The Trial of Patricia Buchanan, Private First Class

I hated X'ndrians.

Not very politically correct, I know, but so the fuck what? My grandfathers fought them in the war. My dad fought them in the war. All three died during the goddamn war. My mom hated the aliens for taking them away. I hated them for my own reasons, but I'll admit losing much of my family didn't help.

I was barely a year old when the peace treaty was signed. By the time I went to school, they'd set up X'ndrian children in Human schools. My mom hated that. Complained to high heaven that the alien freaks shouldn't even breathe the same air, much less go to the same school as her precious daughter.

I didn't like 'em 'cause of their creepy eyes. Always blank, always staring. You could never tell what a X'ndrian was thinking. Maybe they were planning to kill you. Maybe they were bored. Not knowing made me irritated.

Didn't last long, though. Turns out, put enough bigots together, and the government has to at least listen to them. With the way the UNSA was organised, Titan was even able to vote against integration, forcing the X'ndrians to set up their own schools and communities, apart from Human communities, or else emigrate to more tolerant planets.

Most did.

On Reach, though, the court case was lost, and my mother blamed what she called alien-lovers for the defeat. I grew up hating anyone who had an open mind, finding them weak and traitors to the species. I wasn't alone, either.

By the time I reached graduation, I knew exactly where I wanted to go — the only remaining bastion of Human-only employment: the military. I think my mother might've danced in joy when I told her. She claimed I was honoring my father and grandfathers with that decision. That I would teach the filthy xenos their place as part of the military.

'Course, we both later found out I'd joined just as integration was reaching the military.

"You've got to be fucking kiddin' me," I swore under my breath as I watched half a dozen X'ndrians escorted into the adjacent barracks to mine carrying what was obviously their belongings.

"Buchanan!" I heard the sergeant roar from beside the column — I'd unknowingly stopped jogging with the rest of my platoon. "What the hell do you think you're doing?! On the ground, now! 100 pushups!"

I complied, having no other choice, but the sick feeling of knowing there would now be xeno freaks living literally next door made me want to puke the rest of the drill.

"Hey, did you hear?" one of my bunkmates, Parker, sotto voiced during lunchtime as we all sat in the mess hall. "Brass authorised two hundred of the dog legs to join up!"

I wisely kept my mouth shut and stabbed into my food more — I knew my vocal antipathy of the X'ndrians wasn't in line with army regulations. Didn't matter that we'd crushed the xenos during the war and made them our bitches: ground pounders like me weren't s'pposed to go around flapping our gums about 'em if we had nothin' nice to say.

Fuck 'em.

"I heard it's part of the new president's attempt to get all of us to play nice with the xenos," another one of her bunkmates, Desoto, added. "Guess he didn't much like what he saw when he visited Titan."

"Their world, their laws, right?" I grumbled softly, knowing I was being petty but still needing to say something.

"Eh, that's always sounded like a bullshit excuse to me," One of my platoon-mates, Martin, retorted. "It's just an excuse to dig their hands in the sand and disobey the state."

"State's not always right, Martin," I pointed out. "Look at the JOC."

Martin flushed, and I felt a rush of victory as I saw him back down. Most of the centralists like Martin liked to brag about how government was going to fix everything, and how the planets were dumb for wanting to rule themselves. I knew better, of course. I'd seen it mess up at the Jupiter Orbital Colony, after all. About a year before my tour, I'd been with my mom on the JOC to visit nana at the retirement facility there — best place to die, I'm told. Anyway, a riot broke out, allegedly instigated by people who were against the peace treaty. I watched as government troops flooded the station and cracked down, killing at least 15 people and injuring another two dozen.

By the end of it? Turned out half of them hadn't even been rioters — just innocent bystanders who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The president's government at the time collapsed in record time, and the new administration settled every lawsuit against it and did everything it could to sweep the issue under the rug as tactfully as they could.

Still, it left a bitter taste in many separatist families.

