“You just about got to him, I think,” Felix said smoothly as he and Graham walked through Orion to the flight deck.
Graham frowned slightly and glanced sideways at his Earther companion, “I don’t take your meaning.”
Felix donned a sad smile and met the human’s gaze, “He’s been doubting himself, doubting his suitability for his job. As though there’s an alternative.”
With something of a scowl, Graham looked away from his walking companion, “Well it was a bloody enough fight – surely the cost makes every Earther doubt.”
“Makes us learn, Graham. How to do it better next time, but not how to give up. Remember we lost half the Second Fleet at Genesis, and today nine of every ten Earthers who joined the fight didn’t come back. We don’t overlook those numbers, believe me, but we don’t brood over them either. Ours is a fleet of volunteers – everyone knows the stakes, and it makes it easier to accept sacrifice…”
“Slaughter, you mean?” Graham cut Felix off with a tone laced with fatigue.
The Earther Admiral cocked an eyebrow as they rounded the last turn in the corridor and arrived at the bay, “Yes, slaughter. But you know what, Graham, it’s a slaughter that we endured because it furthered our objective. It helped us keep our promise to you, and to the Larosians, and to ourselves. Our people made that sacrifice knowingly and willingly, and we’re not bitter about that.”
Graham stopped as he passed through the hatch, turning to face Felix as the cat came through, “With respect, Savanna, you didn’t see every last one of your ships wiped out. And for the record, as a human speaking, it’s not your attitude that irks me. It’s that you Earthers always have things work out for you. It’s that you always have the cavalry show up in time to save the last heroic veterans, and that you don’t lose Admirals hand over fist like we do. I think it’s commendable that you keep fighting, but it’d be a hell of a lot more commendable if you did it after you suffered what we suffer.”
Felix’s eyes hardened slightly, “Half the fleet at Genesis, Graham. And this slaughter here. And attrition on this whole campaign. But we’re in our first war, and we’re living through it better than your people, the veterans of war. That’s it, is it Graham?”
The junior Manchester nodded shortly, “Maybe it is. A slap in the face. Your first time out and you’re not only idealistic and naive, you’re making it work, while I’m off to chase my sister into the fringes and hope she isn’t dead. And Caitie Hargreaves just died, along with every other flag officer and just about every other human in this system. And your folks lived, and are willing to do it again? You should bloody well know better than to want to keep going… I want to say that your idealism should be tempered by bloody damned reality…”
“But we’re idealistic and still survive the reality. And that hurts,” Felix quietly finished the thought for Graham, and the human, not quite realizing that his breathing was heavy, nodded.
Savanna Felix released a deep sigh and looked across the flight deck for a moment. As easily as they communicated with these humans, there were still areas that didn’t seem to connect. Perhaps in time…
“Well take solace in this, Graham. We’re good fighters, and we know that. But we also know we’re still riding a tide of luck. Personally I chalk it up to fighting an enemy that didn’t know we existed until nine months ago, and was already losing a war anyway. But Setter’s convinced, Andra’s convinced, and I’m convinced, that our advantage is nearing its end. This fight proved that. The Kroggs have gotten our number, and they’re going to make us pay even more dearly for each further step we take.”
The human frowned, “You keep that quiet, do you? And what will you do when all your luck runs out? Will you understand what I’m talking about?”
Again Felix smiled sadly, “We understand now, Graham. And when our luck runs out, we’ll keep fighting. We keep our word.”
A bad feeling was starting to come over Graham as this conversation wound down, and he frowned now, “Without luck. And you think you were lucky today? With all these losses?”
Felix nodded, “We were lucky today. Maybe for the last day.”
Graham then started to see what Felix was implying – the Earthers, the young, idealist race had been carrying this war effort squarely on its shoulders, fully aware of the ramifications. They were skilled and wise fighters, they were maddeningly idealistic some days, and they were lucky. But luck was like momentum – it changed hands.
“We’re just trying to get as far as we can before our luck runs out,” Felix almost seemed to hear Graham’s thoughts, and the junior Manchester let out a sigh and nodded gravely.
“And when that time comes?” he asked in low tones.
Savanna Felix’s sad smile remained, “Then we fight harder, Graham. We do what we said we’d do. And many more of us will die doing it… because it must be done.”
The consequences of Earther idealism, Graham realized. They had made a promise and they knew the time was coming when they’d have to pay for it. Even more than they had today, perhaps…
“I… I’m sorry…” Graham frowned as he said the words, but Felix held up his hand and shook his head.
“You understand, I think. Now you best get going – good luck out there!”
Graham opened his mouth to say more, but Felix gave him a last nod and stepped away, heading for his pinnace.
At last Graham did understand.
But his heart was no lighter as he went to his pinnace.