Thursday, March 3, 2016
I slept for I don’t know how long. I woke up and my first thought was, I screwed Resan.
That is a realization no one should wake up to.
I squeezed my eyes shut again, as if I could deny what had happened by shutting the world out. But no, the awful truth was there in all its ugliness. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I’d really done that.
Was there no limit to my libido? Did I have absolutely no boundaries? Ugh, I was so disgusted with me. I was a terrible person. I wanted to punch my own crotch. According to it, fucking Resan had been just fine since I’d come twice. Stupid pussy.
I started to move and groaned from the depths of my bowels. I’d slept long enough for the pain meds to wear off, and I was one huge hurt. Another thing to add to my list of woes. I could barely handle making myself sit up.
I might not have bothered to try except for the number one worry on that list: Anrel. Damn it, I had to find a way to get out of there and find her. The desperation I felt had grown over the hours along with my pain.
With her on my mind, I found the strength to look at my companion. He stared at me with a look that could best be described as loathing. Good. Our mistake hadn’t changed his mind about me either.
Before I could say a word, he spat out, “We are not talking about what happened.”
I would have been relieved if I wasn’t in so much pain. “Good. I prefer to leave my mistakes in the past.”
My attitude seemed to make him relax a little. I guess he’d been worried I’d profess undying love or some stupid shit. Ha! The sex had been good in a vicious way, but not that damned good.
The case with our supplies was in the middle of our clearing. At some point while I’d slept, Resan had replaced all the stuff he’d thrown at me. I crawled over to it in a slow, hunched manner, the best I could muster with the horrendous pain I was in. I thought he might bitch about rationing, but he stayed silent.
I looked at the contents and considered before taking half a tab of medicine. The nutrient pouches held no interest for me, not with what I’d done with Resan weighing on my mind. Besides, I’d been foolhardy, wasting our rations because of my temper. It had been a stupid move on my part, no matter how pissed off I’d been.
I gave the meds a couple of minutes to work, crouched as still as I could stay over the case. When some of the pain ebbed away, I cautiously stretched. A lot of ouch remained, but at least I could move without wanting to tear various body parts off.
I stood and looked around the room wearily. Resan had cleared more stuff at some point, giving us more space to not interact with each other in. I glanced at him, noting the one side of his face was more swollen than before. The skin around his closed eye had gone black.
I was pretty sure I wasn’t any lovelier to look at. My back felt so inflamed that I felt I’d turned into a hunchback. No doubt the rough sex hadn’t done me any favors.
Jeez, I’d again reminded myself that I’d fucked Resan. I looked at the door. Prophets help me, there had to be a way out of here. I had to get away from him and find Anrel.
As if in answer to my unspoken prayer, the com on my belt suddenly spoke in Oses’ voice. “Shalia, can you hear me?”
Resan shot to his feet as I cried aloud in my joy. I snatched the com to my lips. “Oses, thank God! Is Anrel okay?”
The gruff but relieved voice on the other end couldn’t have been a more beautiful sound. “She’s all right. She and Betra are in the escape shuttle. They’re still in the bay. Evacuating would have been more dangerous than to keep everyone on board.”
“Were we attacked by those ships that have been tracking us?”
“Yes. They hit us hard and fast. They swarmed all over the convoy.”
The room rocked for a moment as a mixture of relief and horror made me dizzy. Anrel was okay. Betra still had her, and she was fine. I thanked God, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed in a breathless stream of gratitude, along with the Kalquorian Mother of All. Tears flooded from my eyes.
“Shalia, are you all right? Is Resan alive or are you on your own?”
I caught my breath and ordered my thoughts. “We’ve been better, but we’ll live as long as the food and water hold out. The door is buckled and jammed shut. We can’t get out of his training room.”
“I’m not surprised. Your section of the ship is heavily damaged. I’m standing just outside the area with a transmitter so I can talk to you. The ship’s com in that section is out of commission. We’ve also lost signal buffers in the area for portable transmissions.”
