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Sub-Commander Jeralth of the 1st Imperial Grenval Marines groggily opened his eyes and was greeted by a single, blinding light that filled his vision, making him wince.
“Sorry about that, didn’t think you’d be awake yet. That’s probably bright as shit. Here, that better?” The voice came from somewhere nearby, and as it finished speaking, the lights above him dimmed to a far less painful level, allowing him to take in his surroundings.
Jeralth found himself in a small medical bay. Everything was stainless steel or painted white, and all of it was sterile and well lit. He was lying in one of four beds in the cramped room, wedged in between various strange pieces of equipment and blinking computer readouts. Raising his head as best he could, he looked towards his feet, searching for whomever had spoken to him.
His nightmare sat at the foot of his bed, waiting.
Instantly, he was lucid. Every fiber of his body and neuron in his brain aligned towards a single task; killing this foul creature that had tormented and destroyed his squad. A savage, feral scream erupted from Jeralth as he lunged towards his foe. His assault was short-lived, however, as the heavy restraints holding him to the bed proved more than capable of keeping him in place. An armed guard burst into the room, leveling his weapon while Jeralth lay snarling and writhing in place.
The monster at the foot of Jeralth’s bed leapt up and waved an electrical prod in his face, holding it mere centimeters from his eye. His translator implant thrummed as she spoke. “Now look, we don’t have any drugs that’ll work on you, so if you’re going to behave like an ass, I’m gonna have to get creative about how to keep you calm.” She triggered the stunner, sending electricity arcing between the prongs. “We clear?”
Jeralth didn’t respond, but ceased his thrashing.
The soldier in the door lowered his weapon. “Jesus, Nat. Next time you’re getting freaky in here, put a sock on the doorknob or something so I don’t interrupt.”
“Fletch, just… Not today, man,” came the demon’s reply.
“Fine, fine. I’ll just go back to standing in front of the door. Guarding it. By myself. Quietly. God this job sucks sometimes.” The soldier exited the room, grumbling curses under his breath.
Jeralth locked eyes with his nemesis for a few seconds in the silence that followed before asking “Where am I?”
“Oh, don’t worry, Scales. You haven’t gone anywhere. You’re still on the freighter you assaulted that is still locked down at Farshadow Station, and you’re still surrounded by the crew you tried to feed to your bosses. You fucking asshole.” She paused for a moment before adding “The Primarchs are dead, too, by the way. In case you were getting any ideas about them getting you out of here.”
The demon collapsed roughly back into her chair at her computer station. Her chair turned as she spun away from him and hunched over her keyboard. She seemed small now. Weak. Nothing like the vision of death incarnate who had stood over him with a blood soaked blade, calling herself a Butcher and forcing him to betray his superiors.
Who had taken his arm.
The memory came back to him in a flash. A memory of time seeming to slow as his hand fell away from the rest of him. In a panic, Jeralth turned his head and raised his arm as far as his restraints would allow. His right arm ended abruptly halfway past his elbow, the stump capped by a series of neatly wrapped bandages.
Despair flooded into him. His life was over. He was rated as expendable, and as such, there were no ready-cloned parts waiting for him at home. By the time his request for a replacement had gone through the bureaucracy, and IF it was even approved, it could be years before he was whole again.
Crippled as he now was, continued military service was out of the question, as was any kind of physical labor. And after the shame of his most recent failure, work in the bureaucracy was no longer an option, either. He’d most likely die starving and begging on some Dominion backwater, waiting to hear back from the bureaucracy about an opening at a gene clinic. That is, if the Butcher even let him get back home.
Jeralth stared at the ceiling for a long time, listening to the Butcher clacking away at her keyboard. Thoughts of his slow, dishonorable, and eventual end filled his mind. Finally, unable to be alone with his thoughts anymore, he asked, “Why didn’t you kill me? Why did you let me live like this?”
“I needed to capture one of you. It was the only way to get to the armory. And after you were injured, well, I’m not really one for executions. Hit your arm with some hemorrhage foam, hoped for the best, and called a doctor off the station after everything was over. Doc put you in a coma to keep you alive, and you’ve been out for about a week. More importantly, now that you’re awake, we’re going to need you to testify to the Station Council that you were the aggressors.”
A long, low hiss, what the humans would interpret as something called a ‘laugh,’ escaped from Jeralth. “And why would I help you? You slaughtered my entire squad.”
