“Come on, you piece of crap.” Dax fiddled with the lapel microphone which refused to stay clipped to his shirt. He struggled for an inordinate amount of time, as he allowed himself to be distracted by the long legs of his interviewer.
Marisa Chambers, renowned journalist, had sat down with presidents, diplomats, and the first pro human/Darshyll football team. She had previously asked the commander for an interview spot, but he held out after she had bamboozled an A-list actor, in what he thought would be a fluff piece, with a series of hard-hitting questions on camera about his extramarital affairs and accusations of tax evasion. This however, she assured Dax, would be a light-hearted chat about his upcoming retirement plans. No more, no less. After a brief and flirtatious phone call, and a quick look at his tax records, Dax agreed.
“Dax Harrison,” she began as the cameras rolled. “Lieutenant commander in the Allied Forces of the United Territories Alliance. A celebrated war hero, whose exploits throughout the years have become the subject of several biographical books, docudramas and film adaptations.”
Dax sat nodding and smiling as she listed his accomplishments. “Oh, you mean me!” He jokingly exclaimed with fake surprise.
Marisa laughed in return with fake amusement. “Commander, you are now nearing the end of your service, and you have received some criticism in the public eye regarding your post-retirement plans. In particular, your decision to partner with several businesses in the hotel and gambling industries, some right here on Saleon.” Marisa’s warm, charming smile began to fade. “Some of which have even faced previous accusations of questionable practices.”
Crap. Dax squirmed in his seat a little. “That, that seems a bit blown out of proportion—“
“Many citizens see this as a highly controversial move from a public figure such as yourself.” She continued without letting him finish.
“Now, I hardly think that—“
“We have a viewer submission here from a teacher, mother of two on Earth, in Iowa.” Marisa held her personal tablet in view of the camera before reading from it. “‘Commander, I appreciate all you have done for the Alliance, but how can I have my sons looking up to a role model who smiles for the camera while profiting with gangsters and back alley thugs?’”
“Gangsters and thugs?” Dax chuckled nervously. “Okay, this is clearly a whole bunch of misunderstanding.” He kept smiling, but he knew what this was. She did it. She conned him for ratings, and he was stupid enough to fall for it. Who knew if what she said was true? Dax had endorsement deals all over the place. How was he to know if a few business partners happened to have some shady dealings?
“Well, commander?” Marisa waited for an answer, eyes locked to his like missiles.
My god, is she even blinking? He thought for a moment. Fortunately, Dax had years of experience at his disposal in one of the most crucial, tactical skillsets for a man in his position: lying through his damned teeth.
“Miss Chambers. I’m sorry, Marisa, is it? I’m going to go out on a limb and say you seem to have me pegged as a man who’s trying to get away with something. Now, I’ll be straight with you. Despite what you may believe, judging by the look on your face, I take my business associations seriously, and I take the good people of the Territories seriously.”
“That is good to hear, commander.”
“So if any of those associates were to be called on the carpet for some kind of dishonorable or unethical behaviors, I assure you, I would see to it personally that justice be done.” He poised with the expertise of someone running for office, complete with pointed finger.
“I think the people of the Alliance would expect nothing less.” She smiled politely back, which Dax read as “Touché”.
“Did your sources happen to mention that all my arrangements include a large portion of the proceeds going to charity? Because that’s true, you know.” He lowered his head in faux humbleness. “I don’t like to flaunt it, but since we’re digging here, maybe I could share a bit on why I came to that decision.”
“Please do, Commander.” Marisa signaled the cameraman to cut to a close-up.
Dax knew the angle. She was trying to keep him in the hot seat, but this was where he shined. “A few years back I was on Titan, the Galant colony. As I’m sure you know, the damage from the war left that place wide open to mercenaries, war criminals, back alley thugs as you put it. They scavenged the leftovers after the Carteagan bombings, and Galant was hit the hardest.” He sighed heavily, playing up the uneasiness evoked by the memory. “I can’t tell you how long those final skirmishes lasted, or how many bodies hit the dirt, but by the end of it, I felt like I just walked through hell.”
Dax glanced at the cameraman and noticed his wide-eyed gaze. He went on. “An hour after the dust settled, my team and I were securing the area, checking what was left of the colony for survivors. I found an eight-year-old boy sitting in a burned-down shack and crying for his parents. They were dead in the next room. Executed by the mercs. We figured the boy had been there for a couple days like that. Days, Ms. Chambers.” Dax looked away with a thousand-yard stare. “I carried him out of the wreckage and straight onto an evac shuttle. He asked me why bad things like that happen.” He shook his head, eyes glazing over ever so slightly. “I didn’t have an answer for him. I still don’t.”
Dax looked straight at Marisa, wiping away a stray tear. “My team and I, we were lucky, Ms. Chambers. We did the job and got to go home. Hell didn’t come for us. Hell kicked down that kid’s door. And that’s what I think about when I offer my support to colonies like Saleon One. That child and others like him are the reason I do what I do. And you’ll have to excuse me if I find them to be a worthwhile investment.”
Dax looked around the room. Not a dry eye in sight. Perfect.
The next morning, Dax awoke to the chirping of his comm pin on the night stand. A quick glace around the hotel suite and the previous evening came back to him through the fog. Dinner, drinks, a few blurry events after that. He reached over and tapped the pin, knocking over a half-empty champagne bottle in the process.
“Commander,” SAMM replied. “You have an incoming communication.”
“What the—I’m busy. Have ‘em leave a message.”
“It’s Captain Sykes, Commander.”
“Ah, jeez. All right, all right. Just give me a second.” Dax composed himself quickly, careful not to disturb Marisa, still sound asleep. He relocated to a desk at the far end of the luxury suite, grabbing his uniform shirt and jacket from the floor and dressing himself along the way. “Okay, send him through.” He set the comm pin flat on the desk and adjusted his hair just in time, as the holographic face of his former commanding officer projected above it.
“Captain! What a pleasant surprise!” The words came out a little too eager. Officially, Sykes was no longer Dax’s direct superior, but he never failed to intimidate Dax with his occasional check-ins. In fact, he rather delighted in it. The captain was just shy of fifty and still tough as nails as far as Dax was concerned. The sight of his salt-and-peppery regulation haircut alone was enough to fill Dax with a sense of foreboding. A receding harbinger of doom.
“How are things on the outer rim?”
“Excellent, sir. Terrific. Just completing the supply drop at Saleon. Everything is business as usual—“
“Cut the shit, Harrison.”
“Cutting it, sir.”
“I’ve got an assignment I want to discuss with you in person. I’ll need you at Central, ASAP.”
“You’re being reactivated for Special Tactics.”
Dax’s face dropped. “Sir, I was under the impression I was to be relieved in three months.”
“Plans change, Harrison. Stop by Command after your delivery. You’ll receive your full orders there. Skyes out.”
The hologram disappeared abruptly, leaving Dax sitting alone and dumbfounded. He took a deep, calming breath.