Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Shapeshifter, #Space Opera
She stumbled leaving the vehicle, and her officers drew their weapons on her. Well, that explained their attitude toward her.
Niad straightened, and they walked with her past checkpoints and entered a courtroom where a Guardian was signing autographs and a judge tried to look as if he cared.
Her escort with the data pad scuttled to the judge’s bench and whispered frantically.
Niad was put in the defendant’s position, and she chose to remain on her feet. The Guardian stood next to the prosecutor, and he inclined his head toward the judge.
The gavel struck and the courtroom quieted.
“Niad Wyfirth, you are charged with acting in the capacity of a first responder during the incident earlier today. How do you plead?” The judge smiled in a bored manner. This happened all the time.
“I plead accuracy. I was not acting as a first responder. I am a first responder.” She inclined her head.
The judge blinked. “I beg your pardon.”
Niad looked around at her lack of representation, eyed the court recorders and nodded. “Well, I am Citadel Mechanical Specialist Niad Wyfirth. By the Citadel treatise, I am allowed to pursue my training on any world that accepts me as a citizen. I was born and raised here, so there is no doubt as to my being accepted.”
The prosecutor began frantically flipping through the digital documents, standing still when she found the one with the Citadel seal of confirmation.
The judge looked over. “Is she telling the truth?”
The prosecutor nodded. “She is a qualified mechanical Specialist with combat training and fluency in four off-world languages that are incompatible with translators.” The woman cleared her throat. “She has nine recommendations from instructors and has applied to join the Guardians three times.”
The judge looked at Niad. “What was the result of the interview?”
She kept a straight face. “I was denied an interview. My talent has been classified as incompatible with Guardianship.”
Tauron scowled behind his face-covering visor. Just his mouth was exposed. “There have been no new applications in the last two years.”
Niad inclined her head. “Not that made it to the Guardians. I was rejected at the government office. I made copies of the rejections, and they should be in my file as well.”
The prosecutor looked confused as the day took a weird turn. “She is correct. She was rejected by the clerk at the offices. Three different days in the last year, and she got the same clerk every time.”
“Administrator, please fetch the clerk from the city offices.”
The woman who had escorted her to the courthouse scampered off with the file blazing on her screen.
Niad settled in a comfortable stance, and she waited. She didn’t eat or drink, simply stood for the two hours it took to bring the clerk back.
The Guardian had fidgeted and gone from sitting to standing three times.
The clerk was assigned to speak, and she looked at her signature on the rejection. “Yes, that was me.”
The judge asked, “Why did you reject her application without allowing her an interview?”
The clerk actually snorted. “She is a mechanical talent. How could she possibly be of any use to the Guardians on a daily basis?”
The prosecutor dismissed the clerk and asked Niad to the stand.
Niad interjected. “Citadel Mechanical Specialist Niad Wyfirth.”
“Specialist Wyfirth, what is your talent description?”
“The basic term is mechanical alignment.”
“What does that mean? Can you give us an example?”
Niad raised her cuffed wrists and the locks opened, the hinges popped and the connecting chain fell to pieces. “I see how things link together and can relax or strengthen those bonds as well as use short-range telekinesis to put objects where they belong.”
“I am a mechanic.” She quirked her lips.
“What were you doing at the school?”
“They had called me this morning about an issue with the coolant system, and my intervention was about an hour after I got that call. I had to finish a contracted vehicle first.”
“Why did you bring tools if you can use your talent to fix mechanical systems?”
Niad sighed. “Why do you take a vehicle when you could technically walk everywhere? Using a talent is taxing and should be saved for events where its use cannot be avoided.”
The Guardian was nodding solemnly.
“What possessed you to use your talent today?”
Niad sighed. “Any move the Guardians could have made would have exposed the fire to more fuel. Getting the suppression systems up and running was my primary focus. Less fire and working water and gas suppression meant that the Guardians would just have to rescue, not fight the flames as well.”
“Which is what the Guardians did.”
“Correct. Tauron waited until it was working, and he began an immediate evacuation.” She waited for the catch.
“So, the Guardians would have gotten in without your intervention.” The prosecutor smiled, happy to be on familiar footing.
Niad quirked her lips. “If they could have acted, they would have. Our local detachment doesn’t have water manipulators. They were waiting and trying to think of a way to block the flames before entering the school. They wanted to rescue the kids, but their entry into the sealed space would have caused incalculable damage to the folks in danger.”
The prosecutor frowned. “You interfered with the Guardians.”
“No, I stayed out of the cordoned-off area, went in through the tunnels and did my work without anyone seeing me, with one exception. The Guardian pursued me underground. I did not come to him. I did not offer my assistance, nor did I force them to accept it. I repaired the building’s systems as requested and before scheduled. I will present my bill to the school district by the end of the month.”
The gasp from those in the room at large was synchronized.
The judge asked, “You would charge for saving lives?”
“Of course not, but that was not what I did. I repaired a system that I was contracted to repair, just a little earlier than planned. I am not a Guardian, I am not a hero, and I am not an employee of the city. I am a woman who has a skill with mechanical structures, and as everyone in this court knows, it is only against the law if I use it to interfere with the Guardians, endangering myself or others.”
The judge smiled. “It appears you know your rights.”
“It was covered in my Citadel training. Know the rules of any world you live on.” Niad inclined her head. “I was an excellent student.”
The prosecutor spluttered. “Your honour, she interfered!”
The judge sat back. “I find that she did nothing more than her contract called for. The timing was coincidental, and the result fortuitous. Niad Wyfirth is free to leave.”
The gavel slammed down, and Niad sighed. She didn’t have her com or money. She was in for a long walk.
She nodded to the judge and left the courtroom, with the administrator gaping at her and the prosecutor frantically speaking to Guardian Tauron. The apology was obvious in her voice.
