Castaway Resolution – Chapter 08

Chapter 8.

“Hey, Tavana, can I ask you something?” Sakura, a note of hesitation in her voice.

The two of them were at a crude shooting range that the Sergeant had designed, located in the long, low scar that LS-5 had left when it crashed. The upcurved walls of the groove left by the careening shuttle provided good cover to minimize or eliminate the chance of wild shots hitting anything or anyone, and it was fairly broad and straight, allowing the Sergeant to place targets (mostly made of leftover pieces of LS-5‘s wrecked wings) at easily measured distances.

Tavana glanced over at Xander, who was overseeing the practice, then back to Sakura. I wonder what she has to be nervous about. Me, I am nervous around her. “Of course you can ask.”

“Ha, yeah, that always sounds stupid, doesn’t it? I mean, I just did ask you a question. Okay, it’s. . . I know that Xander and Maddox were going to join their parents at Tantalus, and Frankie’s — I mean, Francisco’s parents ended up in a different lifeboat, but I never got why you were on there alone.”

Tavana found himself unable to respond at first; instead, he raised the hunting rifle and sighted on the 50-meter target. He concentrated on slowly squeezing the trigger instead of yanking on it. The weapon kicked his shoulder but it was no big deal; neither was his aim, unfortunately, as he saw a tiny drifting cloud of dust several yards to the right and above the target. Ugh. I winced again instead of keeping my eyes open.

But then, he hadn’t really been concentrating on the shot.

Sakura was taking aim herself, but he knew she was still waiting for his answer. He waited until she fired (and also missed, though it looked like she was a lot closer) before speaking.

“It is something like both of theirs,” Tavana said finally. “My mother, Mahina, was one of the first wave of colonists, and my. . .” He paused, swallowed, then went on. “. . . the rest of my family stayed on Earth. Maman is a construction engineer and oversight manager for colonial construction, and she really liked what she heard about Tantalus; that was why she volunteered for the first wave, if they’d guarantee passage for the rest of us for when the colony was ready.”

“Something happened to the rest of your family?” Sakura asked quietly.

He looked down, set the rifle aside. “I. . . the outdoorsman, that isn’t what I am, you understand? I mean, here I have been learning how to do many things I did not do at home. I was not sure I wanted to be a colonist. But I did not make a big argument about it; everyone else was excited about it, and it was not like I had much choice.”

She had laid her weapon down too and was just standing there, listening.

“Anyway. . . it was half a year before departure, Papa and my brother and sister — Rainui and Aurélie — went on a fishing trip; I didn’t feel like going that day, so I stayed home. I was supposed to study but, well. . . I didn’t. Played instead. Then. . .” he took a deep breath. “Then the call came.” He couldn’t keep a tremor from his voice. “The fishing boat, it had disappeared. No one knew what happened for days.”

“Days? My God, Tavana, that’s horrible. With all the automated safety systems and –”

“Freak accident,” he said, interrupting her but forcing himself to finish. I didn’t even tell the others on Emerald Maui about this. “They never told us the details about how, but one of the automated ocean sweeper ships, it mistook their boat for recyclable debris, and. . .”

The horror on her face echoed his own memories. Tavana was startled to feel the cool streaks left by tears down his face. This is the first time I have let myself think about it in. . . more than a year.

A faint crunching of gravel. Xander touched his shoulder. “Hey, Tav, what’s wrong? Sakura?”

“Oh my God. That was you.” Her voice was an appalled whisper. “The story was all over the news a few months before we left, everyone wondering how a sweeper ship could ever do that. . .”

Vaguely, Tavana was aware of Xander’s face going blank with shock, even as Sakura continued, “. . . but they didn’t use your real name and blurred out your face, so. . . I’m so sorry, Tav. I didn’t know!” Her own voice wavered on the edge of tears, causing his own eyes to sting again.

“So that’s why. . .” Xander murmured.

Oui,” Tavana finally forced himself to speak. “Yes, I had my, what was it. . . the fifteen minutes of fame?… from the accident. At least the privacy laws, they kept my name and face from being everywhere, but still. . .”

“How did this subject come up, Sakura?”

Sakura glanced at Tavana, the pain on her face a pure apology. “I asked him about why he was alone on Emerald Maui.”

“Oh.” Xander’s brow wrinkled. “But you didn’t seem that close to your aunt and uncle,” he said hesitantly. “How did you end up with them — if you don’t mind my asking now?”

Oui, that I was not. They were not bad people, but they were from France and I had only seen them once before. . . before the accident. So I was to go to join my mother on Tantalus, but they do not like fifteen-year-olds traveling alone to colonies. Aunt Heloise and Uncle Francois wanted to go to the colonies, none of my Tahitian relatives did, so I went with them.”

