Disclaimers: This is a sci-fi/uber tale. It has love/sex scenes between consenting adults of the same sex. It has some violence caused by explosions, battles, and conks to the head. If sex and violence bother you, youd probably better go away.
These characters are mine. Any resemblance to other characters living, dead, or somewhere in between is purely planned. Thats uber for you.
If you have constructive comments, email me atKerryMcCommon@aol.com . Be nice.
Tango By Kerry McCommon
The cruiser seemed to appear from nowhere as it came out of hyperspace. The pilot of the Tango sighed and stretched her long legs out in front of her, relieved that the long flight was coming to an end. The deep space station where she would take on supplies and recharge the Tangos power cells was only a few hours away. She was more than ready to leave the cruiser for a little while after being aboard for the better part of three months. Switching to autopilot, she began to straighten up her rather Spartan surroundings, picking up her coffee cup and activating the cleaner bot, which began to hum busily across the deck. Striding back into her quarters she peeled off her flight suit and stepped into the shower. She washed her long dark hair twice luxuriating in the sensuality of hot water. After the dryer stopped, she pulled her hair back into a single braid and gazed in the mirror. Intense blue eyes reflected back surprise above prominent cheekbones. She hadnt realized how thin she had become during the long weeks alone.
It had been a long time since she has set foot on Zebra. The deep space station was a place she had managed to avoid for a couple of years until this long run. She had pushed the Tango as far as she could go without refueling and taking on supplies. The space station was a small city run by the Federation for both military and monetary reasons. A deep space outpost that monitored the comings and goings of friends and enemies alike, the Zebra was also a huge marketplace and maintenance depot.
Following a short wait while military and civilian ships came and went, she was cleared to follow the docking controllers instructions as she skillfully maneuvered the Tango into Deep Space Station Zebra. Disembarking, she moved to the initial check-in point. Her own voice sounded strange to her after weeks of disuse but she stated her needs briskly, discouraging idle chatter from the unfamiliar lieutenant in charge. After securing a docking bay, she placed her requests for maintenance and power recharge, and moved purposefully through the crowds of incoming crews to the customs and security check-in.
"Vessel name?" asked the security officer.
" Tango," she replied.
"Cruiser class, I see," he said, keying the information into the terminal. "Hyper drive?"
"No. Its a interphased drive actually."
The security officer looked up from his keypadd. "I guess shes pretty fast, huh?"
"Yeah, pretty fast," she replied noncommittally.
"Youre the captain?"
She nodded. "Lazarus." She held his gaze. His hand stilled above the keypadd. There was a brief silence that felt longer than it was before he spoke. Then he smiled oddly. "Ill have to ask you to wait here for a moment while I get the security chief."
"Is there a problem?" Lazarus smiled coolly back at him, her eyes humorless.
"I can complete the rest of your paperwork while youre being cleared." He ignored her question. She calmly answered the rest of his questions and he scrutinized her passport, cargo schedule and captains papers for a few minutes until she heard a familiar voice behind her.
She turned and saw John Lyra standing there, his hand resting lightly on his phaser belt. She stood quietly for a moment, then a huge grin spread across her face momentarily transforming her into a big, bashful kid.
"Johnny. I didnt know you were still stationed way out here."
"How could you have known? Youve been gone so long some people thought you were dead."
"Hoped I was dead, you mean." She laughed and hugged him.
"A lot of people here care about you and were concerned," he told her quietly. She flushed with what may have been pleasure but was quickly brushed off.
"Well, Im back, at least temporarily. How about having a drink with me later?" she asked.
"Sure," he replied. "Why dont you get settled. Youre staying a while, arent you?"
She nodded. "I plan to. I need to take care of a few things. Assuming I can get a room somewhere."
"Actually I think we have a lot of vacancies right now. More ships leaving than coming in. Everyones nervous about the Federations border disputes with the Ultharians. And with good reason," he said, lowering his voice. "The situation has been unstable. But Ill tell you about it later. Meet me at the security office at 1800 hours and well go get something to eat."
"Im looking forward to something besides S rations. You know what the S stands for, dont you?" Lazarus smiled. "Thats what Ive been down to on the Tango for the last two weeks."
"Im pretty sure we can do better than that," Johnny laughed. "Im glad to see you, my friend."
"1800 hours," Lazarus said and walked towards the concourse leading to rental housing.
