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A Warden's Resolve (Complete)
The ground seemed to shake continuously as the bombardment continued, charge after charge slamming into the complex. Soldiers scrambled throughout the buildings, fleeing the failing defenses to find safety. Discipline no longer seemed an option, the once orderly troops scattered in panic. Many of the commanders were killed in the initial salvo, quickly followed by any potential defensive countermeasures. A precision tactical strike by one of the most brilliant military minds in all of the Dominion.
Shaori rushed down the hall, Luminai in tow, towards a stairwell. She refused to allow herself to succumb to terror, even as the bastion of safety and security began to collapse down around them. With a thundering charge, she barreled forward , her armored body slamming the metal door clear of its frame.
"Veriz, what's your position?" Shaori shouted into her datachron.
"I'm three stories below you, the stairwell is clear," the Draken reported calmly. "Nice entrance by the way."
"Wait for Zoba!" the Chua screamed down the hall, panting as he waddled up from behind.
"Why are we delaying? Get me out of here now!" the Luminai protested fearfully.
"Just making sure the way is clear, sir," Shaori noted, leaning over the railing.
"Zoba hate stairs...." the Chua grumbled, slowly waddling up alongside Shaori. "Maybe just fix elevators, meet you on bottom."
"Veriz, can you make a clean leap across the stairwell," Shaori questioned, her eyes moving towards the yellow furred Chua.
"Easily," her proudly answered before the realization settled in. "Wait...what are you planning, Shaori?"
"Catch Zoba," she firmly commanded as she leaned over and grabbed her companion. With a quick toss she flung the Chua over the railing, sending him screaming down the well. She watched with concern as the armored yellow fluff raced downward, several shrill expletives echoing back upwards. A sudden bolt of red dove across the opening, silencing the scream as it dashed across the opening.
"I've got him," Veriz stated over the comms with a chuckle.
"Not funny! Shaori not Zoba's favorite anymore!"
"You two get to the ground floor and secure it," she ordered before turning back towards the Luminai. "Alright, let's get moving, sir." With a wordless nod, the Luminai followed behind Shaori, perhaps concerned that he would be next to be thrown over the railing. Heavy steps thumped downwards as she bounded quickly from stair to stair, watching for any fallen obstructions, or even a ground force assault. But even through her vigilant watch, she couldn't help but think of the man responsible for the destruction all around her. A man she looked up to above all others as a paragon of duty and service. If he was capable of performing an assault like this, who else might?
"Emergency Lockdown engaged" a mechanical voice echoed throughout the complex as Shaori reached the ground floor, meeting up with her team. Two sets of doors began to slide shut in the hall, one just before the stairs and another near the exit at the far end of the hall.
"Veriz, carry Zoba!" Shaori commanded as she sprinted down the hall. The walls seemed to stretch on for miles, the heavy rumbles like slow, soft tremors. Each step seemed like seconds as time itself felt slower. As the door inched sideways, each moment obscuring more of the exit, she knew that she would never be able to force open the door. Even Veriz, with his Draken might, couldn't push back against the automated servos that aimed to seal them inside, not with what little space remained, what little time remained. The door would have to stop. She turned to her, sliding against the wall as the last remaining inches were threatened, the width of her limbs the only features that could reach across. The thoughts that raced through her mind vanished. Scattered, disparate worries melted away as everything converged onto a single, unified focus.
Light. Nothing but light. An endless chasm of white as far as could be discerned. There was a strange stillness, a tranquility in the light. No pain, no sadness, nothing but warmth to embrace her. Shaori stared out over this vast nothingness and felt content. As her eyes lingered on some unknown horizon, a shadow emerged in her view, casting an otherworldly aura around it. Though no features could be made out, it was familiar, comforting.
"Tristan..." Shaori wearily called out, her left arm reaching out.
"Rest now," the figure called back, its feminine voice soothing.
"Was I...was I brave enough, Tristan? Did I...did I live up to your teachings?" Shaori questioned as she continued to reach towards the divine entity.
"Shhhhh....you've been through much," the voice responded. "You must rest and regain your strength."
