Valor’s Child, Snippet Three

Here’s the third snippet from Valor’s Child.  You can start with the first one here.  Valor’s Child comes out on Amazon on 30 June, 2017

Chapter Two: I Meet The Admiral

 

The metronome tick of the old fashioned clock against the wall seemed far too loud for the small room.    The study, with the old stuffy furniture and the annoyingly loud clock belonged to the Admiral.  In any other house, I would have felt excitement at the ranks of old, leather bound books and the strange treasures that lined the shelves.  Here I just felt out of place.

I sat, uneasy in the dress my mom had insisted I wear.  The stiff, starched fabric felt rough on my skin and the drab, brown dress was a far cry from what I normally wore.  I’d rather be in a set of coveralls, if the plan was to put me to work, or just slacks and a button up shirt, if she wanted me to look professional.  I hated this dress.  Mother said it made me look proper, but I didn’t care about looking proper.  It wasn’t like I ever saw Mom in a dress.  Why was it important that I look proper while she…

My thoughts trailed off as I heard muted voices from beyond the two sliding wooden doors that separated the library from what I assumed was the Admiral’s office.  I couldn’t make out the words, not from my spot on the couch, but if I moved closer…

No sooner did I have that thought than I stood.  I didn’t head straight for the doors, not right away.  I didn’t know if there were some cameras or other snoops in the library.  For that matter, James might appear at any moment.  I walked first to the old fashioned clock.  It was a complex thing of brass and glass, with whirling gears and a heavy pendulum.  Another time I would have been utterly fascinated.  If I were at a friend’s house, I might have asked permission to take it apart to see how it worked.  Instead, I shifted slightly, as if examining the spines of the books along the shelves.  The doors grew closer.

The heavy wooden doors that separated the study from the Admiral’s office had kept my mom’s and the Admiral’s voices indistinct.  They could not, however, silence them when those voices raised in anger.  “…can’t be serious?”  That was Mom, I realized.

“Deadly serious, June,” the Admiral’s voice was harsh.  “What did you expect, that I’d leave her here while I’m away?  She could hang out with James and his wife while she studies?  She did something which you did not want her to do… worse than that, she lied and deceived.  Would you like me to give her a vacation like your husband’s mother would?”

“She’s not a bad kid!” Mom said.

“And I’m not going to treat her as if she was,” the Admiral snapped.  Her voice dropped below hearing.

I ground my teeth in frustration.  It sounded as if the Admiral had some truly ghastly punishment in mind.  I shifted along the bookshelves until I was almost just outside the doors, where I was able to hear their lowered voices once more.

“I still feel like you’re doing this just because I didn’t follow in yours and Dad’s footsteps,” my mother said.  I could hear the bitterness in her voice.

“You made your choice, June,” the Admiral said.  “I can’t say I’m happy with it, but I’ve come to terms with it at least.  Remember, you came to me with this problem… and I’m glad to help, but if I do… it will be on my terms, not yours.”

“That’s the problem, it’s always your terms,” Mom said, but I recognized the tone of resignation that signaled she had conceded the fight.  Come on, I thought, how bad is this punishment that even my mom thinks it’s too much?

“Wayne didn’t see any problems with this,” the Admiral said, “Trust me, I don’t know if she’ll learn her lesson, but regardless, it is also an opportunity for her.”

“Yes, I’m well aware,” my mom said.  “Very well.”

“Thank you, June,” the Admiral said.  For a moment, her voice softened, “And thank you for this chance to be a part of her life.  I know…”  She trailed off and I could almost swear I heard her voice break a bit.  “I know I wasn’t a perfect mother, but I think entirely cutting me out of your children’s lives was… extreme.”

“Truthfully?” My mom asked.  “Part of that was I was afraid something like this would happen.  It was less about you and more about them… and it wasn’t easy after we lost Dad.”  My ears perked up at that.  I’d remembered my mom had told me once that her father had died, but no details.  “I made a decision then that I didn’t want my kids to have to share that risk… and I never wanted to get that kind of visit.”

“Your father’s death was hard on us all,” the Admiral said.  “But don’t forget what your father accomplished…”

“Let’s not start down this argument again, okay?” Mom said.  “We can agree to disagree.  But I’ll accept your position… and your terms.  Take care of my little girl, okay?”

“Absolutely.  She’ll be in the best hands,” the Admiral said.  “Are you staying the night, I could have James…”

“No, it’s best I get home,” Mom said.  “Wayne and I have uncovered another level in the catacombs.  We’re starting to find actual equipment, some of it definitely alien, not just trash, some of it might be recoverable…”  I tuned out her explanation.  I’d heard it a hundred times.  Mom and Dad both were passionate about their work.  I’d admit, it was interesting… but it wasn’t for me.  They barely scraped by, even at Basalt Mesa, while people like Tony’s father were already making enough money to live comfortably while still making a difference and modernizing Century’s technology base.  What were a few alien trinkets compared to that?

I almost tuned out the sound of footsteps, but I managed to shift along the bookshelf before my mother slipped the doors open.  She gave me a glance, one part suspicion and one part amusement before she stepped forward and embraced me before I could so much as protest.  “Love you.”