"Shit." Lt. Carter Laughlin hastily tucked the blouse of her uniform into her breeches as she hurried down the corridor to the Command Center. "Im going to be late. Im going to be late." Carter was never late. She came early, she stayed late, but she was never late getting to her post. This was certainly her own fault, although she did feel just a little inclined to place some of the blame on Sarah. She hoped she didnt look as if she had just fallen out of bed, which she had. Reaching up to smooth her soft blond hair, she grinned to herself. Yes, things were progressing quite nicely with Lt. Sarah Morrison. What had started as a mild flirtation on her part had evolved into something new and exciting, and although there had been no declarations of love from either of them it had still been fun. And now she was late. She stopped outside the Command Center door and deliberately slowed her pace and her breathing. The door made a swooshing noise as it automatically opened and Carter walked in calmly.
"How nice of you to join us, Lieutenant Laughlin," James DeForest, the station captain said without turning around to face her.
"I beg your pardon, sir. It wont happen again," she spoke firmly as she made her way to the communications center. "Sorry, Annie," she said to the communications officer she was relieving.
"Not a problem," Annie Woo smiled at her. "Your shirt is buttoned up wrong," she spoke softly for Carters ears alone. Carter blushed, much to her dismay and Annie Woos amusement. Carter quickly faced the console and rebuttoned her blouse.
|"You can tell me about it tomorrow," Annie said. "Im beat. But Ill want details."|
Carter waved her hand at Annie sheepishly and turned to the Comm console. She ran through a quick check of the equipment, ran her hands through her hair, and settled down for her watch.
Lazarus entered the small quarters that she had leased for her stay. Heading for the terminal, she entered her Personal Information Chip and submitted to the retinal scan. The terminal welcomed Lazarus 02671955 and the function page appeared. She checked her finances and satisfied with what she saw, transferred a certain amount of credits to her PIChip for easy access on the station. The terminal chimed to announce an incoming message.
"Lazarus," she responded. Captain James DeForests face appeared onscreen.
"Welcome back, Lazarus."
"Thanks, Captain. I wasnt sure if I would be welcome again."
He paused. "Im sorry you allow people who dont know any better to undermine your confidence in yourself. Id have you back heading up the fighter squadron today if it was possible."
Lazarus smiled ruefully. "I wouldnt exactly say my confidence has been undermined. Its more a feeling that others confidence in me eroded. Moving along was the right thing to do."
"I dont know about that. I hope we can talk while youre here. Can you meet me for dinner?"
"Id like to Captain but I already have plans with Johnny. How about breakfast?"
"That would be at 0500 for me. Too early for civilians," he teased.
She smiled at him. "Ill be there. See you in the morning," she signed off. And sighed. Oh well, she hadnt been sleeping much anyway. Shed try to make it an early night with Johnny.
At 1800 hours space station time, she met John Lyra in the security office and they walked to one of the restaurants on the main concourse. Being here and seeing him again had brought back all the memories of the five years she had been a pilot on Deep Space Zebra, some good, some painful. The attack by the Ultharians two years ago that had led to the deaths of two of her squadron had ended her career on Zebra. The survivors of her squadron of fighter pilots had rallied behind her, but pressure from Executive Officer Joan Warren had gotten an official censure on her record. It wasnt her first black mark, but it was the first pertaining to her job performance as a pilot. Warren was not a friend, but Lazaruss mistake was in not realizing she was an enemy. Lazarus was the best pilot on the station and the censure rankled. She decided to take her skills elsewhere and had embarked on a lucrative stint hauling precious cargo, animate or inanimate. She wasnt that particular about the contents of the cargo as long as the pay was good.
That was what had brought her back to Zebra, she explained to Johnny. She had come for weapon upgrades and to completely overhaul her communication links. Tangos shields had taken a couple of hits and needed attention. This was the place for repairs. Best techs and mechanics in deep space for a price, of course.
"Took a couple of hits from who? The Ultharians?"
"Nope, pirates. They were interested in my cargo."
"Arent you carrying antimatter torpedoes already?" Johnny asked.
"Yes, and Im keeping them. But I want to add a particle beam. Tangos been modified to support it. A particle beam is good insurance."
"Thats pretty heavy stuff. Always expecting trouble, huh?" he asked as he took a sip of his beer.
"Always. Thats how Ive stayed alive as long as I have. Besides, with the Ultharians stirring things up in this sector, I can try to outrun them and if I cant, I know I can outthink and outshoot them. That would give me a fighting chance."
They keyed their selections into the padd and settled back to wait for their food. Lazarus gazed around the restaurant while Johnny talked about trouble with the Ultharians, his new job as security chief and life in general on the station that had occurred in her absence. "The Ultharians are doing their usual hit and runs. We havent seen them in a long time. In fact, not since you were here. Instead theyve been picking on smaller colonies that arent very well defended, or that have refused to join the Federation. Of course, then theyre outraged that we didnt protect them."
