Now available, The Fugitive Snare, book 3 of the Adventures of Matt & Michelle. Click the title to view it.
Over the next hour, Joy and I exchanged stories. She was from a planet called Eskoth, which was about forty light years from Aashla. Her ancestors landed safely on the planet, avoiding the technological collapse my ancestors faced after their colony ship was almost destroyed by the planetary ring.
But, Eskoth’s colony ship lost her aft inertial dampeners during her final wormhole jump, a tragedy that killed half of the colonists and destroyed the ship’s engines. With the ship out of commission and no longer able to land on the planet, the surviving colonists and their supplies were ferried to the planet in shuttles. They abandoned everything that wouldn’t fit in a shuttle, which meant most of their heavy equipment. That set the colonists back centuries.
“The colony’s first fifty years were very hard,” Joy wrapped up, “but we had actually achieved space flight by the time a Scout rediscovered us.”
“Is that when you decided to become a Scout?” I asked.
Joy looked down, shaking her head and blushing slightly. “Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I never laugh at friends, Joy.”
Still not meeting my eyes, she said, “It was after I saw the vid David Rice and the Lost Colony. I loved it so much I saw it, like, thirty times.”
“Me, too!” I exclaimed. “Except, we don’t have vids on Aashla. I had to read the story in a book.”
Shyly, Joy met my gaze. “I got really excited when my guide told me you were from Aashla. It’s really zing actually meeting someone from David Rice’s adopted world.”
“Oh, yeah, the teaching programs don’t have slang,” Joy said. “It means fantastic or perfect or astounding or… Well, just about anything good is ‘zing.’”
I understood immediately. “At home, I’d say ‘patchless.’ But I’ll try to use ‘zing’ from now on.” Returning to the original subject, I added, “When I introduce you to David, try not to gush much. That kind of thing embarrasses him.”
“Oh. My. God!” Joy cried, her eyes going wide. “You know David Rice? Personally?”
I nodded my head emphatically. “Sometimes, I can’t believe it, myself. I mean, I had the biggest crush on him.”
To my surprise, Joy dropped onto her knees and bowed to me. “I’m not worthy!”
“What the hell-?” A knock sounded on our door. With my eyes still riveted to my crazy roommate, I automatically called, “Come in.”
The door slid open just as Joy repeated, “I’m not worthy!”
Chris eyed the woman kneeling before me.“Huh. My roommate just shook my hand.”
Chris and a man close to Joy’s age stood in the doorway, staring at Joy. Without a hint of embarrassment, Joy stopped genuflecting and looked at our visitors.
Hooking a thumb at me, she said, “Jade knows David Rice. Personally.”
“Of course,” Chris said. “After all, we fought at his side in the Weather War.”
Joy regarded Chris with a cocked head. “You mean on his side, right?”
“Before Chris answers that,” I asked, “are you done bowing at me?”
“I guess so,” Joy replied.
I gave her a stern look. “Are you going to start bowing at Chris?”
At that moment, a gaggle of female cadets walked by, led by the woman from the bus. She gave us a haughty glance before turning to her companions. In a tone dripping with disdain, she said, “Elsies!”
The rest of the gaggle looked our way and tittered. I searched for something properly cutting to say in response, but Chris’s roommate beat me to it.
Shaking his head in mock sorrow, he said, “I truly despair for the future of the Federation if those…girls…are the best the Scout Academy could find.”
The tittering stopped, replaced by muttering that we couldn’t quite make out.
“God, it’s just like high school!” Joy said. “May God have mercy on our souls.”
Chris’s roommate nodded. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“I don’t,” I said. “But never mind that, right now. Chris, aren’t you going to introduce your roommate to us?”
“Oh, yeah.” He grinned sheepishly and motioned to the other man. “This is Pete Osteen. Pete, this is Jade Cochran, my companion in adventure and the love of my life, and, um, her latest worshipper.”
Taking that as my cue, I said, “Her name is Joy Meyer. Joy, that’s Chris Marlow, my betrothed.” Remembering Linda’s confusion at the Aashlan word, I added, “That means we have promised ourselves to each other.”
“Like, in marriage?” Pete asked.
When I nodded, Joy added, “Is this part of that Weather War story?”
Chris came in and sat next to me on the bed. Putting an arm around me, he said, “Yes.”
Pete pointed to a spot next to Joy on her bed. “May I?”
Joy nodded and looked back at me. Grinning, she asked, “Is it a romantic tale? Did he rescue you or something?”
Leaning into Chris, I smiled. “He saved me from certain death.”
Joy’s grin froze and then faded. “You’re serious?”
It took a while, but our roommates dragged the whole story out of us. I even ended up digging out some of the sketches of Callan awarding us medals and from the ball afterward. Through it all, Joy and Pete were an appreciative audience.
“Wow,” Joy said to Pete, “we have the most zing roomies at the Academy! I bet those Federation girls change their tunes when they find out everything these two have done.”
I’ll give Joy credit for optimism. Unfortunately, it was misplaced. Worse, it wasn’t just the other cadets who expected the cadets from lost colonies—especially, Chris and me—to wash out in record time.