by Kerry McCommon
Summary: Love blooms between Kay and Carter on a space station that soon may be in danger.
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 Tango’s 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 hadn’t 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 controller’s 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. It’s a interphased drive actually.”
The security officer looked up from his keypadd. “I guess she’s pretty fast, huh?”
“Yeah, pretty fast,” she replied noncommittally.
“You’re 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. “I’ll 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 you’re being cleared.” He ignored her question. She calmly answered the rest of his questions and he scrutinized her passport, cargo schedule and captain’s 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 didn’t know you were still stationed way out here.”
“How could you have known? You’ve 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, I’m back, at least temporarily. How about having a drink with me later?” she asked.
“Sure,” he replied. “Why don’t you get settled. You’re staying a while, aren’t 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. Everyone’s nervous about the Federation’s border disputes with the Ultharians. And with good reason,” he said, lowering his voice. “The situation has been unstable. But I’ll tell you about it later. Meet me at the security office at 1800 hours and we’ll go get something to eat.”
“I’m looking forward to something besides S rations. You know what the S stands for, don’t you?” Lazarus smiled. “That’s what I’ve been down to on the Tango for the last two weeks.”
“I’m pretty sure we can do better than that,” Johnny laughed. “I’m 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. “I’m going to be late. I’m 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 didn’t 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 won’t 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 Carter’s ears alone. Carter blushed, much to her dismay and Annie Woo’s amusement. Carter quickly faced the console and rebuttoned her blouse.
“You can tell me about it tomorrow,” Annie said. “I’m beat. But I’ll 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 DeForest’s face appeared onscreen.
“Welcome back, Lazarus.”
“Thanks, Captain. I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome again.”
He paused. “I’m sorry you allow people who don’t know any better to undermine your confidence in yourself. I’d have you back heading up the fighter squadron today if it was possible.”
Lazarus smiled ruefully. “I wouldn’t exactly say my confidence has been undermined. It’s more a feeling that other’s confidence in me eroded. Moving along was the right thing to do.”
“I don’t know about that. I hope we can talk while you’re here. Can you meet me for dinner?”
“I’d 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. “I’ll be there. See you in the morning,” she signed off. And sighed. Oh well, she hadn’t been sleeping much anyway. She’d 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 wasn’t her first black mark, but it was the first pertaining to her job performance as a pilot. Warren was not a friend, but Lazarus’s 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 wasn’t 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. Tango’s 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.”
“Aren’t you carrying antimatter torpedoes already?” Johnny asked.
“Yes, and I’m keeping them. But I want to add a particle beam. Tango’s been modified to support it. A particle beam is good insurance.”
“That’s pretty heavy stuff. Always expecting trouble, huh?” he asked as he took a sip of his beer.
“Always. That’s how I’ve 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 can’t, 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 haven’t seen them in a long time. In fact, not since you were here. Instead they’ve been picking on smaller colonies that aren’t very well defended, or that have refused to join the Federation. Of course, then they’re outraged that we didn’t 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 we’ll 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 doesn’t?” Johnny laughed. He looked over at the entrance to the restaurant. “Oh, there’s 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 Sarah’s quarters after she was relieved from the bridge Comm. For a small woman, Carter’s appetite was legendary in the mess hall. Sarah could have told them of other appetites as well.
“Sure, but let’s go out, okay?” Sarah smiled at her. “I can’t 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, there’s John,” Sarah said to Carter. “Let’s go say hi.” They were halfway to his table when Carter felt someone’s 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 I’ve told you about. Lazarus, Carter is a communications whiz kid. I know you’re looking for someone to help you overhaul Tango’s comm links. If Carter can’t help you, she probably knows who can.”
Carter opened her mouth but nothing came out. Sarah looked on in amusement. “Well, she’s speechless. That’s 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 didn’t matter what words they were, as long as she didn’t stand here like a moron with her mouth hanging open. “I’d be happy to overhaul anything you want,” she was dismayed to hear herself say.
John smirked, Sarah’s smile faded. Lazarus, suddenly aware of Sarah’s presence, pretended as if nothing out of the ordinary had just occurred. “Thanks,” she drawled. “It’s 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? I’ll have to squeeze it in between shifts.”
“Then yes, I will be. I need to feel more confident about it before I’m 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 lieutenant’s.
“We’ve already started, but if you’d like to join us for dinner?” John asked.
“No thanks,” the already forgotten Sarah replied hastily. “You two go ahead. We don’t 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 we’re going to have dinner and then I’m going to tell her I can’t 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 Lazarus’s amusement, looked stunned to see her even though she was standing right outside Lazarus’s 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 didn’t 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 don’t see,” Carter replied sounding more bold than she felt. “Sarah’s 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? I’m 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. It’s really my place of business, but it’s as much of a home as I’ve 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?”
“It’s my name,” Lazarus replied, her soft tone taking the sting out of the answer.
“Don’t you have a first name, Major Lazarus?” Carter moved a little closer.
“It isn’t Major. I resigned my commission,” Lazarus hesitated for a moment. “It’s Kay. Katherine, actually, but my family calls me Kay.”
Carter looked at her thoughtfully. “Then that’s what I’m going to call you then if that’s all right.”
A warm feeling spread through her as Lazarus grinned with pleasure. “Sure. I don’t even know if anyone else here knows my name. People I’ve known for ten years call me Lazarus. I guess it’s because I’m lucky and have survived things…” Her voice trailed away, remembering.
Carter didn’t respond for a moment and then reached out and placed her hand on Kay’s arm. “I heard about that. Nobody blamed you for that except Warren, and she’s a horse’s ass.”
Kay couldn’t meet her eyes. “That’s an insult to horses everywhere,” she finally managed to joke, intensely aware of Carter’s hand touching her arm. Carter suddenly withdrew her hand, much to Kay’s regret. Her cheeks flushed, Carter turned to the panel and said, “Show me your comm link.”
Lazarus looked at her quizzically. “Don’t you have to work tomorrow? As much as I’d love to keep you here talking, I don’t want you to be up all night. It’s very late.”
Carter glanced at the chronometer. “Oh no, I’ve got to be on duty in four hours.”
“I’ll walk you back to your quarters,” Kay said. They walked back slowly, and then stood and talked outside Carter’s 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. That’s 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 station’s Commanding Officer, Captain James DeForest for breakfast. Arriving first, she selected a table and inserted her PIChip in the slot next to the table’s 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 Federation’s 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 DeForest’s 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, isn’t it?”
Kay laughed. “Out here morning is pretty much the same as afternoon or midnight, but if you say it’s a lovely morning, then yes sir, it is.” He laughed with her.
“It’s 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. I’m 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 don’t 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. She’s a sweet little ride but soon she’s 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. “I’d 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 I’ll 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 Laughlin’s shyly smiling face appeared. “I guess you’ve gone out to take care of your ship. I don’t know if you’re busy already, you seem pretty popular around here, but I was wondering if you’d 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.” Carter’s face appeared again, only this time it wasn’t a recording. “Hi,” Kay said, surprised. “I thought you’d still be on duty.”
“Nope,” Carter replied with a charming smile. “Got off about an hour ago. I was wondering if you’d gotten my message since I didn’t 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 I’m 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, that’s 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 other’s company.
“So,” Carter said seductively. “Tell me about your comm link problems.”
Kay laughed. “I’d rather hear about you. Tell me where you’re from and how you came to Zebra.”
“I’ll tell you mine if you’ll tell me yours,” Carter smiled at her. “Let’s see…I’m 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. ” I’m older than I look. I’m hoping to make a career of the service and Deep Space was a chance to advance more quickly than staying close to home. Pay’s better too. I’ve done thirty-two months of a three year rotation. I like what I do. To me it’s exciting and challenging on a lot of levels.” Carter paused. “That’s 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. “I’m 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 haven’t 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 can’t 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 Kay’s. “Go on,” she murmured encouragingly.
Kay’s discomfiture faded. “Anyway, it all worked out okay. I’m doing all right at hauling cargo. I’m flying, making credits, getting to mix it up a little with the bad guys,” she laughed softly. “No regrets. Life’s 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t known her to be particularly unfair to the people under her command. Someday maybe Kay would tell her the whole story.
“You don’t 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. I’ve 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. I’d go crazy alone for weeks on end with no one to talk to but the ship’s computer. But then I like to talk. A lot”
“Want to get out of here? Go for a walk? I’ve been sitting still too long.” Kay looked hopefully at Carter.
“Sure. Where to?” Carter inquired.
“I don’t 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 Warren’s 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. What’s 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, ma’am,” 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 doesn’t ruin the evening for you,” She attempted a joke.
Kay’s smile was forced. “Nah, that’s all over and done.” She continued walking rapidly, Carter struggling on shorter legs to keep up. “It doesn’t 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. I’d forgotten how short you were.” She slowed her pace to allow Carter to catch up with her.
“I’m 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 Kay’s arm, more to steady herself than for any seductive reason. “I’m not going to do anything about it. Not here anyway. I’m an officer and PDA’s 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 hadn’t misread this entire situation.
“I guess I didn’t say that right,” Kay reached and put her hand on Carter’s shoulder. “I mean if you were just someone that I’d met and found attractive, I’d say yes, let’s go have fun.” Kay looked directly at Carter. “But this feels more important than that to me. I don’t want to scare you, or get ahead of where we are,” she smiled. “But I think you’re the one. You know, The One.” The capital letters were as plain as if they were written. “And if I’m right, then I don’t 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. I’m off duty tomorrow, so I don’t have to get up early. You can’t say something like that and then just go blithely off to bed. I really need to be with you right now.”
“Okay, I’d 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 wouldn’t 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 someone’s pants. The monitor announced an incoming message. “Answer,” he spoke in the direction of the screen.
Lt. Annie Woo’s face appeared. “Sir, we’re receiving military news broadcasts from the Gamma colony. They’re under attack by the Ultharians. Apparently they managed to slip through the system net undetected. It looks bad.”
“I’m 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. I’ll 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 she’s 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 couldn’t 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 Carter’s 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. “There’s still some beach that’s left south of there that’s doesn’t have condos on it. It’s 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 I’ve 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 didn’t scare you off,” Kay reached out for Carter’s hand, which she willingly surrendered. “And there is the distinct possibility I’ll regret saying we should wait.” They both smiled.
“No, you didn’t 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 that’s déjà vu. Because I know we’ve never met.”
“Some people say déjà vu is a past life experience that is repeating itself and that’s 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. “I’m not saying I necessarily believe in that, but anything’s possible.”
“That’s what makes life exciting to me. Anything’s 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: anything’s possible. I wonder what this is all about? I have to go, of course.” She didn’t move. “Much to my regret.”
Kay gripped her hand a little tighter. “It’s strange to be a civilian here and have to return to my quarters. I’m used to being in the middle of the action. Call me when you can.”
Carter managed to stand without disengaging her hand from Kay’s. “I’ll 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 aren’t under attack. I won’t be able to keep my mind on it as I’m being killed.”
“Not funny,” Kay replied seriously, and felt herself to be at a sudden loss. “I’ll see you when you’re 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. What’s going on?” Carter asked, refusing to be baited.
“Ultharian attack on Gamma colony. We don’t 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 wasn’t even installed on every colony yet, and the Ultharians had already breached it.
“Don’t know. I’m not even sure it’s true. It’s just the scuttlebutt. Comm is supposed to be retrieving any distress signals, any deep space communications, or any stray signals. At the same time we’re trying to open a link to Gamma colony, if there’s 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 I’ll 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.
Kay Lazarus paced around her small quarters liked a caged panther. Being confined to quarters when something was going on was for the birds. She was the person who was usually leading the attack, thinking out the strategies, and now she didn’t even know if an attack was occurring. The Tango was in the midst of being retrofitted with a new weapons system array and wasn’t even ready to fly if she could get away. She felt defenseless and trapped, and that did not sit well.
She flipped on the terminal to see if the news was broadcasting anything, but at this late hour could only find an American football game, a rugby match, and a financial program. She left it on the American football channel. The noise provided some distraction from her unease. The Montana Buttes and the Las Vegas Rollers. Who cares which team wins, she thought. It’s better than silence right now. I wonder what Carter’s doing? I hope, I hope, I hope for a thousand things. I hope she’s okay. I hope I find out what going on pretty soon. I hope the Tango’s up and running tomorrow or the next day. I want it now. And then what? Do I take off out of here and leave her behind? I certainly can’t take her with me, not that she’d even consider leaving. Oh what a mess. What a time to fall in love. No, erase that thought. I’m not in love. Shit, why isn’t the news on?
She passed a fair amount of time with these pleasant thoughts and others like them, when her terminal announced a message coming through. Carter’s lovely face appeared. “Hi. I’m taking a small break and thought I’d check on you.”
Kay was obviously glad to see her. “I’m so glad. I’m going crazy here, cooped up and not knowing what’s going on.”
“I missed you too,” Carter said smiling. “I don’t know how much I’m allowed to talk about…”
“Then don’t say anything,” Kay promptly responded. “Just tell me we’re not in imminent danger of being attacked.”
“No,” Carter replied. “Not that I know of.”
“Then I’ll try to settle down. It’s hard to sit still.”
“Yes, I know,” Carter said sympathetically, remembering what a hard time Kay had sitting for even a little while in the restaurant. “I’m not sure when I’ll be off, but I’ll come by and knock on your door if you’d like. Of course, if it’s too late, I won’t. I don’t want to wake you.”