"Still ain't right to force us together," Luna, who sat across from me mentioned, likely hoping to steer the conversation back to its roots. "It's like they think we'll just become buddies overnight or something."

"Can't blame 'em for trying," Desoto defended. "If no one even tried, how long would it be before we even accept to be in the same room as each other?"

I'd had enough by then, and jerkily put down my utensils on my half-finished tray. "Excuse me," I mumbled, getting up. Getting out of there as quickly as possible despite the calls of my comrades, I dumped the leftovers in the recycling machine and left the mess hall, aiming to return to my barracks for a quick break from all the noise.

"Buchanan!"

I froze mid-step as soon as I left the mess hall, turning on the spot and coming to attention the moment the sergeant came into view.

"Sergeant!" I greeted.

Being the old school jarhead he was, the Sarge got right in my face, veins bulging at his thick neck from irritation, no doubt. "What exactly do you think you're doing, Buchanan?!" he demanded. "Did I give you leave to return to your barracks, soldier?!"

I kept the glower off my face as best I could. "No, sarge!"

"Then perhaps an officer gave you leave, hmm?!"

"No, sarge!"

"Then what in the name of humanity gave you the right to decide you did not need permission to set foot outside this building?!"

Being human, I didn't say. That would be a quick way into the stockade. "Sorry, sarge! Thought I'd left something in the barracks!"

Clearly not good enough for the sarge, though, given that he all but shoved his nose against mine, he was so close. Hell, I could smell the Verdant tobacco on his breath. Nasty shit. "I don't know what the hell crawled up your ass today, Buchanan, but you better get your act together before I send you packing home to momma!"

All I could do at that moment was nod jerkily and march back into the mess hall, where I deliberately avoided my old table, keeping out of sight. I managed to find an empty table near a corner of the building — strange, given that this place was usually packed to the seams with soldiers.

It wasn't until I'd been sitting there for a few minutes that I realised why.

"Peace, jitein. May we sit here?"

I felt my spine grow cold as I looked up and saw the same group of X'ndrians from before standing in front of the table, holding their trays of disgusting pastes. Clearly, this table had been set aside for their benefit, and in what seemed to me an apparent case of utter idiocy, I had chosen to take one of their seats.

I knew I was in the wrong here, but that didn't make my animosity towards them any less virulent.

"Sit somewhere else," I snapped.

I could hear the X'ndrians mutter among themselves in their xeno language, and felt a perverse sense of accomplishment as a few of their eyes narrowed in what was obviously antipathy. Good. Maybe if I could get them to attack me, I could use that to get even just a few of them kicked out.

"There is nowhere else to sit, jitein," the leader of the group replied calmly — whatever the attitudes of the other xenos, I knew this one would be tough to rattle. He had the bearing of a true leader.

Just the type I hated most.

"Tough fucking luck. Eat on your feet, then. You got those, right?" I snarked.

The xeno and I locked gazes for a while, and I was half-expecting him to lash out at me, considering how petty I was being. Instead, he simply nodded and motioned for the other X'ndrians to follow him, which I could tell surprised a few of them.

I stared at their backs as they made their way to the corner of the canteen and ate among themselves — to my surprise, they seemed to have developed a system in which one person held out the food for everyone, and the others fed off of the tray. Then, they would switch it up. The fact that they had so quickly devised that system told me it was probably not the first time someone had denied them a seat at a table.

To my surprise, that kinda bothered me.

I shoved those feelings down, however, and waited out the rest of the mealtime. The moment the sergeant called for us to muster outside, I was springing to my legs and walking briskly to the entrance, ignoring the stares my little act of defiance against the X'ndrians had incurred.

Thankfully, the rest of the day was pretty standard, and I didn't have to lay eyes on another xeno walking around the camp. I was somewhat surprised, however, to realise by nightfall that none of the X'ndrians had ratted me out for my behaviour in the mess hall. It would have inarguably led to some form of disciplinary action if they had.

