The captain shook herself awake. It was enough to rattle Xannissa next to her who asked, “Atara?” in a groggy voice. “You okay?”
“I think it was a bad dream,” Atara told her. She looked over at a lumigaphic showing her the time. “Mind if I shower first?”
“Go ahead,” Xannissa said. The Elestan rolled over as the Terran slid out of bed and toward the bathroom. Before she left the bedroom, Xannissa was once again fast asleep.
Later that morning, while Xannissa was cleansing herself, Atara sat at the desk in their quarters and performed her daily ritual of checking her mail. The last mail she opened had no sender, subject, or body, and it contained an attachment with an unusual decryption. When she tried to delete the mail, it remained in her inbox. She completely forgot about it until she returned to have lunch in her quarters alone. It was one of those days where Xannissa was on AOTP duty, so she wouldn’t be getting lunch for another hour.
“Atara,” Fiori said as she appeared across the table from her with her legs and arms crossed.
“What is it, Fiori?”
“I sent you mail last night.”
“You mean the blank one? That was from you?”
“It’s something I found that I thought you should see. I’ll be sending you more later, but for now, here’s the encryption key.” Fiori spawned a lumigraph containing a file. Before Atara could open it, Fiori had disappeared again.
The captain was close to finishing her meal, so she ate, recycled the dishes, and opened the file. The file contained a long string of machine-readable symbols. She opened her inbox on a lumigraph at the dining table and entered the string at the mail attachment’s decryption prompt. When the attachment became readable, Atara executed it.
Standing before the captain was a full-body lumigraph of a woman who looked exactly like her, from her red hair, green eyes, skin tone, and even hairstyle. The only true difference was the Accellus 3 bodysuit that the woman in the lumigraph wore, and she immediately began speaking.
“Atara,” said the recording. The woman paused to collect her thoughts. “I hate talking to myself,” she continued. “I am your mother,” she stated awkwardly, “but all others know me as Cassandra.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Fifth Fleet Rear Admiral Cassandra Korrell.”
Cassandra sighed and said, “If you’re seeing these recordings, it is safe to assume that I’ve already passed away. I just hope that they find you at a point in time where you can act. By now you’re probably wondering why I’m reaching out to you in death rather than in life. I hope you understand that it was for your own protection. I love you so, so much.” Her speech was less stoic than Atara remembered from her childhood, though Atara’s memory of her mother was fuzzier than she ever wanted to admit.
“The reason I’m recording these is two-fold. First, I want to open up myself to you, now that I have the opportunity to do so. Second, I want to tell you why I lived such a closed-off life. And I’m so very sorry. You don’t deserve an absent mother like me.” She paused again before saying, “I guess with that, I should start at the beginning.
“I joined the Navy almost a century-and-a-half ago. I was a bright-eyed schoolgirl much as you were when you were younger. I dreamed of being an astronomer; an explorer. I didn’t care as much about starships themselves than I did about going places, and I hated the thought of plummeting to my death,” a fear they both shared but kept secret, “but my parents didn’t have the funds to support my education. I ended up enlisting in the Navy Reserve to support myself through university. It wasn’t until I graduated and did the five years of service that I realized I could make a career out of it that I could enjoy. After my time was up, I applied to the Academy to earn my commission, and that’s where I met a girl named Aesho for the first time, coming in straight after high school. You could say we were friends back then, but when we graduated the Academy, we didn’t see each other until years later. By then, I had married your father.
“I’m trying to keep these brief to limit their file size. I just want to close this first recording by saying be careful who you trust. I am so grateful that you have a friend like Xannissa in your life. I never had a person like that I could turn to, and that’s why I’m in the place I am right now. I love you, Atara.”
The recording ended with Cassandra’s image vanishing from the room. Atara sat quietly in astonishment. After a few minutes of staring blankly into space, she decided to watch the recording again. As far as she could tell, the recording appeared to be genuine. Atara wanted to trust that Fiori was on her side in whatever dark happenings were occurring, and she knew there were plenty of them. Judging by what her mother said, Atara reasoned that Cassandra must have known something of grave importance. Did it have anything to do with Aesho? The captain was inclined to believe it had everything to do with the admiral. She would need to wait for more recordings to know for sure, but one thing was indeed certain: the multitude of emotions she felt after seeing her mother again was real. Atara was unsure whether to be happy or sad; to laugh or cry. She tried to hold her emotions at bay behind her unrelenting blockade, but this time, the dam was breaking. Her eyes moistened as laughter crept from her lungs. Or were they sobs? The mother she had felt so distant to was inching closer to her. She had never longed so much for her mother to be alive again than this day.