Chapter Fourteen
New Jerusalem System
In orbit around Hebron, Tarshish’s largest moon

Walter Sinclair

“Commander, the Israeli warship is returning, their captain is hailing us,” Jeanie informed me silently through the data link.  “The Kidon isn’t alone, she seems to be accompanied by a task force.”  When I had been alone on the ship and we were star-fairing, I extended my senses through the data link to access the ship’s sensors directly, becoming almost one with it.  Since I had human company on board, to avoid confusion, I had backed out and allowed the ship’s AI to filter and analyze the sensor data.

I relaxed my control and let the data from the ship’s sensors flow into my consciousness.  My world exploded out and the scent of deep space seemed to permeate my being.  Stars, galaxies, and the great looming void appeared.  I remembered now why I filtered it, the human mind was not meant to assimilate that kind of data in real time.

The approaching task force was still a full AU* away, coming hard, still under fifteen gs of thrust.  They were going to have to turn and start decelerating soon or they would simply zip by us.  The Kidon was now in a support role being led by a ship-of-the-line battlewagon.

It didn’t look like the Israelis were going to roll out the red carpet.

*Astronomical Unit: the distance between the earth and the Sun, roughly ninety-three million miles.

“Tell them five minutes, Jeannie.  I think it’s time we showed them what we really can do.”

“Aye Sir, five minutes.”

“Lyna, with me,” I called across the bridge as I left my office and headed for the elevator.  “I’m going to the chair,” I told Lyna as she joined me and the door whished shut behind her.

“Are you sure?” Lyna asked skeptically.  All the Anastazi were in awe of the power of the communication device hidden deep in the hold of the ship.  It worked inter-dimensionally, perhaps even delving lightly into the spirit world.  The Anastazi were not sure, but they surmised the device actually projected one’s spirit into another dimension.  I doubted that, but desperate men make desperate moves.  If I was going to avoid a battle with what I had hoped to be our hosts, the time had come.

The chair was located in the very heart of the ship, within a keep, one deck below the lowest level the elevator could access.  Lyna and I had to disembark the lift, walk down a narrow hall and then climb down a ladder into a small room barely large enough to contain the coffin size device.  It looked like a dentist chair, with a beautician’s hairdryer at one end.

I sat down, swung my feet up and allowed Lyna to position the hood over my head.

“Put me on the bridge of the battleship; Anastazi, winter dress blue,” I told Jeannie as the room around me blurred and disappeared.  The next instant I was standing on the bridge of the INS Lahav, the largest, most deadly warship, in the Israeli fleet, dressed in the kilt and boots of an Anastazi officer.  I knew I was appearing as a hologram, but it was much more.  I could actually feel the deck beneath my feet, the pommel of the sword under my hand, and experience the chill of the air.  Like the Imperial Navy, the Israelis kept their bridges uncomfortably cold for the benefit of the electronics.  Crew comfort was secondary.

“Whoop! Whoop! Intruder alert, Intruder alert…” the alarm rang across the bridge as the crew froze for a long moment, regarding me in shocked surprised.

“Silence the alarm!” the Lahav’s captain was first to recover and respond.  He leaped from his command chair, his hand dropping to the handgun at his belt, but he did not draw the weapon.

I was comfortable on the bridge.  It was as familiar as an old shoe.  The Lahav was an Imperial design, fabricated in the Navy yard at Byzantium and sold to the Israelis in the years before relations with the Empire deteriorated.  She was old, but the Israelis kept her modernized and up to date.   There was a raised dais beneath the large view screen across the front of the bridge.  Jeannie had materialized me in the center of the raised platform.

All eyes were on me.  I had meant to make an impression.  From the shocked expressions of the crew, it appeared I had been successful.

“I come in peace and am greeted by an armada,” I told the room.  “That isn’t very friendly.”

“Commander Sinclair?” the captain asked, finally regaining a bit of his composure.

