As the VN Mishima neared Earth, Jude took some time to contemplate her experiences over the past months and, if she was being honest with herself, years too.
In her journey to find a home, a purpose, a calling and a family there had been many falls and mis-steps. Her vagabond years, first with her parents and then on the road touring with the Flaming Hearts in her guise a Kiki and with Coop, followed by her decision made on a whim and for the want of something better to join up with Cee-Cee Incorporated. The people she had met there. The people she had seen come and go. In her wildest imaginings, she would never have figured out that she would find peace on a deep-space supply ship, working as an engineering technician -however junior she still may be, she loved her work – and in the arms of an enigmatic Irishman who she saw all too infrequently.
Certainly, there had been a lot of hurt and heartache along the way. From feeling like the third wheel in her parents’ marriage, losing her grandfather, things just not working out with Coop and the way that had not quite come to an ending (she remembered regretfully her ex-wife’s last words to her – “I won’t make the same mistake twice” – was that how Coop saw her? As a mistake?), poor James Wibberley now resting under his cherry tree – they had never it seemed stood a chance, her friend Glass, to the sweet but “it’s never going to happen” Bly and the horrible resulting mess that she had left Maxie and Neesh and their and Kristof’s children in. And more recently, the unfortunate George Niven, who she only knew for a few moments but felt too that she had let him down. Her life just seemed to be a series of “if onlys”. Over a precious bottle of Polish wodka, hidden away for such a night of contemplation and regret, she shared her thoughts and shots with Resnik and Roth.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” her young friend admonished her. “You’re too quick to put yourself down. Look at all the good things you have done.”
“Such as?” Jude poured another scornful glass from the bottle. The bison on the label seemed to be looking on her with equal measures of contempt and disdain. “What good have I ever brought to this universe?”
“Well, your music. That made, and still makes, a lot of people happy.” Resnik had, as promised back at the Institute, searched for and found Jude’s entire back catalogue and downloaded it all onto her pad. She had proclaimed it “cool” but had soon gone back to bombarding all who would listen with “Envision The Alamo” and their latest rumblings.
“That was a long time ago.” Jude had pretty much vowed never to sing again after Kristof’s wake and had thus far fended off pleading requests from Resnik and Roth, among others, to go back on her promise to herself.
“Not that long, when you think about it,” Roth added helpfully. Resnik elbowed him and he piped down.
“You’re a good friend to us. You’ve helped make crew relations here on board between the top brass and the ones like us who get their hands dirty run a bit more smoothly.” Resnik added.
“Yeah. If I hear the name ‘Sadako’ I don’t think of some faded pop starlet…ouch…let me finish.” Roth had received another painful intercostal dig from his mate. “What I’m trying to say is, you’re not her anymore. Or the woman from the Tiandong.” He reached over and took her hand in his. “When I hear somebody mentioning your name or if I think of you, I go ‘that’s my trainee, my shipmate from the Mishima. My pal.”
“Oh Ally, you’re too kind.” Jude blubbered.
“And you, Jude, are drunk. And as your superior, I order you to bed. Now.” And he and Resnik eased Jude onto her bunk, slipping off her boots and pulling her blanket up over her.
“And remember, you have your love.” Resnik kissed the top of her friend’s head and left her to sleep.
Chief Mitchell assembled her small team in the crew lounge. She bade them all to take a seat. Jude pulled out a chair and sat next to Resnik, with Roth and Monks close by. Jude regretted not having had many opportunities to work with Serah Monks during this voyage out and back but sincerely hoped to rectify that in the near future, if the fates allowed.
“Well, we’re coming to the end of our first hop out to the Taurus sector. Reports from Captain Fern and her officers suggest that it all went well and I say so too. All systems seem to be in good running order and you’ve all worked really hard to deal with any issues that came our way.” She looked Jude square in the eye and nodded. “Well done, all of you.” She picked up her pad. “Now, Resnik and Sadako, you two will be more than glad to hear that both the Captain and I are more than impressed with your efforts up to now. In fact, it would be true to say that you’ve far outstripped our expectations. You’re the best two newbies we’ve had in Vale Navigation’s engineering team for a long time.” She smiled at Roth and Monks. “Well, at least since this pair of reprobates here. Suffice to say, we shall be sending glowing reports and congratulations back to your tutors at Cal-Gor and to the offices of Cee-Cee Inc. If you are both in agreement, we’d like to extend your placement here with us on the Mishima for the rest of your trainee-ship. And, if all goes well after that, offer you permanent positions with the company.”
