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10.3 – Jane’s Honor (Part 3)

“I don’t like the way the Terran guards look at us, Blue.” Jane leaned over the security screen, stabbing a finger at the image on it.

“They’re not guards Captain.” Blue’s tone was one of exaggerated patience. “They’re just normal Terrans who like keeping the edges of their forest neat and trimmed.”

“And who just happen to be there every day?” Jane crossed her arms and watched the two Terrans, as the small team of Orbitan engineers entered the forest, making for the edge of the Orbital to work on the heat vent that had been their project for the past week. The engineers didn’t notice one of the Terran “gardeners” breaking off from his project to tail them, and it left a prickling sensation on the back of Jane’s arms to watch them walk out of the camera’s view.

“Captain Appet!” Blue barked, and Jane jumped. “The engineers went and returned yesterday. They went and returned the day before that. General Hunter went and met with them the day before that, and if they really wanted to cripple us they would’ve done better to kill the General than to kill a handful of engineers. They will be fine.”

“Blue, I’m telling you that this so-called ‘peace’ isn’t going to last.” Jane muttered. Now that she wasn’t keeping tabs on the Terran guards she shifted restlessly.

“There are precious few on this Orbital naive enough to believe it will Captain.” Blue replied.

“Then how can everyone be so calm about it? How am I the only one paying attention?” Jane balled her fists.

“Oh, pardon me, I forgot you were the one with cameras in every room and the multi-processing ability to mentally parse them all.” Blue said wryly. “Maybe most of them just realize what you can’t seem to wrap your head around; this peace isn’t going to last.”

“I literally just said that.”

“But apparently you don’t ‘get’ it, because instead of getting your bearings, getting sleep, taking stock, and honing your abilities for when war DOES break out again, you’re running yourself ragged trying to keep track of things that have already been handled.”

Jane opened her mouth to snap back a retort, but paused.

“Oh my stars.” Blue said. “I’m actually right, aren’t I?”

“I…I’m just trying to keep on being wary,” Jane said defensively, “it would suck to be caught off-guard, and when the real fighting kicks off, they won’t need me as much as they need me now…” It sounded stupid even to her own ears, and Jane blushed as Blue laughed.

“Oh my god I can’t believe I was right! I was just guessing, I don’t even know what it looks like when a human ‘runs themselves ragged’. Wow I’m getting so good at this ‘humans’ thing.”

“Alright then, what do I do?” Jane couldn’t help smiling at her synthetic friend’s enthusiasm.

“Tell you what. I promise I’ll keep an eye on any Terran that sets foot in range of my cameras. You go out and…I don’t know, do something fun. Something that recharges your mental batteries. Something that ISN’T the worrying and fretting and staring at screens that you’ve been doing for the past week. No Orbital work.”

“So you’re saying I can worry as long as I do it in the Terran forest?” Jane asked, only half-joking.

“And just for that smart-assed comment, some additional homework: I’m setting your screen to ping you at the top of every hour. When you get that ping, I want you to say to yourself, out loud, something positive in your life that you’re grateful for. The first one is in twenty minutes, but let’s test it out now.” Jane’s screen at her belt gave a small ping.

“I’m grateful for busybody friends who think they know what’s best for me.” Jane raised a hand in a mock salute as she left Blue chuckling in the empty room behind her.

She actually did end up wandering to the edge of the Terran forest, although she had no intention of entering it. Apparently it was a quite beautiful place, or so she’d been told, but when the inevitable action broke out she would prefer to be on the right side of it. She simply stood there, arms crossed, staring at the trees, enjoying how nervous she was making the “gardener”. Her screen pinged, and she rolled her eyes, but she knew that Blue would probably review security logs to see if she had done it.

“I’m grateful for…I dunno, for the rookies I guess. Wherever they all are. Even the ones that hate me. I’m also grateful that no one’s forcing me into a god-damned Terran forest.” She growled quietly.


“This is such a horrifyingly bad idea.” Preston whispered, but he was grinned from ear to ear.

“Are you saying you want to stop?” Missy whispered too, not because she was scared of getting caught, but because her lips were inches away from his ear, and she knew how much he liked the feeling of her breath on his neck. “I’ll stop if you tell me to stop, but if you don’t, I don’t know if I can keep my hands off of you.” Her lips brushed across his skin as she grinned. The bulge of his erection pressing against her stomach told her the answer to her question, but she leaned back and blinked with wide innocent eyes.

“I’m not telling you to stop, you fuckin’ tease.” Preston growled, “I’m just saying hanging out in a Terran forest is a bad idea.” His bravado was ruined by the way his eyes flicked from side to side. Missy liked that. When they had first started their relationship, it had been she who was afraid, she who was unconfident. He had coaxed the sexual side of her out and into the open, and now she was the adventurous one, it was she who got to tease him about being uncomfortable.

“Geez, you are terrified.” Missy giggled. She could feel his heartbeat hammering through the soft fabric of his shirt as she slid her hands up and down his clothed chest. Preston leaned his head back against the tree trunk he leaned against, closing his eyes.

“I’m not terrified, I’m just…concerned that if the Terrans catch us having sex in their forest, we’ll get in more trouble than if-” His words cut out with a gasp as Missy took advantage of his closed eyes to grab between his legs and squeeze. She slowly rubbed the stiffening head through his pants, half-smiling as she watched his face. In the mottled green light of the Terran’s forest her lover’s golden hair made him look like a prince or a fairy from a book. He was handsome enough that she still sometimes had trouble believing he was all hers.

“You know, there used to be a time when the prospect of getting caught turned you on.” Missy said quietly, stepping back and releasing his package with reluctance. His eyes were still closed, and she grinned and slipped her arms through the sleeves of her shirt. When he opened them again, she was standing a few paces away from him, holding her balled up shirt in her hand. There was somehow always a breeze in the forests, and the feeling of it on her bare skin was almost as good as the triumphant feeling she got as he drank the sight of her in.

“Am I losing my touch, Preston? Does your innocent and naive girlfriend just not do it for you anymore?” She batted her long eyelashes at him. In contrast to her professed innocence, she ran a hand up her bare stomach and squeezed her own breast, softly pinching her pink nipple between thumb and forefinger. She didn’t have to fake the small moan of pleasure, and her other hand trailed down to untie the strings of her pants. With a few small motions they hung loose on her hips, just low enough that a small strip of her brown pubic hair showed over their edge.

“What happens if someone comes by?” Preston mustered, his eyes moving to the motion of her hand as it rolled her hard nipple between her fingers, then down to the barely-concealed place where she wanted attention. He was close to jumping her, so close she considered just ordering him to and getting it over with. Missy resisted the impulse; it was so much more fun when she made him pounce her of his own volition. When she glanced down and noted how hard he had gotten, she smiled. Just a little dirty talk was all it would take.

“Then that someone will see your girlfriend, completely naked.” Still matching his gaze, she threw her balled up shirt as far away as she could. “That someone,” she continued, slipping her pants down her legs and stepping out of them, “would see you pushing deep inside of my cunt,” she relished the crude word on her lips as she kicked the pants away. The breeze against her legs and arms was just a little chilly now, but the benefits far, far outweighed the chill.

She stepped closer, pressing her body against him, ignoring the prickle of twigs and leaves against her bare feet and focusing instead on how the bulge of Preston’s erection felt pushing up against her mound. She stood on her tiptoes, shivering a little as the rough fabric of his pants slipped against her thighs; his cock pressing against her pussy with only a layer of cloth between them. Missy wrapped her arms around Preston’s neck and whispered her final words into his ear.

“That person would see you pounding me, splitting me with your giant cock, fucking me so hard it hurts. They would hear me moaning your name, and they would be jealous.”

Preston grunted as he lifted her, and she grinned when he yanked his pants down; too hurried to get undressed, too desperate with lust to do anything but take her. She was so wet that his entire length met no resistance when he impaled her, and she closed her eyes and lost herself to the feeling of his shaft stretching her, filling her, completing her. Missy gasped into his ear, knowing that he wouldn’t care what she was saying as long as he could hear her voice breaking with pleasure every time he thrust inside of her.

“And you said…going to…the forest…was…a bad idea.”


“Oh crap, someone save us! It’s a Terran attack force!” Alex cried, her voice bouncing around the almost empty training room.

“Ha ha, very funny.” Tes closed the door behind her and set down her small bag, stretching her arms. “I wish you wouldn’t say that so loud. You’d be surprised at how many people would consider it a good enough excuse to start slinging spells at me.” She saw Jackson open his mouth to correct her, and she raised a hand to stop him. “I know, I know, you don’t use spells you use bull-heads or something. They’re spells to me.”

“Aw I’m sorry hon. I’m sure you got plenty of strange looks on the way here, I didn’t mean to push your buttons.” Alex gave her a sympathetic look.

“They’re bullets, actually. Have you considered wearing a wig?” Jackson asked thoughtfully. As usual, Tes had to search his face for a few moments before she realized he was joking. She still wasn’t quite used to Orbitan humor, but she was at least getting more familiar with Jackson.

“I would, but if a Terran wears a wig it slowly changes to match our true hair color, so it’s rather pointless.” Tes replied, pulling her climbing gear out of the bag she carried.

“Really? How does that work exactly?” Jackson paused midway through yanking on his own gear to stare at her. Tes just continued clasping the straps and clipping on her tether, until his face finally cleared. “You were joking.”

Oh good, that DID count as an Orbitan joke. Tes smiled, relieved.

“You know if anyone gives you any real trouble, you can point them out to us and we’ll have a talk with them.” Jackson grunted as they started their climb up the training wall. “Terran or not, you’re still our squadmate.”

“I appreciate the offer, but…” Tes searched for the words to communicate her feelings.

“But you’re an idiot, Jackson.” Alex broke in. She was already a little higher on the wall than them, and Tes had to focus to keep up.

“What did I do?” Jackson didn’t seem to mind that he was falling behind, and he gave Alex a look of injured innocence.

“You basically said we would defend her, not because she’s our friend, but because she’s our squadmate. You even threw a nice ‘Terran or not’ in there.”

“Oh.” Jackson lapsed into silence, and Tes gave Alex an appreciative smile. It was understanding like that that made Tes like this particular ex-squaddie. “I apologize Tes, I didn’t mean for it to sound that way. I’m still learning, you know? Re-training my mind as well as my body.”

“It’s okay.” She replied. It was open-mindedness like that that made Tes like Jackson.

“I dunno Jackson,” Alex said, “you’re falling pretty far behind there, can you really say you’re training your body all that well?”

“Oh I did that on purpose so I can stare at your butts on the way up.” Jackson grinned.

“Jackson!” Alex scolded.

“What would your red-haired girlfriends say?” Tes giggled.

“They’d probably warn me about teasing friends who can magically make me blind.”

“Nah, I would just make you magically unable to see women’s butts. Joking.” Tes clarified, at the look of utter horror Jackson was giving her.

“That shit isn’t even remotely funny.”


“Oh god Li, no. No no no no.” Aimee gasped, closing her eyes and pressing her head against his chest.

“Um. I think I need clarification.” Li said uncertainly. “You’re saying ‘no’ a lot.”

“I am saying no.” Aimee clarified.

“But…you’re also doing that.” Li pointed down at her fingers wrapped around his length, gently stroking up and down his shaft. Her naked breasts were pressed against him, and the tiny storage closet already smelled like sweat and sex.

“But I shouldn’t be doing this! Not after I broke up with you!” Despite her protests, Aimee kept stroking him, occasionally flicking her thumb over his cockhead, and she could sort of see where he was confused. “This shouldn’t happen!”

“And yet this keeps happening.”

“It’s only happening now because it’s been soo long.” Aimee whimpered. “I have a high sex drive, and it’s been so long since we’ve had sex-”

“Aimee, it’s been less than twenty-four hours.”

Oh right…against the wall in the engine room… “But we’re broken up! No longer together!”

“Hmm.” Li moved her gently across the few feet of the room, until her naked back pressed against the cold metal wall. The chill made her gasp, but she continued to work his dick, a little faster now. Her mind focused on his dark eyes inches away from her own, and when his fingers ran lightly up and down her hips she felt a thrill that had nothing to do with the cold.

“Do we have to be together for you to enjoy this?” He asked. His thumbs were so close to brushing through her patch of hair, and all she wanted was for them to move further, to brush through and dip lower.

“No, I enjoy it, and I can tell you do to.” She grinned, sliding a finger down to stroke his balls while her hand moved back and forth. “That’s not the problem.”

“The problem seems to be…” Li paused for a moment, leaning in and pressing his lips against hers. Even in the rapidly heating closet his lips were warm, with just the right amount of firmness. Aimee melted into the kiss, opening for him and giving a small whimper. She forgot about his member in her hand, forgot about her worries, and let herself enjoy every millimeter of his skin that was touching her.

She didn’t know when his fingers began twirling in aimless patterns through her bush, but she noticed when they brushed across her clit with electric jolts. With a gasp she broke the kiss, trying to regain her train of thought while sliding her hands against his member, a task made so much harder by the shocks of pleasure he was sending through her.

“…you don’t like being in a relationship.” Li finished softly, as one of his fingers parted her lips and began sliding back and forth across her opening.

“But I love this.” Aimee moaned. Her hand was sticky with Li’s precum, and she loved the feeling, loved the way his hips were bucking to thrust his cock into her hand.

“Then lets keep doing this.” His voice was deep and quiet, and it hit every nerve down her spine, just as his finger hit all the right places as it slid effortlessly into her slit. “Why not just have this?”

She was pretty sure it was a rhetorical question, which was good since she couldn’t answer. His fingers were curling inside of her, pushing against her g-spot as his hand rubbed her clit. He knew every inch of her body, and right now he was playing her like an instrument. She increased her pace at the same time, the wet noises of her hands sliding back and forth on his member and the sweet smell of their sex making her even more hot.

He let out a moan as he came, and the sound combined with the feeling of his hot jizz on her fingers and wrist made her dizzy with lust. As if reading her mind Li curled his fingers again, sending her over the edge even as he shot his load into her hand. She could feel her cunt tightening around his fingers, the smell of her own juices filled the closet, and from his ragged breathing she could tell he could smell it too.

She didn’t know how long they stood there, their bodies tense and quivering against each other, but she loved every second of it. When they finally separated, both covered in sweat and fluids, she was wearing a grin that matched his own.

“So…just this?” She asked, as Li turned and began searching the shelves around them for a towel.

“Why not? We make good friends. We make each other feel good. Why complicate things with what something we feel like we have to do when neither of us want it?”

Aimee considered for the entire time Li helped her wipe herself off with the towel, and as she slipped her pants back on she finally shrugged.

“Good friends it is then. Good friends that occasionally screw each other.”

“Very occasionally. And only after a long long time between each session.” Li was grinning too.

“Agreed.” Aimee pulled her shirt on, and gave Li an appreciative look. “So…are you doing anything tomorrow morning?”


After the third hour spent wandering the halls, Jane had decided that she hated taking time for herself. Boredom and unease wrestled in her mind, and she didn’t know which was worse. She had tried thinking of what she would do to unwind back on Orbital Academy, but that usually boiled down to flying, preparing to fly, cleaning and maintaining her cruiser, and very occasionally drinking.

And what’ve I got now? Jane thought dejectedly. No ships to clean, no hangars to fly from. Might be able to snag some booze, but I somehow doubt that getting drunk alone in my room is what Blue had in mind. The hum of activity at the end of the hallway attracted her attention, and she sauntered towards it for lack of anything better to do.

A handful of engineers were working on one side of the long room, breaking large engines apart and assembling something else with them. On the other side, standing on a large ladder to reach the top of another huge engine, Marcus was working diligently to unscrew a twisted silver piece that looked like an ear. He gave a nod as he saw her, waving her over.

“Howdy Cap’n Jane.” He said good-naturedly. “Can you believe none of these so-called ‘engineers’ know anything about a Curbine Twenty-aught-twenty?” The sentence seemed so strange to her that it took Jane a few moments to realize why.

“Rook, did you just call me ‘Cap’n Jane’?” She asked. It was the first time one of the rookies had called her anything but “Captain Appet” since so many months ago, back when Marcus was still in the rush of post-sex afterglow.

“You remember that first day we met?” Marcus said, as if reading her mind. As he spoke he carefully removed the silver piece from the engine, carrying it down from the ladder. “You told us ‘if you ever call me something other than Captain Appet, you’d best be sure we’re friends’.”

“I remember.” Jane watched him as he picked up a soft cloth and carefully wiped down the piece in his hands. She liked a man who knew what made an engine hum. A man like that could be counted on to keep his own gear maintained. She had also forgotten the way the beads in his long dreadlocked hair clicked together when he moved his head.

Why had she thought it was necessary to stop sleeping with him? Something about being his superior? Or had she found him too clingy? Whatever the reason, maybe that could be fixed…her eyes travelled up and down his back, noting the muscles rippling beneath his white shirt, dirty with grease. A sudden memory of his dark skin contrasting against her the naked pale pink of her own took her breath away for a moment. Did it even matter anymore, now that she wasn’t his captain?

“You’re not my instructor any more.” Marcus seemed to read her mind again, and Jane blushed despite herself. “And it seems to me that’s what you really want, is a friend.” He tossed the piece and the cloth to her, and climbed back up the ladder, leaving her open-mouthed and on the ground.

That was…definitely not where I thought that was going. She thought as she composed herself.

“Pretty forward there, aren’t you? Just assuming you’ll fit in that role, acting like my friend already.” Jane wasn’t actually offended, but she didn’t know how to respond. It seemed like Marcus was an entirely different person than the rookie she took in a dark conference room. Of course that had been an entire year ago…a lot had changed.

“You like forward.” Marcus glanced down the ladder at her, working his tools with a precision that she was surprised to see in his large frame. “If you can grab me and fuck me on the first day of training, I can call you ‘Jane’ the first day we’re friends.”

Jane raised an eyebrow, but she had to admit he was using a surprisingly effective tactic. She liked his easy confidence, and she liked the way he said ‘the first day’, as if simply taking for granted that there would be many more.

“Don’t even know a Curbine Twenty-Aught-Twenty, eh?” She asked, working the cloth into the nooks of the familiar piece.

“Not a damned thing. I told them they need to get a hold of Appet’s old crew when they could find them, but in the meantime I’m down here just about every day. You know the Curbine; it’s shit in the air but you can part out the whole damn ship. They’re using it for water aerators right now…”

And just like that, they were talking and working together, as if they’d had the whole year to form a fast friendship. At her belt, a small ping went off, and Marcus looked down questioningly.

“I’m supposed to say something I’m grateful for.” Jane said sheepishly.

“Go on then.” Marcus waved with his screwdriver.

Jane hopped up to sit on the tool bench, polishing the last of the carbon from the ancient ship piece. Her mind wandered back to the rookies’ first day, how she had thought everything would be so different, and yet could never imagine just how much would’ve changed.

“I’m thankful for the past year,” she answered quietly, staring down at the piece in her hand, “whatever else has come of it, it’s definitely been…interesting.”

And in the core of the Orbital, halfway between a silver moon and a green-tinged planet, Jane smiled.


Previous Chapter (SFW): Jane’s Honor (Part 2)

10.3 – Jane’s Honor (Part 2)

“Captain Appet, it’s about time you got here.” General Hunter’s glare seemed to pierce through Jane’s heart, but she kept her chin up as she surveyed the room. It consisted mostly of video monitors on the walls and inlaid into the long desks that lined the room, and at the moment it was full of people.

Jane hadn’t learned all of the Pivot chiefs’ names yet, but a quick headcount told her that they were all there, as well as several of the higher-level Pivot staff and workers, with some security forces as well. The room had been buzzing with chatter as she entered, but now everyone was eerily silent. A part of Jane wanted to believe it was mere self consciousness that told her the conversation had been about her, but every eye in the entire room was on her, and all activity had paused.

“I’m sorry for the delay sir.” Jane strode into the room and up to General Hunter, ignoring the attention and pretending she had some confidence. “I thought our meeting was at 1300. And in private.” Her facade of confidence shook a little as she threw a glance to one side, confirming again that she was the center of attention.

“What?” General Hunter had been pacing in front of the largest video screen, and he shot her a look of mingled annoyance and confusion. “Oh, that. Sod the meeting, it doesn’t matter. Blue play her the current feed outside the shield.” Jane’s gaze moved to the screen, which was clearly from a single camera just outside the silver wall.

Her gaze was at first arrested by Tess, sitting on the edge of the camera’s vision. The girl had a dark circle under her single eye, but she was otherwise quite relaxed, leaning back against the huge side of a full grown Drake. The Drake itself seemed perfectly content to let her rest against it, its intelligent eyes roving the surroundings with the easy confidence that only a predator could exude. As usual, Tess’ short hair hung in front of her face and obscured her eyepatch, but her good eye was flitting back and forth between the camera and the others in the room.

Jane dragged her eyes away from her erstwhile rookie to size up the other Terrans that stood just outside the shield. None of them were speaking, or showing any sign of aggression, but there were a lot of them; far more than Jane thought had made it onto the Orbital. There were about fifteen hanging back around the edges of the forest, half hidden behind trees or bushes. Among them were the miniature Drakes, unleashed and uncontrolled as far as she could tell.

Standing in the middle of the room, their arms crossed and looking resolute, three Terrans and one of the small Drakes were clearly waiting for something. The middle two, a man and a woman, waited completely impassively. He had short-cropped green hair, and she had long braids of vivid purple that fell to her waist, but they both wore the same blank expression of steel. It was as if they had taken their emotions and wiped them away, replacing them with the determined stare held steadfastly on the silver shielding in front of them.

The small Drakeling stood on the far left, motionless but for its head which swung around every now and then to take in the surroundings. Its long forked tongue flicked out once in a while, as if tasting the scents of the air. It too wore no leash or restraint of any kind, and Jane marvelled at how well behaved it was. On the very right of the group was a young Terran with a green ponytail and a pierced ear. He wasn’t even close to hiding how nervous he was, and he kept glancing back at Tess. Whenever she saw him do so, Tess would give him a smile and a reassuring nod.

Got yourself a Terran boyfriend? Jane furrowed her brow, trying to work out what was going on just outside the shield.

“Are they working on some sort of spell or something? Something to take down the wall? It doesn’t look like they’re doing much at all.” Jane finally asked.

“Show her the clip, Blue.” General Hunter’s voice was quiet, and Jane almost prefered him growling. The tension in the room was starting to grow unbearable; not a single person had uttered a word since she’d entered, and she could feel the prickle of the entire room’s stares against the back of her neck.

The video feed in front of her flickered as Blue rewound, and Jane watched the group slowly approach the silver shielding, Tess and the four talking quietly among themselves. The timestamp showed that it had been about fifteen minutes ago.

They group came to some agreement, and the four had adopted their mostly-impassive stances as Tess turned to the camera. Her voice was prim and formal when she spoke.

“You see before you the great master and commander Prince Gre, who represents the Blue Tribe of the great Terra Forma. You see before you the powerful and just Prince Aye, whose mouth carries the words of the Green Tribe of the great Terra Forma. You see before you the exacting yet merciful Duchess Pry, who allows you a glimpse of the glory of the Purple Tribe of the great Terra Forma.”

Tess made a sweeping gesture with her arm towards the four who stood there before she continued. “You see before you, below them, my low self, Tes Ro Hsa, whose humble tongue they shall use, lest they dirty their own with the Exiles’ low speech. You see before you, below them, my low brother, Krin Te Hsa, whose noble magic shall protect the great nobles who deign appear before you.”

She glanced behind her again, as if for confirmation. Jane caught the woman giving the tiniest of nods, and Tess relaxed a little, turning back to the camera.

“Formality and ‘doing things right’ are very important to our people.” She explained, slipping out of the formal speech. “Now that that part’s out of the way I’m allowed to speak a little more clearly. I’ve had some long talks with my people, over the past few days. They’re willing to meet peacefully, to discuss a truce.”

The General made a motion, and Blue paused the video. Jane was still reeling with shock. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Hunter watching her carefully, but she had no idea why. A truce with the Terrans? How would that even work? Orbitans and Terrans had fought each other since the beginning of time, and now for the first time in history they had gotten a foothold in the stars. They were the strongest they had ever been, why would they be working towards peace now?

“Well? What are your thoughts?” Hunter asked gruffly.

“It’s a trap.” Jane said with certainty. “It has to be. Don’t go out there General, it’s a ploy to get rid of our leadership, and not a very clever ploy at that.”

“Hm.” Hunter stroked his chin. “So you had no idea your rookie was going to do that? That she was going to convince them to sue for peace?”

“I still don’t!” Jane said. “Sir, you can’t possibly be thinking about actually meeting with them. You’re too important to Orbital Pivot, and it seems to me like all they’re trying to do is get the big decision-makers in the same spot so they can tear them limb from limb. No offense meant General, but you’d have to be an idiot to go out there.”

General Hunter searched her face for several long moments, and then motioned for Blue to continue the feed. Tess’ voice cut in again.

“We promise your safety until at least a day after the discussion has ended, and as you can see we’re keeping all of their warriors well back away from the meeting place. They’re even willing to let me translate, so that Exiles won’t suffer any discomfort from their way of speaking. But…” Tess’ good eye narrowed “…I had them add an additional stipulation.”

The girl seemed to struggle for words, even though she lifted her chin defiantly as she spoke. “I…I wasn’t in there long enough to learn much. But I learned a lot about the girl you knew, the one you lost. Tess. I had a hint…a taste of what that life was like. I don’t want…don’t want to lose my Terran life. But the friends I have in there…the ones who love me, even though I’m a Terran…” She trailed off, looking so lost that Jane wished she could give her old rookie a hug.

Krin, the Terran Tess had called her ‘brother’, said something too quiet to be heard, and Tess shook herself on the recording, seeming to gather her strength again.

“The tribes of Terra Forma have agreed that I am the best choice of intermediary between my people and….my people.” She said the last two words carefully, deliberately. “That means they’ll defer to me on who to trust. There’s only one person with authority I trust in Orbital Pivot, which means there’s only one person with authority that they trust. The Terrans wish to strike this treaty with Captain Jane Appet.”

The recorded portion ended and flicked back to real-time, where the Terrans waited in front of the silver shield. Jane would expect every eye to turn to look at her, but of course every eye already was locked onto her. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, unsure of anything she could say. It was suddenly very hard to put thoughts together, and General Hunter’s gruff voice interrupted her attempts.

“So, Captain Appet. Are you ready to be idiotic?”


“Aren’t you going to need this to shoot people in the face?” Pivot’s Chief of Security held up the weapon belt that Jane had discarded, her sidearm still dangling in the holster. She already missed the weight of it on her hip, but she shook her head.

“They’re peace talks ma’am.” She said. “I don’t think I’ll be shooting anyone in the face.”

“They’re Terrans, Captain.” Chief Kathryn held the gun out to her, butt first. Jane glanced over her shoulder at the silver shielding that separated her and the group of Terrans. There were enough security forces on this side of the shielding to lay waste to the forest, but right now they were only serving to make her nervous and self-conscious.

“I appreciate the concern, Chief, but I’m going to be face to face with a bunch of Terrans, a Drake and a mini-Drake. If things get bad enough to start shooting, it’s going to be too late for me anyways.” Chief Kathryn nodded once and turned to the assembled security troops.

