It was strange how things worked out. When they’d first found Terazed, they’d managed to add some new crew to the ship. In their journeys since, they’d lost a good number of their officers and lancer brigades. After Telemachus Rhade had joined them as a full member of the crew, cleared of all charges against him, they’d returned to Terazed and picked up crew to replace the ones they’d lost. The new crew of the Andromeda Ascendant adjusted to the ship with little difficulty, and adjusted to their new status as traitors to the Commonwealth following the mock trial of Captain Hunt, but not without some friction with the command crew. Specifically, one of the new officers had some difficulty with the ship’s resident highest ranking Nietzschean. No one really understood why; not even the members of her circle of friends or her coworkers knew the reasons for the hostility. Rommie paced through the hallways of her ship, pondering the problem. By all accounts, they should get along smashingly, but ever since they came into contact two months ago, there had been nothing but thinly disguised hostility, veiled insults, and many near-fights between them. It wasn’t as if the lieutenant was a Nietzschean hater. Far from it, actually. The crew member in question had grown up on Terazed as Rhade had, as the rest of the new crew had.
Rommie frowned, hearing the sounds of arguing around the corner. The angry voices were automatically familiar to her as she knew every voice of her crew, but these two voices were becoming distressingly familiar. Not again, she groaned internally. That’s the third time today and it’s not even lunch time yet. She rounded the corner to where the sounds were coming from. She stood there and watched, folding her arms across her chest. Of course, she had no idea what they were arguing about. It didn’t seem to matter, really. They’d argue about something as simple as the color of the sky if it came right down to it.
“I thought Dylan told you two to behave,” Rommie interrupted, startling both of them, which was quite the feat given that they were both in possession of that enhanced Nietzschean hearing. “What’s the problem this time?”
Rhade stiffened. “It’s none of your concern, Rommie. It’s simply a disagreement.”
“Nothing is ‘simply’ anything with you two,” Rommie reminded him tersely. She turned to the other offending party. “Lieutenant? Do you have anything to add?”
The blond looked the ship’s avatar square in the eye. “No, ma’am,” came the terse reply.
“I don’t want to hear about any more incidents between the two of you for the rest of the day. Am I understood?” They nodded. “Good. Just…try to stay away from each other, alright? The two of you are like water and oil. You just don’t mesh,” she said as she walked away.
Rhade turned to the Lieutenant. “You’re just lucky that she’s an android and can’t get angry.”
A fine blond eyebrow arched, nearly vanishing into the neatly trimmed bangs. “Oh really? Just you wait until she reports this whole thing to the Captain.”
“And you’ll be in as much hot water as I’ll be if he gets upset about this.”
She shook her head. “No, I’d think that you’d be worse off, given that your rank is higher.”
“Not by much, as you constantly remind me.”
She snorted. “And now you see how idiotic this whole thing is.”
“I don’t understand how you managed to survive in the High Guard all this time without someone busting you down past cadet,” Rhade snarled.
“Frankly, I’m not surprised that they busted you down from Admiral to Lieutenant Commander,” came the retort.
“You know exactly why that decision was made,” he snapped back and then shook his head. “Look, Lieutenant, I’m going to walk away now. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m not going to take the fall for this is captain Hunt gets irritated. Not like the last time.”
“The last time was entirely your fault,” she reminded him acidly.
“No, it was your fault. You were the one who insisted that she could take care of herself on that mission. If I hadn’t gone down there, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”
“You’re right, we wouldn’t be because you wouldn’t have screwed things up and we wouldn’t have wound up in that life or death fire fight, shooting our way back to the Eureka Maru. It was your fault for being such a know-it-all.”
“And I say it was your fault for not apprising us of your situation.”
“Doing so, as I’ve said before, would have put my skin in even more jeopardy than your barging in did. Surely you’re familiar with the term ‘survival instinct’? I’m Nietzschean; I know how to keep myself alive, thank you very much. You coming down there seriously called into question my ability to do my job.”
“And concern over a crew member has no bearing on the incident in question?” Rhade asked.
“Since when have you ever been concerned for my well being? Ever since I came on board we’ve been sniping at each other like this.”
“Some of that is on you. It takes two to carry an argument after all.”
“You were the one who reacted with all this hostility to me coming on board. What’s the matter, Rhade? Don’t like other Nietzscheans on board your ship?”
Rhade snarled. “First of all, you know full well that the Andromeda isn’t mine. Secondly, I don’t have a problem with you.”
“Then why do you keep doing this?”
“Why do you continue to argue with me? You could always just walk away and ignore me.”
“And be the inferior one?” She snorted. “You should know better. Besides, I have to defend myself. No one else on board will step up, not against you or the other members of the command crew.”
“Rhade!” Dylan’s voice intruded, heading towards them.
