The short story continues as we get both a little more about Allen’s backstory, including an outburst as to why he hates his old life, as well as a tiny introduction of the this girl.
For those of you who have read it, we meet 14-year-old Ryland in “Empress’ Crusade,” she’s even on the cover with her cousin, where she proves a very level-headed girl. I say there that she is “graduating the academy in two years,” so that would seem to be where we are right now.
Gathering about the dinner table, capable of seating six on any given day, Alan set a bottle of beer next to his place at the head of the table before telling the young man to move his from his mother’s right to his. Allen did so without a word.
With his leathers off and the shower over, their youngest had found clean blue jeans and a button shirt with a collar with only a little motor oil permanently staining the front. Sneakers on his feet as his only other footwear was cowboy boots. The lad’s short hair, per Navy regs, was slicked back, still damp from the shower but drying quickly in the Texas heat.
“Want a beer?” his father asked.
The look on his son’s face said “yes,” but he shook his head and asked for water. Roberta set a platter of pulled pork into the center of the table and took her seat, opposite her husband, her eyes flicking from his eyes to her child. Alan was not particularly religious so he bowed his head while his Catholic wife said a short blessing over the food. Both of them noted Allen’s lowered head. For the first time, ever.
“Well, now!” Alan began, using a serving fork to help himself to the pork then some green beans. Local hickory sauce went over the former and butter the latter. “What’s the news… Robbi?”
He deliberately asked his wife that with a pause to gauge his son’s reaction. As expected, the young man did flinch, thinking he was going to be called out before taking a bite.
“Joe called early this morning,” his wife began, taking the platters held out to her from her son, “to say all’s well with his wife. Their twins are due in five weeks!”
Both of them heard Allen breathe “twins…”
“Matty is thriving as an exchange student in Huntsville, in the imperium, next door,” Roberta carefully pronounced the full word for their neighboring country. “It seems, taking after me, she’s just exotic enough to be constantly hit on by boys!”
A glance up from his plate at his mother, Allen dropped his eyes and shoveled more meat into his mouth.
“And little Alice?” his father prompted.
“Still on her honeymoon in Santa Fe, of all places,” Robbi began to conclude other family matters. “Like any eighteen-year-old, she thinks she knows everything and has taken to messaging me domestic advice, if you please! She thinks she’s history’s first wife, for heaven’s sake!”
“Well, then,” Alan said, taking a drink of his beer, “that accounts for all but one of our itinerant children. Except for this one, home on leave.”
“You are home on leave, right?” he asked.
His parents were amazed to see him wait to swallow his mouthful before answering.
“Yes, Father. On leave for four days. I’ll ride back Monday evening.”
“Since Basic you’ve never been home for such a short time,” his father asked in his sheriff-asking-a-perp-a-question voice. “Going out drinking and chasing tail seemed to be your MO.”
“That’s true, Father,” his son said, stilling the fork in his right hand and staring at his plate.
“Since you’re here, you’re obviously not in the custody of Shore Patrol… so what gives?” Alan asked abruptly, leaning right.
His son looked up but did not shy away.
“I’ve met a girl.”
Roberta’s fork fell onto her plate with a clatter. While the fights at school started when he was nine and the stealing and fencing stolen goods when he was twelve, he didn’t, so far as his parents knew, start in with the local sluts until he was fourteen. But never once had he been serious about one.
“Ah. Well.” She tried to compose herself by dabbing a napkin to her lips. “Someone at the base? A cook…?”
“She was training as Acting Captain on the TRS Liberty, the corvette I was assigned to a month ago,” he explained. Strangely, he still had his eyes down for such important news. “One of the torpedoes accidentally went live in a launch tube and I defused it. Called to the bridge, she thanked me personally, under the eyes of the real captain.”
“Damn, son!” His father nearly yelled. “You saved your ship? Why have I heard nothing about this!”
“Because…” at last his eyes came up, not happy. “Because Brazos County is a fucking backwater!”
Eye back down, he apologized. “Sorry, Mother.”
Some quick glances and small hand-motions had Roberta standing from the table.
“I’ll see to things here then to the chickens and goats outside. You two men carry on without me.” But she paused while picking up her plate. “I would care to know, Allen… what’s her name?”
“Ryland Rigó. She’ll graduate the Academy in May. But as a Lieutenant-JG, not an ensign.” They watched his shoulders roll once. “It seems she’s already a medical doctor and miles ahead of the rest of us.”