“Your insights into the inner workings of the Dominion have been invaluable, Wyann. The crew may not know it, but they owe you a great debt. We all do. If the rebellion succeeds, the rest of the known universe will as well.” The captain and I stood as our meeting came to an end.
“I owe the universe a debt already, for the things I’ve done. If our rebellion is successful, I’ll consider us even.”
Dejar came around his minimal metal desk and clapped me on the shoulder with a strong golden hand. He fixed his glittering golden eyes on me sternly, but there was also warmth in his expression.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. All of us have ended up on the Rogue Star through one misadventure or another. None of us are innocent.” He smiled mischievously and lowered his voice. “Even most of the human women have stories of some mishap or disaster that led them to that desolate base at the edge of their galaxy. From what Kalyn tells me, it was not a desirable post.”
“I’m sure, sir.” I smiled and nodded, though his assurances did little to lift my spirit.
He leaned back against his desk. “I still say that the rest of the ship leadership and the crew would be more forgiving than you think. They’re not the type to hold grudges, at least not against those who have repented, and especially not against a man willing to risk everything to right his wrongs. I know I’ve said it before, but I really think you ought to give them a chance.”
“With all due respect, sir, I’d just as soon forget about the past. The only reason I’m willing to discuss it with you is for strategic benefit. Otherwise, I prefer not to think about it at all.” I regarded him coolly, hoping that he wouldn’t press the issue further.
He raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, but nodded his acceptance. “Very well. I do appreciate your willingness to delve back into what must be an unpleasant trough of memories. As always, what has been discussed here will remain between us alone. Well, the source of it, anyway.” He smiled his charming, easy smile. “Of course, the information itself will be relayed to the relevant parties for implementation into our operations.”
“Of course. Thank you, sir, I appreciate your discretion. Is that all?”
“I believe so. You have your orders, yes?”
“I do, sir. As soon as I leave here I’m heading to my station to start the verification process for the false identities Emmery created. The one’s for Zadden’s team are first priority, and they’ll be delivered to Zadden’s people as soon as they’re done. Shouldn’t be more than an hour or two.”
“Excellent. Best get to it, then.”
“Very good, sir.” I turned to leave, but Dejar caught me before I was out the door.
“Actually hold on, Wyann. There is one more thing.” He paced over to me and put his arm around my shoulders.
“Try to lighten up some, huh?” He patted me on the chest good-naturedly, smiling at me warmly. “For instance, I appreciate your respect and discipline and all that, but you really don’t need to call me ‘sir’ every time you address me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I mind the reverence or anything. It’s just, I want my crew to feel comfortable. I like to think of us more as a family than a hierarchy. Of course, there has to be a chain of command. But I like the crew to have a certain sense of autonomy, as well. You understand?”
“I think so, sir.”
He gave me a puzzled look, then laughed. “Was that a joke, Wyann? Did you just make a joke?”
It was my turn to look puzzled. “No, sir. Was there something amusing?”
He stopped laughing abruptly and gave me a serious look, searching my face. He clapped me on the back, shaking his head and smiling to himself.
“You’re a funny guy, Wyann, whether you realize it or not. I’ve decided I do have another order for you.”
“Sir?” I raised my eyebrows in question, awaiting my directive.
“This is your new objective. After you’ve delivered the verified false I.D.’s to Zadden and his team, I want you to engage in a minimum of thirty minutes of leisure activity.”
“Leisure activity, sir?” I tilted my head at him, unsure of his meaning.
“Yes, leisure activity.” He smiled wide, growing animated. “That means that after Zadden’s team is ready to go, you’re to find something to do that is completely unrelated to work.” He held up a finger, struck by a thought. “And eating doesn’t count. Neither does using the bathroom. It has to be a non-essential activity that serves no purpose other than your own enjoyment. Think you can handle that?” He smiled at me broadly, apparently amused by his own brilliance.
“Uhm, I’m not sure I understand the purpose of that, sir.”