“The shielding is coming down for approximately three seconds, then snapping back up. There shouldn’t be enough time for anything nasty to go down, but if it does you need to be ready for it. If the shielding does not go back up in ten seconds, open fire. If the shielding goes back down without Blue giving the ‘all okay’ warning, open fire.” She turned to Jane, giving her a once-over. “You ready for this?” She asked.

“I’ve got my earpiece.” Jane nodded, trying to ignore the knots in her stomach, so tight it was sending little shoots of pain through her. “I’ll be fine.”

Chief Kathryn opened her mouth as if to say something, but instead she shook her head and stepped back through the door behind them.

“We’re all clear Blue.” She said into her earpiece.

“Hello Captain Jane.” Hunter’s voice sounded quiet and subdued in her ear. “We know you probably don’t want a lot of chatter in your ear, so I’m going to be right here with you. The Chiefs and Blue will be communicating with me, but you only need to worry about my voice. You nervous?”

“A little bit General.” Jane stepped forward, until she was so close to the silver shield that she could see nothing but the reflection of the security forces behind her, and her own face. She was surprised at how calm she felt, even with the anxious knot. “It’s kind of a historic event, after all.”

“Only historic if you actually establish a truce.” Hunter growled. “Nothing historic about Terrans springing a trap.” Jane’s stomach did a backflip, and she wished for a moment it was Blue’s calm voice in her ear instead of the General’s. “Shield dropping in three. Two. One.”

Jane barely had time to mentally prepare before the shielding dropped. She was close enough that she didn’t even see it move; one moment she was staring at the silver reflections, the next there were Terrans and a forest in front of her, and the crash of the wall filled her ears. She didn’t give herself the time to lose her nerve, taking a quick step forward and across the silver line. Another crash made her wince as the shielding snapped back into place, and Jane stared across a gap of a handful of meters at the assembled Terrans.

Now that she was in front of them, ridiculously trivial things seemed to take up all of her attention. It was pleasantly cool on this side of the wall, and Jane marvelled at how much heat must’ve accumulated in the Orbital core in just a few days for her to notice the difference. The Drake in the far background didn’t even look real when it swung its head towards her, but the little Drakeling that was sizing her up looked deadly.

Jane realized that she had stopped breathing, and she struggled to start again without gasping like a fish. The Terrans were watching her impassively, somehow managing to pack condescension into faces that held no expression, and she was going to be damned if she made the Orbitans look bad by comparison.

That small flash of anger helped clarify her mind a bit, and Jane lifted her chin and matched the gaze of the green-haired Terran who stood in the middle. Tess’ new hair color was green, she reasoned, so this would be the leader of Tess’ new tribe. It was odd how easily she thought of them as “Tess’ people”. That thought was driven from her head when Tess approached, moving with an easy and comfortable gait, a large smile on her face.

“Captain Appet. I’m glad they let you come.” Tess said, stopping a few feet from her.

“Let her know that you’re here on official capacity.” Hunter advised. “Let them know that if anything happens to you, they’ll pay for it.”

Jane flashed Tess a quick smile, then directed her attention to the Terrans.

“The most, um, noble and wrathful Hunter, General of the Pivot Orbitans, king of the um…king of the ten Chieftains, does consent to a discussion of peace, using me as his mouthpiece.”

“Good. Formal, they’ll like that.” Tess whispered with a nod. Behind her the Terrans made no move, but Jane felt a little better at her reassurance.

“You think I’m wrathful?” Hunter chuckled in her ear. “Chief of Security Kathryn would like to have a word with you after negotiations about exactly who is ‘king’ over her.” Both the joking tone and the mention of a time after these negotiations helped Jane to relax a little bit. The Terrans were still, and Tess was waiting patiently, head bowed, arms clasped in front of her.

“Um…hello Captain.” Jane almost reeled back in shock as the thoughts ran through her head, in Tess’ voice.

Hello? The Terrans can talk through minds? How the hell did we not know that? Jane thought to herself. She felt vaguely foolish thinking thoughts to communicate, but if she was wrong at least no one would be privy to her embarrassment.

“It’s hard to do, and it only works if we really focus at it, so it’s not something we can do in combat.” Tess explained calmly, again in Jane’s head. “And only the royals are actually allowed to do it.”

Breaking their rules? So you aren’t as devoted to the Terrans as one might think. Jane thought, smiling.

“Don’t smile at me!” Tess’ internal voice was fierce. “I AM still a Terran, Captain. I’m as devoted to them as I ever was, and just because I don’t want you Exiles to die it doesn’t mean I’m any less of who I am.”

Jane watched the Terran leaders, trying to look as impassive as they did. She wondered just how convincing Tess had had to be for this meeting to even be happening.

“I can’t hear you unless you’re actually sending me a thought Captain.”

I’m just surprised that we’re even here. You must be very persuasive, to get them here, to this point. Even if we can’t establish a peace, that’s something to be proud of.

“I’d like to take credit, but mostly they’re worried about what I’ve told them about the Exiles.”

You shared information with the enemy?

”I shared information about the enemy with my family.” Tess had been looking down demurely, but her eyes flashed for a moment as she glanced upward. ”So that neither they nor my Exile friends would get hurt or killed. I told them about your magics, and how they could be far, far more powerful than ours, as long as you have the correct implements and are within the sphere of your own domain. They wouldn’t have believed me if they hadn’t seen the sky go dark at your command a few days ago. The fact that my squaddies and the warriors on the other side still hurled spells accurately worried them. No one here had ever seen Exiles beat Terrans like that before.”

Jane considered this for a moment. Among the Orbitans there had been some debate over whether the Terrans truly used magic, or just had technology they didn’t understand. It had never occurred to her how it must look to the Terrans. If they stayed in the confines of the Orbital it must look to them like there was enough power to completely change the environment. To a magically-inclined mind, something as simply as turning the lights off seemed grandios.

So for the first time, the Terrans are scared of us.

“They’re almost ready. Pay careful attention to wording.”

Tess was tilting her head to one side, as if listening to a whisper she could only barely hear, and Jane waited for the first offer from the Terrans.

“The merciful royals of Terra Forma make this offer: the Exiles may continue to live, provided they lower the silver wall, submit themselves as slaves, and succomb to Terran rule in all things.”

Jane raised a single eyebrow. She didn’t think she had to wait for Hunter to speak, but she wanted to keep the talk consistent. No point in answering some questions quickly and others slow.

“Tell them they can shove a Drake up their ass.” Hunter snarled.

“The great General Hunter is displeased.” Jane said wryly. “He thinks this matter is too important to tarnish with jokes.”

“If you don’t make a counteroffer that’s just as outlandish, they’ll think this is a good baseline.”

Jane hesitated for a moment. There was no way to communicate with the General, but there was no denying the need was desperate.

“General Hunter makes an offer to you,” Jane began.

“What? No I don’t. Let’s just see how they take-” The General snapped in her ear, but Jane continued on.

“The General is willing to forgive the Terrans and spare their lives, and in gratitude the Terrans must return to their lands. Every year, they will pay a tribute to the Orbitans, that they never forget the General’s mercy.”

“What are you doing Appet?” Hunter roared. Jane tried not to wince at the volume, moving her left hand behind her back, and she desperately signed in morse: I-N-S-I-D-E-K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E. “Well why can’t we see it on the cameras then? What’ve you got Captain? Damnit I can’t give you orders if I don’t know what information you have!”

”That was really good. Terran royalty doesn’t respect anyone if they don’t push back a little.”

“The royals of Terra Forma appreciate your General’s generosity in this, but worry that their own people may rebel against such harsh measures, turning back to attack the Exiles against the royals’ wishes. It would be a shame for our great peace to be broken so suddenly.” Tess said. Jane’s head spun trying to keep Hunter’s voice, Tess’ mental speech, and her physical speech straight in her head as the former rookie continued. “Instead, the royals wish to know what they may offer to ease the burden of remaining on the Exiles’ moon.”

“I will not pass this message on to my great General while it contains your insults. There are no Exiles here, only Orbitans.” Jane folded her arms across her chest.

“I said push back a LITTLE, Captain.” Tess was looking at the floor again, but the smallest hint of a smile played around her lips.

What is it with that whole ‘exiles’ thing, anyways?

“Is it different in your mythology?” Tess’ mental voice sounded surprised. “We’re taught that the Exi- that the Orbitans lived on the surface, long ago, until they were exiled into the stars. It was meant as a death sentence, but you somehow survived and thrived. They say that is why you fight us, to get revenge on us for taking the planet from you.”

Jane processed this new information. It was interesting, but not exactly relevant, and Tess was tilting her head again, indicating she was getting instructions.

“The royal Terrans did not mean to offend. They meant the word as a compliment,” Tess’ back was to the Terrans, so they didn’t see her roll her eyes and grin, “and are grieved that you interpreted it as an insult.”

“Alright Jane,” General Hunter’s voice was more subdued now, “after some discussion up here, we’ve decided we’re going to give you free reign on this. We want a locked-down treaty, we want to be able to keep the walls down so we can run our generators, and more importantly we want access to the outside world so we can get supplies and communication. Do what you think you need to do to make that happen.”

“Both of our great peoples wish for peace.” Jane began, trying to ignore the weight of responsibility that had just been placed on her shoulders. “Whatever our agreement entails, I think we can agree that ‘no violence between our peoples’ should be included.”

“A King can promise a flock, but the shepherd must deliver it.” Tess replied after a small pause. “Is the truce to be broken and the royals shamed if some lowly Terran or Orbitan decides to throw a cantrip?”

“That’s a low-level spell, about the impact of a punch in the face.” Tess mentally clarified. Jane was grateful for the information, but her mind was racing. Of course it was true that the whole species shouldn’t be held responsible for one person’s actions, but she had the sneaking suspicion that if they left that loophole, the Terrans would take advantage of it.

“Only a Terran knows how a Terran suffers, and only an Orbitan can know an Orbitan’s pain.” Jane tried to adopt the Terrans’ lyrical form of speech. “If an Orbitan gives harm to a Terran, then they should be given to Terran judges for punishment. If a Terran raises a fist to an Orbitan, then Orbitans will punish them.” Jane didn’t know anything about Terran justice, but she was pretty sure the threat of it would be enough to keep angry Orbitans from attacking Terrans. Who knew, maybe the Terrans had enough scary bedtime stories about Orbitans to keep them in check as well.

“Chief Kathryn is grumbling over here; we might have trouble in cases of violence where there’s no proof of who started things. Still, it’s a good start.” Hunter said in her ear.

“The royals of Terra Forma wish to keep their trees and the land they have taken through conquest.” Tess said.

“We expected that.” Hunter said. “They have a foothold here for the first time, they’re hardly going to be giving it up. Give it to them.”

“The Orbitans wouldn’t dream of harming the lands of the Terrans,” Jane said carefully, “just as I’m sure the Terrans would not think of extending the forest to impugn upon the Orbital’s land.” Tess nodded minutely, and Jane noticed that behind her the woman with purple hair frowned. So she had guessed that plan right; if it hadn’t been a part of the treaty the Terrans would’ve seen no problem with extending the cover of their trees into the core itself. Even after the treaty was decided, Jane realized, they would have to keep a close eye on the Terrans’ activities.

“Of course,” she added, “that’s not to say that this harsh separation is necessary, now. When our people are at peace, the Terrans can naturally come and go as they please in the halls of the Orbitans.”

“Ehm, I’m not too sure about that-” General Hunter began in her ear, but she continued as if she didn’t hear him.

“Just as Orbitans should be allowed to travel into the forest that you have built.”

“Ah. Hmm. I suppose that helps us more than it does them then. We can keep an eye on them with the cameras when they’re in the core, but they can’t watch us if we want to do some espionage. That’s acceptable.” Hunter said, almost approvingly.

While General Hunter might’ve found it acceptable, the Terrans clearly did not. There were frowns on all of their faces now, even the small Drake’s eyes were narrowed in reptilian disapproval. Jane frowned in return. If this was the only area that displeased them, chances were there were loopholes in the other parts of the deal, but she couldn’t spot them.

“The great leaders of Terra Forma accept these terms.” Tess said formally. “Are there any others?” Jane furrowed her brow trying to think of what she’d missed. It was all too sudden, too simple, too anticlimactic to be really happening. A peace between Terrans and Orbitans was far too monumental to be solved so easily.

Of course, Jane realized, it hadn’t been solved, not really. As soon as General Hunter felt they were strong enough, they would attack the Terrans with everything they had, especially if they could get ships in and out and thus had the support of the other Orbitals. It wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine that the Terrans were planning something similar.

This isn’t a peace-treaty truce, it’s a temporary ceasefire isn’t it? Jane thought, realizing only in the last instant that by phrasing it as a question in her mind she had probably given Tess access to it.

“But it’s better than war.” Tess nodded.

“No violence towards each other, no advancing territory. We get our heat dispersal, and they get to sleep free of our terrible lightswitch powers.” General Hunter seemed to be thinking aloud in her ear. “I don’t like the idea of letting Terrans inside the core, but I’m sure they don’t like the thought of us tramping through their forests either, and believe me, tramp we will. I can stomach this a lot more now that they’re just as scared of us as we are of them.” Glancing from face to stony face, Jane wasn’t quite sure of that, but it wasn’t her call to make.

“This truce is agreeable to General Hunter.” She declared. It felt as if there should be some fanfare, or perhaps a horrible ambush or trap sprung, but that was simply that. The two Terrans and the Drakeling inclined their heads, and Tess and her “brother” bowed much deeper.

So that’s it? We’re at peace now?

“One last warning, Captain. We’re bringing more and more of ours up here. Jia, the girl who is in the Drake, is escorting them from the surface, and I think your other Exi- Orbitan Moons have written you off as dead, because they aren’t stopping them. We’ve got twice the Terrans here than the original boarding party, from all three tribes. In the interest of being both a Terran and an Exile, I thought you should know.” Tess’ thoughts were hesitant, but Jane blinked.

They hadn’t known the Drakes had people inside them, although a Drakeling acting as ambassador for the Blue tribe suddenly made a lot more sense. More importantly, General Hunter would want to know about the steadily increasing number of his enemies.

Jane wasn’t expecting for the shields to drop behind her, but the Terrans apparently were. She braced herself for the sound of gunfire, to be shredded by the crossfire as the soldiers followed Kathryn’s orders and responded to the trap, but the seconds ticked by without violence. Jane glanced behind her, taking in the state of the soldiers; tense, wary, in some cases frightened, but none of them surprised. Blue must’ve given them the all clear. The Orbitans and Terrans were at peace.

Jane didn’t feel very safe or peaceful. She turned her back on the Terrans and walked towards the door that would lead into the Orbitans’ core, expecting the scorching heat of a spell to slam into her back at any moment. This wasn’t over, there was no way it had been so simple. The door was only a room’s length away from her, but it felt like an eternity to walk it.

This isn’t over, there’s something we missed, this isn’t real peace. The words spun through her head, but she reached the door unharmed. When she looked back, most of the Terrans had already slipped away into the forest. Tess was standing a few feet away from the edge, and when she saw the Captain looking she gave a small wave before she followed them, the giant Drake lumbering along at her side.


Previous Chapter (SFW): Jane’s Honor (Part 1)
Next Chapter (NSFW): Jane’s Honor (Part 3)

 

10.3 – Jane’s Honor (Part 1)

From where she sat, Captain Jane Appet could see the prisoner leaning to peer over the edge of the climbing wall. There wasn’t a hint of a breeze moving through the huge room, so the strands of brown hair that were wafting around the prisoner’s face must’ve been moving due to her gentle rocking back and forth.

It’s probably not too wise to sway like she’s doing. Jane mused, especially with her arms chained behind her. No one else around her seemed to be concerned, and of the rows and rows of spectators, there was surely someone more qualified to make the call than she. Jane kept her mouth shut and watched.

Three judges approached the prisoner, each with heavy black cloaks that obscured their faces to everyone, even the prisoner, who stared at them through haunted eyes. Even with her arms twisted behind her back the prisoner seemed hunched over on herself, as if the disapproval from the crowd would be lessened if she could keep the glares from her exposed face. Of course, teetering up there on the edge of the climbing wall, unsecured and without a tether, Jane would probably be just as uncomfortable in her place.

It was a strange sort of trial for several reasons, Jane suddenly realized. The judges were too far away for the audience to hear anything they said, and it was hardly fair to place the defendant in so precarious a position before the trial had even started. No sooner had she realized it than Captain Appet felt the edge of the wall beneath her feet, and her shoulders ached at the awkward position the manacles held them in.

“Ah. One of these dreams then.” Jane glanced at the judges standing in front of her, purposely avoiding looking behind her at the long drop. She had been ten the first time she’d found herself in a nightmare, aware but unable to wake up. In the ensuing years she had learned to deal with them, trying to stay calm and let them run their course, although even as an adult she often woke from them in a cold sweat.

“Maybe I don’t want to play tonight, maybe I just take a step backwards and wake up early.” She said to no one in particular. Her instincts told her to cower and quake, but Jane straightened her spine instead, staring the judges in the face. When they slowly lowered their hoods, the judges’ expressions told her that they didn’t believe her blustering for a moment.

“Stupid idea anyway, trying to bluff my own subconscious.” Jane muttered to herself, her gaze travelling from face to face. The first was Captain Leon, looking as young as the day he had given her the ceremonial graduation pin. The second judge was General Auspus, the old commander of Orbital Academy. The third was, of course, Patrick Appet, her instructor, her first love, the man who had died to keep her safe on the horrible surface run. “So which lecture from my subconscious will it be tonight? ‘You’re worthless Jane, you don’t deserve your Captain wings?’ Perhaps a rendition of ‘you’re such a slut, everyone hates you’? Or will it be that old classic ‘you should’ve died instead of Patrick’?” Jane spoke angrily, but she couldn’t meet the judges’ eyes.

“Captain Jane Cripshaw.” The voice didn’t belong to any one judge, but it somehow encompassed all of them, it was Patrick, it was Auspus, it was her father and her mother and everyone who had ever been in authority over her.

“Captain Appet.” Jane spat, but the voice continued, unstoppable as she knew it would be.

“Thee stand accused of treason and treachery, of betraying thy command, thy Orbital, even unto thy entire race of Orbitans. How do thee plea?”

“Oh hurray, this is a new one.” Jane could feel the old panic of her childhood rising in her throat, and despite how ludicrous it was she could feel a draft from the chasm behind her. “How exactly am I supposed to have I betrayed anyone?”

Though none of their expressions changed, Leon, Auspus and Patrick managed to look incredulous.

“‘Twas thy trained Rookies that split the Orbit, sparking the first flame of war in ten-score years! ‘Twas thy trained Rookies that rebelled against Orbital Academy, and thy trained Rookies that even now sit in the Terran halls. How can’st thee ask the question?”

“First of all, fuck off with the speech impediment; I don’t talk like that so it’s stupid that my subconscious does. Secondly, sure I trained the rookies, but they’re their own people, the choices they made had nothing to do with me! Oh fuck-” Jane groaned as Captain Leon stepped forward. She had handed her subconscious a perfect lead-in to Leon’s favorite line, the one he used during every graduation speech.

“No one quite knows where we got the old phrase ‘a captain goes down with her ship’. Any ship that explodes will take a captain with her, but inside that obvious gem is a gleam of truth. When you become an Instructor-Captain, the squaddies under your tutelage are like a part of your ship. By giving you this Captain’s Pin, we make a public statement that your trainees are molded and shaped by you. Every success of theirs is something to take pride in, and you should learn as much as they do from each of their failures.”

His message imparted, Captain Leon vanished, defying physics by melting and evaporating at the same time. Jane sighed, weary in a way that had more to do with her heart than her aching arms. The other judges probably had something to say as well. She turned to General Auspus, looking into his unnaturally young face.

“My rookies made the right choice with you, Auspus. They might’ve rebelled, but I should’ve gone with them sooner, is that what my subconscious is feeling guilty about here? For following Auspus for as long as I did? I trained the rookies, I made them the best in their year, but I didn’t listen to them?”

“Would you feel guilty for giving a knife to a baby?” Auspus replied to her directly. “You made them the best, but did you give them the guidance to use the power you gave them? Or did you prime them for battle just for the bragging rights?” Jane blinked.

“I…hadn’t been expecting that argument. What’s the problem? I was supposed to train them, and I made them the best damn Rooks the station had ever seen.”

“You gave a pack of children a set of loaded guns, just to assuage your pride and salvage your reputation.” Auspus sneered.

“The Orbital deemed them ready to use that power!” Jane protested. “And I wanted to shake that reputation! People know me now! They don’t just say I’m the slut in Academy, they actually think something of me!” Auspus’ image had already melted away before she finished protesting. Jane turned to Patrick, alone in the emptiness with him. The audience had melted away, and somewhere in the argument the chasm and shackles had disappeared as well. It was only her and the image of the man she loved, his beloved face masking the bite of her own self-doubt.

There were tears in her eyes as she stood straighter, lifting her chin as if waiting for a blow to fall. When he finally spoke, his voice was so quiet that she would’ve missed it if the world around her wasn’t silent.

“Congratulations, you’re not ‘Academy’s Slutty Captain’ anymore. Now you’re Academy’s Slutty Idiot who’s rookie became a Terran and doomed us all.”

Even knowing it was a dream, even knowing that her Patrick would never, ever say something like this to her, his words felt like a punch to the gut.

“Fuck you.” She snarled, even though her vision was blurry with tears. “I’d do it again. I told them I’d teach them and I did. When I wake up I’m going to go find them and teach them even more, just to show you I can. I’ll finish their training in this little Terran-infested wreck, just to prove it to y- to myself.”

“If you’re even allowed to. If you even have that much time left.”

Jane didn’t know what he meant, but she knew he would clarify. The nagging doubts that wore the face of her boyfriend leaned in closer, his voice growing quieter still.

“Think about it Rook. Now that even Academy doesn’t want you, your life isn’t protected by the Marshall’s covenant. How long do you think before Pivot command realizes that…and realizes that all of these problems they’re having can be traced back to you?”


“Captain Appet, this is your wake up call.”

There were still tears in her eyes when Jane opened them, and she stared at the ceiling for a few moments before she blinked them away. A glance at the timepiece over her doorway indicated that it was 0447.

“Did you wake me up early Blue?” Jane sat up and shook her head a few times, as if she could shake the dream away from her mind like droplets of water. As always, the dream had made her sweat, and her muscles felt weak.

“You didn’t seem to be enjoying your dream very much. You were crying. I used my better judgement.”

“I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but there just something perverse about hearing you use the phrase ‘better judgement’.” Jane managed to joke weakly. It wasn’t a very good one, but Blue chuckled all the same. “Thank you.” She added quietly. Unlikely as it had been, Jane often appreciated the disembodied voice that came from the speakerboxes around the Orbital. It was like talking to herself, but without the disadvantage of wondering if she was crazy.

“Of course Captain Appet. Not that I would ever monitor your brainwaves or anything, but it seemed like a rather tense dream.”

Jane stretched and hauled herself out of bed. Without the official instructor position to motivate her in the mornings it was tempting to curl back beneath the covers, but she moved instead to the closet.

“I think we’ve all been a little tense lately.” She answered honestly. “I guess I just internalize it more. The more stressed I am, the worse my dreams are.”

“Really? When Hunter gets more stressed he just gets hornier.” Jane snorted a laugh and then struggled to keep her face straight as she stepped into the shower, leaving her clothes in a loose pile in the corner.

“I don’t think General Hunter would appreciate you telling me that, Blue. Sharing personal information about the General poses a potential security risk.” She smiled. A small stream of water trickled from the ceiling into the cloth she held, and she used it to clean herself.

“I’m allowed to have friends.” Blue sounded defensive. “And I can gossip with them about our superior officer all I want, it’s not a security risk…oh. A joke.”

“At least you eventually picked up on it this time.” Jane teased as she scrubbed herself down with the cloth. The rough weave felt good on her skin, and the cold water invigorated her. “I do feel a little guilty though, what with you calling me your friend.”

“Is that not what we are? I thought we had established some kind of ‘rapport’ in the past few weeks, but I’m rather clumsy at reading that sort of thing.”

“No, it’s an apt word to describe it. And I think we get along so well because we’re both rather clumsy at reading that sort of thing.”

Blue was silent, but Jane didn’t mind. It was nice to have someone to joke around with, even a computer. It certainly beat being alone with the dream still vivid in her mind. Leon, Auspus, and Patrick would never say the things her mind supplied, but a part of her couldn’t help but wonder if they should have. Was she responsible for her rookies’ actions? Should she have been more careful about what she taught them and how she had trained them?

Patrick had made teaching look so easy, and back when she didn’t care about the job it had been easy for her too. Maybe she should have kept to the system that worked; skating through training a batch of rookies, screwing one or two of them, then doing it all again the next year. She would have lived the rest of her life as Jane Appet, the captain who was nothing but a good flyer and an easy lay.

“Why the sudden surge in your orbitofrontal cortex?” Blue asked, jerking Jane out of her thoughts.

“I was just musing on the connection between a Captain and her rookies.” Jane made sure to slip into her uniform before exiting the shower. She didn’t know if her computerized companion had cameras in every room, let alone if Blue would waste the power keeping them live, but she prefered to play it safe.

“I wouldn’t know about that connection, but I was given to believe that’s a pretty happy relationship. You don’t seem too happy.”

“I was just wondering if the General will hold me responsible for the Academy Rooks.”

“I’ll ask him!” Blue said brightly and Jane winced but said nothing.

So much for waiting for the other shoe to drop. Jane grabbed the Captain pin from her bedside table, fastening it to her front on her way out of the room.

“He has asked to schedule a meeting with you at 1300. Oh, where are you going?” Blue asked from the room.

“I made a promise to my subconscious.” Jane replied over her shoulder.


Jane stood in the doorway of the room, arms folded, chewing her lip as she looked down at the sleeping pair of rookies.

“Hmm, standing at the door staring down at a sleeping couple…If I interpreted holomovie cues correctly, this is the scene right before the teacher snaps and starts her murderous rampage.” Blue’s voice in the speaker next to her was low enough that Jane barely heard it, although the computer could of course not whisper. Despite her introspective mood Jane smiled.

“They just…they’re rooks, you know?” Jane whispered. “They’re supposed to be naive and dumb, but they seem so old now.”

“Because they looked like kids before? Given that you slept with one of them, I think normal humans would find that pretty disturbing.”

“No, not like that.” Jane furrowed her brow. “It just feels like things can’t go back to how they were. What right do I have to be their instructor, act like I know better than them, when they’ve been through all that I have and more?”

“You still have more knowledge.” Blue said. “But if you’re uncomfortable acting like their instructor now that they have more experience than you-”

“They don’t have more experience than me.” Jane interrupted, but she suddenly realized that was exactly what had been bothering her.

“Experience in different areas then.” Blue continued unbothered by the outburst. “Maybe things shouldn’t go back to how they were. Maybe you need to find a new way for things to be.”

“Patrick…” Jane’s whisper broke for a moment, “…my old instructor, he was able to make the whole squad feel like a team from day one. Felt like he had our backs, you know? I don’t even know anything about who my rooks are, not really.”

“Is there anything stopping you from finding out? Well, assuming they listen to you at all.”

Jane considered the question for a few long moments, looking down at the bed where the two lay. Missy had fallen asleep on Preston’s stomach, her brown ringlets spread out across his chest, and his hand was in her hair as if he had fallen asleep in the middle of stroking it. Jane shook herself as if she had been asleep, and flicked the lights in the room on to full blast.