“What you need to be aware of, gentlemen,” I told him, ignoring his question and addressing the room, “is that you are dealing with someone who can be no better friend, but let me assure you… no. worse. enemy!”  I let them consider that for a moment.  The captain started to speak, but I held up my hand, stopping him.

“In about six seconds you will hear an engineering alarm, the shields around your reactor will be failing.  The alarm sounds at ten per-cent degradation…”

“Whoop! Whoop! Reactor shield alarm!”  The klaxon rang through the bridge.

The captain looked across at his engineering officer and dragged his finger across his throat, muting the alarm to an angry buzz.

“I can stand here and watch you all die painful deaths as your ship slowly cooks itself from the inside, or you can agree to do as I tell you.  Your choice.”

The captain hesitated for a long moment, glancing at the older officer who was seated in the other command chair on the bridge.  The man nodded briefly.

“We are quite obviously at your mercy.  What would you have us do?”

At this, all the red lights extinguished on the engineering panel and the buzzing ceased.

“This is what is going to happen.  You will turn the task force around and start decelerating at max boost, all save the Kidon.  The rest of your ships will return to New Jerusalem.   We will negotiate with Captain Drell and him alone.  Is this understood?””

“It is understood, and we will comply to your wishes, Commander.  I apologize if you took our escort as a threat… there are pirates…”  The older officer, who had remained seated, replied.  I took him to be the squadron commander, most probably an admiral, but I was not familiar with the INS uniform insignia.  It was lame, but I had to hand it to him, it was probably the best he could come up with given the situation.

“That would be wise, admiral.  We will be waiting for Captain Drell.”  I silently told Jeannie to bring me back.  The bridge disappeared around me and everything went black.

“Walter, Walter, wake up,” the little room swum into focus and I awoke to Lyna gently shaking me.  I had a splitting headache.  For a long moment, the room didn’t seem to be solid, it floated in and out of my view and slowly congealed into reality.

“That was different,” I tried to say, but my mouth felt like it was full of cotton.

“This device is dangerous,” Lyna said.  “You shouldn’t use it, Walter.”

“You are probably right,” I was finally able to talk.  “If I can walk, we probably should get back up topside.”  Lyna slid her arm around me and lifted me effortlessly to my feet.  I took an experimental step and staggered back into her steadying arm.

“Just give me a minute,” I gasped.  “That thing is… exhausting.”

“Yes, even Ichod found using that device… troubling.  I tried to tell you.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, you were right; but I think we just avoided a battle and alienating the only human organization that is currently not intent on killing me.  I think it was a card we had to play.”

“You have Command Authority,” it was what she always said when she really meant, “you have your head up your ass.”

***

Isla Marin
Commander’s ready room

“Very impressive… uh …Commander,” the Israeli ambassador stumbled over my title.  My ambiguous position was quite evidently giving him some pause.  “I still find it inconceivable a ship of this …this awesome magnitude is the possession of one …uh …family,” he finally managed.  He still couldn’t bring himself to say, “one person.”

We had sent a shuttle to the Kidon to pick up Captain Drell.  He had returned with a civilian who he had informed us had plenipotentiary power to deal with us as a nation-state.

I was suitably impressed.  The Israelis were treating us with respect.  It was amazing what a hold full of crystal could buy.

I had not given the delegates a tour, but their arrival into the hangar bay, holding two transporters the size of the Kidon herself, and the subsequent trip up to the bridge through a half mile of corridors and passageways had stunned our guests.

Since in the ten years I lived aboard, I seldom left the bridge and my ready room, except to retire to my suite; I had come to take my moon-size home very much for granted.

We were sitting at the conference table in my ready room.  I was at the head with Lyna standing behind me with her hand on my left shoulder.  Rosslyn was on my right with Sophia opposite her.

Since the Oswello’s vacant lounge-chair took up the opposite end of the conference table, the two delegates sat opposite each other, leaving two vacant chairs at either side, between them and the ladies.

