Chapter FifteenMature

Chapter Fifteen
Domino | Archer
Word Count: 1,071

The sun set behind her in a cloudless horizon, blazing hues of ocher and vermillion swallowing the skyline.  Domino felt less combustible after her ride and her cheeks and nose tingled, tinted a faint florid blush by the air currents.  Her onyx hair hung wild around her face, the curls wind-blown and erratic, tangling their way down her back. 

With her left palm flat on her rigged handprint scanner, she removed a cigarette from the pack in the front pocket of her leather jacket, and set it between her lips while she dug around the looser pockets for the lighter.  The tip of her smoke sparked to life as the automated scanner announced, in a soft, husky voice, “Print recognized.  Welcome, Domino.”

The enormous door rattled thunderously as it lifted, but she did not worry about the noise.  They were dozens of miles from anywhere another living being could hear them. 

Time slowed at her will.  To the men already inside the building, she moved comfortably, but from her perspective every centimeter took long seconds, an inch a whole minute.  Her eyes adjusted to the effulgent glow of the sunset hitting what remained of the glass windows.  Her boots hit the concrete with solid cracks, announcing every step she took as if it were an event; as she walked, her fingertips traced the patterns on her bracelets.  Time normalized.  Domino eyed the early arrivals.

Under the scrutiny of her gaze, Tero held his ground; his blue eyes offered her nothing except the same apprehensive appraisal she offered him.  He did not seem intimidated by her distrust, or offended by her clear disdain for the cross hanging around his neck.  Satisfied that he was determined to join the mission, she turned her attention toward Lukus through the haze of her cigarette smoke.  A knowing grin tugged at one corner of her mouth as she observed the mess of muddy blonde hair covering his eyes.  He had his own cigarette lit, dangling from his mouth.  By way of a greeting, she said, “It’s good to see you, Lukus.”

His response was masked by a cloud of smoke escaping his lips, but she heard him clearly.  “It’s good to see you, too, Domino.”  And there it was – how they always reconnected; they’d worked together before and the comfort she felt having him on her side washed over her.  It was hard to find a squad-mate that she could trust, and Lukus was a rare find.  They all heard noises coming from outside of the building.  Archer had arrived.  She could hear the roar of a ship engine softening to a constant purr.  He’d left it on idle.

She did not turn to see him meander in the doorway.  “I have good news for those of us invited to take on this objective,” she began when Archer was within earshot of the rest of them, her gaze landing deliberately on Tero as she specified the invitation.  “I’ve convinced our contractor to triple our fee.”  The cigarette pinched between her lips rose and fell along with her words.

A low, rumbling laugh shivered up her spine as Archer came up to stand alongside her, saying, “Convinced or tortured into?”

She turned her abysmal irises to meet his and said, “One leads to the other.”  Ash-grey smoke billowed from her nostrils.

His returning smile held too much understanding for her comfort.  She turned her attention back to the other two, and said, “We should each be receiving almost 100 large if we’re successful.”  A hush fell over the group as they absorbed the monumental achievement she’d accomplished.  100 large was an astoundingly large amount of money.

Domino let them chew on the thought for a moment before continuing; all the while the fingertips of her left hand traced the patterns imprinted on her bracelet, her right hand lifting the cigarette from her lips as she exhaled.  “I hope you’re all packed.  I received word that Zero was spotted on Plato, more specifically in Hella, and we’re already hours behind him.  We need to catch up.  The rest of the briefing will happen on the bridge.  Grab your things if you have any.”  In an instant, less time than it took the others to blink, she’d rushed across the empty warehouse and yanked open the storage closet door to remove her three over-stuffed duffle bags.  She returned just as quickly, gone for only two blinks, and dropped her bags beside her.  Lukus, already used to her gifts, made no acknowledgement of her disappearance, but she could feel Tero’s gaze weighing heavily on her, but she dismissed it and moved on.  “We depart in five minutes.”

She dropped the butt of her smoke to the ground and stomped it out with her boot heel as she scooped up her luggage and made her way to the ship.  Archer followed close behind.  Domino did not spare him a glance when she asked, “Did you pick up the crates I asked you to fetch?”

There was only amusement lining his voice, where she’d half-expected there to be resentment, when he said, “Yes, I picked up the crates you demanded I fetch.”

They were halfway up the ramp when she heard Lukus’ steps behind them, and Tero’s directly after.  To Archer, she said, “I will assess the crates while you show the others around.  Which cargo bay did you leave them in?”

A subtle quirk of his brow was his only question of her orders; he was wondering when she’d gotten acquainted with the ship.  When she made no attempt to clarify, he answered her.  “Cargo bays,” he corrected, “and I used bays five and six.”

She nodded and was gone, leaving Archer standing in the bright lights of the entrance ramp, with two strangers behind him.  He smiled to himself.  There was something he quite liked about her.  Turning his attention to the two behind him, he extended his hand to the other genmod.  “I guess we are left to introduce ourselves,” he said, offering a pleasant smile.  They shook, the stranger’s grip loose but sure around his hand.  A bell went off in the back of Archer’s mind but he was used to that.   With the same kind of smoothness, he turned his attention away and extended his hand to the religious man, keeping his ponderings of the man’s purpose to himself. 

“I’m Captain Archer, the Pilot and the Tracker.”

The End

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