"But I have so much to ask you," the tired warrior pleaded. The visage began to shrink as it drifted away, beginning to vanish into the light from which it emerged. Discordant sounds consumed the serenity. Voices? Machines? Was the battle still being waged? Her eyes closed tight, hoping to struggle through the chaotic din and find something, anything to focus on.
Her eyes snapped open once more as she flooded with panic. Loud gasps for breath filled the air as she stared back into the light, several figures now above her. Slowly the fuzzy shapes would take humanoid form, a team of doctors standing above her.
"By the Scions," one of the doctors called out softly, peering down at the bed. "She actually pulled through."
"Wha....where am...." Shaori groggily rolled her head from side to side, trying to take in more of her surroundings. A medical bay. Her own private room. Instruments and devices that she couldn't possibly name strewn across the sterile room.
"What's the last thing you remember?" another voice questioned.
"Umm....high command. Assault. A door was closing." She stopped. The door. What happened with the door? "Did....did my team get the Luminai out?"
"Thank Tristan...." she sighed, allowing herself a moment of relief.
"If you hadn't blocked that door from closing, the next wave would have crushed you all. It's fortunate that Draken was able to push it off of you."
"Off of...me?" she questioned. "Right. I, I went in to stop the door from closing, but I only got my...." Her words stopped as she looked to her left once more, staring down the length of her body. The warm blanket covering her body drooped in odd patterns along her left side. There should have been more elevations. It should be the same on both sides. Panic quickly returned as she tried to scramble upright. She could prop up on her right arm, but as she tried to lean to her left, she fell.
The bodies descended upon her, their weight forcing her back onto the bed.
"Calm down Shaori!"
"My arm! What did you do to my arm?" she screamed, her body futilely thrashing beneath the combined weight of the doctors.
"Get a sedative!"
Terror consumed her as she laid helpless, trapped under several unfamiliar bodies. With her upper body covered fully, perhaps her lower could provide more leverage. They had her right leg pinned, but perhaps with her left. She thrashed with a mighty kick, but there was nothing. Again, she threw her full force into another fling of her leg. Still nothing. Just enough space was between the bodies to grant her a view to her legs. The only protrusion of the blanket on her left did not even make it to her knee.
"What did you do to-"
In that moment, the fear was gone. The calming light enveloped the world once more, leaving Shaori once more in its gentle embrace.
There was no comforting light when Shaori woke once more. Nor were there any figures looming over her. Only a dim light from overhead gave any view, and it offered a poor view of the room. Was it day or night? What day was it even? What memories were real? Her arm flopped across her chest, searching for its companion. Weak fingers slapped against the shoulder and began to trace downward, each moment filling with a tense hope that it would continue. A dream that was dashed within seconds.
"So it wasn't a dream..." she muttered, slowly bringing her right arm back to its proper side. Her body tried to sink deeper into the hospital bed, the weight of despair crushing down upon her.
"Shaori awake now?" a soft voice called out from the darkness, a familiar shrill.
"Zoba? Zoba is that you?" Shaori questioned, turning her head to the left. Nestled in the corner, barely visible in the dim light, sat the solemn Chua. The characteristic mischievous grin had been wiped from its face.
"Zoba here Shaori," the Chua smiled weakly before hopping off the chair. A loud screeching echoed in the room as the chair was dragged towards the bed, granting a closer vantage. "How Shaori feel?"
"Never better," she forced a wry smile. "It's good to see you Zoba."
"Shaori..." Zoba's lips quivered, the large rodent eyes beginning to water. A furry arm rubbed across the yellow face, trying to keep up a strong front. "Zoba still mad about stairs!"
"I'm sorry Zoba," she chuckled. Her body slowly slid closer to the Chua, unfamiliar motions flailing as she struggled with her new immobility. "You could have been seriously hurt."
"Zoba could be killed!" the shrill voice cracked. "Shaori should think more about Zoba's safety!"
"You're right Zoba, that was absolutely unforgivable." Her fingers found the switch, her bed humming as her back began to raise upwards, bringing her head level with her companion.
"Shaori need to be more careful!" Zoba leaned forward with a sob until their foreheads met with a gentle touch. "Or else...or else Zoba get hurt!"
