“Ok Lottie let’s go over the data again but slowly this time.” I heard the door slide open before I could get a response from Lottie. There always seemed to be an interruption.
“You should be resting!” Marsha remarked as she strode in, “I did make that an order.”
“I wanted to get my report done,” I sighed, “but it’s harder than normal, every time I start I keep seeing their faces.”
“Those kids on Anwa Padak I’m beginning to wonder if I’m cut out for this any more?”
“You are, if Ocynca had any doubts he would have said. Get some rest we’ve still got eight hours before we exit this wormhole if Miss Broaden’s calculations are correct. My chief engineer is drooling over the data we’re getting from the wormhole.”
I stretched and yawned Marsha was correct I just wasn’t thinking straight. I hated to admit it but I wasn’t used to this anymore and began to wonder where I had lost my edge. I saved the report on the terminal and lay down on the couch aware that Marsha was watching me.
“You aren’t going to get any sleep there,” she said going over to one of the closets built into the ship’s hull. I saw her pull out several items before heading to her washroom, “use my bed it’s big enough for the both of us. I won’t disturb you there.”
Reluctantly I kicked off my boots and climbed onto the bed loath to crawl beneath the covers my mind on the last time I ended up in her bed. I fell asleep to the sounds of running water in the washroom.
A burring sound in my head woke me. The cover from the couch draped over my body. Marsha lay next to me a cover over her body. As I turned over I saw her looking at me.
“Thank you,” I said to her.
She just nodded I felt her eyes on me as I grabbed a towel and fresh set of clothes from the locker Marsha had allocated to me. She continued her surveillance as still groggy from sleep I stumbled into the washroom. Splashing water cold water on my face washed the rest of the sleep from me. Straightening up I regarded my face in the mirror. A face that stared back reminding me of the questions I needed to ask Ellie. Marsha was waiting for me as I stepped from the washroom she had her clothes clutched to her chest. Her silky grey satin slip although not strictly regulation reached to just above her knees showing her shapely calves and well turned ankles. Had I been anyone other than me I would have thought she looked too damned attractive.
“You took your time,” she said but she wasn’t being serious her smile spoiled the sternness of her voice.
“Well a gal has to look nice, Mr Handsome could be waiting around the corner.”
Her smile slipped a little I thought I’d said something to upset her. Her smile brightened. “We exit this wormhole in an hour and a half I want you on the bridge before then and rouse Miss Broaden I’m making her your responsibility.”
“Yes ma’am,” I saluted.
Marsha flicked her hair back and sighed. “If only, but we’ve made our choices. Take care Sandra.” With that she walked into the washroom and closed the door.
Pressing the buzzer by the door to the XO’s quarters I nodded to the male T’Arni guard stationed opposite, one of the Havok’s crew a face I wasn’t familiar with. I suppose Marsha was being careful but I couldn’t see how much of a security risk Ellie was. The door slid open I could see from my position the bed hadn’t been slept in and Ellie looked tired.
“Did you get any sleep?”
“I couldn’t I’m so worried about my mother.”
“I’ll get Doc Brown to give you a sedative.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Once we reach the Injin System it’s another twelve hours until we reach the Tate System. You’ll be a wreck by the time we find your mother I’m sure you don’t want that?”
“You are right Sandra, mother would say the same.”
“We’ve got just over an hour until we exit I suggest you get a hot meal inside of you before that. I’ll show you to the mess hall. Captain Yanik wants you on the bridge.” I turned to the guard. “Dismissed I’ll take it from here.”
“Can’t do that ma’am captain’s orders.”
“You’re questioning my orders?” my words had a dangerous edge to them, “Captain Yanik ordered me to accompany Miss Broaden around while she’s on the ship.”
“Ma’am?” clearly his orders didn’t include me.
“Dismissed or do you want me to put you on report?”
He straightened and saluted I could hear his boots as he stomped down the corridor.
“Sorry about that,” I apologised to Ellie.
“Captain Yanik was worried about my safety. She believed another attempt could made on my life.”
I hadn’t been told about that. “I didn’t know.” The thought that she suspected that one of the crew was an enemy agent chilled me. I quickly ruled out my squad. If I started down that track I could quickly become very paranoid. I have enough problems as it is.
“Well you are here,” she suddenly sounded like what I thought a noblewoman would sound like, “I am hungry.”
“This way and we need to talk we haven’t had much opportunity to do so before.” It would give me a chance to ask her some troubling questions.
I had re-read her dossier several times. She was at least ten years younger than I. Yet the shape of her jaw reminded me too much of my father. We had left Earth long before she had been born and as far as I could remember my father had never gone back. Suddenly I realised the way my thoughts were going and hated myself for thinking that. My father would have never betrayed my mother. The thought was too abhorrent to contemplate.
