Awareness returned with the pin pricks of his muscles waking up. His arms and legs twitched as he fought to regain mobility. Excited to get home. He never should have taken the damn mission to Earth in the first place.
“Commander Ashvalor, please lie still. You’ve been under much longer than you realize. We need to make sure everything is in proper working order.”
Longer than he realized? What the hell did they mean he’d been under longer? How much longer! He opened his mouth. Tried to force the words out.
“Shh, Commander, rest. Let the effects ware off. Someone will be in shortly to talk to you about your situation.”
He glowered at the ceiling. Why the hell couldn’t they just tell him now?
The Medics must have found him in relatively good health. After a few minutes, they packed up and left without a word. He felt a boiling anger at that. Fucking cowards.
“Commander Orion Ashvalor?” A man around his age asked, leaning in his doorway. “I’m Dr. Olsen.”
Orion stiffened. He could tell right away this wasn’t a medical doctor. His clothes and demeanor made it all too clear. Orion’s glare sharpened in defense. The Doctor sighed, stepped into the room, and shut the door behind him.
He hesitated a moment. Intelligent eyes searched his face for something.
“…About midway between Mars and Jupiter your transport was high jacked.” He pulled a stool over to his bedside and took a seat. “As you can imagine that Transport has been missing for a long time.” He put stress on the last two words and narrowed his eyes, studying him with a cautious tension. “Five years, three months, and thirteen days to be precise.”
Orion’s diaphragm spasmed as he choked down a deep breath of air. He’d had a suspicion it was going to be bad. But he hadn’t even begun to imagine it’d be that bad. …Five years! It only took one for family to legally declare a person dead. Three years was mandatory. Out here in space, when someone went missing, death was just too high of a probability.
“Your records indicate your wife stalled six months after the three-year marker.” He paused to let that sink in. Or to give him a moment. Or for fucking dramatic effect. Orion didn’t know or care. Pain erupted down the side of his ribcage. He curled away from the man, gripping at the fabric over his side.
Olsen fidgeted in his chair before leaning over to place something on the bedside table.
“…But, you are as of currently for all instances and purposes considered dead. We’ve put in a special order to fast-track the reversal of that. However, you will have to get in contact with your wife. To settle the legalities surrounding your marriage and personal belongings. I believe she was left everything.”
He stood up with another morose sigh.
“I know this is hard. I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re feeling right now. And it’s going to be a rough journey reclaiming your life, but it is there waiting for you. Certain things might not be the same as they were before, but this is a chance to get them back. This is my number.”
He tapped what Orion assumed was a business card he’d set down on the side table.
“And a Black Card with access to all of the Credits you would have accumulated in the last five years.”
Orion sucked in another unsteady breath. That number clawing at his mind.
Olsen moved towards the door. “I’m here if you need anything, just give me a call or send me a message and I’ll make any necessary arrangements.”
Orion clenched his eyes shut and tried to even his breathing. He knew he’d have to contact him eventually, if he ever wanted to reclaim his standing in the Military. But he was glad the man seemed to have enough sense or respect not to have to remind him.
As soon as he left the room Orion was up on unsteady legs. He snagged the wireless phone from its cradle and shut himself in the bathroom.
He leaned against the wall by the door and stared at his reflection, momentarily grateful that the Moleculagenic Icepod worked on an atomic level. He’d hate to see what he would have looked like after his hair had been allowed to grow unchecked for five years. His diaphragm seized with a choke off breath. Would that number ever get any easier to think?
He ran a hand over his buzzed hair, punched a number into the phone, and prayed it went through.
“This is Admiral Price speaking.”
“…Oh thank God,” Orion steeled his nerves. “Alfa Delta Two Echo India Mike November Oscar Tango.” The code only the man on the other end of the line would know. A confirmation of his identity for emergency extraction when compromised on missions. He held his breath.
“…Orion?” Shawn’s voice was so low in desperation it made something inside him break.
“Yeah.” He fought back tears as he slid down the wall. Some of the tension he’d been feeling since he’d regained consciousness drained away.
“How… How did this happen?”
Orion’s laugh sounded bitter even to his own ears. “They recovered my Transport. Apparently, I’ve been fucking lying there frozen for five years.”
His Godfather went silent. Clearly lost for what to say. Hell, Orion had lived the experience, was in the middle of it now, and he still wouldn’t know what the hell to say to someone in this situation.
“Where are you? I’m coming to get you.”
“No!” He felt his heart fluctuate. Images of hijackings, ships lost in space, his Godfather forever frozen inside a glass and metal coffin, flashed through his mind. “I… I mean you’re probably busy… I…”
“No. I’m fine Shawn, I just…” he paused, taking a breath. “I just need to find Naphalie.” His chest tightened. “Do you… Do you know where she is?” Please, please tell me she’s in this Sector. There was no way he could handle a Jump right now.
Shawn sighed and Orion pictured him running a hand through his grizzly curls in frustration. “Last I heard she was out in Gamma Sector Seven.”
Orion let out a breath of air, the tension in his shoulders relaxing.
“Most likely on Terminus Station Nine. That’s where Amber’s been stationed for the last year and a half.” He made a sound of hesitation and Orion frowned.