"I'll be more careful, I promise." She reached up and caressed a plump cheek, weakly scratching her nails against the fur covered skin.
"Good!" Zoba pulled back with a feigned glare, but could only hold it for a mere moment. Zoba jumped off the chair and began to waddle towards the door. "Shaori need more sleep now. Think about what has done! Zoba and Veriz come in morning."
"Zoba?" she asked as her eyes followed the Chua's plodding around the room.
"No arguing with Zoba!" The door rushed open, light from the hall shining onto the Chua.
Posted Jul 31, 15
· Last edited Oct 21, 15
Consciousness faded in and out, the hums and beeps of the various machines in the room creating strange disjointed symphonies as the incompatible sounds flowed one right after the other. With no point of reference, it was impossible for Shaori to gain any sense of time. All she could do was lay weary on her bed, unable to find true rest. She could still feel the shockwaves of explosives as if they were happening just outside, hear her heart pounding in her ears. Nothing in years of service was anything close to preparing her for the kind of assault they sustained. Attacking the home of the Dominion Military was unthinkable. The leader of the assault was even more so.
How could someone so decorated, so revered throughout the Dominion go through with such an act? Brightland was a man of honor and duty whose model she, and so many others, had tried so hard to follow. Their reverence was repaid in blood. Not just their own blood, but the blood of their brothers and sisters in arms, who swore to uphold the sanctity of the Dominion against all threats. Now he was the threat. If Brightland assaulted High Command, what was to keep him from attacking any other installation in the Dominion? Perhaps Meridia itself would be his next target. The grand capital of all of the Dominion, the shining beacon of order and prosperity in the galaxy. And home to so many innocents.
"What is that still doing here?" a familiar, haughty tone questioned. The voice was just outside the room, the door left slightly open. Had it always been open like that? When would it have opened? Her thoughts and despairs of the recent events only added to her addled state, fatigue dragging her memory down into the depths.
"Councillor, we still have much work to do before we can relea-" a shaky doctor responded meekly. His voice lacked any sort of strength as he cowered before the approaching figure clad in black robes. The trappings of a Luminai.
"Is this not the finest medical facility on Cassus?" the Luminai interrupted scornfully. "It would have to be to treat my wounds, or the wounds of any of those descended from Godhood."
"Y-yes sir, and we are very proud to serve you so directly!" the Doctor tried to appease the irritated patient.
"The finest facility should be a model of peace, tranquility, and cleanliness, should it not?" the Luminai continued, gazing back into the room, its dark mask gazing lifelessly towards Shaori.
Visions of the assault rushed back, escorting that mask...that man to safety. Yes, she remembered him now. The one she had given up her limbs for. But why was he here now? Did he also get injured during the escape? Surely the others managed to get him to safety. Thoughts of her companions offered comfort, bringing a warm smile to her face. All four of them together, a mismatched squad of disparate souls somehow melded into perfect unity. At least, it used to be four. Perhaps if Jarren had been there...
"Of course sir! We take great pride in our facility!"
"Then why is this lowborn filth taking up one of your precious beds?" the Luminai demanded. Lowborn filth. He used those words before, hadn't he?
"S-sir, if I may..." the Doctor pleaded. "She saved your life! Lowborn yes, doing what she did to ensure that you would survive was-"
"Was her duty as a soldier, and her obligation as a loyal citizen of the Dominion! Now send it off elsewhere and make room for someone worth this level of care!"
Everything went silent as Shaori stared through the narrow opening of the door, watching the Luminai storm off one direction, the cowering doctor rushing off in the opposite. Lowborn filth. Yes, he had used those words before. Leveled them at her when she tried to help him up. Is that how he saw her? Is that what he thought of those like her? Those she grew up around, lived with, and loved. Friends and family reduced to mere garbage in the eyes of the Luminai, the ordained masters of the Dominion.
But, those were only his words. The Dominion can't be judged on the words of one pompous, arrogant bureaucrat. Like any entity, it must be judged by its actions, not its words. Even these thoughts began to unsettle her, worried eyes staring towards the sliver of light reaching into the dim room. True, the Emperor and the Church did decree Eldan blood to be sacred. Those with even a single drop of divinity in their veins were elevated in status. But things had always been that way, to a point, hadn't they? And those that rebelled....those lowborn that fought against the decree, that demanded they be treated the same as any other Cassian. They were suppressed, killed without mercy.
