Vivien pushed the door open quietly and closed it just as quietly behind her. It had been years since she’d been in a ready room and for a moment she savoured the old familiarity: the lockers; the smell; the pinup; and the hard music. She blinked hard, no ready room she’d been in during her career had stuck up a print of The Seductress by Macchiato as a pinup or played the Volgun Cycle by Kristakov as background noise. She ignored her surprise, she was here to see her granddaughter. She should have seen her at the presentation and following reception but Gavin, her son and the girl’s father, had been Gavin and sent that ridiculous note to her commanding officer. The divorce from Inglorien had been particularly vicious and Vivien sometimes worried that the child of that marriage had been overlooked in the wreckage by everyone including herself.
“Can I help you?” She snapped out of her reverie and paid attention to the speaker. He was big, tall and broad, in armour he must be a walking heavy weapons platform. The last one like that she’d served with had been handsome, oddly graceful and an excellent formal dancer. This one had a broken nose, not so bad as to require reconstruction, but that with the scars on the torso and arms visible around his singlet made him look worn by use.
“I hope so,” faded grey eyes looked up at mottled hazel, “I was hoping to see my granddaughter, Terezon. I understand she is on duty, but I was hoping for a few moments. We’re due to leave soon but I haven’t seen her for a number of years.”
He called over his shoulder while keeping an eye on Vivien, “Hey, Maze. There’s some old lady here wants to see you. Says she’s your grandmother.”
“Bring her round,” that was a male voice, baritone and oddly familiar. Vivien cocked her head, trying to tag a memory. Where and who?
“This way please, ma’am.” The big man stepped back and gestured. Vivien stepped forward, turned round the end of the lockers and saw the rest of the duty crew, pent in this room with the launch tubes for their shift, occupying themselves until required. The other three were dressed as the big man, as she had been when she’d done this job, in overalls over underwear and slip-on slippers. The overalls were tied around the waist, obviously they weren’t expecting company, to cut the strip time if they had to go down the launch tubes into their armour. The other two male members of the team, individual but cut from the same dark haired cloth, sat either side of a table topped with the board and tiles of a baekera game in progress. Behind them, half turned from the darts board, darts in hand, calm faced but so hurt looking around the eyes, stood her granddaughter.
“Ma’am, pray sit,” the man on the left, owner of the baritone, indicated the third chair at the table. “I’m Steel, this,” he indicated his game opponent, “Is Carbon.” Where had she seen those faces before? It somehow seemed so obvious, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Our large friend is Dark. You’re here to see our friend Maze?”
She took the seat. “I’m here to see my granddaughter Terezon. Her call sign may be Maze. I don’t know.”
“Why should we let you?” Steel fired back.
That’s it, thought Vivien, that’s who I’m remembering, your father. You must be the youngest one by that last wife of his. And that makes the other one his son. “Prince Castaris-”
“Steel,” he interrupted, “Thank you.”
“Steel,” she corrected herself, “I was looking forward to seeing my granddaughter again. My son can be very...stiff-necked. I don’t entirely understand why he made that direction, but he does not speak for me. I hoped that she and I might talk.”
“Ma’am’s family has always been very careful to make sure that we did not talk.” Her granddaughter spoke calmly but decades of marriage to her grandfather made it easy for Vivien to spot the underlying bitterness.
“The hurley-burley of family get togethers always makes in-depth conversation difficult,” said Vivien, “But you need to fight to make yourself heard sometimes, talk over the others to hold the floor. You were always very quiet.”
“I perceived a policy of deliberate exclusion,” that calm manner had infuriated her sometimes in her husband. Too often she’d only found out he was angry or upset when he started breaking things in his training sessions. “And I was quiet because everyone was telling me to be quiet and wait my turn, but it was never my turn.” She paused. “Then the invitations stopped coming when I reached my majority. It was clear that no-one wanted me around.”
“The invitations stopped coming?” Vivien was suddenly all at sea, then enlightenment began to dawn, “How did you get told about family events before?”
