Status: Unknown

Lt. Jared Mason stalked down the brightly lit corridor, scowling deeply. Sub-Commander Felis had just reprimanded him, in front of a Councilor to boot. He wasn’t upset at the reprimand; he got those all the time. No, it was the reason the Councilor had been in the office in the first place that had him burning. The words echoed in his mind as he headed to his ship-tether. We feel that your…erratic behavior of late can be explained by your isolation. Since we would like to avoid the problems your predecessors experienced, we have decided to give you a new partner. One of your kind…

Jared snorted and shook his head to clear it. “Erratic behavior”, like blowing up a few drug-lords’ houses and burning their fields was that big a deal. Councilor Goreann could go dance with a black hole. He hadn’t done anything to anyone that hadn’t deserved exactly what they got. Now he had to wet-nurse a new rookie. Not only a rookie, but a human…a human. What had they been thinking? Sordani, some of the greatest warriors in this galaxy, would have trouble keeping up with him. A human, no matter what enhancements they got from the standard Uplift Process, didn’t stand a chance. He didn’t know why they kept punishing rookies by assigning them to him anyway; they had a sickening habit of dying off.

He turned the corner and stopped abruptly, biting his lip to keep from groaning out loud. His sharp eyesight had picked up the latest sacrifice offered up to the gods of bureaucracy, and it was distinctly feminine. His hands clenched into fists, and he resisted the urge to punch the metallic walls of the station. Visions of a cat-skinned rug made of Felis’ hide and some snakeskin leather boots made of Goreann’s danced through his head. He took several deep breaths and pushed those thoughts away as unproductive. He schooled his features into a mask of cold disdain and sauntered casually down the hall, frowning when he saw her notice him and stiffen to attention.

He stopped in front of her and she snapped off a salute. Jared ignored it and took a moment to look her over more carefully. She was 5’7, which put her a good eight inches shorter than him. Straight brown hair done up in a shoulder-length ponytail. Features a bit sharp, but the warmth in her brown eyes softened the sharpness into a pretty picture. A big toothy smile. She had a slender athletic build, sidearm on the right, so she was right-handed. The Uplift Process worked best on those still going through puberty, so she was in her mid-teens, probably a year or two older than he was when he was Uplifted. She wore the same type of black bodysuit with black jacket and heavy boots that he did as a uniform. The single silver stripe on her sleeve indicated her rank as a probationary officer, while the badge prominently displayed on the breast declared she worked for the Galactic Council Organized Policing Service.

Maybe I can end this fiasco before it starts. He stared at her coldly. “What the hell are you doing?”

Her smile faltered. “I-I don’t understand the quest-”

Jared gestured at the hand to her brow. “That. This isn’t Earth and this isn’t the army. Put your damn hand down!” he snapped.

She swiftly brought her hand to her side and stiffened even more. “You can relax that pose, as well,” he said disgustedly. “You look ridiculous, and with your knees locked like that you’ll probably pass out.”

She visibly relaxed, but seemed unsure of what to do with herself. Jared’s eyes narrowed as he noticed a minor twitch in her right hand. Great, she’s just out of Uplift and they send her right over. He decided not to comment on it; it would resolve itself or it wouldn’t. Instead, he just held out his hand with an air of impatience.

The relief shone in her eyes and she started to reach out her hand to shake his. “Hello, sir. My name is…”

Jared cut her off. “Give me your datafile, kid. I don’t care who you think you are,” he said, real impatience creeping into his voice.

This seemed to deflate her even more, and she meekly handed over the hand-sized computer tablet. He snatched it from her hand and pulled out a hair-thin wire from a pouch on his sidearm-belt. He inserted one end into the tablet and the other he put into a port located behind his right ear. Data started pouring onto his retinal display: Name: Misty Peregrine. Age: 16. Place of origin: Earth nation-Canada. Societal Participation: Student (mid-range), athlete (human sport: football (see: soccer)), time given at various charitable instit-

Jared cut off the datafeed, his anger flaring again. Of all the stupid decisions I’ve seen in my life, this one has to rank in the top three. They send me an average girl from a nation that probably has the nicest people per capita on Earth, and she’s a bleeding-heart. What are they hoping, that we’ll become some interstellar Adam and Eve? If they even know that stupid story. They just killed this girl, those stupid, thickheaded…

His thoughts turned darker and darker. His face took on a stormy countenance, and his body locked rigidly. He noticed the girl back away from him, her hand inching down to the blaster at her side. The action mollified his anger…somewhat. Maybe she won’t be a total loss–if she survives. He took several deep breaths and schooled his features back into a neutral expression. “Don’t cower, kid. It’s undignified, and if you can’t take a little anger from me, you don’t need to be here. Understood?”