That night, I fell asleep thinking the xeno bastards were just cowards — much like their ancestors who'd fought Humanity. Yet, despite my self-assuredness, I did not sleep well that night, constantly dreaming of the leader X'ndrian's blank stare, silently judging me for my prejudices.

So it really shouldn't have been a surprise that by the next day, I was angling for a fight. When mess time came around again, I once again plopped my firm ass at their table and waited for them to show up, ready to goad them into a fight. I knew I'd get yelled at later, but as long as I could make one of them — hopefully the leader — bleed a little, I knew I'd feel better.

"May we sit here, jitein?"

"Suck a dick, xeno," I answered as crudely as possible as the group stared me down. I could practically feel the hostility the others in the group were feeling towards me, and all it did was make me smile more nastily. "And if you don't know what one of those are, you can just bend over and one of the guys here'll show ya."

My mother would've slapped me if I'd spoken that way to anyone who wasn't a X'ndrian. Probably whipped me raw with her belt, too. After dad died, she'd turned to some cult who though Humanity had a right to the stars — that it was our divine mission to conquer it. I didn't believe any of that shite — I hated the X'ndrians for my own reasons, not anyone else's.

The lead xeno sighed, even as I could hear the anxious clicking of the others' mouths. "There is no need for such rudeness, jitein," he told me with a small bow of his head. "But very well; we do not wish for further conflict, and so we shall move elsewhere."

I was disappointed, truth be told, at how easy it'd been to push them to eat in the corner, like the demihumans I thought they were. I'd been honestly expecting the crude remark to at least get one of them going. I'd even asked a friend in the medic's office to give me some painkillers for later.

No matter. I'd try again tomorrow.

To my utter frustration, however, the lead xeno would simply not be goaded into a fight. No matter what I did, or what I said, they never made the first move. Every single time, it seemed as though he came out better and better, and I came out gradually worse and worse. It got to the point where Parker, Desoto, and the rest had made it clear, if not explicit, that I was no longer welcome at our usual table. Apparently, being associated with me was bad news these days.

It didn't take a genius to figure out why — clearly, enough people had seen me and the xeno going at it in the mess hall, and many had come around to the idea that I was the dick in this equation, not the xeno.

In retrospect, it was kinda obvious, but back then, what the fuck would I have known?

Nonetheless, it made life gradually harder, as the drill sergeants got tougher, the unit drew away from me, and the fucking xenos kept coming across like saints for having to deal with my shit every day.

It honestly fucking sucked, and it eventually, obviously reached fever pitch soon enough. It probably didn't help that the NCOs, who should've brought me into line, didn't do shit — apparently, the regulations hadn't been updated yet to include X'ndrians into the harassment rules.

Either that, or I was doing what they wished they could do. Wouldn't have surprised me — a lot of the NCOs in my unit were bigoted sons of bitches.

The moment things hit rock bottom was easy for me to identify — it was the exact moment in which I found my pillow ripped to shreds on my bunk and my covers missing. Juvenile, I know, but since anything more overt would've caught the attention of the NCOs, it was probably the best they could get away with.

I didn't even pay attention to the knowing stares the others shot me. I knew they'd all been guilty, to one extent or another. There was simply no way this would've happened without everyone in the barracks' knowledge.

It was funny, in a way. I'd come all the way to the military to find a place far away from the xenos, where I would be trained to fight xenos. Here, I'd found a way to channel my natural aggression and constant anger into something productive.

Only to have my peace of mind and purpose stolen not by the xenos, but other humans. People I'd been coming around to considering friends after a year of training together.

I picked up the shredded pillow and held it in my arms. Part of me wondered whether this sort of animosity would be shared by the people at the supply station when I go to get another pillow and sheets — I was pretty sure my originals would show up at some point in some latrine or another, and getting them washed and disinfected would still not be enough to get me to sleep under them again.

Still, before doing any of that, I needed to teach some assholes a lesson.

