2702.11.19.12.44 – Sol; Earth, Aviemore
As I’d predicted, Fleet Command ordered a court martial to assess the outcome of the mission at the Swarm World. Admiral Strauss assured me it was just a formality and had granted me a short leave of absence before the proceedings were due to start in a fortnight. With Pallas destroyed and her remaining crew either on leave or in the process of being reassigned, I had decided to return to Earth for the first time in years. My shuttle settled down to land with an almost imperceptible bump, retro thrusters flaring brightly as the landing struts touched down. I shut down the engines and looked up at the tall, weathered limestone brick walls of my family home. Typically for Scotland at the tail end of autumn, the air was thick with drizzle, leaving barely a hint of blue sky in sight. I stepped out of the shuttle onto the landing pad a hundred metres away from the house, taking my wife’s arm to help her down the steep loading ramp at the open rear of the shuttle. Nova looked up at the imposing grey stone façade, smooth-faced gargoyles glaring down from the rooftop, standing a silent, eyeless vigil. Having taken up the option of twelve months maternity leave while she supervised the development and growth of our pair of nascent embryos at the nearest suitable in-vitro facility at Inverness, Nova had temporarily abandoned her uniform and was dressed casually in a thick navy woollen jacket, knee-length leather boots, a layered white sweater, sheer, dark silk tights and a heavy tartan skirt. I had likewise eschewed my uniform since I was on leave and was dressed in vintage 21st Century-style hunting gear: a knee-length green waxed jacket and deerstalker hat, with a lumberjack shirt, water-repellent jeans and a pair of sturdy black leather hiking boots. It would have felt wrong to come back to my ancestral home wearing anything else.
“This is yours?” Nova said, agog. I nodded back and she added, “I should have married you sooner.”
“Come on, sweetheart. Let’s get out of this rain. I need you to introduce you to your mother-in-law.”
“Sorcha’s not going to be pissed that she missed the wedding, is she?”
“Knowing Mum, she’s more likely to be shocked that you’re a shotgun bride with two kids on the way.”
I slid back the ten inch bolt on the thick oak door and lifted the heavy cast-iron locking latch with a small grunt of effort. I steered Nova inside and led her to the drawing room. At first I didn’t recognise the petite figure sitting asleep in the great armchair next to the open fire. Metallic blue hair cascaded over her shoulders, and nestled between her arm and her side was a tiny baby boy, less than a year old, slumbering serenely. Awakened by the sound of our footsteps on the wooden floor, the woman opened her amber-green eyes and her narrow face lit up radiantly with joy when she saw me. My brain eventually caught up with what I was seeing and I took a couple more steps before I stopped, my jaw open so wide that it practically dislocated as I looked from one woman to the other and back.
“Oh my. This is going to be awkward...”