I had fully staffed the bridge with Anastazi droids and the avatars of the Anastazi officers, Ichod, Sophiel and Arthur seated at the command chairs.  Arthur’s avatar was accompanied by the holograms of his two panthers.  It was an impressive display.  I noticed the two Israelis had hesitated at the elevator door when it opened, stunned at the sight of the expansive bridge and its Anastazi crew.

“It is what it is,” I replied, setting his amazement aside.  “By our ship’s clock, it’s after five PM.  Could I offer you gentlemen, a sip of something?  I have some brandy from my family’s estate on Sparta that I think you might enjoy, or some wine, perhaps?”

Captain Drell started to shake his head, but the ambassador cut him off with a frown.

“The brandy sounds wonderful, Commander.  The Israeli ships are dry and it has been a long trip.”

I felt Lyna’s hand leave my shoulder as she turned to fetch the brandy.  I silently instructed her to use the crystal glasses and decanter.  There was nothing like putting a serving set that was worth the price of a large estate, on the table in front of guests, to make an impression.

“I am curious about this ship, Commander.” The Israeli ambassador said as his eyes swept the room.  The far wall that was a 3D display currently appeared as weathered oak panels with a large painting featuring a clipper ship from nineteenth-century earth, under full sail, running with the wind.  “Did your family build it at Sinclair station?”

“Hardly, Mister Ambassador, Isla Marin has been handed down from generation to generation for…” I hesitated because the truth would be so unbelievable and I didn’t want to spend all evening in explanations.  “…a long time.”

I prepared myself for a blizzard of questions that statement would create, but I was saved by Lyna setting a large silver tray on the table holding the crystal decanter and glasses.  The long-stemmed wine glasses were not exactly correct for serving brandy, but each one was held in its own silver stand, at an angle, over a lit candle, bringing the brandy to the exact right temperature for serving.  Lyna carefully placed a partially filled glass, in its stand, in front of each of the guests and returned to her accustomed place behind me.

“Oh…!” Captain Drell exclaimed.  “I’ve never seen anything…” he held one of the nearly transparent glasses up by its stem and swirled the liquid around.  It seemed to be floating in the air, like a blob of liquid in zero gravity.  His eyes widened as the reality of what he was holding hit him.  “It’s Sinclair crystal!  I had no idea…  they must be worth… I can’t imagine.”

“I can’t either,” I agreed.  “There are only two other sets like it in the Empire, and one is at the Emperor’s palace on Byzantium.  The secret of their manufacture went with my grandfather to his grave.”

“You Sinclairs are…” the captain took his eyes from the swirling liquid and stared at me for a long moment.  He didn’t finish his statement.  Evidently, he couldn’t come up with any appropriate descriptor for what he was witnessing.

“May I propose a toast, gentlemen?” I held up my glass.

“Please do, Commander,” the ambassador smiled.  He had recovered nicely from the shock of being introduced to Isla Marin, but he hadn’t yet tasted the brandy.

I rose to my feet and was joined by the others at the table.  I hesitated for a long moment because I was assailed with a storm of conflicting emotions.  As I was standing, I felt a strange thrill run up my back, I recognized it.  It was the same thrill I had when I was riding to the rescue of the embattled fleet ten years ago.  It was the feeling of power, pure unadulterated, unmitigated, power.  I’m back, I am a player! 

Then two things happened simultaneously.

I caught Rosslyn looking at me with an odd expression as if she was looking at a stranger.  As if I had suddenly become someone she did not recognize.

At the same time, Galileal’s condemning words echoed through my head, “you have been selfish and uncaring for your entire life.  You have never loved anyone or anything other than yourself.  You are a twisted caricature of a man.”

The expansive flowery toast I had been preparing died unborn, leaving what felt like ashes in my mouth.

“Success, gentlemen …and ladies, may our joint ventures be mutually beneficial,” I said simply, took a sip and sat down.  I did allow myself a hint of selfish enjoyment watching the stunned expressions of the two Israelis when they tasted the brandy.