"It would be impossible to protect all the small colonies scattered out here," Lazarus replied. "There are just too many. I think they hit those colonies hoping well start chasing them and leaving more valuable colonies undefended. Ah, pseudo-food," Lazarus said as their replicated meals arrived. "Beats hell out of S rations."
"What doesnt?" Johnny laughed. He looked over at the entrance to the restaurant. "Oh, theres someone I want you to meet." He stood up and waved at the two women walking in. Lazarus glanced up and saw the first woman, a tall woman with curly brown hair and laughing eyes enter. But it was the woman who followed her in that Lazarus was immediately drawn to. A full head shorter than Lazarus, her short blond hair highlighted serene green eyes. Although her face was admittedly lovely, it was the unexpected jolt of familiarity that froze Lazarus to her chair. It was like spotting Alpha Centauri after being lost for weeks. On Earth, true North. Whatever it was, it was the way home.
"Want to go get something to eat?" Carter had stopped by Sarahs quarters after she was relieved from the bridge Comm. For a small woman, Carters appetite was legendary in the mess hall. Sarah could have told them of other appetites as well.
"Sure, but lets go out, okay?" Sarah smiled at her. "I cant take any swill on toast tonight."
Carter shrugged. "Whatever you want is fine with me."
"Really?" Sarah smirked and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
"Yeah, really. Whadaya have in mind sailor?" Carter smiled as Sarah leaned in toward her. It was an hour later that Carter insisted that she had to be fed or she would faint. They dressed and walked to the public concourse, entering the first restaurant they came upon. As they walked in the door, Carter saw Warrant Officer John Lyra look their way and stand and wave them over. Carter liked John
"Hey, theres John," Sarah said to Carter. "Lets go say hi." They were halfway to his table when Carter felt someones eyes on her. She looked toward the table they were approaching and blue eyes locked onto hers. She felt a wave of uncertainty sweep through her. The sands beneath her feet were shifting. Who was that? What was this feeling? It was wonderful, it was terrible. She was unable to tear her eyes away from the intensity of the gaze that held hers until she heard John speaking.
"Carter, Sarah, this is my friend Major Lazarus that Ive told you about. Lazarus, Carter is a communications whiz kid. I know youre looking for someone to help you overhaul Tangos comm links. If Carter cant help you, she probably knows who can."
Carter opened her mouth but nothing came out. Sarah looked on in amusement. "Well, shes speechless. Thats a first, John."
Carter found herself blushing for the second time that day. She reached deep within herself and forced words to the surface. It didnt matter what words they were, as long as she didnt stand here like a moron with her mouth hanging open. "Id be happy to overhaul anything you want," she was dismayed to hear herself say.
John smirked, Sarahs smile faded. Lazarus, suddenly aware of Sarahs presence, pretended as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. "Thanks," she drawled. "Its just a comm link. I had some trouble with it a couple of times. Not my field of expertise. I need someone to give it the once over for me."
Carter felt the ground solidify beneath her once again as she pulled her wits together. "Will you be here a few days? Ill have to squeeze it in between shifts."
"Then yes, I will be. I need to feel more confident about it before Im alone out there again. Thousands of light years from nowhere and a faulty comm link is a situation to be avoided in my book." Lazarus made her voice calm. Her eyes steadily held the gaze of the young lieutenants.
"Weve already started, but if youd like to join us for dinner?" John asked.
"No thanks," the already forgotten Sarah replied hastily. "You two go ahead. We dont want to hold you up. Maybe some other time."
"Sure. Some other time," he responded.
"Thanks anyway," Carter murmured, glancing over at Sarah. Her appetite had faded with the emotional turmoil from which she was still reeling. Poor Sarah, she thought to herself. An hour ago we were making love and now were going to have dinner and then Im going to tell her I cant see her anymore. Remarkably, Carter felt no remorse about this revelation. It just was. Everything had changed. Whether it was for the good or not remained to be seen.
For what seemed like hours, Lazarus paced her room restlessly. The exhilarating feeling that had overcome her when she first saw Carter had not faded as the evening wore on. She had forced herself to pay attention to Johnny and had excused herself pleading exhaustion as soon as she could. He was not unaware of the electricity between Lazarus and Carter, especially since they kept stealing glances at one another from across the room, but he was a little surprised by it. Despite being a lieutenant, Carter was just a kid. A really pretty kid, but Lazarus was way out of her range. Lazarus was drop dead gorgeous, a skilled pilot, and it was no secret that she had been around some with both men and women. He had tried to turn his relationship with her into something more at one time, but she had rebuffed him gently. Told him he was too important to her to screw everything up with sex. A lousy reason in his opinion, but it was her call. He loved her enough to let it go.
