Authors: Viola Grace
Tags: #Romance, #Science Fiction, #Shapeshifter, #Space Opera
She heard a chuckle as the door closed behind her. The client flew away on the riot runner, and Niad exhaled in relief.
“Well, did he quibble about the bill?” Niad grinned.
Her mother shook her head. “Nope. He took the talent charge in stride. Do you know him?”
“We met in court. He works with the Guardians.” Niad leaned on the counter.
“Are you tired?”
“Naw, just stressed. What is on the agenda for today?”
“Madam Welming ran her transport without coolant again.”
Niad groaned and headed into the repair bays. Time to assess all of the damage while keeping a vid of every move she made. Madam Welming liked to argue, but she also liked having a woman working on her vehicle. A vid kept her from kicking up too much of a fuss when the bill was handed over.
The smell of scorched wiring made Niad wince, but she turned on the hovering vid camera and opened the first panel. Time to earn her rent.
She was covered with smudges and scorch marks, but after four hours of cursing and replacements, she had the vid and the worksheet ready for her mother to do the billing and the final call.
“Advise Madam that she should get herself a new vehicle. This one doesn’t deserve that kind of punishment.”
Mlina laughed. “You look like hell. Go have a shower, and we will take you out for dinner.”
Niad slumped with gratitude. “I will be down in a few minutes. Where is Dad?”
“Off filing our business license. Apparently, there was a goof on the paperwork, on their end.”
Niad grinned. “Of course it was their fault. I will be back in a few.”
She left the office and headed out the door, down an alley and up a set of exterior stairs. She stripped off her work suit and peeled it down to her waist before she registered that there was a man in uniform sitting on her couch.
“Ah, Guardian Kimso. Pleased to meet you. Pardon me, but I was on my way to take a shower, so if you would get the hell out of my home, that would be nice.”
He was wearing his helmet with his mouth exposed. “Tauron said you were witty. He didn’t say you were beautiful.”
“I am filthy, cranky and have the urge to take something mechanical apart and that means you.” She glared at him.
“The body is made up of hydraulics and electrics. I can manipulate both. So, say your peace and leave.”
He held up a message sheet. “I have an invitation to join the Guardians on a trial basis for you. That would demand some civility.”
She finished peeling off her suit and stood there in her underwear. “It would if you had delivered it to my place of work. Breaking into my home to do it speaks of subterfuge and that speaks to shame. So, knowing that this invitation is not being made public is going to make me less than keen to have you here. Please, give me the message and leave.”
He rose to his feet and extended the message slip. “I was told to be subdued in delivering it.”
She took the slip and tried not to look up at the man who was easily eighteen inches taller than she was. He was of Oefric descent and a master of multiple shapes. Kimso was definitely pretty if his jaw was any indication, and his shoulders were even better than Tauron’s.
Niad read the message and frowned. “It doesn’t say where I should go.”
“We will meet you here on the morning you join us. It is tradition.”
She snorted. “It sounds like a wedding.”
He shrugged. “There are certain similar aspects. Your father is giving his permission right now.”
Niad scowled. “So, he is stuck there until I agree.”
“Basically. You will join us?”
He tapped the side of his helmet and stated, “He is cleared to leave. She has agreed.”
Kimso listened to someone on the other end and inclined his head out of reflex. “Understood.”
He released his helmet and smiled. “Congratulations, Guardian Wyfirth. I look forward to your first day.”
He walked toward her door. “Enjoy your shower.”
She locked the door behind him and headed to her bathroom. She needed the pounding of water to clear her head of all the thoughts and swirling plans that had rushed to the fore.
Niad spent ten minutes under the spray before she turned the water off and wrapped herself in a towel. She walked to her closet and opened it, noting that her Citadel robes had been pulled out and examined. She smiled and smoothed the fabric, tucking it in next to her festive and bright casual clothing. She would wear her Specialist garb again one day. She could feel it.