“Please wake me. I don’t care what time it is.”
“Okay, I’ve got to get back to my station. See you later.” Carter smiled at her and signed off.
“I missed you too,” Kay said softly, still staring at the blank screen.
Lt. Ian Dunworthy, leader of the fighter squadron, was not surprised to find Capt. DeForest onscreen when he contacted Zebra. “Nothing out here, Captain. We split up and covered everything. We’re not picking up any warp signatures. There’s no sign of them at all.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Report to me when you get back,” Capt. DeForest. “What do you think?” He turned and faced XO Joan Warren.
She thought for a moment. “I think we should assume we’re a target, although probably not for a few days. It’ll take them that long to regroup and get here. Of course, they could have decided they just wanted Gamma colony for the mining operation. It might not be an all out offensive, but I don’t think it’s prudent to assume otherwise,” she offered.
“I agree,” he replied. “I am going to have to make a carefully worded announcement to the station later this morning. I’m going to keep the standby alert, but release civilians from their quarters. I think we should prepare for a mass exodus of civilian ships. Contact customs and docking and have them prepare for this. And where’s Lyra? Security needs to doubled all over the station, especially in the docking areas.”
“I sent him down there already,” Warren responded. “We’ve had a few indignant customers insisting they be released at once. I’ll talk to him.” She hesitated. “Do you think it’s safe to allow the civilians to leave, Captain?”
“I think they’re as safe on their way home as they would be here if the Ultharians attack,” he said. “They breached the net, Warren. I have to assume that means we have a spy somewhere. God knows what other classified information they’ve gotten. They could have the schematics for this entire station for all I know. I understand it’s risky allowing people to leave, and I’ll do everything I can to protect them should they decide to stay, but it’s their choice. I’d rather not deal with the Ultharians and a civilian uprising at the same time, unless I have to” he smiled humorlessly.
Warren nodded. “Yes, sir. I’ll go down to docking and warn them, and speak to the warrant officer at the same time.”
DeForest said, “When you speak to Lyra, tell him to report to you on a regular basis. I want a tight lid kept on this situation.”
Several hours after her last contact with Carter, there came a soft rap at the door of Kay Lazarus’s quarters. Finally having dozed off, she wasn’t even sure she had heard anything and put her head back down on the pillow when she suddenly remembered. She jumped out of bed and moved quickly to the door. She stuck her head out to see Carter’s back retreating down the corridor. “Hey,” she said as the lieutenant turned around. “Come back.”
Carter grinned and made her way back to the door where a tousled haired Kay Lazarus was poking her head out. “I knocked, but I figured you’d gone to sleep and I didn’t want to wake you,” she said.
“I wanted you to. Come on in,” she ducked back in the room and Carter followed. Carter caught her breath at the sight of Kay Lazarus in a black sleeveless muscle shirt and very brief black briefs. Determined not to get caught looking, she peered all around the room while Kay pulled on her robe. Apparently Kay had noticed her reaction anyway by the smirk on her face.
“I’ll bet you’re exhausted,” Kay realized suddenly looking at Carter’s drawn face. “You probably need to crawl in bed while you have a chance to rest. I was so glad you’d come by I guess I just wasn’t thinking. Sorry.”
“Mostly I need to eat,” Carter said holding out a container. “I brought us some food. I figured you hadn’t had a chance to get anything.” She opened the container and pulled out two sandwiches and a couple of apples. “Could you replicate some coffee?”
“Let me guess. No sugar, lots of milk,” Kay said walking over to the small replicator.
“Good guess,” Carter smiled at her. “Except put in lots of sugar too.”
Kay laughed. “And where’d you get them apples, sister? They’re a little hard to come by in this neck of the woods.”
“Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies,” Carter replied enigmatically. She yawned. “God, I’m tired. I haven’t slept in over 24 hours.” She bit hungrily into her sandwich. “Mmm, that’s good. Nothing better than sleep, food, and …well, never mind.”
“Never mind? I’ve never heard it called that before. Maybe you need to pick more interesting partners,” Kay teased Carter. They laughed and ate their food, Carter finishing hers first. Kay handed over the second half of her sandwich to Carter who barely got the words “Are you sure?” out of her mouth before she was eating it. Kay smiled, enjoying having Carter back with her again. After they had eaten, Carter got up and walked over to Kay’s bunk where she fell backwards on the bed.
Kay blinked. “Don’t you need to sleep? I…um, I love having you here, but wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your own room?”
“No. I want to be with you. Is it okay if I just stay for a little while?” Carter looked innocently at Kay.
“Of course it’s okay,” Finding Carter very hard to resist, Kay was not at all sure that it was okay. She stood awkwardly for a moment, then moved over and sat next to Carter on the small bed. Carter reached over and intertwined her fingers with Kay’s.
Carter peered up at Kay. “Tell me what you did while I was gone. Oh yeah, I heard civilians were no longer going to be restricted to quarters later this morning.”
“Oh good. I was feeling trapped earlier,” Carter looked at Kay with concern. “But I feel better now. I imagine there will be a lot of ships leaving if they’re allowed to. Tango’s not going anywhere for a couple of days. She’s torn half apart with the retrofit. I think it will probably be at least 48 more hours. I have a cargo to pick up a few days from here, but I think I’ll wait and see how this situation, which I assume is Ultharian, pans out. Besides, I may be able to help out around here somehow once the Tango is outfitted.” She felt Carter’s grip on her hand relax and looked at the woman who had fallen fast asleep on her bunk. “Oh well.” She yawned. “Move over,” she lay next to her bunkmate and fell promptly and peacefully asleep.
Later that morning Kay awoke, wondering if someone had broken in her quarters and hogtied her. Carter was sound asleep next to her, one leg thrown over Kay’s, her head on Kay’s shoulder and her arm wrapped tightly around her waist. Kay looked at the sleeping face of the woman she was trying not to be in love with and knew it was hopeless. She was a goner.
She watched Carter sleeping for a little while, breathing in the sweet, sleepy smell of her, then gave in to temptation and lightly kissed her forehead. She slowly extricated herself from Carter’s tenacious grip and rolled out of the bunk. She should have been tired from lack of sleep and stiff from being pinned all night, but instead she felt miraculously energized. She walked to the replicator and whispered, “Coffee, black,” and took the steaming cup into the lavatory with her. Stripping off her meager sleep clothes, she stepped into the shower.
Pulling her robe on, she exited the lavatory quietly to find Carter sitting up on the side of the bunk. Kay walked to the replicator and said, “Coffee, extra cream, extra sugar,” and handed the cup to Carter who smiled groggily at her. Kay walked over to the storage unit where her clothes stored, pulled out what she needed, and dropped her robe. She quickly dressed and turned to find Carter much more awake, judging by the wideness of her eyes. She smiled at Carter and said,”What time do you have to be on duty?”
Carter sipped her coffee, stalling until her composure returned. “Not until 1400 hours. The duty roster is all mixed up right now.”
“Want to go eat breakfast with me?”
“Sure. I need to go to my quarters and shower and change clothes. I can’t believe I slept in my uniform. Why don’t I meet you?”
“Okay. I’ll go get a table.” Kay looked at Carter quizzically. “Did you sleep all right other than being in your uniform?”
“Yeah, great. I really didn’t mean to fall asleep. Did I crowd you out?” Carter had a vague memory of a dream that caused her to blush slightly and look worried.
“Nope. See you at breakfast, okay?” Kay winked at her. Carter looked relieved. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk in your sleep?” Kay smiled and walked out the door, leaving Carter sitting on the side of the bunk.
“Oh God. What did I say?” Carter mumbled to herself on the way back to her quarters. As a matter of fact, yes, a couple of people had told her she talked in her sleep. That’s what was so worrying. She let herself into her quarters and stripped off her wrinkled uniform relieved she hadn’t run into anyone who would notice. The terminal blinked, indicating two messages. “Retrieve first message,” she said.
Annie Woo’s face appeared. “Hi Carter. Just wanted to warn you that Warren’s looking for you. She even called my quarters wondering if I knew where you were. She sounded kinda intense. Maybe you better watch your back. See you tomorrow.” The readout at the bottom of the screen indicated the message was from late last night.
The second message was from XO Warren. “Lieutenant Laughlin, please show up a few minutes before your duty shift tomorrow. I’d like to have a word with you.” The screen went dark. Terse and to the point, Carter thought. I’ll think about it later. I have more interesting things to mull over right now than being attacked by Ultharians or XO’s. She moved gratefully under the shower and let it wash away the exhaustion left over from the previous two days. Standing there with her eyes closed, relaxing in the sensuality of hot water sluicing over her body, a dream fragment returned to her mind. She and Kay Lazarus were both naked, sitting in hot water, and Kay was doing wonderful things with her tongue to Carter’s breasts. Carter ran her hands down her body, grazing her breasts with her fingertips slightly. Oh God. Well, the being in hot water part was probably right.
She dried off and put on a fresh uniform since it seemed unlikely she’d have a chance to change before her duty shift started. She dabbed on a drop of the perfume she preferred, gave herself a last look in the mirror, and satisfied with what she saw, left to meet Kay. Beautiful, naked Kay. First in her dream, and then, even more spectacularly, in person. She was sure Kay had no idea of the effect she had on Carter when she so nonchalantly dropped her robe to dress. This time Carter had looked. And what she saw was a lean, well-muscled, warrior. Wide shoulders, a tapered waist, long strong legs. And that was just from the back. Oh yeah. And a nice butt.
Her body was beautiful, but even in the first throes of love, Carter knew it was more than Kay’s body that was responsible for what she was feeling. Whenever she touched Kay or allowed herself a moment in those remarkable eyes, she knew. Kay was The One. In capital letters. When Carter saw Kay for the first time she felt her life take a hairpin curve. Everything was different now. She couldn’t even say it to herself, let alone out loud, but she would give up everything she had worked for all her life to be with this woman. If necessary, she would lay her life down for her. Carter knew these truths were just below the surface for her, and she knew she had a long and difficult day ahead of her, so she pushed them down in order to get her job done diligently. And because she didn’t want to think about it yet.
Lt. Ian Dunworthy reported to Capt. DeForest as ordered after returning from patrol. “I’ve ordered extra patrols, Captain. We’ll have twice the usual number of fighters out there until this is over.”
“Good. Send them out in pairs. I want someone watching the back of every fighter out there.”
Lt. Dunworthy looked speculatively at Capt. DeForest. “I heard Lazarus was on the station.”
DeForest looked up sharply. “Yes.”
“Is she here for any particular reason?” Dunworthy tried hard to keep the defensive tone out of his voice.
“She’s hauling cargo these days, Lieutenant,” he said kindly to the young man. “There’s nothing for you to
worry about. She resigned her commission, you know. You’re the one in charge of the fighter squadron.”
Dunworthy managed to keep the relief off his face. “I had heard she was back and you know how all the pilots felt about her, me included. She was the best I’ve ever seen. If you don’t mind sir, and if I have time, I might look her up and have a chat with her. I’d like a chance to pick her brain about some things.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea, Lieutenant,” DeForest said, dismissing the young man. “Dunworthy?” he said as the Lieutenant turned to go. “You’re doing a great job. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ian Dunworthy replied, saluting lightly, his shining eyes betraying his casual attitude.
Carter spotted Kay sitting at a table reading the news. She stood for a moment and watched her until Kay felt Carter’s eyes on her, looked up and smiled. Carter walked over to the table and sat next to Kay. “I don’t know what I said in my sleep, but I did remember a dream and now I’m embarrassed.”
“Don’t be,” Kay laughed. “It was mostly nonsense.” She affected an overly casual expression and hummed a small non-tune. Carter looked at her affectionately.
“Okay, if that’s how you’re going to be,” Carter managed to plaster on a false smile that said she was above it all anyway. Kay patted her arm condescendingly.
They ordered breakfast and while they ate, Kay told Carter everything she’d done the day before, leaving out the part about the accolades she got from onlookers after working out with the skean dhu holo program.
Carter laughed when Kay told her she had restocked the Tango. “I’ll bet what you consider basic supplies for the Tango are not what I would consider basic. That would involve a lot of chocolate and I’ll bet you’re not that kind of a girl.”
“Chocolate? No, popcorn is my weakness. Salt is at the top of my food chart,” Kay admitted.
“Maybe we can make some chocolate covered popcorn sometime,” Carter suggested.
Kay wrinkled her nose. “I used to know someone who ate bacon and grape jelly sandwiches. Maybe I should introduce you.”
“I don’t think so,” Carter said softly, abruptly changing the whole tenor of the conversation. “Meeting you is about all I can handle at the moment.”
“Is that good or bad?” Kay asked.
“Oh, I’d say good,” Carter said casually. “What are you going to do today?”
“Go check on the Tango. I guess I’ll go work out for a while. Then I’ll probably fritter away the rest of my time eating bourbon bonbons and watching soap operas.”
Carter laughed. “That’s what I thought. I’m not sure when I’ll be off today, but I’ll let you know and meet you at your ship so we can work on your comm link, okay?”
“That would be great. I’m a little anxious to have her space worthy as quickly as possible,” Kay said. “Maybe we could do a little test run with her when it’s all done, if we can get clearance and you can find the time.”
