Ginn never wanted to be leader. That's not who she is, how she got here. But she's done it now, taken that step forward and there's no way to take it back. She could try to slink back into the background, pick up her scans and her science, but it would always be in the back of everyone's mind, that when push came to shove, she picked up that gun and finished Dannic. No leader can afford to have a wildcard like that sitting around just waiting for her next chance to make the world what she wants.
No. She either has to lead, or get picked off. There's no stepping back. Her only other option is to get as far away from the Lucian Alliance as possible. And considering she's captive to the Tau'ri on this ancient, decaying ship, it's not like walking away is a possibility.
There are paths before her, variables changing moment by moment, but not dead is the only way she can ever make them mean anything.
She's not a leader. But she'll have to learn to be.
"Who's in charge?" Sergeant Greer demands, standing in the doorway to their makeshift cell.
She feels eyes sliding around the room, everyone taking reactions in, building scores and taking sides. She sees Varro take the slightest step forward and knows this is it. Her moment.
"Me," she says, sealing her fate, the variables aligning. "I'm the leader."
Her voice doesn't waver.
"So I thought maybe you'd be able to help?" Eli asks, looking up at her from Destiny's consol. He gives her an uncertain grin. "I mean, we're all in for the long haul now, right?"
She is thrown by his easy joviality, the way he looks at her and does not see beneath her thin bones and quiet eyes. He does not see Lucian or leader or threat. He sees curly red hair and pale skin.
She pities him. (Pities him and not the girl he sees, the useless, precious girl who did not have to think through every step ten times before committing, who could sleep through the night in her ignorance.)
It does not stop her from tilting her head just so, brushing in close to Eli, and smiling shyly as she courts him in his language of ancient tech and mathematical wonders. She already sees everything relaxing around her, paths opening. This could be easier than she imagined.
She leans in to Eli, hand on his back, and while he is distracted, her other inches towards the carelessly laid pad.
"Don't," a voice commands, quiet and competent and backed up with the creak of a weapon in hand.
Eli's head jerks up, his eyes tracking across the room, and Ginn follows the movement, focusing in on Sergeant Greer in the doorway.
She widens her eyes, feigning innocent confusion, but his lips only twist, hands tightening on the weapon.
"Just don't," he repeats.
He stares back at her with cynical, steady eyes, and she thinks, this is one who doesn't miss much.
Next to her, Eli flinches back away from her as if only finally realizing the danger.
She does not see much of Eli again, and never alone. He walks around her as if an overloading generator, and she does not mourn the lost opportunity. (Nothing should be beneath her now, but it would have been too much like kicking a youngling. Unnecessarily cruel.) She still has Destiny under her fingers, and that is enough to turn the tables.
She will have this ship again.
She works in isolation, at a system with limited controls with only sharp-eyed Greer for company. The task they have given her is rudimentary and tedious, but necessary, and she does it well if not for any other reason than doing it poorly would take too much effort. (Her pride has nothing to do with this.)
The hours stretch long and Greer does not complain, does not drop his guard, simply remains a constant, radiating force. She studies him from time to time, taking his measure, this man who has been assigned to be her guard dog.
She can't help but envy him his placidity, his calm control even as she wishes to carve it out of him. He sits there like his body was created for that uniform, two halves of a whole. (If she sees in him the very things she is more and more conscious of lacking herself, she tallies this merely as gathering intelligence, learning to mimic the stance until she can live it.)
He catches her eye, a look aimed to tell her she is not as subtle as she thinks. Her eyes narrow in annoyance and she forces her concentration back on the numbers.
"Why the Lucian Alliance?" he asks, curiosity thinly veiled with indifference as if he's been ordered to mine her for information.
She feels her back stiffen. The Tau'ri has the audacity to make it sound like a decision, a life path, completely ignorant to the fact that the Lucian Alliance is not a choice, it is a life doled out before you are born, a force of nature. One must serve to survive, to be of use, and do the tasks laid before you, and pray that no one will notice you, tiny tech mouse, only noticed when things fail to function.
Ginn perfected being invisible.
Until Dannic. She's halved her lifespan, she knows, chiseled those years away in a moment—gambled it all on the chance of even five more minutes.
And the Tau'ri, in his ignorance, in his complete incomprehension of doing as one must and not as one wants, sits there and asks her how she ended up here as if a child has the right to grow up with dreams and not survival instincts.