I guided Ellie through the mess hall nearly deserted at this time. I assumed the crew was preparing for the exit from the wormhole. I fervently hoped it wasn’t like our entrance. I saw Shawna sitting with Vorra and gave them a wave only Shawna returned it. I guess Vorra was still angry that she had been found out trying to hack Lottie. We sat down at an empty table I watched as she ate.
“So what can you tell me about yourself?” It wasn’t the best of conversation openings but I needed to know if there was more than just a passing resemblance between us.
“I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know,” she replied.
“I’m not asking about the Rhosani, I’m asking about you.”
“What do you want to know?” Ellie sounded puzzled.
“Every time I look at you, your face reminds me of my father.” My tone was accusing I hadn’t meant it to be.
“My face?” Ellie sounded thoughtful, “it’s all mine, mother doesn’t approve of face or body reconstruction she says you have to work with what you’ve got.” She grew sad. “My father is Raymond Broaden Duke of Mars or he was until he died. I’ve inherited his title. I’m now the Duchess of Mars but I’ve wanted the title. I hate those pompous nobles my mother has to deal with on a daily basis. Seven marriage proposals I’ve had and I’ve turned them down flat.”
“But you are a noble and why are our looks so similar?”
“That’s beside the point. Raymond Broaden is my father!”
“But your facial features are nearly the same as mine!” I protested.
“That may be so, with billions of humans in the galaxy, genetics will throw up similarities.”
I was certain she was lying but I wasn’t about to press her we still needed her co-operation. “Eat up Captain Yanik will be waiting for us on the bridge.”
“You’re cutting fine?” Marsha said to me as I took up position next to her. She sat in her captain’s chair her long legs stretched out in front of her. I noted the tension in her voice at odds to her relaxed poise.
I glanced to Ellie who had walked to the window and was looking out in the swirling orange clouds. “We’ve got twenty minutes yet,” I said.
A blinding flash of light proved me wrong I immediately braced for the sudden lurch my fingers grabbing for the back of Marsha’s seat. Streaks of red light filled my vision. There was a slight judder and we passed into normal space. My eyes searched for Ellie but she was staring out into space.
“Any idea where we are?” I asked Marsha removing my fingers from the back of her chair. The nearest star looked distant.
“This isn’t the Injin System,” she said looking at Ellie. “Mr Unos where are we?”
The Fandaran bent over his console his fingers flying over the keyboard. “Not where we were supposed to be,” he replied with a shrug, “the Injin system is two light years in that direction.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “We overshot.”
“Overshot?” Marsha turned to me I had no answer for that.
“The momentum from our exit shot us past our destination.” Ellie remarked coming over to us. “I never expected that. This trip has been full of surprises not all of them good.” She touched her feathered earrings as she said that.
“Mr Unos calculate a path to the Tate system I want to enter outside the system and out of sensor range if possible?”
Marsha gazed at Ellie but her words were for me. “We need to talk.” Her head indicating Ellie was the subject.
Stepping out into the little corridor I waited for Marsha to speak.
“Get Miss Broaden to her quarters.”
“She needs to rest she’s pushing herself too hard.”
“Already suggested that. I was going to take her to see Doc Brown.”
“Good. Get someone else to do that I’m placing you in command you have the bridge. Wake me in four hours then take a spell yourself.”
“Ok Marsha good night.” I watched her leave this would be the first time I was in charge on my own always before Marsha had hovered in my shadow watching everything I did. I pressed my fingers behind my ear knowing that it wasn’t necessary.
“Reminders please. Wake Marsha in four hours time and squad briefing in ten hours.”
“And you? What will be you be doing?”
“Research. I know nothing about the world we’ll be landing on.”
“Research? There I can be a help.”
“Not this time Lottie I need to work this out myself,” I paused and added, “but thank you for the offer.”
“That quite alright I’ve set your reminders. I’ll just take myself offline.”
“Good night Lottie.”
“Good night Sandra.”
I began to wonder if I was right treating Lottie like she was human but from what I had witnessed and heard in the ruins about the Terran Emperor and his cronies it sounded quite normal.
Ellie stood where I had left her.
“I take it you were talking about me?” she asked.
“Yes,” I wanted to be truthful, “we’re worried about your health.”
“My health!” she spoke loudly then flushed, “sorry that was uncalled for. You are right it’s the tiredness talking. I can’t sleep every time I close my eyes I see Jeanne standing there.”
