R’tal had felt a little guilty about Shalia staying back from the trip. Not that he couldn’t use the help, not that he wasn’t delighted to still have klah magically turning up before he even thought to request it. Still, if she felt obliged to stay, if this was the Candidates’ last fun before Hatching, it seemed mean not to have pushed her to go.
It was with that thought he paused by her chair in a quiet moment. “You know, if you changed your mind I could probably still find someone to run you over there?”
"Hrm?" Shalia said, looking up. "Oh, the trip? No thanks, last Candidate excursion I ended up pregnant, and then there was the one where we ended up going back thousands of Turns and everything went weird on me, and of course before that was the wher attack!" Granted, most of those had been working trips of some sort or another, but even so… she'd stopped trusting Out There. Every time she left on an organized, official outing, Bad Things Happened.
R’tal laughed. “Well, from my point of view the Weyr’s a lot more peaceful with a lot fewer Candidates in it, but I didn’t want you feeling left out,” he said. “Er,” Having watched the girl grow up from a distance and then seeing her in his office daily for months on end he felt the vague need to say something supportive now Hatching was finally nearing for her (again). “You feeling all ready for them to start Hatching?”
"Shards yes!" Shalia said fervently. "Haven't even had a chance to see the eggs thanks to thst stupid chit. Aunt Kassia did a painting, but it's just not the same. I'm actually kinda surprised they're going ahead with the trip, the way they cracked down on the rest of us." She hesitated briefly, but then decided against telling R'tal what was going on in the Barracks. It wasn't her place, and it also wasn't his.
“Eh, between you and me - and you don’t have to pass it on - that’s not all about Candidate punishment,” R’tal admitted. He settled on the edge of the desk, happy to chat for a few minutes. “After that Gather incident, your aunt is on edge and to be honest, so am I - and so are the dragons. No-one wants to risk one of them getting twitchy and someone getting hurt, not with one kid already in the Infirmary.”
"Yeah, I understand," Shalia admitted, albeit a bit grudgingly. "I don't like it, but I understand. But even so, if she hadn't done that, the rest of it wouldn't be happening. What I don't understand, though, is why Asheran is getting punished so harshly. He tried to stop her, Uncle R'tal! He shouldn't be barred from Standing for that!" The petite young woman looked at him, and if it had been any fiercer it could almost have been called a glare.
“Asheran?” R’tal looked at her so blankly it was clear he had no idea what she was talking about, still less why she might be angry at him. “Who’s that then?”
"The guy who got banned from Standing this Hatching for chasing after and stopping the stupid chit running onto the Sands," Shalia responded. "It's not fair that he's being punished for trying to do the right thing!"
“I didn’t know he--” R’tal started to say and then stopped. Just stopped and went suddenly pale, the colour draining from his face. There was a faint noise in the distance -- a bang, was that an explosion?
It was as though he had forgotten Shalia was there entirely. In a second he was up and running -- sprinting -- towards the Hatching Grounds, conversation long-forgotten.