Rhade turned to face his captain. “Yes captain?”
Dylan looked between Rhade and the Lieutenant. “I thought we’d gotten it through to the two of you to stop doing this but it would seem that we didn’t.” He sighed. “Rhade, I need to talk to you. Meet my on the Obs deck in half an hour.”
“Yes, captain,” Rhade acknowledged as Dylan walked away, shaking his head. He turned to look at the Lieutenant. “Look, Aerfen, I don’t enjoy fighting with you like this. Truly, I don’t. I don’t know why I snap at you so much.”
“Then maybe you want to sit and think about that,” Aerfen snapped, walking away. “I have things to take care of.”
Rhade watched her go, shaking his head, before turning and heading off to his quarters. “Women,” he muttered as he walked. He got to his quarters and changed into a cleaner uniform, one that didn’t feel as if he’d spent the last three days in it waking and sleeping. Dressed, he tried to calm down from his arguments with Aerfen before going to talk with Dylan.
What is it about her that irritates me? Why do I spend so much time fighting with her? She’s a healthy Nietzschean female. By all rights I should be all over her, trying to prove the quality of my genes, and yet here we are, day in and day out, arguing about anything that comes up. He shook his head. Captain Hunt is waiting for me. I should go. He’s already annoyed; I don’t want to irritate him further by being late.
Dylan turned around as Rhade walked in. He certainly didn’t look irritated. In fact, he looked pleased, which could be either a good thing or a very, very bad thing. “Ah, good. You’re right on time.”
“May I ask why you’ve called me up here?”
“I have a mission for you, a very top secret one. I want you to discuss this with no one.”
Rhade straightened. “I understand, sir.”
“We’ll be exiting slipstream shortly. When we do, you will board the Eureka Maru with your partner and head to a set of coordinates that will be provided to you once you get on board. When you reach the destination, you will receive further instructions.”
“Can you give me any information right now? Even the name of my partner?”
“Sorry Rhade, but I can’t. This mission is very, very important, and so delicate that I can only send two people down there. I’d go myself, but I’d put it at risk. Besides, I’m needed elsewhere. As for your partner, the two of you will meet up when you leave. I don’t want there to be any preconceived notions about this mission or your partner. I also don’t want the two of you discussing things before hand. Once your on board, you can talk about it all you want, as that’s when the mission starts.”
“Beka doesn’t mind you loaning me the Maru?”
“She understands how important this mission is. It’s success or failure will determine the future of this ship and her crew.”
“I’ll do my best, captain.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear.” Dylan handed him a flexi. “You’ll want to pack the following items. Your teammate has been given a similar list. I’ll meet the two of you at the Maru at 19:00 hours. Dismissed.”
Confused, Rhade saluted and left the Obs deck to go pack. With him gone, Andromeda appeared in front of her captain. “Is this really a good idea, captain?”
“What you rather I do, Andromeda?” he asked tiredly. “Wait for this situation to get completely out of hand? Someone could die if I let it go.”
“True, but there has to be some other solution.”
“I only wish that were the case. I just hope that we’re not too late to resolve this.”
Once he was back in his quarters, Rhade looked at the list Dylan had given him. Frowning, he set about gathering what he’d need. It was a fairly odd list. For one thing, he was expressly forbidden to bring a uniform along, but strongly encouraged to bring as much weaponry as he could carry. There was a large variety of clothing on the list as well as a lot of outdoor gear. He did his best to pack it all and then headed to the gym to kill some time working out before they had to go.
On the way, he spotted a familiar blond head and groaned inwardly. Oh well. At least I’m going to get away from her for a little bit. This is going to be like a vacation even though it’s a vitally important mission.
Lucky for him, Aerfen was busy talking about something with one of her friends, a highly attractive Nietzschean woman, another lieutenant by the name of Minerva Theros. She hadn’t been raised on Terazed and was in fact a member of the Sabra-Jaguar Pride. Her hair was a very appealing shade of golden brown, unlike the majority of her dark haired Pride. She was on board the Andromeda to learn more about dealing with humans. Personally, Rhade found her attractive, but her genes weren’t as good as he’d like, so he didn’t really have much contact with her and tended to avoid her if at all possible. The problem was that his genes were excellent and of the Nietzschean males on board, if they weren’t the best overall then they were among the best. It wasn’t something he’d had the time to check as he wasn’t interested in finding a mate just now.
Minerva looked up as he walked by. “Good afternoon, sir,” she said politely with a smile. “Heading off to your shift?”
“My shift doesn’t start for another four hours.”
She walked over to him with a flirtatious look on her face. “Then perhaps you’d like to run genealogy with me? I’m very interested to see what yours is like. We all know you’re a genetic reincarnation of Gaheris Rhade, but I’m curious to see what your family is like in between. It must be impressive.”
