Chapter Two: Xyla

After everything that’s happened to us in the past few months, I could honestly say that nothing surprised me anymore.

When the Dominion fleet descended upon us, I wasn’t even shocked.

If I had more time to think about it, I might’ve realized how messed up that was.

A life-threatening situation should get some kind of rise out of me.

But honestly?

I was annoyed more than anything. 

My reaction had to be some kind of coping mechanism. Or worse, I’d become too used to being in incredibly dangerous situations. There could be worse things.

I could’ve become too used to lounging on the beach all day.

Thankfully, I was as fit as I was the day the Persephone station was blown to bits and I got sucked into this mess. While the rest of the crew enjoyed the sun and sand, I devoted much of my spare time to exercise.

I didn’t like to stay still.

Once, years ago, a doctor instructed me to channel all of my extra anger into physical energy to be burnt off through exercise.

While he was a smug bastard, and it had been tempting to punch him, his advice had always worked for me.

I’d freely admit that when I was holed up in the cargo hold with the others, unable to walk around or do anything, my temper took on a life of its own. It stayed alive and fiery until I had the entire stretch of beach to run along.

Having the beach at my disposal served me well as I sprinted down the main entry corridor of the Rogue Star.

The ship tilted hard to the right. Manda, running a few paces ahead of me, stumbled and fell with a crash.

The Rogue Star banked so hard the left wall was where the floor ought to be. I grabbed some of the exposed piping and held fast. I sure hoped I wasn’t grabbing something important.

The last thing we needed was for a pipe to burst.

Memories of noxious gas fogging up the hallways came to mind, tightening my throat. When that horrible demon-eyed princess chick double-crossed us, she tried to gas us all.

That was the last time I truly felt afraid. And I shoved that back down, burning away the fear, the worry with anger

Always worked. No reason to stop now.

The ship pitched again, this time in the opposite direction. Manda fell from one side of the corridor to the other with a grunt.

“Grab hold of something!” I shouted to her.

“I’m trying!” She yelled back. She was holding one of her arms at an odd angle. I half-crawled, half-climbed down the corridor until I reached her.

“Find an alcove,” I instructed. “Tuck yourself somewhere safe until we smooth out.”

“I don’t think I can move. I landed hard on my arm. I think it’s sprained,” Manda whimpered.

From where I was, I could see swelling in her wrist. First aid wasn’t my strongest suit, even if it was there wasn’t anything nearby that I could use. With a hint of bitterness, I recalled a time on the Persephone station a few years back when I requested to be trained on medical duty. Lynna said I didn’t have good bedside manner, as if politeness had anything to do with saving someone’s life.

I pushed the thought away to better focus on the issue at hand. But maybe, just maybe, I’d remind her that it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to have some basic training, cheerful little daisies or not.

“Hold on to me,” I instructed just as the Rogue Star leveled out. Manda and I crashed down onto the floor, which was once again in its proper place.

“I think I just sprained my other wrist,” Manda grumbled.

“I think you just bruised my rib,” I groaned. “So much for good intentions.”

“I appreciate that you tried to help me,” Manda’s eyes grew wide with sincerity. “I’m surprised-” She seemed to catch herself and clamped her mouth shut.

“What’s surprising?” I asked.

“Nothing, I don’t know what I was trying to say,” she laughed awkwardly.

I knew exactly what she was going to say.

She was going to say that she was surprised I’d go out of my way to help her. I know I don’t have the friendliest reputation.

It’s no secret that I wasn’t a fan of Commander Kalyn or anything she’d lead us into ever since Persephone Station blew.

But the fact that Manda thought I’d stoop so low as to refuse to help one of my crewmates hurt a bit.

More than a bit.

Clearly, I needed to work on my image.

But later. One of the Dominion ships hunting us fired some kind of explosive. The shockwave reverberated through the ship, making me stumble. Now was not the time to worry about my image.

The red alarm light flared to life over our heads. That last blast did something to the Rogue Star.

“Get somewhere where you won’t get thrown around again,” I told Manda before taking off down the corridor.

I needed answers, and there was one place closer than the bridge that might have them.

I burst into Qal’s room where he was frantically trying to maneuver the Rogue Star.

“What’s going on?” I demanded.

“What do you think?” He shouted back. “I’m trying to dodge the blasts of an entire fleet. The ummba Dominion ships followed us through the fold.”

“The emergency alarm is blaring. Do you know where the issue is?”

Qal cast a quick glance at the detailed schematic on display to his right. From where I stood, I could see a red dot on the display, but I couldn’t tell where it was.

“The room under the bridge.”

“Crap.” I bolted out of the room.

If the engine room was the heart of the Rogue Star then the room under the bridge was like the brain. It was likely that someone else was already headed down there, someone more qualified than me, but I didn’t know what else to do.

Some of the crew had emergency stations to report to. I was one of the many who didn’t.

In situations like these, those who didn’t have an emergency station were required to hide themselves away in the cargo hold until the danger passed.

I hated the cargo hold.

I hated not having a proper job.

