People entered and exited the cafeteria, which gave Talia an excuse to turn her attention away from the piece of meat on her plate. The humans called it a porterhouse steak but to her that was a misnomer. It should’ve been called ‘bland and tasteless’ instead.
Once again the warrior couldn’t help but wonder why her people put so much effort into the young species. They were self-destructive, greedy and unable to interact with each other without fighting. In many ways they exemplified the worst part of the Gahl and that saddened Talia.
And they brought us back to live like this, she thought. I’d love to know who made that decision.
Sitting there poking at the food and doing nothing would make her look like a petulant child, so Talia ate it and fought to keep the distaste from showing. If her sisters could find a way to survive on human food then she could too, it’d just take willpower. And that was one thing Talia didn’t lack.
“Hey guys,” Methos said, “Look who we found! Someone thought they’d ditch us today.”
Great, Talia thought. Just what I need.
“You know she likes to brood,” Dannae said before chuckling.
“I do not.” Talia said primly.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Crios added.
“No fair, it’s three on one.”
“Perfect odds,” Methos giggled. “For us.”
“How can you eat that stuff?” Talia asked. “It’s so damn bland!”
“You get used to it after a while,” Dannae said before she shoveled a forkful of salad into her mouth.
“If you say so.”
“That’s because you like spicy foods.”
“Yeah, well, I like flavor.”
“How are you doing?” Methos asked. “You’ve been quiet and sullen since we left Selkirk. Are you still thinking about the past?”
“Kind of hard not to.”
“You need to stop that,” Dannae said. “I remember what happened.”
Their voices faded and the scene around her changed to one of a major city. Sunlight reflected off the high rises, making them glitter like diamonds and the combined odor of vehicle exhaust and refuse wafted through the air. A stoplight blinked red, almost entrancing, as Talia walked down the street.
The lack of people or traffic hammered home the hopelessness of the situation. A massive Dragus fleet arrived in sector three days previously and, if intelligence was correct, would reach the planet she was on in less than a day. With so little time it’d been stressful trying to evacuate the planet and get everyone out of range of the enemy fleet before they arrived.
Trucks rounded the corner a few blocks away, pulling Talia’s attention away from the stoplight. At the spaceport her soldiers would be busy loading the evacuees onto shuttles that would take them to the waiting transports. While it wouldn’t be an easy trip to Bakus Nine, but it beat the alternative of being turned into Dragus warriors.
People stared at her and the warrior’s heart broke as she watched the trucks rumble past and then out of sight.
Five thousand years, she thought. You’d think I was used to this by now but each time it tears me up as much as the first one.
Another planet being evacuated ahead of a Dragus attack and Talia could already hear the President’s spin doctors warming up. She wondered how the spokespeople would play the game and try to fool the people. So far, much to her surprise, it’d worked and most people in the Republic still thought they had a chance at victory.
The sad fact was the war was already lost and no one from the President down to the man on the street believed it. In her opinion it’d been a foregone conclusion since before she’d been created. Talia had no idea how long it’d take the Dragus to accomplish the task just that she’d fight them until the bitter end.
The com system burst into life. “We’re almost done loading the last of the civilians,” Methos said. “If things go smoothly we should have it finished in three hours.”
She activated the throat mike. “I’m counting on you to get this done. We’ve got sixteen hours before our friends drop in.”
“We’ll be in h-space by then.”
“I’m holding you to it,” she said. “Crios.”
“How is it coming on the eastern continent?”
“I’ve just finished,” Crios said. “It’s clean as a baby’s bottom.”
“Get back to your cruiser. Once the refugees are aboard the transport, I want your Task Group to escort them to Vendread.”
“Talia,” Dannae said. “The hospital ship is filled. Do you want to escort it with your task group or should we leave with Crios?”
“Go with Crios. It’ll be the safest play for you.”
Dannae’s tone turned dark.“Don’t do something stupid. We just need to get out of here.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Talia said. “I’m not in the mood to die today.”