Dropping the pillow on the ground, I walked out to the yard, where I saw the others hanging out, waiting for the sarge to show up for the next drill. Scanning the group, I zeroed in on Martin — the guy I'd proven wrong in the mess hall. The moment he'd seen me, he turned his gaze away, a knowing smile on his face.

That was all the evidence I needed.

Walking right up to him, I ignored the others as they tried to tell me something, and, before Martin could get a single word out, slammed my fist right into his jaw in a perfectly executed cross. He was down and on the ground before he even realised what had happened.

"That was for my pillow," I said as calmly as I could. In truth, there was a savage, desperate part of me that wanted to keep the beating going for as long as possible, but I knew I was already in deep enough shit for having laid hands on a fellow soldier.

Ah, fuck it.

Lashing out with my leg, even as he tried to mumble something while trying to get back up, my boot connected with his temple, knocking him back down and effectively knocking him out.

"What the fuck?!"

Oh, right. The others. I'd pushed aside the fact that Martin wasn't alone out on the yard, and now turned to face the incredulous, and mildly outraged expressions of my former friends/current nuisances.

"Anyone else want a beating?" I asked daringly, raising my fists. "Y'all know what I'm capable of. Y'all really wanna dance?"

I'd been in enough fights throughout my life to recognise when someone wanted to take you on, and when they didn't; and right now, everyone around me wanted to beat me down.

Fine. If that's how they want to play it, I'd make sure to at least take a few down with me. As they all ended up surrounding me, Martin's unconscious body at my feet, I knew this was hardly the best way to end a budding career in the military, but the devil take me if I'd let some snot-nosed, xeno-loving asshole try to bully me without consequences.

"What in the everloving fuck is going on out here?!"

Naturally, of course, things had to go even more wrong. The moment the sergeant's shout ripped through the air, everyone practically jumped away from me, standing at attention. I was the only one unwilling to back down, considering I was still surrounded by very hostile former squadmates.

Not that it really mattered to the sarge, who marched up to us looking like the devil himself. "I said, what the fuck is going on out here?!" he shouted again — loud enough for other servicemen who were passing by to slow down and watch the proceedings.

Great. What I always wanted: an audience for my court-martial.

"Private Buchanan assaulted Private Martin, sarge!" one of my former friends called out. I made a note of getting back at her the moment I could. Apparently, the fact that Martin had trashed my bunk didn't seem to matter to them at all.

The sarge's eyes bored into my head. "Is this true, Private?" he demanded. He was close enough I could see the bulging veins on his neck. It kind of made him look like a savage bull.

"Yes, sarge," I admitted, not at all ashamed of what I'd done. Martin had been looking for that ass-whoopin', and I wasn't about to back down. Of course, I'd been provoked, but considering that the sarge was in no mood to listen, from the looks of it, I wasn't about to stoke that fire by appearing like I was whining.

What followed was hardly surprising, of course. Cue fifteen minutes of shouting at me as my former friends smirked behind the sarge's back, followed by an immediate seizure by the MPs. In short order, I was all but thrown into the brig.

I'd love to say that my story ends up showing how I was wrongfully incarcerated, I got my petty revenge on the people who turned their backs on me, and everything turned out great. However, if I did that, I'd be pretty big fucking liar.

Rather, what happened was the completely opposite. Even though it usually takes up to a week to organise a court-martial, the sarge somehow managed to round up enough officers in record time, such that it was scheduled for two days after my incarceration.

And, the cream and cherry on top of my catastrophic fucking circumstances? My defence attorney.

"Greetings, jitein."

I knew, at that moment, that someone in the brass wanted not only to see me out on my ass, but also to teach the rest of the armed forces a lesson: either get back in line, or have your fate in the hands of the xenos you hate.

A cruel, cruel joke.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," I swore as I swung my legs off the prison cot and stood to face the xeno. "You're my lawyer?"

The purple skinned alien nodded his head gracefully, prompting a twitch in my hands as I yearned to ram his head into the bars repeatedly, hoping to crack that reinforced skull of theirs. "Indeed."

