It was that word again. Dirk had used it to describe Neva. And now the yyr had used it to describe her. What was it?
She opened her mouth to speak, but just then there was chaos at the entry. She turned to look and the yyr shifted its limbs, rising out of the seat. A half-dozen security officers in armor pushed their way in, riot-shields humming with the the energy that formed them.
The yyr moved into the aisle and remained still, its upper limbs spread apart. Bob and Doug moved nearby, their mottled arms raised, hands on the backs of their head. It seemed they were familiar with impending procedures.
The security officers stopped when they reached the strange group. The leader lowered her shield and deactivated it; the energy sparked as it dissipated and the transparent shield faded until all that was left was the handle, which the woman hooked to her belt. The other security followed her example.
“What in Zarq happened here?” Her hands remained in fists on her hips as she scanned the wreckage. Chairs and tables were strewn about in pieces. Food was splattered on the walls and floor. In the middle of the mess were the two groogs, the yyr, and Tabitha. Near to them was Dirk’s pathetic body. Tabitha wished she could see what the woman was looking at, but the faceplates on the security officers’ helmets were opaque from the outside.
Doug and Bob started talking at once, ensuring that nothing at all was intelligible.
“Quiet!” the security leader yelled. The groogs immediately obeyed. She waved one hand and the rest of the security team spread in a circle around them.
Tabitha dared to speak up. “Please, he’s hurt.” She pointed at Dirk.
One of the officers knelt at his side. “He’s beat pretty bad,” he said. Then, a moment later. “Sir, it’s Lieutenant Osterman!”
“Zarq!” the security leader cursed. She tapped the side of her helmet. “I need a med team here right now. Code gamma!”
The next several minutes were chaotic. A second team of six security officers arrived, and the two leaders immediately started arguing about Dirk, the aliens, and who was in charge. Two security stood by Dirk waiting for medics and the rest closed in close to the aliens. Tabitha couldn’t tell if they were arresting them or not.
No one took notice of Tabitha.
A moment later two soldiers with the red arm bands of medical personnel burst into the restaurant and rushed to Dirk’s side. Tabitha tried to speak but they silenced her with a dirty look. They did some quick diagnoses, injected him with something two or three times, applied a covering to keep him from moving, and slid a hover plate beneath him. One of the medics pushed a button on the plate and it rose to waist level. Then one medic pushed through the crowd while the other guided the floating Dirk behind him.
Seeing that security wasn’t paying attention to her, Tabitha decided to leave. She didn’t have anywhere to really go – Dirk hadn’t shown her where to stay before he was beaten. And, frankly, Dirk was one of only two people she knew on the ship who wasn’t imprisoned. And she had no intention of speaking with Zenzoff.
She moved quickly and quietly toward the entrance. When she reached the door, she turned and looked back. The yyr waved one limb slowy, and a soft yellow color rolled over its leaves then faded. Tabitha smiled, gave a small wave, and slipped through the door.
Dirk woke up to pain.
It was everywhere, in his head, his arms, his legs, but more than anywhere else, in his ribs. He forced his eyes open, immediately validating his fear that it would hurt to open his eyes too. So he shut them again. That hurt too.
He sighed (which hurt even more because it moved his ribs) and opened his eyes just a little to get used to the light.
“Well, I guess you’re awake, if all the grunts and whimpers are any indication.”
Dirk’s head spun as he tried to place the voice. “Doctor?” He paused as his last half hour of consciousness came back to memory.
“Tabitha! I’m…” He cut himself off with a yelp. Turning his head hurt too.
He could hear Tabitha stifle a giggle. Then she moved into his field of vision. She smiled just at the corners of her lips, and her blond curls hung just a little over her face. She was pretty cute.
He changed that line of thinking before he started to smile himself. He worried smiling would hurt. “I’m sorry, that didn’t go anything like I planned,” he said.
Tabitha’s smile became a smirk. “Yeah. About that.”
Someone in the back of Dirk’s brain began to panic, but was unable to warn the rest of his conscious mind in time. “What?”
“Did you hire two guys to throw a fight so you could impress me?”
