Hunt for the Saiph (The Saiph Series Book 3) (6 page)

For a moment, an awkward silence filled the room before Jing leaned forward and looked Christos square in the eye. "Christos, you are a good officer and a better father. I have no intention of taking you from your family."

A tidal wave of relief washed over Christos.

"However, that said, with the damage suffered by Charon Base and the unfortunate death of Admiral Catney, it leaves Survey Command without a home and a figurehead. I want you to be that figurehead. Rebuild Survey Command for me and make it the kind of command we need it to be. Survey Command will be at the very tip of the spear as we move out into the universe. It will be their ships, your ships, which will be first into new star systems. Your ships will decide whether we send miners and colonists. I need a man in whom I have the utmost confidence to get the job done and I want you to be that man, Christos."

"I'm flattered, sir, but as I said, I have responsibilities here. I cannot just leave the children with Mrs. Brown and disappear out to the edge of the solar system. No, I'm sorry, sir, I'm not willing to do it."

Jing regarded Christos over the brim of his coffee cup and took another sip before speaking again. "Christos, I'm not asking you to leave the children behind. Survey Command is going to see a massive expansion in ships and personnel over the next few years. Charon Base will need to be rebuilt to accommodate all the new personnel who will run it, which is why the decision was made to allow those personnel to bring their families if they choose. There will be housing, schools, and offices. We expect the final numbers to add up to around 10000 men, women, and children on the base." Jing chuckled softly. "Not only will you be the commander of Survey Command, but you will be the mayor of a small town. What could be better than a family man for that job? So what do you say, Christos?"

Without thinking, Christos' eyes wandered the room. Everywhere he looked, he could see the influence of Kayla. She had brought her own individual touch to transform a standard accommodation module into a family home. Everywhere he looked, he was reminded of her, as he was sure, were the children. Maybe a change of scenery would help them in the process of healing.

"OK sir, I'll do it."

Jing clapped his hands as he stood, then reached over to shake Christos' hand. "Thank you, Christos. I appreciate what you’re doing. I know it’ll be hard for you and the children, but maybe this will go some small way to making up for it." Jing reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small black leather box, which he handed to Christos.

Christos accepted the box and opened it. Sitting inside were two sets of three golden stars.

"Congratulations, Vice Admiral Papadomas, and may I say a well-deserved promotion. Now I'll be on my way. I've taken up enough of your time."

Christos walked Jing to the door, dazed by his sudden and unexpected promotion. As the door slid closed behind Jing, Christos made his way back into the living room where a nervous-looking Philippa was now sitting on the edge of the chair recently vacated by Jing.

"I take it you heard?" Christos' voice came out a little more gruffly than he intended. Philippa nodded without saying anything, so Christos sat down and forced himself to relax. Philippa was an adult now and deserved to be treated like one.

"I'll speak to Mrs. Brown and ask her if she's willing to stay on and help with the children until we get settled on Charon. It sounds like the family houses won’t be ready for a while yet, so there’s plenty of time for you to keep searching for a suitable college."

Philippa averted her eyes. Christos realized whatever was troubling his eldest daughter, it wasn’t his decision to take the job. Leaning forward, he cupped her hands in his and his voice was a low whisper. "What’s wrong, Philippa?"

"I don't know if I want to go to college, Poppa. I thought I did. I thought I wanted to be a famous ambassador like Nicholas and fly between the stars preaching the power of diplomacy and peace. But that was before they took Momma away."

Christos’ voice caught in his throat as he heard the depth of loss for his Kayla in his daughter’s voice. "You still can be, honey. My new job is an administrative post. I won’t be on a ship. There's no reason you can't go and pursue your dreams."

Philippa raised her head and Christos could see the glistening tears she was trying to force back, but there was something else. A determination he hadn’t seen before. A look he had seen so often in her mother’s eyes as she worked so hard to become a doctor while raising young children with a husband aboard a ship somewhere out in the solar system.

"They took Momma from us and I don't want that to happen to anyone else. Somebody needs to stand up to them just as you did. Maia and Odysseia need you here now so you can't be that person anymore... but I can... I want to enlist, Poppa."

The tears came to his eyes as he wrapped his arms around his daughter and held her close. "If that’s what you want, honey. I know your mother would be as proud of you as I am."

The soft double tone of his desk comms panel snapped Christos back to the present and he pressed the acceptance key.

"Your daughter’s shuttle is on final approach, Admiral."

"Thank you, Yeoman. Could you call my quarters and let Mrs. Brown know?"

"She's already been in touch, sir and told me to tell you she and the children will meet you at the landing pad."

"Of course she did." Christos replied with a smile.
One day I'll get something past that woman... well at least I can try,
he thought as he headed for the door.

#

The maglev car slowed as it came to its destination and the bare rocky walls of the tunnel gave way to the brightly lit terminal bustling with people. The car halted and its doors opened with a small hiss of hydraulics. The original Charon Base was small enough that one could walk from point to point but now that it was home to thousands of service members, support personnel, and their families, it far outstripped its original boundaries. Fortunately, the planners had the foresight to design a maglev network to connect the various hubs of a base, which now covered over forty square kilometers.

As Christos stepped from the car, he was greeted by the sight of Mrs. Brown, holding the hand of the twelve-year-old Odysseia, trying desperately to hide her impatience, and a very mature-looking Maia hoping no one would see through her air of nonchalance and spot that she too was impatient to see her sister again. At eighteen years old, Maia was a carbon copy of Kayla at the same age, tall, raven-haired with high cheekbones, and eyes which were as piercing as lasers. Christos hardly failed to notice the admiring looks she got from the many single young men on the base. He shook his head, realizing it was only going to get worse when she flew the nest and began college back on Earth.