"Someone's got a sick fucking sense of humor, then," I hissed. "'Cause it'll be a cold day in hell 'fore I let some dog leg fuck represent me."

I glowered as the xeno's facial expression refused to budge. I hated that about them — I hated that disturbing serenity they always seemed to exude. You could never tell when a X'ndrian was pissed off or pleased, and as someone who trusted no one on principle, that wasn't the best way to gain my trust.

"Then it must be cold indeed in your place of divine punishment, jitein, because I am the only attorney willing to represent you," the alien replied calmly.

I glared. "The law says I can choose my lawyer."

He nodded. "It does."

"Then I want a human lawyer."

"I'm afraid everyone's declined."

I scoffed. There were at least a trillion humans in the UNSA, and, consequently, millions of lawyers. I highly doubted they had asked every single one.

"Anyone deemed acceptable by the authorities, I mean," the xeno corrected himself, clearly seeing my disbelief.

That made more sense, I conceded, though that made things problematic. "Why?" I couldn't resist asking.

"I believe they all think this case too...how do you humans say? 'Hot'? For their tastes," the X'ndrian explained.

While that made sense, that hadn't been my question. "That's not what I meant," I snapped. "Why take my case? I hate you freaks."

The X'ndrian made no show of having heard my insult, which only served to piss me off even more. "All beings deserve lawful representation when put on trial," the xeno replied. "That is the law."

"So you're doing this because it's your job?" I asked, wishing my fellow humans actually shared that diligence.

"No."

I blinked. "Then why?"

"Because as misguided as I believe your beliefs to be about my species, I do not believe you are guilty of unprovoked assault against your comrade," the xeno explained calmly.

Alright, I'll admit I didn't see that coming. I'd honestly never met someone who was willing to put aside their differences to help someone else. With mom, she'd always refused to compromise. If something didn't work out for her, she just quit. In a way, though, I wasn't much different. Every time someone disagreed with me, looking back, I knew I was just as guilty of cutting myself off.

Kinda like what happened with Martin and the others, I guess.

Even so, the hate I felt inside wasn't about to go just like that. This wasn't some fucking, teary novel about some girl who falls for her prince charming. Fuck that.

"I still don't trust you," I told him flatly. "In fact, I want you to know that the moment I can find a human lawyer, I'm kicking you to the curb."

The xeno nodded. "As is your legal right," he agreed. Fuck. Why did he have to be pleasant about this?

"Then what's your first move?" I asked.

He bowed his head. "I should introduce myself. I am—"

I raised a hand. "Don't fucking care. Just tell me how you're going to get me out of here."

Again, he tilted his head. "As you wish. I intend to prove provocation."

"Fighting is still forbidden in the military," I pointed out. So far, he was failing rather fucking spectacularly to convince me he was any good. "Provoked or not."

"True, but one carries a harsher penalty than the other. If we can prove provocation, you may simply get a week in the brig and a pay cut. If not, you are likely to be summarily dismissed from the service with a dishonorable discharge."

I snorted. Let them fucking try. "Over my dead body."

The alien nodded again. "I shall endeavour to avoid such a scenario."

I blinked. Had he just made a fucking joke? That didn't make sense. X'ndrians had no sense of humor.

"In order to have a better grasp on the events that led to your current predicament," the xeno motioned to her jail cell, "I must know the sequence of events as they happened. As perfectly as you can, please."

I nodded reluctantly. As much as I wanted to grab the xeno freak by the neck and smash his head into the bars, he was also my only way out. Telling him what had happened took very little time — after all, there's not much to say other than "saw my pillow ripped to shreds, went outside and knocked Martin the fuck out."

Of course, the xeno wouldn't have been X'ndrian if he didn't ask for inanely specific details, like the time of the events, how I'd felt, what colour my sheets and pillow were, and where everything had been in the barracks. Naturally, I couldn't answer most of his questions — unlike X'ndrians, we humans don't have the luxury of having species-wide eidetic memory. Even so, by the time he left, the xeno had looked particularly pleased with the proceedings — or as pleased as a X'ndrian could look, what with that constantly serene expression they always wear.

