The edge, p.6
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       The Edge, p.6

           Leslie Lee
to know."

  The two D'ha'rens started screaming at each other in their musical language. Mak could tell Suth understood the language since a small smile threatened to escape his otherwise placid demeanor. The Battle Group Commander-in-Chief though was getting more and more agitated.

  "Enough!" he shouted finally. "Captain Quo'heyl, we expect you to follow orders from now on." He turned away and looked at the X's captain. "Suth, if you can't keep your subordinates in line, if you can't get them to follow orders, then I'll find somebody else who will. This hearing is adjourned."

  Tar's and his second in command's image blinked out. It was the first time Mak had ever seen Battle Group Cobra's Commander-in-Chief. He was unimpressed. Tar seemed the stereotypical military man. The stiff uniform, the ribbons and medals, the careful attention to personal detail, his craggy good looks, he looked the part of Battle Group Commander. Mak thought he appeared a little too prepackaged. As if he was on a recruiting commercial suckering young people into a life of adventure.

  Suth, on the other hand, was dressed in the blue coveralls of the working crew. Mak wouldn't have given him a second look if it weren't for the small indicators of rank. Average would've been Mak's description. But nobody got to be captain of a DreadNought by being average. Suth had been in dozens of engagements. The real things, not sending somebody else to do the dirty work. He was a veteran who didn't need to boast about his experience. What impressed Mak was the attitude of the people around Suth. They all listened to him, interacted with him, and were ferociously loyal to him. No need for Tar's display of ribbons and medals and certificates all over the walls. This oldish, bookish type of guy with a do-it-yourself haircut was a leader.

  "Goddammit, Suth!" Quo'heyl raged on, pacing the room and waving her arms. Mak was pretty sure K'hon could beat her in a fair fight, but it'd be close. She suddenly grabbed the only photo on Suth's desk. A woman and two teenagers stared back at her. "What the hell is going on?"

  Mak stood stiffly at attention, with Telli standing right behind him. He had seen the captain before but this was the first time he'd actually spoken to Mak. At least that he could remember. Supposedly, Suth himself had given him the medal for the engagement, but he had no recollection. He'd lost the moment in the med induced haze.

  "Those ships," mused Suth, eyeing Mak. "They were just civilian transports?"

  "Sir, yes sir!" Mak barked out.

  "Ah, cut that crap. Relax and sit down, both of you." Mak stood. "That's an order, pilot."

  Mak sat clumsily in a chair. They felt much more cushiony than he was used to. He perched awkwardly on the edge. Telli just sighed as she collapsed into her chair. She ran her hands through her hair, fatigued.

  Quo'heyl threw herself onto the couch, her anger spent. D'ha'rens could swing from anger to calm in a millisecond. Unfortunately, they could swing back just as quickly if not faster. Now she just lounged, grinning wolfishly at him. She, like the others of her race, had a mouthful of sharp pointed teeth. He didn't know why they needed such fangs. It was the one thing about Th'han'dra that freaked him out. And hers were tiny compared to the impressive set on Quo'heyl. "You know, Mak, I can't prove you were lying to me out there. But never lie to me again. I can come up with my own easily enough."

  Mak was silent. He'd lie any time he'd damned well please. She snagged a handful of candy from the dish and crunched them up noisily. Except maybe to the M'hin'rah captain. That might be duty above and beyond.

  Suth was looking at him as well. This was getting rough. "If you'd just followed orders, pilot, the outcome would have been exactly the same. And we wouldn't be here trying to decide what to do with you." Mak sat stiffly. Please don't ground me, he prayed. "Tar wants me to throw you into the brig." Please don't ground me, Mak prayed again. "However, I believe that to be a little extreme. I don't know what the reasoning was behind that attack, but you are here to follow orders, pilot, despite their apparent illegality. Risking your career by following your conscience is considered tantamount to foolishness rather than courage. Is that clear?" Mak tried not to furrow his brow. What the hell was he trying to say? Suth redirected his intense stare on to the Squad Ops Chief. "Telli, make sure that Blue Box Leader is appropriately punished."

  "I'll have Blue Box take on extra flight responsibilities, Captain, and when not on patrol, he'll pull duty as my personal assistant."

  Mak felt he could breathe again. More flying. Man, he'd have to disobey orders more often. But personal assistant, that didn't sound so hot.

  Suth nodded. "Your prerogative, Telli."

