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Merea breathed a sigh of relief as the landing struts of her customised Jackrabbit touched down on the tarmac of the spaceport.  Independent territory was always a welcome sight after a month or more spent scavenging in Unity space, and she was painfully aware that the ship was as battered and beaten as her nerves.  A good rest and some skilful hands would do them both a world of good.  She lowered herself to the tarmac and her heart dropped to her stomach as she saw the uniform marching smartly toward her, dark hair tied back in a severe bun, datapad at the ready.  The one thing worse than a petty bureaucratic arsehole, she thought, was one in the employ of the Unity Navy.  She steeled herself, and stepped forward to meet her.

'You will of course be ensuring your vessel is spaceworthy in line with Unity policy before you depart Scorpius?' Merea wasn't sure it had been a question, but ever of generous heart, she gave the official the benefit of the doubt.

'Of course, Lieutenant' she replied obediently, checking the woman's rank from her epaulettes.  There was something not quite right there, but Merea couldn't bring it to the front of her mind.

'Good,' the officer replied, tapping something into her PDA.  'I'll take the details of your ship and make sure to check it's been registered with the spaceport mechanics.'  This could be a problem, Merea thought.  There was almost certainly a significantly large file regarding her ship in the Unity records.  None of which would be favourable.  She stepped into the officer's path as she tried to approach the Jackrabbit and note down its designation.

'No need for that, ma'am' Merea assured her hurriedly.  'I'm a dab hand with a wrench myself, so I'll probably just patch it all up without bothering the mechs.'  She could tell that that had aroused suspicion and cursed her fraught nerves for making her sloppy.  Her hand twitched toward the pistol holstered at her hip.  The officer saw the involuntary movement and went for her own.  Both drew and leveled their weapons in one synchronised motion.  Neither pulled their triggers.  Merea noticed what had been bothering her.

'Why are you even here, Lieutenant?' she asked.  'You're bothering me about getting my ship up to Unity-mandated spec, while on an independent planet.  Yet your uniform tells me you'd be more at home in a cockpit than behind a desk.  Hell even your bearing screams "pilot" so loud I'd have heard it without the uniform.  So what gives?'  Her question didn't seem to register.

'Ma'am, drop the pistol and stand down.  You're under arrest.'

'Like hell I am, Unity bitch.  You've got no jurisdiction here and no cause to bring me in.  So unless you've brought friends, I'm just going to -' her sentence was interrupted by a couple of local militia moving swiftly across the landing pad toward them.  Damn it, she thought.  Guess she did bring friends.  She swore, and lowered her pistol.  The militia were only a few dozen paces away when they shouted across.

'Reflin!  Get that pistol put away right now!'  The officer didn't move, her blue eyes intense and focused on Merea.

'This woman has threatened me and is under arrest,' she replied.  'I also suspect that her vessel has been involved in illegal activities in Unity space.'

'That's nice, Reflin' one of the militia officers said.  'But I'd say that's Unity's problem.  Not mine, not yours.  Shall we take another trip back to the lockup?  Doc's getting real fond of you.'  He turned to Merea and continued.  'Don't worry ma'am, the gun's been deactivated.  This here is Yrina Reflin, our local crazy ex-U pilot.  She's harmless, really, or we'd have locked her up already.  Of course, if she keeps accosting folk like this, we're going to have to revisit that.'  He added extra emphasis on those last words, turning to Reflin as he did.  She still remained seemingly oblivious, the useless gun pointed to the middle of Merea's chest.  The militia officer who had done all the talking stepped up to her and pushed her hand down.  'Oh give me a break Reflin, you're becoming a real pain in the ass.  Go hit the bar and drink yourself to death like a normal person.'

Reflin remained standing there, her eyes fixed on Merea but her weapon lowered.  Then Merea could see a tear form in her eye and an overwhelming sadness flood into her sharp features.