In her room, Lazarus tried to settle down to a news link on the terminal. After listening to the same sentence several times, she gave up and decided to walk down to the maintenance bay the Tango was sequestered in while being retrofitted with her new weapon. For insomniacs like Lazarus, the great thing about the station was that it was open 24/7. She pulled her boots back on, picked up her PIChip, and walked out the door to find herself face to face with Carter Laughlin. Who, to Lazaruss amusement, looked stunned to see her even though she was standing right outside Lazaruss door.
"Hello," she smiled at Carter. "Were you looking for me?"
"I guess I am," Carter replied unable to stop the grin she felt spreading across her face. "I never really set up a time to meet with you about the work on your cruiser."
"No, that didnt seem like the right time to plan to meet, did it?" Lazarus paused for a moment. "Your friend seemed like she wanted to be alone with you."
Carter looked uncomfortable. "Yes."
"I see," Lazarus said.
Carter stepped in front of Lazarus. "No, you dont see," Carter replied sounding more bold than she felt. "Sarahs just a friend. Or I hope she will be. Maybe not, after tonight."
"I see," Lazarus said again. She tried not to smile, she tried to seem sensitive to what had obviously been an uncomfortable evening, but was unable to keep the sparkle from her eyes. "Want to take a walk with me? Im going to check on Tango." She began to stride down the corridor, pretty sure that Carter was right beside her.
"Not very homey, is it?" Carter said stepping aboard the cruiser. She gazed around at the spit and polished, but totally impersonal flight deck. Surprised, Lazarus looked around as if seeing the Tango for the first time. "I suppose not. Its really my place of business, but its as much of a home as Ive got." Until I met you, the thought came unbidden and was quickly pushed aside. "Want to see the rest of her?" Lazarus showed the younger woman around the cruiser: the tiny galley, the cargo hold, the engineering room, and two small personal quarters. One of the personal quarters had a few antique paper bound books on a small shelf beside the bunk. Carter decided this must be where Lazarus slept and felt her blood pressure rise a little. Turning abruptly from the door, she almost collided with Lazarus who jumped back as if she was scalded. They both managed a small laugh in the awkward moment that followed, then hurried back to the flight deck.
Carter turned to Lazarus. "Why does everyone call you Lazarus?"
"Its my name," Lazarus replied, her soft tone taking the sting out of the answer.
"Dont you have a first name, Major Lazarus?" Carter moved a little closer.
"It isnt Major. I resigned my commission," Lazarus hesitated for a moment. "Its Kay. Katherine, actually, but my family calls me Kay."
Carter looked at her thoughtfully. "Then thats what Im going to call you then if thats all right."
A warm feeling spread through her as Lazarus grinned with pleasure. "Sure. I dont even know if anyone else here knows my name. People Ive known for ten years call me Lazarus. I guess its because Im lucky and have survived things " Her voice trailed away, remembering.
Carter didnt respond for a moment and then reached out and placed her hand on Kays arm. "I heard about that. Nobody blamed you for that except Warren, and shes a horses ass."
Kay couldnt meet her eyes. "Thats an insult to horses everywhere," she finally managed to joke, intensely aware of Carters hand touching her arm. Carter suddenly withdrew her hand, much to Kays regret. Her cheeks flushed, Carter turned to the panel and said, "Show me your comm link."
Lazarus looked at her quizzically. "Dont you have to work tomorrow? As much as Id love to keep you here talking, I dont want you to be up all night. Its very late."
Carter glanced at the chronometer. "Oh no, Ive got to be on duty in four hours."
"Ill walk you back to your quarters," Kay said. They walked back slowly, and then stood and talked outside Carters door for another hour until Kay reluctantly called it all to a halt and said goodnight. And both women tossed and turned in their separate beds for a while longer before Morpheus stole them, reflecting on this very interesting day.
Kay Lazarus groaned as the terminal in her room chimed at 0400 hours. She had tossed restlessly in her bunk during the few scant hours that she had tried to sleep. Carter Laughlin. Thats what kept her awake. She tried thinking about the particle beam retrofit, but those thoughts were replaced by thoughts of Carter Laughlin. So she tried thinking about her meeting with Captain DeForest the next morning and what she wanted to know about the Ultharian threat, but that train of thought was derailed with thoughts of Carter Laughlin. So she tried plotting a chart to her next cargo pickup, but once again those thoughts vanished in the image of green-eyed Carter Laughlin. So she gave up and thought about Carter, and that got her endorphins going so she continued to toss and turn. She felt as if she had just dropped off when the terminal awakened her.
