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.”

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