Rhezerë is not pleased. There’s a niggling sensation, warm through his entire mind, of someone who’s supposed to be there, and nobody told him a new sync would feel like this.
The first time Cor saw sand, he ran across the beach with giggles and bare feet, not even noticing the stinging heat and grit. Zana watched with a smile and settled down to build castles.
He came back over, curiously, after her towers began to rise from the sand, looked with wide eyes, never touching. She was raising him at essentially a spaceport. He knew to keep his fingers away from delicate things.
But he was her little brother. She took his small hands and showed him how to shape and pat and firm the walls.
“Our castle,” she said.
Zana ran Ijeve’s training facility, almost never leaving it, and had since she was a teenage girl, well trained but saddled with a little brother she wouldn’t leave. Her little brother wasn’t little anymore, but a warship who only came home on leave.
But how the messages flew between them!
She knew his triumphs and struggles before the battle reports rolled in, and every infuriating thing she didn’t need to know about his pilot. He knew about her frustrations with each new batch of trainees and which ones she had high hopes for. But they never said, I miss you.
Her little brother was so small.
Zana stared at him, tucked away like a curled up kitten beneath the blanket in her narrow bunk. She barely remembered him, a newborn when she’d been forced to leave.
But here he was now, his breaths soft and even with sleep, his freckled face open and trusting. She wondered why he would trust when it was their own mother that had brought him to the training facility and abandoned him to his sister’s arms.
Zana sighed and shifted in the chair to gently kiss the top of his hair. “I won’t leave you.”
She’d never kissed anyone’s mouth, or anyone at all but her little brother after he’d become the only family she’d ever keep. Zana ran the Ijeve pilot and integrate training program with iron will, turning out batch after batch of fleet-ready spaceships and pilots. It didn’t leave time for romance.
“Have you considered—”
“No, Hasu,” she ordered her fellow station head.
“You’ll be lonely,” he suggested quietly. She thought he’d married at some point, had children.
A ship sang in her mind, though anchored, her brother called frequently, and her students and staff filled her days. “I’m not lonely.”
The first time he sees the ships, he’s just a tiny thing at the edge of the wide open bay dropping out like an abyss before them. Cor is four years old and unafraid. Only his older sister’s hand keeps him from stepping too close to the edge.
He has eyes only for the ships, their graceful forms reflected in his bright blue eyes.
“Zana,” he breathes.
He’s pointing, eyes aglow, and something inside her forms into a heavy knot of dread. So young, and already he knows the riftspace singing in their family’s blood.
“Come.” She draws him away.
Cor hesitated, enough to make Zana stop pouring tea to narrow her eyes at him.
He squirmed despite being a teenager. “You don’t—” He huffed, then forced the words out. “You don’t have to stay here for me. Anymore.”
She stopped breathing, topped off his cup, sat. A slow inhale of steam. “I’m head of this entire training program,” she said quietly, sipped. “I’m not suffering on your account.”
She’d promised not to leave him.
“Little brother.” Zana waited for him to look up. “I’m fine.”
Cor finally nodded. His shoulders relaxed as he reached for tea.
Raising a little boy as rambunctious and eager as Cor was an exercise in the fine art of not screaming.
Zana took another deep breath. The four-year-old clung to the top of a teetering bookcase. Ijeve was a space station, occasionally subject to turbulence, and furniture was lashed to walls. Only that had saved Cor from crashing to the floor with the books.
“I’m sorry!” He whined as he scrabbled to maintain his grip.
She reached up and snatched him down, making him yelp, then held him tightly to her chest. “You are in so much trouble.”
The tiny boy hit Zana like a missile, waking her out of a sound sleep.
“Cor?” she demanded. “Little brother, what’s wrong?”
He was trembling, clinging to her, arms around her waist tight enough to hurt. He shook his head but said nothing.
Zana thought about turning on the light but didn’t. Instead she settled one hand on his back, the other his hair and stroked through the soft strands. “I’m here,” she whispered softly.
Her shirt was damp from his face, and he shuddered at the words. “Promise you won’t go away?”
Their mother had.
“Yes, Cor. I promise.”