She hates him and everything he stands for in that moment.
"Why do you wear that uniform?" she shoots back, words formed sharp like frag bombs.
She expects words of honor and duty because unlike him, she has been trained to know her enemy, to understand the life on Earth all the better to circumvent it, to find weaknesses to exploit. The Lucian Alliance, of all things, has not left her here adrift without the tools to survive.
But there is no rhetoric from Greer, and when he meets her gaze she sees something she has been trained from birth to detect—to detect and avoid—a viciousness, a rage that burns brightest, strongest, but shortest of all among the Lucian Alliance. It is a mark of one used as a weapon. Used and discarded.
There is something more though, as she unflinchingly meets that gaze, something it takes time to place. Something of Kiva. A thick band of control and retention strapped across the darkness. Only here it is not ambition locking it in place. She suspects it is the uniform holding him in.
(Which came first, the uniform or the anger?)
He blinks and the calm placidity is back, the competency, and he shrugs. "Didn't have much of a choice," he says. (She believes him.)
She turns back to her work, because his answer is her own. "Neither did I."
Choice is a luxury.
This does not make them the same.
The door to the cell has not even completely closed behind her when Rand grabs her, his hands crunching her bones.
She squeezes out a yelp of surprise, as if she had not been expecting this.
A leader must always be prepared for challenges to her position, for hotheads uncontrolled enough to think they can make her disappear. Rand is stupider than most. She's been counting on it.
She has no illusions to having enough physical strength to meet them head on, but what she has instead is a mind, an ability to see ahead. And Rand is an obstacle she can defeat, one specifically chosen and spurred forward by careful whispers.
Her hand closes over the rude battery carrying a single heavy charge tucked away in a secret pocket—her insurance policy.
She singes her fingers, but directs most of the current directly into Rand's soft belly, a guttural sound tearing from his throat as the electricity streaks through his body. She shoves him to the ground, vibrating flesh at her feet.
The men belatedly rally around her, dragging Rand further into the cell, delivering the beating such failed treachery demands. She pretends not to have noticed their hesitation at the beginning, their watching eyes to see how this would turn out, just as she pretends her stomach is not heaving at the sound of fist hitting flesh.
The sounds have reached the halls, the guards rushing in, Greer tight on their heels.
Seeing him coming, she deliberately leans back against the wall, her arm carefully cradled into her body, breath heaving her chest.
His eyes find her, taking in the details, seeing what she wants.
The riot is quelled, the treacherous Rand removed to the infirmary, order once more restored.
They leave, Greer giving her one last lingering look. She wants it to be concern, protectiveness. (It's suspicion.)
The moment the doors close, she pushes back to her feet, back implacably straight, meeting the eye of every man who dares to look at her. Confidence, utter confidence. (She does not feel it, not really, her heart beating like a frightened bird in her chest, but she must live it, or not live.)
One by one they all look away.
She finds Varro over the crowd, gives him a nod to acknowledge his part in the plan, his support of her that has become so essential.
He nods back, head dipping in a small mocking bow.
She does not let herself smile.
Less than a week later, Destiny tries to shake herself free of her burden, with no help from Ginn.
The Tau'ri, in their typical arrogant blindness, do not comprehend. They only see technology working against them, never the larger picture.
They have strayed too far, tried to claim too much, and Destiny has swallowed the interlopers whole. Young has had Ginn brought to auxiliary control, Scott watching on, but it is Greer who approaches her with the request. They have no one else to turn to.
"Can you fix this?" he asks.
If Destiny lets her, she could. She already sees the problem, knows how to approach it, and her fingers twitch to do the honors, to right the variables. But the woman she must be now cannot allow such desires. She has more than curiosity to think of.
What will this gain for her and her people?
"You want us to trust you," Young says, perhaps reading her hesitance, or just thinking, as always, that he can see the whole board (he can, she knows, when he is not so wracked with doubts to obscure it). "This is your chance."
She nods because he is right, and any purchase she can carve out is one step closer to her goals.
She steps up to the controls, Greer's hand stopping her.
"Give me your word that you won't do anything to compromise the ship," he says, voice quiet. "That you won't do anything but fix this problem."
She glances sideways at him, thrown by this request. What can he think her word is worth? (More than it should be, promises coming heavy to her lips.)
"Your word," he demands, and she tells herself he is beginning to believe the lie.
