Chapter 7


The next morning Carina was to fly to the United States.  With Wave Motion technology it only took a couple of hours to fly halfway around the world, but commercial flights still tended to be cramped at this time of year, and it was best to wear loose-fitting clothing.  Carina had chosen a deep green sweater and a black skirt that fell to mid-calf: comfortable for travel, but also festive.  The family had worried about her since Daniel had died, and she wanted them to see that she was doing better now.


She rose after a night of confused dreams, her conversation with Mark still on her mind.  It occurred to her as she dressed that she hadn’t told him she was going away today, and not wanting him to think that she was avoiding him after his emotional display, she decided to stop at the hospital on her way to the airport to say good bye to him.


It was a beautiful morning and there was plenty of time before her flight, so after she dressed she drove to a newly-opened cafe near the hospital for breakfast.  She bought a cup of tea and a muffin and sat with a gossip magazine by a window overlooking the rising sun.  There was a picture on the magazine’s cover of Dash Jordan having dinner with a young lady.  No wonder Doctor Sane wanted to keep the wounded Star Force members in the most isolated unit of the hospital.  She had just begun to read when a shadow fell on her table.  “Carina?”  She looked up.


“Nova, hi!”  She hadn’t expected to see her friend this morning.  Nova was still wearing her nurse’s uniform and looked exhausted.  “Did you just get off work?”


Nova nodded.  “One of the morning shift girls called in, and I had to cover until her replacement showed up.”  She carried a cup of coffee and a pastry.  “Do you mind if I join you?”


“Of course not.  It’s such a beautiful morning; I decided to enjoy the sun.”


Nova wore a flowing tan jacket over her uniform.  She draped it over the back of the empty chair and sat.  Looking out the window she said dreamily, “Mmm.  People don’t realize how close we came to losing this.  Again.”  She sighed.  “I guess that’s just as well.”


The two women sat sipping in silence, watching the sun rise higher over the low morning clouds.  Carina’s thoughts again drifted to Mark Venture.  As if reading her mind, Nova spoke.  “Carina, I want to thank you.  For what you’re doing for Mark.”


Carina started.  “Oh!  He’s breaking my heart, Nova.  He’s such a dear man, and I can’t stand to see him tearing himself up.”


“He is a dear man.  I don’t know what you said to him last night, but he talked to me more after you left than he has since he woke up.  He’s coming out of himself, Carina.  He wanted to know what happened to the crew members we lost when he was wounded, and he asked me all about the survivors as well.  We even talked about you.”  Carina blinked, wondering what the commander might have said about her.  “Whatever you told him, he listened.  That’s why I wanted to say thank you – because you’ve helped him… and also, because I know you won’t hurt him.”


“Nova, I…”  Carina wasn’t sure what she was implying.  “Of course I would never hurt him, but we’re friends, that’s all.  You know it’s nothing more than that, right?  He didn’t say –”


“No, of course not, I know you’re just friends.  But he does think of you as something special, and I can tell you feel the same way about him.  That’s what he needs.”  She sighed again.  “How do I say this?  Mark is Derek’s best friend, but they’ve also always been rivals, and sometimes Mark ends up in Derek’s shadow.  Derek was Captain Avatar’s favorite.  The captain hand-chose him to be his replacement.”  She paused for a moment.  “And Derek also got me.”


Carina felt a strange twinge of jealousy as her eyebrows rose.  “Nova…  Is Mark in love with you?”


She shook her head and smiled.  “No, Mark’s love for Trelaina is real.  He did have feelings for me at one time – I knew he did, and I ignored them.  I suspect it was a sticking point between him and Derek for a long time.  But by the time we left our solar system on the way to Iscandar, I knew Derek was the only man for me.  And honestly, Carina, let’s face it: I was the only woman on the bridge of the Argo for the trip to Iscandar and back.  I would be surprised if any of the men hadn’t had a crush me.  Do you know, IQ-9 actually proposed to me once?”


