Not much else happened yesterday. Saahna and I spent some time talking together, among other things, and worked out what we could between us. She didn’t want anything exclusive, but did finally admit she wanted something stable that she could always come back to. That was apparently what she had always wanted, but she also finally acknowledged that I did get jealous whenever she was away.
“I’ll always come back to you,” she had said, later that night. “I just don’t know why you can’t accept that.”
I sighed. “I told you. I’m always afraid there will be the one time you don’t.”
She rolled over towards me. “Why don’t you trust me?”
I thought. Why was I having so much trouble with this? “I don’t know. It just seems… I don’t know.”
It was her turn to sigh. “I’m not telling you that you can’t have someone else either.”
She went silent at that. “She’s part of the crew now.”
“Wait… Is that why you invited her to join the crew? Because you thought that would put her off-limits?”
There was another pause. “I just… I don’t know.”
“I told you. She really wasn’t interested; it was an act. I’d never do something like that. And you should know me well enough to know that.”
“I do,” I heard from the darkness. We were both silent for a while.
Finally she spoke again. “You were never in the military.”
I frowned in the darkness. “No, and you know that. What does that have to do with this?”
I heard her sigh. “Nothing. Everything.” I felt her shift beside me. “I mentioned Cavor to you.”
My stomach tightened slightly. “Yeah. Your old ‘bunkmate’ from the Marines.”
She sighed again. “That’s the bit you don’t get. Back then I was with someone because you never knew if you would be with someone again. You’ve heard the pickup line ‘But the primary could supernova tomorrow?’ It was kinda like that, but for real. Any drop we went on there were usually a few of us who didn’t make the recovery shuttle. Hells, a few never made it to the ground.”
“So you’re always with someone, because you never know for sure if this night will be your last. But you don’t want to be too close to them, because that night may be their last.”
She suddenly rolled against me; her face pressing against my shoulder. “I want this but… we’re running black ops missions for Boilingbrook and a rogue branch of Naval Intelligence. Gods alone know what is going to happen to us.” She pulled herself closer. “I can’t let myself have this then lose it.”
I pulled myself closer to her as well. “I… I would hope you would have been glad for the time we had together.”
She shoved herself away. “What? No! That old Solomani phase about ‘being better to love then lose than not to love’? They’re wrong. You can’t lose… you can’t experience the loss of something you didn’t have. Better to not have than experience that loss.”
I stared upwards in the darkness for a long moment. “Surely… Surely you can’t feel that way?”
She sighed and pulled away, rolling over onto her own back. “I can’t. I can’t let that happen to me…” She cut off a bit too abruptly.
We were silent for a long time.
“…Again?” I said, finally.
“You can’t let that happen to you again. Isn’t that what you were saying?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Another pause. “Yes you do.”
“Fine!” I felt her sit up beside me. “You tell me what happened that keeps you from heading back to the Glimmerdrift and I’ll tell you about mine.”
I rolled over to face away from her. “Fine. You have your history, I have mine.”
Another pause then I felt her lie back down. “I thought we were past all this.”
“So you go first then.”
“This is different.”
“It always is.”
This time the silence was long enough that I thought she had gone to sleep, but she finally spoke.
“Look. This… is new for me. I’m not sure what to think yet. Just… we’ll talk about this; just not tonight. OK?”
“OK,” I said. What else could I say? “I love you,” I added.
Her hand found mine in the darkness and squeezed. “I love you too.”
When I woke again she was still asleep. I slipped out of the bunk and found my way to the fresher in the dark.
When I emerged the cabin lights were on low and she was sitting on the edge of the bunk.
“In a hurry to get started?”
I shrugged, pulling on my jumpsuit. “I want to see what Minister Trakon has come up with. I never got back up with him after yesterday. And… I guess I need to talk to everyone else. I kinda need to make sure I’m back on stable ground with everyone.”
She smiled, standing up and stretching. “You are, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be happy to talk to you to. I don’t want to monopolize all your time.”
I frowned. I had just noticed the large bruise on her breast; a darker blue against her dark skin.