"I promise," she says.
He nods, stepping away and letting her get to work.
She tells herself she saves Eli and Rush and Brody because earning their trust is part of the plan. She overlooks the opportunity to grab control when she sees flashes of it, her heart lurching in her chest. This is not because of her promise.
This is not because of her promise to him.
After, everyone safe and sound, and Destiny appeased (for now), Eli walks shakily up to her and gives her an awkward punch to the arm like a juvenile with a crush. "Thanks," he says, his eyes on her face.
She does not think he sees the girl anymore, but nor does he see the monster.
He still does not turn his back on her.
She bites back a smile.
On the return trip to her cell, she ignores the feel of Greer's hand on her shoulder, his eyes burning into her skin.
"Thank you," he says, each finger tight with gratitude, with understanding of what this cost her—holding to her word.
She did not do it for him.
Rush brings her to the control room quite often from then on. She is not foolish enough to think that he has begun to trust her, only that he is desperate enough to need more hands. The ship has been slowly choking them alive from the moment they set foot upon her. (And why, she wonders, do they always feminize ships? Because the men seek to control it and always fear they cannot?)
She knows that when Rush looks at her he does not see a human, a person, but a tool. She finds this comforting. It makes it easier when he sends her that look, the one that says, 'You could have been something', with the snap of impatience in his eyes that he reserves for anyone who does not fulfill the potential he claims to divine. He has long been the architect of his own reality. She thinks that kind of self-delusion must be reassuring.
She is something already (what that may be she cannot claim to be certain, but the belief is enough for now, it keeps her feet moving), and Rush's inability to comprehend that simply tells her she is playing this game well. Be of use, but beneath notice. This, at least, is familiar, like sliding back to berth.
Greer's eyes, as always, are on her, and this is only a problem if she lets it be.
She moves from consol to consol, refusing to betray the pain in her leg, to let so much as a hitch in her step show. She conveniently forgets she is trying to buy his sympathy. (She doesn't want him to know she is losing ground, her position slipping. Letting him know would mean acknowledging it herself. Or so she tells herself.)
Greer walks her back to the cell when she is finished for the day, silent and steady as always, and she refuses to let her step slow, to betray her reticence to return to the swirling mire of intrigue that is her command. The feel of Destiny under her fingers is making her weak because that isn't who she is anymore. (No matter how much she wants it.)
He leads her down a perpendicular corridor though, predicted vectors thrown off. They are in a section she has never seen, shadows swallowing all the angles.
He pulls her to a stop more abruptly than she is prepared for as if forcing her to betray herself. The truncated half-step rains agony down her thigh. She sucks in a breath and he does not miss it.
He steps closer, his hand lifting to her face, and she knows she should hold her ground, build up offensive indignation that is her only weapon against being caught out alone with a man like this. Yell and shout and posture until they decide you are not worth the effort.
Instead, she retreats, her back nearing the wall and she has done exactly what she was told never to do in late night whispers and gruff instructions by women passing in and out of her sphere. She has made herself a target.
But he does not attack, does not press against her, merely touching her hair, lifting the curtain away from her throat to expose the bruises wreathing her neck.
Another attempt on her, only this time not instigated for theater, nothing planned in the way her attacker had so nearly squeezed the life from her. Next time her quick knee and the support of Varro's faction may not be enough to save her.
She does not say any of this, staring down at Greer's chest, breaking yet another rule—do not surrender eye contact, do not allow yourself to become an object in his mind, make him understand what he is attempting to take. He is only two feet away, she calculates, watching his hand braced across the back of his weapon.
She could easily take his gun. (Not easily, she admits, for even in this uncharted space his body is taut with suspicion and competence. She does not admire this.) But she could try. She should try. But it would not get her far, not far enough, even if she were to leave him in a pile of blood in this abandoned hallway. Even if she had it in her to do that. (Does she have it in her to do that?)
His fingers touch the top of her collarbone, underscoring the fingerprints inked in her skin. She does not sigh under his touch, lean into it or away from it. She is a statue.
She makes the fatal mistake of meeting his eyes. She wants pity, overbearing posturing, yearns for it, these things she can mine from and use to shore up the strength of her spine. What she gets is calm assessment, like a question. Can you do this? As if he needs to know that if he puts her back in that cell, she will come back out again on her own two feet.
As if he cares one way or the other.