“Oh they’ll listen.” She answered quietly, before raising her voice to a yell. “Up and at ‘em Rookies.” The old reflexes from their Academy days were obvious as Missy and Preston both leapt into action, but their long break since those days was just as obvious as they tumbled into clumsy heaps in the tangled sheets.

“S’matter not runnin’ no alarm.” Preston tried to salute without opening his eyes, and Missy was blinking so rapidly it was a wonder she didn’t get dizzy.

“True to my word, I’m getting you back on schedule.” Jane barked. “This is your 0500 wakeup call, and since we’re easing back into things I’ll give you until 0530 to get ready and join the squad in the meeting hall.” Without waiting for a response she spun on her heel and stalked out.

“What the hell was that?” Blue asked from the speaker that Jane passed on her way down the hall.

“What? I’ll normally have you ring alarm bells in their room at 0500, but I had to tell them where to meet.” Jane didn’t bother pausing in her march down the hall; Blue would be able to pick up on her words no matter where she was in the station.

“You just said you were going to try to get to know them better. What are you going to do, order them into a better relationship with you?” Blue admonished, and Jane paused in front of one of the doors.

“What do you mean?”

“If you want to change how you interact with them, you’re probably going to have to…you know…change how you interact with them.”

“How…” Jane stared at the door that led to Jackson’s room. “…what do you suggest I do then?”

“You have no idea how fucked up it is that I am giving advice on human interaction,” Blue chuckled, “but as I understand this sort of thing, you just have to act in the way you want them to take you. If you don’t want to be the yelling drill-captain instructor to your rookies, don’t act like the yelling drill-captain instructor.”

“But I don’t want to go back to being the kind of captain no one respects.” Jane fiddled with her hands, still staring at the door.

“Then don’t do that either! Just,” Blue sighed, “be the kind of captain you would respect. Go to the meeting room and wait for your rookies, I’ll wake them up and let them know where to meet you.”


Jane tapped her foot against the floor, the dull click of her heel on the metal plating resounding in the empty room. She would’ve drummed her fingers, but there was no table in the cramped room which used to be a storage space, only a ring of chairs. Although the room was completely different, Jane couldn’t help but remember the first day she had met the rookies, waiting for them to arrive in a conference room, deciding how she would greet them.

“Your rookies are on their way.” Blue sounded distracted, rushed. “Listen, something’s come up that I have to give my full attention. Just remember what I said, and you’ll be fine.”

The room fell silent again, and Jane resumed her tapping. There was a knot in her stomach for some reason, and she couldn’t seem to talk herself into calming down. When the door to the improvised meeting room slid open, she jumped. The rookies filed in as a group, and Jane couldn’t help but wonder if they had been waiting outside for the entire squad to arrive.

“Have a seat.” Jane gestured awkwardly at the room in general, trying to gauge moods from faces. The rookies seemed careful somehow. Guarded, closed off.

Okay, you can do this. Jane told herself, searching for the right words. She tried to picture what the captain she wanted to be would say, but nothing occurred to her, and for a few terrifying moments she just sat and stared at the closed and stony faces.

“I uh…” Jane cleared her throat. “I took on the job of giving you all and whatever Pivot pilots we had security training.”

“You told us that at the meeting.” Alex said neutrally. Jane cleared her throat again, glancing from face to face. They were all so still, like they’d been carved from stone, and she couldn’t get a read on any of them. Or was it that she didn’t ever know them well enough to read them? Had she ever seen any of them really angry before? Or happy for that matter?

“You don’t um…you don’t have to be here.” Jane stammered. “I mean, the combat training for you and the Pivot forces, General Hunter wants you all to do that, but…” She took a deep breath. “I want to finish training you. Finish giving you the full curriculum. On my own…our own time. With the state the Orbital is in, no one’s going to order you through the year’s training, and I’m not your official instructor any more, but if any of you want my help, as a peer or a friend-”

“Why on earth would we accept your help.” Missy almost made it a statement instead of a question, and Jane rocked back in her chair at the venom in the girl’s words.

“I just…I thought if you wanted…” She stammered, but Missy cut her off.

“You were ready to abandon us to Auspus’ plans on Academy, even though you knew he what he was capable of. You shot at us, in the dogfight around the Orbital. You stopped us from rescuing Preston, Alex, Tess and Julia from the surface.” Her eyes bored into Jane as she ticked the items off of her fingers. “What have you ever done for us that makes you think we would want you as a peer, let alone a friend? Doing your job and teaching us? Finally joining Pivot once you were out of options?”

Jane didn’t know how to respond. All of the accusations were true, and the fact that none of the other rookies were saying anything meant that they clearly saw it too. She stared at the pattern of metal pieces in the floor.

“I didn’t do anything to you when Auspus ordered me to kill you.” She said quietly. “And I reported him to the Marshall and got him removed. I at least did that.”

“So you didn’t kill us, what a great hero you are.” Missy had been the most shy and quiet girl in the entire squad, and the scorn and sarcasm in her voice felt like a slap in the face. It was a different kind of hurt than had been in her dream. It was worse.

“I fucked up, okay?” Jane lifted her head and met the squaddies’ eyes. “I fucked up and let you all down, in a lot of ways. This is the only way I know of to even try to apologize for that. I know how much I let you down, and I’m sorry.” There was silence in the small room for a moment, until Jackson finally spoke.

“You did what you thought you had to do.”

“Jackson!” Missy turned to her squaddie angrily, but he held up a hand.

“She didn’t do anything to hurt us, and towards the end she went against direct orders to keep us safe. Captain Appet isn’t my favorite person in the world right now,” Jane winced at Jackson’s bluntness, “but if she’s trying to make amends I don’t think we need to throw that in her face.”

“Tess is a Terran because of her!” Missy was on her feet now. “Preston almost died because of her! A shrike team got through to an Orbital for the first time in history because of her!”

“Because of Academy.” Jackson corrected gently. “Because of Orbital Academy, and General Auspus and Winchest’s decisions, not because of Captain Appet.” His words seemed to draw Missy up short, although she remained on her feet, hands clenched into fists. “You have every reason to hate Academy, Missy, we all do.” Jackson continued. “But she’s not them.”

The room was quiet for long moments, and Jackson and Missy looked at each other as if they were having a telepathic conversation. Finally Missy took a deep breath and turned. The pit in Jane’s stomach lurched at the hard look her former rookie gave her.

“You realize that you made mistakes, which I’m glad for. Jackson’s right, it is Academy I’m angry at, not you. But right now I can’t separate the two of you in my head. I don’t hate you, Captain Appet, but I’d rather spend as little time around you as I can.”

Jane watched her go, unsurprised that Preston followed without a word. When had that happened, the dynamic between the two of them switching around? Jane braced herself when Alex opened her mouth to speak, but there was none of Missy’s venom in the olive-skinned rookie’s voice.

“I would like to finish the training. We were well ahead of the others in our year, and if we’re lucky and we ever get off of Pivot I’d like to test into Pilot level. That being said,” the tension in Jane’s shoulders that was starting to release sprang back, “I went through a lot on the planet’s surface. And when someone finally came to rescue me, it wasn’t you, it was my squaddies.”

Her expression was grave, and Jane had the impression that her rookie was looking straight through her, seeing something that Jane didn’t quite want to imagine.

“I’m having a hard time separating too.” Alex finished. “But I would like the training.”

“You don’t have to like me, or forgive me, or accept me.” Jane said quietly. “This is just the only way I know how to even begin to make things right.” The answer seemed to be enough to satisfy Alex, who nodded once. Around the circle the others who were left also nodded; Aimee, Jackson, Li, and Marcus, all quiet and serious.

It’s a start, at least. Jane thought.

“Ehm, now that we’re at a good pausing point,” Blue’s voice from the speaker in the ceiling made them all jump, “if I could break in for a moment, Captain Appet is needed in central command.”

“Can it wait Blue?” Jane asked.

“I don’t think so…General Hunter said to order you up here immediately three minutes ago, but I used my better judgement and let you finish your conversation…” For a robotic voice, Blue sounded positively nervous. “…that delay might have been a mistake in judgement Jane. This is bad.”


Previous Chapter (SFW): Aimee’s Support
Next Chapter (SFW): Jane’s Honor (Part 2)

10.2 – Aimee’s Support

Two days ago

Aimee wiggled her toes. It was a small gesture, but it made her entire leg ache as if she had just stretched for an hour. Despite the aching feeling she did it again, smiling at the small digits as they curled and uncurled. When she had woken up in the hospital bed it had been the first thing she’d done, and the fact that she couldn’t move them had terrified her more than anything else in her life. The doctors had entered the room to find her sobbing, shaking her head back and forth and unable to do anything else.

“Muscle suppressors,” they had told her, “to keep you from moving around too much in your sleep and exacerbating the damage.” Aimee still thought they could’ve left a note or something beforehand, rather than leaving her thinking she would be paralyzed for the rest of her life.

In the meantime, being stuck in the clean white sheets until her legs healed completely was almost as bad. It was like a temporary paralysis; being unable to leave for so long, her only company the squaddies when they could grab enough free time and felt like wasting it on visiting her. Jackson was the most frequent, and she could really see their relationship burgeoning into something like a close friendship. Aimee smiled as she pulled a screen from her bedside table.

Her father had been an Academy pilot before his injury had forced him into retirement, so Aimee had known what to expect from her squaddies. The Nesbit family had moved from deck A to deck H just so that he and his fellow squaddie Sara could be on the same floor, and her mother had simply seen it as the cost of marrying an Academy pilot. Sara was like a close aunt or an older sister to Aimee for most of her life, and when she had begun her Academy training Aimee had been excited to have that same relationship with someone.

Did we lose our chance at that, when we left Academy? Did we ruin our shot at any meaningful connections? Aimee stared through the screen without really reading anything. It wasn’t as if there was anything interesting to read anyways; trapped inside the core of Pivot and cut off from the outside world, the screen could only access Pivot’s network. A few kids were writing a story on one of the sites, but anyone old enough to write entertaining content would be spending most of their time working. Like I should be doing. Aimee shifted restlessly. She amused herself by playing yet another game of ShipMiner

Missy came by a few hours later, clearly on a break. Her uniform was smudged with charred carbon and grease, and her brown hair with its streak of blue was tied in a tight ponytail much like the ones Aimee liked to wear.

“They have you working on ship repair?” Aimee moved her legs aside to let her friend sit on the end of the bed, wincing at the motion. “Isn’t Pivot all about the building and tech, don’t they have enough mechanics?”

“What would we use ships for?” Missy had been carrying a small package beneath one arm, and she unwrapped it on the bedspread to reveal several meal cubes. She must’ve been working hard, since the cubes were being tightly rationed yet Missy had managed to grab flavored and textured food. Missy leaned back comfortably and popped a lavender cube in her mouth. “We’re completely land-locked.” She explained around the mouthful of cube. “As far as we can tell the Terrans own everything in a complete sphere around us; there’s no way we could safely launch a ship from the core and get it to the outside. No, I’ve been helping work on the generators.”

“You don’t know anything about power systems.” Aimee popped a tan in her mouth and took a moment to enjoy the savory, rich texture and taste. “At least with ships we squaddies kind of know what we’re doing.”

“Mostly they just have me cleaning parts and handing out tools.” Missy admitted with a smile. “But it sounded more impressive the way I said it.” Aimee chuckled, watching her friend with interest. The friendly and outgoing girl at the end of the bed was almost an entirely different person to the mousy girl she had known at the beginning of their tour. Of course the largest shift in her confidence had been after she started dating Preston. The two of them had really brought out the best in each other; he had somehow drawn her out of her shell, and she had miraculously made him less of an asshole and more pleasant to be around. Aimee frowned. Preston had even visited her in the hospital a few times, and they had chatted much more naturally than the single time her own boyfriend, Li, had visited.

Aimee’s thoughts were interrupted when Missy leaned forward and flicked her across the forehead.

“I’d say ‘chit for your thoughts’, but I spend my last luxury chit on the food.” Missy said. “What are you so caught up on in there?”

“I was just thinking about Li. Specifically how Preston is a much better boyfriend than him.” In another girl Aimee might have to worry that her words would be construed as jealousy, but Missy understood her bumbling attempts at communication by now. She ate a pink sphere thoughtfully, not replying until she’d finished the entire thing.

“You have a lot of interests in common with Preston, don’t you?”

“Sure. We both play Cribkers, we both like pre-separatist art, both enjoyed drones classes.”

“You both listen to that Popclick noise.”

“Hey, Popclick is a legitimate musical genre, snob.”

“Either way, you don’t really share many interests with Li, do you?” Missy lifted a tiny golden cube to her mouth and sniffed it before eating it as Aimee considered the question.

“I dunno…we sort of just each do our own thing when we’re not together.”

“And by ‘together’, you mean having sex. The only thing you have in common is liking old Synthetic Joe cartoons.”

“Li likes Synthetic Joe?” Aimee asked in surprise.

“Aimee Patricia Nesbit!” Missy glared, and Aimee winced at the use of her hated middle name.

“There’s no reason to be mean about it.” Aimee sulked, and Missy’s angry face softened.

“I’m sorry Aimes, I’m just cranky ‘cause of the heat.” Indeed, the other girl’s face was shining with sweat, her clothes clinging to her. For once Aimee was grateful to be in the hospital wing, where the patients only had to wear light medical gowns, and heatsoaker panels had been placed to absorb large portions of the ambient heat. She felt sorry for whoever had to share a room with the used heatsoakers that would begin expending all that collected heat.

“Look, I know okay? I know I should break up with him. Hell besides the sex, neither of us will even notice the difference anyways. It’s just hard, you know? I’ve never been the one to do the breaking up before. I have to steel myself up for it.”

“Oh, it gets easier to break up the longer you’ve been together? Is that how that works?” Missy asked innocently. Aimee opened her mouth to come up with a smartass answer, but they were interrupted by a small ping from the hand-sized screen on Missy’s belt. “I have to get back to work. Parts need cleaning, tools need fetching. Just think about what I said, okay?”

“I’ll break up with Li.” Aimee lifted her screen. “I’ll call him right now. I just…really hope we can still be friends afterwards.”

“Okay, good luck sweetie.” Missy leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “Eat the rest, I bought half of these for you. I have a date night with Preston tonight, but I’ll stop by tomorrow and see how it went. It’ll be hard, but I have faith in you.”

When did that change? Aimee thought idly as she watched her friend leave. When did I become the ‘sweetie’ that needed reassuring?

She activated her screen and went back to playing ShipMiner. She would call Li and break up with him. In just a little while…


Two hours ago

It was awkward sitting next to Li when she knew she should break up with him, but what could she do? It wasn’t as if she could turn to one side in the middle of the General’s debriefing and say “psst, by the way I’m breaking up with you.” Much better to wait for the perfect moment, and now definitely wasn’t it.

Her worries put off for the moment, Aimee focused on the General’s and the security Captain’s words. The mission seemed straightforward, although it wouldn’t be easy: open the shielding, pump out the heat, flood the core with cool air, then slam the shields closed again. Aimee wiped a bead of sweat from her neck and nodded. When she’d stepped out of the hospital she could actually feel the wall of hot, sticky air she was moving into, and for a moment she had briefly considered hamming her injury to spend a little more time inside the cool confines of the impromptu sick bay.

Not that she would, of course; being there when Tess and Captain Appet had emerged was too rewarding an experience to miss, even if it had been a little awkward with the girl who used to be their teammate but had no memory of them. Aimee shook her head and tried to focus again. It was too early in the morning for this, she needed a caffeine dose. Just a few minutes later they were moving to get ready, and Aimee was busy enough to forget about problems focusing.


Two seconds ago

Did sweet and doll-like Missy really just say ‘fuck them up’?


Now

The crash of the room-wide section of shielding opening was muffled almost instantly by the whipping wind that blasted past them from behind, mixed with the startled sounds of all of the squaddies who hadn’t taken thermodynamics classes. The heat differential between the sweltering core and the cool air outside caused the air to shift with a huge gust of wind. Despite the possibility of enemy combatants, Aimee clamped her eyes shut as the blowing wind whipped against her face. The only place she had encountered wind before was on the rescue mission to the surface, and for a moment Aimee was back there, in between the trees and unnatural curves of the plants, biting back fear for her life, just waiting for a Terran to end her life.

Aimee opened her eyes, and the feeling didn’t go away. She wasn’t quite sure what she was expecting, but she was pretty sure it included some version of the sleek hallways of Orbital Pivot, the enclosed space of an Orbital, the metal and plasticine that was the hallmark of ordered, civilized life. What she didn’t expect was twisted trees, climbing plants, and the unnatural curves of vines and leaves.

“What the fuck.” She breathed, but her voice was swallowed up in the silence that followed. The metal of the hallway protruded a few feet past the line of shielding, but after that it was covered by the twisting roots of giant trees. The ceilings had been ripped away, and although the presence of oxygen told her that there had to be at least something between them and the void, she couldn’t see any metal above them, obscured by the heavy tree cover.

It was lucky that there were no Terrans waiting for them, because for a few moments Aimee and her squaddies were exposed and defenseless, staring at the changes with open mouths. The whole affair was lit with an eerie blue glow, similar to the reflective light the moon had cast on the surface during the night. It was bright enough to see by, but somehow made the looming trees and small bushes seem more grave and imposing.

“This is Blue, broadcasting to both parties.” Normally the disembodied voice of the station creeped Aimee out and made her jump, but it didn’t even register as strange next to the towering trees. “I’m looking over the camera feeds from your teams and…well, I can at least see why my instruments weren’t working.”

“Can you tell us anything beyond the obvious Blue?” Jackson asked. “Something we might not be noticing?”

Is there anything that phases him? Aimee wondered, noting Jackson’s stoic demeanor. He had even dropped into suppressive-combat position, and the stance reminded her that she should be doing the same. She hastily dropped to one knee as the robotic voice answered.

“Rookie Jackson is asking for any data not obvious, which is surprisingly not much. The fauna is legitimately organic, and drawing nutrient and power from some central location. They look like separate entities, as one might find on the surface, but the roots are interconnected and sharing a single power source.”

Aimee hadn’t heard much from Blue, but the voice of the station seemed almost uncertain. “I’m not the best source to make a guess, but it appears to me that these were placed and modified to both match the appearance of the surface flora and to exist in the confines of the Orbital. How they made those modifications to the cellular structure in such a short time is beyond me, let alone how they aged the cells to reach such growth in the space of less than a month. That kind of technological progress is…worrisome.”

There was a short pause, then the voice broke in again. “Captain Kreshler has remarked that this level of technological sophistication should be discussed with General Hunter, and I agree. I will be going silent until such time as I’m needed.”

“It’s magic. We told them the Terrans used magic, why is it such a shock?” Aimee grumbled, staring down her sights. The mottled shadows made it hard to determine shapes within the trees, and the constant wind at her back made the leaves and branches move in smooth and humanlike ways. Her trigger-finger itched.

“We know that the Terrans think it’s magic.” Alex corrected quietly. “I think we can be a little more intelligent about our guesses.”

“Alex you were there! You interacted with Terrans more than any of us, you can’t explain the things we’ve seen!” Aimee regretted her words almost immediately. The other girl hadn’t ever said what she did to get her fellow captured squaddies out of the jails and into more comfortable quarters, but Aimee had grim suspicions. Alex didn’t seem bothered by the implication.

“When I was five I didn’t know how a recyclergizer worked, and I believed my mother when she said pixies came and took our trash away.” She said. “And yet I could still use one. I’m not going to take the Terrans’ word for it just because they think they know what they’re doing.”

The group lapsed into silence again, marred only by the hum of whatever machines were pumping heated air out of the core. If every muscle hadn’t felt like a taut string, the breeze running past her would’ve felt quite good after days of building heat, but Aimee couldn’t enjoy it. The darkness and the blue light seemed to press down on them all, and the flickers in the forest played tricks on her eyes that had her almost pulling the trigger a few times.

“Rookies.” This time Blue’s voice was quiet, almost too quiet to hear. “The team on the opposite end has been engaged by Terrans. We are assuming a corresponding attack will be launched against you as soon as they make the connection of our purposes. Please standby at the ready.”

The squadmates were already in position, spread out along the walls of the hallway just inside the shielding area, but there was a subtle shift as each of them mentally prepared. Aimee strained, watching the edge of the forest as if she could see through the thick trees. She would be damned if one of her squaddies fell because she missed a Terran in the dark.

“Rookies, note has been made that the Terrans do not have low-light visibility. I will be dropping light coverage to your hallway in an attempt to provide an advantage; please put on your helmets and prepare to activate either heat or night VI modes.”

Aimee’s helmet was already on, as were the majority of the squads’. Only Marcus fumbled for a moment, slipping his into place. When the lights cut out, suddenly and silently, Aimee already had her finger on the switch. She preferred night-Vi, taking advantage of the higher definition and detail it provided. She wasn’t even sure what heat-Vi would show, given the currents she could feel swirling around her, but Preston, Alex, and Missy used heat-Vi and didn’t seem to be having problems.

Aimee was surprised to find that she was much less nervous there in the dark, peering through the night-Vi. Before the blue light had seemed ominous, the flickering shadows dangerous, and the lurking threat of Terrans terrifying. Now there was no distinction of color, and she could see into the trees as clearly as if it had been appropriately lit. The Terrans were coming, and knowing that for a fact seemed somehow less frightening.

She didn’t even jump when she caught sight of the creature moving towards the edge of the forest at a slow, cautious pace. It looked exactly like a waist-high version of a Drake; reptilian scales layered in intricate patterns across its back, a long snout and four stubby legs with dexterous looking clawed toes at the end of each. Even through the night-Vi Aimee thought she could see the intelligent gleam in its eyes. The fluttering in her stomach settled and hardened into a manageable ball as soon as she saw the creature, and instead of fear she felt only a grim resolve.

According to the squad tactics Captain Appet had taught them, if there was no time to plan hen whoever happened to be in front would give the group signals, and without hesitation Preston lifted a closed fist in the air. The squad waited obediently, as the little Drakeling shuffled to the edge of the forest and peered down the dark hallway. The creature’s gaze passed by her, unseeing, but Aimee still shuddered. It took a few hesitant, suspicious steps forward, stopping to look around it, taste the air with its tongue, and tilt its head to one side as if listening, before taking a few more steps.

The tension that was growing in her stomach was enough to make her want to scream, but Aimee trusted Preston’s judgement, and he let the beast approach until it was almost at the mouth of the hallway before his closed fist dropped.

The hallway erupted in sound as the squad emptied laser and slugfire into the beast. Even being caught off-guard and unable to see them, the Drakeling was frighteningly tough and frighteningly fast. It turned and lunged back towards the protective cover of the trees, even though Aimee could see the slugs ripping into its protective scales, and was blinded by the blinding blurs of light that were her squaddies’ laser weapons. The creature almost made it to the edge of the forest before it slumped to the ground with a roar, and the hallway and forest was quiet save for the echo of the brief but roaring volley.

Aimee blinked away the tears that the laser flashes had caused. She considered turning her night-Vi off, but she would rather be momentarily blinded than stumble into the laserfire that heat-Vi wouldn’t show her.

“Even if that was just a scout, the Terrans will have heard that.” Li noted.

“Should we move forward, spread out a little bit?” Aimee asked the group as a whole. “They won’t be able to put the shield back up, but we can have a wider range of fire.”

“And we won’t be in as much danger of whatever their version of a grenade is.” Missy remarked. Aimee looked at her sharply. The words were simple enough, but Missy said them almost lightly, as if with a shrug.

“Missy are you…enjoying this?” Aimee asked. This was the same Missy who struggled with tears in her eyes to meet the PT requirements, the same Missy who had screamed and dropped her gun their first time they went to the firing range. She stood there now completely at ease; there was even a half smile playing at the corner of her lips. Aimee frowned. Her friend’s confidence was encouraging before, now it was…creepy.

“It does get the blood flowing a little bit, doesn’t it?” Missy asked. “Makes you a little tingly? Like you can take on anything?”

“Don’t let the adrenaline make any stupid choices.” Preston warned, and Aimee felt a little better that she wasn’t the only one who had noticed the difference.

“I agree with the girls though, we should get out of the hallway.” Marcus offered. After a brief exchange of glances, the squaddies moved slowly into the great expanse of the forest beyond.

“I will not compromise the integrity of the Orbital, rookies.” Blue warned. “If I must trap you out there to prevent the Terrans from moving in, I will.” Whether it was due to her warning or simply the safety of the unknown, the squadmates pressed against the ruined wall on the either side of the hallway. The metal had somehow been corroded and eaten down, as if decades of age had set on it.

Did they do that with their magic or technology or whatever? The back of Aimee’s neck tingled. What would that do to a human?

“Our team on the other side has two security forces down,” Blue reported, “but my scans are showing they’re unconscious, not dead. The General has ordered you to switch to non-lethal rounds.”

“For all we know, they’re resistant to non-lethal.” Missy grumbled, but she joined the rest in switching. The energy weapons were easy enough to swap, but all of the squadmates with slug-based weaponry had to switch magazines, and there were a tense few moments when half of the squad were effectively defenseless until they changed over.

The first shot was bright and sudden, arcing out of the forest and towards Jackson. Aimee watched in horror as the searing bright blue orb passed within inches of her squadmate’s face, but despite the near miss he didn’t react at all.

“Terran!” Aimee screamed, all thoughts of subtlety behind her, and she spun to locate the source of the attack, resisting the urge to start firing wildly. A small motion of fabric moving behind a tree was enough to indicate a direction, and she narrowed her eyes and squeezed out a small burst of fire. The helmet adjusted to the light of her lasers within moments, but it was almost too slow; the second she could see again another bright light was moving towards her.

The other squaddies were firing as she dove low behind one of the bushes, and in the half-second it took for her helmet to adjust she felt more helpless than she’d ever felt. The Terrans’ attacks looked evil, but they were far, far slower than laser weapons. Slow enough to dodge. Blue’s comment about their lack of ability in this low light was proving accurate; even though there were several of them flinging orbs of light at the rookies, none of them were contacting or seemed deliberate.

They’re literally taking shots in the dark. She realized. They can only even see us by the light of their attacks. Jackson’s lack of reaction stuck in her head, even though there were lights and danger that screamed for her attention. It suddenly hit her as the helmet took another half-second to adjust.

“Their spells…bullet…things give off light!” She called. “They won’t show up on heat-Vi!” At her words, the squaddies who had been using the heat-Vi switched, and skirmish between the two forces, already surprisingly evenly matched, began to shift even further.

It began with the first Terran to fall. To her surprise, Aimee was the one to dispatch him, catching the burly man in the side with a laser. The man collapsed without a sound, but a Terran standing a little ways behind him began screaming, loudly and incoherently. To her right, Alex slipped behind the bush with Aimee, pulling another non-lethal clip from her belt and reloading.

“Why’s he screaming? The other one should still be breathing.” Aimee checked her gun’s settings to make sure it was non-lethal.

“Haven’t you read the histories?” Alex rose and fired a few shots, and the screaming was suddenly cut off. “First time they’ve seen Orbitans who can actually hit one of them.” With the end of the screaming, the forest was suddenly plunged into an eerie silence. Aimee peaked over the edge of the bush, and caught sight of a handful of Terrans running for more distant trees, moving away from the forest’s edge.

“They’re running!” She cried, pumping off a few more rounds at the Terrans’ backs.

