April 2509, Loyola University of Gonghe
Beglan finished his prayers and rushed back to the terminal to see if the computers had processed the data from the last night. He had been working on triangulating the telescopes in three different systems to focus on a particularly unimpressive section of sky. It was a miracle, if he wasn't being too dramatic, that he was able to get the telescopes to grant him the time. He had to use it wisely. He suspected that the virtual array he created was one of the biggest ever made. Certainly the biggest he'd ever used, if he calculations were correct. If not the data would be rubbish.
He didn't hear the door to his lab open. The light bare feet approaching him were nearly silent on the true stone floor of the university observatory. A moment before he heard her, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and his mind was a wash.
"Aren't you going to wish me happy birthday?" She nearly sang to him.
"Happy Birthday, Dote." He said turning around only to leap back in terror.
Standing before him in the middle of lab space he share with three other graduate students was the daughter of his thesis advisor, wearing only a wisp of shear robe. Her teenage body ripe with the blossom of womanhood.
"Jaysus Christ!" He blasphemed, and turned away. "What are you doin? Are ye off yer nut?" He stammered desperately trying to avert his gaze.
"Beglan, It's my birthday. I'm of age."
"Yer sixteen years old you chiseller, and just that."
"Sixteen is of age on Gonghe, and you know I'm not child."
She spoke the truth, it was getting harder and harder to see her as the precocious little girl who followed him around the lab. She'd grown into a young woman, despite her age. She was always more mature than served her right. But he had dared see her as more than a little sister.
"If your father knew what you're doin you'd be tanned but good, and me, if he let me live I'd be lucky to get out of uni with my hide intact."
"That's not true, daddy adores you. I think he'd approve, I know he would. "
"Mei Mei, you know this canna be, in three months.." He trailed off, it seemed so impossible that it was true. Could it be three months? All this gone, and Rosie too.
"You don't have to do it. You could stay with me. You could work with father. You're brilliant, you can teach, or study, oh Beglan we can be happy here. Or we could go out to the Rim. There are planets there with no light pollution, we could build our own observatory. Live with the real people. "
"Dote.. It canna be. I've made commitments. I've got a path to follow." He was stammering why was this so hard.
"Look at me Beglan!"
Beglan grabbed a lab coat and held it out he could help but notice her nakedness as she reluctantly pulled the robe over herself.
"I'm decent. You can look." She said resignedly.
"Your not decent you Bouzzie." He cautiously glanced in her direction. And how she had grown indeed. She had been an awkward and clumsy child, chubby with an overbite. But he adored her from the moment they met. It was when Dr. Trahan invited him to dinner to discuss graduate work. He was nervous, and Rosie kept making him laugh with silly faces and bawdy jokes about the university chaplains. In the four years he'd know her he was her companion, and confident. He counseled her on the traumas of adolescence, and taught her about the stars. She developed early, but awkwardly, and found herself the butt of may cruel pranks. He held her when she cried at the injustice of it all. Lately the talk had been about the war. They both hated it. She spoke of how people ought to decide for themselves, how they should live, and with whom. Always independent. They spoke often of God, and love. She always used to said one day they'd be married, and he'd laugh it off saying, there is no one I would rather marry than you.
The lab coat, big as it was, couldn't disguise how she'd grown. She had grown into a beautiful young woman, and he often worried how she might be pursued and betrayed by some boy intent on her new found beauty. He'd counseled her on chastity, but she'd always laugh and call him old fashioned.
He caught himself staring. And filling with desire. He felt a wave of shame, and powerful regret. She was so young, and so willing. Apart from a few girls he'd snogged as a lad, he hadn't much experience with girls. It wasn't the first time he'd a moment of weakness at the sight of her. The way her hair fell across her neck, or the curve of her budding breasts. He'd scolded and punished himself for each infraction. He'd confessed his sins to the priest in his most humble and shameful voice. The priest laughed it off, saying this only proved that was human. And plenty worse might be imagined. It was how we acted that set us apart, not the idle thoughts that might afflict us. He was never so convinced of this. But he couldn't help notice as she transformed from the ungainly thing in braces and pigtails into a young lady always eager to be near him, to ask him questions, to seek him out instead of other kids her age.
"Beglan I want you to review this logically."
"Review this what? Mei Mei this just can't happen."
