Chapter Two: Takar

I woke up in darkness, which wasn’t terribly unusual. I almost always woke up well before the sun painted the sky. Today, however, was darker than others. It was a combination of the heavy clouds bringing down the nonstop gentle rain since yesterday, and my mood. Today, I was assigned to be “Complaint Officer.” A low growl escaped my lips.

There was only one light on in the apartment, the one for the cleansing room, and it was something small that plugged into the electrical socket.

No matter how old we grew, Rokul still needed at least that light on. He could sleep in utter darkness, but when it was time to use the cleansing room, if he didn’t have some sort of light on, he’d curse and fumble around in the dark, occasionally missing the mark and making a mess.

My brother was by far the most unusual person I had ever met. Even now, with Tella part of his life—and occupying his bed—he was still the same person he had been while we were growing up.

I quietly tiptoed past their room on my way to the cleansing room. Once inside, I closed the door, turned on the wall light, and went about my morning routine. 

As I washed myself in the shower, I thought about the inquiry office that General Rouhr had created in order to appease the whiney humans. Granted, not all of them were annoying crybabies, but why did we have to listen to their complaints and give them either answers or advice on how to deal with those complaints…what was the point? All the humans needed to do was trust that we were doing what was right.

They had never faced the Xathi before, they didn’t know what kind of cleanup was involved after a Xathi attack. Where did he put my toothpaste? Of course, he put it there. We were doing what was necessary, why couldn’t they just accept that?

Why should they, as a collective, know as much as we did? I didn’t know everything that the general did, and I didn’t want to know. Back in the war, before the rift, I didn’t know what the War Council did and that was fine with me. If I had a complaint, spit, rinse, spit, I dealt with it myself or learned to accept that there were just things I didn’t like.

I cleaned up after myself, making sure the cleansing room, or bathroom, was as clean as it was before I used it.

There was light streaming out from under Rokul and Tella’s door. “Morning,” I said as I walked by.

“Morning,” I heard Tella groan, then she yelped and started cursing at Rokul as he laughed. He must have pinched her again. He had started doing that fairly often lately, and it was going to get him in trouble.

I made myself a simple breakfast of eggs, bacon, and something Tella called oatmeal. It tasted better than the breakfast gruel I used to eat on the ship, so I was content. As the couple came to join me in the kitchen, I was already finishing off my last bite.

“You’re on Complaint Officer duty, right?” Rokul asked, which put me into an even sourer mood. To match my mood, thunder clapped outside and the rain intensified slightly.

“Yes,” I grumbled as I rose from the table to wash my plate.

“Ooh, Stuffy is grumpy today,” Tella teased, using the nickname for me that she had fashioned. “Come on, it’s not that bad. You just have to sit down and pretend to listen to people. I do it with you two every day.”

“Hey!” Rokul exclaimed in mock indignation.

While they laughed, I gathered my gear, double checked my weaponry to ensure that it was properly cleaned, loaded, and stored, then bid them good-day. The rain was still gentle, but annoyingly cold. It was a sign that the seasons were about to change. I wondered what winter on Ankau would look like, or if the planet was in a perpetual state of late spring/early summer.

I ensured my pack was closed and that my rifle was covered, then stepped out into the rain. I marched to the general’s office building, only to be greeted by a line of humans waiting outside…already. I stepped into the building, dried myself off with one of the many towels Tobias had placed by the door, and headed to the room that General Rouhr had specifically set aside for human complaints and named it with a sign, subtitled, “Complaints and Redress”.

The room itself was fairly simple, and comfortable by human standards. There was a big wooden desk with an overly comfortable chair for me to sit in, three other semi-comfortable chairs arranged in front of the desk, a couch, and in a corner, a small table with things to do for children.

I looked over the list of issues that were still unanswered from the day before, resigned myself to having to deal with people complaining about not getting their complaints dealt with, and buzzed Tobias. “Let them in,” I said dejectedly.

Over the next several hours, I listened to complaints about the lack of food, how bland the simulated food was, questions about why we hadn’t fixed a certain neighborhood yet, at least two people with nothing better to do than simply throw insults at me, and a complaint about the lack of suitable technology at one of the schools.

