Accepting Refuge: A Place of Refuge, Part Two, is now available!
Accepting Refuge, A Place of Refuge, Book Two
Miki woke early, from a nasty dream of living in the humid, congested Gamma Habitat back in the Federated Colonies. She’d been searching for Jon Churchill, who needed her, pushing her way through crowds of people who ignored and blocked her at every turn. The places she searched grew steadily more absurd. She’d even crawled inside the works of some kind of gear-based horological device, squeezing through at the size of a gnat.
The habitat was noisy with booming speaker announcements and harsh commands and agitated conversations in corners. When her eyes shot open, the cool quiet of the house on Refuge both surprised and soothed her, at least until she remembered the crushing news she’d learned in the wee hours of the morning.
The bed beside her was empty. Where was Talia?
After a moment’s panic, Miki thrashed free of her blanket cocoon and grabbed a robe. She found Talia sleeping in the central living area, on the long and squishy blue couch.
Miki sat on the edge of an equally squishy armchair, lighter blue than the couch. She curled her legs beneath her, waiting for Talia to wake. She knew better than to jostle sleeping fighters, especially ones on the mend from a year’s imprisonment.
They’d been here on Refuge for close to two weeks. She’d only known Talia was still alive for six weeks or so. Really, she should be satisfied with knowing nothing except Talia was alive, instead of cremated to ash, or chemically disintegrated, or moldering in an unmarked grave. Most mornings when she woke, she was surprised by joy when she remembered. Talia was alive. Alive.
Talia cracked one eye open and made a questioning noise.
“We’re safe. We’re in the new house, on Refuge. Do you want breakfast?” Miki asked.
Talia sat up slowly and scrubbed her face with thin hands, squinting into the warm yellow light streaming in the front windows. Miki was still getting used to natural light after years in habitats, then living in ships and orbital stations. The sun from the front windows glowed on Talia’s brown cheekbones; but outdoors in harsh daylight, she could still see gray undertones of exhaustion in Talia’s face, and her cheeks were hollow from thirteen months in a Federated Colonies prison. The short curly hair on her skull, once dark, glinted now with silver.
“What is it?” Talia asked, her voice rough from sleep.
Talia always knew when something was wrong, especially with Miki. Even though she swore she could not read Miki’s mind. Miki said, “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Time to get up anyway.” Talia sat up straighter and took a deep breath, then looked expectant.
“Last night and this morning, I was playing cards with Faigin. I’d forgotten what a good cheat she always was.”
“Only you would use good and cheat in the same sentence.” One corner of Talia’s mouth quirked for an instant.
Miki waited for her to say more, but she was obviously, by her silence, prompting her to continue. “Faigin said—she told me—” Miki sighed and started over. “She told me she thinks Jon Churchill is dead. And so do you.”
“Yes. I’m sorry.” Talia’s eyes were steady, full of truth.
Miki swallowed. “I guess that’s it, then. That’s all I needed to know.”
They would never see Jon again, Jon who’d saved orphaned Miki from a life and death in Federated indenture, his first and very unlikely recruit. She’d been so desperate to escape and have a place in the world. Jon had given her that place, as “Churchill’s little genius.” He’d been her accidental savior, her absent-minded father figure, a tortured guerilla, an interstellar icon.
Now all that was done, he was gone.
“Miki, can I help?”
She could handle this. It was just one more thing, a small thing, really, compared to losing their rebellion and fleeing the Federated Colonies for good. She’d already been fairly sure that if Jon was alive, she would have found some trace of him.
Miki stood up. She hadn’t had much sleep, what with the nightmares, and she was due to look over the schematics of the Refuge security satellites, part of the promises she’d made when they’d come here for sanctuary.
“Miki? Abikaas, let me help.”
If she was to keep Talia safe, the security satellites needed to be in top condition at all times. The worst things about the Federated Colonies might be changing, but the galaxy was big and it was possible other, more dangerous enemies would have their eye on habitable planets like Refuge, however isolated. Interstellar politics would stabilize, perhaps, but not for a long time. Miki couldn’t control that, but she could control the efficiency of the satellites. She had plans to train them, using a method similar to how humans could learn new skills using games.
Without noticing, Miki had started to leave the room. She settled her facial expression before turning back. Talia was holding out her hand. Miki hesitated, then stepped over and took it, sitting at a corner of the couch. Talia burrowed into her side and laid her head on Miki’s thigh.
“You should’ve told me before about Jon,” Miki said, suddenly close to tears. She toyed with her row of gold ear studs to distract herself. She did not want to cry in front of Talia, not right now. She could feel the bones of Talia’s fragile arm across her legs, feel her ribs as she breathed.
Talia had been so formidable before her capture by the FC, her muscles like wire, her smile cocky and crooked from a single dimple in her rounded cheek. Miki remembered the first time she’d seen her, wrenching off a helmet to let her luxuriant dark hair spring free into a cloud around her serious face.
Talia said, her voice muffled, “I should have, but the time never seemed right.”
“When did you…how….”
“One day, I just knew. I’m not sure when that was. It was difficult to tell how much time had passed, in that horrible place.”
“Not your fault.”
“I’m sorry he’s gone. He was always so sad, and so angry at himself. I hope he found peace, somehow.”