I’m being deliberately set up for failure.
In the conference room on a Peldak Protectorate warship, I and a hundred others are being briefed on how we’re supposed to board a gurant warship. I’m the only woman here, and while all the men are able to listen intently on the presentation, they deliberately put the hottest guy I’ve ever seen to lead the briefing!
I try my hardest to follow along, to focus on our mission, but it’s impossible. For God’s sake, all he’s wearing is the skintight, magnetic under-suit. We’re all wearing them, of course, it’s how artificial gravity is made out in space, but everyone else has armor overtop it. This isn’t fair.
His name is Henryk Burza, an intelligence officer. He presses a button on the projector and the layout of the gurant ship appears on the board behind him. I try to pay attention, I really do, but whenever there’s a gust of wind from the vent, his long, pointed peldak ears involuntarily twitch. It’s probably the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Then Henryk turns away from us. He’s using a stick to point at somewhere on the map, I think. He’s got a really nice… back. His back muscles are well developed.
Okay, forget the Protectorate’s plan. My plan is to join this battle, do something really impressive, have Henryk fall in love with me and live happily ever after.
I sit through the rest of the presentation, admiring my soon-to-be husband’s muscular, battleworn body, and piecing together what information I can.
There’s a Gurant Empire warship. Our fleet is going to attack it. While the battle rages, we’ll get into shuttles and board it. There are 100 peldaks who’ll defend the shuttles. While they do that, we eight sayran will run through the ship and use our mystical cosmic powers to wreak havoc on it from the inside. After an hour, we’ll return to the shuttles and get out.
“And that about does it.” Henryk says, folding his pointing stick. “Any questions? Zahra, why are you drooling?”
I snap to my feet and salute. “I-I’m just so excited to kill some gurant, sir!”
My peers laugh, but more importantly, Henryk smiles. “Good! That’s just the kind of attitude that will win us this war.”
A few questions are asked, but it’s nothing I care about. I wish someone would ask what’s his favorite color, or his hobbies, but it’s all business.
With the briefing done, we’re sent to the shuttles. I stand to the side of the hallway and let my peers and comrades pass. Henryk is the last to leave, rolling his shoulders and sighing.
“Zahra? What are you doing here?”
With my sword drawn, I activate my power and let it glow a faint red. It’s supposed to impress him, but he doesn’t break eye contact, or seem to care.
I clear my throat and quickly recover from that failure. “Right, ah, well, I just needed to tell you something before this raid starts.” I put my sword away and rub the back of my neck, acting shy and cute. “You see, I’m cursed.”
He raises an eyebrow, “cursed? Ah, I’ve heard about this kind of thing with you sayran.” He grips his scarred, prominent chin, “in exchange for being born with an incredible power beyond your peers, you were also born with a curse, right?” He looks up and down the hall to make sure nobody’s listening, then steps closer.
My body trembles at the proximity, I can’t stop smiling. He’s so tall and bold and his muscles look so much thicker up close.
Henryk lowers his voice to a whisper, “it must be embarrassing to talk about, I’m glad you felt you could trust me with this. Do you need me to take you off the mission? I can do it, no questions asked.”
Aaah, he’s so understanding and perfect. “N-no,” I try to back away, but I’m already pressed against the wall. “I’ll be fine to join. The opposite in fact, I’d like to join! It’s just that, you see, I was born far stronger than most sayran but, I-I’m incredibly weak…” I grab both his hands and pull them close to my heart, while I look up into his steely grey eyes! “To extremely hot men!”
Henryk pulls away but I don’t let go. “Wh-what?”
“I’m sorry sir, I just can’t help myself! I think I’ve fallen for you!”
There’s a certain disgust in Henryk’s eyes that makes my skin crawl. I’ve really turned him off and he’s looking at me like I’m garbage, which isn’t necessary a bad thing. “I’m married.” He says, “I’ve been happily married for a long time.”
While I’m not necessarily opposed to being the other woman in a relationship, peldak men aren’t the kind to betray their wives. That’s what’s so great about them, but it’s over. I release his hands and my shoulders droop forward, it’s a futile effort.
“Very well, sir…” in a moment of deep despair, an idea pops and my eyes brighten. Peldaks are also dedicated to the mission, to the greater good. Can I use that? “But how about a trade? Name me the most dangerous target on that ship, name me the one thing you most want destroyed more than any other, and I’ll end it in exchange for just. One. Request.” I raise a single finger and give him a wink.
He narrows his brow and squirms in place, his jaw locked in discomfort. “I’d rather you not kill yourself, but fine. The target we most want dead is the captain, a gurant named Gogrundudel. He’s coordinated a lot of assaults on our shipping lanes the last few years and has killed thousands. This raid was planned just to weaken his ship from the inside so we can, at a later date, send a stronger warfleet and blow it up and kill him. If your ‘curse’ really does make you strong, you might be able to win…” He takes a deep breath, “if you kill him and bring me his head,” he braces himself, “what do you want in exchange?”
Holy crap, he’ll actually do it? I chuckle to myself, it’s impossible not to. “All I want, officer Burza, is a simple kiss on the cheek.”