It was magic in a glass.

“Wow…” Captain Drell whispered looking at the glass in awe.

“Yes, it’s one-hundred-year-old Spartan brandy, bottled by my great-grandfather.  I’ve been told, he was a vintner of exceptional talent.”  Thinking the two Israeli representatives sufficiently awed, I continued.  “Gentlemen, if you don’t mind, I would like to get to the business at hand.”

Without allowing any response I moved into an elaborate explanation of my little cadre’s status within the Empire, what the Imperium wanted from us and why we were unable to provide it.

“I think I understand your dilemma, Commander,” the ambassador said after I paused.  “I don’t quite understand your coming to us for sanctuary.  You seem perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.  After all, you just sent our most powerful task force home with their tail between their legs.”

“All of mankind, including your independent colony, is facing an existential menace.  It is essential the Empire be given the technological tools necessary to defend against that threat.  I’m hoping your scientists and engineers can work with the AI on Isla Marin to implement that technology so it can be passed on to the Imperium and the Navy.  If I’m forced to fight the Imperium, it will only weaken them.  That is not my desire.”

“You do realize, our giving you sanctuary could involve us in a war with the Empire?” the ambassador asked nervously.  “…and it’s a war we could not win.”  He continued.  “You ask a lot, Commander.”

“No… if it comes to that, we will leave.  There will be a lot of posturing and threats before the Emperor or the Navy sends a fleet.  They know you would exact a terrible toll.  That is why you still have your freedom.”

“I’m reluctant to allow your ship any closer to our home world than it is right now.  Would you agree to return with us on the Kidon and leave your ship here?”

“Mister Ambassador, I know you needed to ask, but surely you know it’s a non-starter.  It won’t work for many reasons.  First, the crystal your folks are so anxious to lay their hands on would necessarily remain out here.  The conditions necessary for its preservation are not duplicable on your vessel.  Second, we need your scientists and engineers to be on board Isla Marin to directly interface with the AI and droids to work up technological proto-types.  Third, there are factions and rebellious elements within the Empire who might be willing to risk almost anything to lay their hands on the technology they think we have.  I need to be on board to fight my ship.”

“I see…” the ambassador said, clearly not happy with my answer.  “They would risk war?”

“They would risk anything!  These are people who have been frozen out of the top levels of power for over a hundred years.  They have been quietly marshaling their wealth, strength and resources to make a play for the big leagues.  They are in collusion with the Islamic pirates, drug dealers, and pirates.  In fact, a lot of the pirates’ resources flow from these people.  They are dangerous, unpredictable and hungry.”

“You bring a lot of baggage, Commander…”

“True, but keep in mind, in one of those bags is a treasure, the value of which, is almost incalculable.”

“Are you referring to the crystal or access to anti-matter power production?

“Either or both, your choice; not to mention the ability to transit interstellar lenses without the time penalty.”

“I’ll admit, it’s tempting, Commander.  But I fear you’re bringing us the choice of opening Pandora’s box to access your treasure.”

***

Byzantium – Admiralty
Fleet Admiral’s office

“Your cousin is going to bring the entire power structure of the Empire down around our necks,” Admiral Carlyle’s chief of staff informed him.  The commodore was standing in front of the fleet admiral’s desk studying the omni in his hand with a pensive expression.  “The Emperor is fit to be tied.  He is about to go in front of the Senate and accuse the Navy of being in league with Walter Sinclair.  He is accusing us all of high treason.”

“What is he going to ask for?” Admiral Carlyle asked.  “Besides my head — that is a given.  He still blames me for letting Captain Sinclair leave my office… letting, letting…” the admiral mumbled.  “Just how in the hell was I supposed to stop him.  Out on the rim, after the battle, they had an entire flotilla with a fully operational battlecruiser and they couldn’t stop him.  How was I supposed to?”

The chief of staff glanced up briefly from his omni but decided to let the admiral’s rhetorical question go unaddressed.  He returned to studying the tablet in his hand.