'Hey, Ket, what's the story here?' asked a new voice.  Merea turned to see a man walking toward them, of average height and unremarkable features.  His short hair was unkempt but not untidy, and he wore a small beard with no sideburns.  Beyond him sat a Mercury-class freighter in less than mint condition, which had not been there when Merea landed.  She surmised it belonged to the newcomer.  The man he was addressing was apparently the taller of the two militia officers, the one who had until now remained silent.

'Ex-Unity pilot, Seren' the one called Ket replied.  'Been hanging around the spaceport this last week, "arresting" people and generally being a nuisance.'  He emphasised the word "arresting" with air-quotes.  The newcomer, Seren, was now standing between Merea and Reflin, looking at the latter inquisitively.

'Leave her to me, I'll have a quiet word' he said, finally.  Ket shrugged.

'Whatever, Seren.  You were always better with people than you had any right to be.  If we see her again, we're going to ship her off to the asylum on New Kos.'

'I can probably spare you that expense, gentlemen' he assured them, turning to Reflin.  'Come with me, Lieutenant.  I have a matter requiring your immediate attention.'  Those words worked some spell on the ex-Unity officer and she woke from her reverie, her eyes fixing on the man in front of her.

'Of course, sir' she replied, eyes clear and voice as strong and confident as it had been when she accosted Merea minutes before.  'Lead the way.'  They walked off toward the Mercury, leaving Ket and his colleague shaking their heads.

'It's a gift that man has' the first officer commented.  'How'd you know him, Ket?'

'Seren used to be a merchant making the Helios-Scorpius ore run.  Safe enough work you'd think, unless you got yourself a mutinous crew.  Left the guy stranded on a shithole of a colony on Thanatos V, where he tried to drink himself to death.  When that didn't work, he stole the governor's shuttle and high-tailed it out of there.  That's the first I've seen or heard of him since.'

Merea gave the militia officers an impatient wave.  'So I'm free to go?' she asked.

'Sure, why not?' the nameless officer replied with a shrug.  'Unity business is Unity business; we don't concern ourselves.'

'Aren't you at all worried that that man might try to take advantage of her, given her state of mind?' She wasn't sure why she cared, perhaps it was a touch of Stockholm symdrome.

'Seren's a good man' Ket replied.

'You mean he was, before he was betrayed, abandoned and hunted' she corrected.  'That sort of thing can mess with a person.  I'm going to go check everything's OK.'

'Suit yourself,' came the reply as she turned to walk toward the Mercury.  She heard the militia men depart too, well-heeled boots tapping across the tarmac.

- - - - -

Her knife preceded her through the door, stopping at his throat as she swung herself nimbly through the doorway.  There was no way of knowing for sure that he was there, except that through the crack between the door and the frame, she could see Reflin, sat straight-backed on a bunk, cast a glimpse up toward the space next to the door.  It wasn't a certainty that he was there, but she thought she'd read him well enough to be in with a good chance.  Besides, her other hand held her pistol, ready to sweep the room on the chance he wasn't where she thought.

He grimaced at being caught so easily, laying in wait for her.  He tried to turn it into a rueful smile, and made a decent job of it.

'Looks like I'm not the only one used to being hunted' he remarked.  'It's OK, you can lower the knife.'

'Tell me why you were ready to ambush me, and maybe I will' she countered, holstering the pistol.

'I don't like surprises' he replied simply.

'That's it?'

'That's it.'  She thought about it a moment, and sheathed the knife.

'Good enough' she said, taking a step back and allowing him to relax a little.  He stepped away from the wall and walked over to the chair he had reversed in front of the bed, giving Merea a wide berth as he did so, and straddled the chair.  He indicated for her to sit.  She remained standing in the doorway.

'So to what do I owe the pleasure, dear lady?' he asked, seeming remarkably at ease for someone whose life had just been threatened.

'I just came to check that -' she hesitated, suddenly unsure how to explain her concern for her erstwhile captor.