I responded by habit, “Love you, too.”  I did, even if she made me want to pull my hair out in frustration.

She pushed me out at arm’s length.  “Good luck, Jiden,” she said and then she walked out of the study.  I heard her talk with James and then the front door opened and closed and I was there alone… with the Admiral.

As if on cue, I heard her harsh voice, “Jiden, come here, please.”

Four months, I thought, it’s only four months and twenty-two days, then I’ll start my internship, I’ll be with Tony, and I can get on with my future.  I walked forward to the doors until I saw the Admiral.  My mother’s mother stood straight and tall behind her desk.  Like the one picture my mother had, she wore her service uniform.  The tan uniform was crisp and sharp.  She had a cluster of service ribbons on her left breast, of various bright colors that stood out sharply.  I was surprised by how young she looked, but then I realized that she must have had life extension treatments, so she wouldn’t age at the normal rate.   Her blonde hair, tied back severely, was the same color as my mother’s, the same light blonde as my own.  She was a thin, severe presence, one that suggested iron discipline and total focus on duty.  There were sharp lines carved into her face, which made her look even more stern and foreboding.  For just a moment, I contrasted her with my other grandmother, Grandma Effy, who ran the archaeologist program at Nelson’s University, was a warm, plump, friendly woman who baked cookies every Sunday.

The Admiral did not compare favorably.

The Admiral’s stern face creased in what someone might have very generously considered a smile.  “Jiden.  Come in.”  Her voice sounded neutral at best.  I stepped forward and stood awkwardly, just inside the door.  I was fully aware that the only real impression I had with this woman was what my mother had relayed.  In these circumstances, that was unlikely to be flattering.  The Admiral looked me up and down for a long moment.  She seemed to read my awkwardness and let out a derisive snort.  “So, how much of that did you overhear outside the door?”

“What?” I asked, surprised that she had guessed.

The Admiral chuckled, “No Armstrong I know would sit so patiently there by the couch.  So either you are the least curious child I’ve ever met or you were careful enough to scurry back to the other bookshelves when you heard the floorboards creak.”

I glared at her, “I’m not an Armstrong, I’m Jiden Nadami.”  I used my father’s name, most times, because that’s what my mother did.  Still, I knew that my birth certificate said Jiden Armstrong.  I was an Armstrong, but it seemed best to not let her push me around from the start.  I didn’t deny her assumption.  She probably had some kind of camera or something installed in the library, anyway.

“You’re your mother’s child, that’s for certain,” the Admiral said.  She looked back at me and I saw a speculative look came to her eyes.  “You’ve got some spunk to you, girl.”

“I have a name,” I said.

“You do,” the Admiral answered.  “But I don’t use first names unless I really know someone…  and it seems awfully silly to call you Armstrong.”  The old woman sighed.  “Take a seat.” She pointed at the leather chair that sat before her desk.  I walked up to it and sat, just on the edge of the big, comfortable chair.  The warm scent of leather enveloped me, even so.  The Admiral studied me with cold, blue eyes.  “Do you know why you’re here?”

I didn’t answer.   Part of that was confusion, part was irritation and anger.  Bad enough to be lectured by my mother, did I also have to hear it from her mother?  Also, how was I supposed to interact with the woman I had never met, the woman who my own mother had barely talked with for over three decades?

“You’ve a good bit of your mother in you, I can see,” her grandmother said, “Stubborn as a mule, she is.  Probably got her temper too, I’d bet.  You take after her, in some ways.  Plenty of your father in you, though that’s more about the eyes and your size.”  My father was medium height and dark haired, my mother as tall and blonde haired as my grandmother.  The mix had meant that I was of average height and while my eyes were as blue as her mother and grandmother, they were shaped much like my father’s.  My older brother had inherited our mother’s height, but our father’s dark hair and eyes.

The Admiral stared at me, much like a cat might eye a skinny mouse as it pondered if it was particularly hungry, “You are fourteen, Jiden?”

“Thirteen,” I bit out, angry that she didn’t know my age.  Grudgingly, I added, “I turn fourteen next week.”  Fourteen years on Century was almost eighteen Earth years.  Seventeen and half, I thought, and I would be considered an adult practically anywhere else.  Here, though, I’d still be considered a “child” for another two years.  Like everything else in my life, it seemed like the length of year was terribly unfair.  Fifteen months for a rotation around our star… thirty more months before I was an adult and able to make my own choices.

“I thought so,” the Admiral’s eyes narrowed.  “The Academy goes in session in two weeks.”

I didn’t respond.  I wasn’t sure what that had to do with me.  I knew, vaguely, that the Admiral ran Century’s Military Academy.  That reminded me of Tony’s father and his jokes about the prim and proper dress of their cadets and the military precision they followed for the rather tiny military forces that Century could afford.

“Minimum age requirements for entry into their preparatory school is fourteen,” the Admiral said.  She lifted the folder which held my records and paged through it, “Yes, as your mother said, you had excellent scores in math and science.  Good physical scores for a girl, as well.”

I felt a hollow in the pit of my stomach.  “You can’t mean—”

“Congratulations, Jiden, I’ve just approved your application to the Century Military Academy Prep School,” the Admiral smiled slightly.

***

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