I am your enemy, she thinks to say, but the way he is alert, still turned slightly away from her to protect his weapon, she thinks he has not forgotten.
You cannot protect me. But he has not offered.
The real words that need to be said—there is only one way this will end—do not leave her lips, no matter how true they are.
She believes these words to the very core of her bones.
She kisses him anyway.
His fingers twine in her hair, hand lifting to cup the base of her skull, his lips warm and confused on hers.
This is part of the plan.
(This is not part of the plan.)
The next time the cell door opens for her, it is not Greer but Lieutenant Scott who has come to escort her. She convinces herself that she is disappointed, a well-cultivated avenue to escape cut off. What she is not is surprised. She does not allow herself to admire his clear thinking, his restraint. He is compromised and does not pretend otherwise.
She does not allow herself to envy that, the not pretending.
As always, eyes follow her as she leaves, but it is Scott's intense, searching gaze that tells her she is getting somewhere.
He is wondering whether to trust her.
Varro screams when they come for him. It is not a scream of fear or alarm, but raw pain as the rudimentary metal blade sinks into his back from behind, a rapid staccato of agony.
The metallic smell of blood rapidly fills the space, and in the shock of the aftermath, everyone pulls apart, eyes nowhere and everywhere, hands stuffed in pockets and backs to walls.
Ginn forces herself to walk calmly to the door, ignoring the frenzied beat of her heart, the scream at the back of her mind—NO. She raps on the door three times. Slow, evenly paced.
"We need a medic," she informs the guard.
She does not recognize her own voice.
Varro does not die. (Thank you, thank you, she whispers to no one in particular.) She knows without asking that he will not return. Of all of them, he is the one most trusted by the Tau'ri, and she wants to believe the question of wandering loyalty is what has struck him down. (She knows it is not.)
Fifteen military personnel enter the cell, instituting a search for concealed weapons, for blood on their hands. But concealment is what they were bred for. The Tau'ri can't have their prisoners turning riot on each other though, so they must try. Their conscience will demand it.
"Up against the wall," Lt. Scott orders.
Her people mill about, in no mood to cooperate, their eyes hard in her back like an unwielded shank.
Scott lifts his weapon, the others following suit. His eyes skim and settle on her, and she knows he is asking her to set an example, to submit to the search first, but she has her own game to play and it is not the Tau'ri she need worry about.
She holds her ground, forcing Scott to advance on her, gun lifting to her chest. "Do it now," he orders, the threat clear.
She lifts her chin, feeling her lifespan bleeding out in that moment. No way to step back or step forward. She registers the slightest movement from the man over Scott's shoulder, but does not let herself look.
"Don't make me do this," Scott murmurs like a plea, his guilty, little boy eyes staring back at her. (He does not understand; he is damning her with his kindness, with each slip of his weapon from its aim at her heart.)
A rush of movement, and the butt of another's weapon slams into her knee from an angle, her legs buckling. She hits the ground on her knees, a hand hard around her upper arm.
"He said up against the wall," a hard voice demands, dripping with aggression and distrust and all the more unfamiliar for it.
She does not let her eyes close with relief, rather shields gratitude behind a mask of hate as she looks up into Greer's face. He drags her to the nearest wall, hands efficient and impersonal as he searches her.
Distantly she can hear the others being wrestled into place, a rush of noise in the chamber. She forces herself to catalog reactions, who is looking at who, and not the heat of the body near hers, the hands that are gentle and apologetic in a way his voice isn't allowed to be.
Greer has finished with her, letting her drop her arms back to her sides. His gun is still trained on her, holding her in place, but his fingers have dropped to her hand in question, thumb rubbing protectively over the knob of her wrist.
Her eyes lift to his, just a moment, but it's already too much.
This was a warning for me, she wants to tell him. They took Varro to remind me just how little time I have left to get them free. How easy it will be for them to come for me.
She feels the press of twenty years of forbidden tears, of words she learned to swallow before she even knew the taste of them. Feels them press and throb against her sinuses and wishes, just once, to let them free.
She bites down on the impulse, crushing and grinding it between her teeth.
His fingers dig in to her skin.
The protocol is complete.
Twenty-seven days of dodging suspicion and keeping her back to the wall and bleeding her code into the systems of Destiny one tiny command at a time, and she has her window. (Of all the people here, Destiny understands her best, will sigh and respond and open as Ginn asks, because she asked, never tried to own, and Destiny knows this.)