“They’re dead because you led them on a stupid mission that you didn’t understand and shouldn’t have been on. Your Primarch’s almost got your entire precious Dominion cut off from the galactic core. If you actually care about your species, you’ll be testifying before the Rithorian Hierarchs that your idiot bosses went rogue and do not represent the will of your people. Either that, or all Dominion trade through Rithorian space stops instantly. Your call.
“Though, I suppose I should be thanking you,” she continued, eyes filling with mirth. “Your little ‘assault’ caused such an uproar, the authorities on the station pretty much forgot about my sergeant discharging a weapon on their precious ‘Bastion of Neutrality.’”
A flicker of hope returned to Jeralth. If he could disavow the Dominion of this fiasco, even after all the damage the stupidity of the Raelethi had caused, he might still have a chance at a life after he made it home. If he made it home. He turned his head to study the monster that would decide his fate.
She sat at her computer, unconcerned with him, taking notes from a readout as if she hadn’t just destroyed his entire squad and sentenced him to a slow, demeaning death. Occasionally, she would punch in a few commands, then pick up a stylus to doodle something on a touch pad, then go back to the keyboard. This rotation happened a few times before Jeralth realized exactly what he was seeing, and that his eyes were not deceiving him.
The Butcher only had one arm.
Another long hiss erupted from Jeralth as he relished the irony. At least there was still some fairness in all of this. It made his humiliation sting a little less.
“What’s so funny, Scales?”
“The Primarchs repaid you in kind for taking my arm. That makes my fate a little more bearable.”
“What, you think those arrogant fuckwads did this to me? You really think they were the types to take an arm and leave everything else? No, I’ve been like this since I was a kid.”
“Do you take me for a fool?” Jeralth snapped back. “How could you really expect me to believe that? To believe that a cripple could survive against the Primarchs? After what I saw you do to my soldiers?”
The Butcher locked eyes with him, and he saw a cold rage burning there unlike anything he had seen before. “I am not a cripple. And with an attitude like that, a cripple is all you’ll ever amount to.”
She calmly stood, never breaking eye contact, then turned and left the med bay.
The next few days for Jeralth were some of the dullest he had ever experienced. His only interactions with any other living thing were the daily checkups from the Rithorian doctor that had saved him and the hour he spent being questioned by the human leader. Still bound to his hospital bed by his restraints, Jeralth had nothing to do but stare at the ceiling for hours on end. He didn’t even have a way of keeping track of the time other than the automatic daily dimming and brightening of the lights. He was used to isolation, and this particular bout of it would have been no great challenge for him, if he’d been able to DO something. Anything. The boredom grew so great by the end of his fourth day in isolation that Jeralth found himself wishing for someone, anyone, to interact with, even if that meant a Telarim or one of the humans.
His desperation was put to the test when three of the humans suddenly entered the medbay. One was male with brown skin, and the other was the yellow furred human female Jeralth had mistakenly offered up to the Primarchs. The Butcher was leading them.
“Ah,” Jeralth called out. “The Butcher returns. Back to claim another limb?” He was terrified of what they might want with him, but after so long with nothing to do, he couldn’t keep himself from talking.
“Just the opposite, in fact.” She dropped a large duffel bag on the next bed over before moving to her computer terminal. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of information on your species in our databases that I can actually use. So we’ve got to do things old school and collect the data manually. As long as you actually cooperate, this won’t take that long and should be painless. Though, I’m not entirely sure how your species processes pain, so no promises.”
Jeralth stared at her dumbfounded as the yellow haired female moved to his side and started strapping sensors to his remaining forearm and hand. “What is this? Stay away from me!” He started struggling as much as his restraints would allow, trying desperately to keep the human’s hands off of him. “What reason would I possibly have to cooperate?”
“Look, Scales,” the Butcher said. “Do you want me to build you a new arm or not?”
That stopped Jeralth’s struggles instantly. He eyed her suspiciously, not truly believing her. Seized by a sudden glimmer of hope, he couldn’t ignore her, either. “How is that even possible? How can you regrow Grenval tissue?”
His personal demon laughed. “Not regrow. Build. How do you think I beat your Primarch in an arm wrestling match with no arm? Of course it’s possible. But building a new arm for an alien does present some unique challenges. There’s a lot I’ve got to learn about you before I can do this right. Now, please, let Ana and Dez work.”
