Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ji Min and the Unnamed Enemy

Ji Min shook feeling back into her hand as the medibot released her arm. The scar tissue from where Harrison had etched his name into her flesh was healing nicely. After a day at the beach no one would be able to distinguish anything had happened.

She stood, collecting her uniform coat, but stilled as the commanding admiral walked in. "Sir?"


"Sit, captain, we have things to discuss with the medic before you go."

She obeyed the order with no show of reluctance. This was not the time to act out of character. "Did my tests results come back abnormal, sir?" She'd run three gauntlets in the hours since dawn, and she was certain she'd been near her top time on the obstacle course. Quickly, Ji Min reviewed her memories of the written tests she'd received. All her answers had been perfect. Unless there was a hidden test she'd missed. A color test perhaps? With a frown she considered the possibility that her eyesight had been damaged in the last mission. That would be inconvenient.

A medic – a human one this time – walked in with a datpad. Her black hair was pulled in a regulation knot that matched Ji Min's but that's where the similarities ended. This woman was nervous. Fear rolled of her in waves. Her smile was tight and never reached her eyes.

Ji Min raised an eyebrow, consciously lowering her pulse rate to appear calm and collected. The little medtech could learn something from her. Hopefully the girl would be smart enough to just that.

"Captain Zhang, Admiral Dai, thank you for meeting with me." The girl's nervous eyes darted to Ji Min and dashed away. "I've... I've taken the liberty of reviewing your files, captain. You were very thorough."

"Thank you," Ji Min said. She made a mental note to speak the hospital's commanding officer on her way out. This medtech wasn't fit to do more than apply bandages. Fortunately she didn't need a doctor to tell her anything. All her injuries were familiar ones.

"I have a treatment plan for you," the medtech said.

"Yes," Ji Min said. "I completed the final tests this morning."

The admiral stirred in his chair. Hairs on the back of her neck went up.

"Sir? Was my test time less than desirable?"

The admiral shook his head. "It's not that."

"You were tortured," the medtech said breathlessly.

A lightbulb moment. The girl was worried, possibly traumatized by the report. "I'm fine," Ji Min said with a patient smile.

"You aren't," the girl said. "You sustained severe torture over a period of twenty-three days."

"I was trained to withstand torture," Ji Min said with perfect patience.

"Nothing like this," the medtech argued, seeming to gain confidence.

Ji Min turned to the admiral. "Sir, the first week doesn't count. All they did was withhold food. It was a love tap."

"It was torture," the admiral said gruffly.

"I didn't break," Ji Min pressed. "I'm not a security risk."

The admiral's dark gray eyes were filled with anger.

Ji Min straightened her shoulders. Anger she could work with. "It was a high stakes mission. I took four days longer than planned to accomplish my goal but I had a six day window. Everything went according to plan."

The medtech cleared her throat. "Captain, this is your sixth traumatic incident in less than fifteen years of service."

"The first two don't count," Ji Min said imperiously. "They were both my first week as a cadet and were not my fault."

"You were the only survivor of a fleet cruiser!" The medtech gasped for air.

Ji Min's lip curled in disgust. "Leave. Find someone who can control themselves. Your fear is grating on my skin."

The medtech's hands clenched into fists but didn't budge. "You are being medically retired."

"No." Ji Min looked at the admiral.

"It's for your health, Zhang. You need to spend a few years in rehab. Get mentally adjusted. It's for your mental health."

She snorted in amusement. "You won't let me have leave because I cause trouble when I'm bored and you want to make me a civilian? That's not going to go over well." Her eyes snapped to the medtec
h. 
"You were given an order to leave."

"I..."

The admiral pointed at the door.

In a flurry of frustration and fear the girl excited the door.

"You scare her," the admiral said once they were alone.

"She insulted my training." Ji Min gave the admiral a flat look. "I was trained to withstand torture. I am by far one of the most experienced soldiers in the fleet. My record is near perfect. That girl shouldn't have been intimidated by me, she should have been watching me, trying to learn and improve herself. If that's what the academy is turning out these days there will be a drought of decent officers in the coming years."

The admiral scowled at her. "She was scared because your anger was making the walls vibrate."

Ji Min glanced at the brick wall. "Only a little." She waved off his concern. "It's a side effect of the medication I took during the control test this morning. Everyone knows that."

"Nevertheless, you are a dominant mindpath and frighten weaker minds. Even someone with no intrinsic skill can sense you're dangerous."

"And this is your argument for making me a civilian?" She settled into her chair, resting her hands on her knees and waiting for his rebuttal. He wasn't going to find a good one.