“If I can I will. We’re all waiting right now to see if the other Ultharian shoe is going to drop, but if we get clear of this I’d love to.” Carter thrilled at the thought of being in deep space, surrounded by nothing but stars in all directions, alone with Kay Lazarus. But a thought constantly danced in the back of her mind. When the Tango was space worthy Kay would leave. Civilians couldn’t live permanently on the space station. And Carter had four months left on her rotation here. She was pretty sure that she couldn’t stand being separated from Kay for that long.
Kay’s thoughts were running in the same direction. The Tango would be repaired soon and then her intense desire to be with Carter would be the only thing holding her here. Of course, she could arrange to come through the station a lot but that would wreak havoc with her cargo schedule and she would still go weeks on end without seeing her. She didn’t think she could stand not hearing her voice for that long. Funny coming from me, she thought. Me, who listens to no one but the computer’s voice for weeks on end, can’t stand to be separated from the sight and sound of someone I just met. It’s too soon to talk about it with her, and even so she has a job here. I can’t ask her to give it up even if she could. She ran into this dead-end over and over again. Maybe she should walk away now while she could. She looked at Carter to only be caught in the whirlpool of her green eyes. Too late. She couldn’t walk away if she tried, and there was not too much that Kay couldn’t do if she wanted to.
Arriving ten minutes early to her post, Carter spotted XO Warren. “You wanted to see me ma’am?”
Joan Warren looked at Lt. Laughlin without really seeming to see her. “What you do in your free time is
really none of my business, Lieutenant, but did I see you with Lazarus a couple of nights ago?”
Carter stiffened. “Ma’am?”
Warren’s focus on Carter tightened perceptibly. “Did you not hear me Lieutenant Laughlin, or are you avoiding answering me?”
Carter didn’t reply but kept her eyes straight ahead.
The XO’s eyes narrowed in anger. “I will be more than happy to relieve you of duty if you don’t answer me immediately.”
There was a dead silence all over the bridge and most work seemed to have come to a halt. Carter said, “Yes ma’am. You’re right. I was with Captain Lazarus, and it is none of your business.”
The XO’s face went stark white with anger as she stared at Carter, but she said nothing and turned and left the bridge.
“Oh my God,” said Annie Woo as Carter made her way to the comm center. “Do you have a death wish? Warren’s going to make your life miserable.”
“I was right and she knows it,” Carter replied shakily. “Who I associate with on off hours isn’t her business.”
The sympathetic look Annie gave Carter convinced her she had screwed up royally. “Well, maybe she’ll just forget that you told her it was none of her business in front of the entire senior staff.”
Carter groaned. “Maybe I should go find her and apologize.”
“I think you should let her calm down a little first,” Annie said.
“Besides, Captain DeForest and John Lyra have both been hanging around with her too. Why is she picking on me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you should find out.”
Kay went to the area where the Tango was being worked on and looked for the engineering chief. She didn’t find him, but her ship had been moved so she climbed aboard. Charging the main console, she was surprised to see new controls already installed. She checked her power supply and was pleased to find it full. She ran a short scan to find her shields were repaired and enhanced. She felt the thrill of having the Tango in top running shape again.
“Got to you a little earlier than I thought,” the chief’s voice came from the open door. “New systems went in like a charm. This is a nice ship. Neat as a pin,” he nodded approvingly.
Kay turned to face him. “You did a nice job.”
“Yep. I could tell by the way you maintain her that you’re persnickety, so I did most of the work myself after hours. I tweaked your shields a bit, hope you don’t mind. They’ve just come out with an upgraded enhancer and I had one laying around so…”
“I’m impressed. Id send all my friends here if I had any,” Kay laughed.
The chief didn’t. “I figure we owe you something around here, captain. Seems to some people around here you got a raw deal. I was just a mech engineer when you were stationed here, but Johnny Lyra came by and told me who you were. In fact, he’s the one…”
“Now, Frank, no telling tales out of school here,” John Lyra interrupted as he came aboard. “Hey Lazarus. Frank and I had to work on this bucket of bolts for hours to get her space worthy again.”
“Hey Johnny. I hope he didn’t let you touch any of the controls,” Kay walked over to him and put her arm around his shoulder. “Thanks for getting me up and running again. Both of you guys. I feel so much better knowing I can maneuver again. As soon as I get the comm link fixed, and I hope that’s today, then I’m ready to fly.”
John looked at her quizzically. “You’re leaving?”
At first he thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she said, “I don’t know. There’s not much I can do here.”
He looked sad. “I have to get back to work. The mad rush is on for civilian ships. Are you going to be around later today?”
“Yeah, I should be right here getting the comm link fixed. Come by if you can.”
“Okay. Don’t leave without saying goodbye.”
This time Kay looked sad. “I wouldn’t do that, Johnny.”
He and the chief left and Kay wandered around the Tango, finding the boxes of supplies left by the commissary. She neatly stowed them, briefly wondering how chocolate covered popcorn would taste. She activated the cleaner bots in cargo and the rest of the ship, then closed her up tight and went to work out.
That night when Carter got off duty, relieved that she had seen no more of her XO, she retreated to her quarters to change out of her uniform. Disappointed to have no messages from Kay Lazarus, she slipped on her robe and decided she needed very badly to calm and center herself. After muting her terminal so she wouldn’t be disturbed, she slipped her body easily into the Lotus position. She began the mental exercises she used to clear her mind of all extraneous thought. Soon her bunched muscles and nerves relaxed and after a while she unfolded herself and stood up, refreshed and calm. She noticed the terminal was blinking to let her know she had a message. “Retrieve,” she said.
Kay Lazarus’s image appeared. “Hi. I guess you’re still not off duty. I know it’s been a long day and you haven’t had much sleep lately, so if you aren’t up for working on the comm link tonight, I understand. I’ll be on the Tango if you want to get in touch.” She smiled. “Of course, the comm link doesn’t always work right, so catching me may be difficult. Maybe I’ll see you later.” Her image faded.
Hmm, thought Carter. She pulled on a coverall she used for physical work, made a quick call, grabbed her PIChip and left her quarters. After a stop in the concourse, she headed to where she hoped Kay was waiting for her. She stuck her head in the door of the Tango to see long legs sticking out from under the console. She rapped lightly with her knuckles and said, “Hello?” The legs jerked up as a solid thump sounded from underneath.
“Ow,” Kay scooted out rubbing her forehead. She scowled until she looked up and saw Carter. Her face underwent a remarkably rapid transformation. “Hi,” she said happily.
Carter dropped the package she was carrying and hurried to Kay. Dropping to her knees she said, “I’m sorry I startled you. Are you all right? Let me see your head.” She reached out and pulled Kay’s hand away from her forehead to reveal a red spot. Rubbing it with her fingers, she said, “I think you’ll probably live.”
“Yeah, but I think you should keep rubbing it anyway,” Kay groaned insincerely. She looked up and met Carter’s eyes, suddenly aware of the proximity of the young woman. She reached up and took Carter’s hands in her own. “Hi,” she said softly.
“Hi,” Carter replied, never breaking eye contact. Carter leaned over and hesitated for a moment when her lips were a fraction from Kay’s, then moved in and kissed her very lightly, twice. She backed away, attempting to keep her hands from trembling in Kay’s. She closed her eyes and took a deep shuddering breath. After a long, bad day at work this was the medicine she needed.
“Are you okay?” Kay looked concerned.
“Yeah. I…you…” Carter fumbled for the right words.
“I know,” Kay said. “I know.” She pulled Carter gently toward her and kissed her again, this time enfolding her in her arms, drowning in the smells and sights and sounds that were Carter Laughlin. Home at last, Kay thought. This is what I’ve waited for all my life and I didn’t even know I was looking for it.
Carter held on tightly. Her stomach growled and she looked down at it, a little embarrassed.
“You hungry?” Kay asked smiling.
“Actually yes. And I brought us something to eat. You haven’t eaten yet have you?” She jumped up as Kay shook her head no. “I stopped and got take out.” She started taking cartons out of the package she had brought in. “Chinese. And chocolate covered popcorn for desert.”
Kay raised one eyebrow. “You’re kidding.”
“Yes, I am. I had them hold the popcorn so it’s just chocolate. Ice cream. You’re not lactose intolerant or anything are you?”
“No,” Kay had to laugh at her.
“Maybe we should hold it against your forehead. It’s starting to swell a little.”
“Nah, it’s okay. It doesn’t hurt.”
Carter picked up a carton and a pair of chopsticks and handed it to Kay, then took another for herself. She sighed deeply as she maneuvered her chopsticks and got a bite of rice. “This day is ending up much better than it started out at work today. I had a run in with my XO and I’m pretty sure she’s going to make my life miserable for a while.”
Kay picked at her food and didn’t look at Carter. “With Joan Warren?”
“Uh, yeah. Sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up,” she mentally kicked herself, and stole a glance at Kay who suddenly looked unhappy.
“No, I want to know. I want to know everything about you,” Kay recovered herself.
Carter forced a smile. “Good. But I’d rather eat than talk about her.” She deflected the conversation away from her XO. “Tell me about your comm link problem.”
“Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. I ran diagnostics and learned it was a relay, but when I checked that relay I couldn’t see what was wrong with it. If it isn’t pretty basic, I’m a poor engineer.”
“Well, I’m a heck of an engineer. I’ll figure it out,” Carter spoke with confidence. They finished their food and Carter took Kay’s place under the console. She quickly ran diagnostics, pulled out her PIChip and inserted it, downloaded one of her electronic tools, and slid back out in about ten minutes. “I think that did it.”
“You can’t be finished already,” Kay was almost dismayed. “I worked on that stupid thing off and on for weeks, and you fixed it in five minutes?”
“I have tools you don’t have,” Carter said easily. “And besides, I’m good at what I do.” She waggled her brows suggestively at Kay.
“I’m sure you are,” Kay laughed, and looked around the cabin rather at a loss. “I thought we’d be here working on this thing all night. At least you’ll be able to go home and get a good night’s sleep.”
Carter looked disappointed. “That’s not on the top of my priority list right now.” She laughed. “We’re on constant yellow alert, my XO wants to rip my head off,” she hesitated a little, “and all I can think about is you. Does that mean my priorities are really good or really bad?” It was pounding so loud in her ears she was sure that Kay could hear her heart beating. “I feel as if I’m standing on the edge of a precipice Kay, and I want to go ahead and fall.”
Kay moved closer and reached her hands out to take Carter’s. “Then go ahead and fall. I’ll catch you,” she said softly. Carter’s arms encircled Kay tightly as Kay pulled her close. Carter buried her head against Kay’s shoulder, smelling the scent of her soap and hair. Kay rested her chin lightly on Carter’s blond head and closed her eyes. She felt Carter’s heart beating against her own, and heard her own breathing quicken. Carter loosened her grasp on Kay and looked up into her pale blue eyes. Kay met her gaze, slid her hand behind Carter’s head and pulled her slowly into a deep kiss. As the kiss lingered, the storm of emotion that erupted in her almost stunned her in its intensity.
“Oh. My,” said Carter as they slowly broke apart and looked at each other. “If you don’t go lock the hatch door then I’m going to,” she said shakily. Kay nodded, wondering if her legs would hold her up if she tried to walk and was surprised when they did. She closed the door, took Carter by the hand, and led her into her sleeping quarters.
Standing by the bunk, Kay reached down to the top of her coverall and began to unfasten it. “Let me,” said Carter. She slowly unfastened the front of the work suit and pulled it off Kay’s shoulders. It fell to the floor and Kay sat on the bunk. Carter pulled it off the rest of the way and then began undoing her own clothes. Kay watched as the young woman slowly peeled off her clothes until she stood before her naked.
“You’re beautiful,” Kay whispered. Carter leaned over and kissed her and took the opportunity to remove the rest of Kay’s underclothes. Kay lay down on the bunk.
“So are you,” Carter whispered back. She climbed onto the bunk next to Kay and they began a slow and sweet exploration of each other that was tentative at first, then grew more heated and urgent, culminating in a rush of intensity and emotion unlike either had known before. It was new and thrilling, but still familiar somehow. They each instinctively knew what would please the other. They had finally landed where they both belonged, and it was both a relief and exhilarating in its intensity. When it was over, Carter rolled away from Kay to hide the tears in her eyes.
“Are you all right?” Kay asked with concern, leaning over Carter.
“Yes. I’m sorry. I’m feeling so much…” Carter tried to explain.
“Sssh, it’s all right sweetheart,” Kay comforted her. “I understand.” And Carter knew that she did and almost laughed in her relief. “That’s better,” said Kay gently smiling. “Gosh, I’ve never made anyone cry before.”
Carter sat up with a look of mock fierceness on her face. “And you better not ever again,” she replied. Her expression softened. “I liked that.”
“Which part?” Kay asked.
“All of it. And I liked that you called me sweetheart.”
Kay leaned over and kissed her. And they began again.
Sometime in the early morning hours Kay Lazarus woke up. Once again she was pinned like a butterfly in a bug collection. Carter Laughlin’s leg was thrown over her own, her arm wrapped firmly around her waist, her head nestled on her shoulder. She lay in the dark of her quarters in the Tango, listening to her lover’s soft even breathing. She hadn’t meant to get this involved, this quickly, but she had no regrets. Nothing in her life experience compared to the last three days. She had gone from a loner who liked it that way to someone who was suddenly floundering and wondering how to reconcile these wild, wonderful feelings with the rest of her life. She sighed and attempted to extricate herself without waking Carter. She failed.
Carter opened her eyes and looked sleepily at Kay. “What time is it?” she asked.
“About 0400 hours, I think,” she replied quietly.