Kay rolled out of her bunk and stumbled to the small replicator. "Coffee, black," she mumbled. Picking up the steaming cup, she walked to the lavatory and began her morning preparations. Quickly dressed and ready, she left her small quarters and walked to the area where she had arranged to meet the stations Commanding Officer, Captain James DeForest for breakfast. Arriving first, she selected a table and inserted her PIChip in the slot next to the tables padd and paid for a morning paper. As the talking head hologram came up, she muted the volume, switched the format to text, and keyed ahead to the article about the latest Ultharian skirmishes.
About ten years ago, the Ultharians had come from a section of space out on the rim of this galaxy, and life had not been the same since. They brought with them technological advances, superior weapons, vast wealth, and a cruel, war loving culture. They destroyed, they enslaved and they corrupted everything that came into contact with them. The Federations only advantage was sheer numbers. Over the years, spies had paid a bitter price to capture weapon and shield technology from the Ultharians, and the Federation was finally beginning to level the playing field.
"Good morning, Lazarus," James DeForests appearance pulled Lazarus away from the news reports.
"Good morning, Captain," Kay Lazarus eyed the CO of Deep Space Station Zebra. He sat across the table from her looking as crisp and alert as if it was not 0500 hours, but the middle of the day. "Lovely morning, isnt it?"
Kay laughed. "Out here morning is pretty much the same as afternoon or midnight, but if you say its a lovely morning, then yes sir, it is." He laughed with her.
"Its good to see you. You look well. A little underfed perhaps, but good. I might even go so far as to say you look happy." He watched her speculatively. "Civilian life must be agreeing with you."
"Yes. I suppose it is. Im having some fun," she told him cautiously. "Get to shoot at pirates occasionally, dodged an Ultharian starbird a few weeks ago." In response to his questioning look she said, "In the outer Beta quadrant."
"What the hell were you doing way out there? We dont have anyone out that far to respond if you run into trouble."
"I was in and out so quickly they never knew I was there," she told him. "I had business to attend to."
He grimaced at the thought of what could have happened to a cruiser class ship like the Tango if the starbird turned its superior weapons on it. "I hope you were well paid," he said.
"Oh yeah. That trip is paying for a lot of maintenance and upgrades for the Tango. Shes a sweet little ride but soon shes going to be a power to be reckoned with." Kay had an unpleasant grin on her face as she thought of the particle beam. The Captain smiled and began eating. He talked some about encounters they had experienced with the Ultharians, Kay questioning him about details. He spoke to her as if she was still a member of the Federation team and for that, she was grateful. He had been a good CO and had tried to shield her from the political damage that resulted from the devastation of her squadron. Although he had been unable to convince her to stay on as a Federation pilot, she still considered him one of the best reasons for being stationed on Zebra.
After they had eaten he rose to leave. "If you ever change your mind " he let the question hang.
"Thanks, Captain," She smiled. "Id better go get busy" They walked out together and he turned towards the bridge, she towards the docking facilities.
Kay Lazarus spent the remainder of her day staying as busy as she possibly could. She made her way to the Tango and found the crew chief that could arrange to retrofit her ship with the upgraded weapons she required. He remembered her from her tour of duty on Zebra, then cautioned her about the expense involved. She assured him it was not a problem and handed over her PIChip to record the exchange of credits. She instructed him on exactly how she wanted things done and he promised completed work within a few days. He was sure she would be satisfied with both the upgrades and the repairs to her shields.
That only leaves the comm link, she thought conjuring up the image of a certain Lieutenant. Oh brother. I think Ill go work off some of this energy. After stopping by her quarters to pick up a change of clothes and a small padded case, she made her way to an individual port on the public holodeck and told the computer to load an Ultharian skean dhu master program. Pulling the short blade from its case, she began a slow workout with the Ultharian hologram that built up to an astonishing speed with the passing minutes. Soon she felt her battle lust rising as the program forced her to thrust, parry, and spin faster and faster. When the program ended, she was startled to hear people behind her clapping and congratulating her for her performance against the hologram. Pleased, but appearing nonchalant, she put her short blade in its case and headed to the steam room.
By the time late afternoon rolled around, she had visited the commissary and had arranged to have enough basics delivered to the Tango to replenish her dwindling supplies. Satisfied with her day, she returned to her quarters to find a message waiting for her.
"Retrieve," she commanded the terminal.
Carter Laughlins shyly smiling face appeared. "I guess youve gone out to take care of your ship. I dont know if youre busy already, you seem pretty popular around here, but I was wondering if youd like to meet me this evening and maybe go over what you need. Uh, your comm link, I mean," she said slightly flustered. "So maybe you could leave a message for me in my quarters and let me know. See you later. I hope," she grinned, regaining her composure. Her image faded.