Resnik and Jude both jumped up, hugged each other, hugged Roth and Monks and then, in the spirit of their joy, hugged the surprised chief as well. She laughed then made them take their seats again.
“I’ll take that reaction as a yes then? Great stuff. Now, I do warn you, it’s going to be harder work from here on in. Roth, Monks and I and the rest of the crew will be expecting great things from you, so you had better not disappoint.”
“We won’t.“ Resnik answered for both of them.
“Good. Now bugger off, the four of you. My leave started…”she looked at her pad,”…forty two seconds ago.”
Jude was packing away the last of her belongings when Nicholls popped her head around the bunk room door.
“Is it okay to come in?”
“Sure. I’m just trying to figure out how, without any stops except on the Sal, I managed to end up with more belongings than I started out with.”
The lieutenant came in and sat on Resnik’s bunk. “I find that too. Look, I just wanted to pop by and say cheerio. I know I was a bit of a cow when you first came on board. I’m sorry, Jude. I hope we can be friends.”
“We are. And don’t apologise. That’s all behind us.”
“Thanks. Being the comms officer, I know that you’re coming back with us. So I won’t say ‘goodbye’. I’ll say see you again soon.”
“You too, ship mate. And it goes without saying, but I will. Keep in touch.”
Disembarking from her ship back in the chilly port of Svalbard, Jude bade a fond adieu to her crewmates, until they met back again in three weeks for another long trip, this time to supply a team surveying Neptune . Alta Resnik was heading home to Poland and, Jude hoped, a happy reunion with Miro. She was under strict orders to give him Jude’s best wishes and a promise to all get together again soon. Roth was heading home to Scotland and his family. The hugs and kisses her and Alta shared made Jude think that whatever path their relationship would take, things were far from over for them. And so it should be, Jude chided herself – love was still a rare commodity in this cosmos. After her little pity-party a couple of nights before, Jude had promised that she would start trying to make some repairs, starting with her mum and dad and then, as time allowed, with Coop and if she could get in touch with them, the Shepherd-Moores too. But first, she had a date to keep.
Hennessey had booked them a night in a fancy hotel in central London and after a passionate reunion, they caught an early train to Ashford and from there a taxi to Newchurch. Using directions given to Jude by Clare Niven, they easily found the old church with the squinty tower. “We’re not religious but it’s where we were married and where I think George should be laid to rest, not out here in the bustle of Managua,” Clare had told her. They found a spot under a tree, among some snowdrops that were just beginning to flower. I hope you got your wings, Jude said to herself. They had booked into a little guest house in nearby Dymchurch so took a taxi back to there.
“Feeling better, love?” Hennessey asked Jude as they lay side by side under an old but cosy quilt.
“Yeah. Thanks for letting me do that today. It just seemed…well, the right thing to do.”
“Talking of which, I’ve been thinking…” Hennessey turned to face her.
“Don’t do that too much – you’ll wear out you brain cells.” Jude remembered one of her dad’s old sayings from their days on the road, one of many that he had used to say to her to cheer her up when she was feeling down or maybe a little neglected. She cuddled into Hennessey’s chest, listening to his heart beat steadily’
“Jude, I’m serious. Listen, please.”
“Okay. Sorry.” He sounded a bit put out. “Carry on, sweetheart. I’m listening.”
“Good. Now as I was saying, talking of doing the right thing…well…”
He was interrupted again, this time by Jude’s comm on her pad. She picked it up and read the caller ID on the display.
“It’s my mum. Do you mind if I take it? Only, you know, it’s hard to reach her at the best of times.” She pursed her kips in a mock scowl.
“Sure, go ahead. What I want to ask you will keep.”
“Thanks honey.” Jude pressed the ‘answer’ button on her pad.
“Hello Haha,” she began, using the affectionate term for mother instead of her mother’s name as was her habit. Building bridges and such.
“Jude. Thank goodness. Where are you?” Her mother sounded out of breath somehow.
“I’m in Kent, England. With Hennessey. I only got back yesterday. I’ve been meaning to call. What’s new?”
“Jude,” her mother spoke her name again, softly but with a crack in her voice. “It’s your dad.”
“Dad. What are you saying Mum? What about Dad?”
“Jude, my darling. Oh my love. Your dad. He’s dead.”
Or maybe, just the beginning…