Niad was surprised when Tauron arrived at her side.
“Miss Wyfirth, may I offer you a ride home?”
She grimaced. “I suppose since you are the reason I am here that it is only appropriate that you take me home.”
He smiled ruefully. “I did not anticipate this response. You did not do anything wrong.”
She held up her hand as folks stopped to stare at them. “Enough. I know what my place is here. I will continue my work and deal with the fallout of my being hauled off in cuffs. Just take me back to my neighbourhood.”
His lips tensed, but he nodded. “Right. Address?”
She rattled it off, and they left the courthouse. His vehicle was parked in the VIP stall, and it had its own guard. The riot runner was in good shape, but it could use a tune-up. She said as much.
She sat in front of him, and he held the controls around her.
“Would you consider a position at the base?”
His words were rumbled in her ear as they lifted off and cruised a few feet above the paved streets.
“Mechanic and occasional Guardian? It appears that you have a skill set that has been overlooked in the past. I would like to see you use it.”
“I have my reasons, but I am guessing you do as well.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Three times. You applied three times and were rejected out of hand. You were going to apply for a fourth, weren’t you?”
She shrugged. “Of course. I have more training in disaster and combat situations than most of the Guardians in operation around the globe. I have been pushed to the edge and pushed back. All I wanted was a chance to give back to my people.”
“I will give you that chance. Give me a week and wait for the messenger. You will be a Guardian.”
She sat in silence and thought about what he had said until he stopped in front of the shop and dismounted from the runner. He helped her off the seat with a careful grip on her hands.
“Thank you for your help today, Citizen Wyfirth. We could not have brought them to safety without you.” He spoke in a loud and clear voice so that all of the neighbours who were still sweeping their shop fronts could hear it.
“It was an honour and a privilege.” She gently tugged her hands free and headed into the shop.
Her parents greeted her with hugs, and her mother stroked her hair back from her face and smiled. “Well?”
Niad winked. “I have made it to the interview phase. Now, we need to wait a week and see what happens next.”
Her father hugged her again. “We are ready.”
Her mom’s voice called out, “Niad, we have a high-priority overhaul coming in. Can you do it?”
Niad closed the panels on the transport she was working on and called out. “Sure. Let Mr. Nikotha know that his vehicle is back in working order and to stop letting the kids pour juice in the engine.”
“Will do. What flavour?” Mlina chuckled.
“Yinga berry. It smells great but is hell on his fuel-exchange system.”
“Right. Do you have the worksheet?”
“Just let me clean up. That stuff is sticky.”
She washed her hands in the shop sink and dried them before she returned to the worksheet and filled in the details of time and damage.
Her mother greeted the priority client, and Niad blinked as she recognized the body of the man standing in front of her. Guardian Tauron was having a day off, or that was the impression that his elegantly simple day attire gave her.
“Here you go, Mom.” She placed the info sheet on the counter. “I suppose you have something in need of my attentions?”
He turned away from her mother and stared at her with surprising blue-green eyes. High-family eyes. The same eyes that Mlina had. “I have a riot runner in need of a tune-up.”
“You are in a hurry?” She smiled politely.
“I am on call.” He inclined his head. “How long will it take?”
“A simple tune-up will be an hour. Full recalibration would be another hour.”
“Aim for full calibration and keep it as operational as you can. If I have to go, I will only have a few minutes’ notice.”
“Show me the runner and I will get this going.” She looked to Mlina. “Mom, you have the info you need?”
Niad clapped her hands and looked at the client.
He took her outside and showed her the vehicle. It was not the same as the one she had been on on the way back from the courthouse, but it was in need of her services.
“May I watch?”
She blinked. “Um, sure. Do you mind if I use my talent to speed things along?”
“No, do what you need to.”
She grinned, fired the vehicle up and flew it around to the work bays. She settled it in a cradle and dismounted. He jogged in behind her.
Niad glanced at him. “Please settle against the wall. You can ask questions, but I don’t want you in any danger of getting dirty. That outfit costs more than the runner.”
As she spoke, she started to remove the panels she needed to see the situation, and after that, she used her talent to move hoses, flush lines and reconnect them. The electronics were trickier but less dangerous. She removed one system at a time, removed corrosion and set it back in place.
A smooth movement of her hand over the side panels removed dents and scratches.
The cross wiring of the controls made her frown until she realised it was deliberate. The right indicator was rigged to the windscreen defroster and the left was set to activate both signals.
She smoothed that little bit of confusion out, knowing that it was there to confuse her.
Niad started the system up, checked the emission levels and settled it back in place. “You need a new filter.”
The client was staring at her with wide eyes. “Sure.”
She went to the supply area, got the filter and removed the old one. It had granite dust and black soot in it. This guy got around.
She set the filter into place, started up the runner and backed it off the cradle and out to the front staging area. The client followed.
“Okay, go and pay my mom and the runner is back to you.”
“Your mother? Are you adopted?”
She laughed and waved him inside. “Please, pay the lady.”
She and her mother shared a hair colour, but her eye colour was all low-family green-brown. Well, folks saw that her eye colour was low-family, but that was her business. Niad loved both her parents, but since she wasn’t allowed to take her mother’s name, she would simply be her father’s daughter.
He went inside and paid for the tune-up, and she watched through the plexi. When he emerged, he throttled the power and smiled at the slick hum of the propulsion unit. “It is nearly silent.”
“It was designed to be. Don’t let friends mix up your electrical connections. You can get into trouble that way.” Niad smiled. “Have a nice day, and I hope you don’t get any calls.”
He paused. “You recognized me?”
She winked and turned to head into the shop. “Yeah, I have a thing for shoulders. Your lips are rather precise as well. Have a nice day.”