I understood that feeling better than most. “I know,” I said quietly, “Doc Brown will give you something to help you sleep.” I waved over one of the bridge crew a female T’Arni with flushed pink skin and light blonde hair, her grey jumpsuit fitted snugly to her ample chest. “Ensign Jodisisani please escort Miss Broaden to Doc Brown’s and then to her quarters. Report back here when you’ve completed that task.” I know that after what she had told me I should have called her Lady Broaden but this was the Confederacy and not the Empire.
“Yes ma’am,” she saluted smartly. “This way Miss Broaden.”
Ellie followed meekly behind.
I saw the crew watching me. “Eyes on your tasks!” I barked.
Sitting down in Marsha’s chair my eyes swept round the bridge seeing faces watching me waiting for me to give the command. The last time I was in charge of a starship was on the Sovran and then we were fighting for our lives. The Sovran’s bridge crew had been frightened ensigns all looking for me to reassurance. The bridge crew of the Havok was different all hardened professionals. I was the amateur here but on the Sovran I had been the amateur amongst other amateurs.
“Mr Unos course plotted?”
“Helm make the jump.”
The light flickered as we transitioned from normal to hyperspace. Relaxing I sat back and surveyed the familiar greyness in front of me.
“Essential crew only,” I ordered. Weapons, navigation and comms all useless in hyperspace. I leaned forward in the chair for a while watching the greyness. “If anything comes up I’ll be in the captain’s ready room.” There was little else I could do here.
Marsha’s ready room was in the same corridor as the elevators her door opposite the door to the bridge. The door slid open and I walked in. The room was about the same size as my quarters with enough room for a desk and chair and several cabinets. Across three walls were pictures of landscapes and from what I guessed from the last time I was in here that they were scenes from the Valkyrie home world. On the desk was a terminal I walked across and sat down my fingers turning it on. Marsha had given me full access to the systems.
“Computer, access data on Tate’s world.”
“I could have done that!” Lottie interrupted.
“Didn’t I tell you I need to do this myself?”
“Have it your way Sandra.”
Not wanting any more interruptions I continued my research using the keyboard to call up data on planetary defences. We needed a plan to get in and out as quickly as possible. Ellie had reluctantly given me the location of her mother’s refuge on the planet in an area surrounded by Anti Ship Batteries. I couldn’t fault Lady Camelia’s thinking. Although I had my doubts that her mother would still be there. The sticky problem would be getting past the AS batteries and landing. I began to formulate a plan turning my attention to studying the shuttle’s capabilities. Finally I had a plan risky at best but I couldn’t see any other way, no matter which angle I looked at it from.
I waited nervously in the briefing room seated at the head of the table my back against the screen on the wall, going over my plan again looking for the flaw in it. Marsha had given it the green light although she had had a few reservations. Steve Tutor was first in followed by the rest of the squad he looked sadly diminished without Sarah. Vorra stepped in behind Shawna she glanced at me guiltily then averted her eyes and sat beside Shawna her posture stiff. Kriaeusus beside her while Tutor and Bacare took the seats opposite. I spoke my voice sounding loud in the silence.
“Your hand better now Vorra?”
“Yes ma’am,” she held up it to show me. I was glad that the Doc had healed her.
I nodded in her direction and she relaxed. “Here how it goes.” I said looking directly at Tutor. I tapped a key on the terminal in front of me and a holo image rose up from the table showing a 3D map of the planet. “Tate’s world is an agricultural colony. Freighters are in and out of the system on a regular basis.”
“That will make it difficult to hide,” Vorra remarked thoughtfully then blushed.
I smiled at her. “Normally yes but Com Ops have provided us with freighter ID codes so the Havok will be transmitting this.” I tapped another key and the image changed. It showed something that looked like a large long cylinder with engines.
“That don’t much look like the Havok,” Shawna said.
“I know, had we more time I’m sure Vorra would have come up with a way to disguise the ship with a Holo.”
Vorra straightened up her eyes sparkling. “Sure could ma’am. I will get to work as soon as we get back.”
“What about any naval opposition?” Tutor asked.
“A few picket ships mostly light frigates but that was the last intel we had and that’s months out of date.”
“So anything could have changed.”
“Assume so. Captain Yanik is fully aware of the situation. The pickets aren’t out main concern.” I tapped a key and the Holo changed back to that of planet this time there were hundreds of red pinpricks of light. “The planet boasts a formable array of AS batteries.”
“Just like Anoxi,” Bacare remarked thoughtfully, “we lost a lot of good people there.”
“I’ve no intention of that here,” I reassured him but my stomach roiled at the thought, “I’ve figured a way around that.”
“Anoxi,” Bacare nodded, “I kinda of guessed what that is.”