“Yes, si-”

“And cut the ‘sir’ crap, little girl. It’s either Lieutenant, L-T, or if you’re feeling particularly brave, and suicidal, Jared. Let’s stick with one of the first two. That way, when you die, I won’t feel as bad.” He stepped over to the station viewport and motioned for her to stand beside him. He pointed to outside the station. “Tell me what you see.”

She eyed him warily. “Are you going to interru-”

“Only if you annoy me with useless words, so you might as well get used to it. Tell me what you see.”

Misty’s lips tightened hard, turning them white, but she dutifully turned her attention outside the viewport. She assumed the pedantic tone of someone reciting dry facts. “I see the Barex C-model inter-system Police Interdi-”

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. “I didn’t ask about what they downloaded into your memory or about my own damn ship. I told you to tell me what you see.”

She began again, undercurrents of anger tightening her voice. “I see a Vilac Fortune class freighter com-”

Jared sighed. “Not what I want and you kn-”

“I see an arrogant, overbearing, bastard who feeds his ego by picking on subord-”

Jared gave her his first real smile of the day. “Not bad, kid. But you stating the obvious isn’t what I’m looking for. I know about me too. Better, in fact, than you think you do.” He shrugged. “Maybe I should recommend you be mind-wiped and shipped back home. You might be looked at as crazy, like the others that didn’t cut it out here, but I get the feeling I’d be doing you a favor.”

His right arm flashed up in a blur of movement to catch her fist coming at him. He didn’t blink as she gave out a short bark of pain from the contact. He let go of her fist and waited for the inevitable question as she tried to shake out the pain. “What the…Do you have a metal ha-”

“An entire arm actually,” he said. “My shoulder, arm, even the pectoral muscle covering my heart, has been replaced with duranium, the metal they use in starships. It’s really just a sheath covering my cybernetic replacements.” He gave her a grin and waited for the follow-up questions about how he got them.

She didn’t oblige. Instead, she just said, “I get the feeling this is a routine you’ve done before.”

Jared’s grin widened. “Congratulations. That’s the first non-useless sentence you’ve said so far. Keep going with that thought.”

Before she could, an alarm sounded across the station. A whooshing sound signaled the ship-tether portal closing, and Jared yanked his rookie out of the way of the blast shields coming down to cover the viewports. The entire station closed down; no one in and no one out. A harsh voice growled and barked over the station speakers, and Jared held up a hand to quiet his rookie’s yelping protests at being manhandled. The alien language filtered through his cerebral translator as: Armed intruders on Primary Civilian Access Deck. Station Security to PCAD. Gal-Cops on Station maintain position.

“Why don’t they want our help?” Misty wondered.

Jared ignored her and touched his badge to activate the communicator built in. “Felis, sit-rep!” he commanded.

A reply came back immediately. “Ten Valusians armed with pulse-rifles came in blasting away. Looks like they’re after the Councilor. His bodyguard detail engaged, and station security has joined the fight. Heavy casualties among the civilians on deck are reported. Downloading station specs to your rookie’s data-tablet now, since you don’t carry one,” he said, the reproach in his voice clear even when translated.

Jared waved off Misty as she offered her tablet to him. “Is Arnie working?”

“Yes,” Felis replied cautiously. “Why, if I might ask?”

“Send him here through the maintenance hatch.”

“You are not going through-”

“Mason, out,” Jared said while touching his communicator to turn it off. He glanced at a flustered looking Misty, who now had Felis yelling through her communicator, and raised an amused eyebrow. “If you’re planning on coming along, I suggest you lose the badge.”

He turned and strode off down the corridor, bypassing the now lock-downed lifts, and heading straight for a circular piece of metal that interrupted the otherwise smooth profile of the walls. He heard the sound of something small and metallic clatter on the floor and the sound of feet hurrying to catch up to him. He waited until he heard breathing right behind and said, “This is the maintenance hatch.” He pointed to a small electronic pad right next to the maintenance entrance. “This is the lock that opens the door. However, since I’m not maintenance, or Felis, I don’t have the code to open it. Which is stupid when you think about it, but, then again, so is the Director of Security.” A meter long blade slid from the forearm sheath hidden in his artificial arm. “So, I get to do this the hard way.” He reared his arm back, preparing to thrust the blade in to pry the door open. A firm pressure on his shoulder made him pause.