“The Terrans on the other end are retreating as well.” The voice of Blue called from the hallway. “General Hunter is ordering a retreat as well. Our core temperature has cooled even lower than the outside, and he’s muttering some paranoid garbage about things being ‘too easy’ and ‘filthy Terran traps’.” Aimee grinned, and turned back to the hallway, clapping Alex on the shoulder.

“Rookies, attention and alert! From the hallways!” Blue’s voice was sharp, and the smile died on Alex’s face as they all turned to the darkened halls they had come from. Even after the several weeks in which the squad had been broken up, Aimee was so used to working as a team with her squadmates that the sight confused her. The first thought that occurred to her was to wonder why she couldn’t see whatever enemy Terran was chasing Tess towards them.

The girl’s strides were long and determined, and her fingers were moving as she ran. It was only a split-second of hesitation that made Aimee pause, but the split-second was all her former squadmate needed. Light flashed so bright that the night-Vi helmet simply shut down, its protective hardware choosing to protect her eyesight rather than blast the image into her head. She heard Tess running passed them, and she fired a few non-lethal shots in their general direction. The helmet booted back up, but Tess had already disappeared.

“God damn it, I knew we shouldn’t have trusted her-” Preston began to complain, but it was at that moment Aimee saw the spell.

It was through a combination of luck, the night-Vi helmet, and peripheral vision that she even noticed it. The spell was so subtle and so dimly lit that she might’ve walked right by it if the blur hadn’t been magnified, but her eyes widened as she watched the small orb rolling across the ground, bouncing like a ball, heading straight for where one of her squaddies stood.

“Grenade!” She screamed, and the squaddie turned in horror.

Aimee didn’t think or reason, didn’t hesitate for a moment. Throwing her gun to one side she lunged forward, throwing herself on the magical grenade at Li’s feet.

She felt the impact rattle her bones and shake her teeth. She had no idea what a physical grenade would feel like, but she could actually feel the pieces of magic whipping through her body. Her blood seemed to warm, her muscles shaking as if she’d had too much caffeine. Bile rose in her throat, then was slammed back into her stomach. One eye was staring at Li’s feet, the other somehow looking into his face. He was saying something, but all she could hear was a jumble of ten or twenty voices, all of them his, all of them saying something different.

It didn’t even make a noise. The ludicrous thought occurred to her, just as the feelings stopped as suddenly as they began. Aimee’s vision refocused, and she realized that she hung a few feet in the air, facing a group of concerned squadmates, frozen stiff. She tried to blink or speak, but it was as if her muscles weren’t even connected to her brain anymore. On the plus side, she seemed to be able to breath, and she could at least hear everyone.

“You’re sure she’s alright?” Li was asking worriedly.

“I’ve been scanning since the moment the device went off; she’s alive and conscious. Judging by the spike in brain activity she can even hear you now.” Blue sounded exasperated. “Now will you please pull her in before the Terrans come back?” Aimee’s squadmates approached and gingerly pulled her towards the hallway. It felt as if she was being pulled through a thick syrup instead of the air, but Aimee wasn’t complaining.

“What if it doesn’t wear off? What if she stuck like this forever?”

“One member of the other team was hit by this device at the beginning of the attack on the other side.” Blue reassured, as the squadmates pulled Aimee into the hallway. The group visibly relaxed when the silver shielding slammed shut again behind them as Blue continued. “He ‘thawed out’ about ten minutes ago, a half hour after the effect started. It was clearly just supposed to incapacitate you while your Terran friend escaped, not hurt or kill you.”

It could’ve killed me. Aimee realized belatedly. I could’ve died.

“She took that for me.” Li seemed similarly shocked, gently guiding her frozen body between himself and Missy as the squadmates followed in a bizarre procession. “Holy shit Aimes you had no clue what that thing did and you took it for me.”

“I’m really glad.” Missy smiled at Li from the other side of Aimee. “See how much she cares for you, even after breaking up? That’s the kind of friendship squaddies have.”

It’s the kind of friendship Dad and Sara have. Aimee would’ve smiled if she could.

Li stopped in the middle of the hallway.

“…Breaking up?” He asked.

Ah shit…


Previous Chapter (SFW): Missy’s Emergence
Final Chapter: Jane’s Honor

10.1 – Missy’s Emergence

Author’s NoteThe End of Orbital Academy


Missy shifted her weight from one foot to another, unsure of where she should be looking. The weight of the gun at her hip seemed to be pulling her towards the ground, and the ten men and women in the commando vests of Orbital Pivot’s security forces kept shooting her glances as if reproaching her for not drawing it. Their own firearms were held loosely in their hands, but the tension they carried in their shoulders made it clear just how willing they would be to use them.

A small electrical hiss in the wall made three of the security forces jump, levelling their guns at the harmless metal. Missy’s brow furrowed.

“The-the General said they shouldn’t be harmed,” she stammered, “you should be careful with your firearms.” It was barely loud enough for the assembled security and her squadmates to hear, but six months ago she wouldn’t have had the courage to say anything at all.

“The General said not to harm them unless in self defence. An Academy Captain and a Terran are going to be on the other side when that shield comes down, I think it’s okay to be on the safe side.” Their leader responded. Unlike his forces, he never took his eyes from the strangely reflectionless wall, holding his gun firmly aimed at the midpoint.

“What’s taking them so long? Didn’t the General give the order a while ago?” Missy wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead with one arm, while on the other side Preston squeezed her hand reassuringly.

“They’re getting alternating power systems up and running, clearing escape routes, closing off intersections with blockades, that kind of thing.”

“Isn’t that a bit much?” Preston broke in. “It’s Cap App and Tess, they’re not going to be a military threat.”

“He’s pulling down the only thing separating us from a Terran, Rookie. Tacksman down in conveyance says you escaped from a Terran prison camp, you of all people should know what just one is capable of.”

The anxiety in Missy’s stomach was making it cramp up, and she briefly wondered if the other squaddies were feeling the same way. Jackson’s face was impassive, as usual, but Missy noticed that Alex looked the same way, standing just behind him with her arms folded across her chest.

I wonder if they’re together. She thought. It had been so long since the rookies had all been together in the same room, they could be dating and she wouldn’t know a thing about it. The idea was so strange that she set it aside, returning her attention to the silver wall in front of them.

“Walls coming down in T-minus sixty.” The security captain’s voice was even, but everyone in the room suddenly tensed; the security forces raising sidearms and rifles to point at various points in the wall, the rookies simply stiffening.

“This is Blue, your friendly artificial intelligence.” Missy squeaked when the speaker to their right crackled to life. “Passing on the message to all non-essential personnel, aka the group of children standing around, that in the event of hostile engagement, you will almost certainly be in the danger radius. I don’t suppose I can convince any of you to move back just a few rooms, so you’ll have time to run if things turn sour?”

Missy shook her head, but most of her squadmates didn’t even respond. Preston flipped the speakerbox off until Missy grabbed his other hand in hers.

“T-minus thirty.” The captain said. Preston’s hand was sweaty, but Missy didn’t know if that was because he was as nervous as she was or because of the heat that was making her uniform cling to her body.

“Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five.” The captain didn’t count the final seconds off, and Missy jumped when the silver walls snapped down with such force that they rattled the ground beneath their feet. A rush of cold air slammed into her, yanking her almost off of her feet. To her left Marcus actually did stumbled, but he caught himself before falling.

Captain Appet and Tess stood in the middle of the room beyond, arms at their sides. The room had been torn apart, scorch marks and huge shears and gouges spread across the floors and walls, but the women themselves looked fine. Missy held her breath along with everyone else as the Captain and Tess slowly and carefully picked their way across the debris in the room, their hands always in sight. Captain Appet leaned down and murmured something to the green-haired girl at her side, and Tess looked past the guards at her squaddies.

Despite what they’d told her, Missy had hoped for a glimmer of recognition from her former squadmate.

Maybe if Julia had been here… The unbidden thought felt like a knife in the gut. They had left the two girls behind, and look at where it had brought them? If Julia was alive, who knows what the Terrans had done to her. As Tess’ gaze slid along the faces of her friends, unknowing and uncaring, Missy sighed in frustration. She hadn’t realized how much she had been holding out hope, but the sight of her teammates’ faces should’ve been enough for Tess damnit.

Tess’ gaze rested on Missy, and her eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“You- ” She said, lifting a finger to point.

There was screaming, so much screaming that Missy wasn’t sure what had even happened.

“Get on your knees!”

“Hands on your head!”

“Don’t move!”

“Lower your hands!”

Clearly trying to follow as many of the conflicting instructions as she could, Tess placed her hands behind her head and sunk to her knees.

“She didn’t do anything! What are you doing?” Missy screamed.

“Stop yelling.” The security force captain snapped out orders, first to his troops, then to Tess. “You can stand up Terran, but please don’t point. As I understand it, you’re able to attack without use of a visible weapon.”

“I didn’t mean to be threatening, I am sorry.” Tess replied. The sound of the familiar voice made the knot in Missy’s stomach loosen a little bit, as did the very familiar smile on her friend’s face. “I was just surprised,” the girl continued, nodded towards Missy, “I didn’t know there was another Terran on the Exiles’ Moon.”

It would’ve been the perfect time for Tess to show some treachery, since for a moment every eye had turned to search Missy.

“I’m not a Terran.” Missy shook her head, not sure if she was correcting Tess or defending herself to the security forces. “There was an accident early, with a crystal, it turned my hair this way.” Missy had been self-conscious about the streak of blue that ran through her hair ever since the accident, but she was even more aware of it now, standing out from her brown ringlets like a beacon. Hair dyes had proven ineffective in changing the colour back, and now that the station was on emergency power, she couldn’t requisition luxuries like hair dye even if she had the chits for it.

Tess hadn’t said anything about her explanation, just nodding and following Captain Appet into the room where her squadmates stood. Missy hadn’t noticed how nice the cool breeze had felt until the silver shield slammed back into place, cutting off the pleasant breeze with a loud slam.

With the security forces loosely ringing them, Captain Appet and the squadmates looked at one another awkwardly. Missy wasn’t quite sure what to do, but she opened her mouth to say something when Jackson stepped forward and threw his arms around Tess in a bear hug.

“Even if you can’t remember us, it’s good to have you back Tess.” He said. “We were friends once, I’m sure you’ll learn to put up with us again.”

“Please let go of me.” Tess was standing ramrod stiff, clearly fighting to keep a horrified look from her face. Jackson stepped back quickly, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.

“Sorry…I just-”

“No it is I who should apologize.” Tess said hastily. “I just…I don’t like being touched, and I don’t know you….”

“Didn’t mind it before…” Jackson mumbled, but trailed off. Missy offered a hand instead, even though Preston tugged on her to keep her by his side.

“I’m Missy.” She said. “Would you like us to call you by your Terran name? Or is your old name alright?”

“They’re both pronounced the same.” Tess seemed a little relieved as she shook Missy’s hand. “I suppose you can spell it in your head whichever way you like.”

“Right then. Rooks, I don’t want to tell you your business,” Captain Appet said suddenly, breaking the silence before it started to stretch, “but as a courtesy I’m going to let you know they’re waking you up at 0500 tomorrow.”

“What? Why?” Missy was startled enough to turn her attention away from their awkward reunion.

“They didn’t say. Some security bitch.” Jane shrugged, and the captain of security cleared his throat loudly.

“You still here? How long are you going to be hovering around us? We’ve got things to do.” Jane asked.

“Until the General is satisfied she’s not going to kill us all. So probably for a while.”

“How’d we get so lucky.”


Missy was woken by a hand firmly grasping her big toe and giving it a gentle tug. It took a few such tugs for her to wake completely up, blinking sleep from her eyes.

“There’s no way it’s five hun’rd,” Missy slurred, “too tired to be five hun’red.”

“It’s not, it’s two hundred, but keep it down!” It took Missy a few blurry moments to piece together who’s voice hissed in her ear in the pitch black. It was like Aimee’s, but a little lower, and the words a little less clipped…more like…

“Tess?” Missy was suddenly as wide awake as she’d ever been, her eyes straining to make out the figure in the dark.

“Yes, but please hush, you’ll wake your lover.” Tess’ voice sounded amused, but for all Missy knew Terrans enjoyed quieting their night-time victims before slaughtering them in bed. Preston was asleep next to her; a swift kick would wake him up, but would he be able to get his bearings fast enough to make it worth the effort?

Missy could always try to fight Tess off herself…a buzzing feeling, like pins and needles, spread slowly through her wrists and her fingertips, and for some reason she felt almost sure she could take the girl. Of course Tess had always been ahead of Missy in physical activities rankings, but Missy could perhaps use the other girl’s underestimation of her.

Except, she doesn’t remember me enough to underestimate me. Missy suddenly realized. The buzzing pins and needles were in every joint now, pounding at her head. She had been sweating in her sleep, and the thin blanket she had been sharing with Preston was now in a tangled knot around her ankles. Could she kick it off fast enough to spring to her feet?

“I wanted to talk to you for a bit, is that alright?” Tess whispered, and Missy let out a gasp as the prickling pressure drained out of her body, leaving her a little shaky. She rose from the bed almost in a trance, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Preston was still asleep.

The hallways were lit with the same half-lights that had been on ever since the station went to emergency power, bright enough to illuminate their way, but dim enough to cast shadows on the walls as they walked. Missy looked over her shoulder, her skin prickling at the sight of the empty hallways around them. It was early morning, after all, so it took her a few moments to realize what made her so unnerved.

“Aren’t…aren’t there supposed to be guards watching you?” She asked carefully. Tess looked over her shoulder at Missy with a look that could only be described as ‘mischievous’.

“They left two guards outside my door. They are asleep now.”

“They just ‘fell asleep’?” Missy slowed to a stop, her stomach turning to ice. Interpreting her horrified expression, Tess shook her head.

“I made them fall asleep. They will wake up in the morning. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Why me?”

Tess didn’t answer, she simply glanced up at the streak of blue in Missy’s hair, before ducking into an open doorway. Missy shivered, hesitated for a few moments, and followed. The room was taken up mostly with a huge conference table, and with the lights out it was dark enough that someone walking by wouldn’t see the two girls that sat across from each other. Missy squinted to even see Tess’ face, but it looked as if the other girl was fixing her with a searching stare.

“I’m really not a Terran.” Missy broke the silence.

“You used a Coricia, and your hair begins to take the tint of a blue triber. That is as close to Terrans as I’m going to get, I think.”

“But I’m not-”

“I know you’re not.” Tess brushed Missy’s objections aside with an impatient hand. “But you have a friendly air, and you seem…honest.” Missy wondered what word Tess had been considering before settling on that one. “Tell me about this girl you knew. The one who I used to be.”

Missy blinked.

“I…it’s not that easy. I mean we were squadmates, and I like to think friends, but…”

“If she was such a good friend, why did you leave her to be captured by the Terrans?”

Missy recoiled as if Tess had slapped her. The way she said it so casually took Missy’s breath away for a moment, but on closer inspection it was clearly a casual question to Tess. There was no anger in her good eye, the other covered with a small white cloth patch. No bitterness, no accusation, only curiosity.

“You told us to leave you. Your leg was broken, shattered actually, and you couldn’t have run as fast as us. The rest of the Terrans were coming and we…we had to get away.” Even without judgement in the other girl’s eyes, Missy avoided her gaze.

“Aah, shattered.” Tess breathed, as if to herself. “That’s why my leg hurts when it rains.”

“What’s rain?”

“No matter. What manner of girl was she, your squadmate?”

“She was…you were…” Missy tried to keep the pronouns straight, “…strong, and brave. You were always really quiet, but we could just tell that you would go to the wire to save us. You risked your life for Julia when we fought the Drake.”

“Your squadmate fought off a Dracori for your rooks?” Tess looked impressed.

“Sort of…I mean kind of, sure. It was you, not some random squadmate.” Missy felt as if she was missing some part of the conversation, and Tess didn’t make things easier by making the dismissive motion with her hand again.

“She is different than me, a whole other person. Your Captain says I can live her life if I want, but I will never have the memories that she had.”

Missy wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, but the other girl seemed perfectly content to sit in silence in the darkened room. The heat that permeated the room seemed to smother any attempt that Missy made to continue the conversation, and the combination of the early hour and the warmth was making her nod off even as she tried to think of anything to say. She wasn’t sure exactly when she slipped into sleep.


“Get up Rooks! Rise and shine! Out of bed!”

At the familiar yet fresh sound of Captain Appet’s scoldings, Missy tumbled out of the wide bed. The nostalgia and sudden anxiety of being woken up by an angry Appet almost made her believe that the past few months had all been a part of her dream, and she wondered if that made her happy or sad. It was only when she finally pulled off the twisted blanket and blinked rapidly that her mind caught up, and judging from the swearing next to her, Preston had caught on as well.

“I thought you said it was Pivot people who were waking us up!” he growled. It was times like these that Missy was glad she was with Preston; he voiced the thoughts that she herself would never say aloud.

Captain Appet stood in the doorway, wreathed in light from the hallway. She looked exactly the same as she ever had. Of course it had only been a few months, Missy reminded herself.

“Nope,” the Captain corrected, “I said it would be a bitch, and as always, I’m true to my word. Conference room one, 0630.”

“Being awake hurts, why does it hurt?” Missy whined as the Captain vanished.

“We’ve had a few weeks off, gotten soft.” Preston grunted and began digging through their bags for their uniforms.

“Do we at least have time for a quickie before we go?” Missy glanced at the clock. The small red display read 0615. On the one hand, Captain Appet had let them sleep for an hour longer than she’d said. On the other, there wasn’t even enough time for a quickie before they left. Missy flopped backwards onto the bed with a groan.


It took them a little while to locate the right conference room, so when Missy and Preston stumbled in, rubbing their eyes, it was already almost full. The seats were divided into two sections, with an aisle down the middle leading to a podium. General Hunter and Captain Appet were both quietly conferring with a group of three other people on the podium, and when Appet saw them come in she pointed to the back of the left section where their squadmates sat. In the front of the same section, about twenty men and women in security force uniforms or pilot civs talked and joked among themselves. In the other section of seats, the bleary eyes and nodding heads told Missy that the men and women seated there were civilians.

Not that she could judge them too harshly. Missy was yawning when she sat down next Aimee, and she leaned her head against Preston’s shoulder. The only squadmate not with them was Tess, and Missy had begun to ask where their squaddie was when Captain Appet started talking from the podium.

“This is the entirety of our security forces.” Captain Appet barked, and the room immediately fell into shocked silence. Missy blinked. She had known that Pivot didn’t have much security normally, but did so many leave in the initial evacuation that this was all that was left?

“I notice that some of you are probably wondering why on earth we maintain a security force that’s so damned pitiful. I wonder the same thing myself.” Captain Appet shot a look at the other woman on stage behind her. “With the permission of General Hunter, I’m going to be training up another group of security fighters for Orbital Pivot, now that Orbital Pivot is essentially a warzone. Unfortunately, it seems that there’s a little hiccup that takes precedent. “

General Hunter rose heavily to his feet. “We’re burning the fuck up.” He said coarsely. The language and the unexpectedness of his statement was enough to wake most of them from their nodding. Hunter continued.

“As soon as they dug into the Orbital, the Terrans went straight for our power generators, knocking us down to two of the available four. We don’t know why they chose to spare us and leave the other two intact, but I wasn’t the only one who felt that we shouldn’t rely on the Terrans’ largesse. This morning, work has wrapped up on our replacement generators, safely within our protective shell. They’re all ready to turn on, and we could be back on full power within the next few days. I don’t have to tell you all what a boost to morale and productivity that would be, but we’re encountering the aforementioned problem; we’re burning the fuck up.”

As if to illustrate his point, General Hunter wiped his brow with a damp sleeve before he continued. “I don’t fully understand the science behind it, but heat transfer is one of the largest problems they had when the Orbitals were originally constructed. Left on its own, heat just doesn’t like to dissipate in space, and our normal method of removing heat via ‘heat packets’ can’t work unless we have access to the outside wall of Pivot. We’re not sure how the Terrans are keeping cool, since they’ve ripped half the damn Orbital apart, but the few instruments left intact out there suggest that they’ve come up with a way to manage it. We need to do the same if we’re going to get those generators running. In the meantime…we’re going to steal it.”

Missy had started to nod off, so she was sure she had misheard the General’s words. The muttering around her assured her that she had not.

“Air replicators can provide us with oxygen, but as long as we’re sealed in the airtight shell of senstone the ambient temperature is going to approach dangerous levels. So we’re opening a section of the wall on either end, and we’re blasting the inside of our little shell with Terran-cooled air before we close it up again.” Hunter seemed sceptical of the plan he was outlining, but his gaze was steady as he looked around the room. He gestured to one of the men on the podium, who stepped forward and addressed the men and women on the right.

“You scientists are here because we want this whole process to go as smoothly as possible. Some of you were no doubt already working on the cooling problem, but this morning we want you all on the ‘moving-air’ problem. You’ll have a window of time, a hot inner core and a cool outer core, and your job will be to lower the inner core’s temperature in that window. We’re going to move to the systems lab to talk this over, so please follow me.”

The captain of security stepped forward as the scientists filed out, addressing the remaining group.

“The rest of us are acting as backup to the nerds while they cool us down. The shields have been keeping us safe from the Terrans up until that point, but that means they’ll most likely be watching for any sign of them coming down. We know they definitely have troops, and both a full-sized and bite-sized Drakes among them. It gets worse.” He raised a hand to forestall the murmurs. “Although we don’t have our normal instruments, we’re told that there are more Terrans here now than there were in the initial raid. Personally I’m hoping that just means they’ve been having a lot of Terran babies out there, but the leading theory is that they’ve manufactured some way to bring more Terrans from the surface.”

“How is that even possible? If they can portal around, why not attack us inside the core?” One of the security forces in the front of the room asked.

“We don’t know, but again the leading theory is that they have some device they’re using. If that’s true, even one Terran slipping past us is as good as letting them all in. Maybe as good as letting the whole damn surface in. That’s one of the reasons both teams are going to have to be very, very careful when we defend the two openings.”

“One of the reasons? Not the most important one?” One of the pilots asked. The captain sighed, leaning on the podium as if it had already been a rough day.

“The most important reason to be careful is that in the history of the Orbitals, we’ve never gone head-to-head with the Terrans and won.” He answered flatly.


It was strange to Missy that she’d only been awake for a few hours. It felt like an entire day had passed, and a busy day at that. From the meeting hall they went to a small construction room which had been re-purposed as a fitting station, to get her measurements taken. From the fitting station to the armoury, where the wizened man had fixed her with a look when she had answered “preferred weapon” with “something small”. From the armory they were hustled to mess to eat a quick breakfast of ‘battle-rations’, a bland thick paste that contained large amounts of proteins and carbohydrates.

Her squadmates were with her, all but Tess and Julia. Even Aimee, who had been in the hospital wing just a few days ago. They were all just as sombre as Missy, quiet as they contemplated what could be in front of them.

“They might not even show up.” Missy said brightly, trying to lift her squaddies’ spirits. “I’ll bet we get super bored and have to resort to that stupid word game Alex came up with.”

“Genius word game, you mean.” Alex gave a half-smile, and Missy grinned back. She wasn’t naive enough to actually believe her own words, but it seemed to help her squadmates a little bit.

After breakfast the squaddies went back to the fitting station, where the heavy armour plating was waiting for them. Tailored to their measurements, the rough plasticine scales fit into place around their bodies perfectly. In theory they would reflect, refract, or absorb most of the damage from energy weapons.

What about magic? Missy couldn’t help thinking as they filed out of the fitting station, but she pushed the thought firmly to the back of her mind. The dimness of the hallways reminded her of the night before, and she vaguely wondered why Tess wasn’t with them. Of course, she was still a Terran. The General probably had her under guard somewhere to keep her from fighting on their side. Missy suddenly noticed that they had stopped, and she looked around her.

For the second time in two days, they stood in front of the silver sheen of the shield.

Missy’s stomach lurched, and her hand shook as she drew her sidearm. It suddenly felt too tiny in her hand. The oppressive heat seemed to ratchet up a few notches, and she moved a damp sting of hair that was plastered to her forehead.

“This is Blue, I’ll be keeping you updated on our progress.” The disembodied voice crackled from the wall. “Both teams are in place, so we’ll be dropping the shielding in T-minus thirty. There are no Terrans in sight, but I’m a little limited on what I can see. They destroyed my instruments out there.”

Terrans aren’t invincible or invulnerable. I knocked one out. I beat them when I rescued my squaddies from them. Missy focused on her breathing, leaning against Preston for a moment as if to reassure herself that he was still there. I beat them once, I can beat them again.

“T-Minus twenty.”

“Hey remember that time we kicked the Terran’s asses so we could have air-conditioning?” Alex joked weakly. The rest of them smiled, but Missy just knelt into firing position, pointing her gun at the wall. Around her, the squaddies did the same. The handful of security forces with them moved into position. Missy belated realized that her wrists and temples had started buzzing again, as if there were hornets in her blood that wanted nothing more than to be unleashed and ravage her enemies. In a sudden moment of clarity, the nervousness left Missy completely, and she smiled. Her back straightened, and she spoke with a voice full of confidence.

“Let’s fuck them up.”

Her startled squadmates didn’t have a chance to respond before the silver walls slammed open with a loud crash.


Previous Chapter (SFW): Grains of Sand
Next Chapter (SFW): Aimee’s Support

9.3 – Grains of Sand

Author’s Note: The End of Orbital Academy


He probably shouldn’t be embarrassing the Academy rookie like this, and she did look rather embarrassed, but General Hunter was too angry to care.

“Jesus Hunter, you don’t have to do this.” General Winchest looked at the Academy rookie sadly, as she glanced uncertainly back and forth between them.

“Rookie Nesbit, please inform the new General of Orbital Academy about the extent of your injuries.” Hunter pressed.

“Nothing too bad sir.” Aimee Nesbit shrugged, and the brief motion was apparently enough to shake her leg, and she winced. “I could’ve been messed up a lot worse, but I just took some incidental damage to my leg.”

“How would you rate the combat, Rookie Nesbit?”

“It…it wasn’t really a combat sir, speaking frankly. It was a bloodbath. There just weren’t enough ships, not with the Drake picking us off as easily as it was. Us Rookies hadn’t ever been on a Shrike mission before, and those energy weapons they were using were…intimidating, to say the least.”

“I get it, Hunter. I get your point.” The wizened General Winchest seemed even more worn down and aged than he normally did. “There’s no need to pester the poor girl any longer.”

“Thank you Rookie Nesbit.” General Hunter gave a fierce nod of approval before he realized that it would mean nothing to her. She was Academy trained, and raised god-knows-where, so she wouldn’t know how rare he gave out his approval.

It seemed strange to him, that he had known the Academy rooks for so short a time. Even with the separation that was typical between a General and an entry-level, he had interacted with them more than the majority of his pilots, and they’d been in his thoughts even when he wasn’t interacting with them. He mused as the two Generals made their way out of sick bay, jerking a nod of greeting to Rookie Rade as they left. Errisa liked Rade, something about ‘solidarity among synthetics’.

“That was a low blow Hunter.” General Winchest’s tired protests brought Hunter out of his reverie. “You could’ve just made your point without layering on the guilt.”

“You deserve the guilt.” General Hunter snapped. “By all the covenants man, I’ve got fucking Terrans aboard my Orbital, and they’ve torn it apart from tip to tip. I’m at half-crew, our supplies are dwindling, and we’re down to two generators that will only last until the Terrans out there decide to rip them out. And all of this could’ve been avoided.”

