Chapter Two: Valtic

I was not pleased with the crew holding this…party…when we had so many other things that needed to be dealt with.

Despite everything that happened the last time we let our guard down, now the crew was doing it again.

Asinine fools.

Granted, it was a celebration of the day Lynna was born. That would be worth celebrating, at any time.

For the Shein, a commencement day was an acknowledgement of our birth, but it was normally the mother that was celebrated while her child, grown or young, gave a gift commemorating their mother’s life.

It was how the Shein honored the one that bore them to life.

I had attended the party only to better understand the confusing sounds of an unscheduled gathering that had come through my monitors.

When Lynna made an attempt to socialize with me, I remained dedicated to my duties instead of falling into conversation with her.

I had to maintain vigilance, especially since I had failed so badly before.

It was the only way to keep us safe.

I should have been aware of that man, the bounty hunter named Hurd…I should have seen him for what he was.

I’d had my concerns about him, about that entire job, but I didn’t follow through and it had cost us.

I was not going to let something like that happen again, no matter how tempting it was to spend just a few more minutes in her company.

I left the party to resume my rounds of the ship, beginning with the system Orrin and Maris had installed in the hangar bay, running the required diagnostics.

They both growled when I ran extra checks on their system. But I needed to know, to be sure.

The system was tolerable.

Actually, it was a brilliant piece of engineering by the two of them.

It was, once they finished modifying it, something that was capable of doing something that I had failed at.

Keeping us safe.

After running diagnostics on the system in the hangar bay, I moved on to the weapons bay, then the engine room, the med bay, the living area, the bridge, and finally back to the hangar bay.

Everything was nominal, as it should be.

I had found Aryn’s little escape hatch and put a small strip of tape both inside and outside the hatch. It was a simple, yet effective, technique. Neither had been disturbed between hers and Kovor’s return and when we left Qasar.

Next on my rounds were the service tubes. I worked my way through service tube two, half listening to the sounds of the party. The women were teaching the others a child’s song, gathering dates for future parties.

More of this madness.

At the top of the service tube, I opened the hatch, stepping onto the bridge. I was delighted to see that the crew on the bridge already had their weapons drawn on me, as they should.

“Good work. Routine check complete,” I complimented them.

Their weapons lowered, but not holstered, the crew nodded and waited for me to leave. They performed exactly as instructed, although the night crew were the only ones to do as I wanted.

Captain Dejar’s, as well as Commander Aavat’s, bridge crews rarely acted accordingly. Any time I brought it up, both of them essentially shrugged me off, telling me that they trusted I would never betray them.

It was true, but it was a breach in necessary protocol to ensure the ship’s, and crew’s, safety.

Commander Kovor’s night crew was the only one to take me seriously. Odd, considering I’d never seen Kovor himself take anything seriously.

I made my way to another tube, doing my best to make sure I didn’t put myself into a predictable pattern with the service tubes, or with my rounds.

A routine could be another weakness.

Only constant vigilance could keep us safe.

As I lowered myself into tube six and closed the hatch behind me, the raucous sounds of the party echoed up to me. Perhaps I should join them.

Lynna had been very polite to me, something I didn’t deserve, but appreciated. Her hair cascaded down her head like waves, and her deep green eyes sparkled more than a Halandian emerald.

She possessed a gentle manner and always seemed to be smiling, as if she truly enjoyed making people feel better.

Lynna was everything goodness and light.

When she’d brought the cake to my room, she’d brought her own light with her. I hadn’t dared look at her for too long.

She was a distraction. Even now I was thinking of her, her lovely, soft form.

I should stay far away.

Make sure nothing threatened the crew, threatened her.

Three steps from tube ten the ship’s red alert went off, blaring alarm a hot blade cutting through my thoughts.

The crisp and clear voice of Sper, the overnight pilot, came on the overhead speaker system. “Proximity alarm has been triggered. I repeat, proximity alarm has been triggered. All non-essential personnel to assigned stations.”

I brought up the exterior cameras on my tablet and searched, but it was hard to see on such a small screen. Rushing to the wall-screen on the science lab, I swiped what was on my tablet onto the wall-screen.

I cycled through the different camera angles until I saw it.

Rather, I didn’t see the stars that should have been there.

Something dark, almost impossible to see was approaching.

I opened up a sub-routine in the defense system, activated exterior spot lights, and maneuvered them into the direction of the darkness. It might be invisible to our sensors, but not our eyes.

There is was.

The Dark Ship. What Kovor and Aryn had discovered to be called The Terror.

It had found us.

I sent out a communication blast to Dejar and Aavat, then rushed for my office.

Pulling open the tube five hatch, I jumped in feet first, swearing as I slid down to engineering. I was closest and knew what needed to be done.

We’d never fully tested it, but I needed to activate the new stealth system and give it time to build up power.

We didn’t know if it would work. But now, we were out of time.

I rushed into the room and the ship rocked hard, knocking me to my hands and knees.

My head hit the metal legs of the workstation and for a few brief moments, all I could see were dancing lights in front of my eyes. Blinking rapidly, I lurched to my feet as my vision returned.

Though I could begin the process of activating the system, we needed two people to get it fully started.

Umbba.

It was so new, we hadn’t assigned this as a crew position yet.

Of all the…

The power drain from the stealth system was so great it had made sense to require two points of activation in order to prevent accidental activation or deactivation.

But now that caution might get us killed.

I couldn’t reach the other station, to activate it.

Both stations had to be switched on simultaneously.

Where was anyone?

The haze that was my constant companion focused my vision to a pinpoint. Calm, slow breaths beat it back.

Then I heard footsteps rushing towards me and returned to the stealth controls to prime the system up once again.

Whoever it was, they better move fast.

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