Meli answered the door to find Ken waiting in the hall. She gave him a warm smile that didn’t hide the sadness in her eyes, and noted he was wearing his uniform. This wasn’t a social visit. “Home already and right back to work, huh?”
Ken returned his own tense smile. “Not by my choice, but Angie promises we’ll take a real honeymoon later. At least we got a few days.”
“He’s not here right now, but I imagine you know that already.”
“I know.” Ken nodded. “But I do need to find him and he’s not answering comms. Everyone I’ve talked to has only seen glimpses of him over the past few days.”
“He’s been avoiding everyone since…” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Ken. He should have been there. He promised he would be.”
“Maybe we should have held off.” Ken shook his head slightly. “I know he’s still angry, but I’d hoped he’d be able to put it aside at least for one evening.”
“No.” Meli’s answer was immediate and emphatic. “You and Angie have waited long enough. You both deserved this. He even said as much that morning.”
Ken took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Regardless, I still need to find him.”
“Something official, then.”
“Sorry, Meli, I can’t discuss it.”
Meli knew Ken’s apology was the only answer he could give. “Well, when he does come home he smells like sawdust, so try the studio.”
◊ ◊ ◊
The Ancient Arts Center was technically an office in the Research and Tech division, but it saw more use as a hobbyist craft studio than it saw official work, and even then it was nearly always deserted. Rett first discovered his passion for woodworking here years ago and was one of the few regular users. He even had his own storage cabinet tucked in the corner. Now he sat at one of the workbenches, an assortment of knives, chisels, and files arranged before him, and told himself he was enjoying another day of solitude.
He turned the piece of wood in his hands, examining his progress on the project thus far while ignoring the fresh scratches on the back of his hand. He had already roughed out the basic shape and was now ready for more delicate, detailed work to shape it into the sigil.
It was Tranquility, Arete told him, and represented a sense of peace even through adversity. Rett was just a boy at the time, and the paladin had taken him in after he’d lost his family. He was enthralled with the graceful design the moment he saw it hanging on her living room wall, and she offered to let him move it to his room. It was a symbol of a religion he didn’t follow, but Rett always found comfort in studying the gentle, flowing lines of the design.
So why wasn’t he finding any peace in it now?
He set his jaw, selected a knife, and began to whittle away excess wood. The sigil slowly took shape, but Rett had to fight for it. He felt tension building in his neck and shoulders, and his fingers cramped from his grip on the knife. He knew a prudent person would put the project away for a while and come back to it later, but he was determined to succeed in something — anything — and continued chipping at the wood. Just a little more, he told himself, then he’d take a break. Just one more cut… just a little bit more off here… maybe make that groove just a little bit deeper…
His fingers spasmed and the blade slipped, gouging a chunk out of the graceful tendril he’d been working on.
“Shit!” Rett hurled the ruined carving across the studio as the door opened.
A hastily-summoned shield flashed right in front of Ken’s face as the unfinished sigil smashed into it and fell to the floor. Ken looked down at the pieces, then turned a stoney gaze to Rett.
“Kroodles, I didn’t know you were there.” Rett didn’t exactly apologize. “You’re in uniform, so this is official. What is it?”
Ken nodded once. “It is. I am here to order you to report to Doctor Nicholl’s office for an evaluation.”
“You’re ordering me?” Rett let out a derisive snort. “You can’t order me, we’re the same rank.” He folded his arms across his chest. “In fact I was promoted first, which ‘officially’ makes me senior to you.”
Anger flashed in Ken’s eyes, and Rett could feel an irritating prickle of energy. “I am still the Head of the Order, which ‘officially’ means yes, it is in fact my place to issue orders.” Rett started to respond, but Ken continued. “I know you don’t want anything to do with me, Rett. You made that clear. If that’s how you want it, fine. But this order isn’t from me. It’s from Evans’ office and it is my duty to pass it along. You will report to Doctor Nicholl’s office at 15:30 this afternoon or face disciplinary action. Is that clear?”
Rett locked eyes with Ken. “Yes, sir,” he snarled.
Ken held his gaze a moment longer. A muscle in his jaw twitched, and for a moment Rett thought he was going to say something. Instead Ken turned on his heel and stalked out the door, leaving Rett to his solitude and shattered Tranquility.