Two months later
Beks stepped down on to the crossover gantry where Jodhaa stood facing down to the cargo bay below a faraway look. It didn’t take much to guess exactly what as Beks came up to her side. “That’s clearance from customs. We’re good to go. It’s going to be weird just trading cargo.”
Jodhaa responded half-heartedly. “Yeah.”
“I’m fair use to showing my badge and proclaiming myself a bounty hunter. Saying I’m a cargo trader just doesn’t have the same ring. But it’s the simple life for us from here on in.”
“Boss.” Jodhaa’s tone was pleading, wanting Beks’ words to come to a halt; a halt to the pretence that everything was fine. Yes, the ship was repaired and ready to fly. Beks had made sure to have as much of the work as possible was completed before the hospital released Jodhaa. Any signs of the violence and bloodshed quickly erased.
“It’s ok Jodhaa. I made the decision off my own back and not just because of your words.” Beks winced still thinking of Jodhaa’s bedside and hearing the vitriol words spill from her mouth as she struggled in pain from her injuries. Her words had hit home with Beks and so she had decided to toss her bounty hunter badge aside.
But Jodhaa was not referring to that decision. Instead, her thoughts were filled with the decision that was weighing heavily on her heart.
“Boss.” She stopped and lifted her eyes from the spot where Rini had fallen, where Jodhaa still could see her branded gentle figure lie in her heart and head. Jodhaa’s voiced changed as she spoke again, her voice almost quivering and her heart near to breaking. “Beks.”
Beks paused herself as Jodhaa found her words difficult to come by. It wasn’t a moment of realising but of dawning as Beks had felt the moment coming and had feared the moment coming. “I know.” Her words were soft and understanding as Beks fought back her desire to cry.
The rest went unsaid. Jodhaa was leaving. Leaving the ship, leaving Beks, leaving the awful memories behind.
Beks had foreseen this day coming. Maybe even before the tragedy had even occurred. The Étoile Cheval had been a refuge for Jodhaa ten years ago and had come to be a home, a place of family and friends. But Jodhaa had made good her life onboard yet had much more she could achieve on her own. She was a strong and independent woman and would always have taken some opportunity in the future to break out on her own, to be master of her own ship.
It was perhaps just fanciful thinking on Beks part, but she had sometimes hoped Jodhaa would remain with her, would come to take on the ship and business, just as she had taken it on from her mentor, the Sheriff. At least, she had hoped they would depart with a celebration; Beks imagining Jodhaa stealing Rini away with her to join her crew. She saw much of herself in Jodhaa, despite the girl’s - correction woman’s - impulsive nature and the various lectures she received over time from Beks. Jodhaa had a caring heart and the desire to look out for those less fortunate than herself. Maybe it was Jodhaa’s background, maybe it was the fact a woman on a spaceship called out to her one day and gave her a chance to escape to the stars, maybe it was just who Jodhaa was. All Beks knew was that it would break her heart to see her go.
Sighing, Beks just hoped that events hadn’t pushed Jodhaa out too soon. But she knew that she could not ask Jodhaa to stay with the ghosts of the horrors witnessed on the ship. Gripping the railing, Beks wanted to quiz Jodhaa about her plans but found her own words faltering. Jodhaa had been a crewmember for ten years. An eager hand who soon showed skill as a pilot, who then became an apprentice to Beks, and a firm friend. Beks had been her boss, her mentor, her friend. Jodhaa had been an apprentice, a friend and almost like a daughter to Beks.
“When ... when do you want to go?”
“You know I don’t want, I just can’t.” She clammed up for a moment. Nothing was said for a long minute before Jodhaa spoke again. “I guess there’s really no reason for me to stay, to even depart. I know I’m probably leaving you in the lurch, Beks.”
Beks tried for a casual almost indifferent tone to hide her own anguish. But such an approach caught in her throat. She could not pretend that it did not matter, for it did. Instead, Beks tried to be reassuring and light. “We got it all patched up and ship shape again. We got the cargo stowed. It’s all good to go.” She round the interior of the ship with a proud though small smile as she took in her ship. “I can fly it by myself.”
Jodhaa looked up at the ceiling, her eyes brimming with tears and her voice warbled. “I’m sorry Beks.”
