Eleven Years Ago
The cockpit was a fairly tiny affair but larger…and a bit less shiny than she had been expecting, given how polished the outside was. Clean, to be sure, but the metal was dulled with a few years of use. A sign of a good ship, then, to have lasted a while and still be put together and working as well as was told. A pair of seats, pilot’s and co-pilot’s, were separated by a panel with screens on the surface. A pair of thin pipes ran along the wall, just below the ceiling. It all seemed very sturdy, well-built. Just a bit of polish when the captain wasn’t looking, and it could look like new.
The dashboard glowed with many little lights, flickering colors. She tried to take them all in, eyes following them as one lit and another extinguished. Most of the buttons weren’t labeled – how would she ever be able to tell what they were? Blasters had a handful or two of buttons at most, easy enough to remember; this ship, and it was a small one, all things considered, had at least a hundred of them, and dials, too. But already, she had found a favorite button – a big, bright red one, one that she probably should not ever touch. Especially considering it was surrounded by glass.
“Oh, for the love of – Kes!”
Nalin touched her shoulder firmly. Kes turned around, tearing her eyes away from the console. She opened her mouth to demand what he wanted, but then realized to whom she was speaking and why she was here in the first place. She snapped her hand to her horned forehead in a sharp salute.
“Sir! Sorry, sir,” she said just barely suppressing a sheepish grin.
He raised a brow at her, examining her, then rolled his eyes and nodded once. Her hand dropped to her side and she focused herself.
“You look like you’ve never been inside a ship before. Ever seen a YT-1250?” he asked, leaning back against the door frame.
“Not quite, sir. I’ve seen them when I worked for CGC, but I never spent much time on one. Never got assigned there.”
“Right. CGC. Heard the Imps shut it down for shady business.”
Kes shook her head. “Never proven.”
He sniffed. “Typical.” Eying her, he added, “Don’t tell anyone I said that.”
She allowed a small smile. “Yessir.”
Nalin pushed off from the door frame and clapped his hands once. “So! How are you with ships?”
“Not very good, sir.”
“Just Nalin, for now.”
“Yes, si- uh, Nalin.”
“But you trained on Iridonia, didn’t you?”
She nodded. “I went through basic flight training, but my performance was average. I excelled with guns.”
He quirked a brow, smirking at her. “I’m sure you did.” She blinked at him. He sighed when there was no other response. “Never mind. Never been through it myself, but I hear Iridonia’s got some tough military training. Before the dear Empire came long, anyhow.”
“Si- er, Nalin?” she asked.
“Hm? Oh.” He pointed to his own horns. “Zabrak, but not from Iridonia or the colonies. Born and raised on ships.” He smiled proudly, looking out over his cockpit. When she was silent, he glanced back at her. “Usually women express shock and awe and pity.”
Kes resembled a dear caught in headlights. “Uh. Sorry, sir. Uh. Nalin. With all due respect, I’m not sure how that’s impressive.”
He sighed melodramatically. “Me neither. But it made everything so much easier. In any case, you’ll learn to be more‘n just average with this girl. The Destiny’s patient and not too hard to work with. ‘S long as you know how to hold her.” He considered his words for a moment. “Suppose she’s much like most women – sweet, easy on the eyes, and gentle, once you learn what tone she likes.”
Kes was silent, eyebrows raised at his back. He turned, smiling broadly. Seeing her face, his expression dropped.
“Nothing,” she assured him hurriedly.
“I was just saying, women are nice.”
He cleared his throat, folding his arms, scratched behind his ear with his thumb, opened his mouth a few times as if to speak before shutting it again. Finally, he cleared his throat again and said, “Not saying women are –“
“No, I know.”
“Okay.” He laughed nervously. “So. Piloting. Which…is… what you were here for.”
“I just wanted to know, Nalin, why am I being trained in this?”
He sighed quietly, looking relieved. “Well, now that you’re my second, you’re gonna be doing things, running around, flying back and forth, you know? Gotta know how to work my ship.”
“Yeah. I use it when doing work for boss-Hutt-sir. Trust mine more’n his. Girl’s been with me for six years, my first real ship. I was twenty. Bought her fresh then. Made a few modifications since.” He tapped his foot to the floor. “Used to be four seats in here. Useless. Fire hazard, so to speak. Got rid of the two back ones.”
“I see.” She nodded. “I’d rather I didn’t fly it myself, ever, but if we’re ever that desperate…”
“Nonsense!” he proclaimed, striding over and clapping a hand around her shoulder, intending to steer her forward. “You’ll do fi-“
There was a sharp snapping sound as the pipe tracing the ceiling to their left snapped from its place, whipping Kes across the face. She gave a screech, stumbling back into the hallway.
“Kes!” Nalin shouted, grabbing her before she hit into the hallway wall. She clutched at her face, cursing in about ten different languages. “You okay?”
She let out a low growl, the string of curses drawing short. “Fine, sir,” she answered through grit teeth. “Just…” She pulled her hand away, wiping a trickle of blood from her temple and cheek. “Just a bit of blood. Nothing serious.”
He coughed at first, but was unable to contain his laughter. She blinked at him.
