Monday, November 30, 2015

August 7


No matter what Oses says, Dramok Resan is a complete bastard and I hope one day he loses a fight to a Tragoom. And that said Tragoom makes him his bitch.


I did my usual physical therapy under Resan’s glare. Seems Oses had already told him he was in charge of getting me ready to fight the entire universe all by myself. Resan wasted no time in giving me his opinion of the matter.

I was only five minutes in when Resan began his insults. “You have got to be kidding me, Matara. Tell me this is a joke. You are already panting for air? This is what the weapons commander wants me to strengthen?”

“Well, I did try to get him to find me someone with a little humanity,” I huffed. My shoulders burned. I hated that I hurt over sad little three-pound weights. Getting my arms to lift straight up took some serious work, but Resan wasn’t about to give me the first word of credit.

Resan was in my face in an instant. “You want someone who will treat you like a baby princess! I’ve seen Plasians with more will to fight than you! Hell, I bet your daughter can do a better job!”

Resan is not a bad looking man, if I’m forced to be honest. I hate to give him any compliments, so it will end right there. He does have a long nose, and it is rather pointy. With it only inches from my face, the urge to bite it off was almost overwhelming.

“I am doing the best that I can,” I snarled through gritted teeth.

“Then you are hopeless and pathetic,” he snarled back, his big round eyes squinting tiny in the sneer he gave me. “This is no longer about making you strong enough to waltz your weak ass from your quarters to the dining room. It’s about giving you the skills to survive and fight and win. Now work or get out.”

He switched me to tricep kickbacks. My shoulders went to jelly in relief. However, the backs of my arms wailed after a few reps.

“Are you sweating?” Resan shouted in disbelief. “Over this?”

“I walked for half a mile before we started this,” I panted. “Of course I’m sweating.”

“Half a mile? Half a mile? My grandmother, may that great woman live forever, can run ten miles and carry on a conversation the whole time! In her best gown! You have got to be kidding me! Move those weights, damn you! No one said slack off. Stop being so lazy.”

On and on it went, him bullying and belittling me. I responded by pointing out reasonable excuses why I wasn’t ready to participate in the Olympics. When he hurled more insults, I did the same. Before half an hour was out we were toe to toe, screaming curses at each other.

I was so intent on out-swearing Resan that I didn’t notice when Oses, Betra, Feru, and Tep came in. How long they stood there watching us go at it, I couldn’t have said. I only became aware of their presence when Resan addressed Oses.

“You see, Weapons Commander? It is exactly as I told you it would be. All excuses, no effort. I cannot train someone so weak in spirit, so lacking in drive.”

“No effort? NO EFFORT?” I screamed in disbelief. I grabbed the hem of my sweat-soaked tee shirt to draw their attention. “Look at me! Does it look like I’m making no effort?”

Resan waved his hand dismissively. “It is wet from your tears, little girl. Go cry somewhere else. Come back when you’re ready to work.”

“I have not been crying!” I was humiliated to have anyone think I had been. True, I’d come close a couple of times when Resan had said something particularly cruel, but I had not shed one fucking tear. I wasn’t about to give him that victory.

Tep came forward and waved a handheld scanner over me. He looked over the readings.

“You have been working ... some. I suppose the lactic acid in your muscles makes you feel miserable, but it’s not damage. It’s not even real muscle fatigue. You could be doing more, Shalia.”

“Ha!” Resan chortled. His prominent cheekbones seemed to grow twice their size when he squished them with a triumphant smile. “Now you have nothing to say.”

“I have plenty to say,” I snarled at him. “Starting where I’d like to shove this weight.”

“If you put half the energy into working that you do crying and whining, you might get somewhere.”

“I am not crying!” I shouted. I stopped myself just in time to keep from stomping one foot like a child. Resan would have been all over me if I’d done it.

He gave Oses an irritable look. “She won’t do it. Send her to the nursery with her baby.”

Oses cocked his head to one side. “You say she won’t. But if she wanted to, she could?”

His tone grudging, Resan admitted, “When she tries, she shows a small bit of promise. But she is too used to being cared for. She doesn’t have the strength of will to push through the necessary pain of real effort.”

Feru had watched the whole thing with his usual clinical fascination, stroking his chin in his contemplative manner. He spoke up. “You’re incorrect about the strength of will, Dramok. Shalia has more of that than anyone I’ve seen. You’re making the mistake of setting it against you instead of making it work for Shalia.”