My heart fell. “Will my portable range reach Betra in the bay?”
“No, pet. I promise Anrel is doing fine though. I’m touching base with Betra every hour to make sure he has all he needs to take care of her.”
I swallowed my disappointment that I would not get to send my voice to Anrel or maybe hear her in return. “Oses, what exactly happened to do so much damage?”
“During the attack, Tragoom scouts managed to get through our fighters and attach explosives to the hull. There have been several breaches.”
Resan muttered, “That’s what we felt happening to the ship. I thought it felt more severe than laser cannons or percussion blasts.”
I looked at his face and bandaged hands. I also thought about friends close to our section. “Oses, what about Medical?”
“It’s intact. All they lost were a few instruments and a full-sized scanner, thank the ancestors.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Tep, Feru, and Ret, along with all the other people in that department that I’d gotten to know so well, were okay.
Oses didn’t have all good news, unfortunately. “Shalia, it’s going to be some time yet before I can get a rescue crew to you. There are others in worse shape trapped in other parts of the ship. The two destroyers we still have are fighting off the attack as I speak. It looks like the transport will have to engage in fighting too if anyone is to survive until help arrives.”
I swallowed. We’d lost one of our destroyers. Things were so bad that Oses was telling me we might not make it.
“Understood,” I said. “We’ll hang tough here. Kick their asses, Oses.”
“We will, my Matara. Oses out.”
I stood there thinking of my daughter on the shuttle. At least Anrel was okay for now. Okay and surrounded by people who loved her: Betra, Candy, Katrina, all the women of my group. They would watch out for her. I should be there with her too, but I was stuck in here. I closed my eyes against the flash of agony that knifed through my heart.
“Nobek Oses is an amazing man. I don’t think I’ve ever met a better warrior. He’s not just strong, but wise too.”
I opened my eyes to see Resan standing next to me. He wasn’t looking at me, however. I don’t even think he was talking to me. He expressed his thoughts in an admiring tone.
Then he added, “It’s a shame he’s so much older. A damned shame.”
I scowled and put my com away. “What the hell does any of that matter? Oses is as badass as guys half his age. In fact, I’d put my money on him before any Nobek I’ve met.”
Resan glanced at me. “He is impressive in every regard. At least you have the sense to see it.”
I rolled my eyes. “Not that I’m an idiot, but anyone with half a lick of reason would know Oses is at the top of the heap. You’re not exactly figuring out a deep, dark secret.”
I snagged a water pouch out of the case. It would figure Resan would discount Oses’ abilities because of his age. The Dramok needed a brain infusion to not realize that with the weapons commander, age was only a number. Years of experience had only enhanced whatever talents he’d started out with.
Still using that musing tone, Resan said, “He is a powerful man. Every time I speak to him, I feel it.”
Realization struck me like a thunderclap. Oh shit. It sounded like Resan was attracted to Oses. I studied the Dramok’s face and saw plenty to worry about. Resan’s look was contemplative, as if he turned something over in his head and found it interesting. Son of a fucking bitch.
Trying to capitalize on what seemed to be Resan’s biggest hurdle, I said, “Well, I can understand the issue with his age. You’re what, more than half that? That’s a huge generation gap.” I had the idea Resan was close to Betra’s age, maybe a bit older.
“You don’t seem to have any problems with it,” Resan observed. “Nor does your liaison. Imdiko Betra has a relationship with Oses, doesn’t he?”
Oh, thank you prophets. Resan had just served up on a silver platter a way for me to dissuade him from sniffing around Oses without having to downplay the Nobek’s amazing abilities.
“Yeah, they’re together and quite devoted to each other. It’s complicated, though. Betra is strictly heterosexual.”
That brought Resan up short. “He – he only likes women?”
From his stunned expression, I knew Resan had not been aware of Betra’s orientation. “Sexually, yes. Absolutely no intercourse with men. He and Oses have an understanding that they can both live with. They care for each other in all other ways, but there’s no hanky-panky like you’re probably used to. And Oses would take your head off if you tried to touch Betra inappropriately. Along with other body parts.”
