Spartak sighed. “You finally figured out about why you had protection, did you?”
“Yes. It took me a couple of days to piece it together. Ramos got here too fast for him not to be on alert. I am really worried about Bethany. I have a guard, she doesn’t,” said Danielle, adding another splash to her glass. “More?” she asked.
He nodded and held his glass out. “Actually, she does in a way. I have her location monitored at all times by security. We changed the entire fleet so that teleports can only occur to and from the teleport bays. The Senior security staff get alerts when the transport is engaged from another vessel. There have been unauthorized attempts to teleport over here. We now suspect the Kleponians have taken other mates but have no way to prove it.”
“I can add that to my list of queries. We can’t change matings that have already occurred though, right?” she asked.
“No. My understanding of their physiology is that once they kiss a woman, something changes in the female’s saliva which will cause a poisonous reaction in any other male who tried to kiss the mated woman,” explained Spartak. “The male’s saliva is supposed to temper the female’s free will so the male effectively controls her behavior.”
Danielle thought about it for a few minutes. “And you said they were humanoid?”
“Yes. It’s not like we haven’t had other planets with weird effects. On Brasik IV, the females secrete a pheromone that drives every male in sniffing distance crazy when they are ovulating. We almost had an insurrection. I had to lockdown the ship, and it took days to recycle the air. We check for stuff like that now,” he explained.
“Well, actually all humanoid females create a pheromone when ovulating. It’s part of the body’s preparation for releasing an egg. The scent in the vaginal mucus is stronger during that period to attract males,” Danielle said. “Maybe the Brasik IV females make a stronger scent?”
“I wondered what it was,” said Spartak. “It created all kinds of chaos.”
“I have to be honest. What you are describing about Kleponian’s causing saliva to be poisonous is surprising. The female’s reduced free will I could see if some chemical in the saliva had an effect of the frontal cortex. The cortical and subcortical regions of the brain regulate attention, thought, and action,” explained Danielle.
“Is there anyway to test for it?” asked Spartak.
“Well, I would think there would be a property in the saliva females mated to Kleponian males that isn’t in saliva of either unmated women or females mated to others. It would have to be there to cause a poison reaction,” said Danielle. “I can add it to my list of things to work on,” she offered.
“I think it would be worth knowing,” said Spartak, locking eyes with her.
“Now that I think about it, I think this would be a great project for Maria. I am going to have her check into the unofficial birth control, sexual frequencies, and childhood immunizations. There are just not enough babies,” said Danielle. “I meet with her tomorrow, er, today.”
“You think there are females using birth control?” asked Spartak, taking another sip from his glass. He was definitely liking having a normal conversation with her instead of her yelling at him.
Danielle eyed him, trying to decide if she should tell him. She liked the easy flow of the conversation that they had going. Blowing out a big breath, she decided that honesty between them was more important. “Yes, I do. And before you get upset, I want you to look at this from a female’s perspective.”
“Okay,” he drawled.
“You, as in the collective you, pulled us out of our world and onto a strange ship you assign us. You told us we must mate and be mothers. You limited our choice of a mate through location, availability, or selection. Why wouldn’t we want to control something?” asked Danielle, raising an eyebrow.
“Huh,” said Spartak. “I guess I never thought of it like that.”
They sat in companionable silence for several minutes, enjoying their whiskey.
Spartak watched her expression change. “Okay, I see you thinking. Tell me.”
“You said you lost your son in a battle. Are we at risk for active combat?”
“Yes. It’s been a couple of months since we have had an attack, but we keep in a state of battle-readiness at all times,” Spartak explained.
“What are the medical needs during a battle?” she asked, straightening and putting her feet back on the floor.
“Generally, we try to engage them as far from the Fleet as possible. Casualties in space are almost always fatal. We have a medical bay on each flight deck,” he explained.
“But only one physician,” she reminded him.
“Well, we will leverage that into three,” he said. “In the past, we send injuries directly to the Nandoria.”
“And the battles haven’t gotten close to the Fleet?” Danielle asked.
“Not yet,” he said.
She nodded and then opened her mouth to say something about planning when her band alarm went off. She looked at it and said in a singsong voice, “Oh goody. It’s time to get up.”
Spartak chuckled as his alarm went off.
“Damn. I have booze on my breath,” she groused as she stood up and stretched.
Spartak watched her lean body bend backwards, grateful that she did not know the effect she had on him as he shifted in his seat.
“You need coffee?” she asked. “I finally figured out the correct words to get it to comply.”
He scrunched up his face. “It’s not that complicated. Yes, please. Black.”
Danielle walked over to the dispenser and said, “Twelve ounce dark roast, black, in an insulated disposable travel cup.” The dispenser appeared the coffee. She put it on the bar in front of him. She then said, “Twenty-four ounce triple-strength dark roast coffee, three teaspoons granulated sugar, and one fluid ounce of heavy cream in a twenty-six ounce insulated disposable travel cup.” The coffee appeared as requested.