Resan pursed his lips. “Either she does the work, or she doesn’t. So far, she’s not doing it.”

Feru grinned. “Would I be wrong in thinking you two don’t like each other?”

The trainer folded his arms over his chest. “I have no feelings for her one way or the other. She is a task. Returning her to health has been my job. Now I’m being asked to make her more, to make her capable of fighting. If she would work as I’ve told her to, it would happen.”


“I think Resan’s a jerk. Spacing him would be all the reward I could ask.”

That got them all laughing. Even Resan smirked a little. I didn’t laugh. I was serious.

Feru gave Oses and Betra a look. “She makes an important point about a reward. I know she wishes to be trained similar to a Nobek, but she’s not a Nobek. Nor is she Kalquorian. You can’t treat her as such.”

“What do you suggest?” Betra asked.

Feru gave me an understanding smile. “The long goal is established, and it’s a good one. Shalia wants to be able to defend herself and her child if she must. However accomplishing such a goal will take time. Constant pushing without short-term incentives along the way might take away her motivation.”

Resan looked insulted. “Reward her before the task is accomplished? Ridiculous.”

“For us, yes. The way our society is set up, we’ve been conditioned to prove our detractors wrong. The more scorn we receive, the harder we work to overcome it. But with Shalia, such pushing only makes her want to give you as hard a time as possible ... even to the point of unconsciously inhibiting her own progress.”

I didn’t much like Feru’s take on my mindset. I was working hard. Hadn’t this been my idea in the first place?

I had a few choice words for him, but Resan spoke up first. “I cannot demand less than her best. I will not give out treats just because she does what she’s supposed to.”

“No, train her as you see fit. The incentives when she does well can come from elsewhere.” Feru gave Betra and Oses significant looks.

Betra grinned at the weapons commander. “I have a few rewards in mind.”

I know I turned red as a beet.

Oses nodded. “I think we can set up such a system. Let’s say I get a good report from all of your trainers for a couple of weeks, Shalia. They tell me you’re applying yourself to the best of your abilities, making progress, and I feel you’re doing the same with me ... we can give you something special to keep you motivated. Every couple of weeks until we reach Kalquor, you earn compensation for your hard work.”

Resan rolled his eyes. I could tell he thought little of the plan. I wasn’t so sure of it myself. Damn it, I had been trying with him. If I held back, it was only because I wanted a little energy left to hang out with my friends and spend more time with Anrel. I don’t want to spend my non-training hours in a coma.

I want this instruction though. For Anrel’s sake, I need it. I got the feeling Resan and Oses were thinking of pulling the plug on my training. Plus I’m more than a little curious what kind of rewards Betra and Oses might hand out for a job well done.

I gave Resan a wary look. “Are you going to at least be truthful and tell Oses when I work hard?”

He scowled. “I will not dignify that insulting question with an answer.”

Oses gave us both a dark look. “Dramok Resan is tough, but fair. If you give him your very best effort, he will report it.”

Six weeks, I told myself. I only have to put up with Resan’s shit for that long. I might even get something special for it.

“Deal,” I said. “Now the rest of you get out so I can finish with this crap for the day.”

“Just try to keep the screaming down,” Tep said, grinning. “That’s what brought us in here in the first place. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such language, especially from an Earther.”

Feru chuckled with him. “I interned at a Nobek training camp for six months, and I never heard that much profanity the whole time.”

“There’s a lot more where that came from,” I said, looking at Resan as I spoke. “But I’ll try to keep it down to a low howl.”

They left. Resan and I got back to work. By the time we were done I had belted out a lot more filth, my legs were shaking violently, and I could no longer lift my arms over my head. But Resan didn’t tell me I was wasting his time for the rest of our session. He called me every name in the book and made up a few, but he didn’t say a word about me not doing my best this time.

I still hate him.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

August 6, later

With the final jump bringing us so close to Kalquor’s system, there is only a two-day delay in communications. I heard return messages from both Clan Aslada and Seot today.

Meyso was adamant that I owed him nothing for having the Soln hive contact Tep. “I’m grateful they were able to help Anrel when she needed it. Knowing she’s doing so well is all the reward I could ask for.”

