It had been a busy afternoon for Anderson Bell. in addition to his regular duties on board the ship, he had checked in with Chief Henderson to see how things were progressing with the hyperlight engine project. The chief had little to report so far, which was understandable because he’d spent a lot of time assisting with the Laura Banks situation. The new engine could end up being the most important project for the survival of their colony. He hated having to keep all the details from his crew, but it was better to avoid panic at this point. He was more concerned about the civilians than his crew, but the less people who knew it all, the less the likelihood that word would get out.
Now he had another additional duty to perform. He was hesitant because it would be a bitter-sweet moment, but he knew it was right. He picked up the phone receiver on his desk an dialed the bridge. The ensign assigned to communications answered. “This is the Captain. Would you send Commander Lin into my office please.”
A few minutes later there was a knock on the steel door.
Lin entered and stood at attention in front of his desk.
“At ease Commander. Take a seat.”
“You want to know Captain, that Colonel Millwood has returned to the ship. He found no evidence from orbit of the other planets in this system of the Phoenix.”
“It was a long shot anyway. Xinju is the only habitable planet in the system.”
“So what did you want to talk to me about Captain?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while Commander. We’ve all been busy. There are so many distractions here to take our focus from where it should be. I’ve recently had to remind Lieutenant Boyd that his duties are here on ship rather than on the planet. It occurred to me that I needed to be told about my priorities as well.
“You see Commander, I’m not just the Captain of this ship anymore. I’m the Governor of a colony of people. It’s time that I stopped running back here to the ship because this is where I’m comfortable. The truth is, I’m not really needed up here.”
“That’s hardly true Sir.”
“You have things well in hand here Commander. It’s time I stepped aside and let you have the recognition for what you’re already doing. As of now, I am going to focus more on my responsibilities down on Xinju.” He stood. Lin followed suit. “And I’m going to promote you to the position of Acting Captain.”
Surprise showed on Lin’s face. Clearly she had not been expecting this.
“You’ve earned this Captain. I think the only reason I’ve waited this long is because you were thrust into the position of first officer unexpectedly when Commander Murphy died. That doesn’t matter anymore though. You’ve proven yourself capable.”
“I don’t know what to say Sir.”
“You’ll retain the rank of Commander for now, but in time that will change as well.” He extended his hand and she shook it enthusiastically. “Congratulations.”
* * *
Laura looked down into the grave that hug been dug for the skeletal remains they’d found in the boat. The anthropology team had done all they wanted to do with him and everyone agreed that he should be given a proper burial.
Neal had objected to her walking all the way back out here again so soon, but Doctor Heoux said she was medically fit to do so.
“Is everyone ready?” Neal asked.
The few members of the anthropology team all nodded.
“Well, I guess we should say something. We don’t know much about this man. We don’t even know his name. It seems pretty likely that he came to Xinju on the Phoenix, or at least his ancestors did. We don’t know why he was out here living all alone in a boat. We don’t know what became of the rest of his people. We do know that he was pretty old when he died. I hope that it was peaceful and painless. I really don’t know if there’s an afterlife, but if there is, I hope he’s enjoying it.” Neal took a step back. “Anyone else want to say anything?”
There was a lot that Laura wanted to say, but not publicly. She shook her head.
Neal picked up a handful of dirt and dropped it into the grave. The others all did the same, and started to walk away.
“If you don’t mind,” Laura said to Neal, “I’d like a moment alone.”
He smiled sympathetically. “No problem.”
Laura knelt down and looked into the eye sockets of the skeleton and let out a long sigh. “Look, I don’t know for sure if you really were Kenneth Bailey, but I’d like to think you were. I don’t know if Janicka died after her injuries, but it seems pretty likely. I’d love to think that she survived and that the two of you had a happy life together. Either way, I know it would have been a difficult life. The odds were against you in every way. I’m sorry that we weren’t here for you when your ship arrived.”
Laura stopped and wiped away a tear.
“She never really had a chance to tell you how much you meant to her you know. It seemed silly to me given the time you spent together was so short, but in some way, I believe that Janicka loved you Kenneth. She really really loved you.” She took a clump of dirt and dropped it in. “Goodbye Ken. Rest in peace.”
* * *
Boyd jumped when he heard the knock on his door. It had happened several times this afternoon, Each time he’d assume it would be the Captain. So far it hadn’t been. He opened the door slowly. Captain Anderson Bell stood on the other side. “Oh, come in Captain, come in.”
Bell entered and closed the door behind him.
“You wanted to see me?”
“Yes. I did.”
Bell waited expectantly.
“Right. How to start. Well, I’m sure you’re not going to like this, but I want you to know that I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and prayer too. This isn’t a decision I’ve taken lightly.”
“Cameron, slow down. What are you trying to tell me?”
“I’m telling you Sir, that as of this moment, I officially resign my commission as an officer of the Space Service.
Bell didn’t say a word. He just stood there.
“Please say something Anderson.”
“Why should I? This is ridiculous Cameron. You don’t want to do this.”
“To be honest, I’m not sure if I want to or not, but I know that I need to.”
“I can’t let you throw all of this away Cameron. This is a big deal you know. You can’t just come and go as you please. If you resign then that’s it.”
“I understand that Captain.”
Bell sighed. “After all we’ve been through, I just can’t understand this. Do you remember how hard it was to earn your commission back after everything that happened? You were lucky to get that uniform back on at all.”
“I know that.”
“And this was your dream. You wanted more than anything to be a military chaplain. You said it was your new life calling.”
Boyd nodded. “It was.”
“And now you’re going to throw all of that away.”
“Captain, I just have a new calling now. An extended calling. This is the next logical step in my life’s work.”
“What work? You’re walking away from your work. What exactly are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
“I’m not sure Anderson. Not completely. I just know that I can’t do it in this uniform. I need to be down there among the people.”
“You realise I don’t have to accept your resignation.”
“But you will. You wouldn’t hold me in a job that I no longer want. I know you too well.”
Bell kicked the leg of a nearby chair in frustration.
“Please don’t be angry at me Anderson.”
The captain turned to him. “This is a mistake Lieutenant.”
“If it is, then it’s mine to make.”
“I don’t like it Cameron. I don’t like it at all, but if you’re determined to do this, then I won’t stand in your way. I accept your resignation.”
Bell stormed out of the office.
Boyd hadn’t expected it to be an easy conversation, but it had gone particularly badly. At lest it was done now. He could start packing his things.
“There is one positive in all of this,” he said to himself. “Chaplain al-Najafi will be glad that he no longer has to share office space with me.”