“His Highness is asking for sanctions on all the Sinclair family members and the ability to freeze their assets on Byzantium, Tarantos…” the commodore hesitated, regarding his omni with obvious distaste.  “Omigod, the man wants to nationalize Sinclair station.”

“That will never fly,” Admiral Carlyle snapped.  “That has been proposed a dozen times, at least, over the last fifty years.”

“Yes, I imagine a lot of folks, including the Emperor himself, would like to get their hands on the river of money Sinclair station generates,” the commodore remarked.  “How have the Sinclairs been able to hang onto it?”

“They operate an anti-matter generator on that station.  Since they control that kind of power, no one has had the courage to try to take it away from them.  Who knows what kind of weaponry they might have,” the admiral said wryly.  “Besides, the Sinclairs have always made it known, they would destroy the station before they would give it up.  No station, no crystal… it’s just that simple.”

“Well, since the Sinclair patriarch committed suicide and the heir is running around “who-knows-where” in the Cygnus arm, the uncle running the station is a placeholder and thought to be a weak link.  Maybe the Emperor can get enough money grubbing politicians to go along and let him try to seize the place.  Lord knows, they will never get a better chance.”

“It’s all talk.  Navy isn’t going to go along.”

“Navy, or you?”

“Navy… the board is solidly behind me.”

“What if he can convince the Senate…?”

“Tarantos, Lesbos, and Hellenas will back Sparta no matter what.  The other two founders’ families will more than likely go along.  Without those votes, it’s unlikely the Emperor could get the two-thirds majority it would take to act against a sovereign state.”

“Are you saying the Sinclairs are a sovereign state?”

“Of course not, but the ruling council on Sparta would no doubt back them if it comes down to a fight with the Imperium.  There has been an undercurrent of secession brewing there for over twenty years.  Something like this would bring it to the surface in a heartbeat.”

“Sparta doesn’t have any warships…”

“They have a planet guard.  Some of the guard’s cutters are the equivalent of a frigate.  Additionally, how many of the Navy’s warships are commanded by Spartan or Taranton captains?  If push comes to shove, will those captains wage war on their home planets?  The Emperor is playing a dangerous game here, if he starts down that road, an actual civil war is not out of the question.”

“What about the Church… the Templars?  I understand the Emperor is trying to get the patriarch to excommunicate the entire Sinclair clan.”

“The patriarch couldn’t excommunicate an entire clan without going to the council of cardinals.  Even if he did and they went along, the cardinal of Sparta is a Carlyle.  He would never agree,” the admiral mused.  “The Templars are caught in the middle of this thing.  Walter is a senior knight… in the end, the Templars will stay on the sidelines with the Church.

So, what are we going to do, I mean what is the Navy going to do?”

“We are going to do nothing.  Navy is going to stay above the fray, and if it comes to an Imperial edict, backed by the Senate, we will take it to the ruling council.  If the council rules in the Emperor’s favor, we will procrastinate, dither and make excuses…”

“Sooner or later…”

“Yes, but I’m betting on Walter Sinclair coming up with something to at least diffuse the situation, if not make everyone happy.”

“Really, Admiral… one man…”

“Yes, one very special man, with some exotic technology at his disposal.  Walter once told me he would not necessarily do what we wanted him to, but he would do what we needed him to.  I’m banking on him keeping his word.  If nothing else, I’ll buy him some time to work his magic.  Whether it will be enough for him to do what he needs to do?  …I guess we’ll see.”

***

Main conference room
Ben Gurion University
New Jerusalem

In the end, we compromised.  I left Isla Marin in orbit at the edge of the New Israel system and brought a transporter to the home-world of the Jews.  I left the transporter in orbit around the system’s largest moon, Beer-Sheba, and came to the surface in a shuttle, to interview some of the Israeli physicists and mathematicians

Rosslyn had insisted she should accompany me, so she and Lyna were with me in the meeting.  My fiancée and my pet alien put up such a storm of protest when I suggested they either remain on Isla Marin or the transporter, I yielded and brought them along.  In the end, I was glad I did.  Rosslyn, Sophia and I wore Imperial Navy dress blues.  Sophia played the part of aide-de-camp perfectly and looked stunning in the perfectly tailored uniform Lyna had made for her.  Rosslyn carried the nominal rank of lieutenant commander and was uniformed appropriately.

