Last week I told you how I felt about the aftermath of the fight.
This week Cris put my head back on straight.
Seems I was too busy trying to put it up my own ass to realize what was important, to see the big picture.
Fortunately I kept a spare brain on Cris's shoulders, or at least a practical one.
“Cris, did you get the delivery?”
Kendra was talking with Montana’s hologram, having decided she needed to stop writing for a while.
“Delivered, and we have it tucked away.” They were speaking carefully until they were informed that -
“Communication secure,” said Harpo to them both.
“Good. Cris, I’m not going to tell you how to do your job, but we need answers from that bastard.”
“Bastard? Kendra, you sent down two dozen people.”
“Right, new information. Chris Knepper is the saboteur, at least the primary one.”
“That makes things easier to deal with,” answered Cris. “I’ve got everyone isolated and waiting. A bunch are totally freaking out, and that makes more sense now if there’s just the one.”
“That we know of,” corrected Kendra. “Sweat the others, especially any that Knepper tries to throw to the wolves, but yeah, I think you’re right. Don’t damage them too much, please.”
“Unless they get named, I’ll be gentle. Kendra, you look like shit.”
“Thanks, Cris. I feel like it.”
“You want to talk about it?”
Kendra, to her credit, didn’t immediately turn the offer down. Eventually, though, she shook her head. “No, not right now. I’m not okay, but I’m dealing with it.”
“It’s the hardest thing to do,” said Cris. “I’ve had to write some letters since you put me in charge here.”
“How did you know?”
“I’ve known you for how long, Kendra? I have seen you high and low. This is something new, at least for you, and you don’t quite know how to cope.” Cris’s head shook back and forth. “You’re the Admiral, you’re the woman in charge. But for someone who’s up to her armpits in interplanetary intrigue, and building a goddam fleet of starships, you’ve never had to be the person writing letters to next of kin, and I have been. I know the look.”
“How – what do you say?”
“You tell them that their child, partner, parent, didn’t die in vain. You tell them that their death is meaningful, and that they died doing something they thought was important. You tell them how much you appreciated them and the work they were doing. And then you go home, and move on, Kendra. You can’t carry them with you.”
“It’s my responsibility,” Kendra barely whispered.
“Yes, it is, but not the way you’re thinking. Your responsibility, in part, is to give them a goal they believe in, to give them the tools to achieve it, and sometimes, watch them die.”
Cris stopped and gathered herself.
“It sucks. It’s terrible, and the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Then you have to write the letter, talk to the family, and that’s the hardest part, too. But then it gets tougher, Kendra. This is the backbreaker of responsibilities. You have to make sure that their death meant something.”
Cris paused again, then continued, voice quiet.
“Give them a good death, Kendra. Even if it wasn’t. Even if it was stupid and pointless, it’s up to you to redeem it.” In a more nearly normal voice, she said, “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m going to stop –”
Cris was shaking her head. “Nope. I know what you’re going to say, my idealistic friend. You’re going to say that you’re going to stop this from happening again. That’s a bullshit line, Kendra, and totally unrealistic. It’s going to happen again, and again, and again, despite everything you do. So try another one.”
“Dammit, Cris, when did you get so smart?”
“Probably about the time you decided that an agent who specialized in hurting people and breaking things ought to be running the agency.”
“First, I’m going to boost our defenses, our alertness, so that it’s tougher for something like this to happen again,” she said, her voice firming. “Then, I’m going to push back, give us some breathing room. Finally, I’m going to find out who’s behind this and personally kick their ass from here to Mars.”
“That sounds like a plan I can get behind. Now, I have some people to get answers from. Unless you need anything else?”
“No. Hey, Cris?”
“Buy me a whiskey next time you’re on Earth.”
“How about a bottle in your quarters and we get stinking drunk?”
“That’ll work too. Out.”