Chapter 33: Nerves

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December 28, 2357

Residence of the Supreme Commander

Geneva, Switzerland

"This is your last chance, Cai. Cancel the party. Please?"

"No." His answer was immediate and stern. "Even if I wished to, I couldn't. You know that as well as I."

"Why is this so important to you?" Lucia growled at her son.

Cai's jaw strained as his teeth clenched together. Of all the questions for her to ask, she always seemed to find the one he could not answer. At least, not honestly.

"I've made a commitment, Mother. And it was you who taught me to always follow through."

"I also taught you to do what you deem necessary in all things. If your life is in danger, Cai, you have the absolute responsibility to remain where you are safe."

"I'm not safe anywhere!" Both hands raised to his face as if he could wipe away the irate expression like stage makeup. In a calmer tone, he continued a moment later, "We both know that anything can happen to me. Anywhere. Anytime. Do you really want me to put my life on hold because of a maybe?"

Lucia didn't look him in the eyes. What she wanted to say and what she believed were far separate on this issue. Cai knew that. For so many years, she was the sole being to instruct his views on honor and dignity, justice and mercy, pride and humility. Though she was a ruthless woman with a glitch in her empathy coding, she had a keen sight for what people needed and how to balance that with their wants. And she knew better than to lie to her son when she raised him to be just like her: stubborn to the core and always doing what was believed to be right.

Releasing a tiny sigh, Lucia shook her head. "I would not have you controlled by anything or anyone. Yet, everything should be taken into consideration when making decisions of this magnitude. I accept your stance on the subject, Cai. And I relent to your choice, despite my well-noted disagreement."

A relieved smile pulled at his lips that his mother pretended not to see. Defeat was not something she could handle with any modicum of grace. Especially not where her son was concerned. After a moment, Lucia waved a hand in dismissal. Cai didn't budge.

"I wish you would come," he said in a small voice.

Lucia flashed him a sardonic smile, then. "No, you don't. Just be grateful that I have no desire to be there. Enjoy yourself, Cai. And I hope you get all that you wish to out of this experience." The last was said in such quiet tenderness, Cai almost couldn't believe the words were his mother's. In an instant, her expression shifted and she was waving him away again.

Turning on his heel, Cai strode for the door, releasing the relieved breath once the doors were closed behind him. There had been no reason to press the issue. Especially when she was right. Already, he had enough to deal with once he arrived in Valor. To have her there would have destroyed everything he was working towards. It would ruin the most important meeting of his life.

*

December 28, 2357

Private Jet of the Supreme Commander

Geneva, Switzerland

Rubbing the back of his neck, Cai did his best to ignore the nerves that assaulted him as he boarded the jet. Though he'd been feeling them in minor disturbances all week, now they were a bombardment of questions that swarmed the back of his mind. It made it harder than he expected to leave Geneva. Though he was going back to the land of his birth, Geneva was home. His mother was right: America might as well be a foreign country to him.

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