That night as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn't help but be tormented by the fact that a X'ndrian, of all races, had decided to help me. A X'ndrian. My actions against the group on this base must've been a matter of public record — a public record my newest defense attorney must've had access to before making their decision to help me. Why would you help someone who hated you?

The question bothered me enough that by the time I finally felt sleepy enough to rest my eyes, daylight had begun to break through the small window of my cell. Cursing under my breath, I heard the distant sound of the prison block door disengaging. Sluggishly sliding off the bed and onto my feet, knowing the brig warden expected to see me at attention. My situation was fucked enough as it was; I wasn't about to dig myself deeper into a grave.

"Good, you're awake," the warden noted as he approached my cell. I had to hold back a snort — the man had grown the fugliest moustache I'd ever seen. A real soup-catcher as I'd ever seen. "Your attorney is here to see you, so look sharp, trooper."

I responded with a perfunctory acknowledgement as I watched the xeno return, looking surprisingly confident for someone representing a client who'd actually been witnessed committing the offenses she was accused of. I wondered if that was real, though, or just bluster.

"Greetings, Private Buchanan," the xeno greeted me. No jitein today, huh? I guess he felt more confident than I realised. "I hope Tan X'ndras finds you well."

I tilted my head slightly in confusion. That wasn't a term I was familiar with. Most humans just knew enough X'ndrian to know whether they were being insulted or not.

"I...guess?" I ventured.

The xeno nodded his head. "Good. We have much to discuss today as well!"

He certainly seemed chipper today — which was honestly quite a bit jarring. The X'ndrians I'd met so far were mostly as emotional as a rock, with all the verbal and physical body language of a corpse. I wondered what made my attorney different. Still, that wasn't something to ask at the moment, particularly when he was discussing the best way to avoid getting me kicked out of the military on a dishonorable discharge.

His questions were more of the same from yesterday, and in my sleep-deprived state, I admit I might've been shorter with my answers. I even brushed away his query as to whether I'd even slept. When pressed, I confess I snapped.

"Mind your own business, xeno."

The alien tilted his head. "Your health is my business, Private Buchanan. That is the entire point to our interactions."

I glowered at him. "And I'm telling you to drop it."

Obviously, that wasn't the reply he wanted, and for the first time in my life, I watched a X'ndrian express frustration: his eyes narrowed, his lips pursed, and his shoulders squared.

"I cannot help you if you do not cooperate, Private Buchanan."

"What if I don't want your help?" I shot back.

"Then you are being quite foolish," the xeno replied flatly. "Even beyond your already ridiculous beliefs about my race."

I goggled. I'd half-expected a diplomatic response, as was typical of his species. "You…"

The X'ndrian lawyer sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in a very human fashion that seemed even more jarring to me. "Let me guess: I'm not like the other X'ndrians you've met? I'm not acting the way I should be?" he mused out loud. I nodded dumbly. "That's the problem with you humans: you can't see beyond your own prejudices. You see three to five of us and you think we're all alike."

"Aren't you?"

The X'ndrian actually snorted. "I should certainly hope not. That would be quite boring."

"Then why do you all act the same?"

He eyed me with a knowing smile. "Do you mean stoic? Cool? Collected? Diplomatic?"

I nodded dumbly.

"How else should we act when dealing with a species as intimidating as yours?"

I was actually struck by that statement. It'd actually never occurred to me that X'ndrians might even think like that — it was far too human a mentality, in my opinion.

I found that my ability to resist cooperating melted after that, though not from some noble realisation that we're all alike or anything like that. Rather, this newfound knowledge troubled me, as it unavoidably shook some deeply held convictions. The rest of the interview went pretty much the same as yesterday, with me rehashing the incident's events for the benefit of my lawyer...whom I was now regretting at least not getting his name.

