Most of the settlers got drunk when they returned to town. This time, Eni joined them. She had borne witness to the killings, but was forced to turn away. She had made her choice long before this day, but at that moment it had sickened her. Overwhelmed by the sight and smell of the maimed and charred flesh, she had spewed her breakfast on the ground, until only burning bile remained. She wondered what they had lost this day, and feared what the eventual payment would be. She put those thoughts aside and work to hold back the settlers as Eg’glis appeared from nowhere. They had not waited with the settlers and now the more level-headed among them worked to keep their fellows from pressing forward. The Eg’glis, filled with grief and joy, showed such emotion and dignity that the colonists had nothing to say. Even Fargo north just spat on the ground and turned his back to the sight.
Almost unaware of how or when it had happened, those around Eni realized the bodies were gone. Only the fire-scarred cliff face and twisted Nearbriar branches remained. Each of the Eg’glis present used one of the wicked thorns to gash an arm, leg, or face, but never made a sound. Their scars would honor their loss of something which could not be replaced and serve as a reminder that the game must be played fully, not only to the limit of your strength, cunning and drive but beyond it. These scars would bear witness to the passage of three great players and would spark the stories told in the future.
Now, no matter how much Eni drank, she couldn’t blot out her memory or remove the foul taste in her mouth. Around her all the voices were too loud, sudden staccato laughter too sudden, too jarring. She knew she wanted to be sick, to pass out and not have to face the ugliness she found in her fellows. The more she drank, the less she wanted to quit, though she neither got sick nor passed out. Somehow, she staggered home to Stavo’s in the deepest dark, though her own bed in town was much closer.
In the morning, nearly noon if truth be told, a splitting headache drove a wedge through her brain. The sunlight shining into the kitchen felt blinding, a laser in the eye. She couldn’t remember if she’d seen Stavo or not, but she couldn’t forget the mangled corpses near the cliff. They didn’t speak. Eni knew Stavo felt justifiably angry and brother know, she felt ashamed. That almost made it worse. She had never been ashamed of herself or choice until now. Stavo set breakfast before her, poured her a cup of Kaf® and studied the wall.
“Oh, to have what I had then,” Eni said looking at the woman across the table from her. “Even I didn’t realize we already knew how to be our best, and we refused.” She knew she must put such thoughts aside and move on. She had carried on her fruitless search for Stavo for most of a year and she’d come to the knowledge she might never find him. “I can never give up looking until I find him or know he’s gone. “
“Would you like more Kaf®?” their table asked as they sat in a back corner of Phoenix Station’s mid-level bar and restaurant, the Drifter. They declined in unison, but made no move to leave the table. Eni wondered why she had told her tale to this trader caption, Patricia Cornwall, instead of offering her usual mysterious reasons for moving on. She’d been drawn to the woman when gone to seek passage on her ship, The Shortest Mile. Captain Cornwall had listened to Eni’s tale, offering no judgment or censure. The, she’d surprised Eni by inviting her to the Drifter to a share a meal and talk. They fell in like long-separated friends, talking then about anything other than Eni’s story. Now they had returned to that and Eni knew she should thank the captain and start checking the job boards again.
But Captain Patricia Cornwall, Patty off-duty, surprised Eni by offering her a job. The Shortest Mile carried a small compliment and every member of her crew rotated through ships duties on a regular basis. Captain Cornwall, Patty, said she might cook in the mess for a week, do ship or hydroponic maintenance, or back up the helm. Eni laughed.
“You know I’ve done any of those jobs before.” The captain smiled.
“You’re stable. You’re smart and you’re quick. I’m sure you’ll learn. Besides, you said you came out on a brotherhood colony ship. You may find you know more than you think you do.”
This would incur a debt Eni wasn’t sure she wanted to pay, but it also offered a return to brotherhood space. Perhaps their archives might help her find her love. So she accepted. before she continue her search. Before departure, she left a message with the station’s communication’s officer.