It didn’t take long before the next flare up between the crew of the Argus and the Meh-Teh. This time I was on my feet, and got there just behind Elle with a contingent of SecDiv reinforcements.
“Like old times, huh?” Elle asked, smiling at me. She tossed me a baton.
“Little too much,” I said, hanging it off my belt. There were at least thirty participants, and while SecDiv were armed and armored, they were still outmanned. Pacifying this group was going to require a lot of blood, and I was grasping for a better solution. “Haley, I’m commandeering the cochlear implants of all of our brawlers who aren’t SecDiv. I want them turned up past the safety specs; I don’t want permanent damage, I just want attention.”
“Don’t you always?” Elle asked with a smile.
“Stop!” I barked. Most of the fighters collapsed to the floor, clutching their ears. A few stayed on their feet, but the fight had going out of them.
“Adjusting volume down, Captain; broadcast continues,” Haley offered helpfully.
“Those of you on the ground, stay there. Those on your feet, sit. These monkeyshines end, now.”
“I am not a monkey!” one of the Meh-Teh near me growled.
“Then stop flinging shit on my ship,” I said.
One of the Meh-Teh officers was still standing, and a lifetime in the security services sent my hand to my baton unconsciously as I moved towards her. Then I recognized her hips and the way she held her weight just a little cock-eyed, and hoped to Hell this wasn’t going to be a diplomatic incident. It was the former Captain of the Stalagmite, since deposed, and newly a member of my crew. “I tried to stop them,” Diu’rnae said. “Wasn’t any use; I was storm-tossed on a sea of testosterone.” I thought a moment; there was almost no chance the male hormone in her species was the same as in ours, just another comm-box translation.
“Haley must not have considered you a combatant, then, so you didn’t get the auditory spanking.”
“Is that what that rumble was. Almost sad I missed it.” I put up a finger, because I had Elle on the line, and knew I was needed for the security response moreso than to verbally spar with Di.
“Is that a thing you can do to all of us?” Elle asked over comms. She was on the other side of the room, monitoring the SecOffs keeping everybody calm.
“Wouldn’t know. I only just thought to try it.”
“So that was an ass-pull?”
“I always had a whomper for plan B,” I said, patting the baton she gave me.
“Might want to make sure we aren’t leaving that same window open in the event we ever get chased down by the company’s goons. Might even want to lock it down for any member of the crew in good standing; I can see the next you not having the same restraint.”
“I’m starting to become troubled by the amount of people preoccupied with the next me.”
“Nobody lives forever.”
“Nobody dies this young.”
“Unless they’re shot,” I winced, “stabbed,” I squinted, “or infected with any of an array of alien diseases or invasive bodily secretions.”
“I’ll keep the usage quiet, for the moment, so you have a chance to prep an explanation for the Council. Last thing I want is to have to deal with it when one of those old farts give themselves an aneurism trying to shit literal bricks.”
“Literal as in they’re made out of clay? I think I need to be concerned if the DivHeads are taking in so much clay they can shit literal bricks.”
“Literal in that they’re brick-shaped; I imagine they’re otherwise formed from concentrated hatred for you and poo.”
“Why would they hate the bear? I mean, how?”
“Not the- dookie.”
“Isn’t that more adobe, then?”
“If you want to be anal-retentive about it.”
“How is it that you’re coordinating an entire security response while also doing this with me?” I asked.
“I’d noticed how much of my time was taken up babysitting you. So I hotkeyed a bunch of common security commands on my HUD, and can issue them with subtle gestures and eye selections.”
“So that’s why you look like you’re conducting this thing like it’s an orchestra. Still, impressive.”
There was a pause, and she came back, and said, “I’m waiting for the cutting deflection.”
“Keep waiting,” I said, noticing that Di was trying to get my attention.
“I think I might have a way through this impasse,” Di said.
“I’m all ears. My plan had been to take the two officers nominally in charge of each side, march them to a cryo bay and tell them they’re taking a snow bath for enough time they become somebody else’s problem. So long as they didn’t mutiny, I’d let them off with a warning- squeeze them hard enough both sides see me as the common enemy, but also feel like they only got through it together. But if I even mentioned that idea your people would go apeshit.” She peered at me with her one good eye. “Rather than try to untangle whatever the commbox tried to make of that colloquialism, your people would lose all reason and we’d have a full-blown civil war. And, you know, not the fun kind.”
“You humans would not enjoy seeing our full fury unleashed. But I wouldn’t let that happen any more than you would.”
“Still Captain after all these years, eh?”
“They look to me, and I lead. It’s what we know, whatever’s transpired in the handful of years since I met you.”
“So you’ve heard what qualifies as my non-starter of a plan. What have you got?”
“I would suggest pairing Argus instigators with Meh-Teh officers.” It took a moment for the simplicity of her plan to dig into my cranium. The instigators were mostly, if not quite exclusively, men. Her officers were all women; like her, they were all man-eating tigers just aching for an excuse to throw-down, and I meant that in every sense of the word.
“I’m not pimping you out.”
“Nothing so sordid,” she soothed. “No doubt some of my officers will get laid- your resistance to my charms to the contrary- our females are usually quite skilled at getting what we want.”
“If I weren’t spoken for, a few times over, you’d be the first lady I’d split a milkshake with. Don’t, uh, tell Elle.”