Except by one man.
Sunlight beamed across Shaori's face, causing her tired face to twitch with discomfort. Disorientation quickly took over as her eyes opened to unfamiliar surroundings. No signs of the plethora of machines and devices that once monitored her. Now there was only the one monitor above her bed, gently beeping along as it measured her vitals. In a way, the constant sound was a comforting reminder that she was still alive. Her head rolled towards the window, taking a gaze out towards the Cassian sky.
"At least this one has a view," she muttered softly to herself.
"Ah, good mornin' love!" a female voice loudly called out from the opposite side. Shaori slowly shifted her gaze to the opposite end of the room. The nurse gave a wide smile as she stepped in, a simple white jacket resting over a linen dress. "Gave us a good scare when they dumped you off here, you did!"
"How long have I been here?" Shaori asked with a grunt of confusion, trying to prop herself upright on her one arm.
"About four days, you was in an' out the whole time, you were," the nurse answered cheerily. "Truth be told, some people round here didn't give you much of a chance. But not me! I knew you was a strong one, I did!"
"What do you mean?" Shaori managed to raise fully upright, the blanket sliding down to her lap. A flimsy green gown was all that covered her. "I thought I was stabilized at the other hospital."
"Stabilized with all the fancy machines they got up in the nicest hospitals, love," the nurse sighed. "Sure would be nice if we could get some of those fancy machines for ourselves, but they're right expensive, they are."
"I see." Shaori peered down her body, staring down at the shortened stump resting under the blanket. Slowly it lifted up and down, tugging against the rough fabric of the sheets. "Well, thank you for keeping me alive then. It must have been a lot of work."
"Keepin' you alive's our job, love!" The nurse swelled with pride in her work. "But more then that, it's the right thing to do. Can't go letting people die, now can we?"
"You make it all sound so simple." Shaori's eyes moved up towards the shortened arm. Curiosity filled her face as she noticed an unfamiliar metallic attachment replaced her upper arm Metallic wires and cables latched from the protruding bud in her shoulder to her torso. The cables stretched down the length of the artificial upper arm. "What's this?"
"Hmm? Oh! We already got you fitted for the replacements. Doc figured we'd get you ready for that while you was out, rather then havin' to put you under again. We's just making the final tinkers to the full arm an' leg before we attach them. Should be a day or two before they're ready though. Now you get back to restin' love and I'll tell the Doc you're awake."
Shaori's gaze remained fixated on the prosthetic, watching it wiggle from side to side. The motions were certainly her own, but it seemed so alien. It offered no feeling of any kind. Were she not watching it, there would be no way to know that it was moving at all.
"Thank-" she started, turning back to face the nurse, but the woman had already vanished. "...you."
The first several steps were a stumble, lacking any form of grace or composure. One flesh foot would quietly plod on the ground as the heavy mechanical leg thumped loudly in its response. Sensations of touch were muted as Shaori evaluated the feeling of the tile floor underneath her feet. Under her right, she could feel the smoothness of the glossy finish, the chill on exposed flesh. For her left there was no such subtle distinctions, as if a boot were forever bound to her.
Her matching left arm provided equal discomfort, its unfamiliar sway making her lurch with odd cadence. Though the intricate artificial arm was not overly heavy, it was an unfamiliar shape, carrying a bit more bulk than she was used to. Cold plates occasionally brushed her side as he moved further forward in her awkward stride. The simplest of tasks, so taken for granted, was now a labor that required a surprising amount of focus. But there was no more time to be laying in bed. There was now a war on, and Shaori could not sit idly by.
With a slow reach, the mechanical arm extended out towards a simple wooden closet nestled in the corner. The digits twitched as she opened and closed the hand, attempting some form of delicacy as she grasped the handle. A strange satisfaction and relief came once she could feel the handle in her grip. Carefully she pulled back, the door creaking open at a snails pace until she could finally see within. Expecting to see her shattered armor and torn clothing, her brow raised curiously when a pristine violet shirt and pants awaited her. The baggy, black pant legs swayed gently, grazing against a pair of bulky combat boots waiting below. A slip of paper clung on to the visible sleeve, fluttering lightly from the shifting air of the room.