After a moment of hesitation, Jeralth relented. It was most likely foolishness, but any chance of avoiding his short, doomed, fate was worth taking. The next three hours passed by in a blur. The male, Dez, sat on a nearby bed operating a series of sensors and strange medical devices Jeralth didn’t recognize. The female, Ana, spent the whole time poking and prodding his left arm and shoulder with an even wider array of devices. She glared at him the whole time she worked, and from what little Jeralth knew of human physiology and body language, she was clearly agitated.
He was subjected to strength tests, grip tests, electrical shocks to test his responses, and was even hit by a small hammer several times to ‘test his reflexes,’ though he did not know how that could possibly be relevant. They even briefly released the restraints on his left arm to test his range of motion, though they did call the guard into the room first.
For the duration of this process, the Butcher sat at her computer, occasionally doodling one-handed on her touch pad while directing her companions. When the room grew too quiet during gaps in her directions, she would ask Jeralth questions about himself. Did he stay in touch with the other members of his clutch or his parents? What was it like having that many siblings? Did he have a family of his own? Banal things that a mammal would find important. Her inquisitiveness would have been annoying any other day, but after his isolation and the confusion of the last few days, he answered her questions far more readily than he would have otherwise. He caught himself almost enjoying the conversation once or twice. Almost.
Eventually, she collected enough of whatever information she was looking for, and calmly thanked the other humans for their help. They left quickly, and without having said a word to him the entire time. Ana stopped at the door to shoot one last anger filled glare Jeralth’s way before exiting.
“Piece of advice, Scales,” the Butcher said after the door slid closed. “When we let you out of here, stay as far away from her as you possibly can. Ana holds grudges like no one I’ve ever met, and she hasn’t exactly forgiven you for beating her and dragging her through the ship by her hair. Keeps talking about tossing you around by your neck spines whenever someone mentions you.”
Jeralth’s spines bristled reflexively into his pillow. “Is that a threat?”
“Nope. Just a genuine warning. I’d hate to have done all this work only for you to provoke her and ending up actually maimed.”
“If that’s true, then why was she in here helping?”
“She’s our medic. I needed someone’s help who knows medicine and basic kinesiology. And she’s the only one on board who’s studied xeno biology at all. Fortunately, she takes the whole Hippocratic Oath thing really seriously, so it was easy enough to talk her into helping. That, and she owed me a favor.”
Jeralth lay in silence for a long time after that, trying to process the strange xenos that had captured him. Their actions made no sense. He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of setting aside a personal grudge against an enemy combatant to willingly help them because of an oath and a favor. Or systematically stalking and destroying your enemy, only to expend energy needlessly helping your defeated foe after the battle, and to then inquire about him and his family structure.
Mercy was not a foreign concept to him. Though none of the predator species in the galaxy, his own included, had much need of it, he did understand how mercy could sometimes be a useful, even beneficial, tool in the right circumstances. But this was something else entirely. It was reckless, and completely irrational. It made no sense practically; he was still an enemy combatant, and helping him was a waste of resources. It made no sense strategically; one token of goodwill towards a single, now useless, soldier wouldn’t erase the act of destroying an entire commando unit and three Primarchs. Jeralth was well and truly flummoxed by these creatures.
The Butcher stood, stretched her arm towards the ceiling, and started packing up her workstation. Jeralth was brought back from his more esoteric thoughts to his more immediate concerns. Her equipment was repacked in a matter of moments, and she was at the doorway immediately afterwards. “See ya, Scales.”
Jeralth panicked. “Wait,” he called. He wasn’t ready to be stuck alone in the medbay again, and he still had so many unanswered questions.“I have to know. How? How can you fix a missing arm without cloning it? And how did you defeat the Primarchs?”
“Shit, you ask a lot of questions, Scales. Especially for someone in no position to ask questions.”
He didn’t reply, except to meet her gaze and hold it. She paused for a moment, then sighed and walked out of the room. Jeralth swore as the doors closed behind her. He’d always hated mammals, and these infuriating humans weren’t doing anything to change his opinion. Jeralth settled in for his isolation, trying to calm himself. There was no telling how long it would be before someone found a reason to bother him again.
As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait long. Much to Jeralth’s surprise, the door to his medbay turned jail cell opened after what couldn’t have been more than ten minutes, readmitting the Butcher. She was carrying something in her hand that she tossed roughly on Jeralth’s lap when she reached him. Suddenly, his bed started to shift as the Butcher pressed a button on the wall, raising his torso so that he was in a reclined sitting position, and able to see what had been dropped on his lap.
