“Ranger regulations did not specifically state that you couldn’t have intimate relations with a fellow Ranger. As an organization that often left its members alone on distant outposts for extended periods of time, that sort of thing would eventually happen. Ranger Command’s unwritten policy only frowned upon it. Personally, I leave that decision up to the discretion of sheriffs in the field.”
– Excerpt from: A Ranger’s Life, an autobiography of Joh Solano.
Seth sat in the back of Downer’s at a table by himself. A rugged man with dark wavy hair and brown eyes, he was dressed in tan colored, utilitarian clothes that were well suited for the harsh desert environment of Ocherva. His big hands were cupped around a warm beer that he hadn’t touched in over an hour. The band was playing a slow, boring tune that nobody was paying attention to. Ever since Hap’s death a week before there had been no joy in Haven. Ore was mined. Ranger patrols were flown. Life went on in a dull haze that hung over the town and all its citizens.
Seth knew the cause of the gloom and he was finally fed up with it all. He stood up and walked over to the stairway that led up to the rooms on the second floor of the tavern. The lead singer of the band watched him climb the stairs as she sung a song about lost love. There were half a dozen patrons at tables. They all watched Seth make his way to Devon’s room at the far corner.
He didn’t knock but instead let himself in. The room was empty. Clothes were strewn around in piles on the floor and draped over furniture. The bed was rumpled and unmade. He noticed the window was open. A warm breeze blew lace curtains. He stepped over the piles of clothes on the floor and looked out the window. A rickety fire escape led to the roof and down to the alley below.
Seth knew where she was, he just didn’t want to have to climb out onto the fire escape to get to the roof. He left the room and headed down the hall to a stairway that led up. Seth opened the door to the roof and was confronted by Thirty-seven.
The android’s expressionless oval face somehow conveyed a sadness that could not be dismissed. “Sir, Miss Devon is bathing. She doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”
Seth pushed past the metal man with a hand to its chest and a stern look. The android gave way, its head slightly lowered in a programed grief routine.
Devon was sitting in a low metal tub facing away from the main street below. Her head rested on the round stucco edge of the roof and her long legs were draped out of the tub, feet resting on the warm gravel roof. The tub was only big enough to fit her lower torso. It wasn’t even a real tub, just a piece of scrap metal that she had the metallurgist bend into a shape that could hold water.
The Rangers took turns using the tub to soak their muscles in after a long hard day of patrolling. A tall bottle of clear liqueur was in her right hand, her left hand rested on her chest above her breast. Her blond hair was tied up away from her neck. She had a fresh scar on her forehead from the ejection. The water in the tub came up to her belly and thighs. She had another fresh mark on her thigh, where the alien had shot her. The white scar tissue contrasted with her tanned skin.
Seth stood over her in silence. She opened an eye to see who it was, then she raised the bottle. “Go away. I’m drinking alone.”
“How long are you going to drown your sorrows like this?”
Devon opened her eyes and looked up at Seth. She could see the disdain in his eyes, but she paid it no attention. “What do you care?”
Seth got down on his knees so he was eye level with her. “You’ve been drinking and keeping to yourself ever since her death. You don’t fly anymore. You barely do your share of the patrolling. When you do, you’re too drunk to apprehend anyone by yourself. How do you think the others feel about seeing their leader act like this?”
Devon closed her pale blue eyes dismissively.
“I’ll tell you what they feel. Betrayed.”
Devon lifted her head off the back of the wall and shot Seth a harsh look. “Screw you all. I lost my best friend. They only lost a pathetic drunk leader that was good enough to save her own skin but not good enough to keep her wingman from getting killed.”
She started to cry, the tears filling her eyes and streaming down her already wet face. “It was all my fault, Seth. I saved my own ass and got her killed.”
Seth reached around her shoulders and held her close in a reassuring hug. Devon’s body shook with every burst of tears. She let the glass fall to the roof as she held on tightly to Seth’s broad shoulders.
“You couldn’t have known what that ship was about to do. You reacted on instinct. Hap was just not as fast as you were. Hell none of us are, that’s why you’re our leader.”
Devon rested her head against the stubble on Seth’s neck and continued to sob. She had needed the release. She had not cried once since Hap’s death. After a few minutes of crying she forced herself to stop. “I asked her, on the day she died, what I would ever do without her.”
Seth sat patiently listening.
“She told me that she thought I’d become a lonely old drunk.” Devon laughed. “She knew me pretty well, didn’t she?”
Seth nodded. “She was a wonderful spirit and we all miss her Dev. But we miss you more right now. We need the old Devon back. The one who parties with us and gets upset when we can’t do split roundels as good as she can.”
Devon smiled to herself for moment and then looked more serious than he had ever seen her before.
“Seth, I can’t stay here any longer.”
Seth pushed her away, but still held onto her wet shoulders. “What?”
“I have to find those aliens. I don’t think I can rest until I have.”
“How are you going to do that? They’ve got to be light years away from here by now?”
Devon wiped at the tears on her cheeks. “I don’t think so. I think they’re looking for someone to fight them. Everything we know about them suggests that they are a warrior society. Sooner or latter they’re going to make their way into the inner systems and that can mean only one thing-”
Devon nodded. Seth let go of her and sat down on the gravel roof. He gazed up into the orange sky. “Dev, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
She looked over and down at him, her curiosity piqued.
“The military is sending a ship here to investigate what happened. They’re looking to recruit some of us for military service.”
Devon turned to face him in the tub. He could see the look of intense interest in her eyes. “When will they be here?”
Devon’s face came alive with the possibilities. She got that old mischievous look in her eyes. Seth knew she wouldn’t stay. It was why he hadn’t told her they were coming.
“Look, Dev. I know some of the guys want to leave. They feel an obligation to avenge Hap. But there are plenty of us who don’t want to leave.”
She looked at him knowingly.
“You don’t want to leave do you?”
“I don’t want you to leave either.”
Devon frowned. “Seth, I never knew you felt that way.”
“I never told you this before because I didn’t want it to affect our professional lives. But I’ve always loved you. From the day you arrived on this rock and started making this unit over into your own, I’ve wanted you.”
Devon was suddenly feeling very vulnerable. There she was naked in a bath and the man she had always relied upon to be her second in command was professing his love for her. She reached over and caressed his stubble cheek. Then she climbed out of the tub, dripping wet and sat down on top of him, kissing him deeply.
I like this scene because we get to meet Seth and find out about his unrequited love for Devon. If you’ve read any of the Ocherva Ranger short stories, this will have more meaning for you. Seth becomes an important minor character in this book and the next one.