"I thought you might need these. Comm me when you're ready to get out. -J"
"Well, at least I don't have to sneak out of here in a gown, now," she mused, a soft chuckle echoed in the silent room before she squashed the paper in her hand.
Like the walking from moments before, dressing herself seemed a feat of dexterity. Cotton threads strained and broke around the bulkier arm, the sleeve tearing as it stretched beyond it limit. Though covered by the full sleeve, even a cursory glance could spot the rips in the fabric, exposing the artificial limb beneath. Fortunately, the provided pants were sufficiently large to prevent a similar failure. Though disheveled, there was comfort being in proper clothing again. Even more at the thought of leaving the hospital.
Shaori gazed up to the Cassus sky, the light of the sun glinting off her tearful visage. Her body rested upon a plain wooden bench outside the hospital, sitting alongside the pathway leading up to it. Just beyond was a city that should have been bustling with the activity of the people. There should be cars rushing either way to go shopping, people walking to the park, or someone headed to the next pub. Instead there were soldiers. A horde of crimson armor marching down the streets enforcing martial law. It used to fill her with pride to be a part of that horde, to protect those she loved from a galaxy that didn't understand what the Dominion was destined for. Destined. The word was bitter in her mouth. A doctrine of pride in the Cassian people as the galaxy's mandated caretakers. A doctrine of sorrow that shattered her people. Her hands moved to her abdomen, the metal one resting atop the flesh. She felt hollow. Empty. Tears flowed once more with a loud wailing as she doubled over.
"Shaori?" a voice called out softly from her left. She could barely hear him over her sobs, tilting her head to the side to catch a glimpse of the source. He stood in plain clothes, a simple white shirt and plain brown pants. If it weren't for the immaculately groom mustache across his lips, he's have seemed a Lowborn.
"Jarren? I..." she paused as she tried to recover her breath, what little composure she could muster. "I didn't think you would come."
"Come on, dear," Jarren playfully chided hoping to bring some levity to the situation. "When would I ever leave you behind?"
"How about for the last few weeks?" Her words were barbed with pain as she leaned forward again, clutching her gut.
"Easy, Shaori! Easy..." Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he guided her closer into a soft embrace. "I'd tell you where I was, but you know how it is. Secret orders this, classified locations that, half the time I figure I need to shoot myself for knowing where I am!" Looking down with a teasing grin, his lips quickly curled into a frown when he saw the glare turned up at him. Never had he seen such pain in her eyes, or such anger. "You're right, that was stupid. I'm sorry."
"Is everything a joke to you?!" Shaori shouted as she shoved him away. Her left arm hummed as it stretched out, shoving Jarren with a powerful force and casting him over the railing of the bench.
"Whoa-hey!" he cried out as he fell to the ground with a thump. Feet dangled over the arm of the bench, a boot stuck in place as it latched onto the rounded handle. "A little help here?"
"I'm serious Jarren!"
"Yes dear, I know and so am I. I really am stuck. It's quite uncomfortable." Grunting in annoyance, Shaori quickly grasped his boot and tugged it towards her, just enough to release it from the bench and allow him freedom. "Thank you. And to answer your question..you know I only joke when you need it." Jarren started back to his feet, patting his clothes to push off some dirt and grass.
"Now isn't the time..." Shaori's voice softened as her head returned forward, eyes locking on her feet. "I...I just want to go home."
"Shaori," Jarren began before sighing softly. "You can't go home."
"What do you mean?" her gaze turned towards him at first with anger. Anger quickly gave way to horror as a realization set in as she lunged towards him, gripping at his shirt. "No...please no. Don't tell me tha-"
"They're fine! They're fine! I swear!" Shaori relaxed and released her grip at the words. "We got them all out before the Legions showed up."
Shaori nodded her head, silently thankful.
"I heard about what you did. And I can plainly see the result of it," Jarren stated calmly as he returned to his seat behind her. "It takes a great deal of courage to offer up one's life for their friends, even more to do it for a complete asshole."
