Paige looked around her bare room and decided she would straighten the table and chair for the third time. She stood back and examined the angle, then rolled her eyes and sat down.
There was absolutely no way she was going to make this bare room look any nicer. Besides a few personal belongings scattered around the place it looked exactly like it had when she'd arrived.
She'd contemplated ordering some flowers for the small table, then realised that was completely not her style and Emily probably wouldn't notice them anyway.
Paige checked the time and tried to contain her nerves, Emily was going to be there in half an hour.
It had been two days since the hearing and things had been overwhelming to say the least. Paige had received so much support from her crew and even some of the Shibions, everyone wanted to talk to her. She had very little time to herself but managed, through some very overly thought out messages, to organise a time to see Emily.
She had no idea how the other girl was feeling and didn't know what to expect. All she wanted was a chance to apologise.
The Ex-Captain slid out a draw containing a dozen folded shirts and inwardly cursed herself for not owning anything really nice. In the past, whenever she'd had to dress up all she had to so was polish the buttons on her Captain's uniform.
Does it need to be fancy? It's not like a date or anything. I'm lucky she's even talking to me.
After some contemplation she decided on something casual and sat back down and it wasn't long before the door notified a visitor.
Paige steeled herself for a moment and wiped her sweaty palms on her pants before opening the door.
Emily of course, was on the other side and Paige couldn't figure out if she looked angry or nervous. Probably both, she thought before stepping aside to let her in.
"Hi, come in."
"Thanks." Emily walked into the room and looked around awkwardly.
Ok, so she's definitely nervous. Paige noticed. "Uh, do you want to sit down?"
Emily nodded and followed Paige to the small table where they sat opposite each other.
"Can I get you something to drink?"
Emily shook her head no.
"Ok. Right, so how have you been?" Paige cringed at the formality in her voice and looked and Emily apologetically.
The dark haired girl noticed the nervousness in Paige's voice and felt a little relieved she wasn't the only one feeling that way. Her silence was probably not helping the situation.
"I've been okay...what about you?"
"Yes, I've been alright, a little tired but things are getting better." Paige offered a smile and Emily nodded her head again in acknowledgement.
This is awful, Paige thought before taking a deep breath.
"Emily, I asked you to come here today because I want to explain everything to you, I mean, if you'll let me."
Emily frowned a little. "If I'll let you?"
"After the way I treated you I don't really deserve it. I wouldn't blame you if you came here to tell me you never wanted to see me again." Paige answered but it wasn't self pity in her voice, just an accepted sadness.
Emily looked at her for a moment trying to figure out how someone could be so oblivious. She only ever wanted to know what was going on with Paige and why things had changed between them. Then she remembered Paige had always had trouble seeing past her own dark thoughts and insecurities. She was always caught up in her emotions, always apologising and never seeing what was right in front of her.
"Paige, I wouldn't have come here if I didn't want to know what's been going on. I don't think I could ever say I never wanted to see you again...I know a little from Caleb but it's not that bad is it?"
Paige stared at her hands for a moment, watching them entwine and pull at each other.
"When we found you, when you came onto my ship, I thought it was an ending to all the pain we've been feeling for so long. But I saw it in your eyes, all the hurt and guilt we felt was nothing compared to what was inside you. When you said you were okay I knew you weren't. Even after all this time with your family and friends you're still not alright."
"Paige..." Emily said softly.
"No Em, I need to tell you this." Paige's voice was heavy with emotion.
"I couldn't...I can't stand to see you like that. When all the bullshit about the Shibions started coming up I knew I had to protect you, keep you away from everything."
"Tell me what happened Paige."
Paige stood up and looked out the window. She tried to focus her thoughts, she wanted to tell Emily everything, blurt it all out and expel if from her like a sickness. Throw all her love and feelings at the feet of this girl and beg for mercy, but that's not what this was about.
"After the attack the Board got scared, they thought the Shibions would retract all the trade and weapons agreements if they knew a Corps ship and taken down one of theirs." She turned to face Emily and leaned against the glass.
