The Tyranny bucked as its aft sloughed from the gate. Otto Jaeger breathed deeply while patting himself down, starting with his head. Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch. Everything remained in its proper place after another successful jump.
Sheer probability would catch up with him eventually. Someone could only be disintegrated and reassembled so many times before coming together out of order. Most of his men thought his pre and post jump litany a joke, but he’d seen scramble first hand. Messy stuff.
“Better acquire a visual, Commander, just in case.” Kade jostled Jaeger as he pushed past.
“Find a seat and strap in, XMO Christiansen.” Jaeger growled. “Half a nut would be enough to command this motley crew.”
Brista "Brick" Jenkins stood between the two and corralled Jaeger toward the bridge. “For Yuan’s sake, someone toss his grumpy highness the com so he can talk to his daughter before we pop the eye.”
“Mind your place, Brick.”
“Give it up, Otto, and admit you’re worried about her.” Ariza tossed a portable to Brick. She jammed it into Jaeger’s hand. “Ping the poor girl. She’s worried about you, even if you’re too pig headed to worry about her.” Brick leaned close. “We gonna be a month before extraction. She’ll be a roughhide on another squad by then. Show her you care, you prickly old frendol.”
Jaeger raised the com but hesitated to ping XLO Dalia Jaeger, his daughter and youngest child.
“If you don’t, I will.” Brick threatened.
Jaeger entered the coordinates on the handheld and pinged.
A response came seconds later. “EEF Ravager requesting authenticate.”
“It’s Commander Jaeger, I wanna talk to XLO Dalia--” he caught himself before he used the family name she'd runoff to escape, "Raven."
“Your identification, Command—”
“Wilkes, you twit, I swear I’ll plug your pie hole with your protocol if you don’t—”
“ID authenticated. Roger that, Tyranny.” The connection fell quiet. Moments later Jaeger heard his daughter’s voice, rigid with formality.
“Dalia.” A shadow of tension lifted from Jaeger’s shoulders. “We’re about to pop the eye on the Primal Instinct job.”
Jaeger gritted his teeth and checked to ensure the rest of his squad couldn’t overhear. “Baby girl, it’s me.”
Silence greeted him from the other end.
Jaeger allowed the familial title to nourish his heart. “I’m proud of you. I want you to know that. I still wish you could have spread your wings under my command, but I understand why you requested the transfer.”
“You’re not still angry?”
“A little, but mostly at myself. I can’t stay mad at you.”
“You always were a softy when it came to your baby girl.”
Jaeger changed the subject. “How’s the new squad treating you?”
“Fine. It’s different. Not bad, just different. I’m still figuring out the rules.”
“You’ll do fine.”
Jaeger laughed. “And your partner? The one with the deuce on his record?”
“You mean XMO Cruz?”
Jaeger could see his daughter’s expression despite the distance between them. “Don’t roll your eyes at me, missy.”
“Same old Commander, same old father. You know as well as anyone that reprimands are handed down for bogus reasons as often as legit.”
“He’s a pretty boy. I don’t trust pretty boys. Especially when they’re cheeks to cheeks with my—”
“Dad!” Dalia cut him off. “You like Tagg just fine.”
Jaeger hemmed and hawed. “Tagg’s an egghead who happens to look like a pretty boy.”
“Oh, so you admit looks can be deceiving?”
“Fine, you win. Just keep your guard, for now.”
“Don’t worry about me. Like father like daughter. Besides, we’re still two days out from babysitting some S&Es on a frickin’ explore and bore. I’m starting to realize how spoiled I got on your squad.”
“Hey, never forget the first rule.”
“I know, surprises kill.”
“And what causes surprises?”
“Exactly. No mission is ever as it seems. So keep your guard.”
“Speaking of keeping your guard, you’re the one heading into the cauldron. Primal Instinct for Yuan’s sake.”
“Just some big lizards.” Jaeger scanned the troop hold for any signs of the Client Representative. He knew they had to be nearing the Dyson sphere’s fisheye portal. “I don’t have long before the eye severs the connection. I want you to know, I love you.”
“I know you do, daddy. I love you too.”
“Promise me you won’t get too many accommodations over the next month.”
Dalia was laughing when the connection turned to static.
“Baby girl?” Jaeger waited three seconds and sighed. It had been four years since he’d gone more than a week without seeing his youngest child.
Brick called out from the neck of the bridge. “We’ve popped the eye, ladies and gentlemen. Get ‘dem girdles on ‘cause we about to flush.”
Jaeger lowered the handheld and swore. “Where the shyet is that CR? Now the weasel’s got no choice but to spill the rest of the intel on this headache of a job.”