Four people had died in all. Tessa didn’t care at all about the traitors, Dunnigan and Nguyen, but Captain McAllen and Private Liang were painful losses.
Mardukas and the other officers reassured her, “Given the situation, it’s a miracle that we only lost two men.” There had been no more deaths after the seajacking occurred, and as captain, Tessa deserved credit for that. Nevertheless, she remained completely despondent.
Even Major Kalinin, who heard about the incident after the fact, felt a powerful sense of responsibility. The traitors had come out of his SRT, and his own aide was one of the dead. He seemed to have secretly resigned himself to something... but no one could know what it was at this stage.
After arriving at the Merida Island Base, the crew lined up and took roll. This had been the captain’s job since days of old, and on the Tuatha de Danaan, the roll for the ground forces was included. Tessa had all of her subordinates’ names committed to memory. She faced them all, lined up neatly in the underground dock, and said, “Lieutenant Colonel Richard Mardukas.”
“Captain William Goddard.”
It went on and on. After a hundred and some names, Tessa read, “Captain Gail McAllen.”
“On patrol, Captain,” Mardukas responded. Tessa gave him a slight nod, expressionlessly, thinking of the winner of the bingo tournament. His smile. With excessive self-control, she managed to silence her inner thoughts.
“Master Sergeant Melissa Mao.”
“Sergeant Roger Sandraptor.”
“Sergeant Kurz Weber.”
“Sergeant Sagara Sousuke.”
As she read through the SRT, she skipped the names of Dunnigan and Nguyen. When she reached the PRT members, then, she called the name of another of their dead. “Private Liang Xiaoping.”
“On patrol, Captain,” Mardukas told her, calmly. Once again, Tessa said nothing.
When the roll was finished, the bodies were transferred to the base, as McAllen and Liang’s coffins were each carried by six of their colleagues. They would both be buried in their home towns.
Their families would be told that they had died in accidents when working for Argyros, a security company. They wouldn’t be told the specifics; they didn’t know that Tessa existed. She wasn’t even allowed to write letters of condolences to the families, but such was the nature of what they did.
This incident had taught Kaname all about the hardships Tessa faced in life... After watching the transport holding the coffins take off from the Merida Island Base’s covert runway, she caught sight of the other girl heading back to the living quarters area. “You should talk to her,” she told Sousuke. “Cheer her up.”
Sousuke stood for a moment in stunned silence, then approached Tessa as Kaname watched them from afar. In that empty corridor, Sousuke said something to her, and she drew up to him, pressed her face against his chest, and began to sob. Kaname let out a sigh, and went back to the guest quarters she’d been assigned.
About four hours before their plane to Tokyo was set to depart, Sousuke appeared in her room.
“What?” she asked.
“Come with me.” He was holding what looked like a rifle case and an ammunition box. Confused, Kaname followed after, and for about ninety minutes they walked across the base’s north half—a place made up of rocky mountains and broad-leaved trees. Eventually, the two of them came out on a rocky beach illuminated by the setting sun. It was a beautiful sight.
“Take this.” Sousuke pulled a carbon fiber fishing rod from the rifle case and handed it to Kaname.
“What’s this?” she wanted to know.
“A fishing rod.”
“No, not that... What is this place?” she asked.
“My secret fishing spot,” he responded with his usual sullen expression. “I’m the only one on the base who knows about it.”
“Fishing? But we’d only have forty minutes before we have to turn back and get on the plane to Tokyo...”
“Irrelevant,” Sousuke said dismissively. “This was my initial mission objective.”
“Huh?” Kaname looked at him dubiously, and he cast his baited fishing line into the ocean.
“It’s where I initially wanted to bring you,” he told her. “But... I suppose we’ve taken the long way around, haven’t we?”
“Affirmative.” Sousuke looked down at his watch, then nodded. “Go on, fish. Thirty minutes is enough time to catch a big one.”
“Stupid!” Kaname scoffed. “There’s no way...”
“You think?” Sousuke said, his tone somehow daring. “When I’m with you, I feel like I can do anything. Catch the biggest fish, escape the most dangerous situation... So I think thirty minutes will be enough. Just stay with me for that long.”
She looked at him skeptically. “Do you really think that?”
“Of course,” he told her. “It’s because of you that I’m here right now.”
For a moment, Kaname just stared at him... then, eventually, she gave him a big smile. “Okay, got it. Let’s put that hunch of yours to the test.” They cast their lines into the ocean and sat side by side on the beach. It only lasted for thirty minutes, and neither one caught anything in the end, and nothing particularly noteworthy happened, but...
They enjoyed the heck out of those thirty minutes.