(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Kai was written by N. R. Tupper.)
The overhead lights flickered before finally giving way to the bright light shining through the open shutters. Kai Brecken shivered as she paced the length of the HOPEBRINGER’s bridge. Why had she agreed to this? Battus, she hated this place. Everything about it brought back memories she’d rather not dwell on.
As soon as she entered this ship of demons, she lifted the shutters, opening the windows so sunlight could flood the space. This light was the only comfort this room could provide and Kai didn’t intend to deny herself that.
Outside the windows the blue and green beauty of Egeria still took her breath away, but she knew what waited outside. She knew the danger this beautiful little planet harbored.
As ideas went, this wasn’t one of her favorites.
She continued to pace as she waited for the interviewer to arrive.
Since this wasn’t her first time visiting the HOPEBRINGER, Kelly knew what to expect and dressed in a casual manner. She was much more was a bit more at ease. She knew there was something in the ship, but she didn’t know what exactly, but she made her way to the bridge and cleared her throat to get Kai’s attention. When the woman spun around to look at her, Kelly offered her a smile as she approached her. “Hello, Kai. I’m Kelly. Thank you for meeting with me.” She glimpsed around their settings. “So what history do you have with this ship?” She looked back at Kai for an answer.
Right to the questions. Typical of an interviewer, Kai supposed. She studied the thin wisp of a woman before her and shoved her hands into her pockets. Not that she didn’t want to shake the woman’s hand but it hadn’t been offered and Kai had no idea what traditions this particular woman came from. Some people shook hands, some didn’t. One thing Kai was good at was adapting to whatever culture she was facing.
The question made Kai look around. The history she had in this place wasn’t exactly a history she cared to explore. “My crew and I spent a brief time in this ship. Used it to escape an unpleasant situation. It’s not… my favorite place.” She didn’t return Kelly’s smile. Not that she wanted to be rude, but she didn’t particularly feel like smiling and she’d given up on trying to fake it when she didn’t feel it.
Sensing how her warmth wasn’t really accepted, Kelly nodded and tucked her hands behind her back as she meandered around the bridge. “I understand you rescued each crew member, and that’s how you got your crew. How did you start that endeavor of rescuing such people?”
Kai watched Kelly, blue eyes following the woman closely.
The thing was, this woman didn’t seem a threat so Kai wanted to trust her, but it wasn’t easy to trust. Not even when her instincts told her to. “I didn’t rescue them. They’ll tell you I did, but I didn’t. I merely helped them rescue themselves. Tucker hadn’t needed rescuing, just guiding. Mallik definitely wasn’t the sort to need a hero. Haydn too. If anyone could claim they were ‘rescued’, it was Uri but she didn’t think asking to be given a slave and then freeing that slave was necessarily a ‘rescue’. You spoke to them then? My crew?”
Kelly smiled and shook her head. “Not exactly. I’ve merely heard this. But helping or rescuing…what were you doing when you first encountered the first individual you helped?” She raised her brows as she continued to roam the bridge, her skimming over the desks.
“Surviving,” Kai murmured. When she met Tucker she’d been with the pirates. She’d just been inducted into the Masked Princes, but of course nobody knew. It was bizarre walking amongst those people and them not knowing who she ‘was’. They still didn’t know, not even Tucker. “Tucker was working for the pirates. A good kid, too honest for his own good. He made a mistake, I intervened. He says I saved his life but I didn’t… I really didn’t. After that he started following me around and next thing I knew he was my right hand man.” Kid. Right hand kid. He wasn’t a man. Not even now.
Kelly nodded when she heard this. She took a seat and swirled it around to face Kai. “And who was after that?”
“Mallik. Then Bristol and with Bristol came Haydn and then Uri. That’s the order.” The questions irritated her, though she wasn’t sure why. Well, she did. She didn’t like talking about how they met. She didn’t like being painted like a hero because she just wasn’t. She crossed her arms over her chest, “My crew are a team. We’re a unit. We’re… a family. How we started doesn’t matter. What matters is, we’re together and we’ll always be together. They’d die for me, I’d die for them.” She immediately regretted her tone. “Sorry I just… I don’t like being here…”
“Well, is there someplace else you’d like to go? It’s not like I chose this as our meeting place. I just came here because I was told you would be.” Then that made Kelly think. “Did you choose to meet here?”
“No,” Kai said quickly, “no, no. No. Who would want to be here?” She waved her hand towards the windows, “You know what’s out there! Or… they didn’t tell you?” She shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. Let’s just get this over with. They said if I answered your questions, you’d help me find my sister.”
Kelly opened her mouth to correct her but then decided otherwise. Kai wasn’t trusting her yet, and if Kelly revealed she didn’t know anything about her sister, Kai might get up and leave immediately. That wouldn’t do.
