“Okay, you can fix things.” The bear crossed his arms. “What the hell got you sent out here? Wouldn’t think you’d need to get in that much trouble to have a pretty good life.”

The weasel snorted, shrugged, and reached for a spanner, putting the access panel back in place. “Do the details really matter? Let’s just say there’s some people who aren’t gonna cause me any more trouble, but I’m not so sure of their friends.”

“All right, all right.” The bear shook his head. “Everyone’s got a past here, and while half of ’em brag about it the other half don’t want to bring it up at all, so you’ll fit right in far as that goes. The stars know we could use a tech who doesn’t have sledgehammers for hands. How ’bout you get on that air scrubber in C block while I tell the Captain you’ll work out all right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” the weasel muttered. “Just so long as I’ve got a bunk somewhere eventually.”

“Don’t worry about that, Mal,” the bear gushed. “For magic fingers like yours we’ll make room.”


“Are you still up here?”

Jarik sent an apologetic smile over his shoulder. “Sorry, Dak,” the cheetah said, ears tilting back. He’d promised the otter some playtime on this run, compensation for the man otherwise having next to nothing to do for the previous five days, and he was growing distinctly aware that he hadn’t delivered for another two days. “The new boat’s got a big tank. It’ll need at least four more passes with the scoops to fill up.”

“I thought you said you could do those in your sleep.” Dak’s smile as he clung to Jarik’s flight seat was a little bit stiff; he was trying to put on a show of good humour, obviously, but the idleness was getting to him.

Damn it.


The skunk leaned back in his chair, rubbing his temples. The screen in front of him remained stubbornly lit, glimmering with names, dates, and times; beside it, sunlight streamed in the window, a few mirthful voices drifting along with it.

Just the watch schedule left, Valan reflected. Normally not much trouble, but with all the forms he’d filled out already his eyes were starting to cross. If he didn’t get it done fast, he just might wind up putting the same soldier on watch at two different posts at the same time, or something similarly ludicrous.

Just this one thing, and he could get a brief start on his leave before the next watch rolled around and interrupted it. And while three days to sit around at the site of their most recent posting didn’t sound like much, it went a long way when that posting was at a subtropical paradise.


Dak Travenis hefted his flechette gun over his armoured shoulder and inspected the feeder socket. It was clear; he’d checked it twice in the past five minutes. What he was really inspecting was the rest of his squad.

Not that they needed it either. They were all ready, and, like him, checking their equipment almost as a ritual, or in case it had spontaneously decided to break in the last five minutes, while they assured themselves of the readiness of their squadmates. Everyone was, if not exactly at ease, as close to it as could be expected when they were about to deploy.

The front hatch hissed open, and Lieutenant Joraquin entered, in full battle armour but with his faceplate up. Within the space of three breaths all eyes were on him; everyone sat a little straighter in the racks, expectant.


It shouldn’t have been so normal.

It was just another carrier flight deck, with fighters clamped into place in their berths, cargo haulers trundling over the plates, techs scurrying about with the various tools of their trade. Just like the one Drevin had launched from, oh, too many hours ago now.

But it wasn’t his flight deck.

Cognitive dissonance could be a strange thing, sometimes.


It wasn’t exactly trepidation that Valan felt as he came up to the lounge.

Personally, he had no problem with this little liaison. He was pretty sure there was no harm in it – or at least, that there was more likely to be harm due to a difference in rank than because of having an interest in a few different people. The logic behind not having a relationship across ranks had been drilled into him from early on.

But then, it had never quite sat well with him anyway. Especially when people weren’t even in the same chain of command, where was the harm? So long as they knew to keep their personal and professional lives separate.


All in all, it had been a satisfying day.

The platoon being on leave didn’t mean there was nothing to be done. Strictly speaking, the leave didn’t even include Valan himself; he had a portion of administrative work to do, including some reports to catch up on. Even the marines under his command needed to make sure they were ready to leave when their leave was up. It did mean light duty, though; a few hours filing reports, a few more hours organizing some packing with those soldiers who had energy to burn and wanted something to do, all interspersed among as much time again in idle pursuits.

Still, light duty or not, satisfying or no, the skunk was fairly sore by the time the sun set – not from the physical activity so much as the desk work, and the makeshift workstation hadn’t helped, even if it had been nice to be outdoors while he worked – and it was with anticipation and relief that he brought his toiletries and slouched over toward the pool.


Rank had its privileges.

In this case, Valan’s rank was nothing substantial – an acting subbie was hardly in the rarefied upper reaches of command – and his privilege was correspondingly simple: he had a private room. It was enough, though; enough space for the hefty cooler-box that he now lifted from the place it had occupied for the past few weeks.

The door opened on its own ahead of him, and closed behind; a glance over his shoulder confirmed that it had locked itself. Not that he was particularly worried. Most of his gear was with the quartermaster, not in his cabin, and the burden he now bore was the main other thing worth taking – even if anyone had the nerve to try to steal something from the barracks of a Star Lane Authority training camp.


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