“I cheated on the proficiency exam for engineering.” Telan blurted out suddenly. The others looked at him. He ran his hands nervously through his hair. He was covered in soot and looked almost black. "I know it was wrong and I swear I know all the answers! It's just..." He looked up at them with pleading orange eyes that were made more luminous by the dark grime coating his skin. “I freeze up on tests." No one said anything for a long moment. Telan let his head fall in shame, looking small with his back pressed against the wall of the insulated cargo container.
“Telan, I've seen you rebuild the engine with a wrench, string, and what looked like cotton candy.” Telan opened his mouth to explain exactly what the 'cotton candy' was but Ceno held up one scaled hand to stop him. "I don't want to know what it was. My point is that you are- were a valuable member of the crew, and if you had to cheat to get here, I'm glad you did." Ceno seemed to realize what she'd just said. "Not that I'm glad that you're stuck here." She deflated slightly as she remembered where they were. Telan smiled, ducking his head has fully even as his eyes glistened with tears.
Meanwhile the gravity of the situation was truly setting in for the others. "If cheating on a test is the worst thing you've ever done, you've got nothing to worry about, kid." A gruff voice assured him. All eyes turned to Wilt, a big man, who had been a janitor on the ship. He laughed at their surprise. "Don't be so shocked. When you're a janitor it is astonishing what you learn... You wouldn't believe what you learn." His face darkened. "Or the temptation to use that knowledge when you do." Ceno was staring at him with new eyes.
"You're the blackmailer." The former head of security breathed. Wilt laughed hollowly.
"What are you going to do, Ceno? Throw me in the brig?" He asked. Ceno bit a scaly lip. “You arrest people for doing the wrong thing. I just make them pay in another way.” His voice lacked conviction and he just sounded like a tired old man with too many regrets.
She understood regret. “It’s not my place to judge you.” She answered, her voice strained. Wilt frowned at her. “Not with what I was involved in before I came aboard.” She choked. Telan reached out with a hesitant hand and touched her shoulder. Ceno leaned into the gesture and Telan could feel her trembling. It was a far cry from the resolute chief of security they all knew. Ceno seemed to realize this, because she drew a shuddering breath and straightened her shoulders. “I’ve carried this with me far too long.” She said more steadily. “And someone else should know, even if they are going at the same time I am.” She looked around at each of them before she focused her stare on the opposite wall. “You remember the shootings on Kelvas 9?” She asked dully. The others nodded slowly. Kelvas 9 had suffered mass casualties from insurgent attacks. “It wasn’t insurgents. It was the military.” Ceno began to cry. She showed absolutely no signs of it save the wet streams now trailing down her face. “We didn’t know. We were just following orders.” Ceno scoffed, full of disgust for herself and her fellow soldiers. “As if that’s an excuse.” She swallowed. “When we learned the truth, myself and four others killed our CO.” A bitter smile curled around her mouth. “We made it look like insurgents. It seemed fitting since he labeled so many innocents as insurgents to have us murder them for him.” Ceno clenched her jaw. “But the worst thing we did, was cover it up. The fact that the military had been killing civilians would have only created more bloodshed. It would have dragged innocent soldiers through the mud.” Her hands clenched. “Covering the entire thing up wasn’t right but-” Ceno’s voice cracked. Suddenly there were arms around her. Telan was hugging her tightly, like the little brother she’d never had. Wilt had a fatherly hold around her shoulder; and Rak, who had remained silent up until now, had moved across the cargo container to gently hold one of her hands in both of his. Everyone was quiet for a moment. Then Wilt spoke.
“You stopped him from hurting anyone else. You protected your fellow soldiers. No one could ask for anything else.” Ceno met Wilt’s weary eyes.
“You already knew.” She whispered, staring at the old man. “And you didn’t…”
“Blackmail?” The corners of his mouth lifted in a small smile. “I can only blackmail someone if they did something wrong.” Telan’s arms tightened as he nodded into her shoulder, and Rak squeezed her hand in support. After a moment, she relaxed. When the small group finally separated, Ceno felt lighter than she had in years.
Wilt cleared his throat and turned to Konak, the feathered weapons officer. “I think you have something to say as well.” Konak glared at him sourly.
“Right, blackmailer.” He growled. “I want my money back.”
“Wouldn’t do you much good now.” Telan pointed out, still sitting next to Ceno, leaning on her supportively.
Konak scoffed at the boy, then, under the heavy glare of Wilt, he heaved a massive sigh. “Fine, it’s not as if it matters now. Plus, nothing looks bad after Ceno’s little revelation.” Everyone glared at him. “I was dating Kiri.” He admitted. “And Lili. And Jin… Koni and Mi and Shif.” The others were torn between judging him and pitying him as the tears began to fall. They had all lost people today. Their ship, their entire crew, was gone. Konak was sobbing now. The sound filled the cargo container. No one said anything. Gradually, Konak’s grief wound itself down to hiccupping sobs, then sniffles, he couldn’t stop his tears.
“I love you, Ceno.” Rak suddenly broke the tension that had filled the container. Everyone looked at him. He flushed to his ice blue hair and dropped his ivory eyes. “I just thought you should know…” He mumbled. An awkward silence ensued. Then Telan cleared his throat.
“And what about you, Whiley?” He asked the one person who hadn’t spoken. She was one of the new recruits on the ship, they didn’t know her well, and now they never would. “What do you have to get off your chest?”
“Me? Nothing I’m telling you.” She laughed. Everyone stared at her. Whiley was trying to pull her tangled braid apart, she must have been doing it the whole time. “You are all confessing to these things because you think we are all going to die.” She shrugged, and gave up on the snarled white, soot-streaked hair, tossing it behind her. “Yeah, the chances of survival are pretty much non-existent, but on the off chance that it happens, you all have to live with the rest of us knowing your secrets.” Whiley leaned back and laced her fingers behind her head. “I’m not taking that chance.” The instant she finished speaking the cargo container jolted, sending its occupants sprawling against one wall. Sound echoed through the space as the container shifted again and settled. They were all groaning as they disentangled themselves from each other. They looked around, though there were no windows or readouts to give them their baring. Then it happened.
Knock knock knock.
They stared at the wall. Telan jumped violently when the panel unsealed with a hiss of air. All of them stared in shock as the door opened to reveal a hairless humanoid on two legs.
“Oh, excellent.” He grinned. “I thought there were life forms in here, but my instruments were giving me particular readings.” The man squared his shoulders. “Well, if that wreckage out there is your’s it seems that you lot need a new ship. Since I need a few more crew members, this works out rather well, wouldn’t you agree?” His statement was met with silence. He frowned. Then Telan started laughing hysterically.
“She was right!” He gasped, pointing at Whiley who was wearing a smug expression. “My god, she was right!” Ceno put a hand on Telan’s shoulder to indicate he should calm down before moving past him.
“I am Ceno Cantar of the Dyron Fleet.” She introduced herself.
“Name’s Fin.” The man introduced himself. “Your new captain.”