“Hmmph.” His disgruntled response warmed my heart. Resan’s plans of scoring with Oses were done.
It did spur my curiosity. With nothing else to do but sit around and wait, I gave the Dramok a searching look. “You haven’t clanned anyone yet. I guess I’m not the only one who has discovered your lack of charm.”
He smirked and strutted back to where he’d been sitting when I woke. “I have been chased by more Nobeks and Imdikos than are on this ship, girl. I have never lacked for companionship.”
“Sure.” I affected bored disbelief. I thought the less interest I showed, the more Resan would want to convince me. I need distraction. Listening to him yap was better than sitting around and waiting for my pain meds to wear off.
I was right. He puffed out his chest. “It’s true. I’ve lost count of how many would-be clanmates have courted my interest. I just haven’t found the right ones yet.”
“Out of all those supposed Nobeks you’ve met? And there are unclanned Imdikos running around in Medical and the kitchen. You’re telling me no one has met with your standards?” Actually that wasn’t hard to imagine. Any potential matches for Resan probably hated the nitpicky way he had when it came to keeping things tidy and on schedule. Plus few people willingly date obvious assholes.
“I plan on being with the fleet until I am too old to continue,” Resan informed me. “Most Imdikos who sign on do so only to get some of their wanderlust out of their system. Then they move on to planet-based careers. They know fleet credentials are impressive to employers on Kalquor.”
“Ah, so this is a stepping stone for a number of them.” I hadn’t realized that.
Resan nodded. “The ones who stay on are typically those who want to be with clanmates who are career fleet, like me. They trade original plans for clan. Such men are few and far between.”
Betra was a rare Imdiko then. He had every intention of remaining in the Empire’s space fleet for life.
“You could still clan a Nobek,” I observed. But not Oses, ha-ha. I was going to be sure he knew to appreciate Betra for keeping Resan at a distance.
“Just because I’m surrounded by them doesn’t mean the right one has shown up yet,” Resan said. “Most don’t like some of my personal preferences in a clanmate. Preferences that are none of your business,” he warned me before I could ask.
Like being able to put up with the galaxy’s biggest shithead, was my guess. Those Nobeks were ahead of the game.
It still made no sense to me that Resan hadn’t found a suitable protector by this stage of his life. Unless he was super, super picky. I wanted to solve the mystery of this man. “Did you come from a high-ranking parent clan?”
He snorted. “Me? Hardly. My parents had – have – no prestige.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “Hold on. Kalquorian women are rare. All the rich clans do their best to attract them, right? How could your mother end up with a low-ranked clan?”
“Because my mother is a romantic. She fell in love with the poorest Dramok and Imdiko she could find and wouldn’t clan with anyone else.”
I heard a ton of rancor in his tone. “Well, what’s wrong with true love? Money isn’t everything, you know.”
He stared at me for a few moments without answering. I thought perhaps the conversation was done. Finally he drew a deep breath and spoke.
“There is nothing wrong with clanning for love. I misspoke if it sounded as if I thought of my mother as a fool. She is not.”
He fell silent again. I waited.
Resan spoke once more after a long pause. “In fact, I think love is the best reason to clan ... provided you combine it with a little common sense.” Resan gave me a threatening look. “I will not have you think I belittle my mother’s choice in clans. Nor do I want you to believe I have anything but the utmost respect for her or my Dramok and Imdiko fathers. They might not have risen far in rank, but they are good men.”
“There is one father conspicuously absent from your nice list,” I remarked. Someone had Nobek daddy issues.
Resan glared at nothing in particular. “We did not get along. I have no care for that man.”
“Now we get to the heart of why you haven’t found a Nobek of your own.”
Resan shook his head. “No. I connect with a great many of the warrior breed. I have to in order to train them. It is not easy to earn a Nobek’s respect.”
“So what’s the problem with your Nobek father?”
“He is not my father.” Resan scowled. “He was never my father. I refute any claim that says so.”