She got dressed, brushed her hair, put on some earrings and a few bangles that she had designed, before heading back to the shop. Her parents should be ready if her father had been set loose.
Niad bit her lip and turned from side to side. If everything went well, she would soon be in the armoured body suit on a daily basis. Her fun clothing would have to wait for weekends and days off, but she would always have to have her suit nearby. It was a burden she desperately wanted to bear.
After stepping into appropriate footwear, she walked down the stairs to the repair shop.
Her father had made it home in record time, and he and her mother were speaking quietly.
She grinned. “If this is my last night of freedom, let’s go somewhere fancy.”
Mlina blinked. “You got the offer?”
“I did. And from what I was told, Dad signed off on it.”
Nmir’s handsome features darkened with his blush. “They needed my signature as your nearest family member.”
The wince of pain on her mother’s face was hard to watch.
“Come on. Get dressed and get him up and running. I have worked up an appetite and want to have a fabulous dinner before my life changes any more than it already has. One fabulous family dinner with someone else doing the dishes.”
She knew that her parents couldn’t resist her relentless cheer. Her mother got to her feet, and her work clothing was engulfed in a swirling spiral of energy that changed the composition until she was wearing an elegant dress that fit her still-youthful form faithfully.
Nmir stayed still as his wife ran her hands over his body, and his clothing turned into something a little more formal.
Niad watched her parents giggle during the exhibition of her mother’s textile talent. It was that talent that allowed Niad to fabricate what she needed when a piece was missing. Reshaping on the molecular level for her was restricted to a foot square. Her mom could make clothing whenever she wished. The Skarrow family was known for their design skills.
When everyone was appropriately clothed and scrubbed, they headed out of the shop, locking up before they went in search of a restaurant worthy of their finery.
It was time to enjoy their time together. It was about to come to an end.
The next three days were business as usual. The Guardians didn’t announce an addition as they normally did, and no one heard a peep that a new apprentice was being taken on.
Niad focused on getting all of the restorations finished and clearing the work orders so that her dad would be able to manage when she was gone for her first rotation.
She was beginning to think that she had been lied to when her mother came into the shop, which was uncharacteristic of her.
“Niad, I think you have visitors.”
Niad finished clearing the fuel line and connected it back into its proper place. “I will be right there, Mom.”
“Okay, dear, but I don’t think they are going to wait long.”
She sealed the unit, tested it and recorded the clearing on the work order. Niad washed her hands, wiped smudges from her skin and headed for the office.
The four Guardians of their city were standing in their bodysuits and masks. Each one had a helmet tucked under their arm, and the three men and one woman looked toward her as she walked in.
“Good morning, Guardians.”
Guardian Homik stepped forward, her voice was clear. “It appears you are our new recruit, Niad Wyfirth.”
Niad nodded. “It appears so.”
“Well, we are here to bring you to the base. You will enter under guard, and from the moment when your motivations have been assured, you will begin your training.”
“Terms are acceptable.” She hugged her father and then went behind the desk to hug her mom. “I will get you contact info so you can call me if you need anything.”
“I don’t know if you can, baby.” Mlina smiled and stroked her hair away from her face.
“I did it from Citadel Leniak; I can do it on my own darned world.” She smiled.
With the expression still fixed on her features, she turned and nodded to the Guardians. “Guardians Tauron, Kimso, Homik and Demsiac, please lead the way.”
Tauron reached behind him and pulled out a package. “You might want to put this on before we leave.”
She blinked at the uniform the colour of maintenance outfits around the world. “Oh. Splendid.”
She turned to her mother. “Can you make this a little more vibrant?”
Mlina took the fabric and nodded. “With pleasure.”
The Guardians looked tense, and Homik looked angry, but the colour of yellow and black was swirled with silver highlights and black stripes. The suit had gone from caterpillar to butterfly.
“Much better. I will be right back.”
