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.
“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.