comes from the unedited second novel.
Talia approached the main airlock of the America as the small tractor unit on her belt pulled the three anti grav trunks along behind. The purser, and her assistant, stood outside the airlock and confirmed each passenger’s tickets before they moved through the umbilical and into the ship. Humans, and Gahl civilians ahead of them, might enjoy the pomp and circumstance of a cruise, but she felt so out of place that they needed to put a hovering sign over her head saying: “I don’t belong here!”
The line moved slowed and she checked her watch to make sure they weren’t running behind schedule. While civilian vessels rarely ran on as tight of schedules as military starships, the entire plan revolved around the America breaking moorings on time. If it were early, then there wouldn’t be enough time to for the Valiant to circle back and get into position.
To her relief, things were running on schedule, which helped keep things on track. However, the very fact that people wouldn’t keep the timing they were supposed to do grated on Talia’s nerves. Maybe it was the soldier in her, but it anyone fell more then five minutes behind during the War, they’d’ve been left behind on the dock. Perhaps, she reminded herself, it was the difference between wartime and peacetime.
As they moved closer to the crewmembers, she found herself thinking about the plan again. Was it really such a good idea to get her and Methos captured by the slavers? Even with the Valiant shadowing them, there’d be plenty of time to be killed before the starship could cripple the pirates. And, she thought, there hadn’t been any consideration of what to do about the crew when they were attacked. Should they stand aside and let people be killed, and have to live with the guilt, or try and potentially get killed?
Hmm, I guess the thing to do is to straddle the line between trying to be ‘hero’ and being the ‘victim’ like we’re supposed to be.
Methos stood beside her, a pair of ear buds connected to a portable music player. When Talia heard her sister’s idea about listening to music and pretending to be a typical early twenties woman, she’d almost laughed herself silly. However, after thought, it was a good idea and she ended up giving Methos credit for thinking about it.
She might give me grief about battle plans, but she certainly is more devious then I am.
Talia stepped forwards while listening to AC/DC play her favorite song. Something about wanting the graduate, and having trouble with someone who must’ve been in a position of authority because it followed with several mentions of doing something bad to that person. Why she love the the damn song , Talia thought, made no sense to her especially after the experiences of her life.
The driving guitar and drums helped to take her mind of all the possibilities of failure that could happen. What would she gain by continuing to sit back and obsess over the plan when it was underway? If there was a weakness the compassion father built into her caused, it would be her tendency to second guess everything. Maybe the possible loss of life lead her to do it, or maybe it was a part of her wondering if something better could’ve been devised instead.
They finally approached the staff, and Talia reached into her coat pocket and pulled the ticket out. The woman took it from her, looked it over, and then ran it through her portable reader before handing it back to her. She looked up at the Purser and waited for the woman to give the cabin assignment.
“You’re in cabin four-sixty-five.” The Purser said. “Take a left soon as you exit the airlock and walk twenty yards. Then take the elevator to the fourth floor. Take a right and it’s the fifth door on the right. You have a nice view of the concourse below.”
“Thank you.” Talia slipped through the scanner, once again using the scrambler to hide her weapon and cybernetic body, and then waited for Methos.
“You, Ma’am, are in room four-sixty-three. Those are a joining suites since you’re traveling together.”
They kept their thoughts and observations to themselves while crossing the umbilical into the liner. The flow of people entering the vessel continued to grow and it provided too many sets of ears to listen in what they said as their warrior’s instinct kicked in. Always careful, looking out for enemies, wary for people who could be hostile at all times. That’s what they’d been thought thousands of years ago, and it was a lesson neither or them intended to forget.
Methos looked around as they entered the corridor. “Nice ship.”
Talia moved out of the way of the flow of humanity and looked to her left and right. Lush carpeting went wall to wall and covered the deck in either direction as far as she could see. Gold chandeliers hung from the ceiling, with power conduits running into the center of the frame before they branched out into eight lights arrayed in a circle. Every twenty feet another fixture hung, giving the corridor a bright and airy feel to it as she looked at the walls. Dark cherry wood lined the walls from floor to ceiling, covering the metal of the hull and they ran along the top of the passageway, hiding the pipes and plasma conduits necessary to operate a ship the size of the America.