Beks turned and forcibly grasped Jodhaa’s shoulders so to look deep into her eyes. “Now you hear this! There is nothing, I mean nothing, for you to be sorry for. Do you hear me? Nothing.” Beks pulled Jodhaa into her and Jodhaa’s arms wrapped around her tightly. “I’m sorry. Sorry for everything.”
“I don’t want to leave you Beks but I have to.”
“I know. I understand. You’ll do good Jodhaa. I have faith of that.”
“I just wish...”
Beks hushed her as she smoothed Jodhaa’s dark hair. “So do I, so do I.”
They stood for a time, fiercely holding onto one another. It was as much about comfort in the moment to trying somehow to hold onto the past. But the moment came to break apart, to dispel the hope that what had happened had happened. It was time to part. Time to say goodbye.
In a few minutes, Jodhaa returned from her quarters with her duffle bags ready packed and set them down at the hatch where Beks now waited on her.
“You take care now. You hear me.”
“I will. You too Beks. You ... you get a new gang together. Don’t try going it alone.”
“Right back at you girl. You’ll find yourself a ship.” It was a statement rather than a question. Jodhaa nodded. “Make it a good one. One that will look after you.”
“Honestly, I can’t imagine flying in anything other than the Étoile. She was a good ship.”
“They’re hardy things. Strong. Lasting. They stay the course. They fight the oncoming storm. They take the knocks. They survive.” Somewhere, those words referred not to the Va’leh class of ships but to the two of them.
Jodhaa gave a faint smile to the bolstering words from Beks. “I guess I’ll have to try and keep an eye out for one to call my own then.”
“You do that. This, this might help ...” Beks pulled out a small black leather pouch from her pocket. She handed it over to Jodhaa who appeared puzzled as it clinked into her hand.
“What?” Jodhaa’s eyes bulged with the strips of latinium she found inside. “Beks, what’s this?”
“It isn’t charity and it isn’t much. It’s your share in the business. Before you protest, everyone gets their share. I’m squaring off and sending on to the families of Rini and Letva. Marro didn’t have any family so I did what I figures he’d want and split it among you all. So you accept without complaint, you hear? Now, I know you’ve saved some over the years. You better had, I told you often enough.”
“I never needed any telling.”
“Not about that, that’s true. But put this to your savings it should help you get started. Take care. Good luck Jodhaa. I’m ... I’m going to miss you. If you ever, ever, find yourself in trouble, you come and get me. You hear?”
“I do. And you. Thank you Beks.” Jodhaa shrugged with the futility of trying to express her gratitude to Beks for everything she had done to help change her life around. “Just thank you.”
“Do me a favour? When you take off, ease up on the thrusters, you always over tax the engines Beks. You usually had me and Marro to sort it all out for you, better yet, you had me to fly the ship properly.”
“Are you presuming to tell me what to do on my boat?”
“Sure why not. I’ve heard enough lectures from you to know the drill.” She gave an impish smile to Beks who rolled hers in return. “What are you going to do now?”
“I suppose do this run. Gather a crew together if I can. It’s going to be hard to replace the last.”
“You’ll never be able to replace me, Boss!”
Beks returned dryly, “Of that you can be sure. You’re one in a million Jodhaa. One in a million. Thankfully.”
“Oi! No fair.”
They both chuckled though it pained them to try. Beks turned to her and said genuinely, “But you are going to be pretty irreplaceable.” Then switching to her maternal tones Beks told Jodhaa, “You remember those lectures. You remember what I said. But trust your gut. You always had good instincts Jodhaa.”
“I will. You won’t ... you’re not going to try and go after him?”
“Zaddon’atale?” Beks shook her head.
“You sure? It’s just, I know how you are about putting right what’s wrong. I know you always want to see justice served. Heck, that’s why you got into this business. But Zaddon’atale is ... he’s too dangerous and too difficult to take down.”
“I’m not interested in getting justice Jodhaa. We killed the man who killed our friends. It was justice of a sorts. To do anything more would be to bring down trouble and danger on ourselves. I can live with that. You can too?”
“Of course. I was so angry for a time. But the truth is, Zaddon’atale didn’t order for us to be killed, just that low life. That assassin, he made that decision. And we made him pay. That ... that was enough to put a line under it. Besides, letting the anger eat me up, desiring revenge, I’ve saw what that did to people back on Orion. The blood feuds. The vendettas. It never ends good. And it wouldn’t be what Rini would have wanted.”
