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No Strangers

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There are three known entities in the Cassandran half of the Friendship Delegation. Mia and Lia are nobility, minor enough that they can get roped into this kind of legwork but high enough in the ranks for Medean intelligence to have had files on each of them even before the war. Captain Sophie Green wasn’t anything ten years ago, but she'd flown enough missions and caught enough sheer luck since then that every news stream in the PSA that bothered to cover the Azulean Conflict had had her enlistment photo on display at some point. Josephine skims the section on Green in the dossier when she’s called in to replace de Luca—her handler was light on the details, but mentioned something about an indiscretion with which Green may have been involved—but there isn’t much there she doesn’t already know.  

Which just leaves one.

“Can I ask,” Josephine says to Green on Adamar, when she and Green and some hapless antimony miner are all locked together in a tiny elevator jerkily plunging closer to the center of this tiny, ugly planet. “What’s Lieutenant Li doing here?” 

Sophie looks at her sideways, like she can’t be bothered to give Josephine her full attention. “What are any of us doing here?” 

The elevator cables creak. 

“He's practically living in your pocket,” Josephine says. 

“You just haven’t really seen him around other people yet. Anders will make friends with a park bench if you leave him sitting on it long enough,” Green says. She presses her lips together like she’s trying not to say more, but then she says, “Honestly, I do think he might have volunteered. But he didn’t do it for me if that’s what you’re asking.” 

Josephine raises her eyebrows. 

“It’s not,” she lies. “But good to know.” 

 

Li is, indeed, always perfectly friendly and exactly nothing more. He’s also apparently never alone in public, which mostly just seems odd in comparison to the way Green keeps disappearing down empty hallways to monologue into her comms unit. Josephine can hear her shouting sometimes, but can’t ever tail her closely enough to make out distinct words. 

At the club in Taranis, Josephine nurses exactly one drink while pretending to have had quite a bit more as an excuse to try and lure Li into a quiet corner away from the rest of the Delegation. 

Li doesn’t cave—barely even leans in her direction, despite having put away significantly more alcohol. Eventually, he takes to the stage to get some distance from her, and drags Green out of her chair as he goes.

Neither one of them can carry a tune in a bucket, but it’s interesting to see them here: still on a platform, still self-aware of the performance of it all, but also relaxed in a way they aren’t during the more official portions of the Delegation tour. Li smiles at Green in the same warm, natural way that he smiles at everyone, but Green returns it in a way that seems more rare. More intimate, maybe. 

When they come off stage, both laughing, Josephine meets them at the bottom of the stairs and loops her arm in Li’s. She leans in close and pitches her voice just a bit too loud for the proximity. “You’re cute together,” she says. “You and Green.”

Green rolls her eyes, but Li perks up and lets Josephine steer him in the direction of a table in the back. 

“Sophie’s great,” he says, and the alcohol is evident in his voice if nowhere else. “She’s, like, the best.”

“Yeah,” Josephine agrees placatingly. “Hey, how long have you known Sophie, anyway?” 

“Ages,” Li says. “Ages and ages. Jane introduced us.”

“Right,” Josephine says, despite having no idea who he’s referring to. 

“She’s a good friend,” Li plows on before she can ask anything else. “She‘s—she deserves good friends, you know? You should be nice to her.”

“Sure,” Josephine says, but Li apparently doesn’t need her to be part of this conversation. 

“Jane should be nice to her, too,” he says. “It’s probably hard with the—with the war and with the stuff with Evelyn and everything, but Jane should—I should call her. Yeah. I’m gonna call Jane.” 

He extricates himself from her grip and wanders in the direction of the exit, unpocketing his comms unit as he goes. Josephine lets him make his escape; whichever of Green’s exes he’s decided deserves scolding is not the kind of intelligence she’s trying to collect. 

 

“I saw what you were trying to do with Anders, by the way,” Green says to her on the other side of Taranis, after they’ve ascertained both that no one has survived the slaughter and that whoever perpetrated it is long gone. 

It’s not the type of comment that fits the scene of sheer carnage before them, but Josephine’s been a soldier long enough to recognize the desire to discuss something trivial to distract your brain from the horror that’s otherwise going to take root in your every thought. 

Josephine shoves her gun back into its holster. “And?”

“You should know, it’s not you,” Green says. “Anders doesn’t do stuff like that with anyone. He’s not casual about relationships.”

“You are.” 

Green shrugs. “Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean we’re the same. I mean, sure, most of the people I served with are, well, you know the type. You are the type.”

Josephine nods; she knows what Sophie’s getting at. “But you knew Li before the war, right?”

Green grins to herself, a echo of the genuine joy Josephine caught a glimpse of on the stage. “Yeah. The people I ran with back then were kind of a different crowd. Bonkers smart, all of them, and crazy loyal. Super intense.”

“So nothing like you at all,” Josephine says, deadpan, and Sophie lets it hang in the air for a long moment before the laughter bursts out of her. 

 

They mark off a perimeter and take shifts on patrol, on the off chance that whatever dismembered all those people comes back for seconds—and Li does assure them all that it’s a what, not a who, that the beings responsible for this slaughter are identifiably non-human.

Personally, Josephine’s willing to believe he’s cracked, but then the PSA delegation shows up and all evidence points towards their agreeing with him. 

She assigns herself as his patrol partner, which is how she finally gets a significant amount of time alone with him. For the first few days she spends the hours trying to pick his brain about the possibility of heretofore undiscovered alien life, but he digs so directly into the xenobiology weeds that she can’t evaluate how plausible any of his information is.

Sophie’s the one who eventually catches a glimpse of the thing, and then won’t shut the fuck up about it. 

“When she says it looked like a friend,” Josephine says to Li the next time they’re on patrol, “has she told you who?” 

“Oh sure,” Li says easily, “but I think the interesting thing is less which person it looked like and more why it looked human at all. It’s like I’ve been saying, the residual biomatter –” 

“Yeah, no, I know,” Josephine says. “I got all that. I’m just curious. I mean, was it you?” 

Li chuckles. “Oh,” he says, “No. Sophie says it looked like Jane.” 

“Jane,” Josephine repeats. “You’ve mentioned that name before. Who is she?” 

He shrugs. “No one special. Just an old friend. You have people like that, right?” 

 

They shut down the Friendship Delegation sixteen auspicious days after Josephine joined it. She finds herself stepping aside with Sophie while everyone else runs last checks on the ship that’ll take them home to Medea. 

“None of this has been what I expected,” she admits, “but I am glad I came. It was good to meet you.”

Sophie gives her a sardonic smile. “Yeah, you’re just glad you were here in person so the PSA won’t be able to sweep this all under the rug and tell you it never happened.” 

The weirdest thing about Sophie is that she is, somehow, precisely what Josephine was expecting. She is, apparently in her bones, the exact same person that the cameras always caught during the war; handsome and brash and impatient and flirtatious and self-righteous and darkly funny and steady with a gun and brave to the point of stupidity. 

Josephine sighs. “Here, give me your comms,” she says. 

Sophie frowns, but hands it over. 

“You’re not wrong to distrust them,” Josephine says as she punches in her own number. “But this could get a lot bigger than the PSA. I mean, hostile alien life? Cassandra’s welcome to keep sticking it out alone if you want, but you’re probably going to get to the point where you decide to be less choosy with your friends. In the meantime…”

She offers the comms back. “Pass that on to Anders for me?”