With a broad hand pressed to the cool, carbon-glass surface, let out a heavy breath that created a cloudy patch on the window, obscuring his view of the space beyond for a short time. For the moment, he was alone on the observation deck of the FNCcr Okeanos – the crew rarely came up here anymore – and he didn’t mind letting the weight of his many years show in a brief moment of vulnerability as his heavy shoulders drooped down over his weary frame.
He had turned 80 last month, out here on this God-forsaken assignment, but the grey-haired officer didn’t look much more than 50 thanks to telomeric therapy and nanite treatments that his successful career and value to the Federal Navy afforded him. But he could feel it. Deep in his old man’s bones, his body was whispering to him “I am spent”. The assurances of the medical staff be damned – maybe he just hadn’t been meant to live this long.
Alright, bloody grow a pair, Leon… you’ve been through worse than this!
Straightening his back and shoulders, Admiral Durand gathered the practiced air of a commanding officer and career veteran about himself. With stern grey eyes and steel set in his weathered jaw, he locked his gaze once more with the scene that lay on the other side of the observation port.
At first glance, it was beautiful and peaceful. Serene, even. A glittering vista of starlight undimmed by atmosphere filled his eyes. He could see two rocky asteroids spiraling languidly in silent dance roughly a hundred kilometers out, but they didn’t draw his focus. He even saw the flickering pattern of lights from the FNCd Ammut, one of the escort vessels assigned to his command, as it engaged in tactical drills.
But there was something else out there, beyond the Sayhun Belt, something distant that nonetheless urgently demanded his attention. The enormity of it was mind-boggling – not just the physical size (which was hard to gauge from several million kilometers away) but what it meant. Not just for him, but for his home, for his nation… maybe even for humanity. Thoughts of it gnawed and scratched at his mind in every waking hour, and dreams of it clawed their way up from the depths of his subconscious when he slept. For all his decades of service and strict military regimen, for all his campaigns against the machine efficiency and inhuman brutality of the Collective, for all his early tours on the rim of explored space where humanity had never before traveled… despite these things Leon remained a simple man, a soldier with no frame of reference for what lay before him.
A sudden flare of determination in his eyes, the admiral turned on his heel with a vigorous snap entirely inappropriate for a man of his advanced years, and strode decisively down the corridor that lead toward his quarters. In a hushed growl, he gave instructions to his artificial adjutant over the commlink:
“Prepare a message. Mark as private and send on an encrypted channel…”
was a low-level functionary in the governor’s diplomatic office, approving invoices and spending more time wrangling finicky administrative AIs than doing anything truly meaningful. Her career could have progressed much farther by now, had she been willing to cash in on her father’s reputation and her own attractive blonde curls, but she had decided long ago to make her own way – she wouldn’t accept anything attached to the vaunted “Iron Admiral” Leon Durand.
But at this particular moment, she was trying very hard to pretend that there weren’t large tears shining in her bright blue eyes as the recorded message from her father came to a close. There was a strained, deliberate quality in his voice, like he was swallowing pride, or fear, or sadness… possibly all three. Nobody else would have heard it underneath the rigid, commanding baritone… but it was there for only his daughter to hear.
She was half-surprised she could still pick up on that sort of thing, given that they had not spoken in six years.
“…I know I’m the last person you want to hear this from. And I’m sorry I can’t say why, but please… please just pack up what you need and book passage to another system. Somewhere quick – maybe one of the regular jumps to Beta Hydri.
“Whatever we’ve lost these past few years, I… Laney, I love you.
“Just… get out of Delta Pavonis.”
The admiral’s face in the holographic projection wavered, as if he wanted to add more, but after a moment of awkward silence the message cut out abruptly, leaving the young woman with little more than emotional turmoil, more questions than answers, and a decision to make.