Captain Niazi crossed her arms and let the silence hang in the air for a while. She regarded the Ranger sitting across from her like a burglar casing a new mark.
Then she spoke out loud. “Okay we’re done.”
“Hey Ranger.” Wu interjected after the first mouthful of his second beer. “What I don’t understand is why you make me follow you around on a leash. Why not make an arrangement to leave me with the local police?”
Penny smirked and turned to Captain Niazi. “What are the local cops like ’round here?”
“Them?” Captain Niazi rolled her eyes. “They have an annoying habit of ‘loosing’ important equipment that somehow turns up in the insurgents’ hands later. Leave Wu with them and the same thing’ll happen.”
Wu shrugged and raised his glass again. “Worth a shot.”
Then from out of nowhere a woman’s voice called out. “There’s Daddy!”
Amrah spun around to face the voice. Suddenly he was more excited than when he thought Wu had gotten lucky. Across the bar a young, dark-haired caucasian woman approached their table. She had a toddler in a pair of red overalls in one arm and was letting go of their kindergarten-aged son as he broke into a headlong sprint straight to Amrah.
Amrah snatched the kid clean off the ground with one muscular Force Recon arm and parked him on his hip. Not spilling a drop from the beer in the other hand.
“Hey little tiger.” Amrah grinned. “Were you a good boy for Mrs McLachlan today?”
“Yeeesssss.” The boy said, turning his eyes away.
The woman with the girl sidled up to Amrah. “He was chasing girls again. He gets that from you.”
“And look how well that turned out.” Amrah said, hunching down to present his cheek to her.
She kissed it gently and pulled away, only for Amrah to snap his lips onto hers unexpectedly.
“Oh you silly man.” She giggled.
“And how’s my other little trouble-maker?” Amrah leaned in further to the girl in the overalls. “Have you been a good girl today?”
The toddler just giggled.
“You have? Oh of course you have.”
The other child on his hip grabbed at Amrah’s face and tried pulling it towards him.
Amrah looked at his boy. “Daddy will stop when you let go of Daddy’s face. Come on, Daddy needs that face.”
The woman brushed her son’s hands off her husband’s cheek. “He’s getting tired, we should head back soon.”
“One moment, there’s someone I want you to meet. Ranger!”
“Yeah?” Penny smiled up at them.
“I’d like you to meet my wife Lucy and this is Saru and this little monster is Nimir. Honey, this is Federation Ranger Penny Dreadful, she’s helping us go after the big man in the mask.”
“Oh?” Lucy said, reaching across the table of marines to shake Penny’s hand. “How long have you been on Aloysius?”
Penny accepted Lucy’s handshake. “Just made planetfall this morning. These are my associates: Wu Gang Shu and Cho Hae Lee.”
“Sure.” Wu said. “Lovely to meet you.”
Lucy hesitated for a moment. Following her eye line Penny realised she had noticed Wu’s slave collar. But she accepted Wu’s hand and after a glance at Hae Lee’s neck shook hands with her as well.
“Well Ranger, if you’ve got the time we’d love to have you over for dinner some night. Give you a taste of what my planet’s culture is like when it’s not entrenched in a prolonged civil war.”
Penny nodded. “I’d like that a lot Mrs Amrah. I hope y’all don’t mind if I bring my friends with me?”
“Oh yes please.” Lucy said, relief washing across her face. “I’ve been cooped up at work and with the kids for the last eight months I’m dying for an adult conversation.”
“Happy to oblige.” Penny winked.
“Thank you.” Lucy smiled back. Then she turned to Amrah. “Alright, finish your drink before she starts screaming and he bounces off the walls.”
Amrah made a show of deflating. “Yes dear.”
Amrah put his glass to his lips and tipped it up. His throat clenching over and over as he downed the whole thing in one hit. Amrah pulled the empty glass away and exhaled a loud “Ahhh”, grinning at his young son. Little Nimir immediately copied his father’s “Ahhh.”
Amrah put the glass down on the table and raised his hand at his comrades. “Amrah out!”
Captain Niazi raised her head. “Don’t spend all night playing with your lovely wife, I still expect you on the grounds bright and early at 6 a.m.”
Amrah waved behind himself “Sir, yes sir.”
Penny watched Amrah leave. She turned to Niazi. “Brave boy, to put down roots in a place like this.”
Niazi shrugged. “Amrah’s always had more heart than brains. He’s a marine after all. But I know he loves his Lucy very much and they’re happy together. Gotta grab hold of something like that when it’s there.”
Penny couldn’t help but steal a glance at Hae Lee, who was herself casting a sidewards look at Wu, who immediately took a long guzzle from his beer.
Penny smirked and turned her eyes back towards Captain Niazi.
The stout Marine Captain had become uncharacteristically quiet. One finger absently tapped the side of her glass. “Speaking of taking advantage of what you’ve got while it’s there. There’s something I’d like to ask you Ranger… about the war.”
Penny felt her shoulders tense and had to work to cool them down again. She hadn’t quite calmed the growl from her voice when she replied. “What about it?”