He managed a smile. “And then you see how that worked out — I am on my own on a colony anyway, as my guardians were at the same place as Francisco’s when the alarm came.”

“Lucky for us you came,” Xander said. “I know you had some rough patches early on, but I don’t know if we’d even have gotten here without you.”

It was pretty obvious that Xander was trying to move the conversation away from the accident, to cheer Tavana up, but despite being obvious, Tavana found that it still worked; Xander really tried to be everyone’s big brother.

“Well, maybe, maybe not, but the compliment, it is appreciated. And it is okay, Sakura; you aren’t the news crews or someone just looking to hear nasty details.”

She smiled and wiped away the trace of tears of her own, reflecting his own motion as he scrubbed his face dry.

“Okay,” Xander said, looking relieved. “Now,” he picked up one of the rifles, “Tav, I think you already know this, but you have to stop closing your eyes every time you go to shoot. Sakura, you’re a little better that way, but you keep jerking the trigger.”

“What do you mean? I just pull it when I fire,” Sakura asked.

“You’re pulling it like. . . um, like you’re yanking on a string or something. It shouldn’t be a sharp, sudden motion, even though the shot will be sudden. You have to pull the trigger smoothly. Imagine, instead of pulling a trigger, that you’re pushing a slide control back.”

“Oh. Okay, I’ll try.”

“And,” Tavana said, “I will try not to wince every time, but that habit, it is hard to break.”

“It’ll get harder the longer you let it go, so now’s the time to fight it.” He glanced at the two of them, and a momentary smile flickered across his face. “Well, I’ll go back to watching. Keep practicing while you’re talking, though; the Sergeant wants both of you to finish qualifying as soon as possible.”

Once Xander was back in his observing position, Sakura reached out and touched his shoulder. “Tavana. . . thanks for telling me. That must’ve been pretty hard for you.”

“It was,” he admitted, picking the rifle back up after wiping his eyes on his shirtsleeve. “And now. . . now it seems I may never see my mother again, either. For the first few months I was so upset. . . so angry, at them, then at myself.” Seeing her startled glance, he forced a sad grin. “The therapists, they say I had much ‘survivor’s guilt’. Is a very stupid thing to feel, but they say it is not unusual. I pushed it to the back of my head, avoided talking about it.”

She fired, and there was a loud whack! from the target, which vibrated noticeably. “Wow! I hit it!” She looked back at him. “So. . . how do you feel about having told me about this?”

He raised his rifle, took aim, and fired. This shot, too, went wide, but it was a lot closer. “It. . . feels a little better, I guess. My grand-mère used to tell us that feelings sealed away can fester like wounds.”

“I’ve heard Mom say things like that, too. I guess I really am lucky, though. You lost your family, Xander and Maddox got separated from theirs and then lost their uncle, Francisco’s parents were in another lifeboat. . . I’ve got my whole family, plus my best friend.”

“I’m glad for that,” Tavana said, though he felt more than a twinge of angry envy that he beat savagely back. Concentrate on the good, not the bad. The bad is like a piece of rotting fruit in the middle of a bowl; it will ruin everything around it. “And I was not so unlucky; I have new brothers, yes? Xander is a big brother to me, Maddox and Francisco my annoying little brothers,” he grinned, and felt something genuine in that smile that eased his own anger, “and the Sergeant, he is that scary-looking relative who suddenly comes over to take you to the park or something.”

Sakura echoed his laugh. “Isn’t he exactly?”

“And mon Dieu, am I glad he was with us when everything came apart. Maybe Xander is right that they needed me too, but the Sergeant? He was the one who really kept us all alive.” Off to the right both times, so aim just a little to the left. . .

The subdued hissing whipcrack of the shot was instantly followed by a loud spangg! of the bullet hitting the target.

“You got it, Tav!”

Tavana felt the grin on his own face spreading wider. “I did! But perhaps I should not be celebrating so soon; I do not think either game animals or predators will wait patiently fifty meters away while I take the time to sight in on them.”

“You still hit it, which is a good step. I’m only meh with a bow, unlike Caroline, but guns seem a lot easier; I figure I’ll get better if we keep practicing.”

“I may try one of your bows too, but I expect I will be even worse. But now that I have hit the target, maybe I can make more shots today than you can.”

“Ha! Not happening, Tav. What’s the bet, though? No money here.”

He thought a moment, then grinned. “The bet, it is simple; whichever of us loses, does the other’s dishes after supper today and tomorrow.”

Sakura bared her teeth in a challenging smile. “You’re on!” she said, and took aim.

As he heard the sharp report of her shot striking the target again, he began to wonder if this impulse of his had been a good idea. But then he chuckled to himself and raised the rifle. All I can do is my best. And if I wash dishes, then I will do that my best as well!