Still, I was too proud to ask, and before long, he was gone again, leaving me in my cell. The only good news from that meeting had been that he'd managed to get the court date pushed back a few days to let him do his legally guaranteed investigation into the incident.

I could go into details about what happened each time he came after that — how he kept surprising me with his wide range of emotions, his wit, and his absurd devotion to the case, but even now, I don't feel as though I'd do him justice. Instead, I'd like to jump ahead to the day my case was finally brought before the courts-martial, a full two weeks after my arrest. Such had been the impact of our conversations that, by then, I hadn't felt any disgust when he'd called himself my attorney before the courts-martial, much to their surprise.

To make a long story short, however — mostly because I admit I lost track of the court proceedings, given how boring they were, and being a memory I did not cherish — we lost the case. Bad.

To be honest, however, it wasn't surprising. From the get-go, the military had been trying to make an example of me — to show other bigots that my actions were unacceptable. To that end, I'd been the sacrificial lamb on the altar of integration. However, as mad as I was at the military, I found I couldn't be mad at the X'ndrians that had caused such ugliness inside me to rear its head. I wasn't even mad at my attorney for losing, even as my rank and enlistment was stripped from me in a far too ceremonial event that smacked of propaganda.

In fact, my final realisation — the thing that made this entire episode worth retelling — took place at our last meeting. Not as client and attorney, but as two individuals.

After being kicked out of the military, I'd been given two hours to clear out of the base. It would've taken me far less than that, of course, but the idea to stretch the entire thing out so that everyone present could watch the show. I endured the smirking and vindictive stares of my former bunkmates, and even Martin's death glare with stoic calm that I think would've made my attorney proud.

Then, as I was finally allowed off the base, I met up with the last person I'd ever expected to see: my attorney.

"Greetings, Private Buch—"

"Patricia."

The xeno blinked.

For the first time in my life, I smiled at a X'ndrian. "Patricia. That's my name. They stripped my rank, remember?"

Slowly, uncertainly, the X'ndrian nodded his purple head. "Patricia," he tried out the word, unsure of my reaction. To be honest, I wasn't sure how I'd react, either, but found that I didn't mind.

"What can I do for you?" I asked him.

Immediately, he bowed his head in what I could only assume was shame. "I came to apologise for my ineptitude. Had I been more skilled, I might've prevented you from—"

My sigh cut him off, prompting him to look up at me. I shifted the box with my things onto my hip and planted a fist on the opposite one. "It wasn't your fault," I assured him, and was surprised to find that I believed that wholeheartedly. "They needed an example made, and I made no secret of my attitude towards your kind."

The X'ndrian slowly nodded. "Even so…" he tried to get out, but my glower cut him off. "I understand."

I nodded. "Good," I stated imperiously, before looking beyond him to the hoverbus station — it'd be arriving shortly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get to the station. It seems I'm in need of a new job."

My ex-attorney stared at me inscrutably, somehow reflecting the image of the emotionless X'ndrians I'd come to hate most of my life. Now, though, I just knew he was unsure of what to say. Over time, I'd come to understand that the same attitude that had irked me had been their way to mask their insecurities when dealing with us humans, who tended towards the overblown and dramatic.

"What will you do?"

I shrugged. I honestly had no idea. Well, I mean, I had a few ideas, but nothing concrete. "Who knows?" I asked with a shrug. "I'm sure I'll land on my feet, though."

He seemed nervous, then...uncertain. "I could…"

I raised my hand. I knew what he wanted to say. "Don't," I told him firmly. "I don't want charity, and we both know that I'd make a piss-poor employee for you since I don't know jack shit about law."

That deflated him, of course, but he quickly rallied and straightened up. He even extended a hand that I gladly took and shook. "Then, good luck, Patricia."

"Thanks," I returned with a smile, belatedly realising I needed to ask him one last thing, even as the hoverbus came into view. "Hold up: I have one question."

He tilted his head. "Yes?"

"What's your name?"