My voice was loud and angry. Yelling at my superior was never a good idea, but I wouldn't exactly consider myself rational at the moment. It felt like the world was literally coming to an end. Everything that I once understood no longer made sense. All order was now chaos. What was up was now down, the gray walls that surrounded me were turning purple with green polka dots, and my best friend was being replaced with one of the disgusting creatures responsible for his death.
"I won't do it! You can't make me! It's... it's blasphemy, damn it! He's one of them! He's a fucking murderer! Hundreds of humans are dead because of those disgusting reptiles! I refuse to work with a djinni!" I pointed an accusing finger at the tiny little thing that had sparked my fury.
It blinked flat amber eyes back at me.
Sterling wasn't phased by my yelling, either. The older man didn't even twitch. He waited patiently for me to finish screaming, his hands clasped calmly behind his back. Sanchez looked slightly uncomfortable, but I wasn't paying any attention to the mechanic. Why the hell was he even here? My focus was centered on Sterling, and the miniature alien at his side.
The djinn were extremely small. The tallest one I had seen towered above all others at five feet and nine inches. The particular specimen fouling the air of the commander's office? Maybe four foot six. It was a little hard to tell. Djinn walked and stood on their toes. Like a cat. Or a tyrannosaurus rex. They didn't have short arms like a dinosaur, however, and like humans possessed ten fingers and opposable thumbs with the addiction of claw like nails.
But they still resembled anthropomorphic lizards. Some features varied from djinni to djinni. Like their ears. Some had human like ears. Some had no ears. The one next to Sterling who was supposedly my new partner had long elf like ears. Skin, scale, eye, and hair colors varied so wildly that they could easily be arranged in a rainbow without missing any colors. It was ridiculous.
Typically, their noses were flatter than a human's, and every single damn one of them had a slight overbite that drove me insane. I suppose it was to accommodate their extremely sharp, pointy, and highly venomous fangs that had been the downfall of more than a few good men. Djinn just absolutely loved using their long lizardy tails to trip humans up so they could bite them over and over again. Death was extremely quick, and extremely painful.
One of the MERCURY Dogs swore he had seen a pink and purple djinni once that was barely three feet tall. No one really knew whether to believe him or not, the guy was sort of stupid, but... it wouldn't be overwhelmingly surprising if it was true.
"Timothy, I understand that you're upset." Sterling said after I had fallen silent, cutting off anything else I might have decided to shout before I could think of it. "However, SOL 001-R has invaluable information that we cannot afford to pass up. He has agreed to help us, to teach you djinn battle strategies that could save countless human lives."
"But what if it's one of their stupid tricks?" I shouted back. My head was pounding. I don't know if it was because of all the trauma I had been through recently, or if it was a result of my not bothering to control the volume of my voice, or if I was just so disgusted by the presence of the djinni that I was physically sickened. I just... I was having a horrible time understanding what was happening anymore. So much had changed in such a short amount of time. First, Peter died. Then I was told that I wasn't going to be punished for his death when I know perfectly well that I should be. And now this. All of it was more than I could handle. Frankly, I was panicking pretty badly. Horrible behavior for a Dog. Dogs were supposed to be obedient and loyal, and never question the command of those above them. I was doing such a great job.
Sterling, however, just blew me off with a shake of his head. "We have no reason not to trust him. He agreed to share his knowledge with us in exchange for protection. He owes his life to us. Should he attempt to return to the djinn, he would simply be killed on sight. He is a marked traitor and exile. We are his only hope for survival."
This was extremely strange for many different reasons. There was no written record of a djinni turning traitor and managing to survive the deadly consequences of betraying their clan and people. Anywhere. As far as the other four major races were concerned, it simply did not happen. If this guy truly did desert his people, his continued existence was highly suspicious.
"No. It's not right. I don't trust him." Thankfully I had stopped yelling by now. Hopefully my ears would stop ringing soon, too.
"You will learn to trust him in time."
Wow. Was that really all my commander had to say? Did no one but me see how terribly wrong this was? I could all but literally smell the deceit radiating off the alien underneath that weird, earthy djinni scent I had been trained to recognize and despise.
"TJ," Sterling sounded exasperated now. His patience with me was wearing thin. "You were selected specifically to work with SOL 001-R. Of all the Dogs that were considered to be the djinni's partner, you showed the most potential. You have proven over and over again that your instincts and ability to read the enemy is strong. You are intelligent and thoughtful. This decision was made weeks ago, and is set in stone. He will not work with anyone else. I understand that you are not happy, but there are more important things than your feelings at stake here."
At that point, something in my brain simply shut down. Thought was no longer possible. My eyes darted back and forth between my superior and the alien. I felt dizzy and sick. Either because I just couldn't comprehend what was happening, or because I was holding my breath. Weeks? This had been decided weeks ago? When Peter was still alive? They would have taken me away from him. I had never felt so betrayed.
"What... what's its name?" My voice sounded sluggish and far away. Maybe I was going into shock.
Just Russha. From what humans understood of their culture, djinni often tacked their clan name after their given name. No clan meant no second name.
"As I mentioned before, he will be known to others as SOL 001-R. There are some finer details concerning training that we must go over..." The graying man paused, and the alien shifted in a way that hinted nervousness. "But we'll leave those matters for a later. For now, I believe the two of you should be given time to become acquainted. You will be sharing a specialized room together. Sanchez will escort you there."
If he said anything else, it went right over my head. My ears were filled with a loud buzzing sound and I wasn't paying attention anymore. Sanchez approached me. I could see his lips moving, but didn't understand the words. He looked concerned. Maybe even a little frightened. As he moved to lead the way out of the room, my body followed after him automatically, my new partner close behind. Part of me was thankful that I would no longer be staying in the cabin that I had shared with Peter. There was no telling if I would be able to handle one of the enemy living in the space that someone I had loved so much used to live in.
What would Peter think if he was in this situation? What would he do? Not freak out like I was, that was for certain. He had always been calmer than that. As I looked over my shoulder at the djinni, I wondered what Peter would have said to him. He had always been fascinated by aliens, and would spend hours chattering around with NK about them. My deceased companion would have handled the entire situation with more grace than I.
And that made me ashamed of myself. I was acting like a typical Dog. Just like how we were expected to act. Thoughtless. Brainless. Hunters modified and trained to do nothing but kill. Animals. Peter would have been disgusted.
But I couldn't force myself to not hate the alien. He was replacing Peter. I hated him for that. The moment we reached the cabin and were alone together, I would make sure he knew that just because Sterling thought he was okay didn't mean I trusted him.
The enemy could never be trusted.