His face drops like all the life was sucked out of him, his ears droop and he needs a moment to collect himself. “O-okay. Deal. It’s not…that bad, and this’ll be a great help to the Protectorate. Fine.”
Strength and determination fills my body far more than any cosmic energy possibly could. “Excellent!” I pat the top of his shoulders as a friendly gesture. “One dead gurant loser, coming up. Worry not, Henryk Burza, you won’t be disappointed.”
With a skip in my step, I head off towards the hangar.
“Just make sure to pull back if he overwhelms you,” He calls out. “Gogrundudel is dangerous!” His worry is misplaced. I’m dangerous too, and I have the power of love on my side!
I reach the hangar, it’s a wide-open, four-story room with dozens of airlocks on the port side. The shuttles, bombers, or fighters are brought into the airlocks, the atmosphere is sucked out, and then the small ships can leave with no issue. On the starboard side of the room is broken or damaged ships and loads of expensive maintenance equipment.
There are some engineers toiling away, but all my comrades are heading into the airlocks. They’re nearly done boarding, so I rush over. While there are ladder indents for when this ship is on a planet, I simply use my magnet suit to walk up the wall.
“Zahra, you done harassing the poor man yet?” One of my sayran buddies says as he hangs off the airlock door.
“Hmph!” I smirk, “fools, it was a massive success. I made a deal that if I kill the captain he’ll give me a kiss.”
Not just the sayran, but the peldak soldiers, and even the maintenance crew, start howling with laughter.
“Zahra, that’s actually real pathetic.” One man says.
“You had to bribe him for a kiss? That’s it?” Another says through bursts of giggles.
“At least tell me it was for one on the mouth and not the cheek!”
I climb in the airlock, “shut up. I won’t have you ruin this for me.” Walking into the shuttle, the door closes behind me. There are twelve shuttles with all 100 peldaks and eight sayran spread mostly even between them. There’s space for 15 passengers, so there’ll be room for treasures or rescued prisoners, if we find any.
A tinted window to my left lets me watch the pressure get sucked out of the airlock. Then the door opens and we’re let out into space.
It’ll take a few minutes for us to reach the warship. Looking around the shuttle, I see nothing but peldak men covered head to toe in armor. Being a sayran, I can use my power to survive the cold darkness of space, so I decided to forgo a helmet. But with the bulky communicator in my ear, I can tune in to the conversations of each squad, and my sayran allies. Everyone’s in high spirits, we’re joking around and betting wages on who’ll kill the most.
The warship is a hulking behemoth of metal and guns. In the back is a massive, rough, sphere shape, and in front of that is a flat disk with two huge, curved spires that make a portal. The portal is currently turned off, just empty void between the spires. Attached to the disk are continent-sized sails which utilize the same cosmic energy that we sayran use in order to travel the stars. The warship dwarfs anything the Protectorate can throw at it, easily 100 times the size of the largest of our vessels. In fact, while the gurant ship is visible from hundreds of miles away, I don’t notice any allied ships until we happen to pass by one on our way over. Luckily, its massive size makes it hard to miss, even from a distance.
It’ll be annoying to find the captain in just an hour, but I think I can do it.
As we approach, our fleet opens fire, and I see the muzzle flash on the behemoth’s massive guns fire back. The relatively small size of the Protectorate ships makes them hard to hit, but it’s a death sentence when they are.
The gurant ship has their shields up, so everything moving faster than a certain speed crashes and explodes. For smaller objects, like our shuttles, flak cannons are activated.
“Better tighten your seatbelts, haha!” The pilot yells through the comm system as he takes evasive maneuvers.
Explosions all around us, being thrown this way and that. The physics of a spacecraft moving in zero gravity in so different from an aircraft above a planet. Seeing explosions but hearing nothing save the plinking of shrapnel off the hull is disorienting.
“Start directing vaalige,” what we call cosmic energy, “between us and that ship!” One sayran barks.
As told, I take a deep breath and focus on creating a thick barrier in front of us. Mostly imperceptible to non sayran, but to me, I see a strong red glow, as bright as a nearby star. The flak shells explode against our barrier as if they hit a solid wall, I feel each impact on the edge of my perception.
Suddenly, the man to my right slaps my chest plate as if to draw my attention to something funny that was said, but when I tune my earpiece back to this shuttle all I hear is laughter.
“Don’t you guys have a sense of danger?” I ask.
“Danger for what? With the Protectorate at our back and the mighty sayran at our front, what have we to fear!?” All the men erupt in cheers and repeatedly pound the metal roof with their fists. It’s infectious though, so I join in.
“Ryah-! Ryah-! Ryah-!”
Finally, thanks to the combined efforts of us sayran and the pilots, our shuttles touch down on the hull of the warship. The shuttles have a flat bottom and are fitted with magnets to create a vacuum seal. From there, a small hatch opens in the center of the floor. I jump from my seat, my red-glowing sword at the ready, and easily slice an opening into the ship.
“Let’s go, boys! Time’s wasting and we got a ship to burn!”
“RYAAAAAH!” The men yell the famed peldak warcry and we invade the ship.