Xianelta’s imposing appearance at my side lent an air of exotic unreality to our presence.  I worried that our credibility might be endangered by the eclectic nature of my crew, but it didn’t seem to distract the Israelis overmuch.

The meeting in the conference room was the second bite at the apple.

The day before I had made a presentation to over one hundred scientists in the main exhibition hall.  My presentation began with the basics of gravitational lens travel and anti-matter production.  Lyna took over after lunch with a detailed mathematical representation of the quantum mechanics and interdimensional aspects of deep-lens penetration.  The formulae were presented on a large screen display behind the main stage and on each of the participants Omnis.  At the close of the presentation, each scientist was requested to submit a synopsis of our presentation with mathematical proofs to support his or her understanding of the underlying principles involved.

The eight physicists and mathematicians sitting around the conference table were the best of the responders who seem to have a grasp of underlying physics.  Surprisingly, included in the group was a fourteen-year-old boy, Isaac David Mendel, whose analysis was an order of magnitude more sophisticated than the rest.  All the eight finalists had submitted questions about unfamiliar symbols in the mathematical formulae, their relationship, value, and function.

Isaac’s questions indicated his inherent understanding of the relationship of the symbology without a detailed explication.  Once he had the definitions, his analysis was surprisingly accurate and inciteful.

He came to the meeting with another long list of questions.

“I’m fascinated by the implications of this formula,” he told Lyna.  From the time he entered the room, he was intensely focused on my beautiful android.  It was as if the rest of us didn’t even exist.  “If I understand it correctly there is an interdimensional quantum entanglement between certain energy forms…”

He went on for some time talking about string-theory and dimensional distortion of the space-time continuum.  He lost me in the second sentence when he started blending mathematical formulae into his dissertation.  Lyna was focused on what he was saying, nodding occasionally and offering encouragement.

“He is almost too pretty,” Rosslyn leaned over and whispered in my ear.  I glanced at her in amazement.  She was looking at the young man as if transfixed.  I was shocked.  I didn’t think my sister ever even noticed the opposite gender.

I regarded the young man with renewed attention.  He was indeed quite handsome.  He had long, dark, wavy, shoulder-length hair, steel-gray eyes, and a flawless milk-white complexion.  I had a picture of David playing his harp for Saul.

“He reminds me of my Xavier,” she mumbled.

“You mean the Xavier?” I asked automatically as I remembered the charioteer who raced under the Emperor’s colors twenty years ago.  Chariot racing had made a big comeback about eighty years ago and had a fifty-year run as the most popular sport in the public eye.  Xavier was to chariot racing, as Babe Ruth was to baseball and Cassius Clay was to boxing.   I had to admit, the young man did bear a striking resemblance.

Then the full implication of what she said hit me.  “My” Xavier?

I sat back and studied my sister.  She was looking at Isaac but not seeing him.  She was quite obviously replaying a scenario in her head from a distant memory.  I struggled to remember what had happened to the famous racer of one-name prominence.  I knew only that he had been killed in a nasty wreck during a championship race, and after his death, chariot racing fell from favor, but I didn’t know any details.

“My Xavier?” I whispered.  After a long moment, Rosslyn turned to me and looked at me as if waking from a dream.  She didn’t say anything for quite some time.

“Let’s take a walk,” she mumbled.  She rose and headed for the door without waiting for my reply.  I got up and followed.  The discussion on interdimensional quantum mechanics had long before progressed far beyond my ability to follow.  I was accomplishing nothing by remaining, and I was intrigued by the possibility of discovering an aspect of my mysterious sister’s life heretofore not even hinted at.

