part IV

Carter nearly groaned at the words. For old time’s sake. What was it with today? These past mistakes, fresh in his mind, being manifested physically before him? He sighed and thought to himself, maybe I do need some sleep.

While Carter and Bell had been permanently separated for nearly 20 years, they had never legally divorced. They had tried to work it out for so many years, other relationships coming and going in between, but they simply never discussed a legal end. They shared many angry and bitter years, but five years would go by and they would try again. It would once again fall apart, but, then another ten blew by, and they’d find themselves back in each other’s arms, trying to work it out.

But they never could.

At the end of one of their later reconciliation periods, Bell had told him that they were like Mars and its moons: forever bound from a distance.

And that’s how they had remained in the last 20 years. Never speaking, but, in their hearts, the spark that bound them for over 70 years still glowed.

“Please, Carter,” Agrona’s icy voice cut through Carter’s wandering thoughts.

"What it is?” he sighed without the slightest effort to hide his exasperated tone.

At this point, Agrona had been the leader of the Church for nearly 40 years now, and, for the first eight or so, she and Carter had been together.

They had met when she first came under the tutelage of Rolan Maarten, the Church’s founder. Carter had always liked Rolan. For someone who had founded a religion worshipping ancient aliens as gods, Carter found him pretty level-headed and consistent kind. He never came off as power-hungry or greedy. Just in awe of the Creta and what he believed them to represent. And it didn't hurt that Rolan had an affinity for archeology that kept him constantly fascinated and therefore more than willing to finance Carter’s work. The more Rolan could learn about the Creta to convey to his fellow believers, the better.

Soon after Rolan’s passing and Agrona’s subsequent appointment as Flamen Martialis, she and Carter began working more closely with one another, and, within weeks, they were a couple. At this point, Carter had zero recollection of what it was exactly that first drew them together back then. Maybe they had both been in a bad place. Her long-time mentor had just died, and Carter was actively avoiding dealing with the fact that his college-aged daughter, Neida, was refusing to speak to him. One broken person finding another, perhaps. But the psychology of all that was boring and always too simple.

Regardless of what had brought them together, things had not ended well, and, as far as Carter was concerned, Agrona had never forgiven him. So this asking for a favor, even after all these years, could not be a good thing.

“It’s about Eder.”