“Whoa!” I said, stepping forward. “What happened?”
“What?” She seemed surprised and looked down. “Oh! That’s where I got shot the other day. You just now noticing it?”
I felt my face flush slightly. “Um… I’ve been distracted. Then, when I’ve seen you, I’ve… been distracted.”
She laughed, leaned forward, and kissed me. “Don’t worry, they’re still fine.”
I frowned a bit and took her hands. “I’m worried about you.”
She frowned back. “Don’t. I’m fine. The suit held and Percy checked me out. Just some bruising.” She shifted back to a mischievous smile. “Come on, you’ve done worse…”
She laughed at that. “I’m fine. Really. Now, if you’re done in the fresher…”
I sighed in mock exasperation. “I can tell where our problem is going to be…”
She laughed again. “See you in a few.” She headed towards the fresher cubicle and I exited to the lounge.
It was empty. I stopped long enough to pull a coffee bulb from the dispenser then headed into the bridge.
Do’rex was there, of course. He clicked in greeting as I ducked under the captain’s chair and dropped into my seat. Out of habit I pulled up my console, then paused.
“Who’s been messing with this?”
There was a click of surprise. “Lieutenant Denan has been setting it up for her. Didn’t you approve her as Navigator?”
I paused, then slid the chair back. “Yeah. Yeah, I did.” I had, actually. I guess. But with everything else I had going on I really hadn’t thought about it since. I pulled myself up and into the Captain’s seat and started configuring the console there.
“She’ll be running the gunnery suite when we drop into normal space again,” I said, partially to cover myself. I pulled up a repeater on the Navigation console and flicked it to one of the secondary displays above me. “She’ll cover it after that.”
He clicked acknowledgement. “I trust in her ability.” He paused. “Captain?”
He paused again. “I assume the tension between you and the Lieutenant have been resolved?”
I sighed. “Yeah. Pretty much. Yeah.” It was my turn to pause. “Listen, if I got us into something I shouldn’t have…”
He interrupted with a series of clicks. “Do not apologize, Captain. You did nothing wrong. As commander of this ship you should be able to make any decision involving its operation you feel that you need to. And, from what you have since told us, your actions can only help sophants such as myself. We need those who will continue to ‘carry the torch’, as Doctor Korvusar would say. I approve of your actions.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Do’rex. I’m glad to hear that.”
He clicked. “You are welcome, Captain.”
I was back to configuring the console when he spoke again.
“I am also glad that Ms. Tharis will be travelling with us.”
I smiled slightly. “Yeah. I’m surprised that Saahna came up with that idea.”
There was a subdued click “Actually Captain, I was the one who suggested it to both of them.”
I turned to look at him in surprise, swiveling the chair around so I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder. “What?”
He clicked again then looked up at me. “Yes. Doing so is within my responsibilities as First Officer. And I spoke to Ms. Tharis for a good while; she will be a good addition to the crew.”
I felt an unexpected twinge of jealousy. “You talked to her?”
He turned to look at me again. “Yes? Why should I not have?”
I shook my head to cover my reaction. “No, no reason. It’s just that…” I paused. “It’s just that you tend to be up here a lot; I haven’t seen you interacting with the passengers much.”
He flipped a tentacle and turned back to his console. “Ms. Tharis is one of the more interesting humaniti I have met. She is extremely interested in learning, and in teaching what she has learned. She was actually the one who started our conversation; she had never met one of us before and was asking many questions about Vega and the Federation. And about us.” He clicked in a way that I knew indicated discomfort. “I am not used to answering so many questions about myself, but it was clear that she was trying to learn. In a way… it was a bit flattering.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I can see that.”
He clicked again. “Yes. But in our conversation I learned of how she came to be here, and her concern at returning to her home.” He paused. “I do not believe that we are in any particular danger, but her returning to a place where we know those that had already tried to hurt us came from…”
“Yeah, not the best.” I thought a moment. “We’ll probably have to return to Boilingbrook occasionally, just to maintain our contract with Minister Trakon. “Yes. But when we are there I am confident that they will keep close but inconspicuous watch over us.”
