PrideHomer Iseoy is horrified to find that the new member of the crew of the Njord is a Vedrinan, their culture of sexual freedom in stark contrast to his own, very rigid beliefs.
Iseoy’s tenure aboard the ship is a minor act of rebellion against his father’s strictly enforced expectations. To Iseoy’s surprise, Rainbird is an excellent warrior and they make an effective pairing.
Slowly, Iseoy starts to see Rainbird as something more than just another crew member. But after being trapped, thinking they were going to die, Iseoy does something he’s convinced Rainbird can never forgive him for.
Can they be brought together for the truth finally set them both free?
Striding into the captain’s office, Iseoy glanced briefly at Chelan, the head of security, then with a frown at Rainbird who sat rigidly on Chelan’s left. An empty chair was on Chelan’s right and Arvid looked at Iseoy, then the chair. Without a word, Iseoy sat down.
“Well now, gentlemen, I’m pleased you’re both here.” As Arvid’s grey gaze shifted to him, Iseoy experienced a sensation as if his stomach had just lurched in an unpleasant way.
“As you are aware, Lieutenant Iseoy, Commander Chelan has run simulated tests alongside the ship’s doctor and the AI to see who might bring out the best in your inherent abilities. Lt Rainbird scored an almost perfect match.”
“Sir --” Iseoy surged to his feet ready to protest, but the look in his captain’s eyes was enough to make him instantly sit down again.
“It’s a well-kept secret that Rainbird has some psi abilities. He’s not a true telepath or empath as we currently use the terms, but he can sense certain ... emotions, for example.”
This time Iseoy’s stomach knotted. PrideHomers had excellent sight, vision, and scent. He could usually tell how someone was feeling by scent. He’d never given thought to mental signals he might unthinkingly give off.
He’d always attributed Rainbird leaving at his approach as the Vedrinan’s way of avoiding confrontation, or an unwillingness to force himself to keep up the polite veneer with which they worked on deck. Instead my own thoughts probably drove him away. That’s what Tamesis was trying to tell me. And yet Rainbird still worked, and worked well, with me.
“I see, sir.” Iseoy kept his eyes front.
“Do you? I’m very pleased. Because you and he are going to be assigned together on the next away mission.” Arvid leaned forward, his gaze shifting from Rainbird to Iseoy, with the same cold intensity. “Allow me to be very plain about this. The AI, given all the available data, suggests that you two will make an excellent pairing thanks to your divergent, yet complimentary, talents. So long as you keep your personal ... feelings to yourselves.”
“Yes, sir.” Rainbird spoke at the same time as Iseoy who couldn’t help but wonder whether it was pure coincidence, or something more.
“I have some even better news.” Chelan looked right then left, his smile feral. “You boys get to have extra sessions with me to hone your fighting instincts, to make you think and work as a single cohesive unit. Won’t that be fun?”
The soft groan Iseoy heard from the other side of Chelan almost made him smile, and he would have, had the situation not been so serious.
“Do we have a choice in this, sir?” Iseoy asked, certain of the reply.
“Not unless you have a personal objection to working alongside Lieutenant Rainbird. You’ve said yourself you wanted to be a better warrior. You now have the perfect opportunity.”
Very well, sir. When will this begin?” Iseoy asked.
“Right now.” Chelan stood up with speed and grace that his broad, powerfully-muscled physique belied. “Follow me.”
Fifteen increments later, Iseoy was in the ship’s gym, dressed only in snug, black thigh-length shorts, standing beside Chelan while they waited for Rainbird. To Iseoy’s surprise, the Vedrinan wore a one-piece singlet and short combination, ensuring the bulk of his body was hidden. All Iseoy had ever heard about the race suggested they preferred little or no clothing.
To the expert eye of a warrior, Rainbird looked no real challenge, although Iseoy was aware that the other man had to be trained in combat if aboard a Federal ship. Given that Rainbird’s race was known for their placid and pacifist natures, and propensity for choosing loving over fighting, Iseoy briefly wondered how Rainbird coped.
He decided a fast attack to get it all over with was the best strategy. Slam him down hard, knock the wind out of him, battle over.
“Let’s see how you do, boys. Go for it.” Chelan folded his arms and stood back.
His plan in mind, Iseoy circled his prey. Rainbird was difficult for Iseoy to read. His face remained expressionless, and the only scent Iseoy could detect was the slightly heady floral one his opponent favoured.
With a soft growl, Iseoy made his move, but Rainbird was already twisting agilely aside, and Iseoy missed him completely. Rainbird retaliated almost immediately. The first punch glanced Iseoy’s chin. He noticed too late that it was a feint, and the second punch hit him painfully in the gut.
But Iseoy was used to it all. He was a veteran warrior. Even being out of breath was something Iseoy knew how to deal with. He stood straight, eyes blazing, and stared at his opponent. He was not going to lose to a Vedrinan. He was a PrideHomer warrior. But Rainbird stood tall, his gaze never wavering as they faced off.
“You’re going down.” Iseoy took another swing as he closed the last of the distance, but he wasn’t concentrating as he should, and the punch was mistimed.
Once again, Rainbird dodged the blow, getting in several swift punches to Iseoy’s ribs which were painful enough to make the catman lose his temper. He didn’t fall -- I will not fall -- but it was a lot closer than he’d have liked. The swiftness, and the pain had been enough to make him back away.
He swung a roundhouse punch. Rainbird bent backward and only air was displaced as Iseoy’s knuckles swished past his opponent’s nose. With a growl, Iseoy punched again. Rainbird ducked. Iseoy kicked. Rainbird twisted aside.
Rainbird went in for another shot of his own. Iseoy shoved him off. Seeing Rainbird scoot back so far against the weight of it gave him a flush of confidence that his greater strength would win out. He covered the distance between them. Threw three more punches, two of which did land.
Rainbird fell to his knees.