Chapter Three: Tyehn

Jalok and I trudged up the ramp leading inside our shuttle craft.

The rest of team three was already on board as our eyes adjusted to the relative gloom. After being outside in the blazing white of a snowstorm, the shuttle’s cabin seemed darker than a cave.

I bumped Navat’s closed fist by way of greeting as I settled in to the seat next to him. As the only other Valorni on Team Three, we took care of each other.

It’s weird, because had it not been for the stranding I doubt we would have been friends. Before we joined the crew of the Vengeance, I’d been a scientist, and he was a laborer, so other than being of the same species we don’t have a lot in common.

Then the Xathi came, and we all had to become soldiers.

Even now that the bugs seem a past threat, we continued on in our new roles, only now our enemies were food shortages and political unrest.

The more things changed, the more they stayed the same, or so the humans said.

“For fuck’s sake, close the damn ramp.” Jalok shivered, and added a sneeze for emphasis.

“Not yet.” Sk’lar peered out the back of the shuttle. “We have one  more passenger.”

“What? But the squad’s all here.”

Jalok craned his neck about, searching the cabin for the rest of our team.

“I see Cazak’s ugly ass, and the two big cows, and a beady eyed K’ver, and I know I’m sitting here on account of the fact that I’m freezing to death. Who the hell else is left? Did we get a new recruit?”

Sk’lar grins wryly at Jalok.

“We’re taking a scientist with us as well who needs a lift to the capital. Bide.”

“I don’t want to bide. When the scientist gets here, I’m going to kick his ass for making me cold.” He scowled. “I’ve got two weeks of furlough coming, and want to get something nice for Dottie.”

Light footfalls barely made an echo on the ramp, announcing a new passenger coming onboard. When I saw who it was, I had to stifle a laugh.

Cazak noticed too, and shot his cousin Jalok a wry grin.

“What was that you were saying about our passenger?” Cazak’s tone dripped with nonchalant innocence. Jalok noticed it, but being Jalok he didn’t stop to ponder the significance of it.

“I said, I’m gonna kick their ass.”

The scientist stood behind Jalok’s chair, arms crossed over her chest. She glanced around the cabin, took in our stifled smiles, and got herself up to speed really quick.

“Just like you did to those rioters a while back, right?”

Like a good little fish, Jalok rose to the bait.

“No, not just like the rioters. What I do to this human is going to make me seem like a pacifist. I’ll break his arms, his legs, and then knock all his teeth out for good measure.”

“You’re going to knock my teeth out?”

Jalok’s eyes went wide when he heard Dottie’s voice. He leaped to his feet and turned around, face a mask of incredulity.

“Dottie? You’re the scientist?”

“Oh, don’t let me stop you, babe, you’re on a roll.” She raised an eyebrow and glared. Jalok squirmed under her disapproving gaze.

“I—that is, I didn’t know it would be—you look pretty today, babe.”

The rest of Team Three—even Sk’lar, let out an aww in unison as if to say, how cute.

Jalok gritted his teeth and tried to keep a smile on his face, even though we all knew he was fuming.

“Thanks.” Dottie got on her tip toes and kissed Jalok on the cheek. His tension and anger seemed to drain away.

“Ah, I’m sure you know everyone here, right Dottie?”

I marveled at the way that Jalok’s whole demeanor changed with Dottie present. It was almost like he wasn’t an insufferable srell.

Almost.

“You know Cazak’s ugly ass, of course, but the big bald guy with purple stripes on his shoulders is Tyehn. You two should get along great, given  he’s a scientist.”

“Charmed.” I offered my hand for a shake, as was the human custom. Her hand was swallowed by my much larger mitt.

“Likewise.”

“The other big, bald guy is Navat.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

“And you as well.”

“We’re glad you’re here, Dottie.”

Dottie turned to Cazak and arched an eyebrow.

“Why is that?”

“Because Jalok is so much less of a dick when you’re around.”

“Aww, thanks guys.” Dottie smiled sweetly at Cazak. Jalok tried to pretend he wasn’t furious with his cousin with limited success.

The ramp finally closed up. Jalok and Dottie took up seats near the rear of the shuttle while the rest of us politely pretended they were not present.

“So what are you going to do with your furlough, Tyehn?”