It was a human arm made entirely of metal, though it was mangled and twisted almost beyond recognition, rent all over with what were unmistakably tooth marks, and splattered with dried grey gore.
“I might have been a little overzealous earlier. I lost my arm when I was a kid, but that fucking Primarch is the reason I’m down to one arm arm right now. In truth, your bosses did a number on my arm and shoulder.”
Jeralth stared in awe at the arm. Not because of the damage; he was used to seeing what was left after a Raelethi got a hold of something. He was struck by the implications of that damage, and those bloodstains. The Butcher had actually fought at least one of the Primarchs hand-to-hand, and was still alive. There were only a scant few creatures in the galaxy that could make that claim. That she had done it with this piece of technology replacing an entire limb was forcing him to question a lot of assumptions he held sacrosanct.
“I can rebuild my arm,” the Butcher continued, “But I’m going to need surgery to fix the mountings. I can’t plug a new arm in until I get these fixed.” She tapped her collar bone as she said this, and a muted, metallic clang came from under her skin.
Jeralth shrank into his bed, revolted. Nausea was not common among the Grenval, but it did present itself on rare occasions of terrible illness or when encountering something of such pure anathema that it overpowered the senses. Jeralth had never retched in his life, but he certainly felt his stomachs turning in preparation for it now. This monster had machinery INSIDE OF HER. How was he supposed to fight something like that? This was unprecedented, and more importantly, it was just WRONG. What were her plans for him, really? Was all of this just a prelude to him being some bizarre experiment? What kind of creatures would do something like that to themselves?
“Relax,” The Butcher said, noticing his distress. “You don’t need anything this extensive, and I wouldn’t even know where to start with tapping your central nervous system. Besides, that’s military grade hardware on your lap. I can’t give you that. But I can get you some older tech that should get you by.”
Jeralth finally gathered his composure enough to ask, simply “Why would you do that to yourself?”
“So that I can have two arms.” She said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.
“No, I mean: Why would you put metal INSIDE of you? There has to be a better alternative.”
She offered him her best lopsided shrug in response. “Humanity’s had a lot of issues in our past regarding bio-tech. A handful of religious nut jobs and way, way too many questions about ethics kept us from really diving into all the genetic tech that the rest of the galaxy takes for granted. Between ‘God’s Plan’ and all the things we did to ourselves over eugenics, geneticists had a hell of a time doing anything legally. So we had to get really, really good at fixing ourselves in other ways. Cybernetics were the best solution, and we’ve gotten very good at them. If we were on a ship with a surgical suite, or even just a proper medical bay!” -she shouted those last three words towards the door in obvious frustration, though Jeralth couldn’t tell who it was intended for- “I’d be back on the front lines already, with two functioning arms.”
Jeralth let all of the insanity wash over him, let it soak in. He was trying desperately to make sense of his situation, of this bizarre creature, and whatever her plans for him were. But no matter how he approached all this new information, he kept coming back to one inescapable conclusion: the Butcher had replaced her arm with machinery, and it had been incredibly effective. Which really only left him with one question:
“Can you really replace my arm?”
“Of course I can. You really think I’d go through all of this and answer all your stupid questions just to fuck with you?”
“And you’ve really lived your whole life like this? With metal instead of flesh?”
“What? Oh, yeah. I lost my arm when I was 7 in the First Contact Riots, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and some xenophobe jackass with a pressure cooker thought he had a point to make. There’s actually a pretty famous picture of my mom holding me right after it happened. I was the literal poster child for the riots in Germany. Wanna see? It’s pretty graphic.”
Before Jeralth could respond, the Butcher had snatched a data-pad off the nearby desk, pulled up the information she was looking for, and shoved the data-pad in his face. He was met with an image of a city street, covered in debris, shrouded in smoke, and filled with distressed people running away from whoever took the image. Front and center in the image was a human female with the same black fur as the Butcher, on her knees in the street, and cradling a tiny human in her arms, mouth wide in some kind of scream. The female was splattered with red human blood, but the child was drenched in it. After a few moments, Jeralth realized that one of the chunks of debris on the street next to them was actually a tiny, bloodied, human arm.