“Wish we could’ve spent time on something like this…” Talia searched for a word to use to cover their true age. “While in school.”
Methos started walking. “Tell me about it. I doubt I’d’ve wanted to go back to that dingy old thing.”
It would’ve been nice if High Command allowed them time to relax on a liner instead of hitting the bars. Warriors didn’t have any business on a cruise ship, they’d say, because none of them would know how to behave and a civilian was liable to get hurt. Talia forgot how many times she’d argued with the military leadership about how a week or two like this wouldn’t change the course of the war for one, and secondly, how could they expect she and her sisters to function at peak efficiency if they were only able to hit the bars?
And they never listened to me on anything. The fools.
They followed four passengers down the corridor towards the elevator. It pissed her off that the politicians trusted her and her sisters with commanding millions of soldiers, and sailors, yet didn’t think they could handle being around civilians. Who did the morons think they were around when they hit the bars?
She was the last one to enter the glass walled lift and the door slid shut. The concourse, lined with small shops with their roofs covered in fake snow, teemed with people as the passengers started to explore the ship. Talia looked at the streetlights lining the public space and then raised an eyebrow in surprise. Trees? How in the world did the builders, and crew, keep them alive in space?
The elevator started up its shaft and past the first three floors before coming to a stop. Everyone shifted around; making sure their luggage was in the right place before exiting. Talia looked at it all and silently sighed at the delay. Civilians certainly, she thought, didn’t have any concept of time and how to use it efficiently.
Methos leaned close before muttering. “Good grief. What I wouldn’t give for a nice flash bang to make these people move it.”
Now the opinion that commander had started to make sense to her in some ways. While they’d been bred, and trained, to be efficient with their time, most civilians, especially those on vacation, would take their time. The civvies didn’t do it intentionally, she thought, they just didn’t understand, or need for that matter, to make the best use of their time. A warrior, having to make a battle plan, or in contact with the enemy, needed to use each second wisely and with a purpose.
She followed Methos out, and raised an eyebrow at her shorter sister’s body language. Gone was the mischievous nature that both disarmed people and allowed her to make friendships and develop loyalty, and a tense posture, each step measured, replaced it. The change, profound enough to cause Talia to raise an eyebrow in surprise, didn’t happen many times but everything she’d seen it, trouble soon followed.
She leaned down and whispered in her sister’s ear. “Calm down. They aren’t like us. Keep that in mind.”
Methos gave her a sideways glance. “Can’t I just take out a couple??”
“You’re no fun.”
Talia snorted. “And you’re the one who talks about me being impulsive!”
“You’re not dealing with these people!”
“We’re both in this together, so deal with it.”
“And tell me why I came again??”
“To watch out for me, and here I’m doing that with you!”
The corridor came to a t-intersection and the first set of passengers turned left and headed away from them. Hairs on the back of her neck stood up as she approached the end of the hall and needed to turn right. Ambushes lie at places where corridors met and it took every bit of her self-control to not press up against the wall and carefully peer around the corner.
She tensed up, despite the knowledge that nothing waited to attack her, as they approached and she watched her sister’s body language go ramrod straight. Maybe High Command was right when they said the four of them wouldn’t know how to fit in with civilians. Her eyes darted back and forth, taking in every single detail of the intersection, every sense and instinct on high alert.
It felt strange to her as they rounded the corner, without gun in hand, ready to fire as she lead them onto the side passageway that ran down the length of the ship. Methos followed, each step uncertain, as they maneuvered past cabins on the ways towards theirs her head moving side to side as if on a swivel. She now realized that High Command had been right in their assessment because no matter how hard they’d try, neither she nor her sisters would be able to truly relax.
Their instincts, both bred and learned through experience, would never allow them to enjoy the two-week cruises. An extended period of time where they would be unarmed and at the mercy of other people just wouldn’t do. After spending as many years in combat as the four of them had, that would be closest thing to torture they’d’ve experienced in life.
Especially since the Dragus didn’t take prisoners.