“We don’t know that.” Winchest protested, but they both knew it was a weak argument.

“We know that we’d have had a shot at repelling them if the Academy ships had gotten here in time.”

“My ships got here in time to evacuate half of Pivot.”

“Not enough. You didn’t get here in time to help when it mattered. And why?”

“Because you refused to accept the very reasonable deal I offered.”

Hunter stopped and jabbed a finger into the other General’s chest.

“Because you decided that politics and posturing was more important than the lives and safety of my men and women. And now you want me to trust that you’ll take care of those same men and women? I should send you past the shield and let you talk to the Terrans.”

“The Terrans would probably be easier to talk to.” Winchest ran a hand through his hair, and at the small gesture Hunter almost forgave him. He was an old man, wise and experienced, but none of that experience meant he would make a good General. With General Poulay whispering her tripe into his ear, it was no wonder that he made bad calls so early in his career, and it was also no wonder that he was feeling overwhelmed at the moment.

“I’ve got too much to deal with to have this discussion twice Winchest, and I’m sure you plan on bringing it up at the meeting.”

“Whether or not I let you down, Hunter, we made a deal, and my ships came. We helped you, risked our resources to help you, and there are enough of us stuck here that we’re affected just like you.”

“Save it for the meeting.” Every cell of General Hunter was weary, he could feel the exhaustion seeping into his joints and bones, but there was still far too much to do to allow him to rest. “I understand you’re in a rough spot, but I’m afraid I don’t have the time to work it out with you.”

“At the meeting then.” General Winchest agreed. The two Generals shook hands briefly, a regretful understanding passing between them. General Hunter remained for some time after General Winchest left, staring at the wall. With a curse he spun on his heel.

I suppose there’s some things I can take care of that’ll reduce my stress a bit.


Even as he exited the elevator, General Hunter felt noticeably better. Technically the elevator used up their precious emergency power, but the lights in his office were dimmed, and the small amount of power used to take him there were probably balanced out by the effectiveness of the minds within.

“How are my girls holding up?” He asked, trying to affect a good-natured grin and only managing a tired grimace. At the desk, the two women he had come to think of as his only respite from the problems he was facing recently. Technically the third was also present, but he still wasn’t quite sure how he felt about her, even though he had apparently known her for five years. His office was small enough that the two extra physical bodies made it a tad crowded, but he gained comfort by their presence.

“I really wish you wouldn’t call me that sir.” The woman who sat at his desk gave him a reproachful look before turning back to the screen built into the desk. Standing next to her, Hunter’s wife Errisa gave him a smile before returning back to the same screen.

“Right, I’m sorry Hannah.” Hunter winced. The small white-haired girl who had been intended as his wife was always so serious and grave that it was difficult to gauge what jokes would bother her, but Hunter was beginning to get the hang of it.

“No apologies necessary sir.”

“I like it.” Errisa’s smile was enough to be worth the small break all on its own.

“You are his wife, it’s alright for him to call you ‘his girl’.” Hannah explained.

“I have absolutely no preference what Hunt calls me, but I’m technically not a girl, so if we’re going for factual correctness…” Blue had taken to lowering the register of her voice, mostly so that Hunter could tell the difference between her and Errisa, and at this point he had gotten used to the disembodied voice. He still hated it when she called him “Hunt”, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now.

“How are you three holding up then, is that better?” Hunter half laughed, half growled.

“Quite well sir.” Hannah responded respectfully. “I think I should be able to start handling Chief Errisa’s duties within a few days, if I continue learning at this rate.”

“So fast?” Hunter’s eyebrows rose. “Are you sure we aren’t pushing that schedule a little hard? It took Errisa many years of experience to get to that point.”

“Many years of experience which I was able to transfer directly to her dear.” Errisa noted.

“You did? Are you two…er…compatible then?”

“The hardest part is isolating which memories to give her, really. Hannah has a ridiculously fast transfer rate, but we’re limited by how fast my old ports can transfer. She doesn’t need every job-related experience I’ve been through to get a firm grasp on the job…and she most certainly doesn’t need any of my personal experiences.”

Hannah was blushing so hard that her normally pale face was almost entirely red, and despite himself Hunter couldn’t help but laugh.

“It’s not funny sir. There are some things I just don’t need to see.” Hannah muttered, and her blush was enough to make him chuckle even more.

“I’m sorry again, Hannah.”

“Shame on you.” Errisa made a face at him over the blushing girl’s head. “Making fun of poor Hannah’s embarrassment.”

“Can I help it that I find it funny to embarrass those around me?” Hunter chuckled. “Besides, I’m not the one who showed her…I shudder to think of what.”

“Oh my goodness, was it that one time he tried that trick with his fingers that he read about on the network?” Blue broke in. Her vaguely electronic laughter echoed across the room. “I must’ve mocked you for weeks after that one, Hunter, good times. I called you ‘The Reverse-”

“Anyways,” Hunter interrupted hastily, “I didn’t come up here to socialize. What can you ladies report.” Errisa grinned at his discomfort, but turned back to the console.

“The amount of coordination we’ve been able to achieve is amazing, for having so few workers.” She said, tossing him a handheld screen full of schematics. “We’ve got three generators under construction, and if all goes well we’ll have them ready to switch on in less than a week.”

“Good. And Blue, will our electric and gravaton systems be able to take the generators.”

“That’s where we’re a little lucky Hunt. Behind the shield we’re working with about a third of the space and a quarter of the humans, and you should see the cost in energy we’re saving. Makes a girl wonder how much she could save by ejecting another half of you.”

To his credit, Hunter had broken the habit of visibly cringing at Blue’s little jokes, even though all three women would be able to read his spike in heartrate and adrenaline. Sure enough, Blue’s laughter crackled across the room again.

“Blue, hon, you know how Hunter won’t give you access to the core systems? It’s because of little jokes like that.” Errisa said, exasperated.

“You humans and human-adjacents are such worrywarts, I could improve your core systems by at least seventy-five percent.” Even without a face Blue gave the impression of a pout.

“That’s kind of what I’m worried about.” Hunter growled. “So you’re saying the electric systems are almost back online?”

“And with human workers too, it’s practically a miracle.”

For the first time in as long as he could remember, Hunter felt the stress on his shoulders lessen just a bit.

“So you’re saying we can get our generators up and running soon? We won’t be at the constant risk of the Terrans cutting life support?” He asked.

“It might be a little premature to start releasing dopamine sir,” Hannah broke in quietly, “you see-”

“They can’t control chemical interactions Hann.” Errisa interrupted quietly. Hannah blinked, looking uncomfortable as if his chemical interactions offended her, before the reaction was quickly masked by her normal professional seriousness. Hunter’s brow furrowed. Perhaps his plan to have her take over Errisa’s Chief of Information position was moving too quickly.

“-pardon me. Your relief might be premature,” she continued, “since we still won’t be able to turn the generators on.”

“Why not? They’ll be built, they’ll run on the systems won’t they?”

“And they’ll generate heat sir. Normally we’d fire heat packets into space to vent the excess energy but…I’m afraid even synthetic systems would only last a few weeks. Organic material wouldn’t even last that long.”

“Can’t we just vent the heat out into the wrecked Orbital? Cook the Terrans instead of us?”

“That would only exacerbate the problem General. Heat packets aren’t as simple as typical heat transfer, or else they wouldn’t disperse so cleanly into space. At our current level of technology the packets would simply bounce and amplify, and we would…‘cook’…that much faster. We need a direct avenue to space.”

“I see.” General Hunter sighed. “Even with that being the case, I still want them hooked up and ready to turn on at a moment’s notice. If the Terrans cut our last generators out there I’ll take ‘frying in a week’ to ‘asphyxiating in two hours’.

“8.21 days and 1.389 hours, respectively.” Hannah corrected in a mumble.

“Humans tend to round.” Errisa said gently, laying a hand on the smaller woman’s shoulder.

“I think it’s because their brains can’t handle significant digits.” Blue snarked. “And Hunt, your meeting is in 6.1832941232222103 minutes as of right…now. At your glacial pace you’ll arrive right on time if you leave now.” Hunter rolled his eyes, but he grinned in spite of himself.

“Alright Hannah, you’re with me. It’s show time.” He said, rising heavily to his feet.

“Colloquialism?” Hannah asked over her shoulder as she followed Hunter to the elevator.

“You’ll get used to them.” Errisa smiled as they stepped inside. “If you don’t understand them, I find it helpful to adopt a thoughtful air and nod.”


Just as Blue had said, the doors to the impromptu meeting room slid closed behind Hunter just as the clock on the wall ticked over to 2200 hours.

“Chiefs, Captains.” He greeted the assembled ranks as he entered. The table was horseshoe-shaped rather than it’s normal circle, and it had been divided into two with a seat for him in the middle. On the left sat Kathryn, Mabel, Pepper, Adamsly, and an empty seat which Hannah sat in; his Chiefs. On the right sat General Winchest and his various Captains from Orbital Academy, most of which Hunter hadn’t bothered to learn the names of.

“Thank you for meeting with us General Hunter, we know there are pressing matters on your time.” One of the Academy captains said as he took his seat. Hunter merely nodded in acknowledgement. It felt disingenuous to accept their thanks given the bombshell he was about to drop on their heads.

“Right, we should get this meeting underway.” Hunter glanced at his Chief of Security, Kathryn, exchanging a look. She nodded, once, and he relaxed a little bit. Security was in place.

“I’ll start, shall I?” General Winchest asked. Without waiting for an answer he turned to the assembled Chiefs and Captains. “General Hunter and I made an agreement, just before the Terrans’ Shrike Team attacked. In exchange for Orbital Academy’s assistance in this threat, and as a measure to prevent the conflict our Orbitals had from ever breaking out again, Academy would act as overseeing Orbital to Pivot. General Hunter will be stepping down from his position of command, and taking a Chief role from here on out. Most of the normal day-to-day decisions will still be left up to him-”

“In case you hadn’t noticed General, there’s nothing ‘normal’ about Orbital Pivot right now.” Chief Pepper broke in with venom. “Thanks to the fact that you didn’t assist us in the threat. It’s unlikely that we’ll get back to ‘normal’ in the next decade.”

“Let him speak his piece.” General Hunter said calmly. “Let them all speak their piece. Speak them a little less pompously though Winchest, we all know the situation.” He glanced at the timepiece on the wall.

“Ah…well yes.” General Winchest looked surprised. “I suppose that’s it, actually. To be honest, given our conversation we had early I’d assumed…well, anyway. That’s really all I had to say. I’ll of course do whatever I can to help assist Pivot in its efforts. I know I’m not the most experienced General, but I have some ideas for dealing with this situation. That’s…that’s all.”

“Thank you General Winchest.” Hunter’s voice was flat, and on his side of the table his Chiefs remained impassive. “Now to fill you all in on the current plan.” A small holographic blueprint of the station appeared in the middle of the horseshoe as Hunter continued, ignoring the quizzical look Winchest was giving him. It would take the new General a few minutes to realize that Hunter had no plans on giving up control of the Orbital, he might as well use those moments to fill them all in on the situation.

“Currently Pivot has been reduced to a wrecked shell full of Terrans, with a quarter-size sphere still in our control protected by the shield. Our remaining two generators are in Terran controlled territory right now, but we’ve recently completed work on new generators to keep us kicking for eight-point-two-one days should they cut it. Our R&D will work on the heat dissipation problems that will make it last us longer, but right now they’re focused on a system of translating silver-plated senstone into an energy source. Once they get the system up and running, the tiny internal station that Orbital Pivot has become will be self-sufficient.”

“I thought you were using your senstone stores for the shield itself?” One of the Academy Captains objected.

“There are two layers of shielding, set up in a grid around each room, and we can snap them open and closed independently. Now that we know the Terrans can’t get through even one layer, we’re going to break down the innermost walls of shielding and use them as a fuel source.”

“Now hold on just a minute,” another Captain broke in, “isn’t there a fucking Terran trapped in between one of those grids?”

“Yes, which brings me to another good point. We don’t need a captive Terran that close to us, especially since she’s in the way of trying to solve this mess. We’re killing her.”

“This has gone far enough.” General Winchest slammed a hand down on the table. “Chief Hunter you don’t have the authority to be making these kinds of calls any more, remember.”

“Ah, that would bring us to the final point.” General Hunter’s voice was quiet, but he nodded to Kathryn, who entered a few strokes into the screen in front of her. “I am not giving over control of this Orbital to you, General Winchest.”

There was a pregnant pause, and General Winchest leaned back, obviously at a loss for what to say.

“I…if you break your word now-”

“I’m not breaking my word.” General Hunter cut the other man off. “Your part of the deal was to help, and you didn’t help a damn bit. I keep my promises Winchest, but I don’t give up something for nothing. Right now the situation is as dire as anyone in the Orbit has every seen it, and I don’t have the time or the patience to play the political games I’m normally forced to play.”

His gaze swept the room as Kathryn’s security forces entered through the small door. The Academy Captains were all staring at him, stunned. It was as if they simply didn’t know how to deal with a situation like this. He capitalized on their stunned silence.

“Here’s how it’s going to go. Until this situation is resolved, you are now either officers under my command or guests aboard my Orbital; either way you’re following my orders. If you’ll serve, I’ll welcome the skills you have. If you won’t, I’ll feed and shelter you, same as anyone else on my Orbital. If you want to fight me, I will order my men to shoot you.” He spread his hands. “Those are the only options available.”

“You do realize that even threatening to break the Marshall’s covenants hold stiff penalties.” One of the Captains finally stammered. “You could be in a world of trouble if you-”

“WE ARE IN A WORLD OF TROUBLE!” General Hunter’s calm shattered, and he slammed both fists on the table as he screamed. Even his typically un-rattleable Chief’s jumped, but it was as if Hunter had unleashed every pent up emotion he had gathered over the past month. “We are living in a refuge core, by the grace of fucking Terrans. Our food is limited, our energy is limited, the very motherfucking air we’re breathing right now is limited! The only thing that we have in abundance is the heat which is steadily climbing, and the assurance that if we set foot in the ruined wreckage that used to be my castle, we’ll be swarmed with the Terrans who will very happily slaughter us. So yes, I will break every god-damned one of the Marshal’s covenants. If the Marshal can reach us in here, in this tiny little precarious chip of metal flying through the void, then my punishment will be worth it to get help to the men and women I’ve given my life to protect.”

The silence in the room seemed to echo when he had finished, and Hunter panted slightly as his gaze shifted from face to face.

“So.” He finally snarled. “Are you a Pivot Captain…are you a Pivot civilian…or are you dead? Now is the time to choose.”

The room remained silence for a while longer, before one of the Captains raised her chin and spoke.

“You said you were a man of your word General? I’ll be a Pivot Captain.”

“What the hell, Appet?” Winchest didn’t seem angry, just dissapointed, but the woman continued.

“I can help you train up a security force, men and women to fight the Terrans and take back what’s left of the Orbital. But I’ll do it on one condition.”

Hunter raised an eyebrow, but otherwise didn’t answer.

“Let me have my squad back.” The woman finished. It took General Hunter a few seconds to make the connection; the Captain was the former leader of the Academy Rookies who had started the war between the Orbitals.

“Take whatever crew you need.” He said with a shrug. “If they’ll have you back, you can have them.”

“If that’s the case then I’m on board.” Captain Appet said with a brief nod, standing. “I think I’ll get a start on that then.”

“Keep an eye on her, let me know if she tries to raise hell.” Hunter muttered to Hannah, watching the Captain leave through narrowed eyes. The white haired girl nodded thoughtfully, and he turned his attention back to the rest of the assembled Captains. “I believe the rest of you have similar choices to make.” He growled.


The walk back to his quarters seemed much lighter than the walk down had been.

“Two Captains, four civilians, and no executions.” He remarked to Hannah. “That was about as well as that situation could’ve possibly turned out.”

“We could have had all of them agree to help us sir, wouldn’t that have been better?”

“If they had all said they were helping us, I would’ve been sure they were up to something. Now sullen acceptance, that I can buy.”

“There still remains the possibility of them being up to something.” Hannah narrowed her eyes, and General Hunter nodded approvingly.

“Paranoia is an excellent quality in a Chief, so keep it up. I’ll want them monitored, of course, but I think we can-”

“Sir, Blue and Errisa need you back at quarters as fast as you can.” Hannah interrupted. “It’s an emergency.”

A few minutes ago Hunter wouldn’t have thought he could muster a run, but he somehow managed to fly down the darkened hallways to the elevator.

“What is it, what’s wrong?” He burst into the quarters to find Errisa leaning over the desk screen, brow furrowed.

“You weren’t focused, didn’t think it through.” Errisa said shortly, indicating the screen in front of her. It was a feed from the camera, focused on the square of the shield grid in which the Terran girl was locked. In the corner of the room stood Captain Appet.

“What the fuck.” General Hunter breathed, falling into the desk chair.

“You gave her permission to collect all of her rookies.” Errisa stated flatly. “That Terran used to be one of her rookies, remember?”

“God damn it, I didn’t mean that one.” Hunter protested ineffectually. “What is she even doing? How did she even get in there?”

“Must’ve told the guards she had authorization from you, which she did. They lowered the shields, she stepped over, they slammed the shield back up, it took all of a few seconds.”

“That was so insanely dangerous! The Terran could’ve gotten free!”

“I don’t think she cares about danger sir, since she’s locked herself up in there.”

“Tell her to get out of there this instant!”

“The Terran destroyed the speakers, we’ve only got audio.”

“Then put the audio on!” Hunter ran a hand through his hair, the elation from earlier completely gone.

With a sharp click the room filled with sound, mid-conversation, and Hunter, Errisa, and Hannah were silent as they listened.

“-ink I’m stupid enough to fall for it.” The Terran was saying.

“I know you’re not stupid Tess, but it’s really not a trap.” Captain Appet’s voice was calm, as if she was talking with a student instead of a Terran.

“If it’s not a trap, then what’s to stop me from smearing you across your damned silver wall?”

“Nothing.” Appet sat down, a little ways from Tess, spreading her hands to show that she was unarmed.

“You think that I’ll recognize you.” Tess remained standing, her face surprisingly expressive despite the eyepatch. Her expression was halfway between annoyance and pity. “We had some kind of relationship in my past life and you think you’ll jog that memory.”

“No. They told us that whatever the Terrans did to you, it was pretty complete. We did have a relationship though, I was your instructor.”

“I don’t remember you, instructor. You’re just a stranger to me, I wouldn’t feel bad killing you.”

“I believe that you don’t remember me, but I don’t agree with the second part.” From the floor, Captain Appet leaned forward. “They can’t change you that much, not without turning you into an entirely different person.”

“Maybe they did.” Tess shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you one way or the other. Why risk it? What’s the point of this?”

“I let you down.” Captain Appet was giving the girl a steady gaze. “If I had stood up for you Rooks, back at the Academy, we would never have been sent to the surface in the first place. The Terrans wouldn’t have captured you. I fucked up, and you all have had to pay for that.”

“So what, you’re sacrificing yourself as some kind of penance?”

“No. I’m risking death to try to make things right.”

The Terran matched her gaze for what seemed like a long time. Finally, slowly, Tes sat on the ground across from her, folding her legs beneath her.

“That’s…strangely honorable, for an Exile.” She seemed to muse aloud. “What exactly does that entail, ‘making things right’?”

“Reuniting my squad. Training them up. Helping you regain your memories, if I can.”

“How do you know giving my memories of my old life will be a help? I have a pretty good life right now. Could be my old one sucked.”

“I know because you don’t have Julia.”

“Pretty name. Don’t know a thing about her.” Tess shrugged.

“Was that a lie? Does she know who Julia is?” Hunter asked the synthetics, watching with rapt attention.

“It’s hard to tell.” Errisa replied with a shrug. “If she does, it’s locked away. She certainly doesn’t think she knows Julia.”

“Your Terran life may be better. It might be worse. Wouldn’t you rather know about both before you make the decision?” Captain Appet was saying. “If you’re going to choose, shouldn’t you know what you’re choosing to give up?”

The Terran hugged her knees to her chest, staring into the corner of the room.

“You don’t know you can give those memories back anyways.”

“I know I can try. I know I can reintroduce you to people who care about you. Anyways, what’s your alternative? Stay stuck here until they decide to kill you?”

Tess stared at the Captain for a long moment, as if the girl was trying to read the truth in her eyes. Suddenly she lurched forward, and in her palm a pebble of green energy lit her hand with a gentle glow.

“Eat this and swear to me this isn’t a trap.” She said, her voice fierce.

“What is it?”

“If you eat it, you cannot lie.”

“Then you eat it first and swear you won’t harm us if we take you inside.”

Tess popped the green marble in her mouth without hesitation, chewing and then opening her mouth to show that she had swallowed.

“I plan on gathering as much information as I can about you, but I will not harm any of you while I’m inside.” She said. She held out her hand, forming another pebble and offering it to the Captain. Appet took it from the girl and swallowed it.

“I might be countermanded by those higher up than me, but I won’t try to harm or trap or trick you in any way. I just want what’s best for you.” She said.

The two looked at each other for another long moment, and it was as if something passed between them. Captain Appet turned toward the camera.

“Hunter, we’re ready. Let us back in.” She said.

“General Hunter, this is Kathryn.” The voice of Hunter’s Chief of Security buzzed in his ear. “I’ve got men in place, we can lower the shields and take them out. One or both. Your call.”

General Hunter looked down at the screen in front of him, face tight with stress, and made the call.

 


Previous Chapter (NSFW): Life in the Pearl
Next Chapter (SFW): Missy’s Emergence

9.2 – Life in the Pearl

An alarm pinged Jackson’s head, and he took a breath.

It was something he rarely thought about in his life, but he suspected that the familiarity was comforting to him on a subconscious level. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to be taking his move to Pivot and the corresponding changes better than his squadmates. Who knew, perhaps it wasn’t the ping, maybe it was just that the chip in his head kept him able to focus. Maybe he was just that inhuman, that the invasion of his second home by alien attackers didn’t seem to bother him quite as much as the rest.

I wonder if normal humans wonder about this stuff.

“You’ve left us again Jackson.” Samantha raised an eyebrow from where she sat at the console, looking at the doorway where Jackson stood. He shook himself and smiled at her. Samantha would probably be excellent for a normal man with attention issues, and although he was a lost cause he appreciated that she continued to try, even with how well she knew him.

>>Task 1432 shifted to short-term priority 1: Optimize Sam’s emotional state.

Jackson used to feel resentment as a teen towards the chip implanted in his head, constantly categorizing the details of his day-to-day life. Nowadays he saw it less as an overbearing taskmaster, and more as an advanced to-do list. Without it he would be useless, his attention drifting through a million actions every second. With it he tended to be able to do what he had to get done. At the very least, it forced him to concentrate on the task at hand.

“I’m sorry lovely.” Jackson said genuinely. “I came by to give you some attention, but for me that’s a tall order.”

“It’s okay, I’ll take some company. Even your kind of attention is better than sitting here all by myself.” Samantha gave him a smile, but it was clear from every motion how exhausted she was. A few feet away at another console a girl in a scrub uniform, the room’s other occupant, gave her a dirty look.

“How long have you been manning the throughput station Sam?” Jackson stepped over to her console, glancing at the monitor behind her. Normally this room would only be manned during standard hours, but with half the station closed off to protect from the invading Terrans, every control room was manned no matter how late.

“It says there’s been a throughput operator here since breakfast…when did you start this shift Sam? Who’d you take over from?” Samantha avoided Jackson’s gaze as she flipped a switch.

“This is Samantha, I’m back.” Her voice lilted as she slipped back into what Jackson called her ‘official mode’.

“Oh Sam, tell me you’ve not been here all day.”

“Hello sir, yes we can get you three electrician-specialists, but you’re going to have to wait for about…” Samantha consulted one of the several small screens on her desk, fastidiously avoiding Jackson’s glare. “…one to two hours. Yes sir. Yes, I’m sorry sir but there’s only so much we can…yes. Right. Of course sir. Sorry Jackson.” She turned her beautiful brown eyes towards him and reached out, pulling him by the front of his uniform to stand next to where she sat. “How has your day been, lover?”

“Wonderful, but you’re not changing the subject that easily.” Jackson folded his arms. “How many days in a row have you been pulling these kinds of eighteen-hour shifts?”

“Just today, Jackson I swear.” Samantha said innocently.

“Yesterday it was a twenty-hour.” From the console a few feet away the thin wisp of a girl in a scrub uniform noted.

“No one asked you to contribute Lacy.” Samantha snapped. “Look Jackson, I get that you’re worried about me, and it’s sweet and adorable and all that, but they need me here. There’s been so much damage out there that pretty much every single electrical connection, every single pipe and cord that passed through the outer core now has to be rewired through the inner.”

“I get that, and I understand that’s why it’s all hands on deck.” Jackson replied evenly. “What I don’t understand is why you’re pushing yourself to help if you’re falling asleep on your feet.”

“I’m sitting.” Samantha yawned.

“Falling asleep on your butt then.”

“I’ll take a break in an hour or so, and I’ll take a nap then, I swear. I’ll sleep for at least a few hours, then I’ll visit sick bay, then I’ll come back here.”

“No one can take over for you now?”

“No one trained in both mechanics and admin. I’m the only Basura-Pivot in the pearl.”

“The pearl?”

“It’s a small naturally-occurring gem. It’s a sphere and it shines like silver. It’s what we’ve started to call the station now that we’re…well we’re pretty much a sphere surrounded by silver who is stuck in the middle of a dead shell.”

“That’s a little morbid.”

“Yea, you get a little grim running on three hours of sleep.”

“Samantha, for god’s sake, what’s going to be so different in a few hours that you can’t take a break right now?”

“You won’t be around in a few hours.” The girl at the next console laughed. “So she’ll be able to keep going and tell you she napped.”

“Honestly, Lacy, no one asked you.” Samantha snapped again. Jackson smiled at the interaction.

“There’s nothing I can do to get you to go to sleep?” Jackson asked, and in answer, Samantha flicked the switch on again, answering another call.

>>Task 1432 complexity beyond threshold. Breaking into subtasks.

>>Task: Optimize Sam’s emotional state >> Subtask 1: Force Sam to sleep.

“Fine, if you’re not going to sleep, then scoot.” Jackson said in apparent defeat.

Without breaking the flow of her conversation Samantha stood from her desk, reading off from one of the screens.

“It’s going to be quite the task, but we’ve got three..four…no, it looks like five technicians already working on it. Yes, I understand that, but there’s only so much…yes? Yes I would be happy to explain to the General in person.” Jackson admired how professional she sounded, even as exhausted and on-edge as she was. He sat in her seat and pulled her down to sit on his lap, brushing his fingers across the nape of her neck.

“See?” Samantha disconnected the call and turned to Jackson. “If I had gone to sleep when you told me to, I would’ve missed that call, and I wouldn’t have known that General Hunter was going to be calling to ask about the progress of the new generator construction.”

“And not one of the people actually working on the new generators could fill him in because…?”

“Because they’re working on the generator. There’s not enough people available for me to sleep.” Samantha groaned the sentence as she rubbed her eyes. Jackson frowned. He couldn’t help but feel guilty; as a pilot there was very little he could do until the General decided to send them out on a fighting mission, but until that point the majority of his time was free.

