Her Brother’s Keeper by Mike Kupari
Her Brother’s Keeper – eARC
Aberdeen Province, Northern Hemisphere
A cold ocean wind buffeted the elegant ground car as it made its way up the hill. Catherine Blackwood sat in the plush back seat, brooding in contemplative silence. The car’s quiet hydrogen engine offered little more than a hum in the background, nothing to interrupt her thoughts. She peered out of the window, to her palatial home at the top of the hill. Blackwood Manor, ancestral home of Clan Blackwood. Catherine’s family had owned this estate for centuries.
It hasn’t changed at all. An elegant mansion stood like a monolith at the crest of the hill, flanked by groves of genetically enhanced oak and evergreen trees. The trees swayed in the same icy winds that rushed in to greet Catherine as the car door opened. She stepped onto the polished cobblestone drive, shoved her hands into the pockets of her flight jacket, and headed for the door.
With such history looming over her, Catherine felt uneasy being there. As she approached the ornate front doors, she felt like an interloper sneaking into someplace she didn’t belong. She’s grown up in that house, but it had been fifteen years since she’d laid eyes on it. It was fall in the highlands of the Aberdeen Province, and snow swirled in the salty ocean wind. Winter would be upon the Blackwood Estate soon, and Catherine was glad she wouldn’t be there to see it.
Avalon was a cool world, and Aberdeen Province was the northernmost inhabited province. The winters were long, dark, and brutally cold. The ocean would freeze over all the way to the horizon, and two meters of snow would fall at the higher elevations. Catherine had had her fill of such winters growing up; just thinking about them darkened her mood. The sooner she lifted off from this miserable rock the happier she’d be.
Her anxiety worsened as she was led into the house by a gracious and courteous servant. She knew the way, of course, but politely let the young housemaid guide her to the manor’s library. The maid’s high-heeled shoes clicked on a polished floor made of native hardwood as they entered the room. Shelves of actual paper-and-binding books lined the walls beneath a vaulted ceiling. Warm light flickered from a cozy fireplace against one wall. Blackwood Manor was equipped with every modern convenience, but was built with an eye for old-world, prespace aesthetics. Wooden floors and paper books were luxuries on a world that had no native trees when it was first colonized. Forests were seeded during the terraforming process, but even after eight centuries of development, having wood furnishings was considered a luxury on Avalon.
A conservatively dressed male servant, as unfamiliar to her as the maid, quietly entered the room. The housemaid bowed and excused herself. He addressed Catherine formally, his hands folded behind his back. “Lady Blackwood, your father will be in to see you momentarily. If I may be so bold, my lady, welcome home.”
Lady Blackwood. Catherine’s heart sunk. That had been her mother’s title, before she died. Now, as the eldest and only daughter of Clan Blackwood, that title was hers. Her father had never remarried. Dismissing the sad memories, Catherine thanked the man, and he too departed with a bow. She felt a slight twist in her stomach; the anticipation was getting to her. Get a hold of yourself, she thought bitterly. It’s only your father.
It wasn’t fear, so much. Catherine’s father was a stern man, but he wasn’t a monster. Perhaps it was the atmosphere, perhaps it was how long she’d been away. Being back in her ancestral home, so steeped in history as it was, made her feel small. She hadn’t felt so unsure of herself in a long time. Once again, Catherine found herself wishing she was already on her way back to the spaceport, to leave Blackwood Manor and Avalon itself safely behind her.
The veteran spacer steeled herself as the door to her father’s study quietly slid open. Catherine’s last encounter with her father hadn’t been pleasant, and she wasn’t about to let him see her discomfort. He approved of neither her profession nor her lifestyle, and like the hot-tempered young woman who had stormed out all those years ago, she now quietly reveled in her rebelliousness. At the same time, she couldn’t help but wonder why her father had asked her to come home. Tracking her down couldn’t have been easy. It was this curiosity, she told herself, that had driven her to accept the invitation home.
Catherine squared her shoulders and folded her hands behind her back as her father entered the library. Even with the miracles of modern medicine, the years had taken their toll on him. His hair had gone completely gray and had thinned. He was far too practical a man to bother with silly cosmetic improvements like hair replacement.
“Father,” Catherine said carefully.
Augustus Blackwood wasn’t as imposing as Catherine remembered, but his eyes still burned with the fire of a man who never let anything stand in his way. He surprised his daughter by actually smiling. “My dear Catherine,” he said, still speaking with the ancient, prespace Scottish accent that Avalon was known for. “My God, you look just like your mother now. My heart skipped a beat when I saw you. I’m so glad you came.”
He didn’t go so far as to embrace his estranged daughter, but Catherine was nonetheless taken aback by her father’s candor. Commodore (retired) Councilman Augustus Blackwood was the most reserved man Catherine had ever known. He was the personification of a stereotypical Avalonian: stern, notoriously stubborn, proud to a fault, and so conservative as to be considered backward by those on other civilized worlds. Catherine had rarely seen this side of her father, and hardly at all after her mother died.
“I…it’s good to see you too, Father,” Catherine managed. “It has been a long time.”
Her father nodded. “Indeed. Fifteen years now, is it?”
“Something like that. You, ah, look well.”
Augustus chuckled sardonically. “I’m a few pounds heavier and a great deal balder than when I last saw you, but I get by. But you, my dear, you take my breath away. If only your mother could see you now!”
Catherine very much doubted her mother would approve of her drab spacer’s flight suit. It’s not how a proper lady from Clan Blackwood should be seen, after all. Catherine wondered if any of the traditional Avalonian garb she’d had when she left home would still fit.
“I don’t know what Mother would think of me,” Catherine admitted honestly. “She always wanted me to be happy, but she expected…she expected a different outcome.”
The old man’s demeanor subtly darkened. This was not a pleasant topic of discussion. “As did I,” he said flatly. Seeing the anger in his daughter’s eyes, Augustus raised a hand before an argument could begin. “That’s in the past now. I didn’t call you home across God-only-knows how far to argue with you about your chosen profession.”
“God isn’t the only one who knows how far I traveled to get here. I was in Concordiat space, dropping off some VIP passengers on New Peking. That’s over seven hundred hours of travel time, quite a bit of my ship’s stores consumed, and a lot of remass burned. This is not even accounting for the money lost by running a personal errand and not taking on a contract. Fortunately, I was still in the Outer Colonies.”
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|Epub, Mobi||October 5, 2016|
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