I hated that the idea of me being helpful was such a surprise to others.

I passed many of my crewmates as I made my way to the room beneath the bridge. They were so frantic that no one noticed I was heading in the exact opposite direction of the cargo hold.

When I got to the room, I wasn’t alone.

A Shein male stood at the far end, bent down trying to patch one of the pipes.

The odd smell in the air told me that it was some kind of coolant leak. It wouldn’t cause the ship to burst into flames, which was good.

However, all of the circuits and machinery in this room needed to be kept cool. If they overheated, they would automatically shut down. The environmental regulars could go down. Qal’s navigations systems could go down.

“You shouldn’t be down here!” The Shein called over his shoulder when he spotted me. I recognized him, though his name escaped me at the moment.

“You need help!” I shouted back.

There were three other fractures in the coolant piping. He could only block one at a time. “Tell me what to do.”

At least he wasn’t stupid enough to turn away a set of helping hands.

“See that tub there?” He jerked his chin toward a medium sized tub filled with something shiny and pitch black. “Take a scoop and cover the crack.”

I did as I was told without hesitation. Whatever the sticky, tar-like material was, it did the trick patching the pipes.

 But it wasn’t made to be handled by human hands.

“It burns,” I gasped. I immediately tried to wipe it off on the rest of the pipe. “Is it supposed to burn?”

“Here.” The Shein male pushed a damp cloth into my hand. The coolness of it soothed the burning sensation enough so that I could continue the patch job. I fell into a system. Handle the black gunk until the burning was too much, wipe, and repeat.

“You don’t have to keep going if it hurts you,” the Shein male said.

“We have to get this done,” I called back. “I’ve only got one more left to do anyway.” I smeared the black gunk over the last crack. The Shein male came up behind me with some kind of spray gun. Over the patched piping, he sprayed what looked like pure liquid metal until the pipe looked perfect once more.

“Don’t breathe that in,” he warned.

I lifted my hand to cover my mouth and nose.

“You could have said that before you sprayed it,” I replied. The skin on my face started to burn. I immediately covered my face with the cloth.

“You’re probably right.” He had the nerve to smile at me. “You might need a quick trip to the med bay when this is over regardless.”

“What?” I cried.

“Apparently, the pipe sealer is mildly toxic to humans,” the Shein male shrugged.

“The one time I’m helpful it comes back to bite me,” I rolled my eyes. Above our heads, the red emergency alarm stopped flashing.

“That’s one crisis averted,” the Shein male said. “We should see if there’s anything else we can do.”

“We?”

“If you’re helpful a second time, it might not bite you,” the Shein male said.

“What’s one more chemical burn or lung irritant?” I shrugged and followed him out of the room.

“I’m Gallus, by the way,” he said as we walked.

“I know,” I said, even though I didn’t. We’d spoken once or twice before. I should’ve known his name.

“No, you don’t,” Gallus smirked. “I never told you my name. I appreciate that you tried to pretend that you did, though.”

“Any time,” I winced. “I’m Xyla.”

“I know.”

“But I never told you,” I fed his own line back to him.

“No, you didn’t. But that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention.”

Not many people had the ability to put me off my stride, but it took me a moment to untangle my words.

“You’re awfully chipper considering we’re under attack,” I diverted the subject.

“Between you and me, I like the excitement,” he admitted, a kinda cute half-smile lifting a corner of his mouth. 

Before I could say anything, we arrived on the bridge. Aavat was there, giving orders and monitoring the Dominion fleet on our tail.

“Anything needing attention?” Gallus asked.

“Aside from the government organization trying to kill us?” Aavat snapped.

I liked it when everyone was under pressure like this.

They showed their true colors instead of pretending to be nicer than they were.

At least Aavat wasn’t one to put on a mask in the first place. He was a rude, arrogant bastard, and didn’t try to pass himself off as anything different.

It was a refreshing change.

I could do without the constant threat of death, though.

Another explosion went off somewhere in the space around us. My arms shot out to balance myself and I accidentally latched on to Gallus’s arm. I retracted my hands as soon as I regained my balance.

I risked a glance at Gallus to see if he noticed but his focus was directed on the monitors.

“Aavat, what are those?” He asked.

I followed his gaze to the live feed of the starboard side of the ship. Another fleet of ships was fast approaching. My stomach sank.

If those were more Dominion ships, we wouldn’t survive much longer.

“I don’t know,” Aavat replied. “I don’t recognize the ship model. The scanners can’t figure out what they are either.”

We watched the fleet of mystery ships swoop closer.

Lights flared all around us as their cannons fired, and I braced myself.

But the unknown ships flitted around us, engaging the Dominion cruisers.

Nimbly, the smaller, faster ships soon divided up the Dominion fleet, driving them away until one by one our attackers folded away.

Eventually, the void outside fell silent.

The mystery fleet circled around us.

“This is either really good or really bad,” I muttered under my breath. Gallus gave an uneasy laugh.

“Hopefully it’s good,” Aavat looked over his shoulder at us. “They’re requesting permission to board us.” 

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