Aslada and Jaon were also glad to know Anrel was doing  great. They were also concerned about Nang.

“He will not come anywhere near you and your daughter,” Jaon said, his heavy brow beetling. “If he dares to try, I will destroy him.”

“With my government connections, I will see to it you are well protected even when Jaon isn’t around,” Aslada added, his brooding good looks dark with intent. “You have nothing to fear from that maniac.”

Clan Seot was no less adamant about keeping me safe. “I thank you for having the trackers put on you and Anrel,” Seot said. “It is a relief to know we have that safeguard in place.”

“I’ll do all in my power to see that you’re safe, Shalia,” Larten said. His voice was low, but there was no mistaking the current of danger running through his body. He fairly thrummed with it. “Meanwhile, I have recorded your first few lessons with the blade and sent it in a separate message. The first couple are simple stances that will familiarize you with the weapon. You can do those on your own. You will need someone to work with you after that, however. That weapons commander friend of yours might be able to help.”

For some reason, that gave me a huge lift. At last I could do something to truly make myself stronger. This was something concrete, something within my control. I already felt powerful just contemplating it.

I need to hold onto this feeling. I need to make this happen for real. This and more.

I was so excited that as soon as I listened to my messages, I commed Oses’ office.

“Can I come talk to you? If not, when is a good time?” I blurted.

“Is everything all right?” He sounded as intense as Larten at the tone of my voice.

“Everything is great. I need to ask for a couple of favors.”

“Come then. I just got off the bridge and will be here filling out reports on the Tragoom attempt.”

He sounded grumpy. Oses hates administrative stuff that comes with his rank as weapons commander. I was doing him a favor by interrupting his day.

I hurried to his office. As I went, I reflected on how it hadn’t been so long ago that walking there had been a big deal. Now it was no problem. It felt like a good omen.

I reached Oses’ office, almost as bouncy in my enthusiasm as Candy tends to be.

“It’s good to see you in such a happy mood,” Oses said. “Especially considering our little scrape with the Tragooms today. Did therapy go well?”

I blew a raspberry. If I could just get through Dramok Resan’s physical therapy, that would be huge. Not to mention a relief to leave that drill sergeant of a therapist behind. He constantly accuses me of not trying hard enough. In return, I accuse him of being a jerk who is determined to finish off what the It started by killing me. We were almost yelling at each other this afternoon. I think it’s safe to say we will not be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

“Resan is an overbearing ass. Someone should tell him there is a big difference between getting fighting Kalquorians up to speed and putting poisoned Earther girls back on their feet.”

Oses chuckled. “Let me know if I need to put him through a wall. Sit down. Tell me what’s on your mind, pet.”

As I settled in the chair, he came around to sit on the edge of his desk in front of me. I grinned up at him. Even thoughts of Resan couldn’t dim my excitement for my new project.

“I just got a message from Nobek Larten. He’s recorded a beginner’s program for blade fighting. I need help with it though.”

Oses nodded. “I’ll be glad to work with you on that. Send me a copy and I’ll schedule time for us to train.”

“Great. There’s more though.” I fairly wriggled with hopes for my new plan.

“Go on.”

“I want to train in more than just fighting with knives. I want the whole shebang. I want to learn to fight like a Nobek. Isn’t hand-to-hand your specialty?”

Oses looked at me. He blinked a couple of times. “You want to learn to fight?”

I nodded, not dropping my gaze for a moment in case he might think I was unsure. “Full on. Not just self-defense, but the whole thing. I’ve already got blaster training. You and Larten both think knives are a good thing too. Why not out-and-out combat?”

Oses was still staring at me, his expression unreadable. I could almost see the gears churning in the big guy’s head as he puzzled over my request.

Finally he asked, “Where is this coming from, Shalia?”

I wondered if he was insulted. Did he think I didn’t feel he was an adequate protector? I rushed to explain.

“Look, I have Anrel to think about. You know I’m always finding some trouble to get into even with a ship full of Nobeks and three destroyers at my side. You won’t always be around to get me out of it. Even with everyone shouting how they’re going to keep us safe, no one can guarantee it. Larten is pumped up to protect and beat the hell out of things on my behalf. But even he believes it’s a good idea for me to have some sort of training just in case the unthinkable happens. Why not all of it? Why not give me the best odds possible in case Tragooms get on the ship again or some freak tries to kidnap me or Nang somehow gets to Kalquor before anyone can stop him? In the end, I’m Anrel’s last line of defense. I should be ready if it comes down to it.”

