Aurialonus made demands again, gesticulating wildly, roaring in anger. Mediators tried to clarify his stipulations, but no one could figure out what he wanted. Time was running out.
The team was as ready as it could be, given the fact their monkey, Emory, had yet to join them. Penny was briefed on his part and had put in long hours with simulation climbs, but nothing compared to the real thing.
“What if he doesn’t show?” Ben asked Wil worriedly.
“Then we use Penny. Won’t have any choice.”
A commotion in the adjoining room erupted suddenly and Wil heard Ray’s distinctive bellow. Rushing through the doorway, Ben and Wil saw the men surrounding another man he didn’t know.
The man was just over five feet tall, slightly built and wiry. His dark hair was close cropped and his bright blue eyes were hooded like a snake’s. They flickered from one man to another, sizing them up. He didn’t look afraid, just extremely alert as if he were on synthstims.
“What goes on here?” Wil roared from the doorway.
The men surrounding the smaller one moved apart allowing him to pass. Wallace tried to punch him, but Lance restrained him, catching his fist in a vice-like grip.
Setting down his duffel, the little man adjusted his uniform. “Emory reporting for duty, Colonel.” Shuffling his feet, he glanced up at Wil who towered over him by at least two feet.
“No rank or salute for a superior officer?” Ben growled.
Emory’s eyes flickered over toward Ben, complete loathing simmered there. Wil’s gaze lingered on Emory, gauging him. There was something Wil couldn’t place. It caused disquietude.
“Corporal Emory reporting, sir!” He snapped a short, saucy salute with a glare at them all. None of the officers returned his salute and he did not look as if he expected them to.
“You were called three days ago, what took you so long?” Wil asked as pleasantly as he could.
“I had some unfinished business I had to take care of, sir.” He made the term of respect as disrespectful as possible. Wil draped a long arm around Emory’s shoulders from which the little man couldn’t squirm.
“Anyone ever explain to you how the military works, Emory?”
“I’m not sure I get your meaning.”
“Well, it’s like this. I outrank you, as do the most of the people in this room. I don’t expect much, only for you to do your job right and show me the respect I’ve earned for more years than you’ve even been alive.” His grip on Emory’s shoulder tightened until the little man winced. “I’m glad we understand one another, Corporal Emory, I’d hate to demote you.”
Emory said nothing. The other men in the room glared at him, making him sink in on himself even more. The tension in the room was broken by the entrance of the two women. Penny and Ishanti were exchanging pleasantries when they walked into the room full of angry males. Stopping suddenly just inside the door, Penny looked at each in turn, staring openly at the small man who seemed to be the center of the problem.
“Who’s this?” Her eyes fixed on Wil, saw the muscle working in his jaw and knew he was furious about something.
“Corporal Emory.” He snapped a salute. “Reporting for duty.”
Penny looked at him and said nothing. Ishanti returned his salute automatically and muttered “At ease,” from habit.
“I’m happy to see you, at least,” Penny tried to smile and ground the charged atmosphere. “Now I don’t have to climb!” Her laugh seemed to pull Wil out of himself and he chuckled weakly next to her.
“That’s good anyway,” Ishanti added quietly.
“I need a shower, sir, and a meal. Please,” Emory added as an afterthought.
Again Penny jumped in to save Wil from the urge to tell Emory where he could put his meal and shower.
“I’ll show him, Colonel,” Penny remarked in passing as she steered the nasty tempered man past Wil and Ben. “Bennett’s cooking tonight,” she said casually as she walked past.
Behind Emory’s back, the other men grinned and crowded through the narrow doorway to follow them down to where Bennett was fixing the evening meal. In less than 30 seconds, the yelling started, followed by broken dishes and what sounded like knives slicing the air. A few moments later, Penny came up to Wil looking satisfied with herself.
“Emory and Bennett took a strong dislike to one another, Colonel. I’ve had them both thrown in the brig.”
“Just overnight. We’ll be making our maze run tomorrow and I have to brief them first.”
“As you wish, Colonel.” The sway in her hips taunted him.
“We have our whole team now, Colonel.” Ray said with a twinkle in his eye.
“Not much of a team, is it? If Aurialonus doesn’t kill us, our own team members might!” Wallace interjected.
Adam Krall came in, scratching absently and yawning having awakened from his afternoon nap. “What’d I miss?”
* * *
Word came after dinner that Aurialonus had changed plans. The youngest daughter was to be executed the next morning if his demands weren’t met. In addition, he’d demanded fifty million Uberbucks, the standard denomination of cash on Starflatz.
“That’s roughly seventeen thousand Galactic,” Krall told them. “Stupid lunatic can’t even ask for a decent amount of cash. Uberbucks aren’t negotiable anywhere but Starflatz. Does he actually think he’s gonna stick around once he’s got it? Moron,” he muttered. “What bullshit!”
“He’s not gonna get to spend it anyway,” Wallace pointed out as he gathered his gear. “We’re gonna kill him first, right?”
“A fool and his money are soon parted,” was Bennett’s contribution. The others stared at him. “What? I ran out of stuff to read in the brig, so I started a book of quotations.”
The team loaded into a shuttle which took them down to the planet. They landed at the one spaceport which was not held by Aurialonus’ troops and set up their base there. If anything went wrong, Ray would call the ship and Penny and Ishanti would go in, guns blazing.
Penny pulled Wil aside, apart from the others. Kissing him hurriedly, she gazed intently into his eyes. “Don’t die on me!” She whispered intently.
Wil allowed himself a moment of pure emotion, the last he would have until the operation was over. He kissed her deeply, all his unexpected desires for her expressed in that one act.
“You be safe,” he told her.
©2015 Dellani Oakes