John looked over to see Rory had opened his own envelope, and was gaping at the check.
“It does rather add up, doesn’t it?” Eitan asked, barely glancing at his compensation, reminding John that, however he lived, now, Eitan had come from wealth.
John looked at Jagati, who shrugged, opened her envelope, and looked at her check. Then her eyes widened in genuine surprise. “Wow,” she said, then, “Wow,” again.
John could appreciate her sentiment, especially as he doubted she’d given much thought to the dock in her pay, after Nasa.
Jagati’s worries at the time had been for her crew, her rank, and her captain—he had a flashback to her sitting at his bedside in the Kodiak infirmary, her fury burning as hot as his fever.
No, he thought, Jagati hadn’t paid any mind to the money.
But she appeared pleased to see it, now.
And John couldn’t say he wasn’t happy with the money as well, but it was the letter clearing him of any wrongdoing aboard the Kodiak that struck home.
And not only the letter, he thought, but the commendation—the Sol Medal of Valor resting in the bottom corner of the envelope—that… was unexpected.
He looked into the envelope again, where the slim box holding the medal rested, a quiet reminder of doing the right thing in the face of an incredible wrong.
To his left, he caught Eitan peering into his envelope, and guessed there was a Crimson Heart inside, at the least.
Finally, John turned to see the general watching him.
“Do not say it is generous,” Satsuke said before he could speak. “What happened at Nasa is a stain on the Corps as a whole. This…” she gestured towards the envelopes each member of the crew held, “… is literally the least we can do by way or restitution. Especially as General Rand is dead, and can no longer be prosecuted.”
Which the Errant crew already knew, thanks to Gideon, but all John said was, “Understood, and appreciated.”
“What about Sergeant Jihan?” Jagati asked.
Of course she would ask about Jihan, John thought.
Sergeant Wex Jihan had been General Rand’s aide de camp. He was also the man who’d stabbed John in the back, when John tried to prevent Rand from using the Kodiak to fire on Gideon Quinn’s company.
“Unfortunately, Jihan retired from service at the end of the war,” Satsuke replied. “We’re not entirely sure where he is at this time.”
Baek-Tenjin nodded. “Worse, as our advocates have explained, it will be difficult to prosecute Sergeant Jihan, as he was following orders.”
Jagati shifted and John cleared his throat.
She paused, unclenched the hand she’d fisted, and eased back on her heels. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
Satsuke nodded, and almost—almost—smiled. “As I indicated earlier, this isn’t a perfect solution, but it is the best the Corps can do.”She paused, then shook her head. “I am also authorized to offer your commissions, if you wish to return to the service—but having just made a similar offer to another of Nasa’s casualties, I believe I already know your answer.”
“Thank you, but no,” John said.
“Not on your life—respectfully,” was Rory’s take.
Jagati’s snort said it all, and Eitan simply shook his head.
The colonel coughed back what might have been a laugh, but Satsuke merely nodded. “As you wish.”
At which point everyone stood around for a few moments, as if uncertain what to do, next.
“You know what I wish?” Jagati finally tossed into the uncomfortable silence. “I wish for a meal that someone else cooks, and serves, and cleans up—and a non stop flow of alcohol.” She waggled her check. “On me. Who’s in?”
After a few more expressions of mutual appreciation, John and his crew were escorted off base.
At Rory’s suggestion, they headed towards the nearby skyway hub, that connected Epsilon’s districts from above.
“The view’s better than the tram or the canals, and we can decide where to get off if we like the looks of it,” he said.
“Like we don’t spend enough time in the air,” Jagati groused, but with a grin. Then she shoved her envelope into inner coat pocket. “So, what do we do with the cash?”
“The Errant needs some upgrades,” John began.
“What, like a crystal drive?” she asked.
“No,” John shook his head.
“Can’t do crystal,” Rory peeked around Eitan’s shoulder. “We’d have to lose the liquid aluminium—”
“Aluminum,” Jagati muttered.
“—batteries,” Rory continued without a break. “We’d also need to rebuild the entire power core…” He shook his head. “Might as well buy another airship.”
“And we’re not buying another airship,” John asserted. “But,” he said, “I’m thinking we can replace that aft port pod, and upgrade our bact tank.”
“And,” Rory steamed right ever Jagati’s cheer, “we could top up on the replacement parts—you know, the bits and bobs that are forever wearing out.”
“That may cost the entirety of our windfall,” John pointed out.
Eitan shook his head and eased around a party of cadets on their back to base, ignoring the looks all three sent his way. “ “I recommend everyone pitch in what they consider fair to the company account,” he paused, looked at John. “We do have a company account?”
“Yes,” John said.
“Excellent. In that case, we take care of the pod and the bact tank, add in backups of the most necessary and most used parts, and set the rest aside for potential investments.”
“You said something about diversifying before.” John recaled a previous discussion with Eitan about updating Errant Freight’s business plan. Since, to that point, Errant Freight’s business plan had been less a plan and more a “let’s buy an airship and see what happens,” it could only be an improvement.
“I guess you weren’t talking about betting on the Fujian marathon?” Jagati guessed.
“I was not.” Eitan shot her a smile. “I mean keep an eye out for promising businesses on the ground. Invest for a percentage of the gross.” Eitan looked at Rory. “It’s something like what Gideon is doing with Jinna’s tea shop.”
“I’m game, as long as you still get the bact tank,” Jagati said. “Besides the glory of taking a shower longer than three minutes, having functioning facilities will make it easier to take on more passengers.”
“You want to take on more passengers?” Rory asked, shocked.
“What?” She shrugged. “It didn’t entirely suck swamp water this time.”
“This time,” Eitan echoed as they. “Not every party will be as charming as the doctors.”
“Opposite argument, we probably won’t get another spy in the mix,” Rory said, his voice dropping, though there was no one else nearby. “I mean, how many are out there?”
“No one knows,” John said, taking a breath perfumed by the pine trees lining the path, “which is rather the point.”
“Whatever. I just want to have water available when I need water,” Jagati said.
“Bact-tank and engine pod,” Rory echoed, producing a notepad and pencil from somewhere.
“I wouldn’t recommend we start throwing money at the first opportunity,” Eitan said. “We should wait for something that has legs, and feels right for us.”
“Like the tea shop,” Rory echoed Eitan’s earlier statement.
“Well, I wouldn’t recommend going into competition with Jinna—” Eitan began.
“Not if you value your life,” Jagati cut in.
“—but there may be other opportunities—something that supports both our financial goals and gives someone else a chance they might not otherwise have.”
John eased back a few steps, watching the others as they bent their heads over Rory’s pad.
Jagati was laughing and slapping Rory in the shoulder, and all three were walking in sync.
As a man who loved a good metaphor, John allowed himself to enjoy the moment.
He felt the weight of the letter in his breast pocket, and thought of how it had come to be there.
General Satsuke was right, in that there could never be true compensation for what had happened at Nasa, but it was more than he dared hope.
It might not be everything, he thought, as his eyes once again came to rest on Jagati, but, for now, it was enough.
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