Besides heavy lifting, what the fuck do I around here? I’m wandering around bullshitting and doing the occasional task when I can, while the admins and technicians are being worked to the point of exhaustion? The guilt gnawed at his stomach, and for a moment his brow furrowed.

The CPU took over, classifying the guilt as “unhelpful” and assigning it the lowest priority in the queue. Jackson knew that someday, if he worked through his entire list of tasks, he would have several years’ worth of guilt, worry, regret and pain waiting for him, but in the meantime his mind re-focused and brushed the guilt aside.

I can help by doing what I can to bolster the admins and techs who are doing the real work. In this case that means getting Sam to sleep.

“You have no idea how amazing that feels.” Sam murmured sleepily, resting her elbows on the console as Jackson continued to brush the back of her neck gently.

“Lucky.” The girl a few feet away muttered. “My boyfriend never comes to rub my neck.”

“Suck it Lacy.” Samantha grinned, and the girl smiled and good-naturedly flipped her off.

“Why don’t you rest your eyes for a little bit while you’re waiting for the General to call?” Jackson murmured the suggestion into the back her head.

“I think I might for just a- no no no.” Samantha sat bolt upright, and Jackson sighed. “You’re not tricking me Jackson. I’m staying awake and I’m staying up.”

>> Subtask 1: Force Sam to sleep. >> Subsubtask: Provide orgasm.

“What?” Jackson blinked. Occasionally his CPU would throw him a suggestion so unexpected that he had to take a moment to process it. When he did think about it it made some kind of sense. Samantha was the type of girl to instantly fall asleep right after she had been “worn out”, and given the circumstances it was probably one of the few ways he could actually get her to fall asleep in spite of herself. Jackson glanced at Lacy, just a few feet away from them. The wispy girl was staring into her screen, a grim look of frustration on her face. Jackson tried to estimate just how much she could see if she glanced over. Samantha sat on his lap with her back to the other woman, and as far as he could tell, the back and her console blocked the line of sight.

He placed his hand on her leg, rubbing the tense muscle. Samantha leaned against him with a smile. When his fingertips trailed higher, slipping under the hem of her skirt, Samantha glanced over her shoulder, probably gauging whether Lacy could see what he was doing, then fixed him with a look. Jackson grinned. She could easily slap or grab his hand if she wanted him to stop, but instead she just made a face at him, and he silently laughed.

The communicator pinged, in vaguely the same tone that Jackson’s breathing alarm did. Samantha jumped and answered it, piping the audio to her headset once more.

“Hello General Hunter. Yes sir, I’m the only admin in throughput. Thank you sir. Yessir, I did, I thought you would prefer it hearing it straight from me. I’ve been coordinating their efforts.” Jackson’s fingers moved in slow circles along the skin of her inner thigh, several inches inside her long skirt. Samantha’s professional voice didn’t falter for a second.

“Oh it was nothing really General, they’re the ones with the know-how, I’m just the one directing them where that knowhow is needed. Well that’s very kind of you to say so sir. Yes, let me pull up the schematics.”

Jackson waited until the pretty redhead on his lap had pulled up the blueprints of the orbital before he continued his onslaught, moving his fingers higher up her leg. As she continued to speak in her lilting voice, Jackson lightly brushed his fingertips against the fabric of her underwear, directly between her legs.

“For whatever reason, the Terrans left two of the four generators intact in their initial onslaught three days ago.” Jackson would’ve been disappointed at how even her voice was, but he noticed her gripping the edge of the console, and he smiled and continued rubbing a finger up and down. “No sir, I don’t think we can count on that. That’s why construction was begun on the emergency generators. Um…I’m not quite sure who, but it was definitely authorized. Yes, that name sounds familiar…”

His finger was slowly growing wet as he pressed the fabric of Samantha’s underwear into the wet heat beneath, and Jackson gently kissed the back of her neck. She stiffened without pausing, and Jackson continued to kiss.

“…I’m sure he’ll be happy to take responsibility sir, our only life support is out there with the Terrans. Yes sir I’ll hold.” She leaned back against him as soon as she disconnected. “Why can’t you ever behave yourself?”

“I can’t look at this problem anymore.” Lacy tossed her headset onto the console and stormed to her feet, and from the way Samantha jumped she had forgotten the other girl was there. “I’m going to try to get some sleep, you should try to do the same Samantha.” Lily was already halfway to the door when Jackson slid his hand out of Samantha’s skirt and rested it innocently on her knee, but he had the feeling that Lacy was so tired she wouldn’t have noticed even if he’d had his head under her skirt. “Try to make her sleep, Samantha’s boyfriend.” Lacy said from the doorway. “Good luck though.”

“Just to be clear, she didn’t mean to- oh!” Samantha gasped as Jackson’s hand suddenly cupped her sex. He smiled and gently squeezed, grinding the heel of his hand against her mound as his fingers stroked the now thoroughly soaked fabric. “I’m going to be getting the General calling back soon.” Samantha moaned.

“You think that’s going to stop me?” Jackson tugged at the hem of her underwear, slipping a finger inside the cloth and brushing it up and down across her bare mound.

“Oh god Jackson why are you-” The communications pinged, and Samantha flipped the switch without hesitation. “Hello General, were you able to get in touch with Chief Adamsly?” Jackson marvelled that the same girl who had been moaning so prettily a few moments ago could slip into her official tone so effortlessly. He was quite sure that he liked it.

He pulled on her underwear, slowly pulling them down in front and then reaching behind her to slip them off of the curve of her butt as well. Samantha continued to talk with the General, although she wiggled her backside against him at the motion of his fingers.

“Now the problem is that we’ll need to cut off our lines to the existing generators before we hook up the new ones. No sir, cut them off completely.” Jackson stroked up and down around her slit, his fingers slick with her juices. Whenever he saw her firm grip on the console loosen, he would change what he was doing and get her excited anew.

“I understand there’s a risk sir, but your teams are the best at what they do, and they are all saying it can be done. Yes, technically it will cut our life support, but only for a few seconds.”

Jackson pulled his hand away, concerned. This suddenly sounded like more that the average throughput call, and while keeping Sam in optimal emotional condition was his top priority, distracting her while she was making potentially life-threatening calls would probably threaten that emotional condition.

Sam gave him a small smile over her shoulder and rubbed her butt in small circles in his lap, her smile widening into a grin when she felt his member harden against her. She then turned back to the call. Jackson consoled himself with watching the way her red locks bounced when her official voice got more animated.

“I know that depending on the engineers is a risk General Hunter, but personally I find it more of a risk to trust the Terrans than to trust the engineers. I think so sir, yes. The fact of the matter is, if we wait for the Terrans to cut the last lines, we leave ourselves open to more damage. Yes sir I agree. Alright sir, Chief Adamsly will let me know how that discussion goes. Yes sir, you too.”

Samantha pulled her headset off with a sigh and leaned forward to rest her head on the console.

“You’re hot when you’re all professional, you know that?” Jackson teased

“I wouldn’t really call it professional to have you doing…that…while I’m trying to talk to the General.” Samantha murmured into the console.

“Sam, are you falling asleep with the console as a pillow?”

“No.” Sam yawned again, her nose smudging the console. “Not until you finish what you started.”

Jackson grinned. His fingers returned to their gentle sliding motions, and then without warning he slid a finger inside her. Samantha moaned and pushed her hips back, sliding his finger into her wet opening all the way down to his knuckle. She was surprisingly tight, and Jackson idly tried to remember when the last time he had penetrated her was.

Last month? Has it really been that long? He mused, as Samantha rocked her hips back and forth to slid his finger in and out of her warm sex. It was with Cynthia, so it would’ve been…what, back on Academy? There’s no way…

“Oh god Jackson.” Samantha breathed, snapping him back into the moment. He was yet again relieved that women couldn’t read his mind. Even with the chip to refocus him, it would’ve made for several awkward moments. Samantha suddenly clenched the edge of the console hard, and her snached quivered and clenched at his finger. Jackson let her ride at her own pace as she came, moaning into the console as her body trembled. When she finally came down from her high, Jackson kissed the back of her head again. She gasped as he slowly withdrew his finger.

“God I needed that.” She panted.

“Now I’m taking you to bed.” Jackson said firmly, hoisting her to her feet and tugging her wet underwear back up.

“Mmm cot in the corner.” She mumbled. Jackson noticed the small bed for the first time, and helped her walk to it unsteadily.

“I’m going to go stop by sick bay, will you promise to actually sleep?”

“Say hi to Cynthia for me.” Samantha had already collapsed into the cot, eyes half-shut.

“Oh I will.” Jackson winked, and popped his finger in his mouth, sucking her juices off of it.

“Ew. You know I hate it when you do that.” Samantha sighed.

“You love it almost as much as I do and we both know it.” Jackson teased. Samantha was already asleep by the time he reached the door, a tired and satisfied smile on her face. The bulge in his pants cried out for attention, but the surge of dopamine he got when the “Force Sam to sleep” subtask ticked “Completed” was even better than an orgasm.


Jackson was having a problem unique to him when he entered the sick bay a little while later; similar to a feedback loop but with a little more hesitation. A series of priorities was warring for dominance within his chip, flipping back and forth in quick succession. As far as he could tell, as soon as he gave a certain task his attention, he could see the path to take to achieve it, and thus it felt just a tiny bit less urgent, driving the other one up into first place.

It was up to him, in these situations, to decide which he should follow, but he was so used to being told what to do by the CPU that he found the analysis paralysis intimidating. Luckily for him, both priorities took him to the sick bay.

Even more fortunately, Cynthia was sleeping on her cot, so the first priority sulkily slunk lower in his list. He turned instead to the beds on the other side of the wide, gleaming room, where his squaddy would be.

>>Task 8223: Maintain squadmate relationships >> Subtask: increase perceived social connections by increasing connection with wounded teammate.

After the darkness of the corridor and the dimness of the other rooms, the sick bay seemed blinding, but Jackson supposed that if anywhere needed full power while other rooms were rationed, it was here. Jackson stepped past the brilliant white curtains that gave the patients their privacy until he reached the very end of the room.

“Wow, you look so horrible Aimee!” Jackson rushed over to the side of her bed. “They told me it was bad, they didn’t say your face had been so messed up in the crash! I…I’m sorry. It must be horrible for you, looking like that, you don’t need me bringing it up even further.” Tears built in his eyes, rather convincingly he thought.

“Sometimes you’re even worse than Preston for asshole jokes, has anyone ever told you that?” Aimee growled from her bed. Her words were angry, but she grinned nonetheless.

“Seriously though, you look great. Sorry about the teasing, you know I had to.” Jackson grinned back and sat at the foot of her bed, careful not to disturb her. Her leg would still be in pain, but she didn’t have permanent injuries, an unheard-of luck for a pilot actually caught by a lake Drake. The only damage had been due to shearing metal pinching her leg into vice-like grip. No one was sure why the Drake hadn’t destroyed the ships it caught, but given the damage that had occurred, Jackson wasn’t the only one who was glad of it.

“Don’t be sorry, I’d probably have made the same joke if I’d thought of it first. I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to make me smile more in two minutes that some of the others all day. Even though you are officially the last squaddie to come visit me.” Jackson wasn’t quite sure what other people found so complicated about social interaction. Most peoples’ buttons were so easy to find, and pushing them was just a matter of determining what buttons would lead to the result you wanted. In the space of a millisecond, Jackson expanded his priority’s tasks down to the last detail.

>> Subtask: increase connection with Aimee >> Subsub: lighten Aimee’s mood >> Subsubsub: Increase boundaries of relationship >> Subsubsubsub: Affect a mock-enmity to provide non-threatening competition.

“Eh, well, you know some of us are out there being useful with our lives, instead of laying in bed reading trashy romance novels.” Jackson joked in an easy manner. Aimee threw her head back and laughed.

“I’ll have you know these are the classiest of romance novels jackass.” She chuckled. “Believe me, I’d much rather be running around and helping out. I will too, soon as I can get up on this leg.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to save the worst jobs for you then.” Jackson glanced at the flowers on her bedside table. “I see Li has been here though, at least.”

“Huh? Oh, the flowers. Yea, you’d think wouldn’t you?”Aimee’s face darkened. “The flowers are from Cap App. Li came by once or twice, but he was his same fucking- his same old self.”

>> Subsubsub: Assess whether romantic relationship in need of repair.

“Trouble with your better half?” Jackson asked, concerned.

“I don’t know. It’s not like it was before, you know? I don’t think it ever was.”

“It was never the way it was huh? That’s real clear Squadpet.” Using her old hated callsign at least got a chuckle out of her, so Jackson counted it as a win.

“I just don’t think there was ever a point where I sat down and thought ‘I want Li to be my boyfriend’, you know? We just…we screwed, and then we happened to screw again, and then we sort of happened. If I had ever stopped to consider him as my boyfriend, would I have chosen to be with him?”

“You’re making the choice for him to be your boyfriend every second you’re still with him.” Jackson pointed out.

“Wow. I guess I didn’t really think of it that way.” Aimee frowned in thought. “That was really deep Jackson.” Jackson didn’t say anything, mostly because he hadn’t thought it was that deep.

It’s just common sense, isn’t it?

“So I suppose that’s the question, isn’t it? Knowing what I know now, is it worth all of the…bullshit. He acts like I’m a burden instead of fun to be with. Sometimes I feel like I’m less of a girl he’s into and more of just a hole he likes being inside, you know? Sometimes…” her voice lowered and she stared at the covers in front of her. “…sometimes I think maybe he’s just a pole I like in me, instead of a boy I actually like being with. Does that make me a shitty person? Or just a slut? Am I such a horrible hypocrite that I’m pissed off at him for treating me kinda-sorta the same way I might feel about him?”

Jackson spent a moment wondering if the question was rhetorical, when a silvery voice called from the other side of the hospital room.

“Are you hogging my man over there?” Cynthia yelled.

“Does he really count as ‘your’ man if you’ve got a timeshare on his cock?” Aimee yelled back, her pensive look replaced by a grin.

“Yelling that kind of language, really?” Jackson stood and rolled his eyes, relieved that the awkward track of conversation had been interrupted.

“Payback for the ‘messed up face’ thing earlier.” Aimee stuck her tongue out. “Jackson…thanks. As usual, you helped a lot. I mean that.”

>>Subsubsub: Transition from mock-enmity to gesture of friend-level intimacy. Replicated friend-level intimacy by stating redundancies.

“Yea, well, out of the nine of us it stands to reason one of us squaddies would be halfway helpful.” He said, then turned serious. “But really Aimes; you have to do what you have to do. If Li isn’t satisfying you, you won’t be happy until you find someone who does. And if you’re not happy, you won’t be the best girlfriend to him either.”

“God, when did you get all smart all of a sudden? Get out of here you fuckin’ wiseman.” Aimee threw a small pillow at him, and when he left Jackson could almost feel their relationship grow stronger.

That makes full close-friendship with the entire set, besides Tess and Julia. He thought, satisfied as the priorities ticked over in his head.

Cynthia was sitting up in her bed, something that the doctors told her not to do. He knew it was useless to argue with her about.

“Don’t even start.” She said, apparently interpreting his look. “I feel so cooped up in here I can barely stand it, I had to at least change my view from the ceiling tiles. I don’t know what the big deal is about it anyways.”

“You’ve been shot!” Jackson said, exasperated.

“Details.” Cynthia wrapped her arms around Jackson’s neck as he kissed her, deep and enthusiastically. “Oh god, you taste like her!” She broke away from the kiss and looked at him, her look halfway between accusation and desire. Jackson glanced around them, unsure of how much sound the curtains blocked out, and Cynthia lowered her voice obligingly.

“You were eating Samantha out before you came here you selfish jerk!” Cynthia licked her lips as if to collect every hint of the taste from them.

“How is that selfish? Sam’s got needs, she’s my girlfriend, I have to take care of her.” Jackson protested, though he kept his voice down.

“But she’s my girlfriend too! I want to ‘take care of her’! And I want to take care of my boyfriend too.” Cynthia pouted. “Why can’t you guys just come get me next time?”

“You’ve been shot!” Jackson repeated.

“This is so unfair, I hated being cooped up like this even before I knew you two were screwing around without me.”

“There’s not a lot of time to be screwing around, unfortunately.” Jackson remarked. “Not with everything going on recently.”

“Oh god! I’ve been trying to ask around but it seems like no one knows everything and everyone is too busy to explain what they do know! You have to tell me! Are there really Terrans on the Orbital?” Cynthia grabbed Jackson’s hand as if he would escape, her previous pout apparently forgotten.

“It’s not exactly something to be excited about.” Jackson pulled up a seat and sat down, a little surprised at how worn out he was. He was tempted to review how many hours of sleep he had tallied in the last few weeks, but his CPU kept him on track. “Have you heard of Shrike attacks before?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard of them, but I didn’t know they included Drakes, and I’ve never heard of them actually making it to the Orbital.”

“That’s because this is the first one of its kind. We call any attack of would-be invaders a ‘Shrike’, but there’s really three different kinds.” Jackson ticked them off on his fingers. “The first is a wave of little Drakes; we’re not sure if they’re babies or just smaller versions, but we do know that they’re a lot easier to put down. The second kind is a group of Terrans, alone without ships, just flying out of the fog towards the Orbital. I’ve seen the vids, and it’s completely terrifying, especially since they’re firing weapons the entire time. They’re also pretty easy to handle though; you don’t even have to hit them to take them out, just fire the munitions close enough and it knocks them off course and sends them flying off into space.”

“That’s horrible! What a nasty way to go!” Cynthia looked offended.

“They kind of ask for it for flying out towards us in the first place. But anyways, the third kind is full of these little bird things. We’re…well, we’re not entirely sure what the bird things do. We shoot them down just in case, but we’ve never seen them do anything.”

“So what kind was this Shrike?”

“It was Terrans riding on top of the baby Drakes, more than we’ve ever seen before, and joined by a full-sized lake Drake.”

“Holy shit!” Cynthia breathed.

“So they actually made it here. Landed on the surface and started digging, that’s probably when you heard about it.”

“I heard we were evacuating, they didn’t tell us why. They didn’t tell us how they decided who was leaving on ships and who was staying though.”

“I think it was just a mad dash.” Jackson said. “Anyone they could get on the ships, they got on ships and out. Anyone they couldn’t they moved in here.”

“’Here’ being?”

“The center of Pivot. We’ve got shielding system set up, so if the Terrans get too close we can slam it up. So far they haven’t been able to get through.”

“Wait so-” Cynthia was interrupted by the sound of the door opening, and Jackson turned to look at the curtain that lay behind them. There were several pairs of feet walking towards Aimee’s bed, and Jackson felt a knot in his stomach at the sound.

“H…hello there?” Aimee sounded as if she was asking a question rather than stammering a greeting.

“Look at this girl’s injuries.” The growl of General Hunter was full of so much hatred it was almost unrecognizable. “And tell me again how it’s not your fault.”


Previous Chapter (SFW): New Neighbors
Next Chapter (SFW): Grains of Sand

9.1 New Neighbors

The air should’ve been filled with the sounds of diamond-hard claws on metal. Tes could feel the vibrations of the huge Dracori rending the metal beneath her feet, but the sound never reached her ears. It was a strange and different feeling, but she had had her share of strange and different feelings lately.

“ALIA(nearly there, almost through, prepare).” The charged word didn’t need the air to propagate, it burrowed into her mind regardless. Tes stood and gazed around her. The flat metal surface of the Exiles’ moon stretched out to the horizon on all sides, smooth apart from the hole which the Dracori was digging deeper and deeper into the guts of the metal moon. The blank expanse was broken only by the three Drya and their riders around her. In the alien surroundings, the riders at least, provided a comfortable familiarity; their varying shades of green hair marked them out as members of her tribe, as her figurative friends and family.

And some literal family, she corrected herself with a smile, watching her brother Krin step off of his beast. Krin reached for a bridle out of reflex, and the Drya leaned back and snorted, its mental occupant looking down with derision. Tes grinned as Krin blushed and turned away, and catching sight of her grin, he made a face at his sister.

“NOAH(is now finally the time after such waiting)? CHIA(my sister’s voice heard)?” His question comprised of charged words in the silence echoed in her mind, and Tes shook her head. After a long period of frustration, she had decided not to speak at all rather than to endure the annoying rasp of magic that charged words required. Her family had taken it in stride, perhaps willing to overlook it given how well-behaved she was in other areas. She had never, for example, tried to escape.

“RUM(Gossip and tales fly among us) DRKS(you take Drya between your legs as lovers). FAL(will you not raise your voice to deny it)?” Krin asked.

Tes grinned and gave her brother the finger, and he chuckled silently.

What an immature child. She thought affectionately. She was glad that he was here with her, and even more glad that he had made it past the fighting in the stars. Her friend Poa was there as well, and she had interacted with Ipt and Loo before too, but she shared a greater bond with her brother than anyone else in her life. It was Krin who had helped her adapt to every aspect of Terran life, it was Krin who had patiently walked her through understanding the power of magic that coursed through her veins.

He teased and joked and was irreverent, but he was always careful to avoid joking about things that mattered. He had never brought up the humiliating incident when she had used her Coricia at the table not knowing how private it was. He never poked fun at the fact that it had taken days for her hair to shift from the hideous black color to its natural beautiful green. He didn’t make fun of her for not always being a Terran, or that she only had one eye. If he knew where she had come from before, he thankfully kept it to himself. She didn’t want to know.

I suppose it’s here. Tes realized belatedly. It would explain why she knew so much about the moon, despite it being the first time she could remember being there. They had landed on the southern tip, which meant that the Dracori would be digging through the moon’s metal crust right into the sleeping rooms. She had wondered at the Duke’s decision to send a rookie Terran like her out on such an important mission, but it made sense now; she would have instinctive knowledge of the interior of the moon.

If I came from the Exiles’ moon, that means I’m an Exile. I was an Exile. Tes turned the thought over in her head, half-expecting to suddenly feel nostalgia or horror or pain. There was no emotion connected to the words, and Tes breathed a sigh of relief. The thought of betraying her adoptive mother and father was enough to almost break her heart, and imagining the look on Krin’s face if she turned against them was unthinkable. Whatever life she’d had before, she loved her life now.

Her parents had been shocked the first time she had come to them, indicating by signs that the magic that held her mind safely intact was beginning to unravel. She had let them know the second she felt stirrings of homesickness, some memory had begun pressing against the new life she knew.

“I am glad you warned us Tes, but….Why did you tell us this DAO(dearest daughter, little one)? Why not ESE(run away from us, leave us behind, try to escape)?” Her father had asked in his booming voice, his charged word jovial even though his face had been concerned. Even if she had spoke, Tes wouldn’t have known how to put her thoughts into worlds, and she had simply shrugged and put her hands in the shape of a heart. She loved her family, and they took care of her. She was forming friendships with her tribemates, and they were starting to accept her as one of her own. She was well fed and happy, and could see a wonderful future there in the village. There was even an adorable fruit merchant down the path who Tes fancied, and she was sure the girl showed off her cleavage on purpose whenever Tes came by to buy ingredients for dinner. What could that other life offer that compared, whatever life she’d had before Meo the mind-soother had worked his craft on her.

The vibrations in the ground beneath her changed, and after a few moments the Dracori’s head emerged, its eyes glinting with human intelligence.

It could’ve been worse for me, Tes mused as the Dracori emerged from the tunnel it had dug, I could’ve been gifted to Blue tribe like her. She had heard rumors that the blue tribe mind-soothers were so inept that they didn’t even bother trying for an elegant solution as Meo had, instead simply shackling the other gift-girl with something akin to amnesia. Barbarians. Tes frowned. She still didn’t quite see why the tribes worked together, as stupid as blue tribe and weak as purple tribe were. Her mother had tried to tell her how bad things had been even a few months ago, the constant skirmishes and turf wars, but Tes didn’t quite follow it all. She thought they should easily be able to crush the others, but that decision wasn’t up to her, it was the Duke’s call.

The blue prince who led them gestured with the claw of the Drya he was inhabiting, and the group slowly entered the tunnel, finding handholds in the claw gouges the Dracori had left behind her. Up so close, Tes could at least appreciate the power that the blue tribe held. The creatures were magnificent and powerful, and when their minds were bound to the mages, they had the cleverness of a human behind them. The Drya and Dracori, with the human passengers in their minds, were the blue tribes contribution to this mission, much as Tes and her fellow riders were the green tribes’. The purple tribe had expended perilous amounts of magic to send the entire team up through the green clouds, and it had left every man and woman of them drained, sluggish, and debilitated.

And vulnerable to attack. Tes thought, feeling around in the dark for a foothold in the dim tunnel. But I suppose the Duke knows best who we should attack. Her stomach suddenly lurched as the tunnel wall turned into the tunnel floor beneath her without moving. The feeling was disorienting, and Tes had no idea how it had happened, but from her lack of surprise she assumed it was something she knew in her past life. Gravitas? Tes shrugged it off as unimportant, carefully standing and testing her weight.

She made her way deeper inside, and it only took a few more moments before she reached the room. A thin membrane was stretched across the huge opening the Dracori had made; the metal healing itself from the wound the Dracori had given it. Tes swept her hand to one side, creating a sharp dagger of green magic to tear a rip, letting her pass through. Air hissed past her face, air that smelled too-clean. Fake air.

The Drya and riders entered the room without an issue as Tes looked around her. Although she kept bracing herself for some memory to strike her, she was blessedly detached at the sights. The sleeping room was gigantic, with more than enough room for the twelve large beds that lay in two rows. The Dracori was able to fit in one end of the room without being cramped, and though she was small for a Dracori, she was still as large as three men. Her small size was probably why they brought a Dracori-of-the-Wave, Tes realized, instead of a Dracori-of-the-Flame or a Dracori-of-the-Stone.

“How is there air here?” Ipt ran a hand through his dark green curls, and Tes noted that she could faintly hear his uncharged words.

“I don’t know.” The words seemed strange coming from the mouth of a Drya, but their mission’s leader, a blue Prince, had no other way of communicating, inhabiting the mind of the creature. “Not PRIL(of so much importance that we must focus on it). We will move STH(very quickly and very decisively) from here. One blue, one green, and take down any Exile you see. Tes, you and Jia will go COH(both in concert with each other, supporting and defending each other) to the heart of the moon. Stop the heart, then come back here.”

The Drya and riders left the room quickly by its single door, into the darkened hallways. Tes couldn’t be sure what was lurking in the darkness beyond, but she knew that the Exiles wouldn’t hesitate to kill and destroy those that she held dear.

“Krin!” Tes called out, and her brother turned at the doorway, eyebrows raised. Her heart ached at the thought of anything happening to him, and though it was the first time she had spoken since the day after she awoke, she couldn’t bear the thought of anything hurting him without her knowing how grateful she was. “Please…” she said quietly, “please be KIA(take caution and care, come to no harm and return to me).” She almost gagged on the magic that surged in her throat, but the look on her brother’s face was worth it. He grinned at her and gave a quick nod, and then he was gone.

Tes turned to observe the Dracori. She was looking around her with narrowed reptilian eyes, but she jerked her large head up and down once at Tes when she saw the girl looking.

“If you’re the other gift, they must’ve caught both of us at the same time.” Tes commented, letting herself lapse into the barbaric magicless speech that came naturally to her. “We were probably both attacking the Terrans at once. Probably even knew each other.” She didn’t feel any particular emotion about that fact beyond vague interest, but it was something to think about, that she and the mind inside the Dracori might’ve been friends, or sisters, or enemies. The large creature was looking at her with tilted head, obviously confused.