“What?” He ran his teeth over his bottom lip. “I can tell there’s something you’re holding back… Just tell me.”
“She’s moved on Orion.”
“Moved on?” His mind went blank. He clutched the phone harder to keep his hand from trembling.
“Jo tells me she met someone. Been with them almost as long as Amber’s been stationed out there.”
“I…” A spark of heat flooded his veins. “What! You want me to just stay away from her? Let her go on living, thinking I’m dead?”
“No, of course not!” There was the slam of a chair being shoved back and he could tell his Godfather was pacing the room. “I’m just warning you to be prepared about what you’re going to find.” He sighed and Orion heard him drop into the chair. “It’s late Kid, you should get something to eat and go to sleep. I’ll make sure Naphalie’s actually still at Terminus and call you in the morning.”
“I… yeah okay, thank you.” Orion grimaced. Hunger gnawing at his insides. He dug his teeth into the inside of his cheek before huffing and heading out to the cafeteria. He grabbed the Black Card on the way out, hoping there’d be someplace he could buy a change of clothes. And a phone… maybe a laptop.
Orion hiked up the strap of the sports bag he’d been able to purchase in the fitness center. Along with several new shirts, three pairs of cargo pants and briefs, and a set of running shoes.
His eyes widened. Terminus Station Nine had a whole new look and size. Five times the one he remembered. He pulled out the paper with the ships docking info. Thank god Shawn had made sure he wrote it down. It’d have taken him ages to find Naphalie in this tiny man-made planet without it.
Orion ducked out of the flow of foot traffic and down a set of stairs. The residential and personal ships were all docked on the three to five lowest levels. He was looking for dock N51AO. He frowned, reading one of the signs. That was the large lowest level for visiting ships only. Did Naphalie not live here? He jabbed the button for the elevator and tried to fight off thoughts of Naphalie’s new… Or rather apparently not so new, boyfriend.
Back at Tripler he’d come across a sign for a computer lab on his way to the cafeteria and hadn’t been able to resist temptation. Orion scowled and slipped through the group exiting to the solitary confines of the elevator. Happy he had a moment to himself to process. What the hell was he even going to say? …Oh hey, yeah I’m still alive. So sorry you grieved and moved on and all that crap.
He banged his head back against the wall. And the thing that just took the fucking cake! Snooping through Naphalie’s social media and photos… He’d come to find he liked the guy. He fucking liked the guy!
He seemed nice. And caring, and sweet… And exactly the kind of person Naphalie would have needed after losing him. As angry as he’d been when he’d thought Shawn had been making the suggestion. It’d been there eating at the back of his mind. What if? What if he just left well enough alone?
But then, as much of a cluster fuck as this was going to be, he was fairly certain Naphalie would actually murder him if she ever found out. And she would too. Find out. Shawn was married to her mother. He still couldn’t believe he’d missed that!
He stepped off the elevator and spotted the sign for N51AO a few yards down the terminal. He frowned at the keypad on the Airlock door. It seemed Terminus had undergone a remodel in the tech department as well. Years back when he’d been here last there hadn’t even been doors between the terminal and the hangers. The elevator still had the sign proclaiming ‘Descent to levels 1-5 at your own risk’. Of course, back then Terminus had been strictly a military outpost. And everyone had been advised to stay in their Mech Suits.
Orion drug his teeth over his bottom lip. Scrunching up his nose, he typed in the code they’d used on Triton’s Alpha Station. Unsurprised when it flashed red and buzzed in denial. He ran a hand up the back of his neck, looking up at the ceiling. What the hell could it be? He glanced down either side of the hall. Maybe he’d just have to wait.
Orion groaned. Who knows how long that could take!
There had been a post on Naphalie’s Calo celebrating a little girl’s birthday. Orion had felt the air get stuck in his chest when, after some more snooping, he’d come to the realization she was the man’s daughter. And the little girl was quite visibly attached to Naphalie. What the hell was he doing? His presents was just going to ruin everything for them. Rip their sweet little family to shreds. Could he really do that to Naphalie? He’d lost all desire for a family after he’d lost his and he knew Naphalie wanted kids.
Orion focused back on the keypad with a frown.
There’s no way they’re that stupid… Though, the obviousness of it could throw people off. Not to mention that date.
He huffed, rolled his eyes, and typed in the code.
The day Luna Central went up in flames.
The light flashed green, the lock made a whirring sound and clicked open. Orion stared at it in disbelief. Seriously! It made another whirring click sound. He startled before scrambling through the door.
Coming out onto a glass-enclosed balcony overlooking the hanger. Orion’s eyes widened. A hall led off towards the docked ship and a high-end Plasma Field allowed ships to move in and out of the hanger without disturbing the air pressure.
Jeez, was this even the same space station.
A metallic bang echoed through the hanger followed by a stream of curses. Orion’s focus jumped to the source of the sound.
He’d been hoping to run into Naphalie. Not him. Well, he supposed it would be better if the guy broke the news to her first. Instead of him just showing up and giving her a heart attack. Orion slipped through another Airlock door and down a set of stares.
