Chapter One: Tu’ver



Sylor had used his advantage to blend in and go unnoticed as Axtin passed him by in the mess hall. The resulting sound he had made startled Axtin to the point of nearly dropping his tray.

I hid a smile and watched as Axtin ‘threatened’ Sylor and Sylor returned the threat with a compliment about Leena.

It was surprisingly entertaining.

We found ourselves eating together more often, the two teams that had infiltrated the Xathi ship to rescue Leena and the other humans.  Sylor was interesting to listen to when he relaxed. A match for Axtin in the bravado department, almost a match for me in games of skill, and a match for some of the humans in terms of demented humor.  And Karzin was a Valorni version of Vrehx, just much louder.

Two weeks had passed since the rescue, and tensions were high.  The Xathi had been on edge since our infiltration of their ship, and it had forced us to be on edge ourselves.

Axtin turned his attention back to the table.  “Duvest only has so much room for the refugees. We’re about maxed out here as well. With the Xathi raiding everything that moves including the plants, what are we supposed to do?”

Vrehx shook his head.  This had been the topic at hand for the last eight days, ever since Thribb told the Captain that our recycling system couldn’t handle this many people for much longer.  With nearly a hundred extra digestive systems using the facilities, our systems, compromised as they were due to our crash on this strange world, were taxed to the limit.

With a heavy breath, Vrehx looked at Axtin, opened his mouth…and shut it again with a shrug.  “I don’t know.  We’ve been able to keep pathways to Duvest and Einhiv open, and Sk’lar’s team has found a set of tunnels that lead to Fraga…but since Fraga’s been destroyed, the tunnels are essentially useless.”  He looked at his plate, moving his food around with his knife, then, apparently tired with eating, pushed his plate away and stood up.  “I don’t know, Axtin.  I just don’t know.”

It was Daxion that spoke up, stopping Axtin from saying something undoubtedly brash.   “We’ll find a way, we always do.”

Vrehx gave him a thankful nod and paced around the mess hall, visibly trying to get his thoughts under control.  The idea that we had brought the Xathi to this world and caused them to be targeted by one of the worst threats in the galaxy weighed on him heavily, as it did all of us.

Daxion and Sakev bid us a good evening and left. It was their turn for patrol and they wanted to get a few hours of sleep before they went out.  That left Axtin, myself, and the pacing Vrehx to sit in the mess hall.

Axtin looked at me and asked.  “And?”

Slightly confused, I nodded at him and arched my eyebrow.

“You’ve been quiet, which isn’t anything new with you, but even you join in the conversation when it involves work.  So…what’s on your mind?”

I opened my mouth to answer but was interrupted by Vrehx sitting down.  He motioned for me to continue and I did.  “I’ve simply been trying to work some things out.  I’ve been thinking about our current situation with the refugees, the Xathi, and our munitions.”

“Oh?  What about our munitions?”  Axtin asked.  Trust him to pick up on anything involving his weapons.

“We’ve blown through about ten percent of our supply in the months since we crashed.  That means we’ll be out of ammo within a year based on the way the Xathi have been acting lately.”

“Koso!”  Axtin swore.

“I’ve been thinking about how to conserve them, but it would involve more of us in close combat. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not particularly fond of the idea of getting close to the Xathi.  Not all of us have the tough skin of the Valorni or a Skotan’s scales,” I said as I pointed at Vrehx.

He nodded and lightly flexed his scales into view, then smiled.  “So, if things come down to it, we’ll figure out which ones are better for hand-to-whatever combat and which ones are better at shooting, then we’ll adjust.”

Axtin smiled, flexed his muscles, and winked at me.  “Don’t worry Tu’ver, I’ll protect you from the big, bad bugs.  I’ll just smash them all to pieces with my hammer.”

At my chuckle, the other two laughed.

“Didn’t realize you were developing a sense of humor,” Axtin cracked.

The assassin inside of me, who had suppressed his emotions for so long and expected others to do the same took umbrage.