Alright. The last one was something I would be interested in doing something about.

Nothing was more important than learning. Learning leads to knowledge, which led to proper preparedness, which led to not getting caught by surprise and being capable of completing whatever task needed to be completed.

I made that one a priority and sent it off to Tu’ver, Sylor, and Iq’her. They were collectively in charge of trying to improve the technology of the city.

Finally, there was one more person…a woman by the name of Daphne March. Her ‘complaint’ was that she was nervous about the fate of her city. Well, if these damn humans would just trust us to know what was best and allow us to handle our responsibilities, there would be nothing to be nervous about. These rekking idiots that are part of the ‘anti-alien’ group just needed to shut the rekk up and stay out of our way. We would leave soon enough.

If we could.

Of course, no matter what my thoughts were, the likelihood of us leaving was evaporating more and more every day. Too many of us were getting close to the humans, developing friendships and relationships with them. I was certain that Vrehx and Rouhr would stay here if we had the chance to leave.

I worried that Rokul would stay, as well.

I looked up as this Daphne person entered the room. A petite brunette, she looked around every corner, curiosity lighting her eyes.

Her distraction gave me a moment to collect myself. It seemed unthinkable that anyone would be able to look as attractive as she did in a war-ravaged city. She had her hair tied up in what was commonly referred to as a top-knot, but stray strands fell to soften the look. My hand itched to push the silky strands back behind her ear.

I fought the feeling, realizing the eager smile on her face seemed very out of place for someone that was ‘nervous.’

“How can I help you, Miss March?” I asked in my most professional voice, not really caring what her response was going to be as I ran my gaze up and down her form.

She was voluptuous and curvy and in my mind one of the prettiest humans I had ever laid eyes upon. Annoyed at myself for being distracted, I refocused on the datapad before me.

She fairly bounced across the room and into one of the chairs across from me. She seemed to be far too happy to be here.

“Hi. I was wondering if you could tell me about the Puppet Master.”

My head snapped up from my perusal of my paperwork. She sat there, smiling at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said trying to focus. “I was under the impression that you were here to discuss your nervousness about the city.”

“Yeah, I know,” she replied, her voice far too energetic and peppy. “I lied. I’m really here to get more information about whatever that thing is that’s responsible for the plants.”

This was entirely too disconcerting. She wasn’t afraid. She was interested.

About something she shouldn’t know anything about.

I needed to know how much she knew already, so I asked her.

That was possibly a mistake.

She talked, and talked, and talked. Sometimes her sentences were about what she knew, but most of the time they were about what her thoughts were of it and what she thought those thoughts meant. It was like listening to Axtin go on and on about one of his battles.

As of Axtin’s latest telling of how he saved Leena from the Xathi ship, he destroyed nearly a hundred Xathi with his bare hands and that infernal hammer of his. 

Daphne finally stopped talking. “So?” she asked, proving me a liar on the ‘stopped talking’ part. “What can you tell me?”

“I can tell you that we’re doing the best we can to contain the situation and determine a proper course of action,” I answered.

“But what course of action are you taking? Do you know if the Puppet Master is intelligent? Can it talk? Have you tried communicating with it? What if we can’t fix things?” She threw out so many questions, I lost track of what she was saying.

“Why did you lie about your concerns?” I asked as a way of stopping her.

She shrugged and smiled at me. “I didn’t think you’d tell me anything if I just asked outright.”

“I see. Well, in regard to the Puppet Master, it is a creature that we are currently studying and determining the best course of action on how to deal with it,” I explained. “We are looking into new ways to save the vegetation that we all use.” I held up my hand to stop her from talking any more. “I will pass on your concerns to the city leaders in an attempt to find more information. Thank you for expressing your concerns and I hope your day improves.”

“But, what about…”

“Ma’am, I must apologize, but I have other people that I need to speak with. It’s time to go,” I said as I stood up and made my way to the door. I held it open for her as she left. She opened her mouth to say something, but I closed the door and returned to the desk.

I wondered who she had talked to before me.

And when I’d get the chance to talk to her again.

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