The guy… Excalibur, his name was Excalibur, had spiky slicked back highlighted brown hair and the brightest blue eyes Orion had ever seen. His height surprised him, barely scraping five eight.
And… Orion felt a quiver in his abdomen. The guy had a hand through the roader blades! Most likely to clean and oil the delicate little rotator parts. Well great, that meant he’d have to be extra careful not to startle him. Those blades were sharp enough to cut through bone.
Excalibur glanced up at him and Orion went still, holding his breath. The double take would have been comical if it hadn’t been followed by an alarmed gasp and knee-jerk reaction.
Excalibur yelped and yanked his arm from the blades, stepped back on the leg he’d slammed into the edge of the wing, and lost his footing. Instinct kicked in and Orion leapt up the steps of the platform before he’d even thought about it. Caught the man around the waist and pulled him back from a nasty fall.
“You…” Excalibur stared at him with slightly unfocused eyes.
“You know who I am?”
“Do… Do I know who you are? Of course I fucking know who you are! What the absolute hell! You…” He faltered, color draining from his face, and swayed on his feet. Orion’s brows shot up in alarm as he noticed the whole side of his shirt was soaked in blood.
“Shit!” He pushed Excalibur to lean on the railing and pulled off his own shirt to press against the wound. “We need to get you to the hospital.”
“…get me to… my car. …I’ll go…” He gestured off to the corner of the hanger where there was another Airlock door. Orion assumed it led to a garage.
“Absolutely not! You’re fucking bleeding to death! Give me the keys. I’ll drive.”
“What… No! I don’t even know you!”
“You just said you know who I am.”
“I know who President Vance is too. Doesn’t mean I’d let him drive my car!” The outburst seemed to take the wind out of him. Orion rolled his eyes.
“We don’t have time for this.” He grabbed his hand and brought it to the makeshift bandage. “Keep pressure on that.”
Orion slipped forward to search his pockets for the keys.
“Hey, hey!” Excalibur flailed as much as possible while still keeping pressure on his wound. “Sexual harassment much dude!”
Finding them, Orion stooped, got a good grip on his uninjured leg, and swooped him up onto his shoulder.
“I’m going to fucking murder you,” Excalibur hissed into his back.
“Yeah, yeah…” Orion huffed, making for the door. For someone of such a short stature, the guy was fucking heavy. “Which one?” There were three vehicles in the garage. A red Tesla, a purple Serenity of some kind, and a black Chevy Omega X.
“…the black one,” Excalibur muttered, sounding resigned. Orion dropped him in the passenger seat and hurried back into the hanger to grab his dropped bag.
Pulling on another shirt, he slipped into the drivers seat and turned the key in the ignition. The tension between them suffocating. He had a suspicion the guy wasn’t one to remain silent for long. With the way he fidgeted in his seat and pressed his lips together.
“You really wouldn’t let the President of Terminus Station drive your car?”
“Oh shut up! Just…” he waved a hand, looking frustrated. “Just go.”
Teresa grabbed the phone off the dash holder, clicked off the video, and handed it to her. “Daddy wants to talk to you.”
Naphalie raised her eyebrows at her. “About what?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged before turning to pull out one of her books. Naphalie grimaced and refocused back on the phone. How the kid could read in the car she’d never understand.
“What’s up?” Naphalie smiled, thinking of her fiancé in his ratty tank top and baggy jeans all sweaty and covered in grime.
“…Uh …Hey Baby.”
Her brows furrowed, her back muscles tensed, and her nails dug into the steering wheel. That was the stupid ‘oh shucks’ tone of voice Excalibur always used when he was trying to placate her. After he’d broken something on the ship or in one of the jets… Or himself.
“What did you do?”
“…Do? …I …I haven’t done anything! I… Well, um…” He paused and she could hear a muffled conversation, but not make out what was being said.
“Okay… so… I may have cut a gash into my arm,” he paused with a hiss of air through his teeth and another muffled conversation. “And banged up my knee.”
Naphalie’s grip on the steering wheel tightened.
“But it totally wasn’t my fault okay! There I was minding my own goddamn business. Working my way through most of the Hellcat’s maintenance when somebody,” he paused and she imagined him giving someone in the room his customary glower. “ “Just appeared out of fucking nowhere and scared the ever living shit out of me! While I had my goddamn hand through the Hellcat’s rotor blades!” He paused again with another even louder muffled conversation.
Naphalie frowned, digging her teeth into the side of her cheek. That didn’t sound like the actions of any of their teammates. Even Cyrus wasn’t dumb enough to mess with Excalibur when he was working around the Rotor Blades.
Though, she scowled, that was something she could see Kusanagi doing. Excalibur’s little brother was a nuisance on the best of days. Naphalie glanced at Teresa with a sigh. She really only tolerated his presence because her stepdaughter seemed to love him so much. But if he was here, perhaps she should take up Amber’s offer of a spot on that Transport to Mars. Go visit her mother.
“Anyway… So yeah, I’m up on level 10 at North General,” another muffled conversation. “Could you… Um… Could you come up here?”
Naphalie bit back a groan. “Sure, be there in a few minutes.”