“We just went to sleep. Why are you awake already?” Carter rolled over and sat up. Kay put her hand on Carter’s bare back and rubbed in circles.
“I don’t know. Something woke me up,” Kay told her.
Carter was instantly more alert. “Maybe I’d better check in. I wonder if something has happened.” She hopped out of the bunk and pulled on her coverall. “I’m going to use your terminal, okay?” She padded barefoot onto the bridge of the Tango and accessed her messages. There was only one but it was from Captain DeForest.
“All senior officers to the bridge immediately. We are under red alert,” his image was calm but serious. Carter checked the time on the message and was relieved to discover it was only minutes old. Kay was watching over Carter’s shoulder and looked at her with concern.
“I’ve got to run. I’ve got to get to my quarters and change into my uniform. Please stay somewhere so I can get in touch with you,” Carter turned to face Kay and her expression softened. “Last night was so wonderful.”
“Yes, it was,” Kay kissed her lightly. “You’d better go. Call me when you can.” Carter nodded, grabbed her boots and ran out the door.
Carter appeared on the bridge a minute before XO Warren who glanced at her when she arrived and swept by to speak with the Captain. Carter was briefly relieved but soon caught up in the business of her job and had no more time to worry about her XO. An Ultharian battlestar had been detected only a couple of hours away and heading in their direction.
“We’re sure it’s just the one ship?” DeForest asked Carter.
Carter checked the scanner again. “Yes sir. That’s all I’m reading. I’m just now picking up the track of their warp drive from the probe that spotted them. I’ll get the analysis and feed it in. I’ll be sure in about a minute.” She watched the data stream in and compared it to the information they already had. She walked over to where the captain was talking to the XO. “There’s just the one ship, sir,” she reported.
“Are you sure?” Warren snapped at her.
Captain DeForest looked a little surprised. Carter maintained a neutral tone as she looked at her XO. “Yes ma’am. I’d bet my life on it.”
“You’re betting all our lives on it, Lieutenant,” she responded coldly. “Return to your station.”
“Yes ma’am,” Carter replied blandly, not failing to notice the shrewd look Captain DeForest was giving both of them.
After her usual obsessiveness about checking and rechecking the Tango, making sure she was ready to depart on a moment’s notice, Kay Lazarus was a third of the way back to her quarters in the station when she saw John Lyra. He was walking rapidly in the opposite direction with a younger man who seemed familiar to her. “Lazarus,” John called to her. “Walk with us for a minute.”
Kay turned and fell in step with the men. “You remember Ian Dunworthy, don’t you?” John asked gesturing toward the younger man.
Kay put a name on the familiar face. “Yes I do,” she said. “Although you’ve changed in the last few years. I didn’t recognize you at first, Dunworthy. You were just a kid last time I saw you.”
“It’s been a while, Major. I’m the leader of the fighter squadron now,” he told her. “In fact, we’re flying out in few minutes, but I was hoping for a chance to talk to you while you’re on the station. I want to pick your brain about a few things. You’ll be around a while, won’t you?”
Kay smiled at him, awash in conflicting feelings. “Yes, I think so. I’ll talk to you when you have more time.” Johnny peered over at her. Just last night she hadn’t known whether she was staying or not. Of course, she was temporarily trapped here like everyone until the immediate danger was over. Whatever the reason, and he had his suspicions, he was glad she was here. They walked into the ready room where the pilots were pulling on their flight gear and boarding their fighters. The room came to a hush as the older fighters recognized Lazarus. Then it erupted. “Well, I’ll be damned!” “Welcome back, Major.” “You remember hearing about Lazarus,” this to a younger pilot she didn’t recognize.
“Hello everyone,” she spoke quietly. “It’s nice to see you all.”
Dunworthy cut in. “Everybody ready? We’re flying a double 3-2-1, North to South and East to West. I’ve got A team, Nkwanda, you’ll lead B team. Everyone know their position?” A couple of the younger pilots looked nervous, Kay noticed. Probably their first real combat mission, she thought. Simulations weren’t quite the same thing as having an enemy actually trying to obliterate you. She glanced over to see Captain DeForest walking in.
“I want to wish you luck. They’re closing in quickly, so get going and do us proud,” DeForest clapped a young woman on the shoulder as they all turned and headed to their fighters.
“Bridge to Captain,” XO Warren’s disembodied voice came through his communicator. “They’re coming in. They’re on us.”
At that moment, there was a loud whump and the floor shook beneath them. Before anyone could even react, there was another whump, followed immediately by a blinding flash of light as the ready room was hit by a firestorm.
Carter stared at the screen unbelieving. “Ma’am, they’ve picked up speed. They’re closing in.”
Warren hit her comm button. “Bridge to Captain. They’re coming in. They’re on us.” She spun around. “Battlestations everyone. Brace yourselves. Shields at full strength. Get ready to return fire.
Lieutenant, try hailing…” She broke off as the first volley rocked the station.
“Shields are holding,” reported one of the bridge engineers, just as the station was hit by the second round of proton fire. “Damage to the third deck, section three. Looks like the fighter bays. We’ve got it sealed. We’re getting reports of injuries and fire.”
“Send all available emergency personnel to that section. Did the fighters get out?”
Carter looked out into space through the large viewscreen. She didn’t see any of their fighters and knew they were all in trouble. Thank the gods Kay isn’t in that section, she thought, as she turned back to her task.
Kay felt the blast before it hit her and knocked her back against the wall. She slid to the floor, momentarily stunned, but then as her senses returned she took a quick personal inventory. Her head hurt from the impact with the wall, but she was thinking clearly and didn’t think she had a concussion. Her arms and legs were intact and moving. Good enough. She got to her feet and began looking around for the others. She spotted Captain DeForest struggling up from the floor and pulled him up to his feet. It was chaos. Sirens were blaring and firefighting foam was being blown out by bots, while other bots were sealing breaches and picking up debris. Medical personnel were entering, along with armed security forces in case of an invasion.
“Are you all right?” she hollered at DeForest over the din. He nodded. He pointed in one direction, and then at her. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll go see what I can do.” She had seen battles before, but they had always been in space from the ship that was doing the firing. This was a mess. The young woman DeForest had clapped on the shoulder was dead, her neck twisted in an unnatural position. Kay left her and moved on to the next body. A groaning man whose face been badly burned by the blast sat rocking. She squatted next to him and said, “I’m here with you. You’ll be okay. Help is on the way.” She waved at a medic who hurried over. Thank the gods burn victims were usually grafted back together quickly from the biobank, and not forced to suffer like in the past. Even his eyes were replaceable if necessary. He’d never be a pilot again, but he’d be alive and whole.
Kay let the medic take over and moved to the next victim. It was Ian Dunworthy. He was dead. She didn’t need to look any further to know that. Her stomach did a flip and she quickly suppressed the urge to get sick. As the smoke cleared, she looked around the room and saw that at least a dozen were dead or seriously wounded, still more standing or sitting in shock. A few were moving around helping. Her anger honed to a keen edge.
“Okay, listen up!” she shouted. “Listen!” Heads turned towards her. “Those who can, help those who are hurt first. Let’s clear the room as quickly as possible. We have wounded to take care of and then the rest of us have a battle to fight. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let them get away with this.”
The pilots, still reeling, didn’t move for a few seconds and then her words and attitude seemed to get through. The ones left unharmed began moving purposefully. DeForest picked his way through the wreckage to where Lazarus was standing.
“I can’t let a civilian take a fighter out. You know that,” he said in a low voice.
“Then consider me militia. I’ll take the Tango,” she said, daring him to contradict her.
“You’ll get killed in a cargo ship, even one rigged like her. She’s not made for this kind of close fighting,” he said. “I can’t allow it.” She stared at him. “Take a fighter,” he decided. “If there are consequences, I’ll take the blame. But don’t get killed, damn it.”
“Not on your watch, huh?” she asked.
“It’s always my watch,” he said grimly, looking around the wreckage of the room.
A few minutes later Captain DeForest strode back onto the bridge as the hatches opened and the first of the flyers shot out. The station had taken a couple of more hits, but none as deadly as the one that hit the ready room. “Status?” he inquired as he entered.
“Shields are holding. We have injuries on three decks, minor hull damage, the only breach in third deck, section three, which has been contained. We have returned fire, but only done minimal damage. They have not, needless to say, answered our hails,” Warren appraised him of the current situation. “Was the damage to the fighters bad?” Everyone on the bridge looked at him for his answer.
“Bad enough,” he told them. No point in hiding the news. “We’ve lost eight pilots. Six more are injured but will probably recover. Two fighters were damaged and we lost the squadron leader.” The bridge fell silent as the full weight of the information seeped in. “But we’ve still got a battle to fight,” he said, nodding at the viewscreen. The remaining fighters were getting in wing formation.
” Who’s leading if we lost Dunworthy?” Warren asked.
DeForest hesitated, knowing the XO would not be happy. “Major Lazarus,” he said, biting the bullet. Warren stared at him.
“But she’s a civilian,” she objected, attempting to fight back her fury.
“We’re in trouble, Joan. I had to make a decision and I made it,” he cut her off, his expression stopping any protest she may have made. For the moment anyway, he thought.
Neither of them noticed the look of total shock on Lieutenant Carter Laughlin’s face as she watched the fighters race off after the Ultharian battlestar.
Carter, as the senior communications officer, was the person responsible for maintaining contact with the fighters while they were away from the station. This was not her first experience as a communications officer in a war situation, but it was her first with her lover as the squadron leader.
“Zebra to squadron leader. Report,” she sent the message out into space. There was a hesitation, so she repeated, “Report, squadron leader.” Come on Kay. Let me hear you.
“Squadron leader to Zebra. We are in pursuit,” Lazarus’s voice came through.
“Acknowledged.” Carter looked at DeForest. “Orders, sir?”
“She knows what to do,” he replied. “Just tell her to stay in contact.”
“Yes sir.” Carter turned back to the screen. “Captain requests that you stay in contact, squadron leader.” And so do I, was the unspoken addition.
Which Lazarus heard. “Acknowledged, Zebra. We’re closing in and flanking.” The battlestar was large and not very maneuverable, but its destructive powers were legendary. “Captain, I’m sending the others out to distract them from me. I’m going to attempt to fire a shot in their primary warp core.” This was an incredibly dangerous maneuver. If she could get into position, she was in an extremely vulnerable place, and if she got the shot off exactly right, then the warp core could blow and destroy everything in its path, including her. Kay Lazarus announced this plan as casually as if she had said she was going for a walk on the concourse.
“That’s too dangerous, Lazarus. Try targeting their weapons array instead. Let’s just cripple them and send them home,” DeForest leaned over Carter at the comm center. “Lazarus? Lazarus, damn it. Acknowledge.” There was silence from the fighter. Come on Kay. Answer us, thought Carter. The silence continued.
After what seemed like hours to Carter, but was actually only minutes, a whoop came through the comm center. A voice DeForest recognized as Nkwanda Johnson’s said excitedly, “She did it. She blew their warp core. They’re dead in the water.”
Carter took back her place at the comm center. “Squadron leader, respond.” She waited a moment. “Kay, are you there?” Oblivious to the looks of surprise from the rest of the bridge, she heaved a huge sigh of relief when her lover’s voice came back.
“Yes Carter, I’m here. We’ve put them out of commission Captain. Now would be a good time to send a nuclear missile their way. We’re on our way home.”
“Mark and fire when all fighters are safely back,” DeForest nodded to the weapons engineer. The CO grinned broadly looking at the viewscreen, counting the fighters as they came back into view. He rested his hand on the shoulder of Carter who was struggling to maintain her composure as she watched Kay Lazarus leading the fighters safely home.
Lazarus was a little disappointed not to find Carter Laughlin among the crowds of admiring people who came to greet the returning heroes, and then chided herself for expecting anything. Carter was still on duty, no doubt. Captain DeForest did show up however, as they were putting the ships to bed. “I gave you an order you deliberately disobeyed, Lazarus,” he spoke privately.
“Yes sir. I was wrong,” she replied, knowing full well that she would do it again.
He stared at her. He laughed. “Forget it. I lost my head and forgot who I was talking to for a moment. You did a great job out there. All of you,” he amplified his voice to include the rest of the pilots. “I’m proud of how well you came together after the tragedy earlier this morning. I know it was difficult for you.” He looked around the room allowing his emotions to show. “We’re all proud of you.” He threw them a light salute and left the room. A silence followed his departure as the pilots got back to the business of stowing away and checking their ships for damage.
Lazarus completed her work and walked alone back to her rented quarters near the concourse. She submitted to the retinal scan that allowed her to enter her room, pulled her boots off and fell instantly and deeply asleep. When she awoke, it was night. She glanced at the chronometer and was surprised to learn she had slept for eight hours. She got up and got a cup of coffee from the replicator, stripped off her clothes and took a long shower. She was toweling her hair dry when she heard a knock on the door. Pulling on her robe she said, “Open,” wondering where Carter had been.
The door whooshed open to Joan Warren who didn’t move. Kay Lazarus froze for a moment while the situation registered. She grinned at Joan Warren, but it was not a pleasant look. “Hello Joan,” she said.
“What are doing here?” Joan Warren stepped partway into the room although not enough to allow the door to close. “Why have you come back?”
“I know this is hard for you to believe Joan, but it has nothing to do with you,” Lazarus bit off the words. “And I don’t believe I owe you an explanation of what I do or why.”
“You’ve never believed you owed anybody anything, Lazarus,” Warren snapped.
