“What are you doing?”
Kryra whirled around, startled. Recognizing him, she started to salute him, but he waved it off.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Captain Braid apologized. “I thought the viewing deck was… Never mind.”
“No, wait. You don’t have to go. I was just leaving,” she told him, and moved to walk past the commanding officer, when he stopped her.
“No. Please. Stay. It’s not often I get to see another human face among the crew, much less talk to them.” Something in his voice made her stop. He seemed reluctant for her to go. She noticed his outer uniform coat was unbuttoned, which told her he either was on a break, or about to go off-duty. Flashing him a smile, she nodded and returned to the wall window. He joined her.
“Beautiful view, isn’t it?” he remarked.
“Yes. It reminds me a lot of home.”
“According to the ship’s computer, it’s the month of August back on Earth.” She pointed to one of the orbs circling the planet below. “See that moon? See how Sedra Prime shines on it? If we were down on the surface of Sedra Four, it would look like a full moon.” She gave an all-encompassing wave of her arm. “All of them would.”
She sensed the captain coming up behind her. “I remember seeing our single moon’s phases when I was growing up. It was one of the reasons why I wanted to join the Galactic Forces,” he admitted. “I wanted to see the moon close up. Then I wanted to see the other planets in our solar system. And when I grew tired of seeing the storms on Jupiter and the rings of Saturn, I wanted to see Andromeda. Then Sirius. Then Cassiopeia.”
She turned to find him smiling at her. “And continue onward, farther and farther out into space. To other galaxies and solar systems.”
She returned the smile. “That’s how I felt, too.”
“Yes. And still do.”
They stared out at the magnificent view for several long and silent minutes, until Braid spoke again. “You said it was August back on Earth?”
“A very hot August, I assume.”
“A muggy August, where I’m from,” Kryra remarked.
“If I remember correctly, all the full moons had a name, didn’t they?”
“So the August moon would be…”
“The Sturgeon Moon.”
He turned to give her an astonished look. “Sturgeon? Like the fish?”
“Yes, sir. In fact, it’s called that for the fish.”
“Why would they name a moon after a fish?”
Laughing softly, Kryra shrugged. “I don’t know. The ship’s computer couldn’t say exactly. Fortunately, there are other names for it.”
“Other names for the same moon?”
“That’s interesting. If there are other names for the same full moon, and all of these moons showed up in August, what would the others be called?”
She caught the amusement in his tone. Pointing to the other moons circling the planet, she told him. “That would be the Green Corn Moon. And that one the Grain Moon. And that little reddish one I think is the Fruit Moon.”
“How about that one?” He pointed to an orb barely visible above the planet’s horizon.
“That’s the Barley Moon.”
“Hmm. Those sound like crops. It makes sense, considering it would be the time of year when the harvesting is done.”
She glanced over at him. “You sound nostalgic.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “So do you.”
“How long has it been since you were…home?”
Braid bowed his head. “A while. A long while.”
Taking a deep breath, she took an at-ease stance. She was comfortable around the man. Always had been, which puzzled her since most of the crew was split in two other camps—those who feared him, and those who practically worshipped the ground he walked on. She fit into neither, but maybe that was because of what she was. She was accustomed to captains keeping their distance from astrophysicists. As long as she did her job and did it well, there wasn’t much of a need for him to make any sort of contact with her.
Which was why this moment in time was such a rarity.
She gave a sideways glance at the man less than a meter away from her. He was relatively young to be a captain of a celestial rigger. Roughly ten years her senior, from what she’d learned. But he bore the physical and no doubt mental scars of a man who’d earned his place and this ship.
He caught her studying him, and that corner of his mouth lifted. “A cred for your thoughts.”
“Sir, you’ve earned your quarters in order to take a little R and R. Have you thought about going back to Old Earth for a short vacation?”
“Yes, I have, Doctor. Many times.”
“What’s stopped you?”
He turned to face her directly. “My parents are gone. I have no other family left there. What would be the point?”
“Memories. Reliving old ones and making new ones.”
“And how do you propose I make new ones?”
“Go to places you’ve never been before. Places you’ve always wanted to see but never had the chance.” She cocked her head. “How long has it been, Captain?”
“Twenty-eight years. How about you?”
“Sounds like you’re way overdue,” she told him, deliberately not answering his question.
He wouldn’t let her slide. “How long has it been for you?” he repeated, but not forcefully. He sounded honestly interested.
“Sounds like you’re way overdue, as well.”
“Yes, well, I would, too, but I hate traveling alone.” It came out before she was aware of her slip, and she silently cursed herself.
Braid continued to stare at her with those intense blue-green eyes. She often dreamed of them. Unintentionally, of course. He cut a demanding figure. Maybe that was why he didn’t intimidate her. Neither did she get the impression he was trying to.
In fact, if truth be told…
It hit her with a clarity that almost surprised her. The man was lonely.
Of course he might be, she told herself. Isn’t that what’s always said? That it’s lonely at the top?
“You hate traveling alone?”
She turned back to the wall window.
“If that’s the case, Doctor, why are you here?” Once more, she could tell he was toying with her, but in a good-natured way. “Aren’t you traveling now?”
“This is my job. It’s not the same.”
“With your intelligence and marks, you could have a job anywhere you wanted,” the captain pointed out. “Yet you chose to apply to the GF.” His voice dropped. “Because you wanted to see what was beyond our own galaxy. If that isn’t traveling, what is?”
She almost winced when he pressed that button. With one short conversation, he now knew more about her than most of the other crewmembers she’d been in contact with in all the twenty-two months since she’d first come aboard this ship.
“It’s not the same thing, and you know it,” she gently retorted, and waited to see what his reaction would be.
Braid chuckled, surprising her again. “Okay. I get it. Traveling is for pleasure. Going places because it’s required for your job is another thing. Have I got it right?”
“Yes.” She added a nod.
“But what if you decide to, say, take in a little sightseeing the next time we dock at a substation planet?”
“I’d rather not, thank you.”
“Oh. All right. I understand.” He took one more look at the panorama outside the ship, then turned to leave, but paused to address her. “I need to get back to the bridge. We’ll be arriving at the Caudulis system by oh-nine-hundred hours. Several of the crew have requested remote leave, which I plan to grant. You’ve earned enough quarters to take some time off for yourself.”
“Thank you for letting me know, sir. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“And…I’ve been thinking about maybe hyperjetting back to Earth for a three-day holiday myself. Do a little…traveling.” He noticed her wide-eyed expression. “I’d be honored if you’d accompany me. I hate traveling alone, too.”
She watched him stride toward the door. When it opened, he stopped one more time.
“Let me know if you change your mind, Dr. Trevor. By the way, my first name’s Stephen.”
He exited the room, leaving her astonished and intrigued. Turning around to study the moons below, she wondered how long she should wait before she let him know she would take him up on his invitation.