Carina giggled.  “No!  Really?”  She had never thought about Nova’s situation as the only woman on the bridge of the Argo.  As the only woman on the ship during the Star Force’s more recent mission.  “Okay, point taken.  So my friendship with Mark…”


“…Gives him something that’s his own.  It’s something that he doesn’t have to share with Derek, or the rest of the Star Force.”  She quickly added, “I don’t mean to imply that that’s the reason he cares for you.  Not at all.  I’m not saying this very well – I’m exhausted.  But I do think it’s part of the reason you’re good for him.  And he does care for you, quite a lot.”


Carina blushed warmly.  “Thanks, Nova.  It’s good to hear you say that.  I care for him quite a lot, too.  I hope someday he’s able to find someone who makes him happy.”  She looked at her watch.  “Listen, I’ve got to go.  I have some loose ends to tie up before I go to the airport, and you look like you could use some shut-eye.  I’ll see you in a few days.”


The friends stood and stepped outside.  “Have a good trip,” Nova said.  “By the way, you look great.”


Carina looked down at her outfit and smiled.  “Thanks.  Doing the Christmas thing for the family.”  She waved and walked the short distance to the hospital.



Mark Venture had spent a lot of time thinking after Carina left him.  He knew he had been taking his unhappiness out on his friends, and decided it was time to make more of an effort with them.  When Nova had brought his meds, they had talked for a long time.  He hadn’t told her anything about Trelaina, but they had talked about the last few days of the war, and about the other surviving Star Force members.  They had even talked about Carina.  He was starting to feel like himself again.


That night, his dreams of Trelaina had taken a different turn.  This time, instead of laughing and walking away when he reached for her, she fell into his arms.  He had a moment of happiness before she pulled away from him.  “Mark, I love you,” she had said.  “I will always love you, and a part of me will always be with you.  But it’s not possible for us to be together.”  In the dream, they had both begun to cry.  “Forgive me, my darling.”  She had kissed him softly and gently, and left.  When Mark woke from the dream, he was sad, but not despondent.


He woke early the next morning feeling better than he had since Trelaina had destroyed Telezart.  It occurred to him that it was Sunday, and close to Christmas.  He knew his family was coming to visit today, and he called to ask them to come early and bring him to church.  He did have a lot to be thankful for.  Dad was asleep when he called, but he and Mom were both thrilled that he wanted to go to Mass.  They brought Jordy and took him to the early service in the hospital chapel in a wheelchair, then ate breakfast in the cafeteria.


The family had realized that he wouldn’t be out of the hospital by Christmas and, while IQ-9 returned him to his bed after breakfast, brought several boxes of decorations to his room.  He wasn’t sure he was in the mood for Christmas cheer yet, but since decorating seemed to make Jordy and his parents happy, he let it go.


Dad was putting a small tree into a stand and Jordy was showing him the garland he had made from popcorn and cranberries when the sound of Carina’s voice made his heart leap oddly.


“Hey, Mark,” she began, but she stopped short when she saw the family in the room with him.  “Oh, hello.  How are you folks?”


Mark was glad she was here – he had hoped to see her today to let her know that he was feeling better.  When he turned around to look at her, however, his jaw dropped and his breath caught in his throat.  She was wearing a civilian outfit that clung to her curves, and the color of her shirt set off her eyes and made her skin glow.  Her red hair was down, flowing in soft waves over her shoulders.  He had never seen her out of uniform before, and she looked stunning.


His father smiled at her, apparently not affected as Mark was.  “Nurse Clark, it’s nice to see you.  You’re not working today?”


“Oh,” she glanced down at her traveling outfit.  “No, sir, I’m going to the States to visit my family for a few days.  We’re celebrating Christmas early because I’ll be working here Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”


“Good for you.  I hope you have a wonderful trip,” his mother said.


“Thank you.  I’m looking forward to it,” Carina smiled at her, and then turned her smile on Mark.  “I stopped in to let you know I’m going.  I didn’t want you to think you’d scared me off.”


He couldn’t seem to stop gaping at her, and from the corner of his eye he saw that his brother was looking at her strangely as well.  She looked from him to Jordy and frowned.  “What?”


His mother saw the expressions on the boys’ faces and sighed.  “I think what my sons are trying to say, Lieutenant, is that you look very nice.”


“Oh,” Carina faltered as she looked back at Mark.  He felt another charged current pass between them as he remembered the way her arms had felt around him the previous night.  She must have felt it too, as she blushed and dropped her eyes.  “Um, thanks,” she stammered.


