet's darkness, of all of the slain in the SGC… it was just so much. So much.
The bus flew out of the city center and into the arcologies section, where tall buildings contained a multitude of homes. The bus flew in to street level and came to a stop at one arcology. Meridina quietly disembarked.
The entrance lobby was beautiful, covered in flower stands and small statuary. Meridina noted with surprise that there was a marking on one of the statues currently being removed by a young woman in the light red maintenance jersey.
With curiosity Meridina approached the statue, a fairly-good rendition of a majtan, a giant quadripedal herbivore of the northern forests of Tensha. The marking was blurred out so that she couldn't make out what it once was. "What has happened?", she asked the worker.
The yellow-haired girl grumbled, "A marking by the Dissenters. They've been up to it a lot lately." She turned and made eye contact with Meridina's waist. Her eyes widened at seeing the lakesh and her tone became more reverential. "Swevyra'se, what may I…" Her teal-toned eyes looked up and met Meridina's. The stunned reverential expression turned to stunned disbelief. "Meridina? By my family…"
"Penrine?" Meridina looked at her with some surprise. "My you have grown. It has been so long."
An embrace was exchanged. "It is good to see you, Meri," said Penrine. "Gami will be ecstatic."
"You and Leni still work to drive her to distraction, I imagine?", Meridina asked. A genuine smiled crossed her face.
"We do keep in practice," Penrine boasted. "After all, you are not here any longer."
"Swenya preserve me, there were times you two were so irritating…" Meridina stopped herself and allowed a laugh to come.
"You laugh?" Penrine narrowed her eyes playfully. "What is this? A laughing swevyra'se? A laughing swevyra'se who is the daughter of Karesl? Such a scandal for the Order!"
The look on Meridina's face turned somber. "Is my father home?"
Penrine's face shifted. Undoubtedly she had heard something of the fracture between Meridina and her father. She nodded in understanding. "At times. I have been told he is meeting with the Director and others. The Dissenters have been a distraction ever since the war started."
"The Dissenters?" Meridina frowned. "Are you referring to those who opposed the Alliance?"
Penrine nodded. "They grow angrier with every passing week, it seems." An uncomfortable look came to her face. "There was even a violent disturbance in Hatan several days ago, when recruiters came for the Alliance Army. I'm told one of them, a Human, nearly died."
Meridina was stunned by that admission. Gersallians could be independent-minded, certainly, and there were plenty of disputes and disagreements about this or that, but the idea of violence being used in them? That wasn't their way, it wasn't what was supposed to be done. Violent dissent unbalanced society, drove wedges into communities. It threatened to unravel the very concept of the Interdependency.
There has not been political violence on Gersal since the Brotherhood of Kohbal…
How could things have become so bad?
"I thought you were serving with the Alliance?", Penrine asked. "Why have you come home?"
The question was painful to consider. Meridina lowered her eyes. "I needed to regain my balance, to… deal with something that was done to me."
"Oh." Penrine nodded. "Well, Leni and Gami are home with your mother. Although Leni is probably still cleaning the gardens on the 12th level. I'm sure they're eager to see you."
Meridina nodded and forced a smile. "As I am eager to see them. It was good to see you, Penrine. Mi rake sa sweyvra iso."
"Mi rake sa sweyvra iso," Penrine answered cheerfully.
Meridina's family lived in a sizable home on the 12th level, on the north side of the arcology garden. She walked through said garden after leaving the lift to enjoy the scent of the flowers and other flora of her homeworld, and others. With interest she recognized tulips, obviously transplants from Earth, and other new alien flowers.
Standing in the middle of the garden, Meridina felt a gnawing anxiety build up. She had not been home in years. Her time away as a swevyra'se, and now serving in the Alliance, had kept her away. She hadn't even visited last year when the Aurora was repaired at Gersal. She had been so busy with Lucy's training, and hadn't wanted to face her father…
A painful ache came to her heart from that. She'd punished her sisters, her brother, and her mother for the difference of opinion she had with her father.
For several moments Meridina wasn't sure what she wanted to do. She felt hesitation, so unlike the decisiveness a Knight of Swenya had to show, and it gnawed at her that she was letting her experience with Amaunet affect her in such a strong way. Amaunet was dead, after all, and she was freed. The darkness had never been hers, only Amaunet.
But she could still remember. She could remember the thing burrowing into her neck and seizing her body. The agony whenever she resisted Amaunet's control. The horror and pain on Sha're's face, the cries of her infant…
...the dead bodies, slain by her physical hand.
Meridina had to take several deep breaths in an effort to deal with that pain.
