Pendulum Ch. 4: Lecture

Deirdre would go in, listen to the sermon, then get out immediately. If things went well, she’d be done with this and meet the new crew soon. Why was this such a big deal, anyway? She didn’t understand. After hours of listening to the speeches, wasn’t it perfectly natural to be bored and exhausted?
Of course, the commander wouldn’t see it this way, and neither would the captains.
Maya and she had always been like this, only that her friend, being an engineer, had a different rank on board, different tasks, different responsibilities. She would get away with a lot more than Deirdre, who, as a druid, had to get used to being watched all day long.
A druid could run a ship into trouble, possibly annihilate it. She expected to hear that line again, too, and rolled her eyes preemptively.
The light in this part of the corridor was muted and indirect. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, everything was in a silvery grey, and the air was cool. Her skin was hot. She took one more deep breath, then knocked. While she was waiting for a reaction from inside, her heartbeat went up considerably.
“Come in.”
Deirdre gripped the handle and pushed the cold steel door open. The room was small, dominated by an enormous desk. There were no windows. The commander sat behind it, as expected. However, there were other people inside, people she hadn’t expected to see, people she had hoped not to see on this occasion.
Cold sweat formed on her forehead and the palms of her hands. She closed the door behind her, cleared her throat, then wiped her hands on her trousers. She looked from person to person. The commander, then the three Druids, then back to Armstrong.
“You know why you are here, Lieutenant MacBreen.”
She nodded.
“Seeing you act like this today was very disappointing. I’d expect better from you, especially considering who your parents are.”
Her parents, of course. It was always her parents. Any time she messed something up, they would bring them up again. Over ten years at the academy, with various teachers, tutors, and they would still always mention her parents.
Her mother had died when she was fifteen, her father five years ago. All this time on her own, yet she still hadn’t managed to escape their long shadow. This mission was a chance to prove her worth and to make a name for herself. All she wanted was to get out of this room as soon as possible, meet the new crew, go on board, and be on her merry way out of the solar system.
If distance in time didn’t do the trick, maybe distance in space would.
“Regardless of your parents, as an officer of the agency, you are expected to show some discipline. When a superior speaks, you listen. You don’t talk. You don’t giggle. Your attention belongs to your captain, or in this case, me.”
“I know. I am sorry, Sir,” she said and gnashed her teeth.
Her face got hot again, for the second time in such a short time. She couldn’t stop it. A hopefully unnoticeable shiver ran through her body. Her eyes wandered to the Druids again, then returned to the commander, stayed on his face for a second, then went down to her feet. Deirdre couldn’t meet his gaze right now. She had messed up, but her regret came too late. She couldn’t go back to fix it.
A voice came from her right.
“As a druid, know that every lapse of concentration can have fatal consequences. If you are impatient during a ritual, you might kill everyone on your ship.”
Wade’s voice was high-pitched and grated on her ears. It had a nagging sound and an unsettling quality. This was the first time she had heard him speak, and it would be the last time, if she could help it.
Deirdre looked up and turned her head towards him. He stood in the middle, the short, fat, middle-aged man with the shining, bald head. His robe was ornamented and embroidered with trees and acorns. The golden embroidery contrasted nicely with the dark brown of the gown. It was way fancier than the attire of his colleagues, but something about his air made the robe fit him perfectly, or at least fit his unnerving voice.
She had no response. He hadn’t asked her a question, anyway.
“I would have loved to work with you on board the Mag Mell, however, I doubt you can serve as a navigational officer. You are dangerous for yourself and your crew. Having you mess up and kill everyone on my ship would damage our druid circle’s reputation too much.”
Even Armstrong seemed surprised.
He raised his eyebrows, cocked his head, cleared his throat, and spoke.
“Those are harsh words. Please qualify that statement for the record, Mr Wade.”
“A druid has to focus for extended periods of time. Attention to detail is extremely important. If you get something, literally anything, wrong, energies can get out of control, a jump can turn into something completely different, into an explosion, or worse, something that kills slower and more painfully. This child has proven that she doesn’t have the mindset I would expect, and rightly so, of a druid. She can barely hold herself together. Just look at her.”
Armstrong’s eyes wandered over her face. She could feel his gaze physically on her skin. Nobody spoke a word. She could hear a needle falling on the soft carpet. The only sound was her breath and the blood running through her veins.
“What do you say?” Armstrong asked, looking at the other arch druids.
Sidheag O’Brien didn’t say a word, but the look in her eyes wasn’t friendly. Not outright hostile, but she didn’t approve of either Deirdre’s behaviour or Wade’s total rejection. She didn’t move at all, like a statue, yet vigilant like a cat, ready to pounce. Deirdre wouldn’t want her as an enemy.
Brilann stared at something in the distance no one else could see, somewhere in a world not visible to human eyes. He didn’t say a word either. Instead, his hand stroked over his beard slowly, as if in thought.
“I would hate to lose a talented young agency member. However, I cannot allow an officer with a discipline problem on board the ship, on an official mission, risking danger to lives and material,” Armstrong said.
Wade nodded, looking pleased with a tiny smile on his round face.
“If one of the arch druids in attendance will take you under their wings, and take responsibility for your actions on board their ship, I might give you another chance.”
Nobody said a word.
Reality hit her like a sledgehammer in the face. If nobody came to her help, she would sink, and everything would end right now. Not only had she studied for over 20 years, given up her childhood, gone through hardships, she had also been willing to sacrifice her home and her life on Earth in service of humanity.
Not to say she had done it selflessly, but still.
Would they throw her away like this, like a used tissue, for something so trivial?
Why be so overly strict? This seemed to her like an extreme overreaction.
Yes, she had done something disrespectful, but it was not as if she had endangered anyone’s life.
All she had done was be silly with a friend for just a few seconds, over the course of a long hour filled with dry and boring speeches, which didn’t even have any new content. She had heard it all before, many times, at school, from her peers, from the teachers.
It was unfair!
Not even a second might have passed, but it felt to her like a minute.
She couldn’t bear the silence in the room. If no one spoke up on her behalf…
“Well, it seems like–”
“I will give the girl a chance.”
The voice was hoarse, but not unpleasant. She looked up again, searching for the speaker. It was obvious whose voice this was, but she wanted to see his face.
“Brilann, are you sure?”
Wade sounded outraged. Whether this was a show to save his face, she didn’t know, and frankly, she couldn’t care less. She would not forget that he had tried to kick her out and ruin her life.
“Have I ever spoken when I was not sure, young man?”
Wade didn’t answer. Now it was him who stared at his feet. Deirdre felt schadenfreude, but gave her utmost to not let her face show emotions this time.
“Very well then,” Armstrong said.
He stretched his back, sitting upright, shoulders back, chin up. “This then settles it, for now. I will leave her to you, Brilann. You know what you’re doing.”
The old arch druid said nothing more. His gaze had returned to unknown depths in space and time.
The dark grey sky of her mood ripped open, and a ray of hope shone on Deirdre’s face. It looked like she was saved, at least for now, but she would not forget.
She stared daggers at Wade for a moment, then looked at Armstrong with a questioning expression on her face.
“I hope you are sufficiently shocked, Lieutenant MacBreen. You will not get a second chance, keep that in mind. You are dismissed. Finish whatever business you might still have, then meet with the others of your crew once you get your notification.”
She showed him a salute.
“Yes, Sir!”
Turning around and having only the door in front of her, this time from the inside, with the expectation of cool, fresh air in the corridor, she felt light once more.


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