"Something wrong, Poppa?" asked Maia with a blinding smile.

Christos mumbled something under his breath as his parental radar fixed on a couple of marines looking in Maia's direction as they headed for another landing pad. Quick to notice they were the target of Christos' hawk-like stare, they picked up their pace and began an animated conversation, averting their eyes from the admiral and his party.

"Now Christos, that’s no way to treat potential suitors for your daughter’s hand, is it?" Mrs. Brown said in a stage whisper loud enough for Maia's cheeks to take on a red tinge.

Christos gave the elderly woman a withering look before mumbling a few more choice words under his breath.

Odysseia tugged at his hand. "Can we go now, Poppa? The board says Philippa's shuttle has landed and we don't want to miss her."

Looking down into the screwed-up face of his youngest, Christos could only smile. "I don't think we have to worry about that. Just remember who the boss is around here."

The girl’s face turned serious before she said, "I thought Mrs. Brown was the boss." She skipped out of reach as Christos' hand moved to playfully swat her behind.

The small group headed into the arrivals area and on seeing the three stars glinting on the admiral’s collar, military and civilians alike stood back at a respectful distance. With a soft hum, the bulkhead leading to the shuttle bay slid open and a mix of military and civilians began to enter the arrivals area. Odysseia was virtually bouncing from foot to foot as she tried to spot her elder sister and Maia was forced to keep a restraining hand on her shoulder.

"There she is! There she is!" Squealed an excited Odysseia. Maia looked to her father for approval. He gave her a small nod and all at once, the whirlwind that was Odysseia Papadomas flew across the arrivals area, ducked under the barrier separating the arrivals gate from the waiting families, and pounced on an unsuspecting marine corporal still in the process of showing her travel orders to the military police officer staffing the gate. The police officer was about to say something when he spotted the approaching admiral. Taking a second look at the marine’s identity on his PAD, he made the connection. Corporal Papadomas, daughter of Vice Admiral Papadomas. Like all good soldiers when the brass were descending, he made himself scarce. With a brusque wave of his hand, he passed Philippa and her limpet-like sister through and into the main arrivals area.

Maia gave her elder sister a hug before lifting Odysseia from her arms. "You can't hang off a marine like that, you little monkey."

Philippa turned to face her father. She brought herself to attention and gave him a parade ground salute. Christos assumed the position of attention himself and snapped off a salute of his own. From behind him came Mrs. Brown's exasperated voice. "If you’ve finished with the military stuff, Christos, may I remind you, you haven't seen each other for two years? Perhaps you’d like to welcome your daughter home properly?"

Christos’ face broke into a large smile, mirroring Philippa’s. Stepping forward, his powerful arms pulled his daughter to him. "Welcome home, Philippa."

Philippa closed her eyes and breathed deeply, enjoying the feel of his protective arms around her. "Thanks, Poppa. I've missed you all."

Christos sensed her weariness, a weariness he recognized from the many times he had returned from an arduous mission and fell into Kayla’s warm embrace. Releasing her, he held her at arm’s length. For the first time he noticed how old her eyes looked. His little girl was grown up and her expression told him she’d seen a few things that would stay with her the rest of her life. Being a marine in combat did that to you. Philippa caught her father’s look of concern and she gave him a small smile to deflect his concerns.

"I'd kill for a decent cold beer."

Christos let out a loud laugh, turning heads among those still milling about. "I'm sure I have one or two in the fridge but I warn you, Nicholas is coming for dinner tonight and he’ll be horrified you’re drinking beer and not his fancy wine."

Now it was Philippa’s turn to laugh. "What does he expect from a marine?"

Arm in arm, the corporal and the vice admiral headed for the maglev terminal while the three sisters shared two years’ worth of gossip.

#

The evening had been filled with random, nonsensical chatter as Philippa tried in vain to satisfy her younger sisters’ seemingly insatiable appetite to know every second of her life for the past two years. Philippa had spun her tales of marine boot camp and life on board ship like a master storyteller, but Christos and Nicholas had both noticed the way she avoided the subject of combat and glossed over the details of the worlds she had seen laid to waste by the Others.

As the two younger Papadomas girls were ushered into the kitchen to help Mrs. Brown clean up after dinner, Christos decided to broach the subject he had been brooding over for the last few days and one he now mentioned ever so casually. “I received an interesting request the other day, Philippa."

The bottle of beer paused halfway to her lips for a fraction of a second before continuing on its journey. Philippa took a slug of the cold beer before answering in an equally casual tone, "Oh? I thought you admirals had minions to filter out the crap before it got as far as your inbox."

"A veritable army of them, my dear Philippa," commented Nicholas as he studiously contemplated his wine glass.

Christos spared him a glance, a none-too-subtle order to stay out of this particular father-daughter chat.

"It would appear one of my minions, as you so politely call Yeoman Givens, thought a request from my eldest daughter’s platoon commander was worthy of my personal attention. A lieutenant who felt so strongly about something, he was willing to sidestep the chain of command and contact a vice admiral directly. An act, which could in all honesty have some devastating repercussions for said lieutenant's career if his own superiors found out what he had done. Care to guess what your lieutenant had to say?"

Philippa carefully placed her bottle on the table, suddenly finding the picture of her father’s first command on the wall extremely interesting. She refused to meet her father’s eyes, unconsciously chewing her lower lip as she played for time, her stomach churning, trying to control her burgeoning anxiety. Her mind replayed the conversations she had had with Lieutenant Travis and Captain Zubek.
Damn them! I told them both no. I'm not ready
. Steeling herself for the inevitable browbeating from her father, she was surprised when the conciliatory voice of Nicholas intruded on the lengthening silence.

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