One week after the Dominion attack and I was so busy it was amazing my hands had not fallen off yet. I was carrying a load of scrap metal salvaged from parts of the wrecked city to the warehouse we had been working out of. A few small ships from the human fleet were harbored inside the warehouse.
Jik, a Gaed mechanic who’d been glued to my side for the last five days, rushed up to me.
“Those won’t do,” he sighed heavily, and pressed his hands against his slightly bulbous eyes. “That one’s too rusted. That one’s cracked. That one wouldn’t withstand the pressure of air travel. Honestly, have you ever built a ship before?”
“Built with my bare hands? No,” I shook my head.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Designed several models from little space Skimmers all the way up to intergalactic dreadnoughts? Absolutely,” I smirked. “What do you think I did before I became a soldier?”
“I don’t think about you often enough to ponder it,” Jik replied. I tipped my head back and laughed. The longer our days got, the more irritable Jik got. Pushing his buttons was one of my few sources of entertainment. I tried not to do it too often, but he couldn’t seem to help creating perfect opportunities.
“Any chance you could convince the humans to hand over their blueprints as we help them try and rebuild their fleet?” I asked. “Unless I have something to go off, I’ll just keep bringing back scrap, hoping it fits our needs. I’m not familiar with human metals and building techniques.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Jik said. “But you can’t blame the humans for being guarded.”
“I don’t,” I sighed heavily.
Aliens from another galaxy, a galaxy most of the humans hadn’t even known existed, swooped down and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives in the blink of an eye. Even though no one in the Rogue Star crew had anything to do with the attack, I could understand the human’s reluctance not to give proprietary information out to aliens.
“I could try repair techniques I’m already familiar with,” I offered. “But there are no guarantees the human ships will be able to withstand them.”
“Better not.” Jik clicked his forked tongue. “There’s no reason to strain their already limited resources.”
“Fair enough.” I put my hands on my hips. “You know, even if you were to secure the blueprints, I don’t think this fleet will be operational for months. That’s even assuming we get the necessary materials.”
“Which we probably won’t,” Jik finished my thought. “It’s looking rather hopeless, isn’t it?”
“Don’t say that,” a voice came from behind me. I turned to find Commander Aavat.
“Don’t look so surprised to see me,” he chuckled when he got a look at my expression.
“Sorry, sir. I wasn’t expecting to see you today.”
“I know. I’ve been locked in meetings with everyone under the Terran sun. Dejar is still tending to personal affairs,” he said tactfully.
The familiar wash of rage swept through my mind and, like always, I pushed it back. Not now. Not ever.
“Are things really as hopeless as our ever-optimistic Jik seems to think?” Aavat gave Jik a friendly clap on the shoulder, which Jik didn’t seem to appreciate, though he said nothing.
“It’s looking that way, sir,” I nodded.
“In that case, I hope you won’t mind if I pull you to another, more pressing assignment.”
“I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” I shrugged. Truthfully, a change of scenery sounded nice. One more day in this warehouse with Jik for company was going to drive me insane.
“I need you to go to the Hark System.”
My eyebrows shot up. I wasn’t expecting that big of a scenery change.
“It is. We know the Dominion is going to target the Hark System next. We have proof. I want you to bring the proof to whoever is in charge over there and negotiate an alliance,” Aavat explained.
“I’d be honored to, sir,” I stammered. “But why me? Surely you have someone more qualified.”
“This is Dejar’s area of expertise,” Aavat said heavily. “He’s not in the right mindset to negotiate anything, and time is short. I respect your talents as a soldier and as an engineer, but what I need right now are your interpersonal relationship skills.”
“I have interpersonal relationship skills?” I blinked.
“You’re not an asshole,” Aavat shrugged. “That’s good enough for me right now.”
“I’m going to take that as a compliment, sir.”
“Does that mean you accept?”
“Great.” Aavat clapped me on the shoulder. “Follow me back to the Rogue Star. There’s some debriefing that needs to be done. And you’ll need to get to know your team.”
“Of course,” Aavat said over his shoulder as he started walking out of the warehouse. “You didn’t think you were going by yourself, did you?”
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around the mission itself, sir,” I admitted as I fell into step beside him. “Does the Hark System know we’re coming?”
“We’ve tried to get a message out to them, but we don’t want to risk alerting the Dominion either,” Aavat explained. “It’s likely going to be a surprise visit.”