"So they wanted you to take the blame."
"How?" Emily looked at her in disbelief. "Why?"
"Because they thought it would be easy. They wanted to turn you into a traitor working for Daniel Jones and say that you manipulated me into firing on the other ship as an act of revenge for him."
Emily was trying to think it all through.
"But none of that makes any sense, Daniel's men were on that ship, they were already seeking revenge on you." She looked up searching Paige's face for an answer and the taller girl shook her head.
"They had it all figured out Em, they wanted to serve you up but I wouldn't let it happen."
"At what cost though? You've lost your ship, will you ever be Captain again? God Paige did you think any of this through?" Emily stood up and ran her hand through her hair.
Paige pulled herself off the wall.
"I didn't have to think about it for very long. I wasn't going to let them take away everything that was just given back to you. Your life, your family and friends...the happiness in your eyes."
They caught each others eyes and shared a brief moment as the emotion shot between them like a current running back and forth.
"So what did you do? Why did they change their minds?"
"I told them I wouldn't lie about you."
Emily took a step closer to Paige. "Then why were you at the hearing, why the secrecy?"
"Well they needed someone to take responsibility for everything. Someone to paint a target on."
"You?" Emily asked and Paige nodded.
"They called it incompetency, blaming my mental state at the time and they were very convincing until Caleb crashed the party." Paige smiled.
"No Paige, this isn't something to joke about. Why would you do that? Why would you keep this from everyone?"
"It's the only way I could protect everyone from this mess..."
"You don't know that, you didn't even try to find another way, you just decided by yourself what was going to happen."
Paige didn't have a response to that, it was the truth.
Emily let out a frustrated sigh.
"This is why you didn't speak to me, why you pushed me away."
"Yeah, I didn't know what else to to." Paige stared at the floor.
"You could have told me, I would have helped you. All those big plans and lies the Corps had and all it took was Caleb to call out the truth to bring them all down."
"I'm sorry Emily." It's all Paige could say.
Emily wanted to shake the girl in front of her. All this because she wouldn't let anyone help her, thinking she was protecting everyone when she was really martyring herself and loosing everything.
"Paige, I forgive you."
The ex-captain looked up hopefully.
"I know why you did it but that doesn't mean I'm not angry or hurt. You lied to me without any thought or consideration for how I would feel. You can't just do that Paige, you talk about not wanting things to be taken away from me but that's exactly what you did. Any control I had over my life was gone when you made that decision for me."
Paige felt the air leave her body at that statement and slumped back against the wall.
"I didn't think about it like that..." She looked at Emily whose tears where matching her own.
"I honestly thought I was doing the only thing I could."
Emily caught her own tears on her sleeve.
"I know and that's why I forgive you but I...I'm not sure how we move on from here." Emily's voice was rough. "I'm not sure how to trust you again."
There was nothing left to say as they watched each other wipe at tears and eventually Emily left, leaving Paige to pick up her unspoken words from every corner of the room.
"I'm assuming by the look in your face things didn't go so well?" Caleb questioned.
Paige stood aside to let him in and shook her head.
"She accepted my explanation and apology but then told me she could never trust me again." She plonked down on the chair.
Caleb gave her an apologetic look as he sat on the chair opposite.
"It's a start Cap."
"Don't call me that."
"Sorry, just a habit." He winced. "Look why don't we go back to my place and have a few beers and hang out?" It was clear to the Tech officer Paige needed to take her mind of things for a while.
"Can't we just stay here?" She shrugged.
"Well that might be an option if you had something more than just a bed and table in here." He looked around the bare room. "Besides this is a recruit dorm and my days of smuggling beer are well over."
"Right, just let me get some stuff." Paige's sombre face didn't change as she plodded around the room.
Caleb watched her in thought for a while. It wasn't the first time he'd seen her like this, there'd been a few times over the years when she'd been so emotionally affected. No one would have known of course, Paige had always put her own life aside for that of her crew. No one but Caleb had ever seen behind her closed door and even then it was fleeting and reserved.