The admiral mimicked her calm position. "Six incidents of extreme emotional or psychological trauma. Two near-death experiences. Over six months of hospital time."

"Over fifteen years," Ji Min said. "Not all at once."

"The fact is, no unit will take you. You're bad luck, Zhang."

She smiled as sweetly as the tiger seeing her prey. "You need a commander who isn't a coward."

"I can't name one that would want you."

"Then promote me. You'll have the benefit of my expertise, lessen the risk of the civilian population suffering from close contact with a dominant, and have a commander who isn't a craven fool. The perfect solution."

"No," the admiral said coming to his feet. "You need time to rest. Medical leave if not retirement."

Ji Min's skin cooled as she contained her emotions. "Send me with a trade delegation."

The admiral turned in startlement. "What?"

"We have three trade delegations leaving within the month, I'll go with one of them. There will be less cost because I won't need a large security detail, and the Emperor gains the advantage of me using my skills on our trade partners. We'll do very well if I go." The number of people who could tell her no was somewhere near zero. She obeyed orders because she enjoyed the discipline of the military and recognized the need for a chain of command. But even within the command there were very few people who she couldn't persuade to see things her way. That was the great skill of being a dominant. Telekinetic skills that allowed her to move things without physical contact were a bonus.

The admiral crossed his arms, retreating into a defensive position. "No."

"You have to give me something to do," Ji Min said calmly. "Bored, I'm too much of a threat to balance of a healthy society. I'm a typhoon in the harbor. The sudden wind as you climb a mountain peak. Dominants go into military training early for a reason. Left to my own devices at such a young age I might do something silly, like start a revolution. You can't endanger the populace that way."

"You are menace."

"All good soldiers are."

He looked at the window panel with the projected image of a formal water garden. "There is one place I could assign you."

"Frontline in a war zone where I can die like I ought?" she guessed with a smile. It was an old military joke. Back before the current emperor's ancestors claimed the throne the destruction of dominants was considered the best thing for society. They were caged, trained to be monster, and unleashed on war like the titans of old. Now dominants were perhaps not revered, and not always trusted, but their lives weren't wasted.

"How familiar are you with the wasteland situation on the edge of the Hani 667?"

Ji Min shook her head. "I've read the reports. Hanni 667 is a dead star with no planets orbiting. There's a few mining outposts collecting minerals there. Rumors of trouble."

"They are more than rumors. Ships going past the system never return. Probes show nothing but darkness."

"A black hole perhaps?"

"There's no gravitational anomaly to support that theory. There are, however, signals."

That caught her full attention. "Communication?"

"Possibly." He watched her face.

Ji Min smiled.

The admiral nodded. "It isn't our territory."

"No one owns the system."

"It abuts our own territory and the provinces of the Sunlords."

Her heart rate fluttered with delight. "I've heard stories of the Sunlords. How many of them are true?"

"We don't know. Until recently their only communication with us has been to tell us where their boundaries were and order us to stay on our side. They aren't aggressive. The borders on our side haven't changed in two centuries and we've no reason to believe they wish to expand."

"But they've contacted us?" she guessed. Everyone was wrong. She had the best kind of luck.

The admiral nodded, eyes sparkling with amusement. "They have been asked by the miners in the system to defend them from an unnamed threat. In turn, the Sunlords have extended an invitation to us to work in tandem since it is a shared border."

"A sign that they have no intent to attack or are they testing us for weaknesses."

"Either is possible. Or perhaps they are considering a trade agreement of some kind. Isolated cultures do not last forever."

Ji Min nodded. "Do we know whether they'll accept a mix gendered crew?"

"They gave no indication of their status, but requested anyone of rank. Would a single gendered crew be a limitation for you?"

"Never." Dominants were dominant whatever gender they professed. Smacking down a few chauvinists was child's play, although things would be easier to the Sunlord commander was equally dominant. She gave it a one in twenty chance. Every civilized culture saw the value of using dominants as officers. Even if they weren't openly recognized personality dragged most people like her to the spotlight.

The admiral nodded. "I'll have your promotion, orders, and packing list prepared by this evening. You'll ship out first thing tomorrow."

Ji Min smiled as the old man walked away. A free day all to herself. She swiveled her chair around in thought. Somewhere on the planet there was a sunny beach where she could intimidate a few sharks and work on her tan. The equatorial islands were nice this time of year. Lilac sand, blue waves, and fruity pink drinks were calling her name. With a sharp smile for the cowering medtech waiting in the hall Ji Min stalked down the halls with a smile, her jet tickets were bought even before the transport arrived to take her to the port.

It was a beautiful rainy day. 

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