Four days after everyone had returned to Kangjun, Graul went down to Hope’s stateroom in Women’s Country. She’d been released from medical, but he knew that even with the healing bots work on the severe bruising, she would be sore for several days.
He found her pale and drawn and moving stiffly. Too quiet, for Hope.
“Another mission?” she said. She was dressed in a simple shift, which was probably the easiest piece of clothing she could get on.
“From my wife.” Graul gave her a small smile. “Mel wanted me to check up on you.”
“Mel could have come down here.”
“She says I know you better.” He rested his backside on the corner of her desk. “It’s not your fault, you know.”
He’d contacted the 49ers with the help of the translator Orson and told them if they wanted the ghost problem fixed, they should move away from the ruins. It had been the best Graul could do, and should have been obvious to the 49ers.
Red Stone had refused.
The next message Graul received—two days later–was that White Crystal was evacuating everyone. Then filed a complaint with GALCOM against Hope specifically for not fixing their problem.
The complaint was scathing.
He also knew she’d seen it.
“I’m the ghost expert,” she said, and she was trembling. “I’m supposed to be able to help with ghosts.”
“But you can’t help people—or ghosts—who don’t want to be helped. And you’re doing what they did to yourself.”
That got her attention. “What do you mean?”
“You’re focusing on what’s wrong.” Graul shrugged. “It’s easy to do. I’ve been used for target practice by senior officers who only looked at what was wrong, and not what went right.”
“You risked your own life to save fourteen people. Fourteen!”
Her voice was sharp. “What else was I supposed to do? Just leave them there?’
Graul waggled his forefinger at her. “That’s what you would do. We all have a tendency to think everyone thinks like us. And you know better than anyone else that’s not always true.”
His words cut deep into her heart. Not in a bad way, just in a remembering way. All those people who had been cruel to her, and how she had vowed to never be like that.
“C’mon,” Graul said. “Mel’s waiting for us in the mess. It’s ice cream sundae day. I hear the fudge is pretty good.”
“Ice cream?” Hope’s stomach growled at the thought of ice cream and fudge and sprinkles. She’d struggled to eat since she’d gotten back.
As they exited Women’s Country, she was surprised to see one of Mel’s Marines waiting in the passageway. He weren’t dressed in a CTU, but in his spiffy dress uniform with a midnight blue coat. She could have stared at him all day. He looked that good in the uniform.
The Marine stepped forward, offering her a perfectly crooked arm.
“That’s your escort, Ms. Delgado,” Graul said.
She glanced back at him. She wanted to say, Who me?
Graul answered the unvoiced question with a grin. “Two of the Marines were seriously hurt enough that if you hadn’t helped, they might have died. So you have an escort until we meet up with the passenger transport.”
Hope was chuffed. The first smile she’d had in many days stretched across her face. She slipped her hand through the Marine’s muscular arm. It was time for some serious ice cream.