(In orbital formation prior to departing the system.)
In the corner of one of the Vengeance’s crew lounges ta’Kall and Salazar sat and had a drink while they discussed Alex.
Salazar with an intent expression on his face leaned over his drink toward ta’Kall so that he could speak quietly. “It’s amazing. I’ve identified more than one hundred distinct alterations, only a couple of which I have any idea of their function. For example I can identify the Weir Cat template and function, but there are others such as an alteration to the genetic pattern for his eyes. I know that it affects them, but I don’t know how. If I could identify where the changes came from, I could probably pin down what effect they would have on his vision. As it is I’ll have to test him to try and figure out the differences.”
“Okay, I’ll agree to judicious testing, but use a computer separate from the ship’s computer for your testing. I don’t want to find out what people’s reactions would be if they knew about Alex’s differences,” ta’Kall replied in a quiet undertone. After a second’s thought he finished, “We also don’t want to leave a record for the ISS to follow.”
Picking up the drink that sat in front of him, ta’Kall drank the rest of it and then looked up for one of the ratings who staffed the lounge. Instead of a rating, his eye fell on Sgt. Mason who was headed through the crowd by the bar toward the table where he and Salazar sat. With a smile, he waved Mason to the seat opposite himself.
Mason turned first to Colonel ta’Kall “Colonel. I came as soon as I got your message” Then politely he turned to Major Salazar, “Doc. It’s good to see you”
ta’Kall motioned Mason closer and then leaned toward him before he spoke. “Sgt. Mason, I’ve volunteered you for special duty. Before you get upset, you should hear what the duty is.” With a smile, he continued “I believe you will like this assignment. I want you to act as an unofficial guard for mistress Hevanti and her young girl. I’ve already cut orders for you to catch a shuttle over to the Proxima and arranged quarters there for you. I can’t explain why they… still need protection, but they do. Especially the young girl. If you really object to this assignment, I can give it to someone else”
At Mistress Hevanti’s name, Sgt. Mason’s face lit up. When ta’Kall offered to let someone else take the duty, Mason quickly spoke up. “No. No. Always glad to help you Colonel”
“Good. I’m glad I can count on you, Sgt. You’ll need to report to the armory to check out a shoulder holster for your sidearm and then go pack your kit. Your shuttle leaves in thirty minutes.” With that, ta’Kall reached over and clapped Sgt. Mason on the shoulder in farewell.
“Thank you sir, I won’t let you down.” Mason got to his feet and quickly left the lounge headed for the armory, his quarters and the shuttle bay. As he rushed toward the armory, there was more bounce in his step than when he had come to see ta’Kall.
ta’Kall lifted his glass and motioned to the rating whose eye he had caught to bring another round of drinks for himself and the Major. As he started to lower the empty glass back to the table, he froze and a look of disbelief came over his face. Slowly he went ahead and set the glass down and then touched Salazar’s arm to get his attention. “Look at who’s headed this direction,” he said as he gave a slight nod of his head toward the door.
“I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” Salazar said in an awed voice. “There’s hardly a person in here not in uniform, and she’s got him with her”
With a chuckle, ta’Kall answered,”Yes, but it’s obvious that she exercised some sort of magic on him. He’s as calm as can be” He finished as Talos and Alex reached the table, “I can’t wait to hear how she did it.”
Talos walked up to the table and with a straight face said “Colonel, Major. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you Alex ta’Kall.” Then, not able to contain her amusement, she cracked a smile at the look on ta’Kall’s face. She turned to Alex and pointed to a chair next to Major Salazar as she said, “Alex, go ahead and have a seat, and we’ll get you something to drink”
With a subdued bot perceptible look of interest on his face, Alex sat and asked hesitantly, “A Slindium Ice?”
With a laugh Talos rubbed his head “If they have them, and only one. After your impersonation of a bottomless pit earlier at breakfast, I don’t want to find out how many Ices you could go through.”
While Alex’s attention was on the rating who was going to get his Ice, ta’Kall asked Talos what she had done to Alex that he wasn’t scared of uniforms.
With a contented sigh, Talos leaned back in her chair. “It actually wasn’t hard at all. He was much calmer and rational when he woke up before we lifted for orbit. So I simply told him the truth. I showed him pictures of Imperial Marine uniforms compared to ours, and he immediately picked out the Imperial uniforms as the same ones the soldiers wore that attacked the hospital. I didn’t get too fancy; basically, I said that people in our uniforms are good guys and those in Imperial uniforms are bad guys. He was still real closed-mouthed about himself and the hospital until I told him enough to make him believe I already knew all about it. I’ve warned him about talking about any of this to any one other than us three. If anything, my warning him not to tell anyone about himself made him trust me even more. He’s obviously been warned before not to tell people anything about himself, so I don’t believe that we have to worry about his talking out of line.”
“Did you tell him that it was us that shot him in the alley” ta’Kall quietly asked.