“Let me try before you go destroying the station,” Misty said. Jared gave her a hard look, but moved out of the way. She knelt down in front of the pad and closed her eyes. Within a few seconds the maintenance hatch opened. She turned to him with a wide grin, which quickly faded as she noticed the look on his face.

“So, you’re wireless capable. And what you’re telling me with that little display of hacking, is that you’re one of those closet ‘geniuses’ that are too undisciplined to do well in school because you’re not ‘challenged’ enough,” he said. He shook his head and started to say something else, but a face popped up in the hatchway distracting him. It had eight small black orbs for eyes, two pincers that framed a small mouth, and was covered in short black hair.

Jared nodded and smiled at the face, ignoring a startled and scrambling Misty. “Arndolavetura, good to see you. Please, ignore the rookie doing a credible imitation of prey being stalked. You startled her.” He turned toward Misty. “Get up and quit making a fool of yourself. This is Arndolavetura, Arnie for short. He’s our way down.”

Arnie chittered something briefly. “Yes, I’m serious,” Jared replied. “One line down three decks.” Arnie chittered again, this time sounding angry. “If the Security Director tries to run you off the station for this he’ll have to go through me. Stop wasting time and do it,” Jared said.

Arnie made a sound that came suspiciously close to being a sigh. However, his body shot up to the top of the opening, giving a brief view of a 1.2-meter tall, segmented body, with six arms and two legs that didn’t quite hide the spinneret behind them. Arnie again flashed past, but this time he was free-falling and trailing a thin silky strand behind him. Jared ducked his head into the maintenance shaft, watching the arachnoform fall away. A soft chitter reached his ears and he motioned for Misty to come over. “You’re point. Get down there and open the hatch up,” he said.

“Why can’t Arnie d-”

“Because he’s not maintenance either. He’s the janitor for HQ. It’s the only kind of work his species is deemed suitable for, even though they’re natural engineers.” Jared worked to keep his temper in check. “Look, I’d love to explain speciesism to you right now, especially since we’re technically lower on the totem pole than Arnie, but people are dying. Move out!”

Misty’s lips tightened as she leaned into the shaft and grabbed onto the line left by Arnie. She pulled a face when her hands wrapped around it; no doubt from the tacky feeling reminiscent of Earth spider-webs. As soon as she started climbing down, Jared grabbed on and started down at a quicker pace, forcing her to move faster or eat his boots. He gave a quick commentary on the shaft whose only features were regularly spaced hatchways and access tunnels meant for engineers. “Normally, the maintenance shafts are zero-g and the engineers use grav-lock boots to hold themselves in place. That’s why there are no handholds or ladders. During a lockdown, gravity is turned on so no one can use them, at least theoretically. Luckily for us, Arnie can just about stick to any surface and his webbing is about as strong as high-tensile steel.”

They quickly descended to the desired hatch with Arnie clinging to the wall beside it, and Misty pulled the same hacking trick she had used before. Arnie skittered to the lip of the portal and held out a pair of hands to Misty. She reached out and found Arnie was much stronger than his size indicated, stronger than even her enhanced muscles. He easily pulled her through, dumping her unceremoniously on the steel floor. She scrambled out of the way just in time as Jared came through the portal, somersaulting forward to a standing position with his blaster drawn. They found themselves in a dedicated maintenance room, filled with tools, wiring, and other devices better left in the hands of engineers. Shouts, screams, and the sharp tang of ozone mixed with burnt flesh, permeated the room.

Jared ghosted past all the clutter, quickly reaching the doorway. He caught Misty’s eye and jerked his head toward the pad by the door, holding his thumb and index finger slightly apart. Obediently, the door opened a fraction and he peered out to the main deck and into his nightmares. The main deck for civilians on the station was lined with shops and restaurants, along with “street” vendors, to create illusions of an on-planet open-air market. It had holographic signs all over, advertising everything from religion to “exotic companions”, giving the deck a bright technicolor glow. Usually, the press of bodies filling the deck made it difficult to maneuver. Not today.

Today, bodies littered the ground: some obviously dead, others groaning in pain or fear. The glow from the advertising was drowned out by deadly beams of coherent light criss-crossing the deck, creating a maze of death for any fool that dared try to find his way through. Jared could make out the Valusian’s positions to his right. They looked like smaller versions of Terran sasquatches, with flat ape-like faces and fur ranging in color from reddish-brown to bright orange. Ritual scarring that removed the fur in intricate designs marked them as pirates that followed the Avarice sect, a religious sect bent on accumulating wealth through means fair or foul. Jared could make out three pirates dead. However, many more security personnel than pirates littered the ground, attesting to their skill. Oddly, none of Councilor Goreann’s bodyguards seemed to have been wounded or killed.

