“Are you sure, Cohen?” Captain stood in the corridor outside my door. I was dressed in a pair of loose pants and a short-sleeve shirt. The air outside my room was colder, so I shivered again.
“Yes.” Okay, so maybe part of the shivers were from what I was about to do. I reached for the jacket that I’d been given that would identify me as part of the maintenance crew. I could put my strength to use.
“You’ve met with Luca and Priella. You’ll be on their crew. I’ve been assured they’re both great teachers.”
I nodded. My heart was pounding, and my chest was tight. But I could do this. I needed to. It was two people; I’d met them in a session with Lakshou. They were both past rescues, which should have made me uneasy since I was so unsure if I was still a weapon, but with my permission Lakshou had explained about the ports and implants and the changes to my brain. Neither of them had anything like that, and they didn’t look down on me with pity but they still understood.
I didn’t feel like I had to protect myself from them or protect them from me. They knew what I was afraid of, and they said they would have no problems disabling me if necessary since they both carried weapons and I’d be unarmed. Again, that should have made me nervous, but I was more reassured than anything else.
“What time is it?”
“Priella will be here soon to get you for just a half-shift rotation. You’re still recovering,” Captain said.
“Aparoe already told me to take it easy.” I tucked my hands in the pockets of the coat. “Thank you for letting me do this,” I said softly.
“We’re here to help you, Cohen. I don’t want you cooped up all the time, and if you feel like working, that’s okay. You don’t have to stay on the maintenance crew. You can explore the different jobs on the ship as we travel. Maybe by the time we reach a habitable port, you’ll have an idea of what you’re good at.”
Besides killing? I kept that one to myself. The idea of being physical with anyone, for any reason, was still an intense craving as well as a power aversion. I wanted to touch and be touched so badly, but I was more afraid of what might happen so I tamped down on the need. Aparoe still came by every day and scanned me, and I noticed they touched me in some small way each time. They kept it brief and light, but it helped.
Being near Captain didn’t help. I still remembered the intense warmth of his body the first time I dared allowed myself to touch him, the feel of his muscles bunching as he carried me out of my cell, and the scent of him that had surrounded me taking away the sterile torture of my existence.
But I wouldn’t let myself hurt him. I curled my hands into fists, still hidden inside my pockets.
“Hi, Cohen!” Priella strode down the corridor. She was a tall human, with a wide face and prominent cheekbones with sharply carved features. Her open smile faded as she stiffened and saluted Captain as soon as she noticed him beside me. “Sir!”
Priella’s hand dropped to her side, but her body was still tense. Why? I looked at Captain, but he was still relaxed beside me. His uniform jacket was open at the neck, the high buttons on the collar opened. “I’m going now,” I said slowly. I didn’t really get the complicated leave takings the people did, when it would seem fairly obvious I was leaving since I was walking away, but I tried to fit in so I gave the Captain time to object before I walked away from him.
Priella swung around and walked beside me, close but without touching. She glanced over her shoulder a few times. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to the captain,” she said. “He’s tall.”
He was taller than most of the humans I’d seen on the ship, but many aliens were taller. “His quarters are just down the hall from mine. His office was turned into a room for me,” I offered stiltingly.
“Wow, so you see him a lot?”
What was a lot? I shrugged. And was it some sort of big deal? Would it upset someone that I got to see Captain a lot? Or if he was ignoring someone else to be around me?
“Okay, okay. No pumping you for information about officer’s row until we’ve had you working with us longer. Are you ready to work?”
I nodded. I kept my mouth shut about having to take it easy. I didn’t want to come across as lazy or a complainer. We got down to the maintenance bay and got to work. At first, I was just handing them tools, but eventually, over the course of that shift and the next, they started to explain what they were doing to the shuttles that were stored on the ship.
We were standing at the rear of one of the atmo shuttles when someone ran a anti-gravity bin into the shuttle. It was currently hovering, the clamps off, because one of the stabilizers was missing. Luca was standing beside me, and the shuttle was just inches away when I stepped in front of him and grabbed it.
I grunted and pushed, straining my arms as I locked my stomach and leg muscles and braced. No one wanted to write a report on a broken piece of equipment crushing a crew member. I wouldn’t have to do it—Priella and Luca were co-leaders, but I’d have to write up my own report to add to theirs. It would be a lot less stressful just to stop the shuttle.
So I did.TBC
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