“She’d stab you, I know; and as you’ve explained it to me, getting a friend or prospective lover stabbed isn’t considered a ‘practical’ joke amongst your oddly frail species.”
“No, it’s quite impractical; silly nature just didn’t design us to shrug off stabbings. But it’s not you. And my odd situation, and the distance created by our differences shouldn’t mean you take a hit in the self-esteem.”
“My esteem, I assure you, is still quite potent,” she said, practically purring the last word.
“You really don’t have to make everything sexual.”
“And if I want to?”
“Just… tone it down in front of HR. And probably Elle and Sam.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” she said, and winked at me. “But to the plan. The brawls have, with few exceptions, been between our males and the Argus crew. Our officers understand the fragility of our union aboard this ship; they also have a history dealing with male aggression and forming it into something positive, something productive.”
“And something reproductive?”
“An en tendre? For me? Captain, you shouldn’t have.” She leaned into me, and looked right at Elle, who was staring daggers through the both of us.
“Remember what we said about getting me stabbed?” She stroked my cheek, with my head positioned between her paws and Elle; to her, it looked like a gesture of affection, but I felt the claws on Di’s secondary, powerful outer hands scrape against my stubble, playful, yet aggressive. She’d been kind enough to let SciDiv test her strength; if she really put her weight into it she could cleave a man’s skull from his neck in one swipe. I really didn’t want to think about what one of the males could do, if they really got it into their heads to hurt someone; credit where it’s due, they’d definitely been holding back with the crew of the Argus– which said something about how their big apes stacked up against ours.
I must not have been paying enough attention to her, because Di let one of her claws catch, not enough to pierce the skin, but enough I felt it snag, and I was surprised at the articulation she had with her claws. “I’m going to have my fun with you one way or the other,” she said, close enough I expected her to nip me.
“If you get me murdered I’m definitely putting it in my will that the ship is to permanently set your wake alarm to a bugle at max volume, and always too early.”
“If you want me to stop you really have to stop flirting.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” I asked, realizing that she was right.
She answered by way of a smile, before she continued. “The plan is solid. My officers can commiserate with the Argus crewmembers, including over the brutishness of our males. Once they have friends among my species, then they will be willing to hear about the benefits of yolking our menfolk; how useful it can be, turning their raw, animal strength on one’s enemies. And they are… moldable, with effort. Stubborn, simpler than our women, certainly, but with effort, patience, and care, some of the best soldiers I’ve known were men. Some of the most loyal and caring, too. It is not the men themselves that are toxic, but a culture that abandoned them to their worst proclivities… and to some extent a physiology that makes them less inclined towards cooperation and civility.”
“Yeah,” Elle said over comms, “we have a similar issue with our men.”
“You bugged me?” I asked.
“I do, it’s one of my charms; I also did plant a listening device on you. Di tends to… push my buttons. And I’m still fit enough to do my job, but if I’m going to take a swing at a woman who could likely disembaby me with one slash, I’m going to do my due diligence before taking a swing.”
“So no stabbing?” Di asked, sounding almost wounded.
“Not for me, thanks,” Elle said. “But if you want, I can hold him down and you can take a stab at him.”
“Is she flirting, too?” Di asked.
“You know, I have trouble knowing for sure.”
Elle smiled, and said, “Mostly it’s, I realized the women in his orbit; it’s like being caught in the gravity of a black hole, it really is hard to break free of him.”
“Is she referring to an anal sphincter?” Di asked, and I couldn’t be certain whether her confusion was genuine.
“He is an inescapable asshole; I think we’ve found the perfect metaphor for him. But in case there’s been any confusion, we aren’t rivals, we’re neighbors.”
“Some of that is the space ship,” Di said.
“Some of it is. The point is I’m done being intimidated by you, except maybe being opposite you in a fair fight.”
Di put her softer, human-sized inner hand gently on Elle’s shoulder, then lowered the larger, clawed exterior paw, enveloping it. “As a friend, I feel I can tell you one of the secrets to my longevity has been not fighting fairly. The other side rarely does.”
“I think this is what the Axis felt watching Yalta play out…” I said.
“Captain,” Haley buzzed in my ear, “I have some concern at your voicing sympathy with Nazis.”
“Not at all,” I said, turning my attention from the rivals turned bosom chums. “Merely recognizing the parallels; that I may have watched the seeds of my own destruction sewn. Nazis, whatever century they’re dicking around in, can get fucked.”
“Isn’t sexual intercourse pleasurable, Captain? Aren’t you wishing them well with that statement?”
“No, damnit, Haley. Bigots and fascists, whether or not they call themselves Nazis, are bad people, who hurt those who are better than them, by dint of not being Nazis, in name or otherwise. I want them to stop doing that, by whatever means practical. Rehabilitation is always better than the stick, but often less realistic. But my first instinct is to protect, to stop bad people from doing bad things. The particulars of how is as much a philosophical as a logistical problem.”
“My… sensitivity does have a practical aspect. The Nexus has started receiving propaganda broadcast from the Nascent. Mostly, it is currently in the form of diary entries from relatives posted aboard the ship. But my protocols require me to screen communications for subversiveness, and I have noticed patterns. Several used the same, precise wordings. Some took the framework and adapted it. But the communications seem to have been sent to those most receptive to fascist messaging, as flagged in testing before our launch. The volume and the percentage of the crew receiving these messages has already begun increasing.”
“Shit,” I said.