So, she decided to shift topics. “I understand you don’t trust me, and you may not like talking about yourself, but I’d like you to consider this as your one and likely only opportunity to be true to yourself. You can talk honestly with me. I have no one to tell. After today, you won’t see or hear from me again, so you can trust me. Can you do that?” She raised her brows.
Kai closed her eyes with a sigh. Then she nodded, “Yeah. I can do that.” What did it matter if she was honest? It was true, she’d never see this woman again. And it wasn’t like her crew would read the interview when it came out… well, she didn’t think they would. “Sorry.” She ran her hand over her hair and shook out her shoulders to try and relax.”Right. So. Okay. Mallik, she definitely wasn’t rescued. She was with the pirates, like we all were. Thing is, she liked getting into fights. I just happened to be there, I helped, and uh… now she says I saved her life. I didn’t. It was just a simple bar fight. Bristol, she was different. She, uh, she got herself in a real bad situation. The thing is, she’s way too gentle. Way too… pretty. A pirate named Garis had taken her as a…companion. She wasn’t too happy about it but didn’t know how to get away. I talked to Garis, convinced him it was in his best interest to leave her be. It was safer after that for her to stick with me, so she did. Haydn had just escaped from the Alliance when I met him. He was still pretty sick, actually. The pirates would have ate him alive, but Bristol, she found him and she begged me to help. So we took him in and he just became one of us. He’s a badass though, not weak. Not even a little. And Uri was a slave. When I left the… pirates,” she wasn’t willing to say she’d been a Masked Prince, that was too much, “I asked for a gift. They said I could have anything, so I asked for Uri. And that’s how I got my crew.”
“Nice, so what do you all do? I’m assuming it has nothing to do with the pirates, but you’re a crew, so you have to do something.” Kelly sat back in her chair to listen.
“Transports,” Kai answered, “it’s… you know, a living. And when you’ve got a record like we do it’s hard to get other work. Right now we’re trying to earn a ticket, so we can get the bigger jobs. The dream is to be fully independent, no more pirates, no more jail time.” Kai had ceased her pacing. She stood near one of the consoles and finally leaned back to sit on it.
“At least you have something, and you have people you can trust.” The next question Kelly wanted to ask might get Kai to shut down again, but she had to breach it. “What happened between you and your family? And I’m not talking about your crew. Why are you so distant from them?”
Kai visibly stiffened at the question. She didn’t like talking about it. She licked at her lips and shook her head, “I left them,” she said quietly, “I left them and… you know, they won’t talk to me.”
“Family doesn’t just not talk to one of their own. Trust me, I know. I’ve got a large family and totally understand all the complicated dynamics of a family.” Kelly was thinking of her five sisters and four brothers. “Why did you leave them?”
Kai shook her head, “I was 13. I was a kid. I wanted… things they didn’t want to give me. So I ran away. And, I’ve tried to contact them but they won’t listen. Family shouldn’t just not talk … but they have cut me out so completely… I don’t even know if they’re alive anymore.” Which is why she’d agreed to this interview. She needed to know if her sister was alive… if she was okay.
“It hurts when they cut you off like that, and I completely agree with you that they shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry they did.” However, Kelly wasn’t about to let it go. “Tell me about your parents. Before you left, what were they like?”
“My mother is… was… a gentle woman. She had a rebellious streak but she didn’t show it much. My father was a dick. He didn’t think much of women, really didn’t think much of pirates, he would absolutely hate me now.”
“And siblings?” Kelly raised her brows, leaning forward, resting her forearms on her knees and clasping her hands together.
“Lily is the older of my sisters,” Kai smiled as she spoke, “She’s a real dreamer. She always had her nose in books. She’s the one I thought for sure would find me.” Her smile faded. After a moment she continued, “Dayli was just a baby when I left. But she was a funny kid, always laughing and doing that funny dance toddlers do. You know what I mean? Like, she could feel music in a way we can’t and she’d just jiggle her little body however she could. It was cute… funny. I miss that.”
Kelly chuckled when she heard these fond memories, and she nodded. “Did either of your sisters ever teach you anything–something you may not have realized but have carried with you all this time?”
“To dream,” Kai said quietly, “to always dream. To chase your dreams. To not be afraid…”
“And were you afraid of something at home?” Kelly asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Kai nodded. She sighed and pushed away from the console. This was odd, talking so openly, sharing her true feelings. It wasn’t anything she would normally do. Not even with her crew. “Can we change the subject?”
“Sure, we can change the subject, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back to that topic,” Kelly forewarned her as she eased back in her chair. “So what happened after you left your family? Where did you end up?”
“I hitched a ride on a transporter and they sold me to the pirates. I spent the next twelve years with the pirates, right up until I gathered my crew and we decided to go our own way.” Kai rubbed at her arms, “You know, people say the pirates are bad. I grew up being told how evil they are but they aren’t. They took care me, a scared lost kid and sure they were rough and at times scary but they gave me the chance nobody else would.”