Shaori's lips open to respond, but no words came out. What hope had come to her face sank away as her hands instinctively returned to her abdomen. "I...it wasn't...one life I sacrificed..." His arms immediately wrapped around her and tugged her into a hug, Jarren's eyes squeezing shut in pain.
"I didn't," Shaori sobbed, tears gushing into that soft, white shirt. "I didn't think about...there wasn't time to-" Jarren shushed softly, trying to silence her.
"You made the right choice. If you didn't block the door, you all would have died."
"And then..." the sobbing ceased so suddenly with a cold chill. Her voice went flat, yet smoldered with rage. "And then that ungrateful bastard was going to throw me out. Called me filth. Called my child filth..."
"Shaori," Jarren stroked his hands through her amber hair, pushing through unkempt tangles as she remained against him. "This is how they all see you. They will always see you. No matter what you do, no matter what you try you will always be beneath them. And it's wrong. But we can make it stop."
"How?" Shaori looked up with steely determination and icy rage.
"Come with me. To Admiral Brightland's side."
Cassus. The homeland that bore the new rulers of the galaxy. Second only to the Eldan themselves, the Cassians were a beacon of order in the chaotic universe. But even the home of order itself was prone to chaos now as brother fought against brother all over a few drops of blood and the words of an imperial decree. Despite all the turmoil and suffering, Shaori felt a pang of guilt as she watched the planet shrink through the window. Resting her head against the window, she watched as the planet faded from view with the turn of the shuttle.
Jarren watched her from the pilot's chair at a rare loss for words. All he could do was reach across and place a hand on her shoulder to try and reassure her. That new mechanical shoulder, cold metal that was so different from her warmth. Or was it more than just lifeless metal that was different? She was drained, exhausted, and defeated. It wasn't just her arm that was cold, it was her very essence.
"I guess we finally have time to talk now," Shaori muttered as she kept her face pressed against the window. "The two of us in a shuttle for hours, won't get more private than that." She tried for force a smile, to give some sembalance of normalcy, but it didn't fool either of them.
"We don't have to," Jarren answered softly. He leaned closer, moving his fingers up to her cheek. Her eyes closed as she felt the fingers trace along her flesh, the backs of the fingers sliding gently upon her. "Things are hard enough for you right now. The last thing you need to think about it us."
"It's the only thing worth thinking about right now," Shaori sighed. "So go ahead...get it out of your system. The question you've been wanting to ask for the last few hours."
Jarren remained silent, staring intently upon her even as she could only look out onto empty space. Only the hum of the engines and beep off the console echoed through the small craft. Each beep grew louder than the last, the engine becoming a thundering roar until it practically deafened him.
"Fine," his voice coming with a heavy breath to banish the cacophony of mechanical instruments. "Might as well get it out of the way. Why? Why didn't you tell me?" Though he did his best to remain calm and gentle, there was no hiding the irritation.
"I was never sure," Shaori responded, her voice still distant and cold. "It wasn't until you were reassigned that I had a chance to find out for sure."
"You could have called me! Sent me a message!" Jarren grew flustered, his raising voice flooding the craft. "Anything! Wy didn't you do anything to tell me?" Her eyes fluttered in a slow blink, unfailingly staring out into the star-speckled abyss. The silence she gave him only served to anger him more. "Dammit Shaori, talk to me! This was your idea!"
"Because you would have come back!" her voice came to life as she finally freed herself from the window, turning to face him. She refused to cry again, far too many tears had been shed from her reddened eyes. "And I couldn't live with that. You were finally free to find someone else who wasn't-"
"Oh don't you dare try to make it about me!" Jarren shouted back. "You made your own selfish decision to make yourself feel better. My feelings, your family's feelings, everyone else's feelings be damned! This was your choice Shaori. And you chose to lie."
"Do you think I like lying? I'd never done a dishonest thing in my life until I met you!" Shaori retorted, her own anger bubbling to the surface. She heard the first gasp of breath as he prepared to speak, but was having none of it. "You let me finish! Don't you dare try to play innocent saying it's not about you. It was always about you! Every decision I made since we first kissed was about you! My career, my family, us....everything!"
