Chapter 26 - Foundation

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The starfires blazed to life laying down four brilliant rails of white light in Dawnhammer's wake.  Terris felt the vibration of the powerful engines through the deck plates. In respect to the billions of tons of asteroids surrounding them, Dawnhammer's gravity drive was all but useless.

Dawn and Captain Valeri felt the shifting inertia as the massive ship sailed through the ejecta. Terris commanded the fighter with grace and precision and Dawnhammer flowed through the field like ice over glass.

The Captain shook her head as she watched, her lips quirked in a crooked smile.  "Do all Guardians fly like this?"  She whispered.  Dawn shook her head, slowly.  No one had ever piloted a Guardian vessel like that.  Dawn had hundreds of hours logged in to the flight deck while training.  The drills to master maneuvering were intensive and exhausting, but Terris didn't seem to require anything other than the raw desire to fly.

She felt a spike of jealousy course through her and was ashamed for it.  Of the first generation of Guardians, she had been the best pilot by far, but watching Terris slide the monstrous vessel through the rock maze made her feel like an inept student.  She forced the feeling away, knowing it was unfair to the young man.

Terris was a good person, she thought.  She knew there was an oddity about him, could see it in the way he looked at her, but she kept her distance.  The pain of losing everyone and everything to the expanse of time weighed heavily on her heart.  Though she tried not to dwell on it, the thought of Razor's affection also occupied her mind.

While she didn't feel as strongly for him as he had for her, the potential for their relationship had been strong.  She had been infatuated with him.  His charisma and charm were staples of his personality and it would have been impossible not to fall in love with him in time.

Time that she would never have.  Her chest tightened as she fought to control her despair.   She tried to force the thoughts from her mind, but the image of Razor hefting his beautiful daughter refused to fade.

"Are you alright?"  Dawn turned to see the Captain's eyes searching her own.

The young woman kept her face neutral but didn't trust her voice.  She could see genuine sympathy and compassion in the icy blue depths of Valeri's stare.  The thought of anyone caring or attempting to understand the emotional agony she was dealing with was too much to handle.

Her breath caught and she felt the iron grip of self control begin to slip.  Without a word, she spun on her heel and stalked away.  When she turned off of the ramp to the cargo bay, Valeri grabbed her shoulder gently.  The softness in the woman's touch caused her abdomen to tighten.  She jerked away and cut a sharp left toward medical.

-

The Captain seethed in rage.  Dawn had impugned her sense of diplomacy once again and would give her reason for it.  She had been more than cordial, showing her respect in every way imaginable.  This Guardian was a hero.  Not only to mankind, but to her personally.  The two had never met before and there was no logical reason for her display of hostility.  When the woman jerked away the second time, the Captain's patience reached its end. 

She used her wrist to hook the woman's bicep and redirected her path into a bulkhead.  Dawn turned her face away and made to leave, again, but Valeri was having none of it.  She hadn't meant to shove her, but it was done.  Valeri darted to the side and came up in front of the woman.

"Talk to me!" She pleaded, her voice earnest.  How had she wronged the woman?

Captain Valeri's heart sank into the pit of her stomach as the young pilot turned to her.  Dawn's lip trembled as she lost her composure completely, her shoulders sagged in defeat and her eyes, unable to contain the pain any longer, painted her beautiful skin with liquid laces of inner torment.

The Captain was stunned into immobility as Dawn's red rimmed eyes cut into her.  Her carefully maintained mask of cold indifference melted away like ice in a furnace.

"Please," Dawn begged, her voice between a whimper and a whisper, "please let me go."

Valeri backed away as if she'd been burned, disbelief contorting her face as Dawn's resolve evaporated.  The Guardian's chest began to convulse and her head lowered.  The captain found herself in front of a girl, the hardened warrior gone.  A girl who had lost everything and hadn't the time to cope with the vast emptiness it left behind. Valeri mentally kicked herself for not seeing it before.

If Dawn's iron facade could drop, Valeri reasoned, so could hers.

She stepped into Dawn, brought a hand up behind her head and gently drew the young woman into her arms.  There was no resistance. The barrier holding back her pain exploded in a splinter of sobs.  Her shoulder muffled the majority of the sound, but Valeri's whisper echoed through the corridor.  "It's okay, Dawn.  I'm sorry.  It's alright."  She stroked the girls hair and held on, determined to see this to its conclusion.

Long minutes passed as Dawn unleashed her pent up pain.  She mumbled names and words.  Razor, Dawn, even Terris' name boiled forth with no explanation.  The captain listened and consoled, her arms become a refuge from reality.

The tears began to slow.  Dawn's breathing began to ease.  Valeri put her hands on the girls face and moved her back a few inches.  Her skin was mottled with red, making her green eyes striking.  Her lips had reddened and her teeth seemed brilliant against them.  Valeri brushed tear-stained forelocks from her eyes, bent at the waist and looked deep into the girls soul as she quieted.  The young woman's hands lifted to hold Valeri's wrists, but she didn't pull away.

"Dawn, you don't have to be strong all of the time."  Valeri's voice was a whisper.  She had been through enough soul shattering loss that she recognized the echoes.  "Let me help you."

"I can't," She started, choking on her own words, "I don't know how to deal with this!"  Her voice escalated in pitch as her grip tightened around Valeri's wrists.  "I see their faces, everywhere!  They left me alone!"  The young woman dissolved into another bout of tears.  Valeri waited for the tide to ebb.

"You don't know me, Dawn."  Valeri gently pushed her into the wall and drew her down to the cold plate deck, her eyes never leaving the other's.  "But I want to help. Please, let me?"

"I was terrible to you." Dawn mumbled.

"Yes, you were.  But, you were right to be angry."

"At what?  You're kind to everyone!"  Valeri kept her talking, drawing her mind down a side path.

"I try to be, unless that option is taken away.  No, you were right to be angry." Dawn's head turned slightly in question.  "Anger is the mind's natural defense against despair."  Valeri recited the words of her namesake.  Admiral Valeri, who lived hundreds of years past, was a student of humanity.  Those words were some of the truest and most often used phrases in Captain Valeri's life.  There was nothing wrong with anger, if it were justified.  Anger was the result of injustice.  Dawn had been wronged by time and circumstance.  She had the right to be angry.

"You have to use it, Dawn.  Let it burn through the fog of depression and give you the strength to fight it."

The women fell quiet as they both contemplated Valeri's wisdom.  Dawn's mental focus began to return and the Captain could see her embarrassment beginning to solidify.

"Don't." She commanded.  "Don't you dare feel embarrassed for this.  You owe it to Razor and Dawn and your family.  They earned this.  If you deny that, you are cheapening their love for you."  Valeri recited the names Dawn had mumbled, but purposefully left out Terris.

The young woman looked up into Valeri's blue eyes.  Heartbeat after heartbeat, her emotional core began to stabilize.  She had lost everything, but perhaps today, she had gained a friend.

-

Haden felt relief as the two women continued to talk.  He drew his attention away from the corridor to give them privacy.  Dawn needed to come to terms with her losses and he knew he couldn't give her the empathy she needed.  There was no toy bear that could fix that kind of damage.  Damage that Haden was directly responsible for.

As the Captain comforted her, he knew he had made the right decision.




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