This story began during a cross-country road trip to visit friends and family. After making what I suspected would be my final visit to a very elderly relative, I began to ponder just how many secrets we carry with us that we never fully share with anyone.
This story falls within my Fall and Rise of the Condor series and is set roughly 18 months after the end of the BotP series. My sincere thanks and appreciation to Becky Rock and Chris White for beta-reading the entire story, and to Amethyst for beta-reading the later chapters. Any remaining errors or typos are mine.
As always, Battle of the Planets belongs to Sandy Frank by way of Tatsunoko. No copyright infringement is intended.
"Yes, Chief?" I stood just outside of his door, trying to act casual. On the outside, I was every bit the dutiful soldier. Inside, I was a churning, swirling mess. It's her, I know it's about her. My life has been too calm lately.
Of course, I was right. Intuition can be a real bitch.
Chief Anderson led me into his office with a gentle hand on my shoulder. He shut and locked his office door before responding. "She called again today, Mark. She wants you to visit." As he sat down, his eyes shifted away from my face to his hands. I knew he hated being caught in the middle, but damn, it was his fault to begin with. I never asked him to intervene.
I sat on one of the Chief's uncomfortable guest chairs, trying to remain nonchalant. Despite my best efforts, my stomach dropped through the floor. I could visualize my intestines collecting at the bottom of Center Neptune, fresh food for the fish. I stared at the floor, pondering my missing internal organs.
"I've spoken with her physicians, Mark." At this, my eyes did lift. The Chief met my gaze, calm and unflinching. "She's got less than six months to live. I'm sorry."
I focused on the sound of his voice instead of the words. Hollow. Haunted. How many times in the past have we gone through this charade, I wondered. And yet, before, he'd always relayed her impending death with a slight roll of the eyes, a practiced wave of the hand, a denial of her date with the afterlife.
This time was different. Even without the words, I knew it from the Chief's lack of expression. Reality had finally caught up to her hypochondria. He had no idea how to deal with it. Neither did I. We sat in stillness of his office in silence. I listened to the second hand clicking around the dial of his desk clock, trying to quell my mind. With sustained effort, my voice emerged, pinched and cracked. Apparently, I was more upset than I knew. "Can I take a week off?"
Chief Anderson nodded. "I'll clear your schedule. Jason can take the team out in your absence."
I blinked and shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. I shouldn't be putting so much on Jason, I thought. The Chief was still running tests on his implant, trying to deal with his intermittent fatigue. Now wasn't a good time to add additional stress to that situation. But then, it's never really a good time for someone to die, is it?
I glanced back at the Chief, who seemed to have read my mind. "I'll put Darien and the R-Command team on high alert. They can continue to run first call for the next few weeks, with G-Force providing back-up. It's time for them to step away from your team and earn their stripes anyway."
I swallowed. "I'd like to take Princess with me." I stared at him, calmly, rationally, while inside I was screaming. Please don't make me do this alone!
He arched an eyebrow and I returned a calm, intense stare. He didn't need to say it for me to know what he was thinking: fraternization. Conduct unbecoming of an officer. A man in need of emotional support. Which would win out: duty or compassion?
Chief Anderson cleared his throat. "If she concurs," he finally replied in a dry tone. "She'll need to remain on call." He gave me a hard look, daring me to defy him further.
But I had the consent that I needed and I sighed before I knew it. Suddenly, I realized how close I was to losing control. I had to get out of there. I wanted to meditate. I needed time alone. I desperately desired to get away from my memories of her, of all the times she wasn't there for me, of all the times she'd failed me.
The Chief must have read my thoughts, because his expression softened and he reached across the desk and gripped my wrist in a show of support. I swallowed hard.
Death. The ultimate betrayal. The final nail in the coffin of my secret fantasy of a perfect family. First, I had to deal with Cronus and his death. Now this.
Sometimes I hate my mother.