Oses kept staring at me after my long stream of babble. I wondered if he’d kept up with any of it.

At last he drew a breath. There was a hint of a smile on his lips, as if the whole thing was some outrageous comedy. I readied myself for an argument ... or disbelieving laughter.

Instead he nodded. “All right. You’ll start tomorrow.”

It was my turn to sit in silence as I absorbed that quiet statement. Then my heart leapt. “Really? You’ll train me?”

“I’ll oversee it. There are some things others will do better than I, and I will enlist their expertise. Self-defense – and you will learn self-defense before combat fighting – will be with me. We also have to get you into decent shape.”

He sat back and looked me up and down, assessing what he had to work with. After a moment, Oses shook his head. “As a woman and lover, you lack nothing. As a fighter? You are in need of work.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you serious about this, Shalia? Because you will have to work hard. Those who train you will not be kind with pretty words. If you slack off, you will be berated and insulted. If you don’t put in the effort, we will not waste our time with you.”

I could see a lot of hurt feelings coming my way. Could I handle that, having been doted on since boarding this ship? How would I handle it when Oses yelled at me like Larten did his trainees? For a moment, I second guessed myself. Being told I wasn’t worth becoming a Tragoom’s loin cloth would be pretty rough.

But we still had several weeks of space travel to go. Nang was on his way. Anrel needed me to be strong. And by the prophets, I am tired of being scared and helpless.

“I’m sure,” I said in a firm tone. “The question is, can you handle it? Because if I think you’re coddling me, there will be hell to pay.”

Oses grinned at my bravado. “Then you are now training. I will consult with a dietician. You may have to give up some of that chocolate you love so much.”

I groaned. “Fine, but keep your big mitts off my coffee. There is no compromise on that.”

Oses sat contemplating. “We have to get you into real shape, pet. You’re still trying to regain the ground you lost after the poisoning. There are a few moves and strategies I can teach you in the meantime, but you have to get into top form.”

“Believe me, I’ll be glad to get done with physical therapy,” I snorted. “The sooner I’m done with Dramok Resan, the better.”

Oses lifted a brow. “Resan is this ship’s top physical trainer. I wouldn’t have anyone else work with you to get you and keep you in shape.”

My jaw dropped. “Oh no, Oses. I can’t stand him! There has to be someone else.”

The Nobek’s look went stern. “Do you want this or not?”

I was no longer so excited about making myself into Warrior Woman of Kalquor. Sometimes the only thing keeping me from storming out of physical therapy is knowing it won’t last forever and I can tell Resan once and for all to go fuck himself. Now Oses was telling me I would be under that bastard’s thumb for the rest of the trip.

“I guess that whole thing about insults and getting verbally abused is already underway,” I pouted. “He is such an asshole.”

Oses grinned. “Yes, he is. As I and everyone else who trains you will be. If you want to train like a Nobek, you have to be prepared to be treated like one. We will do our best to grind you down so we can rebuild you into the strongest, best fighter possible. You may even end up hating me.”

“And you’re okay with that?” I asked. I kept my tone light, but I saw what I was unleashing. Even so, I knew I could never hate Oses.

Especially when he looked at me with that fierce devotion in his eyes. “If it will make you safer and settle your mind, I would take the full measure of your loathing.”

“Oses, I could never despise you. Not after everything we’ve been through together and all you’ve done.”

I stood up and circled my arms around his waist, laying my cheek on his broad chest. His embrace was the shelter it had always been. But it was time for me to be ready to  become my own shelter if needed ... and Anrel’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t call you a billion ugly names,” I teased Oses.

He laughed. “If you don’t, then I won’t be doing right by you.” He dipped his head to plant a kiss on my forehead. “It might not be possible, but we should try to leave the inevitable anger behind in the training room. Outside of your lessons, it will be us as we are now.”

“I’ll take that bargain,” I said. “But I’ll still want to serve Resan up alive to starving wolverines. One piece at a time.”

I doubt Oses knows what a wolverine is, but he got the message anyway. He laughed and hugged me close.

Let the training begin.