Kay felt a silly smile take over her face. She gave herself a moment to enjoy the feeling that had been sneaking up on her all day and then said, "Reply." Carters face appeared again, only this time it wasnt a recording. "Hi," Kay said, surprised. "I thought youd still be on duty."
"Nope," Carter replied with a charming smile. "Got off about an hour ago. I was wondering if youd gotten my message since I didnt have a reply waiting."
"Just got it," Kay said. A silence ensued for a moment as both women looked at each other. "I would love to meet with you," Kay finally said. "What time?"
"How about now?" Carter said softly.
Kay Lazarus swallowed as an unfamiliar wave of nervousness swept over her. If she could battle Ultharian holograms and outrun pirates, she could speak reasonably to one rather small lieutenant. Buck up, big girl. "I need to change clothes. And Im hungry. Have you eaten?"
"No. Want to meet in the concourse?"
"Sure. Give me 20 minutes." Kay signed off. She felt like a schoolgirl. What was she going to wear? She flipped through her meager wardrobe several times and pulled out black leggings and a blue tunic. She changed, ran a brush through her hair, and hurried off in the direction of the concourse, oblivious to the admiring stares that followed her.
By God, thats a gorgeous woman, Carter thought as she watched Kay Lazarus turn the corner. Kay spotted Carter and her face lit up as she broke into a grin. They stood and simply looked at each other. Never breaking the gaze, Carter said, "You hungry?"
"Oh yeah," Kay replied. They quickly looked away from each other.
"Do you like Italian food?" Carter asked. Nodding, Kay followed Carter into a small dimly lit restaurant and they sat at a small table in the back of the room. Kay ordered a bottle of wine through the table padd and they sat drinking the wine, savoring being in each others company.
"So," Carter said seductively. "Tell me about your comm link problems."
Kay laughed. "Id rather hear about you. Tell me where youre from and how you came to Zebra."
"Ill tell you mine if youll tell me yours," Carter smiled at her. "Lets see Im from a little town in Florida called Switzerland. My mother is a physicist and my father is a pilot and an engineer, so attending the Space Academy was, shall we say, encouraged from the time I was very young. I worked for years to get accepted. I graduated five years ago with a degree in communications engineering." She grinned. " Im older than I look. Im hoping to make a career of the service and Deep Space was a chance to advance more quickly than staying close to home. Pays better too. Ive done thirty-two months of a three year rotation. I like what I do. To me its exciting and challenging on a lot of levels." Carter paused. "Thats bare bones about me. What about you?"
Kay had done a quick calculation as Carter talked. Graduating five years ago from the Academy would make her twenty-six or twenty-seven. Carter was right; she did look young for her age. Kay was only twenty-nine but had thought she was probably six or seven years older than Carter. Although feeling a little uncomfortable about blurting out her private life she started. "Im from San Diego, California originally. My mother was a biologist; she worked in an undersea habitat for months at a time. I never knew my father; he left before I was born. I have two older brothers, both of whom are in the service still, although I havent seen them in several years. Flying was a passion for me when I was growing up. I lived for it. I saved all my credits from whatever odd jobs I could find so I could take lessons. It was all I ever wanted to do. It still effects me the same way. Being a pilot in deep space was a dream come true. And then that one recon flight I cant tell you how deeply it cut to lose my position here." Kay stopped talking, a little embarrassed that she had revealed such an emotional event in her life to a young woman she hardly knew.
Carter reached her hand out and placed it on top of Kays. "Go on," she murmured encouragingly.
Kays discomfiture faded. "Anyway, it all worked out okay. Im doing all right at hauling cargo. Im flying, making credits, getting to mix it up a little with the bad guys," she laughed softly. "No regrets. Lifes too short"
Carter peered sympathetically at her. She knew what it was like to go through the Academy. She knew how much ambition, hard work and guts it took to stick it out. She had heard the story about Lazarus around the station but today on duty had actually looked back into the station archives for more details. General consensus was that Kay had been railroaded by a superior officer for political gain. Unless it was personal, but there didnt seem to be a connection between Kay Lazarus and Executive Officer Joan Warren. The XO was not the easiest person to work for, but Carter hadnt known her to be particularly unfair to the people under her command. Someday maybe Kay would tell her the whole story.
"You dont carry a crew?" Carter asked. This was as roundabout a way as she could think of to ask about any personal ties that Kay may or may not have. She felt an intense desire to know everything she could about this woman.
"No. Ive considered it, but not out of any real need other than companionship," Kay drummed her fingers restlessly on the table.
"Companionship is a real need. Id go crazy alone for weeks on end with no one to talk to but the ships computer. But then I like to talk. A lot"
"Want to get out of here? Go for a walk? Ive been sitting still too long." Kay looked hopefully at Carter.