With a nod, Talos answered, “Yes, I thought it would be best to be totally up front. There is less likelihood of problems later on if he found out we had lied. Right now the only hold we have on him is a slim margin of trust. I don’t want to mess that up by showing ourselves untrustworthy. Right now he’s going along with us because he’s scared, hurt and lonely. He’s still off balance from the events of the past few days, but that will change as he mentally and emotionally gets back on his feet. By then I want him to totally trust us and want to stay with us.”
ta’Kall gave her a look of admiration. “Excellent, I could not have done half so well. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“Absolutely nothing,” Talos replied with a snort of humor.
Holding up his hands as if to ward off a blow, ta’Kall chuckled. “Okay, okay, don’t rub it in. I admit it. You are absolutely indispensable.”
Turning to Alex who had watched this last bit of horseplay between ta’Kall and Talos, ta’Kall addressed him. “Alex, I’m glad to see you are feeling better. How is your shoulder?”
After a quick glance at Talos, he answered, “It feels fine.” After another glance at Talos, Alex looked back at ta’Kall and in a slightly awed voice asked, “Did you really shoot me?”
Ignoring the grins on Talos’s and Salazar’s faces, ta’Kall shifted uncomfortably before answering, “Yes I did, but I’m very sorry. I didn’t know who you were until after I shot you. When you ran out of that alley so quickly and knocked down Ari here,” as he pointed at Talos, “I reacted without thinking. I was scared for her.”
Ignoring most of what ta’Kall had said, Alex zeroed in on the important part with a look of fascination briefly breaking through the sadness in his eyes. “Wow, I scared you? Did I look big and mean when I ran out?”
At this Salazar and Talos fell into whoops of laughter at Alex’s questions and the look of shock on ta’Kall’s face. After a second, ta’Kall started to laugh also. Alex, not sure what everyone was laughing about, smiled uncertainly until ta’Kall reached over and gave his good shoulder a friendly squeeze.
After the laughter had wound down, Salazar turned to Talos, “I meant to ask you earlier how his shoulder is.”
After a look at Alex as he got his Slindium Ice from a rating and started to eat it, she answered, “It’s ninety percent healed. All that is left is an angry red scar and some internal soreness. His metabolism must be going wild to support that rate of healing. You should have seen the amount of food he ate for breakfast; it was incredible.”
After a look at his watch and a moments thought, Salazar spoke, “We only have about four hours before the fleet gets far enough away from the sun’s gravity well to enter subspace, so why not wait till 1800 hrs and then bring young Alex here to the infirmary. That will give me about two hours after we enter subspace to clear up any cases of S-space nausea before you get there.”
Colonel, I’ve got a brigade level NCO staff meeting I’m supposed to attend at 19:30 hrs. If it’s all right with you, I thought you could show Alex around the ship and take him by the infirmary.” Talos suggested.
Before ta’Kall answered Talos, he turned to Alex and asked, “How about it, killer, would you like to explore with me for awhile?”
A momentary flicker of excitement showed in eyes set in a still emotionally shadowed face “Yes sir” then a bit hesitantly “Can we see the guns and a space fighter?”
With a warm smile ta’Kall answered “Sure, I might even be able to arrange a visit to the bridge. How would you like that?”
With an expression of dawning hero worship Alex answered “Wow, we can really go to the bridge? And see the captain?” He hesitantly finished.
“And see the Captain” ta’Kall answered.
Later after their tour ta’Kall and Alex sat and talked in one of the observation blisters. The view was as magnificent as only space could be, a black velvet backdrop to the brilliant colors of nearby nebula and the piercing brightness of the stars.
After a few minutes’ silence as they contemplated the view, Alex’s expression turned to one of sadness tinged with distress. ta’Kall reached out and put his hand on Alex’s shoulder.
“Alex , what’s wrong?”
Alex turned and glanced up at ta’Kall with a hesitant expression on his face. Then he turned back to stare out the view port and shrugged his shoulders ” I dunno, nothing” he said in a lackluster voice.
ta’Kall stared out the view port and addressed Alex while looking at the stars.”If you want to say something or ask a question, I’ll give you a honest answer. I can’t guarantee that you will like the answer, but at least you will know what you were wondering about”
In a small voice Alex stated, “I don’t want to leave you and Ari. I know that I’ll have to leave, but I don’t want to. ” With a quick glance up at ta’Kall who now faced him Alex continued “I’ve got to hide from the bad soldiers or they will get me, like everyone else. I don’t want them to get you either.”
ta’Kall pulled Alex into his arms and hugged him as his heart constricted painfully. Several minutes later in a gravelly voice he answered. “Tell you what, Alex, if you want you can hide with me and Ari instead of leaving; and if the bad soldiers come, we will fight them together. Would you like that?”
Alex turned more into ta’Kall’s arms and hugged him with such strength that ta’Kall’s ribs creaked and an expression of pain silently crossed his face. Alex nodded his head which was buried in ta’Kall’s chest to give his assent, as silent sobs of relief shook his body. ta,Kall looked at his watch and then turned himself and Alex to face the view port again.
“Look Alex. We start the journey to our new home” Tears ran down their faces as ta’Kall and Alex watched the universe outside the viewport disappear in a disorienting wrench, to be replaced by a swirl of indescribably beautiful colors when the ship entered subspace.