“No, just you, Joan. I owe a lot to a lot of people, but you aren’t one of them,” Lazarus replied. She saw Carter walk cautiously to the door behind Joan Warren.
“You had your fun today Lazarus, but the show’s over. I want you out of here now,” Warren hissed. She suddenly noticed that Carter was standing there. She stared at Carter. “And leave my officers alone. I won’t allow you to corrupt them.” She spun on her heel and stalked off.
Carter looked sympathetically at Kay who was struggling to control her anger. Carter walked the rest of the way in so the door closed behind her. She tentatively put her arms around Kay and felt her relax at the gentle touch. “It’s okay,” Carter whispered. “You can corrupt me if you want to. I’d probably like it.”
Kay laughed and held her tighter.
They held each other for a long time before Carter pulled back enough to look up into Kay’s eyes. “So what’s her problem with you, Kay?”
Kay held on a moment longer then walked over and picked up her coffee cup. Carter, recognizing a delaying tactic when she saw one, remained silent. Kay turned back to face Carter and said, “When I was first stationed here, Joan Warren was my immediate superior.” Kay paused, obviously uncomfortable telling the story. “She was attracted to me. She made no secret of it and it was flattering in a way. She wasn’t really someone that I…well, I allowed myself to be attracted to her attraction, if you know what I mean. One night we went out and had a few drinks and one thing led to another. We ended up sleeping together.” Kay glanced at Carter to gauge her reaction, but Carter remained impassive. Gathering her courage she continued. “It just didn’t do anything for me. I told her I didn’t want to be involved with her like that, that I liked working with her but that was all I wanted from her. She went kind of crazy. She started sending me letters and gifts. She wouldn’t leave me alone and other people were noticing. I finally had to tell her in no uncertain terms that I just didn’t want her as my lover.”
“She took it badly, huh?” Carter asked, vaguely sympathizing with her XO.
“Worse than bad,” Kay replied. “She started sending me out on really dangerous, pointless missions. She would insult me and criticize me in front of the other pilots. Then she started talking bad about me to the CO. He called me in and told me to be more respectful to her, but I think he realized something was left out of the story she was telling.”
“Why didn’t you tell him what happened? She was your superior. You wouldn’t have gotten in trouble,” Carter asked.
“It was a personal matter,” Kay said proudly. “I thought I could handle it without dragging all the sordid details into it. And anyway, she was up for a promotion at the time and I thought once she was promoted the whole thing would blow over. She did get promoted and I was booted up to squadron leader. She fought that too, but DeForest stood by me. She was still my immediate superior but she didn’t have as much time to make my life miserable anymore.”
Kay stopped talking. Carter said, “And then the whole thing happened with the Ultharian attack?”
But Kay had reached the end of her ability to talk about it. She just nodded.
“Are you okay?” Carter took her hand.
“I’m fine,” Kay assured her. She hastened to change the subject. “I missed you. When I woke up I realized I’d been asleep for hours.”
Carter let her off the hook for now. “Yes, you had,” she replied. “This is the fourth time I’ve been by to check on you. I knocked, but you didn’t wake up. I had the station computer look for you to make sure you were here.” She reached down and tugged gently on the belt of the robe Kay was wearing. “I like this. Whatcha got on underneath it?”
Kay smiled and her eyes took on a smoky quality. “Come here. I’ll show you.” She untied the belt.
“So tell me everything again,” Carter said later, as they snuggled together in bed.
“How many ways can I tell it, sweetheart?” Kay was amused by Carter’s insistence on knowing every detail of the battle. “We caught up to them, the other fighters flanked them to distract them from me, I cut up from underneath and behind them and as soon as I fired the shot at their reactor, I veered straight up out of their path so the fallout wouldn’t catch me.”
“So how come you make it sound so easy if the Captain thinks it’s so dangerous?” Carter inquired. “No, don’t laugh. It’s not funny. I need to know if I’m getting…um, involved with a reckless nut or a tactical genius.”
“Probably a bit of both, though I’d prefer to think genius,” Kay smiled at her. “The mistake that most people make when they try to shoot at a reactor is to wait and see if the shot reaches its target. If you see that it did, you’re dead. You’ve waited too long to cut and run. You have to have a feel for these things. It is risky. He’s right. But it was the right thing to do today in that situation.”
Carter looked down and didn’t reply.
“What?” said Kay.
“I thought…today when you were out there…I was afraid you were going to get hurt,” Carter blurted out. Tears welled in her eyes, much to Kay’s dismay. “I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you. I know we haven’t known each other that long, but everything has changed for me.”
Kay listened, stroking her hair, slightly rocking as she held her. Carter’s tears slowed. Finally Kay said, “I know. Everything has changed. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Carter peered up at her. “What do you mean?”
Kay wiped the tears off Carter’s face as she gazed at her. “I don’t know what to do about the fact that you live and work here, and I don’t. I don’t know what to do about the fact that I’m hauling cargo in deep space eleven months out of the year. I don’t know how to reconcile what I want, and what I hope you want, with the realities of our lives.”
Carter listened to the words that were both said and unsaid. “We’ll work it out. Something will come up.” She wrapped her arms around Kay. “Thank you.”
“For what?” Kay asked.
“For talking about it. Sometimes it takes more courage to say how you feel than it does to fight a battle.” Carter shrewdly hit the nail on the head.
“Yes, I suppose sometimes it does,” Kay stroked Carter’s soft hair.
Early the next morning, Kay awoke to the sensation of a mouth on her breast sending jolts of pleasure directly between her legs. “How long have you been awake?” she groaned.
“Long enough,” Carter mumbled. She looked up at Kay’s face. Her eyes had narrowed with lust, her rumpled hair fell with abandon onto the pillow around her. “By God, you’re beautiful,” Carter breathed.
Kay watched Carter with pure desire written on her face. Carter’s pulse quickened as her hands roamed the body of the woman she loved. She moved without hurry as she pushed aside the blanket and explored and kissed and caressed every inch of Kay Lazarus. Kay became more and more impatient as Carter took her time, until she heard a very sweet “Please,” coming from her lover. She smiled at the thought of this gorgeous warrior begging for her touch and gave Kay exactly what she asked for.
“Want some more coffee?” Carter asked Kay, kissing her on top of her head as she walked to the replicator.
“I think I’ve had enough stimulation for this morning, thanks,” Kay replied with deeply satisfied sigh. Carter smiled a little smugly and helped herself to another cup.
Settling at the small table across from Kay, Carter became more serious. “What are you going to do about Joan Warren?”
“Nothing,” Kay replied. “Unless she forces the issue with me, or gives you trouble. She’s not my superior officer anymore. She can’t make me leave the station just because she doesn’t like me. I’m allowed a certain amount of time to make my ship space ready and she can’t change the regs just for me.”
At Kay’s opinion that the XO may give her trouble, Carter frowned. “Wouldn’t it be better to go ahead and confront the situation? Maybe if you sat down and talked to her you could come to an understanding of sorts.” Seeing the look on Kay’s face she amended, “Or not.”
“You don’t know her like I do,” Kay said. “She’s a whacko.”
“Maybe she’s changed…”
“No. You saw her in here, Carter. She was furious at me for just being here. I’m a serious threat to her for some perverted reason in her brain.”
“Maybe she’ll leave you alone now that she has me to harass,” Carter joked, but with a slightly worried cast. “I didn’t tell you that we had words on the bridge yesterday in front of the entire senior staff.”
One elegant eyebrow lifted as a dangerous expression crept onto Kay’s face. “About?”
“About whom I spend my off time with,” Carter informed her. “I told her it was none of her business.”
“Be careful, Carter. She’s more dangerous than you may realize,” Kay said with practiced control. “I underestimated her a few years ago, but it won’t happen again.” She managed a tight smile for her lover, knowing full well that if Joan Warren harmed a hair on this sweet woman’s head, she would be in for the fight of her life.
“I will. Speaking of senior staff, I have a meeting in an hour. I have to get ready to go,” Carter told her reluctantly. “I miss you already.”
“Call me when you have a break and I’ll meet you,” Kay told her. “And I’m going to try and meet with DeForest today. I have an idea.”
“I think we can reasonably expect retaliation,” Captain DeForest announced at the senior staff meeting. “I don’t know how long it will take for Ulthar to respond to the destruction of their battlestar, but I imagine it will happen pretty quickly. We are in a bad spot here. We lost a significant amount of our pilots in the attack yesterday. We lost two fighters and had some damage done to several others. Hopefully they will be repaired by the time we need them. I’ve sent a message to the Federation asking for pilots, but the response I got was less than I hoped for. Every station and colony is preparing for the worst and are reluctant to spare anyone.”
“So we’re sitting ducks?” asked the weapons engineer.
“Not exactly,” DeForest responded. “We’re not going to be taken by surprise again and that’s something. I think if we’re prepared, we can reasonably expect to defend ourselves.” The rest of the staff looked doubtfully back at him. “I’m open for suggestions,” he snapped.
“I think we should evacuate all civilians and nonessential personnel,” said Joan Warren. “If we can send them to the nearest colony that would be one less headache.”
“That’s a possibility,” DeForest responded. “What do you think, John?”
The warrant officer nodded. “I think it’s a good idea if we get started right away. The Ultharians aren’t going to bother small civilian ships. There’s no gain in it. I think they’d actually be safer in their ships or on the ground.”
“Okay. What else?” DeForest cast a keen eye around the room.
John Lyra spoke again. “Sir, if I may suggest…” he paused and looked over at the XO. “We have a very valuable resource here on the station right now. Major Lazarus is the best battle tactician we’ve ever had and it seems to me…”
“No,” XO Warren interrupted him. “In the first place, she’s not a Major. She resigned her commission. In the second place, she’s a civilian and that breaks every reg in the book. In the third place, she went out there yesterday and disobeyed a direct order from the captain. In the fourth place, she…”
“We get the picture,” the CO said. He took a deep breath and appeared to steel himself. “I’ll take it under consideration.”
“Sir, you can’t,” Warren protested.
James DeForest met Warren’s eyes and whatever she saw there caused her drop her protest for the moment. During this exchange, Carter felt torn between rejoicing that her lover might be staying on the station and despair that she would be both in danger from the Ultharians and from her XO. Reeling from the suddenly very personal turn the discussion had taken, she failed to notice for a moment that all eyes were on her. Realizing the CO had spoken, she was forced to ask, “I beg your pardon, sir?”
“I asked if you had any input into this discussion, Lieutenant?” the Captain repeated.
“Me, sir?” Carter stalled. DeForest continued to watch her. “All I know about Major Lazarus’s performance as a pilot is from yesterday’s results. I was impressed.” She ignored the snort of disgust coming from her XO. “I think we should use every asset available to us, Captain. If she’s willing to stay, and frankly that may be a big if.” Carter glanced at her XO then back at the CO.
“I also think that patrols should be doubled, Captain,” John Lyra turned the conversation. The meeting continued, Carter’s head full of Kay Lazarus. Every time she glanced Joan Warren’s way, she found her XO’s eyes coldly looking back at her.
Finally the meeting was called to an end and as Carter started to rise she heard the CO ask her to stay for a moment. The room emptied out and Carter was slightly dismayed to find herself alone with the Captain and XO Warren. DeForest waited for a moment watching the two of them. “Was there something else?” he asked the XO.
“No sir. I thought if you had a problem with someone under my command I should stay,” she told him.
“That won’t be necessary this time. Thank you,” he said, dismissing her. After a last quick glance at Carter she left the room.
Captain DeForest waited until the door had closed behind Joan Warren before turning to Carter. “So, Lt. Laughlin,” he said. “What’s going on with you and the XO?”
Carter blushed at his forthrightness. “What do you mean, sir?”
“You’ve always been an excellent officer, lieutenant. But the XO tells me you’ve been slacking off the last few days.”
Carter was shocked, but forced herself to remain calm. “Not that I’m aware of, sir. She hasn’t said anything to me. I’ve been working the same shifts as all senior staff.” She tried very hard to keep any defensive tone out of her voice.
DeForest looked carefully at her. “I have never had any complaints about you, Lt. Laughlin. Let’s keep it that way. Don’t give the XO any ammunition to use against you.’” He paused. “I’m aware of her animosity toward Major Lazarus. I won’t have another power struggle going on here in the midst of everything else. I’m just asking you to stay out of her way as much as possible until we’re through this.”
Carter nodded. “Yes sir. I understand, but I’m not looking for trouble. It seems to have come looking for me.”
“I am aware of the problem, Lieutenant. I’m asking you to help me help you.” He turned to the viewscreen and looked out at the stars. “That’s all, Lieutenant. Carry on.”
“Yes sir.” Carter turned to walk out the door.
After Carter left for her meeting, Kay showered, dressed and put in a call to James DeForest. She left a message requesting a meeting with him at his earliest convenience. She picked up her PIChip and headed to the concourse for breakfast. After ordering food, she allowed the vid screen to feed her the news. There was still no word from Gamma colony, which did not bode well at all. In this case, no news was probably bad news. There had been no new attacks from the enemy either. That meant they were probably regrouping to focus a more concereted attack on one target. That’s what I’d do, Kay thought. And that target could very well be DSSZebra. If they Ultharians were to attack Zebra, she thought, then it would be to utterly destroy it as a military base. They wouldn’t bother with an invasion in all likelihood. Too much risk for too little gain. This sort of commerce was of little interest to them. Therefore it would be essential to remove all civilians from the station as soon as possible.