Finally Mark shook his head and pulled himself together, not wanting to embarrass her.  “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.  “Just surprised to see you in your civvies.  Thank you for letting me know you’re going to be away.  I probably would have thought I’d run you off.”


She smiled at him.  “No need to worry about that.  But I will need to head to the airport pretty soon.”  They continued to grin at each other.


Jordy finally spoke up.  “Where does your family live?”


Carina jumped a little, as though she had forgotten the boy was there.  “I grew up not too far from where your brother grew up in America – just a few hours by car.”  She addressed his parents.  “I can’t wait to go back and see how the reconstruction is coming along.  And to see my family.  I miss them very much.”


The boy was intrigued.  “Do they have snow there?  Will you bring back some pictures of it?”


“You know, I’m pretty sure they do have snow.  I’ll see what I can do.”  She winked at the boy, and he beamed.


“Do you have a large family, Lieutenant?”  Mrs. Venture asked.  Mark tensed, wondering if he should try to stop their questioning.


“Fairly large, ma’am.  My mother died from the radiation sickness before I came to the academy, but Dad is still alive.  I have two older brothers working on the reconstruction projects, and a sister who’s about Jordy’s age.  I haven’t seen them since the Comet Empire attacked, so you can imagine I’m anxious to spend some time with them.”


“I’m so sorry about your mother, dear,” Mrs. Venture said sympathetically.  “It must have been hard for you without her.”


“Thank you, ma’am.  It was hard, but my dad and I are very close, and my brothers are great.  I did better than a lot of people.”  Mark hoped his mother wouldn’t press her, but she didn’t have the chance.  Carina turned back to face him.  “I really do have to go.”


He didn’t want her to leave before he had a chance to talk to her privately.  “Wait,” he said.  “Can you stay one more minute?”


When she agreed, he turned to his parents.  “Mom, Dad, would you leave us alone for a second?”


Mom had been watching the two of them closely since Carina had entered the room, and stood right away.  “Of course.  Jordy, let’s go down the hall and get a drink.  Goodbye, Lt. Clark.  It was nice to see you.”


Dad added, “Enjoy your time off with your family.”


Carina said goodbye to his parents and saluted Jordy, then took her spot on his bed.  “Sorry for the third degree,” he chuckled.  “Mom doesn’t usually do that.  She might try to adopt you, now that she knows you don’t have family in the area.”


She smiled.  “That would be OK.  I love your family.  What’s up?”


He took a deep breath, becoming serious.  “I wanted to let you know that I thought about everything we talked about last night, and I realized you were right.  Trelaina, she did love me.  She did want us to be together, but she sacrificed herself so the rest of us could live.”  He felt himself becoming choked up.  “She wouldn’t have wanted me to give up.  I know that now, and I’m going to try harder from now on.”


She reached out to take his hand and squeezed it tenderly.  “Mark…  I’m so happy to hear you say that.  When you told me last night that you thought Trelaina didn’t love you, I was shocked.  It never occurred to me that you felt that way, because it was so obvious to me that she loved you so very much.”


He nodded.  “I realized last night that what Trelaina and I had was…  It was special.  And even though we weren’t together very long, some people go their whole lives without finding what we had.”


She turned her hand to lace their fingers together, putting her other hand on top of his.  “It doesn’t matter whether you were together for a day or for a lifetime.  You’re right – what you felt for each other was true love.  I can see that.  No one can ever take that away from you.  Never forget it.”


It was nice, sitting with her like this.  He wanted to talk more with her, but his eyes fell to the watch on her wrist.  He squeezed her hand and let it go regretfully, clearing his throat.  “Do you need to leave?  I don’t want you to miss your flight.”


She checked the clock.  “Oh, gosh, you’re right,” she said, and jumped up.  “I’ll see you in a few days.”  She kissed him softly on the forehead and he caught a quick scent of her perfume, light and sweet.  “Take care, sweetie.”  She waved at him as she headed out the door.


Mark watched her go.  She was really something.  In the short time he’d known her, he’d told her things he had never told Wildstar or Nova, and hadn’t had the chance to tell Trelaina.  He had even cried in front of her, but she accepted all of it and hadn’t laughed at him.  He felt as though he’d known her forever.