I said nothing. From the furious look on the Dramok’s face, it didn’t seem like such a good conversation after all. I thought maybe we should drop the matter.
Yet Resan was on a roll, one that had him spewing venom. “They chose him only because he didn’t mind my Dramok father’s low rank. There was a huge amount of pressure on my mother to join a more highly placed clan, but she loved my fathers. They were desperate to be together, so they rushed to gain the Nobek.”
“There was a year’s wait to get through still,” I pointed out. “Where the men had to prove clan stability.”
“Yes. My grandmother – mother to my mother – told me there were arguments fit to shake the skies during that time. It was a terrible year where my mother threatened to run away and never speak to her parents again. Finally it was clear she would not clan with any but her lovers and my grandparents gave up.”
Resan’s story amazed me. “Surely your parent clan had to get along with their Nobek though? Or at least I hope they do, since it’s a lifelong contract.”
He looked grumpy. “They made it work. As you say, it’s a lifelong contract. Fortunately, his life has been over for several years.”
Wow. No remorse could be found in that statement at all. “What was your problem with him?”
Resan shook his head. “To start with, he was not intelligent and he reveled in his stupidity. He possessed no compulsion to better himself. He’d piss in the corners of the house if someone didn’t point him to the facility.”
I cocked a brow at the Dramok. He had to be exaggerating.
Resan huffed at my disbelief. “His idea of a good time was sitting around and getting drunk with his friends. Then he’d come home and yell at everyone. He never cleaned up after himself. My mother and Imdiko father were constantly running behind him, picking his shit up and putting things away.”
“He sounds like a piece of work,” I had to admit.
“He was belligerent and couldn’t stand anyone who wanted to make something of themselves. I can’t tell you how many times he’d walk into my sleeping room and trash my belongings because I was getting ‘above myself’ as he put it.” Resan picked up a small piece of paneling that lay close by and flung it at the wall. “There was a particularly ugly argument when I was 14. I ran away to my grandparents’ and refused to go back home. Fortunately my grandmother insisted I stay.”
“Your parents didn’t make you come home?”
Resan’s anger drained away. He looked glum. “My mother cried. My Imdiko father begged me to come home, and my Dramok father tried to find a reason to get me and Grandmother to relent. He made his Nobek apologize. We talked about family counseling, but I knew that stupid bastard was just agreeing to whatever until the fuss died down. Then it would be the same thing all over again. I was pretty sure of how it would turn out even if the authorities got involved in the matter and the counseling was court-ordered. He’d play along and make it look like he’d reformed. I wasn’t willing to do it anymore.”
“So in the end, everyone agreed to you staying with your mother’s parents.”
Resan nodded. “My two fathers and mother would come to visit me there, or I’d stop by their place when I knew their Nobek wasn’t around. It worked out much better for me that way. I was able to study without worrying he’d come in and make fun of me or tear my work to pieces. I could excel without him screaming at me for trying to rise above my station in life.”
It was a sad tale. I even felt sorry for Resan, though I didn’t show it. He’d despise me more than ever for pitying him.
“How did he die?”
Resan barked a harsh laugh. “He got drunk while watching kurble championships with his friends. On his way home, he went off course. He ended up flying his shuttle straight into the sea, the idiot.” The Dramok gave me an actual grin, one filled with black triumph. “But not before I won my region’s top physical trainer award and refused to let him attend the ceremony. My victories were mine. He wasn’t able to attribute one damned bit of it to himself.”
Whew. The man needed some closure, but with his Nobek father dead, he wasn’t going to get it. Resan would have to heal his childhood wounds on his own – if at all. Somehow I didn’t think he was going to learn to forgive and forget.
The glimpse into his background was informative, if nothing else. I admit if half of what he told me was true, I had to admire Resan for rising above his upbringing. He’d had it tough and managed to become highly esteemed in his field. I had Oses and Betra’s assurances on that.
I could understand Resan a little better now. I could even respect him a little. But that didn’t mean I had to like him. Which was good since neither of us wanted me to.