“That image was plastered at the top of every news feed in Germany for the week it took to get the Riots under control,” the Butcher said, pulling away the data-pad. “I spent three months in the hospital, and I’ve had a prosthetic ever since. And the other day it saved my life.”
Jeralth settled back into his pillows. It was enough. This whole idea of trusting the human was foolish, but there was a legitimate, non-zero chance that he might get out of this being ok. And, foolish as it was, it probably had a much higher chance of succeeding than simply waiting for a gene clinic back home. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax for the first time since he’d woken up in the medbay. Hope did funny things like that.
The Butcher, apparently sensing that his questions were at their end, quietly picked up her arm and left.
Two more days passed for Jeralth having no interaction with another being of any kind other than the station doctor visiting him for checkups. On the third day since he had last seen the Butcher, Jeralth received a rather large surprise. The doctor fully cleared him, stating that his situation was completely stable and that he was released for regular activity. Immediately after that, four brightly plumed Rithorians, all dressed in lavish robes that bordered on garish and with exotic metals adorning their beaks, crowded into the medbay.
They were all Hierarchs of the station’s High Council, and they immediately began interrogating him about the Raelethi Primarchs and the incidents they caused. Initially caught off guard, Jeralth was quick to rise to their questions, and immediately began disavowing himself and the Dominion of having anything to do with the incidents. He swore up and down that the Raelethi had acted alone, without orders, and had seemed mentally unstable before the assault on the freighter. He made his claims that there were no other options for him other than to follow orders.
There were no Dominion ships nearby that he could have reached out to for aid or to override the Primarchs, and if he had outright disobeyed, he would have been eaten. There had been no choice but to make the assault. The whole ordeal, Jeralth claimed, was the work of a single, unhinged monster, acting on its own that had seized control of government assets to do its bidding.
It was a good story, and anyone who could question it was dead. The council never had to know that Jeralth had led the assault gladly, eager to prove himself against the Deathworlders.
After almost two hours of interrogation, and Jeralth sticking to his story for all of it, the council members seemed satisfied, wished him well, and left.
No sooner had Jeralth settled back into his bed, the doors to the med bay slid open to once again admit the Butcher. She brought with her another large and clearly heavy duffel bag.
“Wake up, Scales. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’re running out of time.”
“Out of time? What do you mean by that?” Jeralth asked as the Butcher raised his bed into a sitting position again.
“Well, if our intel is right, the Hierarchs have been waiting to interview you before they made a decision about this whole mess. Now that they’ve done that, we should have an answer soon about when we can leave. And the minute we’re allowed to leave the station, we’re fucking gone. You've got to be off the ship by then. Which means, we’ve got to get this dialed in and have you used to it sooner rather than later.” As she said this, she reached into her bag and removed the most bizarre thing Jeralth had ever seen.
Jeralth had seen the human prosthetic, and had expected something similar; something of sleek lines and shining metal. His expectations had been very wrong. The strange contraption was clearly a Grenval hand and forearm, but it seemed as alien to Jeralth as a human arm. Made of what looked like some kind of polymer instead of metal, it had been colored a yellowish brown in an attempt to match the tone of his scales. The three fingers were thick and bulky compared to his own, and all of the circular joints bulged out obviously from the form of the hand, warping any grace the machine might have had otherwise. In contrast, the thumb seemed too narrow and weak at first glance. Worst of all, there was no trace of the natural, clawed points the fingers should have ended in, having been replaced by rounded, characterless, hunks of plastic.
“I couldn’t figure out how to replicate the function of the muscles in your palm correctly,” she continued, “so you’re not going to have the full mobility you’re used to in your last digit. I just didn’t have time, and I had to pick between that or giving you a working thumb. You should still be able to make a fist and grab hold of things just fine. Either way, it’s still better than nothing. Now, let's get this hooked up and see if it actually works.”
After calling the guard in to supervise, the Butcher freed his arm from the bed restraints and immediately started strapping on the device in their stead. It was an odd feeling watching the mechanized replacement for a part of him being attached. It still felt wrong, but he found himself desperately hoping it would work.
Once the prosthetic was attached to her satisfaction, the Butcher pulled a power cell out of her duffel. “Alright, I had your doctor bring me one of these. Grenval standard issue, right? Good. I wanted to make sure you can keep this thing running after you get home. Now, let's plug this in and hope for the best.”
She popped open a slot on Jeralth’s new forearm and slid the power cell in, then sat back and waited.