Spartak grinned at her. “Apparently physics are much easier in my room.”
She took a sip of the life-giving brew and sighed. “You don’t have a suite?”
“No. The Fleet officers each have a single room with an in-suite bathroom and a shared kitchen and entertainment room on the Command Deck. On the Gliesea, we also share the area with the ship’s officers,” he explained.
“Are none of you mated?” she asked, curious.
“Only one. Thanks for the coffee,” he said as he headed to the door. He stopped in front of her at the kitchen door, leaned over and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. “And the chat. It was very enlightening.” He then walked through the open suite door without looking back as she staring after him in a state of shock.
She was still staring after the door had closed. She suddenly was aware of Bethany calling her name, pulling her back to the here and now. “I’m sorry. What?” she asked.
“Are you okay?” Bethany asked, staring at her strangely.
“Oh, yes. Sorry,” Danielle answered. “What just happened?” she muttered to herself.
“What?” asked Bethany.
“Coffee?” she asked, smiling brightly.
* * *
Spartak leaned against the transport wall with his legs crossed at the ankle as he headed to the Command Deck, smiling. “At least she didn’t knock me out,” he thought ruefully as he thought about the kiss he gave her. It was innocent, to be sure, but a definitely good way to test the waters. Her scent of peony and vanilla was still wrapped around him. It had been driving him crazy since he had walked into her suite.
The elevator stopped, and Evgen stepped in after the door opened. He took one look at his friend and demanded, “Why are you smiling at this ridiculous hour? I know you got almost no sleep.”
Spartak shook his cup of coffee at him, still grinning.
“You are scaring the crap out of me. I can count the number of times on one hand I have seen you grin in all of these years and two have been since she came on board,” said Evgen. His eyes widened as that settled. “No,” he gasped as he eyed Spartak.
“Oh, nothing like that,” he growled. “We just talked. At a normal volume and she didn’t poke me in the chest once,” he said proudly. He chuckled as he said, “Even made me coffee.”
“Uh huh,” Evgen answered, eyeing his friend for deception.
“What?” Spartak said defensively.
Evgen just looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Okay, I kissed her cheek on the way out,” he said with a smile.
“And your smiling because she didn’t knock you on your ass?” Evgen asked.
“Exactly,” grinned Spartak as the transport door opened.
* * *
Danielle found herself in a small conference room with Jada and Silas, the Fleet computer expert as her first meeting of the day. Aengus stood as her ever-silent guard in the corner. “Thanks for meeting me so early. My calendar is crammed beyond full, and I really needed to get you two started on a project.” She sent them each the list to their iPads. “This is a list of the parameters I want tracked, the conditions you can base the logic rules on, and the actions for each. We are going to build a bio-health monitoring system.”
“I am getting assigned to something other than teaching?” asked Jada, an exciting glint in her eye.
“Sort of. I need this done, you have no students yet, and I want to use this as a prime example of what females can do. I know you can handle this, so let’s get it done so I can get everyone’s role adjusted. You know the whole you may be the first but don’t be the last thing,” explained Danielle. “You in?”
“Hell, yes,” Jada said.
“Why do you need to know if a heart rate is zero?” asked Silas, looking at her with a confused expression.
“This needs to stay in this room, but we had someone die last night. She wouldn’t have died if she got help sooner. With this new program, we could have sent help in time,” said Danielle. “Let’s walk through each of these and talk about the goals, tracking and rule conditions,” said Danielle.
Twenty-five minutes later, Danielle asked, “Did all that make sense?”
“Yes, especially the interactive pieces and the alerts,” said Jada.
“Silas, I am hoping you can teach Jada everything you can about programming on this system while you do this. I already have four other projects behind this one,” said Danielle. “With two of you, we can keep adding more.”
“Oh good. I was worried I was being replaced,” said Silas, looking serious.
“Good grief, no. We are going to work smarter, not harder,” said Danielle. “Jada, Areson has already given you base system access and updated your security access to the Engineering deck. Silas, you may have to tweak her permissions.”
They both nodded.
“What kind of time line are we looking at for a prototype?” asked Danielle. “Spartak wants to see it before we roll it out.”
“Two or three days? The data is already available and the device interface is already working, which was the hard stuff,” said Silas.
“The bulk of this is the UI and the conditional rules. Do you want all of them done or only a subset for the prototype demo?” asked Jada.
“How about at least ten working perfectly and then as many as you can get done in the remaining time, if any. Do me, Spartak, Iosif, Evgen, Tagd, and yourselves at a minimum. I want to prove safety and benefit first,” said Danielle.
They both nodded.
“Awesome! Thank you so much. Let me know if you need anything and Jareth will set up a review with me in four days. Thanks!” Danielle said happily as she typed Jareth a message. As she got up to jog to her next meeting, she looked at her band. “Cool, I can get another cup of coffee before it. The day is looking up.”
Aengus just snorted.