“Were you with a specific pirate crew? Or did you float around several crews?” Kelly tilted her head as she observed Kai.
“I moved from ship to ship. Just whoever needed, whenever they needed me. I was a bit of a specialist. I had specific… skills. So if a crew needed those skills, they sent me that way.” That was how she earned the interest of the Masked Princes. “You understand, I can’t talk too much about that. I wasn’t exactly involved in the most… legal activity.”
“Kai, do you have any idea the kind of people I talk to? Several of them were/are serial killers, others are plotting to take over the world, and then there are thieves, and don’t forget the demons, and so on and so forth.” Kelly looked at Kai and shrugged. “You doing illegal work doesn’t really bother me. I’m not here to judge you. Just want to get to know you, and no, I’m not going to let you skim topics.” With that, she crossed her arms because she could be stubborn too. “What specific skills did/do you have?”
Demons? Was this woman nutty? It wouldn’t surprise Kai if she was, although demons might just be some kind of euphemism or title. Her ‘skills’ were not exactly something she was proud of. “In the course of my… training, the pirate who took me on discovered I had a particularly good eye. He trained me to shoot. Special weapons, special circumstances…” That was a part of her life she really didn’t like discussing. It’s not as if she was proud of how she’d climbed the ranks, or how she’d made a name for herself. Ruthless killer was not the title she wanted to embrace.
“And they made you kill.” Kelly nodded as she came to understand this. She softened her voice. “Do you recall the first kill you had to make?”
“They were not good people,” Kai said firmly, “every one. I made sure of it.” It was how she made it okay, in her head. She wasn’t killing the innocent, or the good. She only killed people who didn’t deserve to live. She was hating this. Every moment of it… but at the same time it was almost a relief to speak it all out loud. She hadn’t told anyone any of this before.
“Still you took people’s lives.” Then Kelly paused as if she realized. “Is that why you don’t feel like you should ever be called a ‘hero’? Because you killed people?”
“I’m not a hero,” Kai repeated firmly, “I won’t ever be a hero.” She paced the length of the bridge, pausing near the windows to look out at the stunning view. She whirled, pinning her gaze on Kelly, “Do you know where she is? My sister? Lily?”
“I understand you don’t like the weight of the title of ‘hero’, but you seem firmly against it—moreso than most people. Why is that?” Kelly asked, knowing she was completely ignoring the question Kai asked.
“Do you consider yourself a hero?” Kai asked. “I’m just a normal person. I’m just some chick who’s out there doing what I can to survive. There’s nothing hero about that. But people keep trying to put that title on me and it’s stupid. I’m just Kai. I’m just me. Everytime I do something good they say: Oh, you’re a hero. No. I”m a human being. I did the human thing, the right thing. I do wrong things too. I’m not some idol. I’m not some statue. I’m just me.”
“And are you happy with who you are?”
Kai paused at that. She hadn’t been asked that question before. She wasn’t sure how to respond. She didn’t answer quickly. She chewed over the question a long while before finally shaking her head.
“Why don’t you like who you are?” Kelly asked softly as she leaned forward, her eyes locked on Kai to catch any and everything she might not actually say.
“I left them behind,” Kai said softly, “I left them behind… I didn’t care what it would do to them, I didn’t care how it would hurt them… I only thought about me and I left them behind.” And now she couldn’t reach them, she couldn’t contact them and she was so scared they weren’t okay.
“If you could go back in time and change it all, would you?” Kelly watched Kai then pressed. “Would you *really* change anything?”
That was the hard part. Because as much as she protested, she knew her presence had changed five very important lives. If she hadn’t left her family, she wouldn’t have met them. “You can’t go back, Kelly the interviewer. You can only go forward.”
Kelly tilted her head to a side, observing the dodge of the question. This time she would let it slid. “So, tell me, who’s Hawthorne?”
Kai’s cheeks turned ever so slightly pink. She coughed, “What? Where did you hear that name? Why are you asking?”
Kelly chuckled when she watched her reaction. “Because I know things. Otherwise I wouldn’t be good at my job. You didn’t mention him as part of your crew, so who is he?”
Freaking Hawthorne. He just had to show up everywhere, didn’t he? She sighed, eyes rolling to the ceiling for a moment, “We met him here. He’s a sneaky Rebel spy. About as trustworthy as a clown. If he’s talking, he’s lying. Far as I can tell.”
“Really? Because I know you don’t think that. You blushed and you smiled when I mentioned his name, so what’s up with that…or would you like me to draw my own conclusions?” Kelly had to smile.
“He’s an idiot!” Kai said quickly, “but he’s useful and…” she paused, coughing softly, “Look. I’m not dead. He’s got good abs… that’s all. That’s it.” She couldn’t even admit to herself that she might like him. He was useful and he worked with them. That’s all.
