The swirling light blinded me and I shut my eyes as the floor rocked. Nothing actually moved during the process, but it felt like everything solid I could use to balance myself became as fluid as an ocean.
I was struck by a wave of nausea and worried for a moment that I was going to come out on the other side barfing, but the floor steadied again and, the second I found my balance, the sickness passed.
I’d never pilot anything at a decent speed if I got squeamish over being tossed around a little.
I blinked several times to clear my eyes and looked around as I stepped gingerly off the transport pad. There were some big aliens staring at me and I stared straight back.
I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten myself into. These guys didn’t look particularly welcoming. I mean, at least they weren’t fighting over me or anything like that, but I sure as hell didn’t feel welcome.
I think I might have walked in at exactly the wrong time. Something is going down here.
The air held the atmosphere of an argument in progress. Almost like the smell of gas, you knew the wrong move at exactly the wrong time would ignite the air.
“Hi, guys.” I tried to sound cheerful. “How are we today?”
Still silence and stares. I blinked and found myself grinning.
Maybe these guys are all big, soft teddy bears.
“I was told that one of you guys is my mate?” I asked, making eye contact with each one.
Their expressions didn’t change. They kept staring at me. I was starting to get worried—weren’t they expecting me?
“Welcome,” the guy in the middle said. “I’m Captain Timcur.”
“I’m Rachel,” I said slowly. Timcur was giving me a nice smile, but the others still just looked confused.
“What is she doing here?” one of them muttered.
He swayed, and I could smell the alcohol from across the room. His face was twisted and intense and that was a pity. He could have been very cute if he hadn’t looked so pissed about everything.
“I signed you up for mates,” the captain grinned. “I was so proud of you all, I thought you would appreciate it.”
“Really?” The most refined-looking one crossed the room in two strides and gently reached for my hand. “I am Storgin, my dear. I am very pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise.” I grinned at him as he air-kissed above my hand and gave a little bow. Even though he came close enough for me to feel the tickle of his skin, he didn’t quite touch me.
It was a little weird, but I could tell he was genuine. His eyes sparkled with mischief and I knew he was making fun of his own affected pose. I liked him immediately.
“Who says I wanted to be signed up?” the drunk one asked. “You had no right.”
“Are you seriously complaining, Thelkor?” The one standing by the captain glared at him. “This is a marvelous opportunity. Welcome, Rachel. I’m Olath.”
“Great to meet you.” I nodded his way, trying to evade the glare of the other one.
“As if this place wasn’t already a fucking circus!” he said angrily. “Now this! Honestly, we have enough problems today without having little girls showing up that we have to babysit.”
“Excuse me—” I thundered, ready to give the guy a verbal blasting that he would never forget. But my attempt was drowned out by the other guys.
“Thelkor, shut the fuck up. If anything, this has brightened the day,” Storgin was still close to me, glaring at Thelkor. It was obvious that the guy was a literal train wreck, and his buddies were used to his difficult nature.
I didn’t think I was going to get used to it.
“I agree, the timing is poor,” the captain said. “We are neck deep in it right now. We have to move out and that means we have to choose a pilot, but—”
“I’m a pilot,” I cut in. They all turned to look at me as if I’d grown two extra heads.
“That is very lucky for us,” Storgin said, smiling. “Let us go to the bridge, and you can look over the controls.”
Thelkor spluttered as he followed, almost dropping his bottle of booze. “Oh, great. She teleports in from who knows where, we know nothing about her skills, but you’re going to just let her fly? Great, this is fucking great—”
“Will you shut up!” Captain Timcur snapped, spinning to face Thelkor.
As the captain engaged him in an argument, Storgin quietly left my side and walked smoothly across the room. He pulled a small device from his pocket and stepped behind Thelkor, then pressed it to Thelkor’s neck. Thelkor’s eyes closed and he hit the deck with a loud thud, obviously tranquilized.
“Thank you,” Olath breathed. “I was going to resort to a crowbar soon if he didn’t shut up.”
Storgin shrugged. “A crowbar would have the same effect.”
“But far more fun,” muttered Olath.
I looked around the room, wondering if that sort of thing was usual around here. The guys seemed very comfortable, and Thelkor had started to snore softly.
“Okay, Rachel,” Timcur said. “Let’s get you settled in. We have a mission and it’s vital that we leave now. We can get your match straightened out later. Right now, we have to deploy.”
I nodded. It was a comfort to me that I was going straight to the pilot’s chair. Even though I was in an unfamiliar place, I had a job to do and it was one I knew very well.