He felt a sudden rush of love for the strong woman in front of him and the need to protect her, even if it was just from herself.
"Why don't you come and stay with me for a while?"
"What?" Paige turned to him as her eyebrow raised.
"You can't stay here, surely it'll only make you feel worse. Plus you can stay away from all the staring recruits now that they all know who you are."
Paige contemplated it for a moment. The thought of getting away from such a public living space was very tempting.
"I dunno Caleb, won't it be weird?"
"I don't think so, it'll just be like all those times you spent hours in my console room complaining about those Shibion sisters." He grinned.
Paige ignored the the comment.
"What about when Hannah wants to...visit?"
"She'll understand, besides, you can always go for a long walk." He was still grinning.
Paige pushed the last of her overnight supplies into her bag and closed it.
"Alright, I could give it a try I guess, just until I find somewhere else."
Caleb stood up. "Great. We'll set up the spare room tonight and you can move the rest of your stuff tomorrow."
They walked to the doorway.
"Can we make it late tomorrow? I'm planning on having a hangover for most of the morning."
Caleb nodded in agreement.
As the door opened they almost ran into Xane, who was standing with his hand held over the call button ready to ring it.
"Paige, hey! Ah..I mean Captain." He stood to attention awkwardly.
"Xane you don't need to do that, I'm not a Captain anymore."
They stepped out of the room and into the hall.
"Oh sorry." He jerked his hand away from his head and held it stiffly to his side. "I've heard what happened to you, with the Board, it really sucks and well, I think you should still be Captain. Most of us do." He gestured to the other rooms down the hall.
"I like him." Caleb said as he held out his hand. "Hey I'm Caleb."
"Oh hey I'm Xane, I live across the hall." They shook hands.
"I just wanted to see how you were, thought we could finally hang out or something but it looks like you're busy anyway." Xane shrugged and it was obvious he was disappointed.
Paige felt guilty looking at the dejected kid in front of her. Xane had checked up on her almost everyday since she'd arrived, even after her grunted greetings and dark moods. He'd invited her to so many things she'd lost count.
She flicked her eyes to Caleb who shrugged with a smile.
"We were just going over to Caleb's...you can join us if you want." She offered.
Xane's eyes lit up.
"Really?" He looked between the pair in front of him who were nodding.
"Sure, we were just going to hang out, we'll..."
"Yes, I'd love to!" Paige was cut off by the overzealous recruit. He became a little embarrassed at his own enthusiasm and took a breath.
"I'll just get some some stuff okay?"
"We'll wait here." Paige laughed.
Xane quickly disappeared into his room.
Emily watched as Hannah twirled in front of her, spinning her skirt and effectively splashing droplets of drink from the cup in her hand across the floor.
"Hannah!" Spencer grabbed some tissues and soaked up the offending moisture. "I just cleaned this floor."
"Sorry Spence." Hannah stepped out of the way. "But why did you clean when you knew we were coming over?"
Spencer rolled her eyes. "Some of us care what..."
"Blah blah...here's your drink." Hannah cut her off before she could enter full rant mode and handed Spencer a full cup.
"What is this?" Spencer screwed her face up at the liquids scent reached her nose.
"I call it 'Pink Drink' and it's a secret recipe." Hannah answered as she handed Emily and Aria their own cups.
Spencer watched as the other girls gulped it down and followed suit.
"So where are we going tonight?" Aria asked.
"Oh this great place called Stars Edge, it's old but really good!" Hannah turned the volume up on the music playing.
Spencer looked over to Emily, worried the nights' plans might be too much for her and Emily saw the worry on her face.
"It's okay Spence, I'm actually looking forward to letting off some steam tonight." She stood up and refilled her cup.
"You better be!" Hannah slid up next to her and started to dance around her.
"Are you sure Em? You seemed kind of down when you came back from seeing Paige."
"I'm sure, please let's just forget about everything for one night."
"I'll drink to to that!" Aria and Hannah said in unison and for the first time in her life, Spencer followed the crowd.
"No nooo, you have to lean with it, let me show you" Paige pushed Xane aside to stand in front of the large screen, where two avatars were involved in a fight.