But I had observed my crewmates, these other species, for a long time now. There was apparently something therapeutic about sharing humor.

We spent the next thirty or so minutes talking about everything and nothing, mostly nothing.

Oddly, it felt good to be included, to be part of the group.  I had been the last one to join the crew, and although we had been around one another for almost a year, it had always been a professional relationship based strictly on stopping the Xathi.

I wasn’t the only one thinking of the changes.  “Do you two think we would have done this if we hadn’t come here?” Axtin asked.

“Done what?”  Vrehx asked.

This.  This whole conversation where we sit here in the midst of a war, talk, do more than just tolerate one another.”

Vrehx and I looked at one another, both of us apparently sharing the same look on our face because Axtin failed miserably at stifling a laugh.  Another round of laughter ended with Axtin wiping tears from his eyes and Vrehx trying to catch his breath.

It felt…nice to let go.

Before I could stop myself, I took a deep breath, then struggled for the right words.

“What is it, my friend?”  Vrehx asked.

Void. I wasn’t a child. I barged straight ahead.“I’m not quite sure how to broach this subject, but I was wondering about your relationships with the human women.”

“What about them?” Axtin asked, eyebrows raised.

“How is it that you’ve found a way to make them work?  What I mean is, how do you look past the difference in species?”

Both looked at me, visibly trying to hide their grins.  I regretted opening my mouth.  I should never have asked these two fools this question.

It was Axtin that broke the silence first.  “You like Mariella.”  It was a statement, and the lilt of his voice suggested that he was amused by the idea.  “I knew there was something a little special about the way you looked at her, especially when you carried her.”

“You did seem to take to her right away.  You even ignored my orders,” Vrehx added.

I looked at him in shock.  “I’m sorry, Commander, but I do not remember you giving me an order.”

“You were a little preoccupied.”  He turned to Axtin with a knowing look on his face.  “You know?  I think he was the first one to fall for one of the women.”

“I think you’re right.  Our little Tu’ver was the first to fall in love.  Aww.”

They broke out into another round of laughter while I sat there.  Could they be right?  Did I ‘fall’ for Mariella right away?

Vrehx stopped laughing and put his hand on my shoulder.  “I’m sorry, we don’t mean to make you feel bad.”  I must have looked particularly dour, but he continued.  “To answer your original question, once I got used to Jeneva’s…personality…the fact that she’s human didn’t matter to me.”

Axtin chimed in with a grin.  “Yeah, her personality sure won you over.  She’s got a nice personality when she walks past.” He laughed and ducked as Vrehx a gentle Skotan punch.

Maybe not so gentle.

“At least he’s being complimentary,” I said.

Vrehx turned back to me.  “Jeneva’s been good for me.  I still want to defeat the Xathi, but now it’s because I want to save her, us, and whoever else is out there from the Xathi.  I want revenge, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not what drives me anymore, and that makes me feel good.  She makes me feel good.”

“Vrehx has a point.”  Axtin leaned forward, his smile still there, but voice serious.  “Jeneva has been good for him, and Leena has been unbelievable for me. I wish to be worthy of her. I know that she’s temperamental.  I never really know if she’s going to kiss me, kick me, or kill me, but that’s what adds to our relationship.  She’d be a fantastic Valorni.”

“That she would,” Vrehx agreed.

They were right.  The women had changed them, and for the better.

Axtin’s training was more controlled, less chaotic.  Even his actions during patrol were more calculated, as if he wanted to make sure he did his job to the best of his ability.

Vrehx was calmer, less stringent about the rules and more willing to adapt to his team instead of trying to make us adapt to him.

What had Mariella done to me?

I’d always been calculated, ‘slow’ according to the old Axtin. I’d always been deliberate in my actions. None of that had changed, nor could I imagine it would.

So, what had Mariella done to me except make me feel a sense of separation when we were apart and a sense of joy when we were together?

Not sure about my own feelings, I thanked the two of them and excused myself.

Perhaps it was time to bury the assassin that Tu’ver had been.

And find a way to enter into a partnership with Mariella.



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