She took the fabric from her mother with a wink and went to the bathroom, changing quickly. She smoothed the suit over her curves and twisted from side to side. The fit was pretty good for something that hadn’t been made for her. Her mother’s skills had spoiled her for standard clothing.
Niad slid the embroidered mask into place and pulled her hair back and stared at herself in the mirror. She counted to five, wadded her clothing up and brought it to her mom. “Okay, I guess I am ready to travel.”
Her mom and dad gave her final hugs, and then, the Guardians led the way to the skimmer that was blocking the street.
Homik muttered, “I have never seen a breeder so sad to see her child go.”
“Wow, that was snide.”
“You have a problem with me?” Guardian Homik was obviously not pleased to have her there.
“I have a problem with you insulting my mother. The wedding has been planned for the last twenty-six years. It is a family issue that keeps it from being covenant.”
Homik scowled at her. “You think you can challenge me?”
“I know I can. I also know I will win. You went through combat prep; I have gone through years of it at the best training ground in the world. I can’t afford to lose, so I don’t.”
The three men were focused and ignore their conversation at the same time.
“I could blind you in seconds.”
“I can fight with my eyes closed.” Niad was calm. It was true. It was one of her combat tests. “They called me Agent before they called me Specialist. I don’t think you know what that means.”
“I don’t think you know that this is a publicity stunt.” Homik drove that home.
“A door is a door, even it if is just a crack in the wall. Even if I don’t get through, I will widen that crack for someone else to go through.” She smiled. “I know I am expendable. I am under no illusions.”
Guardian Demsiac took the controls, and they were off, flying to the local base.
Guardian Tauron smiled. “I think you are selling our training short.”
“I have used my talent to varying degrees every day since I was seven. My parents saved up to send me off world for the training I could not get here, and I did not pass up any chance to gain more control over my body, my talent and my emotions. I came home and abided by the law, but now, I am here to show that mechanical talents deserve their place as Guardians. I know many good men and women who would be amazing assets to local or rural detachments, and they are not even allowed to use their talent outside of their own home. No light, no power, no strength, no fixing a vehicle in the street or helping to smooth rough pavement. Knowing that your talent was something to be hidden, to be ashamed of and that would get you arrested if you used it in public service. Yeah, we really feel like citizens. Our practical application of talent has nothing on flashy, weekly displays.”
The others were looking at her warily, and she bit her cheek to keep her from sounding off again. Something was pushing her.
She removed her mask, concentrated and installed a light psi filter. She settled it back into place and smiled as she relaxed. She clapped her hands slowly. “Bravo Kimso. Very well done.”
He looked surprised and blushed when the others turned on him.
Tauron growled. “You are never supposed to use your talents on another Guardian.”
Kimso waved at her. “But she isn’t, is she? I thought this was just a joke.”
Tauron’s lips tightened. “What did you do?”
“I just loosened her up a little. I have to admit, it was tough. She had a lot of passive shields. Of course, as soon as she figured it out, I was kicked out.” He grimaced.
Niad sighed. “I knew one of you would try something. I thought it would be Homik.”
Homik looked surprised. “Why?”
“Because you are well known for a contempt of the lower classes, with
filthy mechanical talents
being mentioned with great frequency.”
Homik blushed. “I didn’t realise that I said it in public.”
“Across nine interviews over the last three years. It makes an impression. Trust me, little mechanical talents stay well back when you visit schools.”
An alert caused everyone to tense.
Tauron grimaced. “I thought we would have the day off.”
“Factory explosion in Deiantic City. We have been requested because of our new addition.”
Demsiac changed their direction, and they turned in a wide loop.
Niad held onto the harness as they increased speed and powered through the sky. There was time enough to prove she wasn’t a doormat at a distant moment.
The explosion was ongoing. The gas line was giving it fuel, and the line was sunk directly into the ground.
Apprentice Guardian Niad spoke with the engineers and looked at the building. It was going to be rough, but if she could make it to the core, she would be able to manage the shut off. If.