“That’s nice to hear,” Methos interrupted.
“Gee, don’t you have something to do?”
“Got to keep you balanced, Talia, or you’ll get a swelled head.”
The sound of crying was so out of place that Talia forgot what she was saying. Four miles away the remaining colonists were being loaded onto the last of the transports, which meant no one should’ve been around to cause the crying.
“Hold that thought, Methos,” she said. “I need to check on something.”
“What’s going on?”
“Do you need me to send you some troops?”
“I don’t think so,” Talia said. “But I’m going to keep the channel open.”
The sound of weeping continued to come from a nearby ally as the warrior approached slowly. Somewhere out there was someone alone and frightened but Talia couldn’t find it in herself to relax. Too many times she’d seen soldiers die due to ambushes made to look harmless.
Damn, she thought, what do I do? If it’s a kid, I’ll terrify him or her with the rifle. But if it’s a trap, I leave myself open to be killed.
Boxes and trash lined the sides of the tight path and the smell of decaying food comes from the dumpsters. The warrior’s senses were on high alert as she scanned the area for the source of the sound. How anyone, if it was a person, could be amongst such filth amazed Talia.
Something small moved to her right and Talia glared at it for several seconds. The little voice in the back of the warriors head yelled at her to be careful because the Dragus were masters of using the innocent against their foes.
A box moved slightly and then a young boy looked at her. His pale face was long and thin, and his cheekbones were high. Natty brown hair hung down over one of his eyes and from where Talia stood she could see the dirt that covered his face.
“Methos,” Talia said. “I’ve found a child that got missed.”
“How old is he or she?”
“He appears to be five or six. Are there any ships left?”
“Last one just left.”
“Damn. Has the Hospital ship left?”
“They’re preparing to break orbit,” Methos said. “Do you want me to hold them?”
Good question, Talia thought. Sending him to the hospital ship will delay their departure more than I want.
“Tell Dannae to grab a shuttle and meet me on my flagship.”
“Do we have time for that? The Dragus could pop in at any time.”
“That’ll take less time than to send him to the hospital ship,” Talia said.
“Hmm, you got a point there. I’ll let her know.”
“Just keep an ear out on this channel. I will feel more comfortable to know you’re listening.”
“Hey! You’re learning! Maybe one day you won’t be so foolhardy!”
“Fuddy duddy. You’re no damn fun.”
“Get over it.”
“I do! I’m your sister, remember?”
She approached the child and then took a knee. “It’s okay now…you can come to me.”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Talia,” she said. “I’m going to take you to my ship.”
“Talia?” He whispered.
“That’s me,” she picked him up and then pulled him close to her armor before standing up. “Hey, what’s your name?”
“Gahlza to Talia! Are you awake over there?”
She blinked a couple times and noted how Methos was glaring at her. “Yeah, you were saying?”
“I was saying quite a bit,” Methos said. “But it appears you decided to let your brain off its leash.”
“Sorry, just thinking.”
“Nope,” Methos pressed on. “If you’re going to think about the past, then remember what happened. You put a pistol to your head and blew your brains out.”
Talia closed her eyes for a second and then shuddered. The barrel had felt cold against her temple before she pulled the trigger. “I’m not doing that again.”
“I would hope not,” Crios said. “Because you don’t know how much it hurt when I found you.”
“It was just hard,” She said. “To lose someone that important.”
“Oh we know,” Methos said. “We’ve watched each other die. This was just different because of the circumstances that brought things together.”
“You got a point,” she stood up. “I think I’m going for a walk.”
“You’d better not be thinking of something stupid,” Methos warned.
“First off I don’t want to off myself,” Talia said. “Two, it would be extremely difficult being cybernetic, and besides, what would it accomplish? Nada. It won’t change the past.”
“Halleluiah, you’re seeing reason.”
“Always have,” Talia said. “Selkirk just ripped open a very old wound. See you guys.”