She heard the rustling of leaves and turned. A young woman several years younger than her emerged. She was in a maintenance jerkin over a sleeveless blue tunic and a plain skirt of the same blue. Her eyes had the same blue as Meridina's own while her brown hair was cut short. Her eyes widened at seeing Meridina and a look of surprise came to her face. "Meri?"
"Leni," said Meridina. She forced a gentle smile to her face at the sight of her youngest sister Leniraya. "It is so good to see you."
"Meri!" She rushed forward and clasped Meridina's forearms with her hands. The embrace they shared was little different than the type Humans in such a situation might share. "It is such a relief to see you."
"I should have come sooner," Meridina admitted.
"What brings you home?", Leniraya asked.
Meridina's smile couldn't hide her feelings. Especially not from Leniraya, who had inherited some of their mother's mental talents. She tried to hold back the memories regardless, knowing that it would hurt Leni to see what she had suffered.
But she couldn't keep it entirely out. Leniraya's face twisted into a look of concern. "I understand," she said. "Let's go and see Mother. And Gami will be thrilled to see you."
"Are you not working in the garden?" Meridina frowned. "The arcology managers will be displeased you left your work unfinished."
"It is finished. Mostly." Leniraya put an arm on Meridina's shoulders, "You have returned home, they will understand."
Meridina nodded and let Leniraya lead her out of the garden and to the main entrance of the family home. The markings read out the family name of Lumantala. Family names were generally not used by Gersallians as much as they were among Dorei, Humans, and a few of the other species Meridina had encountered in her journeys. And for herself, it was almost never used, as generally she only referred to herself as coming from the Order. "Draswenya" was a common way to do that for some, although she never used it herself.
The door slid open as soon as the sensors reigstered their presence. Leniraya was the first through. "Our home welcomes a long and accomplished traveler!", she called out, undoubtedly amusing herself at her flowery turn of phrase.
The inside of the door was the family greeting area. Chairs and small tables abounded - a distant opening showed the dining table and the kitchen beyond, and to the side would be the family's inner living area and the halls to the sleeping rooms. Or "bedrooms", as Humans would call them.
A head of light blond hair graying at the temples looked up from the distant kitchen. Meridina felt her mother Drentiya's mind gently touch her own. She didn't resist her mother's mental inquiry. She was keeping the worst memories as quiet as she could manage. But she could sense her mother had an idea of what was wrong.
Please come, her mother said mentally, already leaving the kitchen. She was in her cooking robe, so dinner was due soon. "Meridina," she said aloud when they were close.
Meridina said nothing as her mother embraced her warmly.
"Gami! Gami, come!", cried Drentiya.
Gamays came bounding out of the living area and into sight. Meridina's sister, between her and Leniraya in age, wore a white vest and dark pantaloons. "Meri!", she called out, rushing past her mother and taking Meridina into an embrace. "Meri, it is so good to see you! Welcome home."
"Thank you, Gami," said Meridina. "Where is Qalk?"
"With Utiriluma," said her mother. "They are surveying a farmstead in the Lapana Valley."
"So he has made that choice? I must wish him well."
"He will be back in a few days." Drentiya put a hand on Meridina's bag. "Come, dear, your room awaits you. And then we will talk about this terrible pain I sense in you."
Meridina surrendered her bag and followed her mother into the living area and toward the hall leading to their bedrooms. As they approached her old room she finally worked up the nerve to ask, "Where is Father?"
The response in her mother's mind was easily read. Discomfort. Sadness. A little irritation, quickly suppressed. It was not easy for her to stand between her feuding daughter and spouse. "He is away," she said. "A meeting with some of the Dorei orders or some such thing, he will return in a day or so."
In other words, she had no worry about her father arriving soon and seeing, feeling, Meridina like this.
"I look forward to seeing him return home regardless," Meridina assured her suffering mother.
"It will be fine, my dear. What is important is to get you settled in, and for you to share with me what hurts you so."
Meridina answered her mother with a nod and followed her into her old bedroom. It was much as she left it. A single bed, a desk and chair, old clothes in the garment compartment beside the bed, a mirror. It held little more than her quarters on the Aurora.
What it did hold was one of her few material possessions, an old trophy from her sword lessons as a child. The sight of the trophy, a brass likeness of a talkesh blade, reminded her of that day she'd won it in a competition with other young initiates. Of her father's reaction and insistence she would be a great swevyra'se. That brought a dull ache to her heart. Her father had been the light of her life growing up, even moreso than the mother who taught her how to use her telepathic abilities,
Meridina went to the bed and sat upon it. It was softer than she remembered. Drentiya sat beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Open up to me, child," she asked. "Let me see what ails you."
So Meridina did.