“You need to actually try something. It’s myoelectric, so it works by sensing the electrical signals you send to your muscles. I know you don’t still have your hand, but try moving it like you do.”
Jeralth stared at his new hand, willing it to move, but it did not respond.
“When you squeeze your fist, you feel the muscle in your arms contract, right?” Jeralth nodded in reply. “Ok. Just do the same thing as always when you’re making a fist, and focus on making those muscles move. Try balling both your fists up at the same time.”
He stared down at both his hands, the left still bound to his bed, and his right now made of a machine wrapped in plastic, and squeezed the air.
His new right hand snapped into a fist along with his left.
Jeralth was instantly overcome with emotion. Next to him, the Butcher let out a loud, excited whooping sound. He had spent the last week strapped to the bed, sure that his life was over; that there was nothing left for him but to starve and waste away, helpless. Now, he had a chance to keep going. An awkward, ugly chance, but still a chance.
The Butcher immediately set to work on his arm with a variety of tools, tweaking little details here and there. Hours melted away unnoticed as she worked on his arm, teaching him practice drills to accustom him to the new prosthesis while constantly adjusting it. The main concern was that the grip strength in the first two fingers was far too high, and it took them a significant amount of time to get it dialed in correctly.
Before Jeralth realized it, the day had passed, and the lights in the medbay auto-dimmed.
The Butcher stood and started packing her tools. “I’m pretty sure we got through most of the major technical hurdles today, but I’ll be back tomorrow for more fine tuning just in case. Would have gotten more done if I’d had both arms. Now, it’s going to take you awhile to get fully comfortable with that thing, but you’ll get there. Just keep practicing. Every spare minute you have, run through the drills I taught you, and before you know it, you won’t even realize you have a fake arm.”
Jeralth settled back into his bed, mentally exhausted but content. “If someone had told me that of all the monsters and all the disasters in the galaxy that could claim a limb, losing an arm to a Deathworlder would be the best option, I’d have assumed they were stupid. What strange luck for me that your species is so unusual.”
“No, you’re lucky that convergent evolution gave you a muscle structure that I’m familiar with, and that we both have muscles that function via electrical impulses. Without that, I wouldn’t have known where to even start. Those little grey bastards that run your Dominion? I have no clue how I could have helped one of them. And yeah, you’re also pretty lucky that it was me who took your arm.”
The medbay was quiet for the next few minutes, save for the sounds of tools being shoved into canvas.
The Butcher turned to look at Jeralth, confused. “Why what?”
It was a question that had been nagging at the back of his mind for days; he had to know. “Why would you do this?” he asked, waving his new arm. “Why would you help me. What could you possibly have to gain?”
The Butcher seemed very tired as she spoke.
“It sucks, losing part of yourself. There are a lot of people back home that choose to get these kinds of alterations of their own free will. People get their own parts chopped off for something ‘better’ every day. And yeah, I’m pretty damn happy with mine, all things considered. I mean, I owe my arm my life. But there’s always going to be a part of me that wonders what it would be like to go through life whole. Because I didn’t get a choice. This is the result of an act of violence, of someone else’s choices, and I’ll always have to live dealing with the consequences of something that was done to me, not by me.
“And I did to you the same thing that was done to me. Granted, you were trying to kill me, so you fucking deserved it. But that doesn’t mean you deserve to live the rest of your life crippled. And I’ll be damned if I’m just going to throw you out into the void with absolutely no chance of getting by. Humans might be new to the galactic stage, but even we’re well aware how little the Dominion cares for the individual. I’ve heard the stories. Everyone on this ship has. I couldn’t live with myself if I inflicted this on another living being and had the chance to help them but didn’t, only to then send them back to the Dominion to rot.
“I’m doing this because I’m responsible for it, I know what it’s like to go through it, and I can do something about it. So I’m doing something.”
Jeralth looked at her, stunned by her honesty. He hadn’t expected her to answer, and he certainly hadn’t expected an explanation that was so personal. It still made no logical sense to him, but he was beginning to suspect that was a rather common occurrence when it came to humans.
The Butcher continued packing her tools in the renewed silence. When she was done, she hefted her duffle, nodded to Jeralth, and left.
He stayed awake most of the night, working on learning to control his new hand.
