A cold snap hit the wheat country in late December, freezing the Shannon River solid. The next relief package to the refugee compound contained several pairs of children’s ice skates, which turned out to be a blessing for the adults. Packing for the return trip home, they needed some way to keep their darling dervishes from under toe.
Marapura watched a knot of skaters from the laundry window. She laughed as they tumbled over each other like puppies, and reminded herself to check the stores of hot chocolate. They would need something hot when they came in. Her mind settled back into a meditative blank as she folded clothes, rolled socks and sorted linens. Washers and dryers hummed and filled the big room with warmth.
“Here you are.” Lama Ki paused in the doorway. He had swapped his saffron robe for thick trousers, a warm sweater, and boots.
Mara smiled at him. “I can’t get used to you like that,” she said. “You look like my groomsman.”
“I’m honored.” He came in and folded underwear beside her. “A groom cares for beautiful, skittish creatures. I would hope to have half his skill.”
“No,” he said, stretching out the word. “Just the normal forgetfulness when a group is under duress—a temper here, tears there. All is well. And you?”
“All is well, Master.”
He stacked the clothes in a wheeled cart as Mara started on another load. “I understand Princess Linny celebrated an anniversary.”
“Yes, her original due date,” Mara laughed. “Now, she’s official.”
“She seems healthy—strong.”
“For a newborn. For a three month old, she has a lot of catching up to do.”
“She is her own Light in her own Time, Marapura. We’ve talked about this.”
“Yes, Master. And we will probably talk about it again.”
“No doubt,” he smiled. “The Odyssey is in orbit. The officers are coming down to discuss tomorrow’s schedule. Would you like to greet them with me?”
“Mary’s the one they need to talk to. She and Robby have the rosters and manifests.”
Lama Ki watched her.
“Tomorrow,” she assured him. “When the vid crews and all the other dignitaries are here, I’ll put on my best winter gown and be Queen. Tonight, if you don’t mind, I’ll just tend the tea urns.”
Students never opposed a Master’s suggestion. Each task, no matter how simple, carried a learning. Mara expected the Lama to wait patiently until she set aside the clothes and followed him. But, he surprised her.
“I’ll go find Mary, then,” he said pleasantly, and left her to her work.
Maybe I’m finding a new center, she pondered, transferring another pile to the cart. Then, she laughed at herself. More likely, he just wanted the company.
She pushed the cart into the hallway. The light falling through the windows had grayed. Dusk was coming, along with snow.
I’ll deliver these clothes, then check the kitchen. Hot chocolate for the children, strong coffee for the officers… Her thoughts puttered contentedly around details—whether they had cookies or cakes to offer, if the children might like honey tea instead.
She paused at the window, watching the Lama and Mary march across the frozen courtyard, bundled in their heavy coats. A few flakes started drifting around them. She saw the shuttle sweep the bare tree tops, bank, and come to rest near the playground. It looked like every other Starfleet shuttle she’d seen—the one Jonathan flew, the ones Lydia and the Elders arrived in. The pain was hardly noticeable.
The hatch swung up. The officers jumped out. Mara smiled to herself. They must pinch all Starfleet officers from the same herb. They all have the same bearing, the same height, the same—
She saw Mary sprint across the playground and throw herself at a tall officer. Mara’s heart started to thud in her ears.
She ran to the entry, grabbed a shawl hanging there, and burst through the door. Everyone was clustered together around the shuttle. She couldn’t make out one figure from another. Then, the tall officer separated from the group. But, he wasn’t part of the crew after all. He wasn’t dressed in Starfleet blue, but plain, civilian clothes and a parka. He looked past the others to the compound, to her.
Mara stopped. She could hear Mary scolding.
“…couldn’t tell someone you were coming? You couldn’t answer a letter?”
No, of course he couldn’t.
Mara started walking, closing the distance. Jonathan met her half way. They stood in the snow, looking at each other.
“I’m not the man I was,” he said finally.
“I know. I’m not the same, either.”
Something flickered across his face. “I know. I dreamed about you.”
Mara watched his features shift, trying to find purchase. Compassion swelled inside her. She recognized the blank, guarded eyes. She had stood at the mirror practicing that look when her dreams died.
Jonathan’s dreams had been ripped from him as well—his dream about the nature of the universe, his dream about himself. Whatever black truth had taken root instead, he had nurtured it for two months while traveling to Callinda. But now that he was here, his certainty about what was true had started to unravel. She understood how that felt.
“I know something that will help,” she said.
Mara reached for him tentatively, sliding her hand over the stiff parka as if quieting a nervous colt. He tensed, his stark face watchful, then allowed her to lead him. His body slowly gave up its resistance against her forward momentum.
Snow fell fat and heavy now, dusting their shoulders and hair, melting as they crossed into the Center. Evening lights had come on in the hallway. Children’s laughter echoed up from the kitchens.
Mara led him through the dormitory wing, noisy with families packing, to a small bedroom. A nightlight threw stars and moons across the walls. Mara clicked the door shut behind them. She carefully peeled off his parka. He seemed not to notice. All his attention lay across the room.
Mara crossed to the dim crib and found their baby waving her fists and kicking the blanket. “Here’s your daughter,” she whispered, placing Linny in his arms. She pressed him into the rocking chair.
“Linny, Linny, Pretty Penny,” he muttered.
She watched him grapple with his faulty truth, clinging to it even as it ruptured.
Linny cooed, and kicked, and grabbed his nose. Jonathan sucked in air, then burst out laughing.
Mara closed her eyes. Good. Oh, very good.
Jonathan looked up at her, his eyes sparkling with tears, his laughter high and galloping. Mara knelt beside the chair. He pressed one hand to her face and kissed her. Mara remembered his taste. She remembered the dream of him. Sliding her hand over his, she knew, in time, he would remember, too.
In the morning, when the bright winter sun crept across the floor, it found The Queen of Callinda and the Captain of the Enterprise asleep on the rug. They dreamed together, their heads close, their breath mingling. And tucked between them was Princess Linny, laughing.