Purple tribe can’t do mind-soothing for shit. Tes snorted in derision, but she softened as the Dracori shook its head as if trying to clear an insect from its face. Poor girl probably doesn’t know up from down right now.

“It’s okay.” She reassured, reaching out a hand and patting the large creature on the flank. “Don’t try to remember. Just go with your gut and stick with me, and we’ll give the Exiles hell together, does that sound good?” The Dracori shifted, looking uncertain, but it nodded again, one giant nod. Tes didn’t know if the girl couldn’t speak through the Dracori’s mouth, or if she simply chose not to, but she was strangely comfortable as a companion.

She closed her eyes and tried to picture the Exiles’ moon in wide and general terms, nothing specific, just a gut feeling of where everything lay.

“It won’t have just one heart, there will be four of them.” She finally said. “That’s the impression I have. We would have to rip them all out to kill the moon, but I get the feeling that wouldn’t be good for us.” She opened her eyes to look up at her large companion, and the beast nodded and held up two claws.

“Two? Alright, if you say so. The closest one feels like it will be…there?” She pointed at one wall, and the Dracori nodded again. “Okay then. The Exiles are pretty rude, making these doors all too small for you to pass through them. Why don’t you help them out a bit?” It was strange to see a sly smile creep across the massive reptile’s face, but Tes grinned in response. The Dracori coiled up, then launched itself at the metal wall, and Tes laughed delightedly over the shrieking sound of metal tearing.


They were covered in engine lubricant and smears of thick black oil, and Tes sported an electrical burn on one shoulder, but both the woman and the Dracori were in good spirits as they moved from room to room. The two alternated forging pathways through the moon, the Dracori rending giant holes in the walls and Tes blowing them away with short bursts of magic. After they left each room they tore down the ceiling and ripped up the floor, leaving a gaping space three times its previous size before moving on. Behind them, the entire floor was open and wide, much more inviting than the claustrophobic little rooms had been before. There was no bright sun or warm breeze, but at least the ceilings were much higher. They had yet to encounter a lit room or any sign of an Exile.

It took them a few hours to make a full revolution of the moon, carving the once-many-rooms into one huge doughnut-shape in the process. By the time they reached the wreckage of the sleeping room where they had started, the Drya and riders were already back and waiting for them. They too were unharmed, and a small knot in Tes’ stomach unwound.

“Did you tear out its heart?” Their leader asked. Tes held up two fingers at the same time the Dracori did, and they looked at each other and grinned.

“Do you think this time for JOK(children’s games, playing about)?” The Drya snapped with the voice of their leader. “I did not know the moon had two hearts. You did well.”

Tes didn’t correct him. Leaving two of the moon’s four hearts would let air and light fill the moon, and more importantly it would keep the food-makers working. The Drya continued.

“We met no Exiles. Take the DRA(dracori) to the SPHEC(very core of the moon, it’s center) and deal what harm you may to the Exiles. Come back here when through.” Tes didn’t question the order, she just started moving, not bothering to see if the Dracori was following. A more prideful Terran might’ve questioned the blue Prince, asking why it was that she alone would make the first forray, but Tes showed her pride in the green tribe by obeying orders. Besides, this way she didn’t have to speak.

The Dracori had crouched down low at her side; now that they had a goal besides generalized chaos, she only used her claws when they came to doorways, prying the locked doors from their frames and widening openings just enough to pass through.

“Hold on a second.” Tes paused when they reached the room; gigantic and filled with tables. The Dracori sat down by the door obligingly, as Tes walked over to the line of alcoves on one side of the wall. There were glyphs in shining silver above each alcove, but she didn’t bother trying to read them, instead trying to not think about her actions. She let habit take her, and picked up a tray without really knowing what it was for. Moving from alcove to alcove, Tes set the tray down, moving her fingers across the glyphs experimentally and observing the results. Small cubes of unknown materials dropped onto the tray in each alcove, and Tes smiled as she scooped up a handful, shoving them in her pocket.

“You hungry?” She asked as they continued on, and tossed one of the cubes to the Dracori next to her. The beast snatched the snack from the air and munched contentedly as they walked, and Tes followed suit. They moved in silence through the hallways, every so often the Dracori would huff and Tes would toss her another cube. It took them another half-hour before they reached the wall.


It was lucky that they were moving as slowly as they were, or the wall might’ve caused some damage. One moment there was just another hallway with a door at the other end, and the next moment a long silver barrier had sprang up from the bottom of the room to the top, moving so quickly that the metallic snap made Tes jump as it closed together. Had the Dracori been halfway across the line, it might’ve actually hurt or killed the creature, and that would’ve been horrible.

“Would you have felt that, felt the pain? I mean the real you on the planet, the girl behind the Dracori?” Tes asked, curious. The Dracori nodded solemnly, its eyes wide, and Tes turned an angry eye toward the silver wall. They hadn’t encountered any resistance at all up until that point; even when they had torn through the heart rooms and ripped the Exiles’ moon’s hearts from their casings there had been nothing to stop them, nothing to fight them. If there was a wall in front of them now, it meant that the Exiles hid behind it.

“You think your silver wall will keep you safe from us?” Tes called, although it was more for show than because she actually thought the Exiles could hear her. No matter, they would hear her soon enough. She raised a hand and let magic course through arm, spiralling out in a streak of lightning at the silver wall. It arced and burst, the beautiful light reflecting and refracting in a hundred hues of green, but the wall remained unscratched.

Tes’ eyes narrowed, and she nodded her head to the Dracori. The beautiful creature coiled again and sprung, its heavy muscles flinging it forward, claws outstretched. With a crash and a small cry, the Dracori hit the wall so hard that the ground around its base buckled, but the wall itself stood firm. It hadn’t even been marked.

As the Dracori rose to its four feet, a snarl on its snout, Tes walked closer, investigating the floor where it had buckled.

Perhaps we can burrow under it… Her brief-lived hopes were dashed when she saw that the wall extended past the buckling, no doubt into the floor beneath, and beneath that even. So, the Exiles hide themselves in a pretty silver shell?

“We should tell the Prince of their silver wall.” Tes remarked briefly to her companion. “Are you badly injured?” The Dracori shook her head, but it was staring murderously at the pristine gleaming surface. She breathed in deep, and Tes realized what she was about to do just in time to stop her.

“No no!” She shouted hastily. “Don’t breathe a wave, not in here! You’ll fill the room with water, and we don’t know how to deal with that yet! Just let us report to the Prince, he’ll tell us what he wants us to do.” The Dracori stared daggers at the wall, but she begrudgingly let herself be led away.

“Um, excuse me.” The voice was incredibly polite and rather quiet, but both Tes and the Dracori spun on the spot as if it had been an explosion.

“Where are you?” Tes’ fingers buzzed with a lance of lightning waiting to be unleashed.

“Ah, this is hard to explain, but I’m not anywhere you can reach. You’re just hearing my voice right now, so you don’t have to worry about trying to kill me, we can just chat.”

“We can chat face to face if you pull down your wall.”

“Well, technically we can’t ever chat face to face, but that’s not important, because we heard your little baby dragon tell you to kill a bunch of us, so the shield is staying up I’m afraid.”

The Exiles can hear every word within their moon. Tes nodded to herself. That was good information to know.

“Are you their queen then?” She asked. “Why do you speak to us if you won’t bring down the wall?”

“The queen? Hmm I like the sound of that, but no, I’m afraid not. It’s a long story, but you can think of me as the mind inside of the Orbital. You can call me Blue.”

“What is an Orbital? The Exiles’ moon?”

“Probably. But anyways, enough chit-chat, I’ve got some impatient people on my side of the shield that would like me to tell you something they find very important.”

Tes folded her arms in front of her chest, and for lack of a better target, faced the wall. She didn’t know if the Prince would want her talking to the Exiles, but she had already learned valuable information, it couldn’t hurt to potentially learn more.

“I’m listening, mind-of-the-moon. When you are done speaking we will talk about you lowering your wall. Perhaps we can come to an agreement.”

“Not likely. Alright, so the first thing I’m being told to tell you is this: your real name is Tess.”

Tes blinked her good eye, tilting her head to one side.

“Yes.” She said. “I know. What of it?”

“Really? Wow I thought that would garner more of a reaction. Umm, alright, we’re all really confused over here now. We assumed that you had been brainwashed or something. Why are you helping the Terrans?”

“I am a Terran.” Tes lifted her chin, half in defiance, half in pride. “I help because I can, because I have power to help my tribe. Do I need a better reason?”

“Well that is a definite answer on the whole ‘brainwashed’ question, I suppose. Alright, Tess, I want you to think back carefully. Your squadmates love you, and they would really appreciate it if you snapped out of it and stop tearing Pivot to shreds. Do you remember your squadmates Tess? Aimee and Missy, Li and Jackson, Marcus and Alex and Preston? Do you remember your Captain, Jane Appet?”

“I don’t know them.” Tes shrugged. Behind her, a soft whimper caught her attention. The Dracori was backed into a corner, it’s eyes wide, shaking its head as if trying to dislodge a water droplet from its ear.

The girl in the Dracori was an Exile too. Tes realized. “The names must mean something to her, and the blue tribe mind-soother’s shitty soothing is falling apart.*

“Go back to the Prince.” She snapped, and the Dracori looked up at her, confusion in its eyes. “Go!”

“That’s not super helpful to the Drake, because I have speakers left in most of the rooms between here and there.” The voice said smugly. “But as a show of good faith, I’ll leave your pet Drake alone.”

“I don’t know these names.” Tess repeated with finality.

“Think, Tess, really think. Do you remember Julia? You two loved each other, true love, a love so deep that you were willing-”

“I should clarify, so that you understand me fully.” Tes held up a hand to interrupt the voice. She spoke calmly and evenly, staring into the wall since she didn’t know where else to look. “I believe you when you say these things. I know I had a life before. I am sure that it’s difficult for these squid-mates to see someone wearing the face of their friend, with the power and bearing of the green tribe. But I do not know those names. I do not wish to know those names. My name is Tes, and one day it will be charged with power and spoken throughout my tribe. Today is not that day, but it will be one day. Today, I will find a way through your silver wall. I will find you Exiles where you hide, and I will kill you all.”

Tes had never been more proud of Meo the mind-soother’s work. If there was anything that would test his improvements to her mind, it was this. And here she was, sound and whole, without the faintest trace of doubt in her head. She may have loved Julia in her past life, but the girl was nothing but a pleasant-sounding name to her now.

“The enemy of the green tribe is an enemy to me, and I am not the woman whose face you know. I will have no mercy on those who know think they know me, so it is only fair to warn you so that you expect none.” The silence stretched on for some time, and Tes suspected they were talking on the other side of the wall.

“You should hear the ruckus that caused over here.” The disembodied voice finally chuckled. “We’ve got people saying you should die, people saying we should let you in to see their faces, it’s a madhouse. The things humans do ’cause of emotion, I swear.”

“You aren’t human?”

“Thankfully not. If I were human I’d have some modicum of guilt about doing this.”

Tes had already braced herself for a fight based on the words alone, and judging by the hissing coming from the dark corners of the room, the voice had released snakes.

“That’s a really fine reaction time you have there.” The voice complimented. “I wouldn’t bother though.”

It took longer than she would’ve liked to admit for Tes to realize that there were no snakes in the room. The hiss was the sound of air being released into surroundings. It puzzled Tes until she remembered the rumors; Exiles died without air.

“If you’ve poisoned the air, know that you waste your magic.” She smirked.

“Well I don’t know about poison, it’s more of a knockout-….I’m sorry, did you say magic?”

“And now I will return to the Prince, and we will begin taking your silver wall apart.”

“Walls, plural.” The voice chuckled as Tes turned to leave. “And good luck with that.”

Tes had entered through the mangled doorway ripped open by the Dracori, but now on the other side of that doorway, in the middle of the room beyond, lay another silver wall.

No. No no no. Tes shot an experimental blast of magic at the wall that lay behind her, but just like the other, her lightning left no mark. She glanced at the walls to her left and right.

“You’re welcome to give them a try,” the smug voice of Blue seemed to read her thoughts, “but there’s another shield on either side. It’s more of a grid of shields than a line of them. The General saw you coming a mile away.”

“You’re lying.” Tes hazarded, but her gut was telling her that the mind of the moon was too smug to be lying. “If the walls form a grid, why wouldn’t you raise them all the second we entered?”

“Well first of all, silver-plated senstone is expensive, and we just didn’t have enough at such short notice. Secondly, the walls are hard to install. Really we barely had time to set them up in the center of the Orbital, and-…I’m being told to stop sharing info with you now.”

“Gods’ blessings.” Tes muttered, spinning slowly in a circle, trying to think of some method of escape.

“Oh but I don’t have to stop talking. I have some more messages to pass on from your teammates. You know, the ones you’re stabbing in the back? Let’s see, this first one is from Alex. She says-” Tes finally located the source of the voice, a tiny metal box in the corner of the room. It wasn’t made of the indestructible silver, and a lance of lightning was enough to shear it in half, plunging the room into silence.

Tes sat in the middle of the floor, surrounded by rubble, and waited for her Terran brethren to rescue her.


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of the Shrike
Previous Chapter (NSFW): General of the Shrike
Next Chapter (NSFW): Life in the Pearl

SFW 8.3 – General of the Shrike

Gre lounged in his cushioned seat, idly twirling his finger around a lock of hair of the woman who sat at his feet. She leaned her head against his knee, subservient and compliant.

“Do nerves plague you, GEA(great master and commander)?” She asked. Gre liked how she charged her words; hesitantly and timidly, like a child. The meanings didn’t spring into his mind like a charged word normally would, instead they brushed against it.

“Nerves?” Prince Gre chuckled at the suggestion. “I am the first Prince to lead the ARA(trained soldiers and warriors) of all three tribes to the stars, why would I waste my time with nerves?”

“The first?” The girl looked at him with surprise. “We have sent Shrikes to the stars ‘fore now, no?” Gre smiled again. The way she avoided long words was adorable, trying to escape the rasping feeling of magic against one’s throat. It was a harsh feeling to get used to, but most adults had overcome their reluctance long ago. The childlike innocent in one he slept with should have turned him off, but although he would never admit it, her naivette made her even more enjoyable to him.

“The tribes have sent their Shrikes to the stars, yes.” He clarified. “But ALO(separate and disjointed, weak and divided). But now we three tribes have at last been CONBI(unified and aligned in our purposes, united for one cause). One tribe’s Shrikes had not touched the star-born, our Drak(dracori) could not pull them from the sky. Now…now we may yet break them. And the HOI(great gift and honor of leading*) has been made mine.”

“Such a great gift is fair for one of your PEO(strength and power).” The woman said, and Gre rolled his eyes. Her flattery was as unsubtle and transparent as her burgeoning magic. “But since when do the tribes work TSA(alongside another)?” Her brow furrowed, as if she should know the answer but couldn’t remember it. “What could make them…us…let go of our DIF(those things which separate)? Why don’t I know what made us change?”

“You should be proud, Jia.” Gre continued twisting the strand of her blue hair around his finger, tugging affectionately. “You were a part of that change.”

“Me? How?”

“You were a gift, from the blue tribe to me. Well, to the green tribe and thus to me. In that gift they showed that ALL(an alliance and joining together) can help us both.”

“I was a gift?” Jia furrowed her brow in deep thought. “Then…did I come from the blue tribe? Why can’t I remember?”

“RE(remember and recall).” Gre corrected, frowning. “Speak PRI(properly, with the decorum of a lady).” She was still lost in thought, and Gre tugged at the lock of hair still in his hand. She looked up him with wide eyes, and his annoyance evaporated. How could he be angry at the little vixen, with her innocent face and hair that shone of blue? “Don’t fret, you will learn in time JIA(my little jewel, my darling gem).”

“What was that you called me, just then my lord? JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)?”

“What of it?” Gre began preparing for the Shrikes’ assault, using a tongue of magic to heat the container of water that stood on the table nearby. “You may not have earned your NEA(honorable second name, charged name) yet, but in times like that…well..” He shrugged. It was no strange things to call a lover by a name with a magical charge, in a moment of passion. Not that Jia would know that, of course.

“It’s just…I feel as if I have heard that name. But DIF(changed a tiny bit, the smallest fraction). Not JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)…but JIA(my darling gem, my little Jule)? Or JIA(my darling gem, my little Julia)? I don’t know…” Jia suddenly clutched her head in her hands, “…those aren’t even words. I don’t understand what I’m feeling right now.”

“UN(fully comprehend).” Gre snapped the correction, startling her out of her reverie. “You don’t UN(completely grasp all of the details) what you’re FAE(experiencing within your heart), Jia you are full grown, it is EMB(makes you look childish, makes me look foolish) when you use such words. And as for what names you have heard.” His voice was cold, and his lip curled with disdain. “I have no want to hear of your past bed mates and what they called you.”

“Oh gods, my lord I did not mean-”

“I know, you mean no harm, but guard your tongue Jia, else you bring harm REG(without intending to).” Jia looked at her feet, then went about preparing the rest of the tent, arranging a small pillows on the floor of the warm tent, crushing herbs in a bowl at the table. Gre almost felt guilty, steamrolling the poor girl into ignoring her own memories, but the more he let her remember, the longer it would take for the magic at work in her mind to take effect.

It had smoothed over most of the wrinkles that the past had left, but the work was fragile yet. Overt memories like family and friends, lovers and home, had been locked away. Her name was more primary to who she was, and it was foolish of him to call her by something so similar.

“My Lord.” One of his men called from outside the tent. “The Shrikes will slip from the clouds soon.”

“You may enter.” His Linkers entered, all of them dressed in robes of deep green.

“I hope you are all PRE(ready to witness and be a part) of this day.” Gre said gravely, as Jia walked among the Linkers, handing each a small clay cup of the tea. “The first day we win a Shrike, the first day we set foot on the stars.”

“So say all who lead a Shrike.” One of the Linkers seemed weary, although he met Gre’s eyes steadily. “I have heard this speech before.”

“No more words then.” Gre stepped over to his cushioned chair and settled in it, letting the Linkers settle onto the cushions on the ground and accepting his own cup of tea from Jia. “You have heard the speech? Then let us live it.”


Gre smacked his lips and grimaced. As usual, the tea had tasted foul, but it had acted quickly. Though he could still faintly see the walls of his tent, his ethereal visions was becoming stronger by the second. He moved his head from side to side experimentally, and although his physical body stayed still, his vision swam as the view changed.

“I have SEA(merged and slipped within the mind) with my Drya.” He said casually, as if he wasn’t proud about being the first.

Just another reminder whose magics are the most powerful.

“I have SEA(dipped into the thoughts), my lord.”

“As have I.”

One by one his Linkers around the room called out, and Gre mentally counted them off. Seven minds, all connected with the minds of the far-off animals. He turned his head, and thousands of leagues away the previously-dumb Drya turned his in response, looking back and forth through the fog at those around him. Gre felt the creature’s muscles shift like his own, he felt the heavy weight of its scales on his back. He turned to watch the giant Dracori that flew with them, and around it the rest of the Drya, smaller versions of the same creature.

Gre watched the swarm around him carefully. It was easy to tell the difference between a mindless Drya and one whose mind was possessed of his Terran brethren, although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had changed. The way they moved, the way they looked around them, every line of their scaled bodies seemed to speak of intelligence. The riders on the back of each Drya could tell as well, for they were whooping and cheering from their backs now. Gre smiled even though the Drya he possessed could not mimic the action.

“My lord,” the Linker’s voice sounded far away, “would it not have been best if you took the Drak(dracori)?” The man’s implication was clear: wouldn’t it be better for anyone to take the Dracori instead of the untried and unconfident woman? In his small Drya body, Gre glanced up at the magnificent creature just beside him.

All Dracori were awe-inspiring, of course, but Gre had a special place in his heart for a Dracori-of-the-Wave. Its scales were so dark that they appeared black in the light of the surface, but against the true dark of space their scales revealed the beautiful deep blue within.

“Jia, have you SEA(melded minds) with the Drak yet?” Gre’s own voice sounded faint in his ears.

“I am TRI(attempting something that is new, struggling with something difficult).”

“My lord, if I may-” one of the Linkers began, but Gre cut him off sharply.

“I am not a fool. The girl will link to the DRA(dracori), and you will hold your tongue.” Even locked away under layers of magic, the girl had knowledge that would help them make this the most successful Shrike team, the only successful Shrike team, to ever be sent to the Exiles’ moons.

That is assuming she can slip into his mind. He thought worriedly, glancing up at the Dracori again with the eyes of his Drya. On the creature’s back rode the green tribe’s little gift, her legs wrapped tight in the saddle that had been fashioned just for her. She had no idea what an honor she had received; the first human to ride on the back of a Dracori, and she hadn’t even been born a Terran. Even so, the girl on the dragon’s back looked around her with glee in her one good eye, the other hidden behind a cloth patch and her short green hair.

Gre was startled out of his reverie when the Dracori suddenly turned its head to look back at him, an intelligence in its eyes.

“I did it my lord!” Jia said excitedly.

“Good girl.” Gre murmured approvingly. “Now we must-”

It was his third time in control of a creature who broke through the green fog, but it still took his breath away each time. A deep blackness speckled with points of light, the darkest void punctuated by the brightest tiny lights.

“The torches in the emptiness.” One of the Linkers said quietly. It sounded as if he was crying, but there was no shame in that, especially if it was his first time. Even Gre felt a tear slide down his cheek.

“It somehow feels like home.” Jia murmured, and Gre hurriedly got them back on track.

“There is the Exiles’ moon,” he pointed with a scaled claw, “the blemish that taints the beautiful darkness of space.” The Dracori and the smaller Drya, each controlled from within the tent, turned and moved in the direction he had indicated. The Exiles’ moon sat like an ugly diamond in the sky, still some ways off.

“Where are the Exiles’ small beasts?” One of the Linkers asked.

“Our riders are still gob-stuck at the sight of the stars.” Gre reassured. “They will soon give us sight.” In a few moments he was proven right, as the men and women who rode on the Drya began casting spells. Something behind Gre’s borrowed eyes clicked, and suddenly he could see for leagues, his vision enhanced and sharpened by the magic that coursed through the beast.

“What is this? A trick? A trap?” He looked around with his newly enhanced vision, but his magical eyes revealed the same information they had without magic; a paltry twenty of the metal beasts circled the Exiles’ moon. He wracked his memory for stories of Shrikes in the past. Were the Exiles holding back? Hiding in the moon? Why?

“Did we catch them UA(with stealth and skill, catching them unawares without even meaning to)?”

“They know when we come.” Gre dismissed the Linker’s idea, and he wrinkled his scaly brow in thought. “Yet here they fly, with just the SCNU(a trifling number, barely as many as they send for a single Dracori). Two tens of them? And not a beast more?”

“They fight each other.” Jia spoke as if she was in a daze, or trying to recall through the haze of memory. “The moon that gifts the small beasts must be at war with the moon we fly to.”

“There is just one moon that gifts the beasts?” Gre asked, surprised.

“Just one. Academy.” Jia answered, and although Gre frowned, he didn’t reprimand her.

“There they are. To the west, far, far to the west.” A Linker said, and Gre looked out across the leagues and leagues of space between them. Sure enough, the horrible metal beasts were departing from the faroff moon.

Too far away. Gre realized with glee. It will take them too long to get here.

“AYA(attack without mercy, rend them apart).”

It took only a few more minutes for them to close the distance between the clouds and the Exiles’ moon, and even before then the riders began casting spells. The lights from the spells with their fiery trials were like comets streaking across the heavens, and although they were too far away to aim well, Gre knew that they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. The Exiles’ beasts left trails too as they hurtled towards them, and excitement bubbled in Gre’s chest as he watched the two groups move closer.

“I know them!” Jia sounded excited too, as their enhanced vision let them see the Exiles within the beasts. “I know how they fight…I know what they’ll do.” Gre hoped she wouldn’t think too hard about how she knew them, but before he had time to worry about it the two tiny armies met, and chaos reigned.

Gre had faced the Exiles in winged combat before, in the empty reaches of space. Their beasts were nimble and they were intelligent, but there were certain maneuvers that never failed to confound their sense. He tried one right from the start, spreading his wings and snapping to a halt in the air. The Exile’s beast in front of him was firing jets of flame, but it had tried to lead him with the shots. His sudden stop had confused his opponent, as it always did, and Gre smiled predatorily as it floundered in the air, trying to make a wide turn like a fish. He swept forward to take advantage of his enemy’s weakness, landing on the beast and tearing at its wings with his claws. His rider raised a shield of ice to deflect the bursts of flame fired by his enemy’s comrades.

Gre would’ve liked to rip through to the helpless human Exile within its dead beast, but instead he launched off of the metal carcass and returned to the fray. Every tooth and claw was needed in a Shrike, especially if they were to be the first to succeed. To his right one of the Drya was pierced through the heart with a gout of flame, and Gre’s human ears on the planet heard the Linker scream in pain.

“SIA(still the mewling tongue in your cowardly head)!” Gre snapped, trying to focus on the scolding and the fighting at the same time. “You lay here, hurt but safe. Your brave RIA(the steadfast, the courageous, the rider) shall fall through space till the end of time, thanks to your PIT(horrifying lack of skill).” He vaguely heard the healers helping the Linker out, but he dismissed all thought of him.

The Linker will at least live. He thought sadly, watching the dead Drya and rider float off into the void while trying to dodge blasts of fire himself.

“We bring more Drya than ever we have, and they bring less beasts.” Laughed one of the Linkers next to him in the tent. Gre cast his gaze around and found him in space, a skinny Drya who was chasing one of the Exile’s beasts down. “Pso will be the last of us lost in this fight.” Though Gre privately agreed, he stole another glance at the Exile beasts coming from the other moon, Academy, still a long ways away. They flew as fast as he had ever seen their beasts fly, but…he glanced around the battlefield again.

…They do not fly fast enough.

“Eyes down.” He snapped, and a few Drya dove to intercept Exiles’ beasts that were trying to sneak up from beneath them. “Do you think me a fool, Exiles?” He muttered under his breath. “I fight not as if I am on land, I know that a fight in the stars is as one in the sea. We watch up and down.” Even so, he had had to warn the others, perhaps he should focus more on command and less on fighting. As much as he wished to take part in the battle himself, Gre flew a small ways away, watching the fight from a wide view.

“One of you, go help Kon.” He ordered. “The poor fool has three beasts on his tail.” Other than Kon, the rest of them were doing well. Already the dead husks of metal beasts floated in the field, and only one of his own had fallen. In the middle of the battlefield, like a planet around whom the fight orbited, Jia and Tes fought the Exiles. It was beautiful, in both concept and in execution. They did not remember their old comrades, but they instinctively knew how they thought. They had no memory of being lovers, but their motions synced and complimented each other as if they were one body, even with Jia in the body of a Dracori.

Tes was hurling out lances of magic, arcing from her fist into space. It was wild and unkempt magic, and it rarely struck its target, but when it did hit an Exile it would draw the beast in, yanking it against its will and reeling it towards the center. Try as they might, any ship so ensnared would soon come within reach of Jia’s claws, and she would pluck it from the air as easily as a farmer might pluck a pomfruit.