“I had other plans,” he heard himself saying. “I will, unfortunately, be busy for an indeterminate period of time, but perhaps when my duties permit me some free time again, we could discuss this in more detail.”
Minerva pouted a little, but nodded. “The captain’s running you pretty ragged these days?”
“I can’t really discuss it right now, but yes, he is.”
“Could you discuss it when you’re done?”
“If the captain says it’s alright, then yes.”
“You’re being very secretive.”
“It’s necessary. If you’ll excuse me, then, Minerva, Aerfen, I must be going.” He inclined his head politely and walked away.
With him out of hearing, Aerfen rounded on her friend. “What the hell was that all about?” She made a face. “Oh, Rhade, run genealogy with me. Really, now. Could you b any more transparent? You may as well just offer him a double helix and get it over with.”
Minerva gave Aerfen a strange look. “What? I’m only doing what you’re supposed to do when you have an interest in a male: determine his worthiness. I have to know for sure that his family is as good as I think it is.”
“You mean you have to check? I have it from both Major Loki Aguilar and Lieutenant J.G Joan Ortega that he has the most superior genes on this ship.”
The brunette looked at her unbelievingly. “And how would they know, ‘Fen?”
“Loki challenges Rhade on a regular basis. You know how males are; always jostling for position. Rhade hasn’t lost to any of the other males yet. Joan knows because she was interested in him for a while, but she wants her offspring to all be light haired like her, and Rhade is clearly dark haired. If you’re wondering, she’s presently pursuing a lancer or something.”
“I think I know which one you’re talking about,” Minerva snickered.
“I hate to do this, but I have to go pound on something. Just being around Rhade makes me irritated.”
“You two are going to kill each other one of these days, you know ‘Fen” Minerva said sagely.
“If that’s the worst thing that happens, I’ll consider myself lucky,” she grumbled, walking away.
Aerfen made her way to the gym, only to find that that’s where Rhade had gone. She groaned as she removed her heavy jacket. Now that she was just in her pants and a t-shirt, she took a basketball off the rack, deciding to shoot hoops rather than go anywhere near him. When she’s first came on board the Andromeda, she’d watched Dylan playing basketball and had picked it up fairly quickly. She dribbled the orange ball, pretending that she hadn’t seen Rhade, concentrating on the ball and the hoop. She focused on it to the exclusion of everything else, not noticing a pair of deep, moody hazel eyes watching her intently.
Rhade had immediately noticed when Aerfen had walked into the gym and stopped what he was doing to see what she’d do. He knew she’d seen him as he’d heard her groan. No one else was in the gym, so what other reason could there have been for it? She was clearly deliberately ignoring him which gave him the opportunity to observe her without having to deal with her snide remarks. She looks better out of uniform, he decided. The uniform makes her look too severe and restricts her flow of movement. I wonder if she can dance. Put her in a dress and she’d likely be the most graceful woman on the ship. He blinked. Now where did that thought come from? The more he watched her, the more certain of it he became. It’s unfortunate that she makes me angrier than anyone I’ve ever met. She’s a shinning example of Pride Kirin’s genetic superiority. Her service record has been exemplary. Rhade turned back to the weights briefly before shooting another glance towards Aerfen just in time to watch her jump up into the air and slam the ball through the hoop. Graceful, lovely, athletic, strong, and intelligent, and I can’t say a single civil word to her. He shook his head and put the weights away. I’d best go and get something to eat. There’s no way I’ll be able to concentrate with her around. At least I don’t have the urge to fight with her, but that could be because we aren’t trying to speak with each other.
Rhade picked up his jacket and started to leave, moving very carefully as he went past Aerfen, who was still pretending that he wasn’t there. He smiled a little and left the gym, heading to the mess hall. There were a few lancers and assorted off duty crew members. He got himself a light snack and sat down at an empty table, taking his time with it. He was supposed to meet Dylan in a couple hours at the Maru, so he had the time to linger over his food instead of the hastily grabbed meals he usually got, especially with the Collectors constantly after them. He sat there for a while after he finished eating and then headed back to his quarters to make a final check on his gear. Rhade figured that doing so would eat up a chunk of the time remaining until the mission started.
After going over his gear, he decided that everything was in order and checked the time. He had a little more than twenty minutes to get to the Maru. That was plenty of time. He picked up the two bags and headed off. He was actually looking forward to the mission. It was a chance to get off the ship and do something other than run from the Collectors. He met up with Rommie just outside of the hangar.
“Rhade,” she said, sounding cheerful.
“Rommie,” he replied. “Is Dylan inside?”
“He’s setting the Maru up for the mission,” the avatar responded. “Your partner is already aboard.”
“That was fast. I look forward to meeting this person.”
