There was always life on an Imperial vessel, technically speaking; always someone tending to their duties, always someone ready to respond to any problems that arose. But overall, they kept time with the Imperial capitol, and there was a stretch of time in each “day” when most of the activity slowed down or stopped.

Those quiet watches were Sharim’s favourites. The squirrel was quite fond of his fellow-officers, but the constant flood of distractions that plagued daytime shifts made it hard for him to get real work done; he did his best when he could focus. It had only been natural for him to seek semi-permanent assignment to the nighttime shifts. It was a peaceful time, just him and the machines he tended, as he sorted inventory and did what maintenance he could on his own, with only the hangar’s night watch officer as silent company and occasional spotter.

Signing back in from break tonight, though, he found that might not exactly be the case. There was another name on the roster, just under his sign-out, on record as still in the hangar. It was a name he knew, but not exactly one he’d expected to see down here at this hour of the day.

Forewarned, he swung up to the controls of his equipment pallet and sent it down the racks.

His unexpected guest was a few berths down from where he’d left off – conscious courtesy, perhaps, staying clear of the work Sharim had already done. At the sound of the pallet, she ducked out of the way, only to step back into the open when it was plain he was coming to a stop. The wolf wore dress uniform – itself not a common sight on the deck – and was well-decorated, her sash heavy with campaign ribbons and commendations, a Commander’s stripes on her shoulders and cuffs.

Sharim delivered a snappy salute. “Commander Kahlet,” he greeted. “I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone else here until first watch.”

“As you were, Chief Navar,” the wolf replied. “This may be on the books as a casual inspection, but I’m not here to get in the way.” She looked up at the nearest of the big hardsuits, reaching up to brush her gloved fingers over its chest plating. “I just wanted one last look at these things while I could get it.”

Oh, right, she was coming up on her twenty years, wasn’t she? And apparently not signing back on – though after twenty years in the ground forces, that wasn’t too surprising. “Leaving us for civilian life, then, are you?” Sharim prompted, flipping open a tool chest. If she was in an expansive mood, well, he wasn’t such a hermit that he didn’t sometimes like some conversation as he worked.

“I’m afraid so,” she sighed. “Not without regrets. I’ve known some good people here – fellows, commanders, subordinates, and,” a smirk over her shoulder, “definitely among the crew.” Sobering, she tilted her head up to consider the hardsuit’s helmet. “But it’s been twenty years of violence. Of breaking things, and… worse. I’m tired.”

“I don’t doubt it, sir.” Sharim shook his head. That was something he didn’t envy the commissioned ranks; all he had to worry about was fixing things and keeping them in running order. It was the officers of this mechanized division that were responsible for the bulk of combat. Reaching up to hook onto the rack and lift himself towards the next suit’s upper back, he said, “I hope it hasn’t been all bad.” Some people never got used to the stress of combat, after all.

“No, indeed. And I’ll tell you, Chief…” Kahlet tapped one of the hardpoints on the suit’s arm, currently unoccupied as was standard outside of actual operations. “It’s quite a feeling, strapping into one of these. Invincible, powerful… it’s a transforming experience.”

“It is the next closest thing to a tank,” Sharim observed with a laugh. When the pause in conversation drew out, he tried changing the subject. “So what’s ahead for you?”

“Heading home to Dalamar,” the officer said promptly, standing a bit straighter and turning to look along the aisle. “Thus, trying to get adjusted to their time. There’s a security force there looking for people… a quiet little town, and they’d like to keep it quiet. Good place as any to settle down.”

Sharim braced with his feet and yanked a fused coupling free with a grunt. “Got someone waiting for you?” he asked, dropping it into the scrap bin. Many officers who went somewhere in particular to retire had someone to join there, after all.

But she shook her head. “No, not that I’m aware of, at least. It’s a new place for me, a quick trip from the big city I grew up in. All the people I was that close to were right here.” A wave of her hand encompassed the hangar deck, and by extension the ship beyond. “There’s still time enough to start a family, if I meet someone I want to do it with. Maybe not much for blood children, but that’s not going to make me rush.”

Sharim snapped the cover back over the new coupling and reached for his datapad. “I’m sure you’ll do well at it when or if you do,” he murmured, tapping in a quick diagnostic. “You always did here.” He let out his line, the reel buzzing as it eased him back to the deck, then whizzing once he’d detached the hook, pulling the line back in.

Kahlet laughed. “Why, Chief Petty Officer Navar, I didn’t know I met your exalted standards.”

Sharim laughed as well. They both knew he wasn’t the image of a stern CPO, bellowing orders and terrorizing the enlisted. He made a few notes on his pad, then turned to face the wolf directly. “Well, in case there’s any doubt, it’s been a pleasure working under you, sir.”

“And people like you made it worth doing, Chief.” Disdaining salutes, she stepped up for a more personal handshake. “Thanks for the listening ear; I needed this slice of time.”

Her grip on his hand lingered a bit. He read the question in her eyes, the invitation that, as senior officer, she didn’t quite dare utter aloud.

Well, why not? She’d been as much a friend as their separate lives had allowed for – a fellow serviceman in the same unit, anyway – and she was fit and strong, with nice eyes and an appealing voice. “You know,” he said, “my shift’s over in an hour, when the watch changes…”

“Is it?” A smirk. “Looking to serve under me in a different way, Sharim?”

“One last chance for it… Derra.” He shivered a little at the thought.

She gave his hand one last squeeze. “I take my meals at the forward lounge. I’ll linger there. Have a good rest-of-shift.”

And with that she was off down the aisle, a spring in her step that he imagined hadn’t been there on the way in; and Sharim turned to the next suit in line, humming under his breath.