Well, that was weird.
It almost sounded like Bana didn’t want me to come along. I thought we were friends. Why wouldn’t he want me around?
To be honest, I’d wanted to be more than friends with him since the moment I saw him, but there was never a good time to talk about it. Being wanted criminals and never knowing if we were going to live to see the next day took priority. Not to mention all the shady business with the Dominion and Adastria. It was just one life-threatening distraction after another.
Good thing I hadn’t said anything in the past, now that Bana didn’t appear to want me along. Didn’t he trust my abilities? Granted, he’d never gotten a chance to see me in action, but I was alive, wasn’t I? That counted for something.
I walked into my quarters and looked around. I didn’t have much worth packing. Before I loaded up, I needed to ask Aavat what kind of weapons I should check out from the armory.
A soft knock on my door startled me. I assumed it was Bana, coming to apologize for being so weird in the meeting. Instead, Kalyn stood in my doorway.
“Oh! Commander, I wasn’t expecting you,” I stammered. “Come in. I’d offer you a place to sit, but there isn’t one.”
“It’s fine,” she said with a tight smile. The usual warmth in her expression was gone. It looked like smiling was taxing for her. “I won’t keep you. I know you’re heading out soon.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got time.” I checked the timepiece on my wrist and let out a gasp. “Actually, I have ten minutes. Where did the time go? I have next to nothing to pack!”
“Pack while I talk,” Kalyn urged. “I don’t mind.”
“Thanks.” I flashed her a smile before grabbing a bag I’d made out of a discarded grain sack.
“I have an assignment for you,” she said. I went still and looked up at her, brow furrowed. “It’s to be completed while you’re on your mission for Aavat.”
“What do you need?”
“I want you to tell our story to as many people as you can,” Kalyn said. “Tell them everything, from the Persephone Station to what my mother did. Leave nothing out.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “But why?”
“You’re going to help forge an alliance, right? This will make your case all the more sympathetic,” Kalyn replied.
“But do we want to garner pity? Will that make the Hark System feel secure in an alliance?”
Kalyn’s expression brightened.
“Very good question,” she nodded with approval. “I knew you’d be good at this job.”
“You knew about the assignment?” I asked.
“Who do you think recommended you? Lynna told me about how you’ve been trying to rally the women while I’ve been…recovering.”
“That’s mostly because I can’t stand being idle,” I said with a dismissive wave. “But I appreciate you putting in a good word. I’m so excited for this opportunity.”
“Good. Enthusiasm like yours is hard to come by, especially now.”
I couldn’t help but beam at her words.
“Now, about spinning the right story,” Kalyn moved on. “You’re right. We don’t want to appear downtrodden and pitiful to the Hark System people, but we do want them to understand the devastation the Dominion is capable of.”
“So, be honest but not pathetic?”
“Exactly.” Kalyn smile looked more genuine now. “Consider this a training opportunity.”
“Training?” I tipped my head to one side.
“When you get back, we’ll have work to do,” Kalyn said. “I want to establish an official chain of command when you return.”
“Oh?” I wasn’t sure what else to say.
“Captain Dejar and crew have a distinct chain of command. I’ve seen how beneficial it is to the day-to-day running of the Rogue Star. Every crewmember knows exactly what their place is. I don’t feel like that’s the case for the Persephone women.”
“It’s been difficult knowing what to do lately,” I admitted. “We all felt lost.”
“That’s my fault,” Kalyn let out a sigh.
“No, it’s not,” I said firmly. “You reacted in a natural, totally understandable way to something shocking and painful. None of us hold anything against you. In fact, we’re glad you took time away for yourself.”
“I appreciate that.” Kalyn smiled weakly. I could see tears brimming in her eyes. She looked away suddenly, probably to blink back her tears. My heart went out to her.
“Recent developments aside,” she said with a sniff, “we still need more organization around here.”
“Right,” I said brightly, eager to move on to a subject more productive and less painful than Adastria’s betrayal.
“I’d like your input when you return.”
“Mine?” I blinked in surprise. “Are you sure? Wouldn’t Lynna or Maris be more qualified?”
“Perhaps, but they aren’t the ones who took the initiative. You did.” Kalyn gave me a knowing smile.
“Fair,” I conceded. “But you don’t know me very well. How do you know you’re making the right choice?” I felt foolish for arguing against Kalyn’s wishes, especially when I only stood to benefit from her offer.