“I hope so.”
“I believe it to be so, Captain.” He turned back to his console. After a few moments, I pivoted the seat back around and resumed configuring the Captain’s Console.”
When I was done I had repeaters of the Pilot, Navigation, Engineering, and Gunnery consoles. My main holo was an overview of the ship’s systems, and I could pull up any secondary console as needed. Plus, I could set it to handle all of our communication and commerce functions as well. I could almost, but not quite, run the entire ship from here.
That done, I climbed down. “I’m going to check in on the rest of the crew. Need anything?” He waved a tentacle in dismissal and I exited to the lounge.
I half-expected it to be empty but Saahna was standing there, looking up at the overhead holo. I glanced up and saw a representation of a scanner display which was showing a pair of thousand-ton System Defense Boats closing in on a much smaller ship. The Grayswandir.
“Pick a target,” Saahna was saying. She nodded to me but continued. “You need to focus on one; attacking both won’t help us any.”
I heard Varan’s frustrated voice over the channel. “These things are five times our size? How are we supposed to take them on?”
“We don’t!” Saahna said, looking at me with a smile. “Things are never fair. You need to get us out of this.”
“Isn’t that Do’rex job!” I could tell Varan was frustrated.
She smiled again. “Have you told him anything?”
“What? I’m not the pilot!”
She shook her head. “Yeah, but you have the most situational awareness. What do you need him to do to help you?”
There was a pause. “OK, let’s turn towards the second target and concentrate fire on the first. That gives us all weapons bearing on one and presents a minimal profile to the other.”
She raised an eyebrow at that. “You’re wanting to close with one of them?”
“We can’t attack both of them! You just said that!”
She shook her head. “And you just said that both of them are several times our size. And they don’t have jump drives, so they have more space for power plants and weapons.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Run?”
I was observing the simulation display. “Well, I wouldn’t try to take them unless I had to. Are we inbound or outbound?”
There was a brief silence. “What? Oh! Captain! I didn’t know you were there.”
“Focus,” I said. “Now… are we inbound or outbound.”
“Um… inbound.” Saahna was looking in my direction but didn’t say anything.
“So we don’t have jump fuel. Now, are they between us and the planet?”
There was another pause. “Ah.. no. They’re chasing us.”
“So why are you turning back towards them?”
“We can’t defend ourselves…”
“Yeah, exactly,” I said. “We can’t fight them because they have us outnumbered and outgunned. We can’t jump out because we don’t have the fuel. Or a plot for that matter. So we have about two choices. We can run for the planet and hope the local patrol can intercept us before they do. Or, if they are with the locals, then we power down and let them board. It isn’t worth losing the ship, or our lives, over whatever we’ve gotten into.”
There was a longer pause. “OK,” he said finally. “It looks like we can get to the planet. So…”
“So make sure we’re between them and the planet. If you can, try to get them in the same arc so we only have to defend in one direction. And you might want to toss some sand since one of them just fired missiles.”
“Shit…” there was a brief silence, then I saw an expanding cloud behind the Grayswandir on the display. A few seconds later it started maneuvering towards the planet.
“OK, got it. Now what?”
I glanced over at Saahna, who was watching in amusement. “You’re the Gunner,” she said. “What do you think you should do?”
“Um…” More silence, then the representation of the Grayswandir started moving randomly on the display. “I’m… engaging evasion and deploying sand and chaff.”
“Attacking?” asked Saahna.
“No. Saving lasers for point-defense targeting against inbound missiles.”
“What about ours?”
“We can’t attack them!”
“No, but we can make them cautious.”
Another pause. “OK… firing missiles at the nearest target.”
After that we watched silently. The simulation showed us taking two hits; one to the passenger deck and one to cargo. Beyond that we managed to get close enough to the planet that the attackers veered off. Saahna called the simulation over and, a few minutes later, Varan emerged from the Gunnery suite.
“Wow…” he said, shaking his head. I could see that he was soaked in sweat. “None of my training was quite like that.”
