Paradigm Shift

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Chapter 14

Spartak called his staff together except for Danielle, who was still tied up. “I want answers,” he said as he looked at Evgen, Iosif, Areson, Cullen, Rickar, and Tagd who was the Gliesea Security Manager. Two men sat at the periphery, looking nervous.

“Tagd?” prompted Evgen.

“Yes, sir,” he said as he brought up the first security image. “The first image we have is of Sasha Ivanovich returning from her job as a vintner to deck 10b,” narrated Tagd as the video showed the woman in the transport tube. She is from Earth and was newly mated to Sterling Cassock, who is a hydroponic engineer.

It struck Spartak at how unrecognizable she had been on the exam table compared to the image he was looking at.

Tagd continued, “We are not monitored her floor so we have no additional footage of her until we have footage of her in the background as the security officers, Jonas and Earlish, coming out of the exam room on 7b after teleporting her. Danielle enters less than a minute later with Ramos.”

Spartak eyed the two men he had just seen on the security footage. “Report,” he barked.

Jonas nodded at Earlish, who started. “I received a call from Dustin, the Propulsion Engineer, who had spotted blood seeping under the door of the suite across from him as he came off shift. He wasn’t able to open the door. I responded immediately and did a security override on the door. I found Sasha lying prone in the foyer near the kitchen and a trail of blood that looked like she had tried crawling to get help. I turned her over, then found a faint pulse just as Jonas came in. We picked her up as gently as we could and made an emergency teleport to Medical 7b.”

“Did she say anything?” asked Evgen.

“She only moaned,” said Jonas.

Earlish nodded in agreement.

“They then called me after calling Danielle,” said Tagd. “I woke Evgen and we started plowing through tapes trying to determine what happened.”

“Where was her mate?” asked Spartak.

“Logs indicated he boarded the Nandoria at hour ten and eleven minutes to help fix a hydroponic pump. The man is supposed to be a genius with them. Anyway, he has not left, and I have locked out all transport to and from this vessel. The security tapes indicate he has been there the whole time,” said Evgen. “He has not been told yet.”

“I want whoever did this found,” growled Spartak. “Then they are mine.”

Danielle walked into the conference room, freshly showered with her hair laying wet and loose about her shoulders. Grennady shuffled in behind her. The men rose as she sat down and returned to their seats.

Spartak looked at her, noticing the dark circles and stressed expression. “This is Rickar and Tagd, who is the Gliesea’s Security Manager,” he said, pointing at the two unknown men at the table who nodded at her in acknowledgement. “Can you summarize what happened tonight?” he asked gently.

She nodded. “Sasha Ivanovich was twenty-eight, newly mated, and a recent rescue from Russia. She was attacked sometime in the two hours before her death by at least two assailants since I found impressions of two different rings,” said Danielle as she tossed the pictures onto the tabletop. Rickar picked them up and looked at them wordlessly before passing them to the next man. “The blood washed away any traces of semen. She sustained multiple injuries both external and internal according to the computer.” Danielle explained the injuries catalogued in a dispassionate voice, watching the men wince as she listed them. “Her mate should be told she died quickly. No one should have to know this about their mate’s last minutes.”

The men nodded.

“How do you know the time of injury?” asked Evgen.

“Two injuries stood out. One was a vaginal tear that ruptured a good-sized blood vessel. It contributed to the blood loss. At the rate she was bleeding, she would not have lasted more than that. The other was what the computer called a ventricular contusion initially, but when I raised her blood pressure to try to keep her from dying, it morphed from a partial ventricle tear to a ruptured ventricle,” explained Danielle. “In other words, whoever beat her, hit her so hard, it tore her heart muscle.”

The men around the table swore.

“The one question I have, is why did no one have any idea that she was in trouble. I thought you said these things were a health monitor?” she asked.

Spartak looked at Grennady for the answer.

“It is, if I look. It is not automated. There are just too many people to monitor them constantly,” he said.

She blew out a breath. “We could have found her sooner with some basic monitoring parameters. Jada Escobar is a computer programmer. I want her to create a monitoring programming,” she told Spartak.

“She’s the Meso-American Strategic Manager, right?” asked Evgen.

“Yes. She is particularly gifted at game logic and strategic algorithms. She also has experience with A.I. learning algorithms,” Danielle told them.

“What is her role now?” asked Spartak.

“She is a teacher because whoever made the assignments saw a gender with an education and didn’t bother to assess her real skills. This has happened entirely too much, but this isn’t the time for that conversation,” said Danielle. “Just so you know, Sasha’s band was smashed so she couldn’t have called for help. Whoever did this intended for her to die.”

* * *

“I have got her,” Spartak told Ramos, who nodded in acknowledgement. He then gently grabbed Danielle’s elbow and guided her towards the transport tube. They got inside and he said, “4b.”

Danielle just leaned against the wall and closed her eyes as she blew out a big breath. After she had gathered her thoughts, she opened her eyes to meet Spartak’s gaze. “Does this happen regularly?”