I glanced over at Cazak and shrugged.

“I’m not sure. I’d like to hang out with some of the new friends I’ve made, both human and otherwise. You?”

“I’m going to try and find a nice hole in the wall and drink myself into oblivion, like I do every furlough.”

As if in answer to our planning, Sk’lar headed up to the cockpit as an emergency comm came through.

He listened to it grimly, spoke quietly to the person on the other end, and returned minutes later, his lips a thin, tight line.

“Bad news, Team Three.”

“Isn’t it always?”

Sk’lar ignored Cazak’s comment.

“It looks like our furlough’s been canceled.”

“What? No way.” Jalok seemed particularly disgruntled, even for him. I guess he was planning on spending some quality time with Dottie.

“So, we’re not going to Nyheim?” I asked.

“We’re going to Nyheim, but the team will remain on call. That means no getting piss drunk in case we get called out on a mission.”

“What happened?”

Sk’lar turns to Navat grimly.

“There’s been some ‘civil unrest’ at one of the smaller colonies up the coast. Security forces have it handled—for now—but we’re going to remain on alert in case they need back up.”

All of Team Three displayed their dismay as per their own way. Jalok complained, Navat sighed heavily, Cazak shook his head, and I merely shrugged. I was disappointed as much as the others, but I didn’t see a point it getting all worked up over it.

We spent most of the ride to Nyheim in silence, all lost in our own thoughts. The exceptions were Dottie and Jalok, who continued to converse in low tones at the rear of the shuttle.

Our craft lurched to a stop, the landing pylons came down, and soon we were all tramping down the ramp.

“Remember, we’re on call.” Sk’lar glared at Cazak in particular. “You’d better be fit for duty when and if the call comes in.”

“Yes sir.”

Cazak gave a sarcastic salute that became an obscene gesture when Sk’lar turned his back to converse with our pilot.

“Who’s hungry?”

Cazak and Navat turned to face me, as Dottie and Jalok strode off through the snow, hand in hand.

Part of me envied what they had, but I’d never be attracted to a human woman.

“Are you buying?”

“Not likely. I thought we’d go hit that ramen place Sylor took us to last time we were here.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Me, too.”

The three of us traipsed through the snowfall into Nyheim’s busy downtown area. Most folks were friendly, especially the merchants—everyone knew soldiers had credits to spare when off duty—but some of the humans gave us baleful glares.

It seemed like the anti-alien sentiment had spread all over the colonies.

We did our best to ignore the glares and made our way to the ramen place. Navat pushed the door open, and we were greeted by a warm blast of air and the inviting smell of noodles and soup.

My belly rumbled like thunder as we strode up to the counter and made our orders.

Soon we were ensconced at a booth near the corner of the room, so we could watch all around us. With all of the anti-alien sentiment going around, we figured it couldn’t hurt to be cautious.

As the three of us chowed down on our dinner, I couldn’t help but overhear snippets of the myriad conversations going on around the diner. A lot of folks were talking—or more aptly, complaining—about the snowfall, which made sense.

There were more than a few people worried about food shortages. Supposedly, that situation was pretty much handled, but it didn’t mean that people weren’t still worried about it.

A few others talked about whether or not we could really trust the Puppet Master, but it was the pair at the booth next to us that was of particular interest.

One was a Valorni like myself and Navat, and he had his left arm in a sling. His human companion seemed to be inquiring about the injury.

“Does it hurt much?”

“Not anymore. The medics said I’d be able to lose the sling tomorrow, but it’s a precaution.”

“And you say Marin just flipped out on you? Out of nowhere.”

“Yeah. One minute we were joking about how General Rouhr gets that line between his eyes when he’s angry, the next he’s going off on my about how I’m alien scum and I need to get off ‘his’ planet.”

“The fuck, man?”

“I know. Then he grabbed a coil spanner and stabbed me in the arm with it.”

“Wow. Did he get arrested?”

“You think? Of course he did. But I was talking to the guards, and it seems like he’s not the only guy to just sort of lose it lately. From zero to full on xenophobe in a second flat.”

The three of us at our table exchanged glances. We’d all heard of someone who’d had a sudden, drastic change in attitude. Brass said it was being looked into, but that didn’t reassure us.

Not in the least.

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