The next morning, the Butcher arrived with the brightening of the morning lights, waking Jeralth as she entered the medbay. She immediately set to work on fine-tuning the new contraption replacing his arm and instructing him on the finer points of its care and use.
Halfway through the day, the large, dark skinned leader of the humans entered the room in a rush, and immediately began addressing the Butcher.
“Boucher, the Hierarchs have made their decision, and they’ve decided that the Primarch acted on his own, and everyone was justified in their self defense. Neither we or the Dominion are being charged with anything. We’re cleared to leave as soon as we release the prisoner to Station authorities. I want him off the ship immediately, and then we’re getting the hell out of here, so wrap this up. I ordered Zapata, Fletcher, and Koltsov to gear up and escort our guest off the ship. Captain Tennahvesen is already spinning up the engines.” The large human then turned to Jeralth. “We will be turning you over to Station security, who will release you to your people. Don’t cause any problems for us between here and the gangway, and everyone gets to go home.” With that, he turned and left the medbay.
“Shit, we’re out of time. Hang on. I’ve got one more thing for you.” The Butcher jumped up and ran out of the medbay without saying anything else.
Before she returned, three heavily armed and armored humans entered and began unstrapping Jeralth from his bed at long last. He was unsteady when he finally reached his feet, but it felt so good to move again that he didn’t care if the steps were a bit shaky. He was wearing nothing but the green medical gown, no doubt provided by the Rithorian doctor, that he had been dressed in since he woke in the medbay, but he didn’t care. He could move, and he was finally going to be free of this ship.
His guards moved him off at as brisk a pace as he could manage through the cursed freighter that had claimed his entire squad and his arm. He could only hope that he would never see the like of it again. In a matter of moments, Jeralth had been led to the forward section of the cargo bay, where the human leader and several members of Station security were waiting for them.
Before the humans could make the official handover of Jeralth, a loud cry of “Wait!” echoed through the cargo bay, and everyone present turned to see the Butcher racing toward them. When she reached them, panting, she held up a data-pad.
“That’s got the full technical readout of your arm on it. If anything breaks and you have to fix it or you just need to adjust something, that will at least let you know what you’re working with.”
The human leader looked at her reprovingly.
“Oh, don’t worry, Gunny. There’s no secrets in there. The newest piece of tech in that arm is from the 2070’s. All just basic myoelectrics and primitive 3D printables. I was careful, I checked.”
The large human nodded, and the Butcher stepped forward and handed the data pad to Jeralth.
“Now get the fuck off our ship. I want to go home.”
With that, the humans stepped away and Jeralth walked the two meters to the Station security members and the gangway entrance. He was finally free to return home, albeit to an uncertain fate. Still, because of this bizarre creature that he had somehow reached an understanding with over their shared handicap, he had a better chance of forging a new life than most other Grenval in his situation could ever dream of.
He stopped at the gangway entrance and turned to the Butcher one last time before leaving.
“Make no mistake, Butcher. If I ever meet you in battle again, I will not hesitate to kill you.” Jeralth looked down at the strange device that now served as his hand. He opened and closed his new fist a few times for good measure. “I sincerely hope that never happens.”
Humanity's Greatest Gift
This started when I asked myself "What would be the greatest contribution Humanity could make to a galactic stage comprising many different alien species?" I plan to write it as a series of short passages, as even stuck at home my family life only allows me to work in short bursts. I hope you enjoy it, and critiques are welcome!
EDIT: Thanks everyone for the responses so early on! I added date and locations to improve readability.
"You clean up well." Came the familiar voice of my second, Lieutenant Commander Diedrick.
I had to nothing to say to that as I crossed my quarters to the large window with a view of the quarterdeck control room. Using the faint reflection I gave my uniform a tug, ensuring it fit properly. In that reflection I saw Daloris stand up from the oversized chair I brought from my family home on Earth and face me.
"Did the, uh, Dagoths treat you well?"
"No." I started, wanting to explain but finding it hard to put words to memories too painful to relive. There was no use blaming Daloris for not knowing the hell I've been through, the details of my capture remain classified. But I can't help showing the scars of my experience so soon after being recovered.
Daloris shifted, eyes askance now. From her body language I could tell that she had been hoping this whole time that it wouldn't have been the case, that my time as a high ranking POW was spent in moderate comfort. Because the only alternative was that I wasn't coming back. Dagoths didn't keep prisoners. I was the first one.