The screen beeped to alert her to an incoming message. “Good morning,” Captain DeForest’s image appeared. “What a coincidence to get your message. I was just going to request a minute of your time this morning.”
“Good morning,” Kay responded. “I have a couple of ideas I’d like to kick around with you, if I may. When would be a good time for you?”
“Actually, now,” he replied. “Are you busy?”
“No, I’m not,” she replied with a grin.
“Meet me in my office in ten minutes then,” he signed off.
Lazarus pulled her PIChip shutting down the terminal, and headed off to the CO’s office. Arriving at his doorway at the same time as he did, they walked in together and the door swooshed shut behind them. The office was a typical space station office, except a little larger than the rest. It contained a neat desk, a couple of uncomfortable chairs on the visitor’s side of the desk and a better on one the CO’s side. Only one of the three terminals available to him was active.
“I had an idea…” they both began, then laughed.
“You first,” said Lazarus.
“Okay. There was some discussion in the staff meeting this morning about our lack of resources at the moment, and your name was brought up. It seemed to some people there that you are a valuable source of information right now when we need it the most,” he watched her carefully.
“May I ask who brought my name up?” Kay asked neutrally.
“I believe it was John Lyra. The general concensus was that you are the best battle tactician that this station has even had on board, although there was one exception to this concensus,” he continued. “One rather vehement exception. The truth of the matter is that while I would love to figure out a way for you to come back on board for the duration of this situation, there are a few things I have concerns about. The first, of course, is whether or not you’d even be interested.”
“Yes, sir, I would be interested,” Lazarus responded without hesitation. “What other concerns do you have?” She was pretty sure she knew what those concerns would be, but it was better for him to voice them.
“My second concern is how to legally bring you into a military matter,” he said.
“I have an idea about that,” Lazarus told him. “That was what I wanted to see you about. I think it is not unheard of for the Federation to hire civilian consultants. From there, it’s just a small step to getting me on a fighter, especially if I have an officer on board with me.”
DeForest looked interested. “Go on.”
“I figured if the Federation took me on as a civilian consultant, and you told the poweres that be that I was supervised at all times by an officer you trust that it might work. Especially since we… I mean, you’re so short on pilots right now. Assign a liason officer to me,” Lazarus met his eyes with confidence.
“I have requested more pilots and have been notified that they are not forthcoming anytime soon,” he said thoughtfully. “Let me mull this over, but I think it might work. I can flesh out the details with the brass. Meanwhile, consider yourself on staff. My third concern is Warren. She is not happy about the idea of you working here in any capacity. I will deal with her, but I would ask you to sidestep her as much as possible. I just had this same conversation with our senior communications engineer. Maybe I should assign her to you as liason officer and kill two birds with one stone.”
Kay stared at him. “Lt. Laughlin?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Oh, that’s right. You know her, don’t you? I heard her call you by your first name when you were out yesterday. I didn’t even know you had a first name,” he joked. His smile faded as the look on her face registered. “Is something wrong?”
Kay hesitated. “No, sir. It’s just that I think someone with more battle experience would be a better choice,” she hedged, not wanting to put Carter in any more danger than they were all already in.
“Frankly, she’s probably safer out there in a fighter with the best pilot than she is stuck on the station. And anyone with more battle experience is going to be more useful elsewhere. She’s a trained officer, and a darn good one, Lazarus.”
“Yes, sir, I’m sure she is,” Kay abruptly changed her mind. It was better to have Carter with her where she could protect her than to watch from a distance as the station was attacked. Of course, none of them may survive this no matter where they were.
“Then it’s settled. I’ll talk to Carter and Warren about having her reassigned to you,” he told her, and they moved on to discussing the logistics and tactics they would employ in the upcoming days.
Executive Officer Joan Warren was furious. She left the CO’s office and returned to her quarters despite the fact that there was still an hour until she was relieved on the bridge. She stopped for the retinal scan that allowed her to enter her rooms, then repeated the scan plus a voice scan to access her tightly controlled terminal. She manipulated the already oversecured comm link to open an encoded outside line. She sent out her cryptic message with a sense of joyless anticipation, and then returned to the bridge to pass the time until she received a reply.
At the end of her shift, Lt. Carter Laughlin stood in the CO’s office for the second time that day. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes, lieutenant, I do. As of today, I have cleared you from bridge duty for the duration of this situation with the Ultharians.”
Carter blanched. “Sir, I don’t know what I did to make you lose faith in me, but I’m not…”
“You haven’t done anything wrong, Lieutenant. I’m reassigning you as a liaison officer. Lazarus is coming aboard as a civilian consultant, and I want you to help her out with whatever she needs. This will include flying combat missions with her if that should prove necessary. In fact, she will not be allowed to fly without you. Are you up for that?”
Sister Rabbit’s being thrown in the brier patch, thought Carter exultantly. “Yes, sir, I am,” she replied calmly. “I appreciate the opportunity.” How did she swing this? Carter wondered.
“You will report directly to me. Understood?” DeForest asked. Carter understood the implication that the XO was cut out of the loop.
“Yes, sir,” Carter wondered how XO Warren had reacted to this news. Not good, would be her guess. And now Carter was cut from her staff altogether. Yes, she thought it would seem prudent to avoid the XO for now. As Carter took her leave of the CO, her mind raced ahead to the advantages this assignment would bring to her. First and foremost, she got to be with Kay. Second, she was relieved of duty under the XO who was obviously out to make her life miserable. Third, combat duty brought the fastest advancement through the Federation should she choose to stay in the service. A week ago that thought would never have crossed her mind. She had every intention of being a career officer and was on the fast track to advancement. Now, everything was different. Change is the only thing that’s consistent, she thought ironically.
She walked briskly back to officer’s quarters as she mulled over the changes of the last few days. Entering her quarters, she was pleased to see she had a message waiting. She had intended to meet Kay Lazarus for a few minutes during her break but somehow that break had never come. “Retrieve,” she instructed the terminal.
As Kay’s image appeared, Carter felt a loopy grin steal across her face that she had no control over whatsoever. “Hi Carter,” said the smiling image. “Call me when you get in. We have things to discuss,” Kay’s voice lowered a register, “And I’m hungry.” The image disappeared, but Carter’s grin didn’t. Carter told the terminal to connect her to Lazarus’s quarters.
After a moment, Kay appeared. “Hi,” she said happily.
“Hi,” Carter replied, gazing at the face she had longed to see all day. “So you’re hungry, huh?”
“Yep,” Kay pinned her with those ice blue eyes. “I sure am.”
Carter sighed. “Why don’t you pick something up and come to my quarters? I need to eat and work out, and mostly I need to see you.”
“Okay,” Kay smiled at her. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Bring your toothbrush with you,” Carter smiled sweetly at her.
Carter had replaced her uniform with work out clothes and was just finishing up her yoga exercises when the door chimed to let her know someone was there. “Come in,” she called, automatically opening the door. Kay Lazarus walked in and sat a container down on the small table. Never taking her eyes off of Carter, she slowly moved to where Carter stood, reached her right hand behind Carter’s head and got a firm grip on her hair. Tugging her head back, Kay leaned down to meet Carter’s lips with her own and kissed her with such depth and passion that Carter felt her knees give way. Realizing that she had basically swooned, she wrapped one leg behind Kay’s waist. Kay’s hands moved underneath Carter and lifted her up as Carter wrapped her other leg behind Kay. In this embrace, Kay carried Carter over to her bunk. Then Carter was lying on the bed with Kay on top of her and Kay was saying really wicked things and doing wonderful things with her tongue. Carter was thankful she was lying down because otherwise she surely would have fallen.
Later, as they sat eating the food that Kay had brought, Carter said, “The funniest thing happened to me today.”
Feeling the setup, Kay smiled and bit. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. I got called to the CO’s office after my duty shift and I was relieved of bridge duty. Now I have to tag along being a sidekick to some civilian.”
“That’s a drag,” Kay plastered on an expression of fake sympathy.
“No kidding. And the worst part is,” Carter paused and looked dramatically from side to side, “I’ll have to spend all day, every day with her.”
“Eeeww, that’s icky,” Kay solemnly agreed. More seriously, she asked, “How do you really feel about this?”
“I think it’s great,” Carter told her. “At first I was a little shocked that I was not going to be working on the bridge anymore, but then the more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I’ll get in-flight combat experience, and I’ll get to be with you. Sounds like an adventure to me.”
“Yeah,” Kay said. “It’s the combat part that has me a little worried. Your life will be in my hands and that’s an awesome responsibility. Plus, there is the fact that I find you more than a little distracting. I’ll have to learn to separate the working you from the you that’s my lover.”
Carter felt a thrill run down her spine at those words. My lover. She watched Kay as she spoke, the proud tilt of her chin, the pale blue eyes that turned from ice to smoke in a space of a word. She was aware of Lazarus’s reputation as a pilot and as a leader. Carter’s was a little baffled by what this stunning woman saw in an engineering geek like her.
Kay watched Carter with a studied nonchalance. What in world did this brilliant, outgoing young woman see in an outcast like her? Her obvious kindness and willingness to see the best in everyone bespoke a touch of naivete, and yet she had made it to the bridge of a deep space station at a relatively tender age. That indicated a degree of political astuteness that she managed to keep under wraps. She was both an open book, and something of an enigma.
“I don’t think separating work from play will be a problem,” Carter told her. “I’m looking forward to learning from you. It might be to our advantage actually, to have someone that you’re really connected with as a partner.”
A partner. Kay smiled at the sound of that. “That’s a positive point of view. I like that.”
Carter felt absurdly pleased by these small words of praise from Kay. “You know I haven’t really flown in a fighter too many times.”
“Starting tomorrow we’ll be going out a lot on reconnaissance and to familiarize the pilots with me and the types of formations I like to use. I have a few tricks to teach them.”
“Ooh, I’m excited,” Carter grinned. “Let’s go check out the fighter.”
“Okay,” Kay agreed. “I’m going to bring my work out clothes too. I need some exercise that takes place vertically.”
Carter laughed. “Let’s go.”
The next few days were bliss for Carter. Kay Lazarus’s skill as a pilot was mind boggling. She sat at the controls as if she had been born there and handled the fighter easily and gracefully. Carter was deeply impressed, but when she saw how inspired the other pilots were by Kay’s presence, she allowed herself to acknowledge a quiet pride in her lover’s skill. Meanwhile, Carter acquainted herself with riding shotgun. She quickly learned all the technical details of the weapon and shield systems. The comm system was nothing new to her, but she familiarized herself with every nook and cranny on board. She soon felt as home on the fighter as she ever had on the bridge. Carter knew that part of that comfort was derived from the knowledge that Kay Lazarus was sitting beside her as the pilot of the fighter. Kay made her feel safe.
One day when Lazarus was drilling the fighters on a hit and run tactic designed to annoy and confuse the enemy, Carter said, “You should hear the way the other pilots talk about you. They’re all trying to be as good as you. Of course, we both know that’s not possible,” she smiled at Kay, her admiration plainly written on her face.
Kay glanced over at Carter uneasily and didn’t respond. Carter started to wonder what she had said wrong when Kay finally spoke. “I don’t want to be hero worshipped. I don’t deserve it. I’m ultimately responsible for the lives of all these pilots, and if I lead them into a bad situation…”
The distress in her expression made Carter scramble. “Honey, what happened years ago has nothing to do with what’s happening now. You’re out here leading the squadron because you’re the best pilot for the job. DeForest wouldn’t have sent you out if that wasn’t true. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe it and the rest of the squadron wouldn’t be willing to follow you if wasn’t true. You’ve pulled the whole team together. They’re sharper and more focused than they’ve ever been. And it’s because of you.” She watched Kay. “And if I want to hero worship you, I will.”
Kay smiled a little sadly. “That day…” She stopped and then slowly began again. “That day that everything went wrong, was the worst day of my life. It was as if they were in the ready room with us. They knew every tactic before we did it. They knew our strategies, they knew our formations, it was almost as if they sat in on the meeting and were tapped into our comm links. I’ve never had something go so badly. Everything we had planned, they had an answer waiting for us. It was spooky. And the worst part was that there was nothing I could do about it except watch the fighters being picked off one by one. We couldn’t even retreat. We were lucky to save as many as we did.”
Carter listened to Kay Lazarus talk about the incident that led to the resignation of her commission with a sense of foreboding. She let Kay talk without interruptions or questions, knowing how difficult it was to rehash the day that caused her so much grief and guilt. When Kay finished talking she managed to say some small comforting thing that drew a grateful look from Kay. But Carter went back to her job with the wheels spinning in her head, repulsed by the idea that Kay’s story had planted.
At the end of that day’s training as they were putting the fighter to bed, Kay asked, “Want to go to the gym with me?” They had easily slipped into a routine together that included an extensive workout at the end of the workday.
“I don’t think so,” Carter avoided looking at Kay. “I have some stuff I need to catch up on. I’ll see you later tonight, okay?”
“Oh,” Kay’s face remained impassive. “Okay. Maybe I’ll call you later then.”
Carter immediately reached out and put her hand on Kay’s arm. Kay managed not to pull away but Carter could tell it took an effort. “Kay, I have an idea about something I need to check out. It’s important.”
“Fine,” Kay said, but Carter could tell it was anything but fine.
“What’s wrong? Have I done something to upset you?”
“No, of course not,” Carter felt Kay’s tension level drop slightly. “I thought maybe…” She stopped.