“How do we know they won’t react in a hostile manner?”
“We don’t. But you have aerial combat and ground combat training, so you should be fine.”
Aavat and I boarded the Rogue Star. The usual flurry of activity I expected to see on the ship was absent. He led me into a small meeting room. To my surprise, Indira sat in one of the chairs. When she saw me, she smiled. I grinned back.
She and I had been friends since the humans came aboard the ship. None of the women had trusted us Shein at the time. Indira didn’t either, but she was also smart enough to realize that playing nice would get her farther.
She sat next to me in the dining hall one day and started talking to me about my tattoos. I believed her curiosity to be genuine at the time. From then on, we ate together often. A friendship formed. Though, if I was being honest, I had felt something more than friendship for her for a long time now.
She wasn’t interested. If she was, I would’ve noticed. It was for the best, I supposed. Now wasn’t the time to lose focus. Still, I was happy to see her.
“Indira,” I grinned. “What brings you here?”
“Aavat has an assignment for me.” She was practically wiggling with excitement. Indira didn’t like to sit still for too long. Sitting on the Rogue Star for the last week must’ve been torture for her.
“What a coincidence.” I took the seat next to her and looked at Aavat.
“I told you that you weren’t going alone,” Aavat said to me.
“I believe you said the word ‘team’,” I replied.
“Two is a team. Besides, the only transport we could scrounge up that has more than one seat and room for enough provisions to get you to the Hark System isn’t very big.”
“The Hark System?” Indira shot up in her seat. “That’s on the other side of Dominion space from here, isn’t it?” I couldn’t miss the spark of excitement in her eyes.
“That’s right,” Aavat nodded. “I need you-”
“That’s so exciting!” she gushed and turned to me. “Have you been there before? What’s it like?”
“I’ve never been,” I told her. “I’m excited to see what it’s like.”
“What do you think they eat there?” she wondered. “I hope it’s human-friendly.”
“If you don’t mind,” Aavat spoke up, “I’d like to continue with the briefing.”
“Right.” Indira shrunk down in her seat and gave Aavat a shy smile. “Carry on.”
“Why, thank you,” Aavat gave a mock bow. “There’s one stop you’ll need to make after the Hark System.”
“We get to go somewhere else, too?” Indira blurted excitedly. I fought to hold back my smile.
“You’ll be going to Tola,” Aavat replied. “That’s where you’ll find the rest of your team.”
“Aren’t Wyann and Paila in Tola?” I asked.
“That’s right. They’ve been lying low, but now is the perfect opportunity to retrieve them,” Aavat explained.
“I agree,” I nodded. “Any extraction procedure you’d like us to follow?”
“Trust your gut. I don’t know what you’ll be facing when you get there.”
“When do we leave? I can’t wait to get started!” Indira was already out of her seat, ready to get going right then and there.
“Be ready in two hours,” Aavat instructed. “The vessel you’re taking is still being fine-tuned.”
“The vessel took damage during the Dominion attack?” I asked.
“Yes, but everything should be fine.”
“Famous last words,” Indira snorted.
“Are you sure you want to go?” I asked her. “It sounds like it’s going to be dangerous.”
Hurt flickered in her eyes, but she quickly covered it up with a bright grin.
“Are you kidding? I’ve been pestering Aavat all week for something to do. Isn’t that right?” She turned to Aavat with a smug smile.
“That’s right.” Aavat suddenly looked weary. Indira must’ve worn him down. “She’s technically the second-in-command now, after Kalyn.”
“Is that so?” I turned back to Indira. “Congratulations on your new title.”
“It’s not that big a deal,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand, but I could see how proud she was under her demure exterior.
“I disagree,” Aavat said. “Kalyn won’t be up for much. The women will look to you now.”
“All the more reason to sit this one out,” I warned her. As much as I wanted her to come along, I couldn’t stand the idea of putting her in danger.
She’d escaped the clutches of the Dominion once, after all
“Aavat asked me specifically.” There was an edge in her voice now, though her smile didn’t falter. “I’m going.”
Panic flared in my chest. I’d just have to keep her safe, whether she liked it or not.
I forced a smile. “In that case, I’ll see you in two hours.”
I reached out to shake her hand, which she shook with a confused look.
“See you then,” she replied, and left the room.
“What was that?” Aavat asked once we were alone.
That was my past bleeding into my present.
I sighed. “That was me being an idiot.”