I was beginning to feel lightheaded. Smoke of any kind did that to me over time, but for some reason the scent used most popularly on Rigel III worked much more quickly. I’d noticed it last time I was here, and I’d noticed it now. From the moment I stepped into the smoke-filled, dimly lit bar, a dull pain began to eat away at my head, starting just behind my eyes.
I ordered a vodka and tonic from the Bolian tending bar and sipped it absentmindedly, glancing over my shoulder every few seconds to observe the door. I had no way of knowing if Red Eagle had received my last message or even if he was going to show up. For all I knew, the Bolian who’d mixed my overly strong drink was my contact. I’d never met him before.
I was halfway through my drink when a tall, dark-haired man came into the bar. He looked as though he came from Earth’s Native American ancestry. He was dressed in civilian clothes and had a look about him that gave off an air of respect. I turned away from him and back to my drink (my head was close to spinning by now, and the blue of the Bolian’s skin and the ocean green of his shirt began to blur together) when he looked my way. If he was Red Eagle, I figured he could come find me.
Sure enough, I felt him brush me shoulder to shoulder as he sat on the stool next to me. He ordered a Terran beer. I was done with my drink, and I could feel the effects it had on me. My stomach was on fire, a wave of heat rising up to my chest, beating right along with my heart. And my head was definitely heavy. I should have smuggled out a hypospray of alcohol antidote. I never was very tolerant of alcohol.
"I don’t need an engineer."
For a moment I thought I’d invented the low rumble next to me. "Excuse me?"
"I have an engineer. A damn good one at that. What else can you offer?"
He was talking to me. I turned to him, noticing a strange tribal tattoo above his left eye. I found myself trying to focus on it while gripping the counter for support. Realizing what I was doing, I shook my head to clear my mind. Bad idea, because it caused him to go slightly out of focus and appear to have a twin. I had to stop for a moment and lean on the bar, rubbing my temples.
"I’m sorry," I said quickly. "Do I know you?"
I was feeling better now, suddenly, and I could see straight. I pushed my glass away a bit, deciding it would be much better to lay off the alcohol. I brushed my hair out of my eyes and turned to him, smiling and trying to look better than I felt.
He stuck out his hand. "Chakotay," he introduced, and I shook his hand. "You would know me as Red Eagle."
My eyes widened in recognition. I felt myself get suddenly flustered and I almost lost my balance off the stool. "Oh, excuse me, please - I’m so sorry. I’m - I’ve been a little distracted lately." It was true; even though the entire operation wasn’t true, and I hadn’t been kicked out of Starfleet, the reactions of my friends and the looks on their faces were very real. So were their words. And I was having trouble getting over it all. I fingered the napkin under my cup idly, coughing slightly to clear my throat.
"It’s understandable." His voice was quiet. When I snuck a glance at him out of the corner of my eye, he wasn’t looking at me. He was staring into the bottom of his mug, looking almost as if he wasn’t in the same bar as I was anymore. "I almost didn’t come to meet you today," he finally said, turning to look at me. Our eyes met, but I didn’t look away. "I wasn’t sure what you would be like. You risked everything for us, and then you lost it. I wasn’t sure how you’d be handling it."
I laughed bitterly and nodded to the glass, now filled with only ice. "Well, as you can see, I’m not doing well at all. Not to mention, I think it was me who contacted you. I have nothing now," I admitted, "unless you have something to offer me."
"That’s my line," he grinned.
I actually laughed, a bit more airily than I’d intended. It must have been the alcohol. "You said as much," I replied. "Though I don’t know what you’re looking for."
"You studied weapons and tactics at the Academy, right?" I must have looked surprised, because he continued. "I had a look at your personnel file a few weeks ago. What I really need is a pilot, but if I remember correctly, that was one of only two courses you failed."
I felt my face grow hot in memory. Tom had been going on and on about his piloting classes, and I couldn’t let him have all the fun, so I signed up. My flying abilities left quite a lot to be desired, and I failed the class. The other failed class had decidedly not been my fault.
"So," Chakotay was saying, "I’d rather not take my chance with you behind the helm. But a good strategist is always needed. And since you are an engineer, you’d be very familiar with the weak spots on most ships. What do you say?"
It took me a second, but I nodded. "I’d say that sounds very good." When he nodded back at me, I turned away and stared down into the bottom of my empty glass. Then, when Chakotay had finished his beer and was standing up to leave, I followed him.