Paige quickly threw out a few punches while leaning away to avoid the opponents moves and in a few seconds won the fight.
She turned to the boys with a triumphant grin.
Caleb threw an empty cup at her.
"You know I think I liked you better when you were wallowing in your beer."
She picked up the offending cup and turned it upside down.
"Speaking of beer, I don't have any."
"That's because you chugged the last one down in victory after stealing my entire fleet in the last game." Xane complained.
"You challenged me to a game that literally involves running a ship, it's what I do for a living." Paige laughed a little before realising her mistake. "What I did for a living." She corrected as she sunk into the couch.
"Oh no, we're not here not indulge those negative thoughts." Caleb pulled her up by her arms. "Come on, we're going out."
"What? No way." Paige looked at him as if he'd sprouted a second head.
"It'll be fun, I swear and if you don't like it we'll leave, I promise." Caleb could see he wasn't convincing her.
"They have beer."
That caught her attention. "Beer's good."
"That's right, now go do whatever a girl does before they go out." He pushed her towards the bathroom and turned to Xane.
"Sorry that was an unplanned decision, I just thought it'd be good to get her mind off things for a bit."
"Yeah she's kinda complex huh?" Xane was looking at the now closed bathroom door with a wistful expression.
Uh oh thought Caleb.
"She's just been through a lot lately. Anyway uh, are you old enough to go to a bar?"
"Why do people always ask me that? Is it because I'm kinda short?" The younger guy complained. "Actually don't answer that, yes I'm old enough, I'll be 20 in a few months."
"Cool, so Paige and I are so much older than you." Caleb said as a matter of fact.
"Not really, just a few years." Xane shrugged and Caleb sighed.
"She's gay dude."
Xane looked up, confused for a second as the statement sunk in, then looked back to the bathroom door.
"So Hannah is ok with us going to a bar?" Paige asked as they exited the car.
"Uh yeah, she wouldn't care, she's hanging with the girls tonight anyway. Come on let's get inside." Caleb sounded a little excited.
Paige read the name written in huge holographic letters above the door. "Stars Edge? That doesn't even make sense."
"Who cares!" Xane shouted over the cascade of voices that spilled out as the doors opened.
It was a typical layout, with a large circular bar in the middle of the room surrounded by different areas. The biggest and most popular dance floor was on the right and the rest of the room was broken up into smaller areas depending on your interests for the night.
"Lets grab a table." Caleb called out and pointed to a section scattered with various tables.
Within seconds of sitting down a large servebot rolled over and waited for an order and
Caleb swiped his communicator over it's pay panel before Paige could argue.
"Stronger." Paige replied and Xane shrugged whatever.
The Tech officer tapped away at the small screen on top of the bot to order the drinks. After a few moments of clanking, rattling and the distinctive sound of ice hitting glass a panel in the wide middle of the machine opened up, presenting their drinks.
Caleb handed them out and instructed the bot to keep them coming.
"Did we have to sit so close to the dance floor?" Spencer asked as she watched a couple hump each other while they danced.
"The least amount of distance I have to walk in these heels the better." Hannah replied.
"Han, it's impossible to fall over on a floor this sticky, we're practically glued to it."
The blonde pushed a drink into her friends hand in response.
"Soo anyone see anything...or anyone interesting?" Hannah faked an innocent smile as they all looked at her.
"Like someone they want to dance with?" She continued but they still weren't catching on.
She rolled her eyes. "Emily have you seen any hot girls yet?"
Emily looked up from her drink like a deer caught in headlights.
"Oh ah, no...I mean, I haven't really been looking."
"You're still into girls right?" The blonde questioned and Emily nodded.
"Good because that Shibion girl from a few days ago has been checking you out since we walked in."
"What?" Emily turned around without thought and immediately caught the eye of the pale skinned Shibion, who was indeed checking Emily out.
"Oh no." Emily turned around looking a little horrified, "She's coming over."
"When is that servebot coming back, it should have refilled by now!" Paige lifted her glass up to point out it was empty.