"Sure. Where to?" Carter inquired.
"I dont care. I just want to stretch my legs." Retrieving her PIChip from the padd, Kay stood and Carter followed her to the door. The door automatically swooshed open and they found themselves face to face with XO Joan Warren.
The look of shock on XO Warrens face was unmistakable as she froze to the spot. Carter could feel the tension escalate exponentially in a matter of a moment. The surprising emotion to her was the sudden, fierce feeling of protectiveness that she felt for Kay Lazarus. Whats that all about? Get a grip, Laughlin, she thought. Kay Lazarus is more than capable of taking care of herself. She mentally smoothed down her hackles as she glanced at Kay. She seemed totally unperturbed despite the hostility crackling around them.
"Excuse me," said Kay as she sidestepped Joan Warren. Carter followed her lead but was compelled to speak when Warren caught her eye. "Evening, maam," she said, following closely behind Kay.
"Lieutenant Laughlin," XO Warren said flatly with an odd look on her face. She turned quickly and walked in to the restaurant. Carter released a sigh of relief as the door swooshed shut. She looked at the closed door for a second before realizing that she was being left by Kay Lazarus.
"Wait up," she called to Kay who had moved quickly and easily ahead of her. Kay turned to wait and Carter caught the most fleeting glimpse of fear. Then it was gone. Maybe not, Carter thought. "I hope running into the one person that makes horses asses look good doesnt ruin the evening for you," She attempted a joke.
Kays smile was forced. "Nah, thats all over and done." She continued walking rapidly, Carter struggling on shorter legs to keep up. "It doesnt mean I enjoy her company however."
"Where is this marathon ending up?" Carter managed to puff out.
At this Kay cracked a genuine grin and said "Sorry. Id forgotten how short you were." She slowed her pace to allow Carter to catch up with her.
"Im not short," Carter said indignantly. "I happen to be a perfectly normal height. I would make some crack here about people with pituitary gland overload, but I actually find your height quite attractive." It was out of her mouth before she could stop it.
"Oh yeah? Well what are going to do about it?" Kay turned and faced Carter, towering over her.
Carter looked up and found herself once more captured by intense pale blue eyes. She reached out and placed her hand on Kays arm, more to steady herself than for any seductive reason. "Im not going to do anything about it. Not here anyway. Im an officer and PDAs are distinctly frowned upon. However, if I could talk you into coming to my quarters, for a nightcap, perhaps?" She looked steadily at Kay Lazarus, not betraying the core of nervousness that threatened to emerge.
Kay looked down into the face of love. "If you were anyone else I would say yes." Carter felt the sands shifting beneath her feet for the second time in two days.
"What?" was the best she could manage. Surely she hadnt misread this entire situation.
"I guess I didnt say that right," Kay reached and put her hand on Carters shoulder. "I mean if you were just someone that Id met and found attractive, Id say yes, lets go have fun." Kay looked directly at Carter. "But this feels more important than that to me. I dont want to scare you, or get ahead of where we are," she smiled. "But I think youre the one. You know, The One." The capital letters were as plain as if they were written. "And if Im right, then I dont want to rush anything. I want it to be you know. Perfect. It probably sounds really corny but I want it to be a memory for years to come."
Carter was torn between a feeling of being turned down and being swept off her feet at the same time. It was very disconcerting. Swept off her feet won. "Well, you could at least come back and we could talk. Im off duty tomorrow, so I dont have to get up early. You cant say something like that and then just go blithely off to bed. I really need to be with you right now."
"Okay, Id like that too," Kay said seriously.
"Okay then," said Carter.
"Okay then," replied Kay.
In his quarters, Captain James DeForest was perusing the basically noneventful reports from the various divisions. Security had detained a couple of visitors who were caught trying to smuggle in the current popular recreation drugs. Civilian liaisons reported nothing out of the ordinary. Engineering had no unusual problems. Nothing a swift kick wouldnt solve, he thought. Of course, that could be said for a lot of problems. Sometimes that swift kick should be aimed at the seat of someones pants. The monitor announced an incoming message. "Answer," he spoke in the direction of the screen.
Lt. Annie Woos face appeared. "Sir, were receiving military news broadcasts from the Gamma colony. Theyre under attack by the Ultharians. Apparently they managed to slip through the system net undetected. It looks bad."
"Im on my way. Put the station on yellow alert. I need all strategic personnel at their posts and all civilians confined to quarters until further notice."
"Yes sir. Ill notify security," Lt. Woo responded.
"Alert XO Warren and have her meet me on the bridge immediately." DeForest was pulling on his shoes and buttoning his jacket as he spoke. Hurrying down the corridor to the lift, he stepped inside and said, "Bridge." This was the day he had been dreading.
