He found himself out for raucous evenings with the others. Jenkins warmed up slowly, intimidated by the ranking officers and the age difference, but he turned out to have a talent for imitation that kept the group in stitches over drinks.
Pressly acted as the perfect foil for Joker’s derisive sense of humor, a straight man with a face of iron. Kaidan was never sure whether he truly didn’t understand the pilot or just loved egging him on for comment after sarcastic comment. Even Dr. Chakwas showed up from time to time, sipping a glass of wine and smiling indulgently at the hi-jinks of her band. Some nights Kaidan felt more like he was living out a classic vid from the 1940s rather than his own life.
Pressly regularly invited Kaidan and Anderson to his apartment where they enjoyed recordings of the old swing greats until the wee hours. The three spent much of that time considering what Udina’s game could possibly be. None of them had uncovered any hints though Anderson found himself discussing upcoming performances with the ambassador every week or so.
Three days before the first reception Anderson brought something new to rehearsal: he’d received an insignia for each of the group’s members to wear to the receptions with the Turians. It was a sixteenth note about an inch high, a pearly sort of bubble on the rounded part of the note. Udina had been particular about specifying that it be placed on the right side of the dress uniform’s standing collar. Kaidan, sensitive to normal specs and tolerances, thought them oddly heavy but the group as a whole shrugged and pocketed them without comment.
That evening Kaidan brought up the new decorations as he, Anderson, and Pressly sat around listening to Count Basie recordings. “I just can’t help but think they serve some purpose other than identifying us.”
Pressly had never agreed with the others’ theory that Udina had some underhanded reason for insisting the group perform at these meetings. “C’mon, Kadian,” he responded, “they’re just insignias for a new division.” He cracked a wide smile, a sure sign that one of his rare jokes was coming. “We’re the division of swing!”
The three men laughed but Anderson sobered quickly. “There have always been a military bands and the normal symbol has existed for over two hundred years. Why spend the resources developing and fabricating a new one just for the six of us?”
Even Pressly had to admit the captain had a point but none of the three could think of a reasonable answer. “And why receptions between our guys and the Turians?” Pressly asked in a musing tone. “That is a little strange.”
“Yes, a little,” Anderson said, voice thick with sarcasm. Pressly caught the tone and looked at him sharply.
“Still,” the navigator continued, still looking at the captain, “if it helps keep the aliens playing nicely and sharing their technology what’s the harm?” The other two had no answer to that question, either. After the First Contact war the Council had decreed that humans had a right to the collected technical research that benefitted all of the species represented on the Citadel.
The turian military, in particular, had been forced to work closely with Humans as part of their reparations for having started the war in the first place. Many of the highest-ranking officials on both sides resented the other and tensions between the species ran high. Some of them had faced one another in the war and memories of the battles they’d fought argued against building trust.
Enough brass from each side saw an advantage to the collaboration, however, that they’d begun the current project. The strengths of both species, and their knowledge of what their respective weapons had done to one another, was going into the design of a new frigate that all of the Council races could produce, once it had been thoroughly tested.
Until then, the advantage would remain with the human Alliance as they would undertake all the evaluation and thus have the most advanced ship at their disposal before anyone else. “I suppose it makes sense to get them together socially,” Anderson mused. “As the project gets closer to completion the idea of giving control of the ship to us probably bother the Turians more every day.”
The three turned their conversation back to the upcoming performance and the slate of songs they’d prepared as Frank Sinatra launched into one of his signature versions of I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Kaidan found himself slipping the little pin from his pocket, turning it over and over before again resolving to put it out of his mind.
He returned to the conversation again in time to hear Pressly ask Anderson if he would find the nerve to sing. “Hell, no!” the big man laughed. “I may be as brave as they come—and I’ve got the medals to prove it—but you won’t catch me up there with my mouth open.”
“So, Steppin’ Out with My Baby is out, then?” Pressly cracked. Kaidan laughed at the idea of the captain performing a soft shoe routine around the stage between choruses. The insignias again slipped from his mind. But when he returned home that night he pulled the thing from his pocket once more and examined it closely.
Sturdy and utilitarian, it showed typical military workmanship. A nearly-invisible seam ran around bottom of the rounded note but Kaidan didn’t dare try opening it. If he pried at the bubble and wrecked it who knew how Udina would react? He wondered why the piece would not have been cast of solid metal. It weighed too much to be hollow.
It’s nothing I’ll solve tonight, he thought, laying it on his bedside table where it gleamed dully in the light coming through the nearby window. There it sat until the night of the group’s first command performance.
The Swing of Things Chapter List