The trip to Atrehn had been short, yet tiring. Captain Webber wasn't looking forward to what
awaited him planetside, but unfortunately he needed work done on the Rose if he expected her to keep
flying. On the bright side, everything he needed was in one place. He locked down the ship
upon landing and headed into the city. Despite having been here only two years earlier, he had
trouble remembering the path to his destination. All too soon, though, he found himself at a
familiar door, and forced himself to enter before he had time to second-guess the decision.
The interior was well-lit and so clean it almost sparkled. A row of translucent viewscreens
partially blocked his view of whoever murmured "Be with you in a sec," as the door clicked
shut behind him.
"I need a programmer to look at my ship." The Captain walked towards the desk, stopping halfway as
doubt began to settle over him.
"What ship would that be?"
The first time he tried to answer, Webber's voice failed him. He cleared his throat
and tried again. "The Glacial Rose."
The owner of the other voice looked up from the displays, a spark of recognition lighting the
green eyes hidden behind slightly tinted spectacles. She turned off the screens and stood,
revealing a small frame with innocent features that belied her age. In what seemed like an
instant she crossed the space between them and had thrown her arms around him. "Tristan!" She
held the embrace, squeezing like she was trying to break his ribs, until he managed to get over his shock and return it.
"Hello, Gwen." Tristan wanted to say more, but he just couldn't find the words. He'd been
putting this off for months, mostly because he was afraid what Gwen would do when she saw him.
Of all the dozens of scenarios he'd gone through in his mind, none of them had been this.
Overwhelmed, he tried to pull away, but Gwen refused to let go, hugging him tighter.
"What happened to Isolde wasn't your fault." Straight to the heart of the matter, just like
always. Tristan took a deep breath, and managed to speak without the words dying in his
"I know that," he shook his head and stepped back to give himself some space, "Even if I could
have saved her, she never would have forgiven me for abandoning the Rose."
"She always said you both loved that ship as much as you did eachother." Gwen was smiling, but
Tristan could see the beginnings of tears in her eyes from the memory.
"It's just…" The hesitation in his voice was less noticeable now, but the strain was still there. "You never wanted Isolde to come with me; you two fought tooth and nail over it when I picked her up on Artema. You told her you were scared that this would happen, and now..." He took another breath, meeting her gaze for the first time since he walked in the door. "Why don't you hate me?"
Gwen shook her head as if to help clear her thoughts, and the way her black hair fell perfectly back into place reminded Tristan so much of Isolde that he couldn't help but smile a little. "When you and Isolde got hitched, I told you that you were officially my brother. That doesn't change just because some bastard from the military division decided his ambitions are worth more than my sister's life. We're family, Tristan; we need to be there for each other." Smiling, she grabbed onto his arm and started pulling him to the door. "Speaking of which, you said you needed a programmer, right? Lead the way, Captain, I'm anxious to see the 'other woman' sis always joked about cheating on you with.
Where Tristan had gotten himself completely turned around on his way to the shop, Gwen was able to guide them through the criss-crossing streets like the seasoned local she was until they reached the spaceport. They passed several other ships before reaching the Rose. Tristan keyed a sequence into the personal console strapped to his forearm, and a fittingly small boarding ramp descended from the rear of the craft. He climbed partway up before noticing that Gwen had stopped several steps back. "That's it?"
Tilting his head up towards the Rose with a wistful smile, "This ship already had its own history before I took over. She may not be the sleekest thing you'll ever see, but I'd rather be on her than-"
"Than any other ship I could name." Gwen walked up the ramp after him, "You gave me the same line the first time we talked, remember?" That had been maybe four years ago, right after Isolde had joined him; it was the first time the sisters had talked to each other since Tristan and Isolde took off from Artema, and he'd tried to help Isolde calm her sister down.
"At least this time you're not throwing punches, I think you would've pulverized every bone in my body if we'd been face to face. Didn't you break your hand on the monitor?"
"So what do you need a programmer for?" Gwen kept her face carefully blank, but she couldn't
do anything about the reddish tint filling her cheeks.
Tactfully dropping the subject, Tristan launched into his explanation. "Sometime over the past week or so, my IFF setup got hit with a virus. The hardware is all functioning fine as ever, but the software crashes seemingly at random. I actually had a close call with the military on the way here because of it."
Gwen wordlessly drew a cable from the frame of her glasses, and plugged it into a terminal they'd stopped at, causing the lenses to take on a faint glow. As soon as she began typing commands lines began to scroll so fast Tristan couldn't have understood what they were even if he'd recognized any of them, which he didn't.
Several minutes passed under Tristan's silent observation before Gwen pushed her spectacles onto her forehead and rubbed her temples. "The long version is filled with words like 'archaic structure,' 'nested loop,' and 'seed number.' The short version goes like this: every time your IFF cuts out a coin flips; heads changes nothing, tails reformats your system to broadcast as a hostile raiding party's advance scout. Every time your IFF reboots successfully, the odds of it coming up tails increases."
Tristan whistled appreciatively, "Can you fix it?" If a ship's IFF signal got changed like that, it might be blown out of space as soon as another ship or planet came into range.
"I already have; it was just a matter of deleting the malicious code and finding any copies it might have hidden throughout the rest of the system and giving those the same treatment. Then just a simple reboot and you're in the clear."
"Thanks Gwen, I really appreciate it,"
"Not a problem, just make sure that your future visits aren't accompanied by a near-total
The two laughed for a moment, but Tristan cut off abruptly as a strange thought occurred to
him. "You could come with me."
"What?" Gwen sounded more curious than surprised, and didn't seem like she was sure of whether or not Tristan was serious.
"Isolde always said you were the best programmer she'd ever seen. I could drop you off at a major spaceport on a trade world and you'd be set for life. Here, I bet I'm the first customer you've had all week." He could tell she was seriously considering the offer, but this was obviously something she couldn't decide in an instant. "I know this is a bit sudden, Gwen, I'll be sticking around Atrehn for a day or two, so you can talk it over with someone or-"
He trailed off at the sight of Gwen shaking her head at him. "The only person I'd need to talk it over with is the one making the offer." She turned in place, gesturing to the somewhat claustrophobic corridor they found themselves in. "I was just wondering how you planned on fitting all my equipment onto this scrapheap."
Tristan gave a surprised laugh, then threw an arm around Gwen's shoulders, pulling her further into the ship. "Come on, I'll show you the cargo hold, there'll be plenty of space. Then we can grab a bite to eat and figure out where we're headed first."
"I can't wait," Gwen kept pace with him as she examined the ship that was, for now, her new home.