She had helped him to come to terms with losing Trelaina, as well.  It was less painful to think about Trelaina today.  He continued to mourn her, but was no longer devastated.  Thinking about the time they had together now gave him warm, if sad, feelings, instead of making him feel desperately lonely.  He tried to set a permanent picture of her in his mind: her long blonde hair, her sad blue-green eyes…  Although he saw her perfectly in his dreams, it was becoming harder and harder for him to remember what she looked like when he was awake.


His thoughts were interrupted as his brother ran back into the room, followed by his parents.  “Mark, I brought you a glass of tomato juice!”  Jordy said happily.  Mark smiled and thanked him.  He’d always found the kid’s enthusiasm contagious.


His mother looked around the room.  “Did your friend leave?”


“Yes.  She’ll be gone for a few days.”


“She’s a nice girl, Mark.”  He nodded uncomfortably, hoping she would let the subject drop.  It wasn’t like his mother to pry into his personal life.  He was thankful when Dad walked over and put his hand on her shoulder.  “Help me put the lights on the tree, Dear?”  He steered her toward the tree and winked at Mark over his shoulder.


Having eaten a large breakfast, Mark declined lunch that day, but by the time they had the strings of lights untangled, it was time for his mid-day meds. Doctor Sane entered the room, along with a young nurse – Mark remembered that her name was Cindy – and a cadet who was working on the floor.  The cadet gave him a dimpled smile.  “Hi, Cdr. Venture.  I brought your meds.  Oh, your room looks so pretty!”


“Thank you, nurse.”  It was impossible to not smile at the girl.  He took the pills that she brought him and sat quietly while she took his vital signs.  The nurses seemed nervous to be in the room with the doctor, and moved on to their next patient quickly.  Dr. Sane, who had been chatting with his parents and Jordy, asked the family to excuse them for a few minutes and turned to Mark.  “How are you feeling today, Venture?” he asked as the family exited the room.


“Better today, Doc.”  The doctor gave him a piercing look.  “Really, I feel better.”  He sighed.  “I’ve come to terms with things, I think.  I’m ready to start moving forward.”  He was starting to feel extremely self-absorbed, and wished he didn’t have to keep talking about himself.


Mmm, all right,” the doctor nodded.  “Let’s see how you do moving those legs today.”  As Mark struggled to bend his hips and knees – it was easier than it had been even the day before, but still very difficult – Dr. Sane made notes on his clipboard.  “Carina Clark talked to you, didn’t she?  Told you why I was checking your blood so often?  Your legs are doing fine, Venture.  Let me check your reflexes.”


Mark relaxed and let the doctor tap on his knees and manipulate his joints.  “Carina did tell me about the blood work.  She helped me to understand a few things.”


“Yes, well, she’s a good person for you to talk to,” the doctor said distractedly as he looked at the bruising on Mark’s forearms and continued to make notes.  It was the same thing Nova and Sandor had said.  “You’re lucky to have her looking out for you.  She convinced me that your veins had taken enough abuse.  I still want to monitor your blood, but I think once a week will do the trick.”  He looked Mark in the eye.  “Carina and Nova also won’t tell anyone about your… situation.  I don’t want Earth Defense to treat you like a guinea pig.  If you think you feel like a pincushion now, imagine what it would be like if I let them get their hands on you.”


“I know, Doc, believe me.  I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”


Doctor Sane nodded.  “You do look better today, and your movement is improving steadily.”  He opened the door and motioned for Mark’s family to come back in the room.  In response to their questions, he told them, “I’m happy with the way he’s coming along.  He’ll be running marathons in no time.”  He turned back to Mark and asked if he wanted to get out of bed and spend some time in the wheelchair.  “Give your family a hand decorating – don’t make them do all this hard labor by themselves.”


Mark agreed happily, and Dr. Sane and his father helped him into the chair.  Having even this limited amount of mobility was freeing, and he joined in the decorating with more enthusiasm than he would have expected, even singing a verse or two of a carol with Jordy.  When they were done, he had to admit that the room looked a thousand times better than it had with its drab bare walls.  He wasn’t exactly feeling festive, but the lights and colorful garlands made him feel like a kid again.