"We should try out the dance floor." Xane suggested with a tipsy grin.
"No way." Paige said as she stood up. "I'm going to the bathroom, make sure I have a drink when I get back." She pointed at Caleb then disappeared into the crowd.
"Caleb?" He turned around to see Hannah and her friends standing behind them.
"Han, hey, what are you doing here?" He asked the blonde as she pulled him in for a quick kiss.
"We thought Emily could do with a fun night out." Hannah smiled, "What about you guys, I thought you were hanging out with Paige?" She looked between them.
"Yeah she's just gone to the bathroom. Did you say Emily was here?" Caleb stood up looking around.
"Hey I'm Hannah." She gave a little wave to Xane as she sat at the table beside him.
"Xane." He waved back and the other girls introduced themselves as they sat.
"We left Emily at our table with Samara." Hannah wiggled her eyebrows and laughed.
"She's going to kill us when we go back." Aria said.
"Samara? The Shibion girl? I didn't know Emily was interested in her..."
"Well she's definitely got the hots for Emily so I thought we'd leave them alone for a while." Hannah answered Caleb.
"Are you with the Corps?" Aria asked Xane taking a sip of her drink.
"Third year recruit." He said proudly. "That's how I met Paige, she's been living in the dorm across from mine."
"How is Paige?" Spencer turned to Caleb. "None of us have heard from her for a while...I know she and Emily spoke earlier."
"She's okay, I'm trying to keep her mind off things as best I can but she can be pretty stubborn."
"We know." The three girls all said in unison which then they all laughed at.
Hannah wrapped her arms around Caleb and kissed him on the cheek.
"You're the best babe, looking after her and everything. You even bought her here, I didn't know you knew about this place."
"I only knew about it because of you, I remember you saying it didn't get as busy as most places and thought it would be perfect. Paige isn't into being around people who know about what's going on right now."
"That makes sense." Spencer added. "But I'm wishing we had come with you guys, at least your table isn't a front row seat to the 'dance floor'." She used the quotation gesture.
"Your table is near the dance floor?" Caleb looked worried.
"Yeah, it's closest to the bar and the.."
"Bathroom." He finished his girlfriends sentence. "Excuse me."
Caleb got up and started pushing his way through the crowd, trying to follow the direction he saw Paige leave in.
The dance floor came into view along with the tables surrounding it and the table currently occupied by Emily and Samara. It wasn't hard for the Shibion to stand out, with her platinum hair and shining eyes, their kind were seldom seen in places like this.
They were talking and it was obvious Samara was interested in Emily but the other girl was a little hard to read. A slight smile and a small laugh seemed to be the only invitation the Shibion needed to lean in for a kiss.
It was then that Caleb noticed the pair had another interested pair of eyes, attached to a dark and solemn face.
He started towards Paige but she was already moving towards the exit.
"I fucking hate Shibions." She blurted out as she pushed passed him and disappeared outside.
Emily felt her cheek peel itself off the pillow as she lifted her head abruptly at the sound of her communicator.
"mmhelloo?" Her eyes weren't even open as she answered the call.
"Hello Ms Fields?"
"Yeah?." Eyes still closed.
"This is the office of General Connelly, you have been requested to meet with him at your nearest convenience."
This had Emily sitting up and blinking at the morning light.
"Um General Connelly? What for?"
"I am not at liberty to discuss that, are you available to come in today?"
"Yeah...yes. I can be there in an hour."
"Ok, I'll schedule the appointment, thank you." A small beep notified that the call had been ended.
"Was that Samara?" Hannah grinned as she bounded onto the couch Emily had been sleeping on.
They had all stumbled into Hannah's house and practically fallen asleep where they landed the night before.
"Uh no, why would it be?." Emily got up and began picking up her belongings.
"Uh because you two totally hit it off last night!"
Emily paused for a moment. "Han, I appreciate that you're trying to be involved in my life but I don't think playing cupid is your thing. Samara is nice but I don't like her like that, we were just getting to know each other, as friends." She extenuated the last part.