“Letters to my guardian from Father’s solicitor. The last letter I had from them was when I reached my majority and they wrote to advise that he would no longer be responsible for any of my expenses.”
“Then Hesperace,” she named her current daughter-in-law, the wife after Inglorien, “Hasn’t been-? Of course she hasn’t.” Vivien made a small sound of self disgust, “I should have thought of that. Let me have your contact details?”
“Perhaps not,” that was Carbon, Prince Eustasius, “I would suggest that you give her your contact details and she can send you a line from her secure mailbox, when she can access it.” He smiled, as infuriating as his father. “I’m always uncomfortable about notes in handbags.”
Vivien nodded and slipped a business card out of her handbag and onto the table in front of her. If he was his father’s son then her details would be thoroughly checked before he would let Terezon contact her. Prince Jeremias had always seen himself as the protector of his friends.
“How is your mother?” She had to ask, it was only polite. Inglorien was a difficult, brilliant, glorious creature and had had, so Gavin had said, custody of the child after the divorce. There had been something that Terezon/Maze had said just now that was setting alarm bells ringing, but what had it been?
“I wouldn’t know.” An even stiller voice than when she’d talked about the family gatherings, “The letter from her solicitors on my majority not only told me she was no longer responsible for my expenses, it told me I was never to contact her, unless the matter arose out of or in the course of my military duties.” She took in her grandmother’s shocked expression, “Yes, reaching my majority was really fun. At least my guardian provided cake.”
“Your guardian?” That was what had set off her alarms. “I thought your mother had you. If not her, who did you live with?”
Gavin had said, no, Gavin had said, “I don’t have custody.”
“Uncle Telvy, when I wasn’t at school.”
“Telvy? Is he a relative of your mother’s?” There were certainly no Telvys in Gavin’s family connections.
“No,” she actually smiled, a ray of sunshine that transformed her. “He was a friend of the court.” Her grandmother’s expression made her pause, “Well, the court had to do something. I checked the case papers after my majority, when I‘d calmed down a bit. Both my parents renounced custody. He was...available.”
Gavin was going to die. She loved him dearly but right now, despite him being her child and an Admiral, she wanted to send him to his room for time out so she wouldn’t kill him. Terezon had been six when they’d divorced and not once had he said anything that suggested any comprehension that he’d subjected his child to this depth of abandonment. No wonder the girl always seemed quiet and subdued. No wonder there were no photos or mementoes of her childhood handed over for grandparents to pore over, the wretched man had just not been interested to know himself.
The door to the ready room banged open and Gavin’s voice called out, “Mother, are you in here? I hate to disturb your nostalgia-“
“Hutt!” Dark, the first to sight the Admiral in his dress uniform had sounded the alert and all four were immediately on their feet and at attention.
Her son glanced, unrecognising, across the duty team, “As you were. Mother, it’s time to go. You can hang out in the duty room as long as you like on our transport.” He held out hand to help her up and gave her that smile that explained a lot about how he’d persuaded three women to marry him over the years.
Vivien looked at him coolly. “I didn’t come here to ‘hang out.’ I came here to see Terezon. You might remember her, only child of your second marriage? The one I never got to see enough of because you renounced custody?”
He flushed. “Now is not the time or the place, Mother. Now-”
“Why not here? Why not in front of her?” Vivien glanced in her granddaughter’s direction, Kedrith all over again, she was leaning back against the bulkhead doing breathing exercises for centring and control. “Afraid she might show you a reflection of yourself you don’t want to see?”
He opened his mouth to speak and the strains of Kristakov’s Volganan Chorus was replaced by the launch claxon. The duty team leapt for their chutes leaving overalls and slippers behind and were gone in seconds. Listening for them, Vivien caught the four successful away chimes bouncing back up the chutes.
“Thanks to the enemy,” she went on, “We are now alone and not going anywhere. What the hell were you thinking?”