“What?” Carter asked gently.
“I thought maybe you were freaked out about the story I told you today. You haven’t said two words to me since then.”
“Oh sweetheart, no. No,” Carter was immediately contrite. “I have been thinking about it but not in the way that you think. I haven’t lost one iota of faith in you. You’re still the only reason I would be out there instead of on the bridge.”
“Are you sure?” Kay scanned her face carefully.
“Absolutely. I love you, Kay. There’s nothing you can say about your past that will make me change my mind about that,” Carter looked intently into Kay’s face. “And the only thing you could say about the future is that you don’t want me in it. And even that wouldn’t change the way I feel.”
Kay was too stunned to speak for a minute. “You had to say that here, huh? In the ready room with everyone around so I can’t kiss you.”
Carter smiled. “It feels like I’ve said it a thousand times before.”
Kay never took her eyes from Carter’s. “I love you too, Carter,” she said softly. “Now go do what you have to do, and then come get me. I’ll be in my quarters.”
“Okay,” Carter was reluctant to let go of her lover. “But I’ll remember that you owe me a kiss.”
“Oh, you’ll get it. With interest.”
“Hi, Lazarus,” John Lyra waved her down in the corridor as she walked to her quarters. “How’s it going chief?”
“Hi, Johnny,” she looked at him fondly. “Guess you’re staying pretty busy these days, huh?”
“Not as busy as you,” he replied. Lazarus was slightly startled by his smirky tone. “I mean, you know, with all the training you’ve been doing,” he hastened to clarify. He had heard the rumors about Lazarus and Lt. Laughlin like everyone else on board the station. In a sealed environment such as the space station the circle was small, and the rumor mill was faster than the central network.
“Yeah,” she looked warily at him and decided to let it drop. “It’s been hectic, but productive. They’re a good group.”
“Do you have time to grab a bite to eat?” he asked. “I’ve hardly seen much of you since you’ve been here.”
“I’m sorry, Johnny,” she told him. “I’ve got some times to go over before tomorrow’s training. Maybe some other time.” She saw his disappointment hastily concealed. “Soon,” she amended.
“Sure,” he said. “Soon. I’ll see you later.” Kay watched him go trying to shake off her feeling that she had let him down. She really did have work to do, but Johnny had been a good friend. She would have to make time for him soon. She moved purposefully toward her quarters mulling over her feelings of uneasiness.
Carter entered her PIChip in the comm terminal in engineering and requested a security level diagnostics. After submitting to the retinal scan for authorization, she began to input the parameters of her search. Turning up nothing, she thought for a moment and narrowed her search. Again, she turned up nothing. Thinking she must have been mistaken, she started to remove her PIChip and give up when an idea occurred to her. Restarting the search from scratch, she entered new parameters. Information began scrolling across the screen. Gotcha, she thought.
Recording her findings on her PIChip, she then decided to go back to the hangar where the fighters were docked. Opening the hatch door on the ship that she and Kay had been flying that day, she slipped inside and closed the hatch behind her. Sliding down under the console she began going over the fighter inch by inch. She was disassembling the third transceiver when she found the small disc that didn’t belong there. Feeling sick at the implications, she pocketed the disc and continued her search. That was all she found but it was enough. After she had everything put back where it belonged, she scooted out, pulled her now stiff body upright and looked at the chronometer. Amazed at the time that had passed, she hurried toward the hatch door and never saw the phaser butt that came down on the back of her head.
Kay Lazarus showered and changed into her workout clothes. Still feeling vaguely guilty about turning John Lyra down, she decided to forego the gym for the night and work on the timing of the formations they had worked on that day. She changed again into a tunic and padded barefoot over to her terminal. Inserting her PIChip, which had been upgraded to temporary military status, she began downloading and organizing the data. Eventually she felt as if her body was caving in on itself and glanced at the time. Hours had passed. Where was Carter? She felt a little wary about calling her after their conversation earlier. I guess she’ll get here when she gets here, Kay thought.
She tried to settle down and continue her work but as time dragged on, her anxiety rose exponentially. Where was Carter? Deciding to listen to her instincts, she queried the terminal. Locate Lt. Carter Laughlin she told it. “Lt. Carter Laughlin is in the fighter hangar,” the gender neutral computer voice said. Tell her to contact Kay Lazarus, she told the terminal. “No response,” replied the computer.
Kay pulled on leggings and boots in seconds and scrambled out the door. Flying down the corridors, she reigned in her panic knowing she would need a cool head if something was wrong. And something was wrong. She could feel it. Bursting into the hangar, a quick look around showed her nothing. She hurried to the fighter she and Carter had flown that day and opened the hatch. And there was Carter, lying on her side on the floor. A patch of blood matted her blond hair at the base of her skull. Kay felt the bottom fall out of her world. Stepping to the console she activated the comm link. “I need a medic immediately in the fighter hangar,” she spoke more calmly than she would have thought possible.
“What’s the problem?” the operator at the med center asked.
“Head injury, maybe more,” she responded.
“Don’t move the patient. We’ll be right there,” the voice answered.
Kay moved back to where Carter lay. She kneeled down next to her and felt for her pulse, which was rapid and erratic. She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. “Carter,” she called softly to her unconscious lover. “Carter, wake up. Come on, sweetheart, wake up.” Carter’s eyelids fluttered and she moaned. “Don’t move, help is on the way.” Kay held Carter’s head still, speaking softly to her until medics came through the open door of the fighter.
Kay reluctantly let go of Carter as the medics stabilized her for transport to the infirmary. As they were lifting her to take her out of the ship, Kay felt the eyes of one of the medics on her. It took Kay a moment to place the woman who was watching her. Sarah Morrison, briefly an interest of Carter’s before Kay came along, gave a weak smile to Kay. “Try not to worry. We’ll take care of her,” she told Kay. Kay nodded mutely and hurried behind the medics as they rolled Carter away.
Once they arrived at the med center, Carter was whisked from Kay’s sight and she was forced to sit and wait. Only a few minutes passed before John Lyra entered the waiting room. “What happened?” he asked without preamble.
“I don’t know,” Kay felt something like fear or panic rising in her chest. She had to stop and control her emotions before she could continue. “I found her like that. Obviously someone hit her. There was nothing out of place that I could tell.”
“In the hangar.”
“When did you see her last?” he asked gently.
“When we finished the run today. She said she had some things she wanted to check out,” Kay told him.
“Did she say what?” he looked at Kay quizzically.
“No,” she said, impatient with his questioning when Carter lay hurt in the next room.
At that moment Sarah walked into the room from the area where Carter had been taken. “She’s stable. She’s still not conscious, but her vital signs are better. She has a concussion. You can go see her if you want to,” she said to Kay.
Kay followed Sarah back to a room where Carter lay hooked up to monitors. She looked so small and defenseless that Kay felt tears well in her eyes before she could stop them. Sarah thoughtfully looked away and walked over to a chair in the corner. After giving Kay a minute to compose herself, she picked up a bag and handed it to Kay. “These are her clothes and the personal things she had on her. Her PIChip was missing, so you might want to go back and look for it.”
Kay peeked in the bag and saw clothes, a watch, and boots. “It must still be on the flyer.” She wasn’t worried about it. It would be incredibly difficult for someone to steal her personal information, software, and credits without submitting to a retinal scan. “I’ll ask John to look for it,” she said.
“Look for what?” John stuck his head in the door.
“Her PIChip,” Kay said. “It wasn’t with her other things.” The triviality of a missing PIChip when Carter was in danger was getting quickly on her nerves.
“Okay. I need to go check out the flyer anyway. I’ll need to get permission from the captain to check her quarters too,” John planned aloud.
Kay looked sharply at him. “Is that necessary?” She would hate for someone to rummage through her things and couldn’t imagine that Carter would be pleased.
“Standard operating procedure in an investigation. I’ll do it myself, if it’ll make you feel better,” He told her.
“Okay,” she said crestfallen.
“I’ll be in touch,” John told her as he left the room. Kay watched him leave wondering why that exchange had left her with a vague sense of uneasiness. Shrugging it off, she turned her attention back to her lover. Carter lay very still and pale. She pulled the chair up next to the bed and took Carter’s hand in her own.
Stroking her hand, she whispered to her, “Wake up, Carter. Come on, baby.”
Sarah sadly watched her for a moment. “I’ll be back in few minutes to check on her. Call me if anything changes.”
Kay looked up at Sarah, a little surprised that she was still there. “Okay. Um, Sarah, thanks for everything you did today. I…” Kay trailed off, not really knowing what to say.
Sarah nodded. “It’s okay.” She looked at the small, still form lying on the bed. “I love Carter too.” She smiled at Kay and left the room.
Kay sat by the bed holding Carter’s hand and talking softly to her for the rest of the evening. Close to midnight, James DeForest came in to check on her, asking basically the same questions that John Lyra had asked. Sarah stopped in about every fifteen minutes to check her vital signs. She finally told Kay she was going off duty, but if Kay needed her, to call. Kay eventually fell asleep in the chair and woke up stiff and sore several hours later.
She was disappointed to see Carter seemed not to have moved all night. Her color was a little better though, and her pulse felt stronger to Kay. She realized that she desperately needed to stretch her legs and visit a lavatory, so she walked down the hall and found one unoccupied. Splashing some water on her face and running her fingers through her hair somehow made her feel better. She started back to the room where Carter lay to see a familiar figure walking into the room.
“What are you doing here?” she burst into the room to see Joan Warren bending over the bed. Kay’s anger seethed just below the surface, visible to anyone who looked in her icy eyes.
Joan Warren turned and calmly spoke. “I’m checking on a staff member. Is that all right with you?”
“No, as a matter of fact, it isn’t,” Kay’s words were clipped.
“That’s too bad,” she replied. “Lt. Laughlin has worked with me for three years and I care about her, no matter what you think. As a senior member of this station it’s not only my right, but my duty to check on her.”
“Just leave her alone, Joan,” Kay’s tone softened, but the coldness remained in her eyes.
Joan Warren looked at Kay Lazarus for a minute without responding. Then she turned to leave the room, stopping at the door. “Keep us updated on her condition. Please,” she said without turning around and left the room. Kay stared at the door behind her.
All that morning Kay sat by the bed watching for a sign of improvement on Carter’s part. Sarah came by and stuck her head in even though she wasn’t on duty yet. “How’s she doing?” she asked Kay.
“As far as I can tell about the same,” Kay replied. “Her color seems better.”
Sarah felt Carter’s pulse and checked her pupils. “She seems a bit more responsive this morning. That was a nasty crack someone gave her. Good thing she’s hardheaded.” Kay looked at Sarah with surprise to see that the young woman was trying to make her relax a little. “They’ll scan her again this morning to make sure there’s no swelling or bleeding.” Sarah placed her hand on Kay’s shoulder. “Try not to worry.” Kay took comfort from this young woman’s presence, despite the uncomfortable fact that Carter had broken off with Sarah to be with Kay. She could see why Carter had been attracted to her. Sarah was a nice person. She promised to return later.
Soon after Sarah left the room, Carter began to move slightly and moaned aloud once. Kay called the medic on duty who checked Carter’s responses and smiled broadly at Kay. “I think she’s coming around finally. She was starting to give us a scare.”
Starting to, Kay thought. How about scared the life out of me? But Carter put off consciousness a while longer. John Lyra stopped in and said hello. “Didn’t find her PIChip,” he told her. “I guess this may have been a robbery, but for the life of me I don’t know why.”
“I don’t understand,” Kay said. “No one can use her PIChip. It’s not of any use if you can’t scan it.”
He shrugged. “We’ll find out. It may take a while, but we will find out.”
Carter moaned again and stirred. “Wake up, Carter,” Kay said to her for what felt like the hundredth time. This time Carter’s eyelids actually fluttered and slowly opened. “Hey baby,” Kay said softly with a huge grin on her face.
Carter tried to focus her blurry vision. All she could see was an indistinct face with very white teeth and two spots of blue. “Hi,” she managed to warble. She couldn’t see Kay’s face very clearly but she recognized the voice and the smell and most of all, the feel of her lover. “Am I glad to see you,” she croaked out.
“Let me give you some water,” Kay tended to her gently, helping her to drink small sips. Exhausted by the effort, Carter put her head back down on the pillow.
John Lyra moved beside Kay. “Hi Carter. Glad you’re back with us,” he smiled at her. She tried to focus on his face but her head was hurting so badly she had to close her eyes.
“It’s John Lyra,” Kay told her. “He’s trying to find out who did this to you.”
“Do you remember anything, Carter?” he asked her.
She tried opening her eyes again to look at him. “No. Last thing I remember was coming back to the station after the run. What time is it?”
“It’s eleven hundred hours. You’ve been out since last night,” Kay told her, stroking her face.
“Oh,” Carter said weakly. “That’s not good.”
“I’ll come back later,” said John. “Maybe you’ll remember details after you’ve woken up a little more.”
“Thanks for everything, Johnny,” Kay said. The warrant officer gave her an encouraging smile and left.
Kay immediately turned her attention back to Carter. “God, you scared me,” she whispered, stroking Carter’s cheek.
“Sorry,” Carter managed a small smile. She was so tired.
“I’ll forgive you this time. I think you’d better try to sleep some more, sweetheart. Sleep helps you heal faster and I want you back.”
“I want you too,” Carter mumbled as she drifted off. “But not tonight, honey. I have a headache.”