I nodded as I handed him a beer but looked to Saahna. She was the expert, after all.
“What was different?” she asked.
“Well, all of them were about targeting. Hitting your opponents, targeting vital systems, getting into the most favorable position to attack…”
“Ah!” she said. “Naval programs?”
He frowned, thinking. “Maybe? What’s the difference?”
I smiled at that. “The Navy is willing to throw away a ship or two to gain an advantage for the rest of the fleet. ’Acceptable losses’ they call it. Us? It’s just us. As soon as you realize that you can’t win either run away or surrender. Even if we lose the cargo, it’s cheaper than losing the ship. Remember that.”
“Yeah, I will.” He paused, then looked at me. “But does that still apply to us? Now?”
I shrugged. “We’re a subsidized merchant sponsored by the government of Boilingbrook to maintain trade through the ‘uncertainty’ brought on by the ongoing civil war in the Imperium. Why shouldn’t it?”
He looked at me curiously. “You’ve really bought into this.”
I shrugged again. “Hey, I’m not going to turn down getting a third of our payments taken care of. I need to haul people or cargo for Boilingbrook, then I’ll haul people or cargo for Boilingbrook. Why not?”
He hesitated. “Aren’t you afraid that will make us a target?”
“Any more than we already are? We stopped a hijacking and an assassination attempt against one of their leaders. They decided to reward us.” I shrugged. “The Spoilsports didn’t include us in any of their plans; they can’t be upset that we didn’t go along with them. Hells, they planned on killing us anyway. Whatever we do won’t change their attitude towards us.”
Saahna nodded slowly. “Yeah, and that may have been partially my fault. Well, because of me anyway.”
I turned in surprise. “What?”
She turned slightly away, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve been thinking. Remember how I was surprised at how much Cavor spilled to me? Maybe he told them and they decided to close that leak. Maybe they thought we knew too much.”
I smiled to myself. At least she wasn’t blaming me anymore. “Which again means that we aren’t painting bigger targets on ourselves by taking up Minister Trakon on his offer.”
He looked at me for a long moment, then shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Still, I’m a bit concerned about what we’ve gotten into.”
“Me too. But, as long as we’re here, we may as well get what we can out of it as well. Maybe our being openly involved with Boilingbrook will make the Spoilsports stay away.”
“Well, I hope so.” He glanced at his comp. “I’ve got to go do some training with Shelly. Jami’s been giving her an overview of all of our systems, but I promised I’d spend some time running through Steward routines with her. Fortunately, both Minister Trakon and Dr. Korvusar have agreed to play the part of passengers to help train.”
“Good,” I said. “Since we’re all together now anyway.”
He nodded. “Yeah.” He turned to Saahna. “Thanks for the training. I’ll… have to think about a few things.”
She put on what I could tell was a fake annoyed look. “Don’t think I’m turning the safety of this ship over to you until I’m satisfied with what you know!”
He winced slightly. “Yeah, I get it. We’ll keep practicing, OK?”
“We will. And that isn’t an offer.”
“Got it.” He turned back to me. “I’ll head back upstairs, OK?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure.”
He nodded. “Thanks again.” He turned and headed up the ladder to the passenger deck.
I turned to Saahna. “So… how’s he doing?”
She sighed. “A bit too gung ho, I think. Most of the training programs concentrate on offense instead of defense. Actually, that’s the way I was trained too. It takes a while before you hit the realization that the actual purpose of combat training is to try to avoid combat if you can.”
“Works for me.”
She frowned slightly. “You really think this will work?”
“You have any better ideas?”
“Then we deal with what we have.”
She nodded. “Have you reviewed Minister Trakon’s contract yet.”
I sighed. “I glanced at it. I’ve never seen so much legalese in my life. But… it seems to give us what we asked for, so I just need to make sure it doesn’t have something hidden in a sub-clause there somewhere.”
She patted me on the arm. “You’ll figure it out.” She leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Some time later?”
I nodded. “Sure. Just let me get through the paperwork first.”
“You’ve got it.”