Jared was formulating the best approach to end this stand-off efficiently when Arnie’s soft chitter caught his attention. He motioned Misty over to keep look-out and made his way back to Arnie, who was busy building something out of the parts in the room, all six hands working swiftly and in sync with each other. Arnie asked a question in his language without looking up from what he was doing, to which Jared replied, “Stalemate right now, but we need to end this fast. Sooner or later, someone in the crossfire is going to make a run for it and get burned down.”

Arnie nodded and his hands started moving faster, becoming a near blur. He finished and proudly held up a blinking oblong device of some sort. He started a long explanation of what he had done, but Jared quickly cut him off. “What is it, Arnie?” Arnie chittered again, and Jared said, “You made a Flashing Screamer out of spare maintenance parts? You are so my hero right now.” He took the device, but before he could integrate it into his plan, he heard Misty breathe out, “No”, and she rushed out the door.

Jared ran to the door and watched Misty jump, twist, spin, and dodge all the blaster fire now directed at her, returning fire as she could toward the Valusians to keep their heads down. He saw why she ran out: a small Raptrix child couldn’t take it anymore and she had jumped up to try and run to her mother, who was frantically screeching at her daughter to stay down. Jared added his own suppression fire, hoping to draw some of the Valusian fire toward him.

Unfortunately, the Valusians weren’t the only ones firing at Misty. When she slowed down for that infinitesimal eternal second to grab the child, a bolt of light hit her left shoulder. She gave an involuntary shout of pain, but kept the presence of mind to hold on to the girl and drop down to the floor, shielding the Raptrix with her own body as pulsing laser fire streaked above them.

Jared quickly gave Arnie a series of hand signals. I’ve got far side, you take near. Paralyze the leader, the rest…no mercy. Arnie nodded, eight eyes glittering coldly. Jared stepped out of the door, quickly threw the Flashing Screamer in the midst of the Valusian line, and just as quickly stepped back. Alternating visible light and heat flashes to spoil normal and thermographic vision pulsed out, along with an ultra-sonic squeal that Jared couldn’t hear, but that had the pirates clutching their ears in pain.

Jared burst from the maintenance room, his enhanced musculature allowing him to cover the nearly fifteen meters in a blur of movement, firing as he ran. He took down two pirates who had exposed themselves during the chaos of the Screamer with quick headshots. He leaped over an overturned vendor cart that concealed another pirate, switching his blaster to his left hand and extending his arm-blade as he made the jump. He landed behind the pirate, spun around, and skewered him through the throat.

A scream from Arnie’s designated area told him that the leader had been paralyzed by Arnie’s venomous bite. Several quick pulse-rifle blasts, and Arnie’s derogatory chittering about the pirate’s ancestry, let him know those pirates were out of the picture. The security forces had stopped firing and an eerie silence filled the station deck. Suddenly, a roar and the sound of one last laser blast echoed through the halls.

Jared turned and assumed a crouching position; right arm up to take any attacks, left pointing his blaster. He saw one last Valusian that had apparently lost his rifle with his arms raised; poised to drive a vibro-bladed dagger into his back. A scorch mark along his side marked the perfectly placed shot that had penetrated his chest cavity and fried his heart. The dead pirate slumped to the ground, dagger clattering to the floor. Jared followed the angle of the shot down the deck to see Misty standing, blaster in hand. He walked over to her, and as he neared he could see her shaking. She still hadn’t put the blaster down when he reached her, so he softly put his hand on hers. “It’s over, Misty,” he said gently while pushing her hand down.

She woodenly obeyed as he led her over to a “sidewalk” bench. He knelt in front of her, and saw her eyes become watery. Her lips trembled, but she refused to break down and cry. “Breathe, Misty,” Jared told her. She took several deep, ragged breaths and started to calm down. Arnie bounded over, clutching a pulse-rifle, and stood protectively beside them.

When she had calmed enough to speak again, she asked, “Does that ever get any easier?”

Jared gave her a sad smile. “Before I answer your question, I want you to answer mine. Look out over the scene and tell me what you see.”