Talia approached the fifth door and the anxiety continued to build. A part of her wanted to kick the door in, hit the ground in a roll, and come up ready to fire at any enemies hiding within. Instead she settled on chastising herself for forgetting, for about the twentieth time in the past five minutes, that they weren’t in combat. That, she reminded herself, would come soon enough. Why rush it?
The door detected her ticket, and the cabin assignment the purser programmed it with, and then slid aside. She cautiously entered the room as the overhead lights came on and revealed no hidden enemies. A long sigh of relief was the only outwards reaction that managed to get past her self-control.
When, Talia, when are you going to relax? The ship hasn’t left port and probably won’t be attacked for several more days.
Despite what anyone might think, the answer to the thought she had was, in her opinion, pretty obvious. She didn’t know how. Her entire life, from the time of the Great War to now had been spent in combat, which the past three years being the longest spell, and it’d driven her half insane with inactivity. The worst part of it was being without a purpose. For someone who’s entire personality, and body, had been designed to stay active, Talia found doing nothing absolutely grated on her nerves.
Which would make the next couple days until the slavers hit, if they did, the longest of her life and probably Methos’ too. What would they do wandering around a liner, alone, with nothing to do? If there were cute guys around, then her sister would have something to do. But, Talia thought, would she be stuck hitting the casinos?
The door that connected the two cabins opened and Methos slipped in, shaking her head. Hmm, it didn’t take very long for her to have some sort of problem. Whenever her sister entered a room shaking her head, then things couldn’t be well, which left Talia wondering how it would affect her. However, having lived long enough with her shorter sisters, she was sure it wouldn’t be anything she liked.
Methos started to pace. “This is going to be fun!”
She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. This ought to be interesting. “What’s not going to be fun?”
Her sister made a theatrical display over pointing at the walls. “This! You know how many times I’m going to be peering around corners to make sure someone isn’t going to blow my ever loving head off?”
About as many times as I will?
Talia snorted softly. “You know, I don’t think we make very good civilians.”
Methos stopped and looked at her. “Whatever gave you that idea, hmm?”
“The fact that both of us are looking around every corner for an attacker.” Talia walked across the room, opened the wet bar and then poured herself a bourbon. She looked over her shoulder before pouring one for her sister. “We were made to be warriors-it’s who we are. While it doesn’t mean we go out and cruelly take lives, but we do what’s necessary to protect the weak.”
Talia handed the glass to her sister and then approached the window. Passengers moved around the concourse, unaware of any of the dangers in the galaxy around them, and she found herself jealous of them. What would a life of such innocent naiveté be like? Did those people have anything in their lives that they worried about to any great measure or was that reserved for people like her and her sisters?
Methos walked over and stood beside her. “Which is why we’re here. You know, I’m generally the one getting you out of the fire or keeping you grounded, but every once in a blue moon, you do that same for me.”
“I love you, that’s why. Even before our people died, what did we have? We didn’t have anything but ourselves then, and it’s definitely all we have today.”
Methos wrapped an arm around Talia. “And that is why I’m on you so much about stupid chances. If I lost you, I don’t think I’d want to go on.”
“What about Crios and Dannae?”
“Them too, but you know I’ve always been the one who bails you-and Crios too-out of the situations you get into. Dannae knows better, so I don’t have to worry about her.”
She set the glass down on the window sill and then pulled her sister close. Talia set her chin on the top of the shorter woman’s head. “I’m so glad you keep me grounded.” A tear wound its way down her cheek. “I love you more then words can say. When I died during the final battle…alone and in the street…unable to be with you guys at the end…it was the worst feeling in the universe. I don’t want to feel that again, so promise me one thing.”
“That you won’t do anything stupid if we get boarded.”
“I won’t, but what about you?”
“I’m not going to fight them if that’s what you mean.”
“I’m glad you’re seeing reason.”
Talia placed her cheek on Methos’ hair and moved it back and forth a little bit. “I know…shall we socialize a bit to take the edge off?”
“I guess so.”
“Let’s go munchkin.”
“Watch it! You’re only two or three inches taller.”
“You think there might be some cute single guys down there?”
“You’re something else, you know that?”