In Hiding

They had fled to Kamela. Kamela, that fortress of the crusade. Kamela, that home on the border of high security space. Kamela, the last place where he could feel safe with the girl he loved like a daughter.

His time in Triumvirate had come to an abrupt end as agents who had orchestrated the Sani Sabik hijacking of a Fenrir-class freighter that had self-destructed over the Infrastructure Hub in Huola made their way into the alliance. No doubt with the backing of Sahriah Bloodstone. She had always had Sani-Sabik tendencies. But there was no time to dwell on the failed appeals to alliance authorities. Alliance higher-ups wanted more members–it didn’t matter if they were war criminals or not.

That was all in the past. As Reginald surveyed the villa he had managed to acquire at a near moment’s notice, all he could think of was the safety of his niece Rebecca. She had been the victim of too many plots, intrigues, and conspiracies–a bystander too innocent to know that she was indeed a bystander.

The villa itself had been so cheap because the previous owner wanted to leave the world immediately. In the wake of Blood Raider attacks and the constant war raging in the sky, the temperate planets of Kamela were seen as more and more dangerous. Only the daring remained and even their numbers were beginning to dwindle. In their haste, they had left behind many of their heavier and less valuable objects–a painting bolted to the wall, a bust of some distant family relation, perishable chocolates and sweets. At the very least, Rebecca found the latter soothing.

He took in a quick breath of lakeside air before closing the doors behind him. It was too dangerous to keep the doors open for longer than a few minutes a day, just enough to allow the rooms some time for respiration. The furnishings were spartan, though he was taking pains to create a cozier atmosphere for his niece. What she needed most of all was stability.

Huola. Kamela. Myyhera. SAH-AD. Kamela again.

He imagined that his niece was better traveled than ninety percent of the baseliner population. The only space she hadn’t seen was wormhole space and fortunately, not even Reginald was desperate enough to sojourn there for her safety. As he walked through the interior of the villa, admiring the construction that hearkened back to a classical era where rooms and parlors were connected by doorways rather than by hallways, he wondered how different his life would have been if Katerina was still a part of it.

He had fallen in love with her in a heartbeat and had married her almost as quickly. But even the tender memory was tempered by the look in her green eyes, of hatred, of loathing, of despair. He had never meant for anything to go that far but they had. And now here he was, unhappiness brought onto him by his own actions. Resolved to never seeing his son again, he tried to block that part of him out of his thoughts, teetering dangerously on the edge of the familiar spiral of solitary depression. He couldn’t afford to collapse now, for Rebecca’s sake at least.

His named heiress and ward was sitting on a piano bench, touching lightly at the ivory-clad keys of a baby grand. Its sleek black shape, despite its name, dwarfed the little girl, her legs dangling over the edge of the bench, unable to reach the pedals. He smiled to himself softly as she practiced at some sheet music, no doubt left behind by the previous occupants. He sat beside her and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

She looked up at him silently, her eyes partially surprised. He smiled back at her with that smile of reassurance that was neither honest nor sincere. He just wanted her to feel safe.

She broke eye contact with him and returned to the piano, wordlessly reading the music with all of the grace that a five year-old holder-to-be could muster. He watched carefully, nodding at her rubato, mumbling “tempo” when she paused for too long or sped up uncontrollably.

Quiet, tender moments like these were few and far between.

Rebecca continued to play, silently huffing to herself at each one of her uncle’s corrections. She thought that she deserved something more than a lesson for even sitting at the piano, though she supposed that her uncle was saving chocolates and ice cream for afterwards. She tried not to think too hard about what had transpired over the course of the last several months–the whirlwind of confusion and being whisked from one corner of the universe to another.

When she finished the piece, she looked up to her uncle, who unexpectedly embraced her, whispering to her, “I’ll make sure to keep you safe. Always.”

She sighed to herself as she kissed him on the cheek.

She knew, like with all of his promises, that he was lying.