“Uhhum.” Kelly didn’t sound convinced, but she decided to shift the topic as she sat back in her chair. “You said you met him here?” She looked around at their surroundings. “Describe that meeting to me.”
“We were stranded here together. He was injured, seemed harmless, so we helped him and he helped.” Sort of. In the end he hadn’t been that useful but Kai was a sucker for helping people who needed help.
“Why do you always help people? I mean, that’s great and all, but…can’t it be exhausting?” Kelly raised her brows as she folded her arms. “Why are you so driven to help others?”
“Aren’t you?” Kai snapped, “Don’t you help people when they need it?”
“Sure, but I know why I do it. I’m asking you why you do it. Do you even know why?” Kelly raised her brows.
Kai frowned. It was on the tip of her tongue to say it was the ‘right thing to do’ but that wasn’t it. She did lots of things that weren’t the ‘right thing’. “When I needed it, there were people who helped me. I’m just returning the favor.”
“Do you feel that it balances out the wrong you’ve done in life…with all the different lives you’ve taken. Does it somehow clear your ledger of the blood?”
This woman…Kai’s eyes narrowed. She sniffed, arms crossing yet again. She was just about at her limit. She’d had enough with this truth business. “There is no ledger,” she murmured. But maybe it was true. She hadn’t thought about it before, she just did it… she just helped those who deserved to be helped. She hadn’t considered why she felt compelled to do that. She knew she wasn’t a good person. She knew what she was capable of. But she also knew she didn’t want to be ‘that’ person. Not anymore.
Kelly could tell Kai was beginning to clam up on her again, but they still have some more time left. Kelly intended on using every moment. She leaned forward to lock eyes with Kai. “What are you most afraid of?”
“Spiders,” Kai said with a shrug. And then, and she wasn’t sure why, she answered truthfully, “Hurting people I love.”
“Can you ever forgive yourself for hurting your family?”
Kai’s brow furrowed, her eyes closing for a brief moment. “Could you?”
“It’s not about me, Kai. This is about you.” Kelly shook her head. “You made your choices. Bridges have been burned, but forgiveness is always possible. It might not be easy, but it’s possible. And if I may say so, I don’t think you’ve forgiven yourself for your past actions. Instead, you’ve run from them. Sure, you tried once to reach out to them, but that burned you…and, in a way, justified your excuse never to go home. Yes, they should forgive you as well, but I’m talking to you–not them. If you ignore and suppress it, it will eventually rear its ugly head, and it will be for too strong for you to handle, and it will utterly break you.”
Was this a counseling session? Kai turned away, breathing in deep and letting it out slow as she forced herself to refocus. /Focus, Kai./ “I’m going to find them,” she turned back, “and you’re going to help me.”
Kelly shook her head. “Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but whoever told you that I knew anything about your family–specifically your sister–lied to you. I know you don’t like the Alliance and you despise ‘Comrades’. I knew about Hawthorne, and that your crew thinks of you as a hero. But that’s about all the info I was given prior to this conversation. I’m sorry to disappoint you.” And Kelly braced herself although she wasn’t afraid of Kai.
Anger burned hot in her veins. Kai clenched her hands into tight fists and shook her head, “Oh man…” Somebody was going to pay for this one. But instead of being angry she found herself letting out a soft laugh, “Well, I should have known. Can’t trust anyone to tell the truth. I should have known better.”
“I’m really sorry about that. I wish I had some info because I would love to help, but…I don’t know anything.” Kelly sighed as she rose to her feet. She knew their time was almost up, but she still had time for a few more questions. “You fight so hard to find her. Are you hoping to restore what you’ve lost with your family?”
“No, I don’t have any interest in what I had with them before. I want to keep her safe. That’s all. If I find her, and Dayli and they’re okay, that’s enough. I just need to know they’re okay. And if they can’t forgive me, maybe they’ll at least let me know they’re safe.” Because if they weren’t safe…well, she would make sure they would be.
Kelly considered her for a moment–so many questions still in her mind, but time was short. She tried to think of what to say. “You may be trying to save them, but when you find them–and I’m confident that you will–don’t push them away, don’t shun them because you don’t like yourself. They are your flesh and blood, and sisters have a very unique bond. I pray you find forgiveness and that you learn to forgive them as well.” With that she straightened and cast Kai a smile. “Well, my time is about up. I will leave you, so you don’t have to put up with my pestering questions, but thank you for answering them.”
Kai nodded, “You’re all right, Kelly interviewer but no offense… hope we don’t meet again.”
She headed for the exit, “Want me to walk you out?”
“I think I can find my own way. Thanks. You take care!” With one final smile, Kelly headed out.
N. R. Tupper’s novel, TYR, is now available. Be sure to follow her on social media as well for more updates!