'That I wasn't taking advantage of my guest in her vulnerable and traumatised state?' he finished for her, smiling as she nodded her agreement.  'Compassion like that is rare to find out here in indy space - like as not it'll get you killed' he added.

'Not by you, it seems' she countered.  The rueful smile returned to Seren's mouth.

'A good point well made, my dear lady.'  He indicated Reflin, still sat quiet and withdrawn on the bunk.  'Well as you can see, Reflin here's doing just fine apart from the cuckoos in the attic.'  He illustrated this with looping motions at his temple.  'But I think I know how we can flush them out and get her back to some semblance of normality.'

Merea had to admit to herself that she was curious.  Was this man about to perform some kind of mentalism, as she'd seen demonstrated in a few of the clubs on Varangian worlds?  The things she'd seen there were certainly remarkable feats of skill and command over the human mind, but it seemed that this woman needed therapy more than anything else.  These thoughts were clearly apparent on her face because Seren smiled.

'Don't worry, it's no trick of the mind or anything like that.  I'm not going to hypnotise her to the point that her current state can be brought crashing back upon her by the sound of a bell.  No, my treatment is more simple, and yet at the same time more profound.  I'm going to offer her a job.'

Merea was about to question what he meant by this, but was interrupted by the reaction it had brought about from Reflin.  She went from quiet and withdrawn to alert and seemingly entirely lucid.

'A job?' she asked.  Her eyes were back to being as bright and intense as they had been when she had had the gun trained on Merea, who found this change not a little unsettling.

'Here, on my crew' Seren nodded.  'Ship's fresh off the market, flew here with just me and my engineer.  So I'm looking for some bodies to fill the posts of security, navigation and first officer.  Take your pick, but I think security should be right up your space lane considering your Navy experience.'

'Then I hereby pledge my service to you, captain Seren Matten' she said, standing to attention and saluting crisply.  'Consider me your new security officer.  I will ensure the security of this ship and her crew to the utmost pinnacle of my ability.'

'That's - that's great, Reflin' Seren replied awkwardly.  'But could you tone it down a little?  We're not a formal operation and tend not to stand on ceremony.'

'Yes sir, sorry sir' she apologised, still standing rigidly upright.

'OK, well that's something we can work on I guess' he shrugged with resignation.  Standing from the chair, he stepped up to Reflin as if to examine her, peering closely at her face from different directions.  Her gaze followed him and a slight puzzlement crept into her expression as he continued the peculiar routine.  Finally, he seemed satisfied and stepped back.  'I think there's hope for you yet, you know' he informed her.  'Just try to relax a bit more, OK?  Consider it an order if that makes you feel better.'

Reflin fumbled for a reply but came up short.  Seren told her to head to the bridge and make herself familiar with the ship, and she left.  There was a sense of purpose to her stride that had been absent since Merea had first seen her approaching across the tarmac of the landing pad, only this time the purpose was a real one and not just in her head.  Seren turned to face Merea as Reflin departed.  'So now that you've seen everything's in order...' he began, leaving the sentence hanging.

'Yeah, I should probably get off your ship' she finished for him, turning back to the door that led to the gangway, then the airlock, the landing pad, and finally her own vessel.  'Unless -' she stopped, and turned back to face him, taking in again the unremarkable but kindly features, the eyes that saw so much and yet revealed so little.  He raised his eyebrow in question.  'Unless' she continued, 'you're still looking for a first officer?'
This short segment of fiction details the circumstances in which two of Seren Matten's crew joined up. This is the crew who form the central characters of the (currently) most developed storyline of the Unity Chronicles - Blind Obedience. It's set some 26 years after the formal establishment of the Varangian Alliance as opposition to the central Unity government.

A point of interest here is the reference to the mentalism performed in certain "Varangian clubs", where it's a new phenomenon. This comes out of the great leaps forward made in the understanding of the human brain and mind, brought about by the removal of Unity dogma surrounding certain areas of scientific research. An insight into the start of this process came in my previous short story, TUC: Research - found here [link] .
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