She looked out at the dead bodies littering the hallway, the emergency medical personnel that now flooded the deck seeing to the wounded, at the little Raptrix girl she had saved who’s mother was softly stroking her child’s down, and at the sentient being she had just killed. She shuddered at the sight. “I see the people we’re supposed to protect and even die for. And I see those that we have to protect them from,” she said softly.

“Never lose sight of that,” Jared replied, equally soft. “To answer your question: Unfortunately, yes.” He suddenly straightened up, every inch the commanding officer, and eyed the approaching security forces. “For some, it becomes too easy,” he said coldly.

A 2.2-meter hulking Saurian stomped toward them, pointing at Arnie and bellowing with disdain, “Who let that thing have a weapon?”

Jared ignored the triceratops-descended Security Director and said to Arnie, “Take her to the Medical Bay. After that, make sure she reports to Felis’ office.” Then in a louder voice, “And if any of these security jokes tries to mess with you, feel free to kick their wannabe asses.” Arnie chittered a gleeful assent and held out his top pair of hands for Misty to hold on to, cradling the pulse-rifle with his middle pair.

The Saurian security guards took one look at Misty, who had her hand on her blaster, and the obviously eager to fight Arnie, and parted to make way for them. As Arnie led Misty to the now operational lifts, they could hear the Director bellowing, “You humans don’t belong among a civilized people! None of you should be anymore than sl-”

The smack of a metallic fist against leathery flesh and the thud of something big and heavy falling told Arnie and Misty all they needed to know. As the lift doors closed, Misty grinned as she heard Jared say, “Now, which one of you salad-eaters shot my partner?”

Three hours later
Misty stood in front of Sub-Commander Felis, resisting the urge to scratch at her itchy healed flesh. To take her mind off of it, she studied her commanding officer while he read some reports. He stood about 1.85 meters, with a cat-like face covered in golden fur and replete with whiskers. He’d look almost cuddly if it weren’t for his habit of snapping and retracting dangerous looking claws and the two extended maxillary canines that jutted from his mouth. He caught her frank gaze and gave her a grin. At least, she thought it was a grin. “I’m sure you have questions”, he said.

“Several.”

“Have a seat and ask then,” he ordered.

As she sat, Misty asked, “Why can’t I understand Arnie?”

Felis sighed. “He was never given a translator. While yours has some pre-programmed languages, his isn’t one of them. He would need a translator of his own to sync with yours for you to understand him.”

“How can Lt. Mason understand him?”

“He, and I for that matter, learned his language when we served together during the war as part of the same banneret. Arnie was our engineer and explosives expert.”

Misty’s eyes widened. “They both served under you during a war?”

Felis gave a low chuckle. “No, no, no. I served under them. Jared was a Knight’s Squire 1st rank and Arnie was the master sergeant-at-arms. I was just a lowly page rank and they held my hand enough to get me home alive.”

Misty’s face screwed up into a confused look. “Then why are you-”

“Commanding them instead of the other way around?” Felis laughed. “Now I know why Jared does that interrupting routine; it’s quite fun. Unfortunately, the reasons behind my command are not. Humans and arachnoforms are looked upon as inferior by the general galactic society. When the war ended and they formed this police force a couple of years ago, well, I had to fight to get Jared hired. I couldn’t even do that much for poor Arnie, although saving a Councilor today has changed things. The only reason I got you was as an experiment to try and control Jared’s…excesses.”

Misty’s mouth opened and closed several times, her face outraged. Felis waved her down. “Enough questions for now. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Jared was also your evaluator. He’s given me his report.” He placed a small holo-projector on his desk, and a miniature figure of Jared appeared, saying:

Probationary Officer Misty Peregrine Evaluation: She is rash, undisciplined, and needs constant challenge to perform at her peak. She is also brave to the point of stupidity. If you don’t keep her, send her to the Knights. They always need brave idiots for cannon fodder. On the plus side, she took a swing at me faster than any other rookie has ever done, showed an…innovative approach to ingress and egress problems, protected civilians, Uplift has given her agility that supersedes my own, and she displayed insightful knowledge into what we do. Faster than you ever did, I might add. The bad I can fix, but I can’t teach the positives. I will resign if you give me another rookie partner who isn’t Arnie. Status: Approved for full duty.

Now get me out of the station holding cell, Felis.

Felis went back to reading reports. “Welcome to your new life, Officer Peregrine. Pick up Arnie on your way out and meet Lt. Mason at his ship-tether in, oh…let’s say three hours. Dismissed.”

Please feel free to critique. I hope you enjoyed it.

J. Milburn

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