I fussed with the part in my hair. It was perfect but I couldn't think of what to say. Eventually Daloris found her nerve again.
"What's on the agenda, Commander?"
"You tell me, you're still at the helm until after my formal debriefing, Lieutenant Commander. Think you can handle a couple more hours in the chair?" I remarked coolly, catching her eye in the window before turning around to face her.
She threw me an excited salute. "Aye, sir."
"And when I get back I'll take supper in the mess. I want to hear about the last eight months and all the trouble you got into."
"Oh, no trouble sir. Ask the men, they hardly knew you were gone outside of the pool we started on when Gunny was going to get caught sneaking around with the harbor master." She flashed the faintest smirk, starting to feel more comfortable as I warmed up.
I returned the salute with a smile I managed to muster. "Dismissed."
Watching after her, I still couldn't believe I was home. None of it felt real. My crew on the other side of the glass looked real, and superimposed over them was my image like a ghost. My personal chair seemed flat and two dimensional, like a photograph. Would any of it feel like home again?
It didn't matter. In a few moments I would be transported back to the hell I'd escaped. I'll be asked to describe in vivid, painful detail what the Dagoths did to me. And somehow find it within myself to forgive them so we could finally end this war.
They were waiting on board. Somehow the Dagoths found our skiff and were waiting on board.
"No. No, pleas-AAUGH!" Corporal Delatorre's pleas were cut short as he took a Dagoth caster round square in the torso.
We'd been fighting them from the safety of our firing lines and across vast distances in space. Until now I had never seen the destruction their weapons wrought on our bodies first hand. I'll never forget watching flesh pucker and turn black before dripping hot off of instantly scorched bones. My suits' filter was overwhelmed. The click of the Geiger counter matched the ringing in my ears.
I froze. Three of them faced me in the hold of what should've been my safe harbor. Their iridescent chitanous bodies glowed turquoise under the flight lights. Two round eyes, and a blank line for a mouth. Faces like a child would draw.
No words came to me. What could I have said? As far as we knew, they didn't understand our language and never responded to our hails and communications before. Seven years since first contact and we didn't even know if they could produce sound.
My sidearm clattered to the floor, breaking the silence behind the softly sizzling corpse of my corporal's body. My fate was sealed. Looking down at Frances' face frozen in agony, I accepted death.
Death that never came. Or was this dying? Your thoughts moving terminally slow at the event horizon of where life ends and what comes after begins.
Different. Distinct. Intentional sounds rising above the hum of the ship's power, my breathing, and all the other idle distractions around.
Scared to look up. Afraid to move at all. Yet I swear I heard them...speaking. Stoic and rigid, their bodies were like statues in my peripheral vision. Part of the background. Their presence was massive though, and to think they were discussing me got the better of my fear.
I looked up in time to see one moving towards me. Right before I blacked out I glimpsed into those black eyes and saw it. Curiosity. I don't know what tool or device they used to put me under, but more importantly I can tell you that in that moment I began to understand them.
"Now wait. Please think back. You said they subdued you, or that you blacked out? Dagoth technology is completely unique and doesn't parallel humanity's advances at all as far as we know. Their ability to medically tranquilize an alien species successfully is a, uh...an enormous feat."
The Naval CSO interrupted from the seat closest to mine. Everyone else put down their various notes and screens to pay heed to the question.
All told there were five people at my debriefing. The Chief Science Officer, breathlessly awaiting my response to his query. Admiral Taboreau at the end of the conference table was the only one listening intently to my story thus far. The Vice Chief of Operations and the Director of Naval Intelligence were here, both very high on the ladder and had until now been completely absorbed in reading the reports that they likely hadn't before today.
And across the CSO, sitting in the other chair closest to me was Chief Warrant Officer Mares. She was from the Defense Institute of Psychological Research and was the first non-medical staff I remember talking to when I woke up two weeks ago. She already knew my whole story. I can't help but feel she was just here to support me.
"Well, er. To clarify, I fell unconscious suddenly. I do not recall being medicated, struck with a weapon or device, or injected with anything. Everything simply went black."
I was confident in my version of events and knew I'd be pressed hard for details. Finding myself finally before my fellow men and women changed things. There were far more important things to focus on than how Dagoth ships worked and what they ate. My mission was to make them understand the aliens the way I had come to.
Before the CSO could rephrase, Officer Mares stepped in.
"What do you think they were saying?" She asked, aloof.