Before he knew it, the afternoon was gone and it was time for dinner.  Mark was surprised the time had passed so quickly.  Spending the day with his family had taken him outside of himself.  He hadn’t thought about Trelaina all afternoon, and he felt almost normal.


Mom and Dad packed to go home.  They offered to take him to the cafeteria for dinner, but it was the first time since he had awakened from his coma that Mark had gone all day without a nap, and he found that he was exhausted.  He thanked them, but he wanted to eat in his room and then go to sleep.  He thought he would try going without the sleeping aid tonight, as well.  “Dad, Mom, thanks for spending the day with me,” he said, shaking his father’s hand and kissing his mother on the cheek.  As his brother walked by the chair, Mark grabbed him into a bear hug.  “Jordy, I love you, buddy,” he told him.  The boy blushed and rubbed his head, confused, but had a huge smile on his face.  “Love you, too.  See you tomorrow!”


After the aides served Mark his supper in his chair, he decided to roll across the hall to visit Sandor.  He found his friend sitting at his desk, looking over a report.  Sandor,” he joked, “What does it take for you to take a day off?”


Sandor looked up and smiled.  “Venture, you look great.  So much better than you did the other day.”


“Thanks.  You’re looking well yourself.  How much longer do you think you’ll be in the hospital?”


Sandor rolled his eyes.  “I don’t think Dr. Sane is going to let any of us out in the near future.  He’s trying to force the bridge crew to take a vacation.  I had an infection that made me weak, but even though I’m feeling much better now, he says he wants to keep me here to be safe.”


“But you’ve found a way to get some work done.”  Ever the engineer.


Sandor looked at the papers in his hand.  Mmm hmm.  Carina Clark brought me this report.  Do you know that the Defense Council still insists on computerizing the defense fleet, even after what happened at Saturn?  They didn’t begin to learn their lesson and they’re not planning to do anything that will be a real improvement.”


Mark shook his head.  “They’ll never change, will they?  Wildstar told me about the debriefing with the Council.”  He grinned wryly.  “So you’ve convinced Carina to be on your team, working for the mutinous underground?”


“No, she came to me.  She understands what the Council is really like and wants to help.”


Mark steered the conversation away from Carina, not quite comfortable talking to Sandor about her.  “Do you think if you talk to them the Council will listen to reason?  The Commander has a lot of faith in you.”


“I doubt it,” Sandor said.  “The Council is under the thumb of General Stone, and you know how he feels about the Star Force.  But I might be able to sell them on some ideas that will satisfy both sides.  Hopefully I can make them see that even the best machines require human intelligence to function properly.”


“If there’s anything I can do to help…”  After the Star Force’s recent experience, Mark had lost his respect for the Defense Council.  He no longer had any qualms about defying them.


“Thanks,” Sandor nodded.  “I’ll probably pick your brain to see what improvements you think could be made to the navigational systems.”


The two men continued to discuss the situation until the nurses came in with Sandor’s evening meds.  They sent Mark back to his room, where a robot was waiting to return him to bed.  The nurses brought him his pills a few minutes later, and he fell asleep almost immediately.


His dreams that night were pleasant.  Trelaina spent time with him, talking to him and reassuring him that she would always be with him.  “Mark,” she told him, “don’t let your life end because we cannot be together.  You have so much love to give.  Someday you will be ready to share it again.”


He shook his head disbelievingly.  “No.  Trelaina, I’ll never stop loving you.”


“I know you won’t, my darling.”  She smiled and stroked his cheek.  “And I will never stop loving you.  But your love is great.  It will take time, but when that time comes, do not be afraid to share it with another.”


Instead of arguing the point with her, he pulled her into his embrace.  “I don’t want to think about that,” he said, burying his face in her hair and breathing in its scent, vaguely familiar, light and sweet.  “We’re together now, aren’t we?”


“Yes,” she said, snuggling into his arms “We are together now.”


He awoke feeling calm and contented.  He almost felt as though she had really communicated with him.  She was gone, but for now he could live with seeing her in his dreams, he thought, as he drifted back to sleep.