Chapter 16 - Anger
Rissa's temper hovered just below boiling temperature as they walked to the locker rooms. The commanders had led the aliens away, thank God, or she might have continued spouting off. She'd been stupid, but the surprise appearance had pushed her beyond her limit.
Why did they come? To praise the muscle-headed freak next to her? To rub her nose in her helplessness during the flight? The way they ignored me, you'd think he was the only one flying out there!
Perhaps they were attempting an up-close supernatural inspection of Poe's head. In the Final Round, they flew against the winning team on the Gr'ts'ck side, but unlike Eliminations, they would fly against different scenarios. The possibility that they were doing research to better tailor tomorrow's flight for Vampire annoyed her even more.
The job they'd done on her during the flight suggested they had the skill. Her Banshee's equipment should have at least slowed down a mind attack long enough for her to begin the mental exercises which guarded against interference.
"Chill, Babe!" Tony's banter cut into her funk. "If anyone here should feel overlooked, it's the Kahuna. They almost didn't recognize my presence at all, just now."
She turned on him. "So what are you doing here, anyway? Thought you might need to pull me off your buddy?"
He grinned. "Sounds like a blast. Why don't you go for it?"
She bit back a choice word and glared at him.
Amanda supplied, "I thought we would have to pull you off the Gr'ts'ck. What were you thinking, Cat Girl?"
She didn't have an answer. Humans couldn't tell an alien private from a general, nor had any idea what an alien would consider disrespect. One paid all Allies courtesy, and Allies familiar with Humans knew what constituted courtesy from Humans. More than likely, the Gr'ts'ck knew she hadn't been polite.
"Yeah," Tony observed in philosophic tones, "you shouldn't have done that."
She glared again. "I didn't ask for your analysis!"
"The Kahuna waits for no invitation, Babe."
She recognized his game now. He was drawing her ire off Vampire, to keep her focus on him until she grew tired of fuming. Knowing he meant well didn't help much while the flames still smoldered.
The worst part was, she'd sassed a Gr'ts'ck. 'Allies' included many species. There were the Zindavoor who had adopted Earth as their new home and the Sesseem who built her Banshee. There were the mysterious, ancient Ai'iin. But in this region, more than anyone else, Allies meant the Gr'ts'ck.
Back when Humans were still waging war on each other with muskets, almost a million Gr'ts'ck had died to free their planet from the Enemy's grip. Their scouts had stumbled upon Earth and investigated the natives with interest. Something about humans had caused their leadership to deem them worth the hideous cost of liberation.
After that colossal battle, the war had returned to the eternal stalemate. Down on Earth, the Enemy continued to hold secret sway their Human minions and their Specters. But now, the Allies had the local Enemy forces cut off from reinforcement.
The Gr'ts'ck had been the ones who recruited Humans to the Allied side as well, creating the ESDF. Over the centuries, they had supported the Force to keep Enemy reinforcements out and supplies low. Someday, they would starve the aliens out and at last liberate Humanity from the ancient darkness. For the opportunity, Humans owed the Gr'ts'ck more than they owed any other race.
So, what does Rissa do to pay them back? She throws a challenge in their face!
Amanda noted, "Rissa, I think you'd better prepare yourself. I expect Carter to call you to his stateroom after dinner for a lecture on conduct befitting an officer. You make sure you hunker down and take it. Don't argue with him."
She grimaced. Most of the time she could lose herself in the adult world of warfare and forget her actual age. Those occasions when the real adults remembered she was a mere teenager were ugly slaps in the face. They woke her out of the nightmare just long enough to remind her just how screwed her reality was.
"Well, here's where we go separate ways," Amanda told the boys as they approached the women's showers.
Rissa couldn't leave it there. Instead of going in, she turned toward Poe and crossed her arms. "So, Vampire, what's the story?"
The boys had already passed them to head to their own showers. They stopped as well, and turned to face her. Poe met her eye, waited for a moment as if he expected her to say more, then frowned. "What story?"
"What happened out there? You spotted the Wraith way before I could and you showed no effect at all from its attack, even though you came into closer range of it than me. Way closer range. Why doesn't your personnel folder say anything about psychic powers?"
Dark eyes regarded her, communicating Why should I even respond to this? She held his gaze, intent on out-waiting him. He frowned deeper. "I'm not a Sensitive."
Planting fists on hips, she exploded with frustration. "BS! You might have just been a firecracker at blocking, and it would explain everything else. It doesn't explain how you spotted the Wraith so fast! A 'faint double-echo', my butt! I reread the logs on the way in! I didn't have anything on my screen until after you said that!"
Poe crossed his arms, his voice remaining stony and level. "I don't know what you're talking about. I spotted it, I called it."
She set her jaw and glared at him, then let out a huff. "You know what? Fine! Whatever! Just stay the hell out of my brain, you got it? Oh and that cutesy trick at the end, squeezing yourself between me and the Wraith? Don't you ever take that kind of stupid risk again!"
She spun and marched inside with an amused Amanda on her heels.
Rissa reached her locker and yanked it open. Stripping away her breather, she planted it on the shelf along with her helmet. Flight gloves and boots followed with a bang.
"Sucks to be Vampire today," her friend observed. "You have an interesting way to say 'Thank You'."
With an agitated jerk, Rissa yanked the zipper of her flight jacket open and tore her arms free of it. "Stow it. You're out of line."
"We're equal rank."
"I'm the XO."
Jacket and pants slammed onto their respective hooks. "Then act like I expect you to stow it."
Amanda stayed there, leaning against the lockers, smirking at her and giggling. Rissa peeled away her thermal bodysuit off, wrinkling her nose against the gym socks odor released. Her bared skin glistened in the fluorescent lighting, thanks to the reflection from the vac-skin woven into it. Her permanent protection was yet another constant reminder of her warped reality.
I may look like an ordinary girl once the flight gear comes off, but the truth is, I'm a living space suit. A normal needle or surgeon's scalpel can't even penetrate my skin.
Somehow, the thought led her to wonder about Poe's piercings. No normal body-art parlor did those, she realized. Their tools would never puncture the implant.
Disrobing complete, she shut away thoughts of irritating boys, disrespectful subordinates and noisy friends. With a sniff at Amanda, she whipped a clean towel off the shelves and marched into the showers.