The panicking fellow in Dirk’s brain began to get his message across, but the governing body in Dirk’s frontal lobe refused to pay attention to the plebeian movement. The mental mob demanded the truth, but Dirk refused. “If you didn’t notice, I didn’t get beaten nearly to death by two guys. It was a big tree I was trying to stop from hurting you.”
Tabitha folder her arms and leaned back a little. “There were two groogs helping you at the end, Bob and Doug. They told me a different story.”
“Oh…” The governing frontal lobe scrambled for a response.
The mob in Dirk’s mind pulled a successful coup, and Dirk decided to tell the truth. He breathed out. “Ok, yeah. I did. I thought maybe you’d like me a little more if I could impress you. The yyr was not part of the plan.”
The slight smile returned to Tabitha’s face. “I hope you have better ideas than impressing me by getting pounded.”
Dirk grinned a little too. “Yeah, the groogs were supposed to throw the fight. Why’d they help me anyway?”
“I can be persuasive,” Tabitha said. “Good thing they came in or you’d probably be dead.”
“That’s true,” Dirk said. “I must remember to give them my thanks.”
“And that was everything to your little plan?”
“No!” said the little brain-man. But the former government reasserted itself. No need to tell her I’m digging for information, Dirk thought. He almost nodded to answer her, but thought better of it. “Yes. Everything. I solemnly swear.”
Tabitha finally gave a full smile. “It was very sweet,” she said. Then she leaned in and kissed his cheek. Her lips were soft and warm. “Get some more rest. They sent a private to show me to sleeping quarters. I need to sleep, too. And I need to get a change of clothes that fit better than this mistake.” She indicated the ill fitting civilian uniform she wore.
Dirk took the opportunity to look at how it hugged her thighs.
Tabitha turned to go.
“Tabitha?” Dirk called after her.
She looked back into the room.
“Thanks,” he said. “I hope I’ll see you again.”
She smiled again, and Dirk felt a little leap in his stomach. “I’ll visit again,” she promised.
A shower and a nap left her surprisingly refreshed, but disoriented. It took her several minutes to remember where she was and why.
Even then very little of it made sense. Space pirates who went through the trouble to intercept a major ship to abduct her… or someone – she glanced at the the discarded, ill-fitting suit in the corner – but left before getting their prize. A “space witch” who protected her only to be imprisoned by the authorities. An officer who staged fights to impress her, only to get beaten mercilessly. And an alien who claimed Tabitha was one of those witches.
It was difficult to absorb.
She tried to tackle the information. There had to be a connection, somehow, between the yyr’s claim and Neva. Neva didn’t deny the charge that she was “q’dari,” so Tabitha decided it was safe to accept that was true. If that was the case, it made sense for Neva to wake her and save another q’dari from pirates. But Neva thought she was waking someone else: Tabitha Kronopolos. So maybe this other Tabitha was q’dari. But that didn’t sync with what the yyr said. It was clear that Ms. Kronopolos wasn’t officially known as q’dari, though. At least, Tabitha couldn’t think of a reason for Zenzoff not to imprison her right away.
Genzi had impersonated an officer, which fooled the Gen-D with her, but not any other officers. She even fought off a pirate. That might be how she learned about a fellow q’dari in trouble.
Tabitha sat at the edge of her bed and shook her head. She had a lot of jumbled information but no answers. What was Neva doing on the ship right away? How had she been on the ship so long without detection? Why had Tabitha been mistaken for someone else? Why was she important enough to warrant the attention of the first officer? Why were the pirates after her? What, and how, did the yyr know about her? And what did being q’dari mean, anyway?
Frustrated, Tabitha decided it was time to get some answers and stop getting bounced around by everyone else on the ship. It was time to take control of what was happening to her.
She dressed quickly. It was another uniform in the same style as the previous one, but this time she had clean underwear and, since the computer had re-measured her, the suit fit properly too. It still had the wrong last name on the patch, which momentarily made Tabitha feel bad for the real Ms. Kronopolos when she got out of sleep, since her clothes would all be Tabitha Reeves sized instead.
Tabitha ran her finger along the front of her uniform to seal it, then stepped from her cabin.