  "Don't be too hard on the boy," Quo'heyl said, laughing. Then a cloud crossed her face as she looked at Mak. "By the way, thanks."

  Mak was about to ask her for what, but the captains had turned away from him to discuss something else. He had been dismissed.

  The dorm was quiet when he entered. Some of the squad were sacked out, their cubicles curtained. Th'han'dra was at the table, her head down on her arms. Her hair, glowing slightly in the low light, had fallen over her face. Her thin body rose slightly up and down with her breathing. Someone could easily mistake her for Human. Except there was something about the way she bent at the waist... It wasn't quite right. There was a suppleness there drawing his hands to her. Instead, he clenched them into fists.

  He could feel the darkness starting to seep into his vision. He needed to get in the cubicle. Alone. To consider the face of that child in that window. The cartwheels. He hadn't had time to really think on it. The return trip felt like it hadn't happened. The comm chatter had been nonexistent. And on docking, the hearing had begun immediately.

  Quietly, he passed behind Th'han'dra. He paused. She was small. Like a child.

  The Kyrzal child had been little as well. The tiny face consisted almost entirely of two eyes and some weird looking mouth. They were Humanoid but not Human.

  With care, he slid the door of his cubicle open. He entered and started to close it but Th'han'dra's hand held it open. She was a quiet one alright.

  She narrowed her golden eyes at him. Her way of asking what happened.

  "They?" he began, but she put two fingers on his lips. Then slipped into the cubicle and slid the door shut. She jumped onto the hard bed and he sat down beside her. There was about a foot between the door and their knees. The length of the bed was how long the room was. A tiny closet in one wall, some shelves, a light, a computer, and that was his perk for being team leader. He loved it. This was the first time in his life he'd had something which was private.

  "They let the M'hin'rah captain off." He licked his lips. They tingled where she had touched them.

  "Good. You?"

  As she leaned towards him to whisper her question, he could feel heat emanating from her. She'd unzipped the front part of her uniform revealing pale yellowish skin, a hint of a t-shirt, and no more. He looked away so she wouldn't think he was staring down her front.

  "Tar tried to rip me a new one." He rubbed his forehead trying to push the darkness away from him.

  "Tar's a stubing." A derogatory term whose origin was lost to Mak. Jerry always guffawed when somebody used that particular insult. Then he'd hum a little ditty which stuck in Mak's head for days, damn him. "Why destroy the convoy?"

  Mak shrugged. "Information on good authority?"

  She said something in her own tongue. It sounded like somebody playing pan pipes up and down some scale. He knew she was cursing but still, it was beautiful. Unlike all the other D'ha'rens he'd ever known, she had never unleashed her temper. Not once. He wondered what it would be like.

  "What's your punishment?"

  "More shifts for Blue Box and I have to be Telli's personal boy when I'm not flying."

  "Is that all?"

  He shrugged. "Extra shifts will be tough on the team."

  "You'll love it."

  "Don't tell."

  "Not a secret." She paused. "Shouldn't've ordered me away."

  "Yeah, sorry. Didn't think it was going to turn out that way."

  "Shouldn't've. Pretty good idea though."

  "Fat lot of good it did. Going to be shining Telli's boots from now on."

  Th'han'dra was silent for a while. "You like her though."

  "She's okay." He glanced at her. Was she saying something? As usual though, he couldn't read her. She jumped off the bed and slid the door open. He wished she'd stay, but she probably had things to do. She slid the door closed and was gone. Guiltily, his hand strayed to the warm spot where she'd been sitting. Her scent still hung in the air.

  Telli was good to her word. Her call roused him and he realized he'd been sitting in the same position for close to an hour since Th'han'dra had left.

  "Be right there, sir." As he left the cubicle, he fought off the memory of the buster exploding. Th'han'dra was gone, the dorm was empty.

  He tried to not look as if he was dragging himself to the Bridge. Were people watching him? He couldn't be certain but he sure as hell didn't care. Everybody probably knew he was being punished. He gritted his teeth against the urge to slam somebody's face against a wall. He was a pod pilot and he shouldn't be pulling garbage duty. Especially not in front of all these people. When he entered the Squad Ops Briefing Room, he spotted Telli sitting in her favorite spot watching the Big Board. It was the same place he liked sitting. He joined her but remained standing at attention.

  "Stop that," she snapped irritably, trying to peer around him. "Sit

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