“No,” he shook his head. “This is the first time I am aware of anything happening like this in the ten years we have been doing this, but quite honestly, it may have if no one called for medical help for a woman.” Spartak blew out a big breath. “It embarrasses me to think how many things I have not known about because of Grennady.”

She took in his sorrowful expression. “All I can say is as a Commander, you have to trust in your people. You had no idea that he didn’t know his ass from a hole in the wall.”

Spartak nodded. “Judging by the look on his face, I honestly don’t think he has ever seen anyone die before.”

“He hasn’t. There is a certain detachment you get when you see death. He didn’t have it,” she said.

“I guess in that regard, warriors and nurses are a lot alike,” Spartak answered.

She nodded as the transport door opened up. She stepped out and headed towards her door. She waved her arm as she got closer. She turned just as he was walking in behind her and bumped into his chest. Startled, she looked up at him as he gently grabbed her upper arms to steady her. “Um,” she said.

“Could I come in to talk for a bit?” he asked.

His expression was unreadable. “Uh, sure,” she said, stepping back and out of his reach. “Have a seat. Whiskey?” she asked.

“Sure, if you are having some,” he said, watching her carefully.

She nodded and grabbed a couple of highball glasses. “Neat or rocks?” she asked.

“I am not sure what that means,” he said as he sat down.

“Sorry. Ice or no ice?” she clarified.

“Ah, no ice,” he said, nodding.

She grabbed the bottle he had given her, the glasses, and headed over to the couch. She kicked off her shoes and curled up on the other end of the couch where he had sat down. She set the glasses down and popped the cork on the bottle. “Say when.” She poured out a healthy dram.

“That’s good,” he said, taking the glass from her as she offered it. He let his fingers brush against hers, shocked at the spark that shot up his arm.

She saw the look of surprise on his face, which could only mean he felt it too. She had tried to write off the spark she felt the other day when she had poked his chest and again when she had sparred with him as carpet friction, but apparently that was not true. She decided to ignore it unless he said something. It was just too complicated to fathom. She poured herself a single finger of whiskey. She noticed him watching her. “It’s potent stuff. I had a major hangover the other day after I drank dinner.”

“Sorry about that. I didn’t think to warn you. You are a bitty thing,” said Spartak.

“Compared to you, yes. One-hundred-twenty pounds is about average for someone my height on Earth. Bethany is three inches taller and only weighs one-hundred five pounds,” Danielle explained. She took a healthy swallow and sat back against the couch.

“Tell me about yourself,” he asked, his eyes never leaving hers.

“A little late for a job interview now, don’t you think?” she chuckled.

“It’s not for the job. It’s for me,” he said, taking another sip.

“Okay. I am forty-two, a mother of two. My son will be twenty-two in another couple of months. He is done with school and is starting his career. I started nursing training right out of high school. I started working to get a paycheck for my family and then added degrees over the years, the rest you should know,” she said, taking a sip from her glass.

“Reading a summary report isn’t the same as hearing it. Tell me about the kids’ father,” he asked.

“Oh, him. Well, we married young. My parents died my senior year in high school, so I had to raise my sister and myself the last little bit. She is a year younger than I am. My grandmother took us in, but her pension wasn’t enough. Sean was on his own already, so he moved in with us and helped out. I got pregnant so my grandmother insisted we get married. I ended up losing the baby. Kyle was born eighteen months later and Bethany four years after that. He started cheating on me when he neared forty. On Earth, we call it a mid-life crisis. Any way, we split after that,” she explained.

“You still love him?” Spartak asked.

“Oh, God, no. I am not sure that I ever really did. We were so young when we married, I don’t think either of us really had a clue. It was hard being married to him. Someone had to be the adult. He didn’t appreciate an independent woman,” she said. “What about you?”

“I was mated on my home world. Being in the military, I was deployed when the virus hit. Araselli died from the respiratory complications while pregnant with our daughter. At fifteen, our son was already in the military academy and was spared since he was quarantined,” he explained.

“Where is he now?” she asked.

“He was part of the fleet until about two years ago. He was killed in a battle,” explained Spartak.

“I am sorry. I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child,” said Danielle.

“I am sorry we took you away from your son,” he said. “If he hadn’t been exposed to the virus, we would have collected him as well.”

Danielle sighed. “He is still alive and able to live a happy life. He is grown and on his own. I practically had to bribe him to come home to visit, anyway. He didn’t even tell me when he got sick. Just toughed it out and told me when he was well. We were not as close as Bethany and I are. I would have had to kick your ass to take me back if we had been separated,” she chuckled.

Spartak smiled as he took another sip.

“You didn’t tell my your age or if you remarried, uh, remated,” Danielle reminded him, turning to face him as she tucked her legs under her.

“I am sixty-one in Earth years. It would be the equivalent of middle age,” he said. “And no, I am not mated. I volunteered for the rescue mission when my mate died. I have been so busy with this, it didn’t seem fair to take a woman away from someone who had time to lavish attention on her.”

“I am so sorry I gave you such a hard time. I was just worry about Bethany,” she said. “And now with the threat of what happened tonight, plus Chatura, I can’t say my first instincts weren’t correct.”

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