Rommie smiled up at him. “Really now?” They walked into the hangar bay together. The bay was empty except for the Maru. They walked up to it and got on board. “Dylan? We’re here.”
Dylan came out of the cockpit. “Good. All packed?”
“Yes captain,” Rhade replied. “I’m looking forward to this.”
“This is a serious mission, Rhade,” Dylan warned.
“I know that, but it’s a chance to get off the ship and do something good instead of fleeing from the Collectors.”
Dylan smiled briefly. “Point taken. Anyways, the coordinates are in the cock pit. Have a look at them after you’ve left the Andromeda. Your partner is in the cargo hold securing her things.”
“So I’m working with a woman?” Rhade nodded thoughtfully. “Interesting. Who is she?”
“Lieutenant Commander Aerfen Duran,” an all-too familiar voice said from behind him.
Rhade turned to look at the blond Nietzschean woman glaring at him angrily. “Oh no. Not you.”
“Funny. I was just thinking the same thing,” she snarled.
Rommie looked at Dylan, her arms folded across her chest. “Well, at least they’re on the same general wave length.”
“Alright, break it up you two,” Dylan said, stepping in between them. “This is a serious mission, as I said earlier. You’ve each been provided with an information package. Rhade, yours is in the cockpit as you’ll be piloting. Aerfen, this is because Beka trusts Rhade to pilot her ship. Besides, you’re not really the greatest slipstream pilot and you know it.” Aerfen nodded, still glaring at Rhade. “Now, I promoted Lieutenant Duran so that the two of you are equal in rank. Neither of you is in charge of the other. You have to work together for this mission to succeed. Most of your instructions will make sense when you get to where you’re going. Now, get going and try not to kill each other on the way. Good luck. You’ll need it.” Dylan and Rommie left the Maru in order to let them make their final preparations.
Rhade and Aerfen stared at each other. “So. He promoted you, huh?”
Aerfen nodded. “Puts us on even footing. For the record, I don’t like you and I don’t relish the thought of working with you.”
Rhade loomed over her. “I don’t much like you either, but this mission is vitally important. We don’t have to talk to each other, just do our jobs and get back.”
“Just get into the cockpit and get ready to get us out of here,” Aerfen said shortly. “I want to get this over with as soon as possible.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” he snapped, heading for the cockpit. On the seat of the pilot’s chair was a flexi with instructions on it. The first thing on it was the coordinates of the planet they were heading to. He got into the pilot’s chair and strapped himself in. Beka called down from the command deck to let him know that they would be dropping out of slipstream shortly. He entered the coordinates into the Maru’s computer, prepping the engines for take off. As soon as Andromeda dropped out of slipstream, the launch door opened. Rhade steered the Maru out, jumping into slipstream as soon as they were far enough away. Piloting the ship through slipstream took Rhade’s mind off his other problem: Aerfen Duran. He forgot she was on board until they came out of slipstream. She joined him in the cockpit.
“Rough ride,” she commented, leaning on the back of the chair.
“And you could have done better?”
“I didn’t say that. It was simply an observation.”
Rhade aimed the ship towards the surface and started to land. “Look, Aerfen, I don’t relish the thought of having to work with you, but we have a job to do. Let’s just try to avoid talking to each other until it’s over with, ok?”
Aerfen shook her head. “Unfortunately, we’re under orders to act as normal people. Once we’ve landed down there, you may want to spend some time reading your information package. I spent the trip here doing so. I would prefer to work with someone who’s on the same page as me. There’s a reason that we were teamed up. If you need me, I’ll be checking my force lance.”
Rhade set the ship down in a forest clearing as per the instructions he’d been given. He shut down the engines and unbuckled himself from the pilot’s chair. Picking up the flexi, he left the cockpit to sit down somewhere and study the information he’d been given. Hearing Aerfen further back in the ship, he sat down on a stool in the kitchen and read.
This has to be some kind of a sick joke, Rhade muttered darkly to himself. I have to pretend to like Aerfen? How I can I pretend to like someone I can’t even be civil to? Small consolation that she has to pretend to like me in return. He set the flexi down on the table and rested his head in his hands. I hope this is a quick mission; it’s feeling less like a vacation and more like torture.
Aerfen sat down on a stool beside him. “Some mission, huh?”
“Mission? Feels like torture to me.”
“You do know why Captain Hunt paired us up, right?” Rhade shook his head. “Hmm. And here I thought you were at least intelligent. Look at us. We’re both Nietzschean and we’re both good examples of our respective Prides’ gene pools. This world is apparently settled only by Nietzscheans, so anyone who isn’t one would stick out. What is it the humans say? Like a sore thumb?”
“A saying that makes little to no sense, but that’s typical of humans.”
“We should be on our way. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can both get back to living our normal lives.”
Rhade looked up at her. “Agreed.”