The war was over. Generations of fighting at an end. Not because anyone had won but because a star had exploded. The enemy’s home world was obliterated by a force of nature, billions dead. What was left of the enemy surrendered piecemeal because they no longer had centralized communications. Victory had never tasted so bitter or unearned.
The troops began to come home. They trickled and flooded in as the transports arrived from the distant watch stations and battlefields. Tales came with them too of the empty shells many of the enemy had become, men for whom there was no going home ever again. Then there were the ships that wouldn’t come home yet, searching for the men they knew were hiding from them whose relief and supply ships would never come again, begging them to talk to them.
It wasn’t long before the tacked-together government of the surviving remnants of the enemy’s colonial and supply fringe sent a delegation to negotiate for aid. Some of the negotiations would be so that they didn’t receive more aid than they wanted. Some were to gain greater access to the rehabilitation hospitals for their wounded. The newspapers were full of it.
Mayin noted that her old opponents were on the planet and dismissed it as irrelevant to her. Neoma stayed over with her every three weeks or so now, a comfortable routine that was helping the girl gain independence and the woman relax around people in general. Her family kept trying to introduce her to nice men but Mayin found their choices didn’t spark her interest, so she tended to see them once and not pursue the acquaintance. To be fair, most of them weren’t interested in pursuing her acquaintance.
She opened the door at the knock expecting to find Neoma and her mother there. Instead, it was a face from years ago and planets away. He was neatly dressed in civilian clothes and if he’d come to kill her, she’d have already been dead. The cybernetic right eye and hand were new since that intense afternoon four, almost five, years ago. “How did you find me?” Her voice came out cool and calm.
“It’s one of my base corps’ skills.” His vowels were too precise for a native speaker, betraying his origins. “You ruined my life.” He put the prosthetic hand on the door jam.
“You were trying to kill me.” So many fights and this was the one she remembered in all its detail.
“I was doing my job, as were you. I’m here with the delegation and I thought I’d look you up.” He stepped closer, too close because he was close enough to feel, and added an idiomatic sentence in his own language, “Nothing works anymore.”
“That’s not my fault!” Then she added, “Besides, you can’t convince me of that at the moment.”
He glanced down and closed his eyes as if in pain. “Of course, you would be the exception. Are you a witch as well?”
“No, I’m not!” Then switching to her own language, “This is not a discussion I want to have in the hallway outside my home. Now I’m expecting some people-”
“Aunty Mayin, Aunty Mayin,” that was Neoma tearing down the hallway ahead of her mother. The child stopped far closer than Mayin would have liked and asked, “Hello, are you a friend of my aunty’s?”
He looked down at the child and smiled, “We met briefly several years ago and I have come to visit her.”
Neoma’s mother, observing the lack of distance between the two of them, asked, “Mayin, aren’t you going to introduce us to your friend?”
“Friend? He’s not a friend.” She looked blankly from her sister-in-law to her old opponent as an odd realisation dawned, “And I don’t know your name, do I Vorwei?”
“Oberxiao, I was promoted.” He looked back at Mayin, “Twice. I will return at a more convenient time to discuss my problem.”
“I don’t know what you expect me to do about it,” Mayin was tart, he was too close her and he was too close to her niece.
He was fast. The prosthetic hand was behind her head before she’d realised that he’d moved and then he kissed her for just long enough. “Give me back to myself, luck witch.” Then he was walking away, back towards the elevator.
“What was that about?” Her sister-in-law was puzzled and Neoma was looking from one adult to the other, confused.
“It’s complicated,” Mayin sighed. “He sort of thinks he’s got a spell on him.”
“Then you’re supposed to kiss him to get rid of it,” declared Neoma. “If he does the kissing it’s never going to work! Hasn’t he ever read a fairy tale?”
Down the corridor the man paused and looked back over his shoulder.