She’s being very delicate with them. Gre realized with worry. The great beast was carefully raking her claws across the beasts she captured, shearing off metal wings and destroying their firing stings and then leaving them to drift in space, when she could have been crushing them in her giant teeth or ripping them apart to leave their human occupants drifting instead. Gre had heard Exiles died in space, gasping for air like fishes out of water. Could it be that a part of Jia’s mind is still one of them? He worried. Is she concerned about hurting them?

Jia unleashed her first breath, and all doubt left Gre’s mind. On the surface the Dracori-of-the-wave’s breath would be powerful, a stream of water that could crush houses into rubble. Out in the depths of space, it was devastating. Shapeless globules of water shot forth from her mouth, of such size and speed that they were overwhelming to even look at. One globule hit a moving beast with such force that the metal dented, slamming it backward. Although the lights remained, the ship drifted, so its human must be dead within. Another beast became trapped inside a sphere of water, its tail flaring but unable to move.

“The beasts from Academy come soon.” Jia murmured, and the Dracori began moving. The Drya followed, Gre right behind. Exiles’ beasts buzzed around them like flies, but Jia crushed them like flies as well; plucking some out of the air, blasting waves of water at others. On her back, Tes flung lightning bolts of magic across the skies, and the other riders had taken her cues. Instead of the mix of spells that a Shrike team usually used, the void between the stars was filled with arcing lightning, and where they struck the beasts, their lights died.

Gre couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the display. Yes, the Exiles inside still lived, he could see that, but within their dead beasts they could do nothing to stop the Shrike. He had heard the Princes speak of their attempts, attempts to burn, to crush, to melt, to kill, but Jia and Tes knew exactly how to stop them. For a moment Gre considered staying and waiting for the Academy Exiles to reach them, but he shook his head. Overconfidence would do him no favors, and it wasn’t needed when he was so close.

The Exiles’ moon loomed before him, closer than he had ever seen it before.

Closer than anyone has seen it before. He thought triumphantly. Closer than-

“DIVE!” Jia suddenly screamed. Gre shot downward out of instinct, as did most of the others. Less than a second after the girl had screamed, the Exiles’ moon fired.

It was as if someone had bottled the sun and now hurled it just behind Gre’s head. He wasn’t looking at the beam, but the heat of it burned his skin, even in the blank ether of space where heat did not move as freely as in the air. Their riders must’ve been confused and disoriented before, but they were screaming now, shrieking in terror. Ahead of him Jia’s Dracori was flying and Gre blindly followed her as another bottled sun blazed past them.

“What is happening? How is this happening?” He could hear the healers shrieking in the tent, but Gre couldn’t focus on anything but following the Dracori-of-the-waves in front of him. They were so close now, so close to the very surface of the moon, it couldn’t end like this. Another bottled sun blinded him for moment, and then his claws scrambled on a metal surface, his scaly belly touched a warm and solid ground. Gre panted in his comfortable chair, waiting long tense moments for sight to return to his Drya.

Slowly, he began making out blurry shapes around him. After the sudden screaming and panic, the silence seemed deafening, both to his ears in space and his ears in the tent. He looked around, blinking rapidly. Panting, dishevelled, but whole and alive, three Drya and their riders looked back at him, as did Tes and the Dracori. They stood on the smooth metal surface of the Exiles’ moon.

“They can’t hurt us here. They risk harming their moon.” Jia said, breaking the silence.

“Healers, what happened to the others? What were you screaming about?” One of the Linkers said shakily. Still in control of their Drya, none of them could move their heads to look around them in the tent.

“They died.” One of the healers finally said. “They died right in front of us. I…I didn’t know they could die.”

“And now-” Gre cleared his throat, shaken but determined not to show it. “-now we give the Exiles back their death. Jia.”

On his order, the Dracori flexed the muscles along its wide arms. It sunk its claws into the surface of the moon, rending it and sending huge shards of metal floating into the air.

“It is a great ACI(honor of exploration and conquest, accomplishment that none have achieved), to make it in the moon.” He said, as the Dracori dug into the surface beneath them.

“The Exiles will try to push us out, of course. They will fall on us in waves.” Despite their success, the Linker’s voice sounded muted and downcast. Gre’s answer was similarly grim.

“I hope so.”


Previous Chapter (SFW): General of Pivot
Next Chapter (SFW): New Neighbors

8.3 – General of the Shrike

Gre lounged in his cushioned seat, idly twirling his finger around a lock of hair of the woman who sat at his feet. She leaned her head against his knee, subservient and compliant.

“Do nerves plague you, GEA(great master and commander)?” She asked. Gre liked how she charged her words; hesitantly and timidly, like a child. The meanings didn’t spring into his mind like a charged word normally would, instead they brushed against it.

“Nerves?” Prince Gre chuckled at the suggestion. “I am the first Prince to lead the ARA(trained soldiers and warriors) of all three tribes to the stars, why would I waste my time with nerves?”

“The first?” The girl looked at him with surprise. “We have sent Shrikes to the stars ‘fore now, no?” Gre smiled again. The way she avoided long words was adorable, trying to escape the rasping feeling of magic against one’s throat. It was a harsh feeling to get used to, but most adults had overcome their reluctance long ago. The childlike innocent in one he slept with should have turned him off, but although he would never admit it, her naivette made her even more enjoyable to him.

“The tribes have sent their Shrikes to the stars, yes.” He clarified. “But ALO(separate and disjointed, weak and divided). But now we three tribes have at last been CONBI(unified and aligned in our purposes, united for one cause). One tribe’s Shrikes had not touched the star-born, our Drak(dracori) could not pull them from the sky. Now…now we may yet break them. And the HOI(great gift and honor of leading*) has been made mine.”

“Such a great gift is fair for one of your PEO(strength and power).” The woman said, and Gre rolled his eyes. Her flattery was as unsubtle and transparent as her burgeoning magic. “But since when do the tribes work TSA(alongside another)?” Her brow furrowed, as if she should know the answer but couldn’t remember it. “What could make them…us…let go of our DIF(those things which separate)? Why don’t I know what made us change?”

“You should be proud, Jia.” Gre continued twisting the strand of her blue hair around his finger, tugging affectionately. “You were a part of that change.”

“Me? How?”

“You were a gift, from the blue tribe to me. Well, to the green tribe and thus to me. In that gift they showed that ALL(an alliance and joining together) can help us both.”

“I was a gift?” Jia furrowed her brow in deep thought. “Then…did I come from the blue tribe? Why can’t I remember?”

“RE(remember and recall).” Gre corrected, frowning. “Speak PRI(properly, with the decorum of a lady).” She was still lost in thought, and Gre tugged at the lock of hair still in his hand. She looked up him with wide eyes, and his annoyance evaporated. How could he be angry at the little vixen, with her innocent face and hair that shone of blue? He tugged again, pulling her head a little closer. When she realized what he wanted, his little pet grinned.

“But sir! The Shrikes! Don’t they need us soon?”

“They won’t break through the clouds for an hour.” Gre stroked her hair, twisting his fingers through it as he pulled her head closer to him. “Plenty of time for you to distract me.”

Jia was already standing, and Gre leaned back against the cushions as she straddled him. She had taken to wearing loose clothes, easy to slip off of her, and Gre appreciated the ease of access he had to her body. He pulled with a rough disregard, and the top of her robes slipped off of her shoulders, revealing her milky skin and large breasts. Her shining blue hair fell and obscured the sight, and Gre impatiently flicked it aside.

“How do you wish me to be for you, my lord? How do you wish me to act?” Jia leaned forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling his face in to press against her chest. Gre enjoyed the feeling of smooth skin against his cheeks, thinking the question over. She had shown herself to be quite the actress, able to give him the shy and innocent, the vulgar and experienced, even, when a dark mood took him, a play-acted reluctance. But today he was impatient, already ready to take her. He yanked at her robes, and she lifted to let him pull them off of her completely.

Leaning back, he took in the sight of the woman straddling him. Jia leaned back, giving him a complete view of her whole body, her long neck and slender arms, the new piercing in her navel, the pouting lips of her sex. She hadn’t been using the crystal for long enough for the patch of hair between her legs to match the blue of the hair on her head, so he had made her shave it completely. Although he knew he would enjoy it when it grew back in, she wore the shaved look well.

He reached down and ran a thumb over her bare mound, layering a buzz of magic through the skin of his finger.

“Oh!” Jia gasped, and Gre smiled. The magic would be working through her loins, exciting nerves and stimulating senses. “My lord wants me soon, it would seem!”

“Your lord wants you now.” Gre growled. He slid a finger experimentally inside of her, and nodded approvingly when she pushed her hips forward, moving it deeper. Her slit was already accommodatingly wet, but he shot another surge of magic through his fingertips, a lance of lust that would take her from the inside, moving from toe to head. Jia shivered and wiggled her hips, moving his finger around inside her.

“If my lord wants me now, then take me now.” She said breathlessly. “I am yours.” Gre untied the lacings of his pants, and she lifted obligingly to let him slip the fabric down his legs. He watched her face as she looked down at his exposed member, and the hungry look in her eyes was enough to erase doubts he might have. The Dukes wouldn’t like it if they knew he was taking the girl’s body, but at the moment he didn’t particularly care.

Jia was rubbing her shaved sex against his cock, but he didn’t have any patience for teasing at the moment. He grabbed her hips and pulled her towards him, and taking his suggestion she reached down and guided his member between her legs. Breathing heavily, Jia lowered herself down on him, taking him inside her inch by inch. Impatient as he was, Gre let her move at her own pace. She was wet, but she was so tight that he didn’t dare thrust like he wanted to; he didn’t want to risk actually hurting her. Her snatch squeezed at his shaft with every motion, and her hands were clenched into fists on his chest. It was nearly too much, the expression on her face and the tightness of her cunt, her willingness and her naked body on top of him.

“Oh fuck.” Jia whimpered through clenched teeth. “Fuck, your cock is too big for me.” The dirty words in her sweet little mouth almost sent him over the edge, and Gre pushed her away, grunting as his length slipped out of her. The Dukes would only be displeased if they knew he took her body, if he came in her and got her with child they would have his head on a pike. Jia looked worried as he held her at arm’s length. “I didn’t mean you had to stop, my lord, I can try to take it all.” She said.

“No need.” Gre brushed a strand of her hair behind her ear. “If you are in pain, you can please me in other ways.” He brushed his thumb over her lips, and she smiled and slid down between his legs.

She was awkward and inexperienced with her mouth, but her efforts at riding him already had Gre hovering on the edge of orgasm. When she took his dick between her lips and began to suck he leaned back and breathed deeply. Her tongue slid back and forth across its head, and the knowledge that she was licking up her own juices made him even harder in her mouth. He grabbed a handful of her beautiful blue hair and pulled her head further down, thrusting his member deeper into her throat. She gagged, but staunchly bobbed her head up and down, taking him in her mouth all the way down to the root and then sliding him out to take a breath again.

After the pleasure of penetrating her, it took less than minutes to push him to the edge once more, and Gre clenched the arms of his chair and let out a sigh as he came. Jia moved her tongue more slowly as he filled her mouth with his cum, and he forgot his reservations as he enjoyed the feeling of suction and warmth that she provided.

“Oh Jia! Gods JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel).” He charged the word involuntarily, letting the orgasm get the better of him. His cry turned into a moan as he slowly came down off of the high of it. Jia looked up at him, her smiling mouth full but a question in her eyes.

“Swallow it.” Gre ordered. Jia made a face, as if she would stick out her tongue at him, but she obediently gulped, then opened her mouth to show him it was empty. “Good girl.”

“Thank you, my lord. I am glad to have pleased you.” Jia wiped her mouth and reached for her robes, and Gre began adjusting his own.

“You do please me. You were a fine gift.”

“My lord…” Jia seemed pensive as she slide her robe back on. “What was that you called me, just then? JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)?”

“What of it?” Gre began preparing for the Shrikes’ assault, using a tongue of magic to heat the container of water that stood on the table nearby. “You may not have earned your NEA(honorable second name, charged name) yet, but in times like that…well..” He shrugged. It was no strange things to call out a lover’s name with a magical charge, in a moment of passion. Not that Jia would know that, of course.

“It’s just…I feel as if I have heard that name. But DIF(changed a tiny bit, the smallest fraction). Not JIA(my darling gem, my little jewel)…but JIA(my darling gem, my little Jule)? Or JIA(my darling gem, my little Julia)? I don’t know…” Jia suddenly clutched her head in her hands, “…those aren’t even words. I don’t understand what I’m feeling right now.”

“UN(fully comprehend).” Gre snapped the correction, startling her out of her reverie. “You don’t UN(completely grasp all of the details) what you’re FAE(experiencing within your heart), Jia you are full grown, it is EMB(makes you look childish, makes me look foolish) when you use such words. And as for what names you have heard.” His voice was cold, and his lip curled with disdain. “I have no want to hear of your past bed mates and what they called you.”

“Oh gods, my lord I did not mean-”

“I know, you mean no harm, but guard your tongue Jia, else you bring harm REG(without intending to).” Jia looked at her feet, then went about preparing the rest of the tent, arranging a small pillows on the floor of the warm tent, crushing herbs in a bowl at the table. Gre almost felt guilty, steamrolling the poor girl into ignoring her own memories, but the more he let her remember, the longer it would take for the magic at work in her mind to take effect.

It had smoothed over most of the wrinkles that the past had left, but the work was fragile yet. Overt memories like family and friends, lovers and home, had been locked away. Her name was more primary to who she was, and it was foolish of him to call her by something so similar.

“My Lord.” One of his men called from outside the tent. “The Shrikes will slip from the clouds soon.”

“You may enter.” Gre glanced at Jia, but she was decent and covered, and had even pulled her long hair back into a ponytail to hide how dishevelled it was. Of course, his men would know or assume what he used her for, but Gre appreciated decorum. His Linkers entered, all of them dressed in robes of deep green.

“I hope you are all PRE(ready to witness and be a part) of this day.” Gre said gravely, as Jia walked among the Linkers, handing each a small clay cup of the tea. “The first day we win a Shrike, the first day we set foot on the stars.”

“So say all who lead a Shrike.” One of the Linkers seemed weary, although he met Gre’s eyes steadily. “I have heard this speech before.”

“No more words then.” Gre stepped over to his cushioned chair and settled in it, letting the Linkers settle onto the cushions on the ground and accepting his own cup of tea from Jia. “You have heard the speech? Then let us live it.”


Gre smacked his lips and grimaced. As usual, the tea had tasted foul, but it had acted quickly. Though he could still faintly see the walls of his tent, his ethereal visions was becoming stronger by the second. He moved his head from side to side experimentally, and although his physical body stayed still, his vision swam as the view changed.

“I have SEA(merged and slipped within the mind) with my Drya.” He said casually, as if he wasn’t proud about being the first.

Just another reminder whose magics are the most powerful.

“I have SEA(dipped into the thoughts), my lord.”

“As have I.”

One by one his Linkers around the room called out, and Gre mentally counted them off. Seven minds, all connected with the minds of the far-off animals. He turned his head, and thousands of leagues away the previously-dumb Drya turned his in response, looking back and forth through the fog at those around him. Gre felt the creature’s muscles shift like his own, he felt the heavy weight of its scales on his back. He turned to watch the giant Dracori that flew with them, and around it the rest of the Drya, smaller versions of the same creature.

Gre watched the swarm around him carefully. It was easy to tell the difference between a mindless Drya and one whose mind was possessed of his Terran brethren, although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had changed. The way they moved, the way they looked around them, every line of their scaled bodies seemed to speak of intelligence. The riders on the back of each Drya could tell as well, for they were whooping and cheering from their backs now. Gre smiled even though the Drya he possessed could not mimic the action.

“My lord,” the Linker’s voice sounded far away, “would it not have been best if you took the Drak(dracori)?” The man’s implication was clear: wouldn’t it be better for anyone to take the Dracori instead of the untried and unconfident woman? In his small Drya body, Gre glanced up at the magnificent creature just beside him.

All Dracori were awe-inspiring, of course, but Gre had a special place in his heart for a Dracori-of-the-Wave. Its scales were so dark that they appeared black in the light of the surface, but against the true dark of space their scales revealed the beautiful deep blue within.

“Jia, have you SEA(melded minds) with the Drak yet?” Gre’s own voice sounded faint in his ears.

“I am TRI(attempting something that is new, struggling with something difficult).”

“My lord, if I may-” one of the Linkers began, but Gre cut him off sharply.

“I am not a fool. The girl will link to the DRA(dracori), and you will hold your tongue.” Even locked away under layers of magic, the girl had knowledge that would help them make this the most successful Shrike team, the only successful Shrike team, to ever be sent to the Exiles’ moons.

That is assuming she can slip into his mind. He thought worriedly, glancing up at the Dracori again with the eyes of his Drya. On the creature’s back rode the green tribe’s little gift, her legs wrapped tight in the saddle that had been fashioned just for her. She had no idea what an honor she had received; the first human to ride on the back of a Dracori, and she hadn’t even been born a Terran. Even so, the girl on the dragon’s back looked around her with glee in her one good eye, the other hidden behind a cloth patch and her short green hair.

Gre was startled out of his reverie when the Dracori suddenly turned its head to look back at him, an intelligence in its eyes.

“I did it my lord!” Jia said excitedly.

“Good girl.” Gre murmured approvingly. “Now we must-”

It was his third time in control of a creature who broke through the green fog, but it still took his breath away each time. A deep blackness speckled with points of light, the darkest void punctuated by the brightest tiny lights.

“The torches in the emptiness.” One of the Linkers said quietly. It sounded as if he was crying, but there was no shame in that, especially if it was his first time. Even Gre felt a tear slide down his cheek.

“It somehow feels like home.” Jia murmured, and Gre hurriedly got them back on track.

“There is the Exiles’ moon,” he pointed with a scaled claw, “the blemish that taints the beautiful darkness of space.” The Dracori and the smaller Drya, each controlled from within the tent, turned and moved in the direction he had indicated. The Exiles’ moon sat like an ugly diamond in the sky, still some ways off.

“Where are the Exiles’ small beasts?” One of the Linkers asked.

“Our riders are still gob-stuck at the sight of the stars.” Gre reassured. “They will soon give us sight.” In a few moments he was proven right, as the men and women who rode on the Drya began casting spells. Something behind Gre’s borrowed eyes clicked, and suddenly he could see for leagues, his vision enhanced and sharpened by the magic that coursed through the beast.

“What is this? A trick? A trap?” He looked around with his newly enhanced vision, but his magical eyes revealed the same information they had without magic; a paltry twenty of the metal beasts circled the Exiles’ moon. He wracked his memory for stories of Shrikes in the past. Were the Exiles holding back? Hiding in the moon? Why?

“Did we catch them UA(with stealth and skill, catching them unawares without even meaning to)?”

“They know when we come.” Gre dismissed the Linker’s idea, and he wrinkled his scaly brow in thought. “Yet here they fly, with just the SCNU(a trifling number, barely as many as they send for a single Dracori). Two tens of them? And not a beast more?”

“They fight each other.” Jia spoke as if she was in a daze, or trying to recall through the haze of memory. “The moon that gifts the small beasts must be at war with the moon we fly to.”

“There is just one moon that gifts the beasts?” Gre asked, surprised.

“Just one. Academy.” Jia answered, and although Gre frowned, he didn’t reprimand her.

“There they are. To the west, far, far to the west.” A Linker said, and Gre looked out across the leagues and leagues of space between them. Sure enough, the horrible metal beasts were departing from the faroff moon.

Too far away. Gre realized with glee. It will take them too long to get here.

“AYA(attack without mercy, rend them apart).”

It took only a few more minutes for them to close the distance between the clouds and the Exiles’ moon, and even before then the riders began casting spells. The lights from the spells with their fiery trials were like comets streaking across the heavens, and although they were too far away to aim well, Gre knew that they struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. The Exiles’ beasts left trails too as they hurtled towards them, and excitement bubbled in Gre’s chest as he watched the two groups move closer.

“I know them!” Jia sounded excited too, as their enhanced vision let them see the Exiles within the beasts. “I know how they fight…I know what they’ll do.” Gre hoped she wouldn’t think too hard about how she knew them, but before he had time to worry about it the two tiny armies met, and chaos reigned.

Gre had faced the Exiles in winged combat before, in the empty reaches of space. Their beasts were nimble and they were intelligent, but there were certain maneuvers that never failed to confound their sense. He tried one right from the start, spreading his wings and snapping to a halt in the air. The Exile’s beast in front of him was firing jets of flame, but it had tried to lead him with the shots. His sudden stop had confused his opponent, as it always did, and Gre smiled predatorily as it floundered in the air, trying to make a wide turn like a fish. He swept forward to take advantage of his enemy’s weakness, landing on the beast and tearing at its wings with his claws. His rider raised a shield of ice to deflect the bursts of flame fired by his enemy’s comrades.

Gre would’ve liked to rip through to the helpless human Exile within its dead beast, but instead he launched off of the metal carcass and returned to the fray. Every tooth and claw was needed in a Shrike, especially if they were to be the first to succeed. To his right one of the Drya was pierced through the heart with a gout of flame, and Gre’s human ears on the planet heard the Linker scream in pain.

“SIA(still the mewling tongue in your cowardly head)!” Gre snapped, trying to focus on the scolding and the fighting at the same time. “You lay here, hurt but safe. Your brave RIA(the steadfast, the courageous, the rider) shall fall through space till the end of time, thanks to your PIT(horrifying lack of skill).” He vaguely heard the healers helping the Linker out, but he dismissed all thought of him.

The Linker will at least live. He thought sadly, watching the dead Drya and rider float off into the void while trying to dodge blasts of fire himself.

“We bring more Drya than ever we have, and they bring less beasts.” Laughed one of the Linkers next to him in the tent. Gre cast his gaze around and found him in space, a skinny Drya who was chasing one of the Exile’s beasts down. “Pso will be the last of us lost in this fight.” Though Gre privately agreed, he stole another glance at the Exile beasts coming from the other moon, Academy, still a long ways away. They flew as fast as he had ever seen their beasts fly, but…he glanced around the battlefield again.

…They do not fly fast enough.

“Eyes down.” He snapped, and a few Drya dove to intercept Exiles’ beasts that were trying to sneak up from beneath them. “Do you think me a fool, Exiles?” He muttered under his breath. “I fight not as if I am on land, I know that a fight in the stars is as one in the sea. We watch up and down.” Even so, he had had to warn the others, perhaps he should focus more on command and less on fighting. As much as he wished to take part in the battle himself, Gre flew a small ways away, watching the fight from a wide view.

“One of you, go help Kon.” He ordered. “The poor fool has three beasts on his tail.” Other than Kon, the rest of them were doing well. Already the dead husks of metal beasts floated in the field, and only one of his own had fallen. In the middle of the battlefield, like a planet around whom the fight orbited, Jia and Tes fought the Exiles. It was beautiful, in both concept and in execution. They did not remember their old comrades, but they instinctively knew how they thought. They had no memory of being lovers, but their motions synced and complimented each other as if they were one body, even with Jia in the body of a Dracori.

Tes was hurling out lances of magic, arcing from her fist into space. It was wild and unkempt magic, and it rarely struck its target, but when it did hit an Exile it would draw the beast in, yanking it against its will and reeling it towards the center. Try as they might, any ship so ensnared would soon come within reach of Jia’s claws, and she would pluck it from the air as easily as a farmer might pluck a pomfruit.

She’s being very delicate with them. Gre realized with worry. The great beast was carefully raking her claws across the beasts she captured, shearing off metal wings and destroying their firing stings and then leaving them to drift in space, when she could have been crushing them in her giant teeth or ripping them apart to leave their human occupants drifting instead. Gre had heard Exiles died in space, gasping for air like fishes out of water. Could it be that a part of Jia’s mind is still one of them? He worried. Is she concerned about hurting them?

Jia unleashed her first breath, and all doubt left Gre’s mind. On the surface the Dracori-of-the-wave’s breath would be powerful, a stream of water that could crush houses into rubble. Out in the depths of space, it was devastating. Shapeless globules of water shot forth from her mouth, of such size and speed that they were overwhelming to even look at. One globule hit a moving beast with such force that the metal dented, slamming it backward. Although the lights remained, the ship drifted, so its human must be dead within. Another beast became trapped inside a sphere of water, its tail flaring but unable to move.

“The beasts from Academy come soon.” Jia murmured, and the Dracori began moving. The Drya followed, Gre right behind. Exiles’ beasts buzzed around them like flies, but Jia crushed them like flies as well; plucking some out of the air, blasting waves of water at others. On her back, Tes flung lightning bolts of magic across the skies, and the other riders had taken her cues. Instead of the mix of spells that a Shrike team usually used, the void between the stars was filled with arcing lightning, and where they struck the beasts, their lights died.

Gre couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the display. Yes, the Exiles inside still lived, he could see that, but within their dead beasts they could do nothing to stop the Shrike. He had heard the Princes speak of their attempts, attempts to burn, to crush, to melt, to kill, but Jia and Tes knew exactly how to stop them. For a moment Gre considered staying and waiting for the Academy Exiles to reach them, but he shook his head. Overconfidence would do him no favors, and it wasn’t needed when he was so close.

The Exiles’ moon loomed before him, closer than he had ever seen it before.

Closer than anyone has seen it before. He thought triumphantly. Closer than-

“DIVE!” Jia suddenly screamed. Gre shot downward out of instinct, as did most of the others. Less than a second after the girl had screamed, the Exiles’ moon fired.

It was as if someone had bottled the sun and now hurled it just behind Gre’s head. He wasn’t looking at the beam, but the heat of it burned his skin, even in the blank ether of space where heat did not move as freely as in the air. Their riders must’ve been confused and disoriented before, but they were screaming now, shrieking in terror. Ahead of him Jia’s Dracori was flying and Gre blindly followed her as another bottled sun blazed past them.

“What is happening? How is this happening?” He could hear the healers shrieking in the tent, but Gre couldn’t focus on anything but following the Dracori-of-the-waves in front of him. They were so close now, so close to the very surface of the moon, it couldn’t end like this. Another bottled sun blinded him for moment, and then his claws scrambled on a metal surface, his scaly belly touched a warm and solid ground. Gre panted in his comfortable chair, waiting long tense moments for sight to return to his Drya.

Slowly, he began making out blurry shapes around him. After the sudden screaming and panic, the silence seemed deafening, both to his ears in space and his ears in the tent. He looked around, blinking rapidly. Panting, dishevelled, but whole and alive, three Drya and their riders looked back at him, as did Tes and the Dracori. They stood on the smooth metal surface of the Exiles’ moon.

“They can’t hurt us here. They risk harming their moon.” Jia said, breaking the silence.

“Healers, what happened to the others? What were you screaming about?” One of the Linkers said shakily. Still in control of their Drya, none of them could move their heads to look around them in the tent.

“They died.” One of the healers finally said. “They died right in front of us. I…I didn’t know they could die.”

“And now-” Gre cleared his throat, shaken but determined not to show it. “-now we give the Exiles back their death. Jia.”

On his order, the Dracori flexed the muscles along its wide arms. It sunk its claws into the surface of the moon, rending it and sending huge shards of metal floating into the air.

“It is a great ACI(honor of exploration and conquest, accomplishment that none have achieved), to make it in the moon.” He said, as the Dracori dug into the surface beneath them.

“The Exiles will try to push us out, of course. They will fall on us in waves.” Despite their success, the Linker’s voice sounded muted and downcast. Gre’s answer was similarly grim.

“I hope so.”


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