"Oh this will be rich!" he mocked, rolling his eyes with contempt. "How was I ruining your career? I could have been an officer in a second if it wasn't for you!"
"And I could have been a Sword Maiden if it wasn't for you!"
Even the engines seemed silent as the exchanged paused. The two stared across the narrow gap between seats, both trying to maintain the angry facade, to see who would blink first. Who would offer the first reconciliation.
"Y-you....a maiden?" Jarren stammered, clearly overwhelmed. "W-when? H-how? What....why?!"
"I had submitted my application years ago, shortly before we met," Shaori's voice softened as the tension dropped. "About a month after we first...got together, I got word back. I was accepted."
"But why didn't you take it?" he pleaded. "You looked up to them! I mean...you told me how much you wanted to be one of them when you were a child. Why? Why would you give up your dream like that?"
"Why didn't you become an officer?" she questioned, knowing full well the answer. Jarren made no effort to respond, his eyes drifting down to the panels of the shuttle, trying to find anything that could be a distraction. "Jarren...I loved you, so much. And I still do."
"Then why....why were we never together? For real?" his eyes looked solemn as he gazed into hers, asking his own question that he already knew the answer to. "I know this sounds callous, but if you could give up your dream for me then why couldn't you give up your husband?"
"I cared for him, too, even if the love between us had been fading. And I had made my promise to be with him, always. He's a good man...he didn't deserve something like that."
"And you didn't deserve to be trapped by your promises and your feelings. Sometimes," he started with a sigh. "Sometimes we have to do what's right for us, even if it goes against our word. What we promise and what we must do...they aren't always the same."
Shaori stared upon him, seeing the familiar gleam. That spark that had first drawn her to him. A little spec that shone in the silence that followed. A glint his eyes as he gave that stupid little grin of his. It was like the worlds ugliest puppy dog trying to smile at her, those enlarged eyes and smushed lips as he raised his brow. It was utterly ridiculous.
"Dammit Jarren," she giggled, finally forming a genuine smile. "It's not fair when you use that face!"
"I had to pull out the big guns, dear." Jarren laughed along side her. "Admit it, you needed that. All of that."
"Well, here we are," Jarren stated proudly as the shuttle neared Brightland's fleet. Dozens of ships sat in formation around the Star of Dominus, the pride and joy of the Dominion fleet now the sign of both treason and hope. The shuttle veered off to one of the smaller ships, passing under the massive Arkship as it sought its designated hangar. "You're sure you want to go through with this? There's no turning back once this shuttle lands. You'll never get to see your family again, you know."
"I know," Shaori sighed wistfully. "But I don't think they would have understood. It's better this way."
"Neither did you, at first," Jarren noted. "You came around, I'm sure they would have, too."
"I had to lose a lot to understand," Shaori grew more sullen as she spoke. "Too much."
"Hey!" Jarren called out with a firm, but friendly tone. "We'll get through this. I'm here for you. Assuming I don't botch this landing and kill us both, of course." The shuttle engines silenced as the thrusters shot in bursts, sudden jets rushing out and silencing as it settled in position. A loud clunk echoed through the hangar when the shuttle's struts struck the floor, slamming down with jostling force.
"Not your most graceful landing," Shaori teased.
"Yes, well...it's the thought that counts isn't it?" Jarren chuckled as he flipped through the cockpit switches. Internal lights dimmed as the engines shut down.
"I'd say not killing us counts for just a bit more." Gripping the handle, Shaori gave a firm tug upwards to unlock the hatch. A hiss of air rushed out as the door began to open. Shaori pushed herself from her seat as soon as the door raised. The clang of her metal leg echoed through the small bay. "I guess I won't do many soft landings anymore, either."
"Something else we can share in common," Jarren mused from within the shuttle. He jumped out a moment later with a grunt, slamming himself down onto the bay with as much force as he could muster. "See?"
"Very funny," Shaori wryly commented. Intermittent clunks filled the air with every other step as Shaori started towards the exit. The cadence was uneven as her left leg swung out with each step, leg stiff and rigid. Jarren trotted up from behind until he was beside her, matching her slow pace.
"Ah, I meant to ask you one other thing. Why are you only wearing one boot?" Jarren quizzed. The pair paused and looked down, both staring at the exposed metal foot.