"What? Playing cupid is totally my thing!." Hannah pouted. "Besides, Caleb said you two were making out, last time I checked I didn't do that with my friends." She tried to copy the way the other girl had said it.
"What? Caleb was there last night?"
"I found him when we left the two of you alone. He went to find Paige then took off, saying you guys were kissing and Paige was leaving." The blonde shrugged.
"Oh no." Emily rubbed the side of her head as a headache started to brew. "Hannah, Samara and I did not kiss or make out or do anything other than just talk. If you see Caleb or Paige can you please tell them that, it's important."
"OK." Hannah frowned. "Is everything alright?"
"Probably not." Emily shook her head. "I'm going home, talk to you later OK."
"Paige can you please call me back, or at least let me know your getting my messages? I need to talk to you." Emily spoke into the communicator frustratedly. She had been trying to contact Paige while she waited in the Corps building. She knew what the other girl would be thinking if what Hannah had said was anything to go by. She didn't have to think why it bothered her so much, her feelings for the ex-captain were hard to ignore. Even after everything she had said in their previous conversation she found herself constantly thinking about Paige.
"Ms Fields, you can go in now." The older woman sitting at the desk said. Emily had found it strange the General had a human receptionist. Secbots had taken over that job before she was even born.
The split grey doors opened up and she entered an equally grey room.
What is it with the Corps and grey? She wondered a she looked around the room.
It was definitely in an older style, with dark grey carpet and a large faux wooden desk in the middle. As was usual in most high ranking offices a screen occupied almost of the back wall and a windowed wall on the other side.
General Connelly turned from the window as she entered and gestured to a chair.
"Ms Fields, please sit."
Emily did so, staying aware of everything around her. She had not forgotten that this man had wanted to fame her for treason only a few days ago.
The General sat on the opposite side of the desk and fixed his dark eyes on her.
"I won't pretend like this is a friendly meeting but please know I have called you here for your help."
Emily didn't say anything but kept listening.
The older man clasped his hands on the desk in front of him.
"It's been brought to my attention that you have had contact with the Shibion Elder daughter Samara."
"You've been watching me?"
"No we have not, we have been watching Samara." He said a matter of fact.
"We are currently trying to find a link between the rogue Shibions working with Daniel Jone's men and someone on our side."
The mention of her previous captors name made Emily adjust her sitting position.
"I can't help you, I don't even know her."
The General looked at her through his thick eyebrows.
"We are not asking you to spy or even run reconnaissance, just let us know of anything she might say or of any usual behaviour you might witness."
"You have a lot of nerve asking me to do anything." Emily returned his gaze intensely.
This made him sit back in his chair and nod.
"You are correct. The things that have transpired since The Mako docked have not been so smooth. We are working on fixing anything and anyone who has been caught up in the mess."
Emily knew that was as close as an apology she was going to get.
"You can start with Paige McCullers, Captain Paige McCullers."
The General stood up and walked over to the screen on his wall.
"Your anger is not misplaced but your concern is. This is besides the point, I will let you think over my request for information and let you know what it's like to be on our side. Play videos." He said before leaving the room.
Emily watched as an image of a younger Paige filled the screen.
"So it's getting close to graduation and you've been on my mind a lot. I mean, more than usual. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about you, that I don't wish you were here, that I don't wish it was me they took instead."
Paige gave her dorm room one last look before deciding she had packed all of her belongings. Not that there was much to take anyway. She placed the last bag on the other two and a box piled at the door as it as the visitor tone buzzed.
She punched the open button and bent down to sling a bag over her shoulder.
"Lucky you're early Caleb, this didn't take as long as I thought."
The ex-captain turned around at the sound of the familiar voice.
"Em, hey...what are.."
Her question was cut off as Emily pulled her face down and pressed their lips together.
After a moment of surprise Paige let her bag fall onto the floor as she pulled the other girl closer.
She didn't care why it was happening and didn't have time to ask Emily as their mouths tumbled over each other. She reached around and pressed the door to close while leading them back into the room.