Kay followed Carter in through the door of her quarters. Although militarily neat, it was still very much the room of a young woman. A photograph on the dresser showed a younger Carter Laughlin with a woman who looked exactly like Carter would look in twenty-five years, standing next to a smiling man in a flight suit. Another photo showed an even younger Carter with her arm flung around the shoulder of a girl the same age. Both were laughing uproariously at the picture taker. In the third frame was a picture of Carter with an older woman who was obviously her grandmother. A few small trinkets also sat on the dresser, a couple of diplomas hung on the wall, and a big poster of the rough and dark Atlantic Ocean hung over the bunk. Kay had wandered over and was looking at the photos on the desk.
"Your parents, I assume," she said. "And ?"
"Gwen, my best friend when I was growing up. She went into mining engineering. I have no idea which colony shes on right now. She hops from operation to operation overseeing the setup of mining facilities equipment. The other is my maternal grandmother."
Kay nodded, looking at the picture of the laughing girls. She couldnt ever remember seeing a picture of herself at that age looking so happy and secure in the knowledge that everything was going to work out the way she wanted. But she felt no bitterness or envy; she looked at Carters open and trusting face and was glad for her that she had lived such a life. Whatever it was that had laid the base for the person that she had become was only a good thing. She smiled at her. "Where was that photo taken of the ocean?" she asked, looking at the poster.
"Near Cape Canaveral," Carter replied. "Theres still some beach thats left south of there thats doesnt have condos on it. Its part of the old NASA facility."
"The Atlantic looks so different from the Pacific. Darker somehow."
"And colder, too. Have a seat." Carter gestured to a small table with two chairs next to it. "Do you want a drink or some coffee or something?"
"I think Ive had enough to drink, thanks. One bottle of wine a night is about my limit," Kay joked.
"I think I helped with that. I hardly ever drink, so that was about my limit for the month," Carter replied. Both women fell silent as they sat at the small table. "About what you said earlier "
"I hope I didnt scare you off," Kay reached out for Carters hand, which she willingly surrendered. "And there is the distinct possibility Ill regret saying we should wait." They both smiled.
"No, you didnt frighten me off. It would take a lot more than that. When I first saw you last night," Carter said, "I had this overwhelming feeling that I knew you already, that you were going to be somebody very important in my life. I liked you before you ever said one word to me. I suppose thats déjà vu. Because I know weve never met."
"Some people say déjà vu is a past life experience that is repeating itself and thats why it feels vaguely familiar to you. Sounds like an explanation to me. I felt as if I knew you too, so maybe we have known each other in a previous life," Kay offered with a wry smile. "Im not saying I necessarily believe in that, but anythings possible."
"Thats what makes life exciting to me. Anythings possible."
Suddenly, an alarm went off and a disembodied voice said, "Yellow alert. All hands to their posts immediately. All civilians must return to their quarters at once." The announcement repeated itself. Carter said, "Like I said: anythings possible. I wonder what this is all about? I have to go, of course." She didnt move. "Much to my regret."
Kay gripped her hand a little tighter. "Its strange to be a civilian here and have to return to my quarters. Im used to being in the middle of the action. Call me when you can."
Carter managed to stand without disengaging her hand from Kays. "Ill come by your quarters." She stepped closer to Kay and reached up and kissed her very lightly on the lips. "Oh boy. I thought I regretted leaving you before. I hope we arent under attack. I wont be able to keep my mind on it as Im being killed."
"Not funny," Kay replied seriously, and felt herself to be at a sudden loss. "Ill see you when youre free."
"Okay," Carter hurried down the corridor joining the throngs of people in a hurry.
"I see you have your clothes on right today," Annie Woo cracked to Carter as she hurried to the communications center on the bridge.
"Not from lack of trying. Whats going on?" Carter asked, refusing to be baited.
"Ultharian attack on Gamma colony. We dont know how serious yet. I heard they slipped through the system net," Annie was instantly all business.
"How?" Carter was stunned. The new net was supposed to be the cutting edge in defense technology. It wasnt even installed on every colony yet, and the Ultharians had already breached it.
"Dont know. Im not even sure its true. Its just the scuttlebutt. Comm is supposed to be retrieving any distress signals, any deep space communications, or any stray signals. At the same time were trying to open a link to Gamma colony, if theres any of it left, and contact any Federation ships that may have already reached the area or are heading that way. In other words, any information we can get our hands on."
"Okay," Carter said. "You keep trying to contact Gamma colony and Ill start searching for anything else floating around out there." Annie Woo acquiesced to this, knowing that Carter was the better of the two at tracking down deep space signals. They immediately fell to work.
*Continued - Part 2
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