"It can't happen because I am too young? But I am not, I am of legal age on this planet and half those in the Verse. It can't happen because you work for my father? He would not object, and if he did, it wouldn't matter. I can deal with my father. It can't happen because, you have this plan. Well plan's can change."
"This plan? This Plan? Rosie, in three months I'm taking my vows! I'll be a bloody priest you thick scanner." He was shouting red in the face.
Rosalie was calm.
"But, you didn't say you don't love me."
"I can't love you.. I " he stammered, confusedly.
"Don't you?" She seemed a little uncertain.
"I do love you... like a sister. " He tried to sound convincing.
"A sister?" She seemed more confident. She seemed to be moving closer to him. He was frozen.
"A little sister. I've known you since you were wee…"
She seemed to take up his entire field of vision. The lab coat opened as she closed the distance. He was growing faint.
"I'm not a kid anymore. I am a woman and I know what I want. Who I want"
Her lips were impossibly red and rich.
He forced himself to turn away, he could feel her hand on his shoulder restraining him. Her fingers burned his flesh through his clothes. And he did long for her. He'd started to love her before it was decent, before it was proper and fitting. He felt the shame, but more than that he longed for her. ~I'm a bleeding pedophile!~ he condemned himself. ~I won't, I can't!~ He steeled himself and turned to her, mustering what authority he could.
"You don't know what you what. You're too young. It's not your fault, it's mine. You trusted me, I am the adult, and I let you have this crush. That was wrong, it would be taking advantage of you. I won't do that. You need to be with someone your own age." He was gaining confidence.
"Understand, its not that uncommon to get a crush on someone older than you… and you're right, you are very mature for your age, and if I'm sure lots of boys find you attractive, very attractive." He was losing this. He stopped himself and took a breath. Managing a weak smile he continued a script he'd told himself before.
"But I couldn't feel that same way about you. You're.. you're just a kid." He lied. It was a painful slap, but it was necessary, he had to hurt her now to save her, and save himself.
He girded himself and looked back at her to see the damage he'd done, he wasn't sure he could bear if it she was hurt, but he had to. 'God give me strength!' He prayed. But when he looked at her, she looked serene and calm, and more beautiful than he'd imagined.
She took a step back swaying her hips and turning to present her profile. Her curves silhouetted through the labcoat. Her eyes penetrating his.
"Three months… You have three months to think about that. And I have three months to help you see the light."
As she floated out the door he could see her whisper "I love you."
May 5th, 2509. Chingzhu Spaceport, Gonghe
"This is the only way." He said aloud to himself.
The armor plating rubbed against his forearms. It was too big and it was already bruising him. He held the gun like it was a dirty diaper, and laid it against the wall of the waiting area he shared with twenty other new recruits. Their purple uniforms all looked wrong on them. They didn't match the image of brave and strong soldiers that adorned the various posters of the wall.
He didn't remember when he decided to do this. It was the probably the cruelest way he could leave her. Join the army in a war she hated, and then on the wrong side. There was no way now that she could hope for his returning to her, not with this betrayal a wedge between them. If he had wanted to hurt her more he could not think of a better way. He couldn't sleep with another woman, not if he planned to return to the priesthood after his stint. So this was it, the cliche of cruel to be kind. The only way to set her free, and free himself of her, was to to shut the door on any future. With no hope of that love, he would, eventually be content with his vows ans sacrifice. She was young and would soon forget him. It did bother him to see the looks of admiration for him in his uniform. He wasn't in the army for the right reason, if there was such a thing. He felt great shame whenever anyone would praise him for his bravery in going to war. He hated himself, but it was the only way to save himself. God would forgive him for betraying her, because he was going to serve God for the rest of his life. And if he died in the war, he could only pray that he'd served enough. Perhaps the horrors of war would cure him of his dishonor and shame.
The sergeant called them to line up as the shuttle docked nearby. He took his place, threw the gun over his shoulder and shuffled along as the line slowly proceeded out to the launch pad.
He glanced through the plate glass window at the families waving to their boys and girls as they sent them off to war. It was a scene repeated a thousand times in history, pointless and banal. As he neared the exit, his eyes flashed to the girl, the woman, standing apart from the crowd, it was Rosie. Her face severe beyond her years, her eyes blazing in anger. She didn't bat an eye or lift her hand to wave, she just condemned him with her gaze. He felt a coward. And he was…"