“Good. Remember that and live your life to the fullest potential you can Jodhaa. You deserve it and more. Go on. Your future awaits. I’ll,” she swallowed and licked her dry lips, “I’ll not look back. It’ll be too hard to leave if I see you left behind.”
“I won’t stop looking into the sky until you’re no longer a dot.”
They clasped one another tightly. Both let a tear be shed as they hugged one another fiercely but quickly wiped them before the other could see.
“Take care Jodhaa. I love you.”
“Bye Beks.” Her voice wavered and she bit her lip despite the monumental control she was keeping on her emotions. “Thank you. Thank you. I love you too. Goodbye.”
Jodhaa turned with bags over her shoulder and stepped down the lowered ramp. When she reached the bottom she looked back and they waved sadly at one another. Then the ramp raised and Jodhaa retreated to a safe distance away as Beks checked everything was secure and headed to the cockpit.
She climbed the stairs and looked down on the cargo bay. Looked at where Rini had lain. She took heart that not all goodbyes were final. She would see Jodhaa again. The girl had been like a daughter to her even if Beks had been more of an interfering big sister to Jodhaa.
Before she left the cargo bay, her eyes alighted on the bomb bay doors and the image of the burning mule and assassin falling away came to mind. Her heart fluttered. His body never found but all were assured he was dead. Even Starfleet Intelligence who had come to investigate the matter, given the high profile killings Talon had been involved in, had stated that he was dead.
The identity of the assassin and Beks’ doubts about his actually being dead all had been kept from Jodhaa as she recuperated in hospital. Beks did not want the young woman to be burned up by hatred and revenge. No, lying to her had been a necessary evil to allow Jodhaa to get on with her life. But for Beks ...
She turned away from those thoughts as she turned away from the cargo bay. She made her way forward passing through the mess, stopping as memories of the gang crowded around the table sharing food swamped her. She wiped away the tears as she thought back to the day when Jodhaa had come aboard, starving and eking out a living. She had looked dubiously at the proffered food and had taken a long time to trust Beks and the others. Soon she had made it a home and now she was gone, gone to make her own home somewhere.
Rini, Marro and Letva though died in their home. Rini unwittingly allowing the murderer aboard, Marro cut down unknowingly and Letva had fought back surprised in his berth but had his life ended as Talon’s chakrams cleaved off his head. Beks bunched her hands into angry fists as the tears fell.
She entered the cockpit and settled into the pilot seat. She busied herself with the pre-flight checks and instruments before initiating take off. The engines began to roar and the ship reverberated with power. Beks looked up into the clear blue sky above. A clear sky.
She paused. The engines continued to roar and the ship started to rumble with the power thrust. Before she would leave this place, the planet on which her friends and family had been slaughtered and broken, she made a promise to herself. She reached into a compartment under the seat where she had stowed it ...
Talon’s broken chakram. She had hidden from S.I. and other law enforcement personnel. Not because it was a trophy. But because she had one last bounty ... one last promise to make to the slain ... she would not seek revenge ... but she would seek justice. Just as she had joined the Sheriff to track down the killers of her parents and sister, she would again seek justice. She would track down, hunt out, and capture the assassin known as Talon. She would see justice served. And if Zaddon’atle stood in her way then he too would be brought to justice.
Beks knew this was no simple matter. It would take a long time and considerable resources and contacts to track down the assassin. It would be dangerous for if Talon or Zaddon’atale learned of her hunt they would come after her. But that was a willing risk as it would bring them to her ... and she would have justice one way or another.
She set the broken chakram down and pulled back on the throttles and controls and the Étoile Cheval reared into the sky. As it peeled off into the sky, Beks maxed the thrusters and banked sharply to look down below where she could see Jodhaa watching upwards intently.
“Take care Jodhaa. Be safe. I’ll see justice done. For you. For Rini. For Letva. For Marro. Take care my love.”
With that, the Étoile Cheval blasted into the clear blue sky. Beks had a new career to make, cargo to deliver and one last bounty to hunt down. She was a bounty hunter still and she would have her bounty, dead or alive ...
* * *