Monday, November 23, 2015

August 6, early

We went through our last wormhole on this trip. About a dozen Tragoom ships showed up to feel out our defenses, but the destroyers accompanying the transport and the ones waiting for us on the other side of the vortex soon sent them packing. Hardly any fire was exchanged.

Still, it served as a reminder just how dangerous the universe is. Tragooms, Ofetuchans, rogue Bi’isil weapons, Nang ... I thought about the matter long and hard as I sat and held Anrel today. Looking into her sweet cherub’s face and having her gaze back with such trust in me brought the issue into focus as it never has been before.

 I thought about it more as that brute Resan put me through my paces. I felt more than just a little pathetic doing arm strengthening exercises with paltry two-pound weights and getting tired from them. I kept thinking I can’t be so weak and dependent on others.

I have to get stronger. I have to. Even when we reach Kalquor in a few weeks, I have to be ready in case Nang makes it there.

I’m not the only one feeling stressed. Katrina heard back from her kids, and she is reeling.

Actually, she heard back from her daughter Hope. Katrina played the message for me and Candy so we could hear the news for ourselves.

Hope admitted some shock over her mother’s choice to go to Kalquor and even more that Katrina was serious about a clan. “Three men, Mom? That’s crazy, even for you.” The younger version of our friend shook her brunette head, her brow wrinkled in consternation. “I mean ... that’s really a bit much to put my head around.” Hope sighed. “But it’s your life. You have to live with your decisions, and if you’re happy with this Clan Wotref, well...”

She struggled for a few moments as she tried to understand. I could see how much Hope loved her mother, even when she didn’t agree with her.

At last she said, “Look Mom, I just want you to be happy. After all that’s happened, I don’t begrudge anyone reaching for whatever joy they can find. It might be hard for me to swallow, but you’re no dummy. Most importantly, I’m not going to reject the mother I thought had to be dead. I got you back, and I’m not letting you go. Not over something like this.”

Her smile made me and Candy cheer a little. However, Katrina just stared at her hands, clenching and unclenching on her lap.

Hope’s smile faded with ours. “Matthew is not so forgiving, however. I suppose you realized that might happen. He’s very upset about this.” She blew out an angry breath. “I wish he had the balls to tell you himself, but he’s chosen to hide behind arrogant faith instead.”

I blinked to hear how much Hope sounded like Katrina with that statement. She’d gotten the full measure of her mother, all right.

“He said to tell you that when you beg God’s forgiveness and admit to your sins, he’ll consider welcoming you back into his and his children’s lives. Until then, you and your – partners in sin, as he put it – are not to seek any contact with his family.” Hope rolled her eyes. “He’s been more than pleased to accept help from the Kalquorians himself since we were rescued. He’s even talked about trying his luck on the colony they’re establishing on one of their worlds. Haven Colony offers a lot of support to get started. Matthew thinks as long as he can keep his family separate from the Kalquorians who will help administer the colony, it will be the perfect opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, he can choke on his hypocrisy.”

Hope’s anger spent itself. She offered a bitter smile. “Sorry the news isn’t all good, Mom. But you know I love you. You and your boyfriends are welcome in my home. The kids can’t wait to see their Grammy.” She gave a conspiratorial wink. “You know even if he is a tight ass that Matthew still loves you. He’ll come around, especially since his kids are begging for Grammy too.”

Katrina turned off the message at that point. “That’s about it as far as that shit is concerned. At least Hope is willing to give my chosen life a chance.”

“What’s her husband say?” I ventured.

“Tom?” Katrina snorted a burst of laughter as she wiped the tears leaking down her cheeks. “Hope is like me. She runs all over a man who won’t put the brakes on her. Tom is a good man, but weak. Hope wears the pants in the family. If she told him to throw a parade in honor of me going to Kalquor and carrying on with twenty clans, he would.”

“She just became my hero,” Candy said with exaggerated adoration. “You taught her well, sensei.”

That got Katrina laughing for real, at least for a few seconds. Then she burst into tears. “My son. My grandbabies,” she bawled. “What if I lose them forever?”

It was not the time to offer platitudes or even valid arguments that rejecting Katrina was Matthew’s loss and mistake. When someone hurts like that, the only thing to do is hug them and let them cry on your shoulder until they can’t anymore.

Along with praying that the situation will resolve to the happiness of all.