His face went stern and he responded with a raised, authoritative voice. “Your role is not to understand the purpose, soldier. Your role is to get the job done. No matter the cost. Do you understand?”
“Are you being funny, sir?” I tried to read his face, but his expression was serious and betrayed nothing.
“This is a direct order from your Captain. Do you intend to disobey?”
“Good.” His face relaxed and he shot me an easy smile. “Then please, enjoy yourself. I expect a full report detailing the type of leisure activity, the inclusion of any affiliated parties, and confirmation of the duration of the engagement on my desk by the end of the day.”
“All right, sir. I’ll uh, get it done. I guess.”
“Wyann, I’m kidding about the written report, you know.”
“Of course, sir.”
I turned and ambled out of Dejar’s office, a little confused about the directive. I decided to focus on what I did understand, for now, which was verifying the false I.D.’s for Zadden’s team.
I headed back toward my work station, going over my conversation with Dejar as I went. He was right about my intimate familiarity with the least savory portions of the Dominion being immensely useful to our current noble objectives, but that did little to comfort me about the skeletons in my closet.
My time working espionage for the Dominion had left scars on my soul. The things I saw, the things I did in order to complete my missions, they still flooded back to me on occasion when I closed my eyes for sleep shift. I can’t count the number of times I’ve woken in the night so drenched in sweat that I had to recycle the sheets and get fresh ones out of the closet.
Dejar had tried to ease my guilt, reasoning that everything I’ve done has led me to this point, so it was all for a greater purpose in the end. It’s a pretty thought, but the faces of the dead still haunt my dreams. Besides, the Dominion used the ‘greater purpose’ argument to justify scores of atrocious deeds.
I slipped into my room and waved on the console, bringing up Emmery’s falsified identities and clearing my mind of the past. Working always proved the best medicine. Whatever troubles ate at me, I could always focus on a clear task.
I scanned through the I.D.’s for Zadden’s team, checking and rechecking them for continuity errors. I ran each one through a dummy Dominion security program. None of them got flagged for inspection or tripped any security threat alerts. Emmery had done a thorough job.
The false records should be plenty to keep their small team from drawing unwanted attention. As long as no automated alerts were tripped, no one should give them a second look. The only way they could be detected would be a physical inspection, but without a computer-generated alert there would be little chance of that.
I thought back to Dejar’s comment about some of the human women having questionable pasts. It would seem he was right about that, given Emmery’s skill at digital forgery. Her past transgressions were proving useful, like mine. I couldn’t help but wonder if hers had hurt people, though.
Did her past haunt her sleep as mine did?
I shook off the thoughts, turning back to my work. I waved the verified I.D.’s onto Zadden’s console. My own unit dinged, confirming their delivery and acceptance. I was about to begin verifying the rest of Emmery’s forgeries, when I remembered Dejar’s second order.
I had no idea what to do for leisure on this ship. There was so much to be done, it seemed like an inefficient use of time. I could always work out, but I suspected that was not what the Captain had in mind. I headed to the mess hall to scare up some food while I chewed over the issue.
I shoveled down some flavored gruel, accompanied by an augmented synth-juice that some of the other crew said came very close to passing for real eureka fruit from Tajra. I took their word for it, having never been there, but it was decent nonetheless. I dumped my tray and glass in the recycler and wandered down the hall.
I drifted toward one of the common areas to see if anyone was hanging around. I couldn’t remember the last time I had played a game of tact-sim, but I thought I remembered hearing a few of the crew mention there was a unit somewhere onboard.
I had probably been a boy when I last played, but that could be a tolerable way to waste half an hour. Dejar would be satisfied, and I could justify it to myself in that it was a game meant to exercise military engagement tactics. So not a complete waste of time.
Before I reached the common area, however, a soft, delicate sound drifted to my ears.
A woman’s voice, singing an unfamiliar melody that somehow struck me and called to mind my boyhood.
Transfixed, I followed the sound, and found myself in front of a half-open door.