He leaned against the wall for support. “Sorry!” he managed. “I just…I’ve never…” He paused to catch his breath. “Never seen that happen before.”
“I see.” She pressed her sleeve to her face, frowning.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he repeated, composing himself and once again putting his arm around her shoulders, steering her forward into the cockpit, around the pipe, and to the seat. “She doesn’t usually do that. I’ll check it later.”
“It’s fine,” Kes assured him, jaw tight.
He paused. “Okay, then. You’re fine.” An sly grin on his face, he gestured to the console. “Let’s see what piloting skills you have hidden in you. Before anything else hits you.”
8 Months Later
Kes inhaled and exhaled by his ear, her chest rising and pressing against his, then pulling away as she did. He ran his hand down her back. Lifting his head, he looked around past her shoulder, then dropped it back, laughing.
“What?” she demanded, rising slightly. “What’s so funny?”
She glanced behind them. “What?”
“Well…” Nalin sighed, letting his hand rest on her leg. “Just thinkin’. It’s a good thing I removed those two back seats. Else we’d have stayed on the pilot’s chair.”
“Oh.” She glanced back again. “I suppose that wouldn’t have been very comfortable. Not that the floor…” She paused to push herself up and disentangle herself from him. He watched her contentedly. “…is really all that comfortable, either. You should consider carpeting.”
He chuckled, sitting up. His smile faded as he watched her begin to pull on her clothing, not quickly, per se, but practiced and without hesitation.
“Wh…where are you rushing to?” he asked.
She glanced at him briefly. “Can’t expect me to do my work naked, can you, sir?”
He blinked at her, confused. “Sir? Wai – ” She shrugged on her vest, eyes scouring the room for her left boot. He touched her leg. She looked down at him, though her mind seemed to be thinking about other things already. “What do you mean, ‘sir’? We just – “ He broke off, looking confused.
She shook her head. “I don’t understand your question, sir. You are my commanding officer.”
He blinked. “But…so then what was that?”
He choked on his words. “Uh, yeah!”
She paused in the middle of pulling on her shoe, looking at him. “I was under the impression that this was something I should be doing to keep my job or as payment.”
“What!?” he exploded. “Who gave you that idea?”
She blinked. “Well, you, sir.”
“The f…? How?”
“You talk about women all the time. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a serious relationship. And then you start kissing me during our final training session on the ship. What am I supposed to think?” She shrugged. “You’re a ladies’ man. I don’t mind. I admit, no one has ever felt the need to get any favors from me before, but it doesn’t seem too uncommon. As long as you’re not diseased, I have no problems. Besides, you’re handsome, and not bad at all. Never mistreated me. More than happy to oblige in return for the training, though I don’t think I improved much, but that’s my fault, not yours.”
He furrowed his brow, staring at her, slack-jawed. “That’s…that’s not what I intended at all!”
“I’m so sorry.” He looked up at her with a horrified expression. “I thought you were…interested. If I had known you weren’t, I would’ve never… Blast it, I’m sorry!”
He looked around, uncertain where to start with his clothing. He found what he could and fumbled with getting it on. Realizing she was still there, he looked up. She hadn’t moved, her face contorted in confusion.
“You…were interested in me?” she asked. “R…romantically?”
He felt his face flush. “Yes. You’re a strong, capable woman. I… thought you…” He sighed. “If you’d rather avoid me for a while, I would understand. I didn’t mean for this at all.”
“I just…didn’t realize…” She blanched. “Oh, hell.” Her gesture was pacifying. “Not that it was bad. It was good!” She clutched at one of her horns. “I just didn’t realize that that was your intention.” She paused. “Frankly, sir, I’d have gone with flowers or dinner, first.” She laughed nervously, scratching the back of her head.
He stared at her before cracking a hesitant smile. “Maybe it’s a little late, but would you be interested in having dinner with me? I, uh, don’t have flowers, but, uh…I could get some, if that’s a prerequisite.” He spread his hands, very aware that he still hadn’t found his shirt.
She opened and closed her mouth a few times, having difficulty suppressing a smile. Color rose in her cheeks. “I…” She laughed. “Sure. What the hell. Can’t hurt.”
“Good. Good.” He frowned. “I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t worry too much.” She offered a smile. “I guess my image of you wasn’t very favorable, was it?”
He glanced around. “It’s, uh, not entirely off, either. But-but, I-I-I promise my intentions with you were – are – purely, um, long-term. Ish. If you’re okay with it. And it works.” Her smile broadened, but she said nothing. “Um, now it’s awkward.”
“Just a little,” she agreed.
He looked down. “I should find my shirt.”
“I have work to do.”
“You go do that.”
“I’ll see you…later, then, s… Nalin.”
“I’ll find you after you get out of- er, off your shir- shift. Shift. For dinner.”
She nodded, her eyes lingering on him before she strode purposefully out of the cockpit. He hesitated, then glanced at the security screens; she was leaning against the wall of the circular hallway of the ship. After a moment, she composed herself and exited, tripping over a cable as she did. Nalin sat heavily in his chair, his head in his hands, feeling guilty, but not unhopeful.