The timer has been set. No going back.
She has long since given up on the dream of taking Destiny, has no plans to sabotage as she goes (This has nothing to do with the Tau'ri. Nothing.), only focuses on escape, on fulfilling the promise she has staked her life on. I can lead you off this ship.
Destiny shutters out of hyperspace, and with a click closes and opens hatches as Ginn has requested. Click, click, click all in a tidy row.
There is talk among the survivors of taking their revenge as they leave, on leaving the Tau'ri broken and shattered behind in their ship that is destined to be a tomb. She has not come so far to let them run roughshod over her careful plans.
"To the gate room," she says, voice even and soft and all the more dangerous for it. She has never ruled simply because she is the loudest. She isn't.
She does not hold her breath as they decide, does not show a single crack of fear. I have done as I promised.
The final test.
As a one, they gather themselves and leave, quietly and with precision.
She takes up the rear because that is what she is supposed to do, and not because she wants to make sure no one strays from script. Destiny will keep her hulls and doors locked in place until long after the wormhole has died and the ship has jumped back to speed. She believes this.
(She also believes Rush and Eli and Brody are nowhere near harmless enough to stay put and needs to be ready to protect their retreat.)
She leaves Varro stashed away in the infirmary, and not, in the end, because of his injury or tenuous position, but because he seems to have carved a place here on Destiny, earned their trust against all odds.
She does not envy him that.
Every last surviving member of her unit streams ahead of her, through the calm blue waters to freedom, to safety, and she's done it. Done what no one thought she could.
She takes one moment to pause in the hall, hand on Destiny's hull, reluctance slowing her feet. This is her first mistake. (Her second will be thinking she has more control over her people than she does.)
The wormhole waits for her, but she's stuck in the hall, because Sergeant Greer has appeared between her and her escape. She underestimated the wrong person. Which is stupid, really. He was always the only one to really see her. This is where they were always heading, towards a hallway with two guns and only one outcome. She's known this from the beginning.
"Was any of it real?" he wants to know. Having caught her red-handed, he must need to understand just how much she played them. Played him.
She isn't even sure herself.
(This is a lie.)
"Far more than ever should have been," she says, the truth tasting strange on her tongue, but he's pointing a gun at her, and she doesn't see an escape that doesn't end with one of them bleeding, so what can it hurt?
(It can hurt a lot.)
She takes a step, his weapon lifting.
"Do it," she says, taking another step. "You don't have a choice."
His jaw tightens. She is the leader of his enemy, the architect of their escape, and the uniform he wears, the uniform that wears him, demands that he do this, that he stop her anyway he can. Just like everything she is demands that she try to get past him.
His weapon dips, but her eyes are caught by movement behind him, and she doesn't have time to wonder what he's deciding.
Rand has turned back, not to save her, she knows, but to take what he can on the way out. He raises his gun to Greer's back. She knows what she should do, what any leader would do. The goal is at hand, the plan reaching its climax.
Remove the obstacle.
(Only she is not Kiva, not Dannic. She is Ginn, and she is stronger than she looks. Destiny taught her that.)
She lifts her gun
"Don't!" Greer shouts.
But she's already made her decision, because if there is one thing she knows, it is this moment, this flash of decision that changes the course of everything, her lifespan expanding and contracting with a single act. She sweeps to the left, her finger squeezing the trigger, and fires straight past Greer, taking Rand out before he can shoot Greer in the back.
(He doesn't deserve that ending. Rand does.)
Only there's another shot resounding through the hall at the same moment, and she's lying on her back now, something warm and sticky spreading beneath her.
"I need a medic," Greer is yelling into his radio, his other hand pressing down on her chest. It's making it hard to breathe. Why is it so hard to breathe? "TJ, get down here right now."
He drops the radio, his free hand tangling in her hair. "I didn't-. I thought-." He breaks off, shaking his head in anger, the uncertainty leaving him. "I'm sorry."
She doesn't know what he's apologizing for, doesn't want it or need it. Because doesn't he understand?
Her hand curls over his, sticky with her blood. "This was my choice," she says.
She laughs at the joy of it, blood bubbling on her lips.
"Hang on, Ginn," Greer says, his voice steady in her ear.
She feels the hum of the ship in her bones, Greer's words soft on her cheek.
She thinks maybe she can do that.
She's stronger than she looks.