“I know you better than you think,” Kalyn replied. “Your mother is a renowned geneticist and she’s passed her gifts on to you. You were set to follow her footsteps when you were sent to the Persephone Station for your sentence. The others regard you as ‘an annoying beam of sunshine’.”
“Excuse me?” I sputtered.
“Maris’s words, not mine,” Kalyn chuckled.
“Oh, in that case, I’m honored,” I laughed. I knew Maris well enough to know that most of her insults were actually compliments. It had taken me forever to figure that out.
“My point is, you’re not as invisible as you think you are. I wouldn’t make this decision based on an isolated incident,” Kalyn continued.
“I’m surprised,” I said. “I didn’t realize you were that-”
“Observant?” Kalyn arched her brow.
“No! I know you’re observant.” I backtracked quickly. “Just, with everything going on, I haven’t been on the front lines or anything. Not like the others have.”
“But you took over the duties of others when they were needed elsewhere. You kept the place running. Why are you making this so difficult?” Kalyn laughed.
“I’m not trying to, I swear!” I placed a hand over my mouth to stifle my giggle. “This is all just such a surprise! I’m grateful for any opportunity you’re willing to throw my way.”
“Good. If things go the way I want them to, there will be more opportunities for everyone. Oh, by the way, it’s been ten minutes.”
“Shit!” I shrieked, threw my bag over my shoulder, and bolted out the door.
“We’ll talk when you get back?” Kalyn called after me.
“Sounds good, Commander!” I shouted over my shoulder.
I ran off the Rogue Star as fast as my legs would carry me.
“Just in time,” Aavat said as I approached. “I was prepared to send them off without you.”
“Commander Kalyn wanted a word with me before I left,” I panted.
“Ah,” Aavat nodded.
“I forgot to check stuff out from the armory,” I suddenly realized.
“Don’t fret. I’ve stocked the ship with everything you might need.” Aavat patted the wall of the cargo bay affectionately. “Are you ready?”
“I think so.”
Aavat knelt down so I could use his leg as a step for climbing into the space vessel. It was a small but streamlined little ship that could be managed either manually by a pilot or run on autopilot if needed.
I threw myself into the first open seat and started digging through my bag, worried I’d forgotten something. After double- and triple-checking everything, I leaned against my seat with a sigh.
I jumped at the sound of Bana’s voice. He occupied the seat beside me. I felt like a jerk and an idiot for not noticing him until now.
“Just a little,” I replied. I still remembered his odd comments from before.
“I was worried you’d changed your mind,” he said.
“I thought that was what you wanted.” I furrowed my brow.
“No!” he said quickly. “Well, sort of. I don’t want anything to happen to you on this mission, regardless of how capable you are. Trust me, I know you’re capable. I just worry because you’re my friend.” He struggled over the last two words.
“I see,” I said.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said. “If Aavat hadn’t picked you himself, I would’ve requested you.”
“Really?” I tried to sound casual, but I couldn’t quite pull it off.
“Of course!” Bana grinned. “We’re in for a long flight. I need someone to play crossbrack with.”
“I know some other games we can play,” I suggested.
“You’re just tired of me constantly beating you at crossbrack,” he smirked.
“No,” I insisted even though that was sort of true. “But don’t you want to learn some human games? Hangman is one of my favorites!”
“That sounds violent.” Bana looked concerned. “Is it an appropriate game for such a small location?”
“It’s a word game,” I explained with a barking laugh. “You have to guess the word I’m thinking of before your stick figure dies. But you can only guess one letter at a time.”
“Pass me your datapad.”
Bana handed his datapad over and I opened it up to a blank note page. With my finger, I drew a basic stick figure.
“That’s a stick figure.”
I sketched out the basic outline of a hangman game and made enough dashes to accommodate the word ADVENTURE.
“This is the word I’m thinking of,” I explained. “Each dash represents a letter. Now, you guess a letter.”
“Krix,” Bana said.
“I don’t know what that is.”
Bana took the datapad from me and drew a symbol next to the hangman game.
“That’s a letter from your alphabet, isn’t it?” I realized with a laugh.
“I don’t know your alphabet. The word I’m thinking of is spelled in the human alphabet.”
“I don’t know your alphabet, either,” Bana chuckled.
“Well, I know what we’re doing until we get to the Hark System,” I grinned. “It’s time for you to learn your A-B-Cs.”