I saw the others stared at him then at me. I continued on, time to bring in that later there was still much I needed to say. I tapped another key changing the holo of the planet bringing in a closer view, landmarks and buildings growing larger in the image. Finally it stilled over the 3D image of an estate compound. “This is our objective Miss Broaden supplied with the landing codes unfortunately she’s got no access to the AS batteries that would have made our life easier.”
“I don’t like the idea of having to dodge those AS batteries before we land. Some of us have been in that situation before” Tutor looked around the table his eyes lingered on Bacare and I the longest.
“Yes that’s why I don’t want to repeat it but we have our orders.”
“Any chance that target will be there?” Kriaeusus asked.
I winced at that. “Slim to none in my opinion but we have to try.” I said truthfully.
Tutor took a deep breath. “That’s the landing sorted. Do we expect any opposition at the LZ?”
“Miss Broaden thinks no but be prepared.”
“We’re going to be one heck of a target as we take off, we have a good chance of being shot down trying to exit the planet.”
“Miss Broaden may not have the access codes but her mother does.”
“Is there any way we can get her to shut them down before we land?” Bacare remarked.
“No, we would give away the position of the Havok, our comms are cycled through the Havok’s relay. Unless Vorra could find a way to bounce the signal of another source.”
Vorra straightened her eyes met mine. “With time major but we won’t have enough time for that even…” she looked directly at me, “with the help of Lottie.” She flushed. “May I be permitted to call her that Major Locke?”
“Lottie will be fine with that, as long as you don’t try to hack her system.” I pressed my finger behind my ear. “Lottie?”
“I have been listening Vorra is correct that’s outside my current programming.”
I knew that for a lie she had shown her capabilities before on Anwa Padak. “Ok Lottie play it your way,” I couldn’t help sounding annoyed. “Sorry outside her programming.”
“That’s ok major we’ll have to wing it.”
“Harms?” I spoke to Shawna.
“Draw light equipment we need to move fast I don’t want heavy harness’ slowing us down, weapons and armour only.”
I turned my attention back to Tutor. “LT you and Kriaeusus are Alpha. Harms, Bacare Beta. Vorra you’re with me in Delta we will need that expertise of yours if we have to hack any Terran systems.”
A broad grin spread over Vorra’s face. “Of course major.”
“Anyone have anything to add, anything I’ve missed?”
“No I think you’ve covered it all,” Tutor responded.
“Good, weapons and equipment check in one hour. Dismissed.”
Shawna lingered by the door she opened her mouth to say something then changed her mind and departed leaving me with my thoughts.
My armour was in Marsha’s quarters when I returned. I had traipsed all the way down to engineering only to be told that Marsha had picked it up. She wasn’t in the quarters as I arrived. My armour had been laid out on the bed, gone was the stark pale green. Someone had taken the time to paint the surface in the dull patched green and grey of the Confederacy but it still retained it’s distinctive Terran look. The helmet closely resembled a Confederacy helmet except for the fluted edges around the crown. The shoulder pads were larger and heavier than the Confederacy ones and the boots had squared off toes.
If I was going into combat I wasn’t going be a bullet magnet in my skinnies. Quickly I stripped out of my grey skinnies and headed for the washroom. Stepping naked my underwear in my hands back into Marsha quarters I stopped suddenly and flushed from root to toe. I felt myself blushing furiously, seated on the couch watching the washroom was Marsha and she wasn’t alone Ellie was with her. Hastily my hands moved covering the bits that I didn’t want them to see with the underwear I had removed.
“Oops!” I said and swore under my breath stepping back in to the washroom. Quickly I donned my underwear and strolled out still with a blush on my face.
“You forget I’ve see it all before,” Marsha said with a smile.
“But Ellie hasn’t.”
“True but Gena did tell me about it,” Ellie waved her hand towards the bed, “I take it that’s Gena’s?”
“I hope you honour it as I told her to honour your jumpsuit.”
“But it’s only armour.”
“Only armour.” Ellie shook her head. “Really don’t know do you. And no you will have to learn what it means yourself.”
“That will be revealed once you come back with my mother.” She sounded unhappy. “I wish I could go with but Marsha is worried about my safety. Mother knows who you are Sandra.” She gave a sad smile. “She’s wanted to meet you again for a long time.”
“That’s for my mother to tell you, the story started long before I was born.”
I walked across and picked up my armour. “If you can excuse me I must get dressed.” I wasn't sure what Ellie’s cryptic comment meant and I wasn't going to let it get to me. I dragged the armour and a fresh set of skinnies into the washroom and dressed. A difficult task in such a confined space. Marsha and Ellie were gone when I came out.