"Oh," Shaori blushed with embarrassment. "I, um, I can't bend the knee on this thing very well. So I couldn't get it on."
"We'll visit the technicians as soon as we can," Jarren mused with a grin. "But they're going to want to debrief you first. After all, you're a new addition and you were in central command when it was assaulted."
The two walked side by side through the corridor. Though Shaori's pace was slow, Jarren never took a step ahead or behind. He reached his arm out to hers, intertwining his fingers with the cold metal of her left hand. The mechanical digits lowered quickly with a jerky curl. As she looked down towards the grip, her expression grew puzzled. Jarren's left knee never bent, making his leg swing out just as hers did. Her elbow jutted out into his side in a chastising strike his gait returning to normal.
It took very little time for Shaori to adjust to life with Brightland's crew. Most of them were soldiers who had grown disillusioned with the Dominion, a great many were the Lowborns that were affected by the decree. People like her who had once served with great pride but then felt themselves cast aside in the name of some new divinity. Solidarity was an ample commodity as those who fought back talked of family members lost or left behind. But all accepted the loss in the hope of a better life. For the hope of a greater good for all Cassians, not just the chosen few.
Shaori jogged through the corridors of the ship, rhythmic steps softly plodding across the deck plates. Amber hair bound in a tail bounced and swayed as she went, moistened by the sweat on her scalp. It took several weeks of practice and adjustment, but her new limbs felt much more natural, more real to her. Sleeves weren't much of an option anymore, the metal shoulder ill-fitted to her form. Tank tops were fast becoming a fashion necessity. The violet shirt loosely hung across her chest and fluttered in the breeze of her pace. Thick black pants sat equally loose below her waist, though mercifully her artificial leg was better proportioned to her. The jog gave her a chance to unwind, letting her thoughts float freely across the cosmos. Reality snapped back as her datachron began to beep, a display appearing before her eyes.
"I hope I didn't catch you at a bad time, dear," Jarren chuckled. His normally immaculate face was stained with engine grease, black smudges that matched his facial hair.
"Never a bad time for you," Shaori answered with a sweet smile.
"I just wanted to make sure we're still on for tonight?" Jarren questioned as a mischievous grin grew on his lips. "I've got two packets of rations with our name on them. What better way to celebrate our two month re-anniversary?"
"Rations you say?" she feigned amusement. "Oh be still my beating heart. Such a romantic!"
"Oh but that's not all, my dear," Jarren continued to ooze sarcasm with every word. "Afterwards, I'll whisk you away to a magical standard issue quarters for a night of the Dominion's finest propaganda films."
"Do leave something to the imagination, or you'll spoil all the fun!" Shaori joked.
"Even your imagination won't have you prepared for what comes af-"
The ship rocked as an impact slammed against the hull. Sirens and alerts blared in delayed warning. Shaori barely managed to keep her footing during the first impact, the listing of the ship throwing her into the wall. A salvo of impacts followed in repeated bombardment.
"Spin drive is down!" a voice cried out through the chron from behing Jarren. "Get it back up, quick!"
"Jarren! Are you alright?" Shaori shouted over the din of alarms. Once empty halls flooded with people as the crew rushed from their quarters to their stations.
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Jarren answered as he picked himself up off the floor. "But I think we'll have to cancel date night. I know, not the time."
"Need a hand down there?" she questioned as calmly as she could manage in the chaos.
"Mmm, yes I think a strong mechanical hand would be very useful right now, hold on a sec," Jarren paused as he turned around. "Get that leak under control now! We're not going anywhere if we lose our fuel!"
"I'll be down in a minute, let me grab my sword!" Shaori shouted back.
"I don't think we'll need you to cut through any-"
"Warning! Boarding ships have been launched. Several made it through our fire. Prepare for invaders!" a distorted voice blared over the sirens.
"Good instincts as always, my love," Jarren stated. "Could I trouble you to grab my guns, too?"
"Perhaps you'd like me to bring you a bottle of wine, too?" Shaori answered sharply, as if the request was foolish.
"Lovely that we're on the same page then! I'll see you soon!" The chron display narrowed and vanished with a blink.