Sophia glanced my way and started to push her chair back when she saw me rising to follow Rosslyn.  I shook my head and gave her a serious, “don’t follow me,” look.  Xianelta was caught up in the mathematical maelstrom and seemed content to remain without encouragement.

As I was standing the strange young man who had accompanied Isaac looked up at me.  He bore some small resemblance to the young prodigy, but where Isaac was almost physically perfect, his half-brother was shrunken and twisted.  His head was too large for his body but his extraordinarily large brown eyes hinted at an unnatural depth of intelligence.  We were told Isaac went nowhere without his brother.  They were practically joined at the hip.

We exited the conference room through a large wooden door opening onto a marble balustraded hallway stretching out in either direction.  At either side of the door stood a pair of professional-looking, suited gentlemen, who I guessed were security agents.

The columned, covered foyer led to a parklike setting leading down to a cliff overlooking a sea beyond.  From the cliff’s edge was a wide paved walk leading up to a set of marble stairs a few paces to our right.  Rosslyn walked in that direction and I followed, falling in beside her.  One of the security gents peeled off and followed us a discreet ten paces behind.  Evidently, we would be permitted to leave the building, but not without escort.

Roslyn strolled along in silence until we reached the walk running along the edge of the cliff.  There were several large banyan trees lining the walk, shading the white stone benches placed along its curving length.  She stopped at one of the benches and sat down looking out to sea.

“This is a beautiful campus,” I remarked.  This was her show.  I wasn’t about to open the curtain.  She didn’t respond.  Finally, she turned and looked at me as if surprised to find me sitting beside her.  Her eyes flicked up briefly and registered the presence of our escort who was standing along the seawall, well out of earshot, trying hard to give the impression he was ignoring us.

“We had two years,” she began.  Her gaze returned to the sea and she hesitated for a moment, remembering, reliving the time.  “It was the only time in my life when I was truly happy.”

“That is two more years than most folks ever have.”  I heard someone say, and then discovered it had been me.  I experienced a moment of extreme clarity as if I had suddenly realized a deep, hidden truth, heretofore unknown to me.

“I’m sorry, Sis,” I whispered.  I reached over and took her hand, held it against my face for a moment then pressed the back against my lips.  When I looked up, I discovered two single tears were running down my sister’s cheeks.

“No… don’t be,” she said, retrieving her hand, and wiping her face with the back I had just kissed.  “You’re right, it was a magical, unreal… perfect, time.  I didn’t deserve it, and it ended the way it had to end.  Any other way would have spoiled the perfection.

The sister I knew was back.  I watched her clamp down on her emotion like a rose opening in reverse.  I had caught a glimpse of who she had once been, but the moment was passed; keeping her memories private was part of that perfection.

It made me sad, somehow.

“I love you Rosslyn,” I whispered as I slid over and put my arm over her shoulders and pulled her gently to me.  She allowed the intimacy and nestled her head against my breast for a long moment, but then, as I knew she would; she pulled away and stood up.  I started to join her, but she turned and placed her hands on my shoulders and pressed down, keeping me seated.  She looked at me for a long time, a pensive expression on her face that slowly softened.

“Watching you grow up and become a man, was a good time, as well.”  She glanced away, seeing the past, then looked back at me.  “Not exactly happy in the same way, but a good time, nevertheless.”  I knew she was talking to herself, not to me, cataloging her feelings.  “I should be… no… I am grateful.”  She took her hands from my shoulders, turned and walked to the sea wall.  The rose was closed.  I wondered if I would ever see it again.

There was nothing I could say.

When I joined her at the seawall, she reached down and clasped my hand, turned and looked up at me.  “I love you too, Walty, you are all I have left.  I’m in… all in.  Let’s go do what we have to do.”  She turned to retrace our steps to the conference room, purposefully, confidently; but she clutched my hand like a drowning woman clinging to a life-ring.

***

 

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