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An excerpt from Peripatetica, by M. K. Sebastien, engr. ret.

Sunday, 15 Feb 2522
Durance class, Equinox
En route to Paquin
Red Sun (Zhu Que) system
0540 hrs ships time

I woke ahead of the alarm on my watch and turned it off. Joshua breathed quietly next to me, sleeping. I watched him a moment with regret. Last night had been a revelation and a disappointment. Disquiet slithered through my gut. Instead of snuggling in close or even rolling over and going back to sleep, I pushed the covers back and quit our bed. I slept on the outside, the better to vacate in a GQ, and leaving it was easy. Too easy, hence my disquiet.

Dressing took only a minute, boots and all, and I turned for one last look before I left. He’d thrown an arm across the bed where I’d slept, as if he searched for me in his sleep. I watched as his fingers twitched and his palm flattened on the sheets but he didn’t wake. His chest was bare and the quilt had slipped to his waist. I leaned over, covered him up and kissed his forehead. Joshua murmured, his eyelids fluttering, and then sighed as sleep took him down again to whatever dreams he dreamt.

Had it been Mike, nothing would have gotten past him. He slept like a cat and he would have been instantly awake the second I’d moved to turn off my watch. Years of living on knife’s edge, during the war and after it, had honed his senses razor sharp. Joshua’s childlike innocence was a stark contrast and it tugged painfully at my heart. It gave me much to think on as I left for the galley and the coffee that waited there.

My falling for Joshua had taken me by surprise. I hadn’t looked for it. I’d never dreamed it possible. I had thought that my resolve had been tested with Christian and that the matter had been settled as to my commitment to Mike: my heart was fixed, immutable. Safe. Then Joshua walked into the picture and proceeded to turn everything upside down. His innocence had made me look twice, made me linger, and had drawn me in. It started out as concern for his well-being, then before I knew it, it turned into friendship and finally evolved into something more. Mike’s words came back to me as I poured my first cup of the day:

I know it’s an awkward time to think of this. But the man who came with you is not what you think … If it’s anything like his MO, he will try to seem sympathetic, perhaps helpless, earn your trust. Somehow try to gain your affections.

Mike's warning had come a year too late. They’d come close to crossing paths, insanely close. The same day I’d left Mike on Salisbury with that buried Mustang and a promise to join him on Miranda, Joshua was on Trafalgar in orbit over Mike’s head. Had I a crystal ball at that moment, I would have made Nika turn the Gift around and high-tail it for a point far away from either of them. But that’s not what happened and as I’d walked away from one man, I’d walked unwittingly into the sphere of another and somehow found myself unable to leave.

Was it stupidity on my part? Or was it Fate? Was it delayed gratification of repressed biological need or was it something deeper, something meant to last forever? Hindsight could only show me where I’d been, catch every mistake I’d made on my path to the present. It could not show me my future. Santayana had once said that those who failed to learn from history's mistakes were doomed to repeat them. What if the mistakes weren’t mistakes? How could I know?

I sipped my coffee and thought of how it all came to pass. Joshua had first been a crewmate and then a confidant as our friendship grew. Attraction sprang up unexpected and I'd acted on it. Was that where I’d stepped wrong? It hadn’t seemed like it at the time. It had only felt right. I’d intended it as a gift, to help ease a friend out of a rough patch—and to be brutally honest, to ease myself through a rough patch of my own—and then move on. We’d share the moment, gain a new footing in our respective personal issues, and continue as crewmates and friends. It didn’t happen that way. Just as Mike had been my first in all the ways that counted, so was I Joshua’s.

That was where I’d made my mistake, I realized as I leaned against the counter with my coffee. I had been trapped, vulnerable, facing a hostile universe with no one but Mike to turn to when I fell for him. Joshua had been in a similar spot when we became intimate. At the time I’d been blind to the similarities, so of course I had failed to see the similar outcome. Ten years later, Mike and I had burned our bridges, our long-distance relationship failing as absence and shifting ideologies exacted their price. The fact that Mike had been mind-fucked by the Feds hadn’t done our future together any favors either and again the similarities with Joshua were hammered home.

Joshua’s mind had been worked over by Blue Sun. He literally had to fight to find himself amid the falsehoods Blue Sun had implanted in his brain, had suffered trigger-phrases that erased his selfhood in the blink of an eye. They frightened him more than he could express. The lapses only emphasized how much evil he might have committed at Blue Sun’s command without his knowledge or consent. Likewise, Mike had been forced to give up the names and locations of over thirty sleeper agents in Nguyen’s network and the effects of that loss, that betrayal, were felt even now. Mike could not remember how much more he had given up on the Feds’ command and or when the bill for it would come due. The price he’d paid was already too high and we still had no way of knowing how much higher it would go.

Was this the outcome I could expect with Joshua, too? We’d had our year, burning gloriously bright, but was it our love or our bridges burning? Would Joshua and I end up on opposite sides of a divide we couldn’t cross? Was last night the beginning of the end? Or was it merely a speed bump, a temporary obstacle, on the road to something greater?

The problem with speculation of this sort lay in its impossibility to verify. Facts and conjecture looked the same. Despite the similarities, there was one significant difference that gave me hope that Joshua and I would weather our setback and go forward with our life together: we were together, physically together, in the same time and place. Physical proximity, 24/7, was not a luxury Mike and I often enjoyed and in the light of everything that had happened, it was a testament to our commitment that we’d lasted as long as we had. On the basis of days spent together versus days spent apart, what we’d achieved across a decade was staggering. It took a brainwashing of major proportions to put a dent into it, to pierce the dyke and make it all come tumbling down. Small wonder it swept us up and cast us on opposite shores.

When we’d rescued Mike from the Feds, the embedded compulsions made my touching him impossible and made the possibility of him initiating contact virtually nil. Rape was never an option with me, no matter how great my need for him, and I kept my hands off him until he’d recovered enough to make the first move. Last night put me in back in the same predicament concerning Joshua and if history was indeed repeating itself, I had to go carefully to avoid making the same mistakes I’d had with Mike.

What is it with you and damaged men, Irina? You fix engines for a living but do you have to fix people too? Is that it?

I didn’t know if pessimism or realism prompted that question. I only knew I didn’t have the answer to it. I drained my coffee and rinsed my mug and put it in the rack for Kiera to wash later. The engine room waited for me and I got myself to it. Equinox was running sweetly and her song fell on my ears and for once it didn’t make my soul sing. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

Go back to: Timeline Season Five, Jan 2522 to Aug 2522

Go to Peripatetica - Rina's Journal entry and RP log
Go to Rina's Russian Glossary
Go to Rina's Crew Page