Kay held her hand and stroked her face, unable to keep her hands off of her lover. The relief she felt threatened to emotionally overwhelm her once again. I’ve cried more today than in my entire life, she thought.
“Remind me to tell you something, Kay,” Carter struggled back up through sleep for a moment. “I can’t think of it right now…” She slipped back down as Kay watched her.
When Carter awoke late that afternoon she was much better. That sounds like Sarah, she thought. And that sounds like Kay. Ooh, maybe I’d better go back to sleep, she thought, but it was too late.
“I think she’s awake,” Kay still held her hand. “Hi, Carter. Feeling better?”
“I think so,” Carter replied in a voice that sounded more like the old Carter.
“Hi,” Sarah sounded shy. “You’re finally back.”
“Hi, Sarah,” Carter smiled at her. “It’s nice to see you,” she said, meaning it.
Kay and Sarah laughed softly. “It’s nice to see you too, Carter,” Sarah’s shyness disappeared. She checked Carter’s vitals and gave her the thumbs up. “I gotta go on rounds. I’ll check on you later.” She waved as she left the room.
“Here, try to drink some water,” Kay held the glass as Carter gingerly raised her head to drink.
“What I really need is food,” Carter told her. “I’m starving.”
“She lives!” Kay laughed. “That’s my girl. I’ll call and see what they’ll let you have.” She called the medic station and told them the patient was awake and hungry. “You seem so much better. Are you?”
“I think so,” Carter said. “What time is it?”
“About seventeen hundred hours. I’m not surprised you’re hungry. You haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday.”
“Have you?” Carter asked wryly.
Kay looked surprised. “I think I have,” she said with a questioning look that told Carter she probably had not.
“I’ll share whatever they bring me,” Carter told her. The paleness of Kay’s face and the dark circles under her eyes gave away her diligence at Carter’s bedside.
“I’m supposed to be taking care of you, not the other way around,” Kay said with mock severity. She suddenly felt very hungry and her stomach growled. “Tattletale,” she looked down.
Carter laughed, and then groaned. “Don’t make me laugh. Oh, I wanted to tell you something. Yesterday after we came in, I ran a diagnostics in comm engineering.”
Kay looked puzzled. “I thought you couldn’t remember anything?”
“No, I remember,” Carter looked at Kay seriously. “I searched for unregistered encrypted lines that were going out of the station but didn’t turn any up. So then I tried to find the same thing using different parameters and a filter that looks through viruswalls. Still didn’t find anything.”
“Why were you searching for encrypted lines, Carter? What did you think you’d find?”
“I was thinking about the story you told me. About how the Ultharians seemed like they knew your every move and all your tactics and formations. And I thought maybe they did know.”
“A spy?” Kay was very still. On some level, Kay had had that thought before but had always pushed it from her mind. The idea that someone she trusted would betray and sabotage the fighter squadron was too terrible to bear.
“Yeah. And then I thought about them breaking the new system net that we’ve just developed. That points to a spy too.”
“But you didn’t find anything,” Kay protested. “Why would someone crack your skull open?”
“Ouch, I wish you hadn’t said that,” Carter winced. “I did find something. The third time I ran diagnostics, I discovered a comm link hidden deep in the routing system. I traced its path and it’s not connected to any of our satellites. It goes in the opposite direction… out toward the rim.”
“Where does it go in this direction?” Kay asked coolly.
Carter hesitated and for a moment Kay thought she wouldn’t answer. Then she turned her honest eyes to Kay and said carefully, “To security.”
Kay was stunned. “You think one of Johnny’s staff is a spy?” Carter didn’t say anything, letting Kay work it out for herself. “Not Johnny?” she faltered. Carter held her hand a little tighter.
“I’m sorry, honey. I think so, yeah,” Carter told her. “Let me tell you what else I found. I went to the fighter to search for a bug that would monitor ship to ship communication during the actual fight, and I found one in a resistor. It’s in my coverall pocket.”
“I can’t believe it,” Kay said, shocked. “If that’s true then they did know every move we made before we made it. Why didn’t sensors pick up the bug?”
“I don’t know yet. I didn’t really get a chance to dissect it before I got popped.” Carter face was drained of all color from the effort of talking so long. At that moment a medic walked in followed by a cart that hummed along.
“I brought food,” the medic said. “And I was told to bring two trays by Lt. Morrison.”
“Could you do me a favor and notify the XO that Lt. Laughlin is awake now?” Kay asked the medic.
“Sure,” The medic directed the cart to unload the trays and left.
Carter blinked, but was too tired to ask.
Kay was grateful for Sarah’s thoughtfulness. “I don’t know if one’s for me or she remembered how you eat,” she teased Carter, despite no longer having an appetite. “You promised to share, whatever.”
Carter was nauseated by the first few bites, but then began to lose her green coloring as her body adjusted to something on her stomach. As her strength returned, she said to Kay, “When I ran the diagnostics I downloaded the information onto my PIChip. I have proof, Kay.” She said this knowing it would make Kay unhappy to realize her old friend had sabotaged her.
“More bad news, babe,” Kay told her. “Your PIChip is missing. Unfortunately, John went back to look for it, even though he probably had destroyed it when I asked him to look. Plus, he searched your quarters. Said it was SOP for a crime investigation.”
Carter realized that Kay was telling her that she believed everything she had uncovered and the conclusions she had drawn. At least she could be on the alert from now on. Carter allowed herself to relax a little. “He can search all he wants. I have nothing to hide.”
“It’s not you hiding something I’m worried about. I’m glad you told him you couldn’t remember anything. Stick to that story for now, okay?”
“Okay,” Carter yawned. “Why did you send word about me to XO Warren?”
“She checked on you while you were out. I told her I’d let her know,” Kay’s face was unreadable. “I’m going to ask Sarah if
she’ll come sit with you for a while. I need to talk to the CO. And take a shower.”
“I don’t need a babysitter,” Carter said.
“Someone, probably John, tried to kill you,” Kay’s anguish showed. “It’s not safe for you to be alone.”
“I’m getting out of here as soon as I can,” Carter replied.
“I don’t know how good an idea that is,” Kay said.
“I feel safer with you than anywhere,” Carter’s plainly spoken truth touched Kay deeply.
“I feel better having you close too,” Kay told her. “Okay, we’ll see how it goes.”
Lazarus stopped by her quarters, quickly showered and changed into a clean tunic and leggings. She kept going over the revelation that her trusted friend was a spy. A spy responsible for quite a few deaths now, not to mention the end of her career. A spy who attempted to murder the person she was increasingly coming to realize was her soulmate. And now she needed to tell James DeForest. She rehearsed how she thought the conversation would go in her head. She knew the Commanding Officer would be shocked to hear that one of his most trusted inner circle was a traitor.
Hurrying around the corner to the CO’s office she was dismayed to almost run into Joan Warren. Not now, she thought. I don’t have time.
“Lazarus,” Joan Warren was cool. “I need to speak to you.”
“I don’t have time right now, Joan. Carter is better if that’s what you wanted to know.”
“I heard. The medic let me know. But that’s not what I need to see you about,” Joan looked unsure of herself. “I think I know who attacked her.”
Kay Lazarus glanced around. “Let’s step in here, okay?” She walked into an empty office with Joan behind her. “What are you saying?” Kay cut to the chase.
“It’s a long story. I’m going to trust you even though it might be yet another mistake,” Joan said quietly. She took a deep breath. “I am an agent of the Earth Security Force. I have been on Zebra for the last three years trying to uncover a spy.”
Kay was astonished. The ESF was an elite group of agents who often went years gathering enough information to ferret out those who worked against the Federation. Their position was such that they never revealed their true jobs for fear of retaliation by the enemy.
“Why are you telling me?” Kay asked, not quite believing her.
“Because I don’t want Lt. Laughlin to get killed,” she responded. “With you around her all the time, I can’t get close enough to her to protect her. I’m telling you so you’ll realize the danger she’s in.” Kay said nothing, but waited for Joan to continue. “I think I’ve recently figured out who the spy is. I feel like a fool. He used me like a rank beginner against you.”
“John Lyra?” Kay asked.
The surprise on Joan Warren’s face was only visible for a moment before her expression closed down. “How did you know that?”
“Actually Carter figured it out. I think that’s why she was attacked,” Kay told her, not sure how far she could trust her.
“I’m sure it was why she was attacked. He’s gotten a little careless in the last couple of weeks,” Joan said. “I’d suspected him for a while. He’s the one who led me to believe you were the spy back when you were stationed here. You left, and all activity stopped. Then I caught an outgoing transmission a while back, but couldn’t pinpoint the source except that I knew it came from the station. That’s when I knew I was wrong. He had misled me. Then I caught another transmission and traced it to security.”
Kay blinked. “You thought I was a spy?”
“Yes,” Joan shook her head. “He led me to believe it was you. Obviously I was wrong. I was angry with you and ready to believe the worst. Plus he was pretty convincing. All of the evidence was circumstantial, but it added up. Or seemed to at the time.” She frowned. “I’m afraid he’s cornered. Laughlin is in a lot of danger, Lazarus.”
“Does DeForest know you’re ESF?” Kay asked.
“Yes. And when I went after you he told me I was wrong, but I didn’t listen. That’s why he couldn’t do anything to help you. The agency was backing me up,” Joan told her with obvious regret.
Kay let this information sink in for a minute and then made a decision. “Then go talk to him,” she said. “We need his help to get John. And I need your help to keep Carter safe. I’ve got to get her away from the med center.”
“Where will you take her?” Joan asked.
“I’m not sure,” Kay said thoughtfully, although she had a pretty good idea.
“Can you sit up?” she asked Carter. “We’ve got to get you out of here right now.” Carter slowly sat up in the med center bed, then waited for the dizziness to pass. Slowly the stars that were dancing in front of her eyes faded.
“I’m okay,” she said, her face as pale as the sheet. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and slowly go to her feet, Kay holding her under one elbow. “I just needed to stand up.” She fought back nausea.
Kay’s anxiety over Carter’s condition mounted as the smaller woman swayed on her feet. “If I didn’t think this was necessary, I wouldn’t make you go through this.” She couldn’t tell Carter how it physically hurt her to see Carter in pain. The sight of this sweet woman suffering because of John Lyra brought up more anger than Kay could contain. She growled.
“What’s the matter?” Carter asked alarmed. Her color was perking up a bit, and she seemed steadier on her feet. She took a few tentative steps toward the drawer that held her clothes.
“I’m going to kill him for doing this to you,” Kay Lazarus spoke without thinking.
Carter stopped in her tracks. “Not on my account, you’re not,” she told Kay, the old flash back in her eyes. “You promise me, you won’t hurt anyone on my account. Let the authorities handle him, Kay. I know you’re angry with him, but don’t become a killer for me.”
“I already am a killer,” Kay looked down at her. “I’ve killed in battle many times.”
“That’s different,” Carter said quietly. “Killing in battle is different from deciding to murder someone. Promise me, Kay.” Carter’s gaze locked onto Kay’s icy blue eyes. “Promise me.”
“I promise,” Kay’s anger faded as her lover’s trust and kindness washed over her. Mushball, she thought disgustedly. “Come on. We’ve got to get going. Let me help you dress.”
“Oooh, sounds like that could be fun,” Carter joked wanly, but she submitted to Kay’s ministrations. Kay helped her step into her coverall, then Carter sat as Kay pulled her boots on for her. This time when she stood back up she felt the ground hold still beneath her feet. “Better already,” she said.
Kay raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “I think I’ll hold on to you anyway,” she replied.
“Okay,” Carter agreed a little too quickly. “Where are we going anyway?”
“To the Tango,” Kay replied. “We’re leaving the station for the time being.”
Kay sat at the controls of the Tango, Carter strapped in riding shotgun. She asked for and received clearance from the docking master and the huge airlock door hissed open. Suddenly the docking master said, “Halt disengaging procedure. Sorry, Tango, there’s been a security override.”
“Oh no,” said Carter, her hand to her forehead.
Joan Warren’s voice then came through on the comm link. “This is a level one override, docking master. The Tango is clear to leave.”
Carter looked in shock at Kay. “How’d you work that? Or do I want to know?”
Kay Lazarus smiled humorlessly. “I’ll tell you when we’re away. There’s good news and bad news.”
“Stand down, Lazarus,” John Lyra’s voice came through. Kay ignored him as the docking door slid open. She began to slowly pilot the Tango out of docking. “Stand down!” Lyra’s voice took on an hysterical edge. “Stand down or I will shoot you out of the sky.”
Kay continued to ignore him. Pulling free of the station, she banked the Tango and moved away. “Tango to bridge,” she said.
“Come in Tango, this is Warren,” replied Joan.
“Thanks for your assistance, bridge,” said Kay. “We’ll be in touch.” She adjusted a control and turned to Carter. “Hang on. Here we go.”
The Tango shot into hyperspace. Carter became one with her seat until the G force let go after a few seconds. She looked at Lazarus who was grinning from ear to ear. “That makes you happy, doesn’t it?” she smiled at Kay.
“It’s a rush,” Kay said sheepishly. “I’ve never gotten tired of it.” She expertly handled the Tango’s controls feeling more at home than she had in weeks. “You can unstrap yourself now if you want to. Do you need to go lie down?”
Carter unsnapped her straps. “No. Lighter gravity seems to alleviate my headache some. Where are we going? And am I AWOL?”
Kay smiled at her. “Sorry if it seems like I’m running your life. No, you’re not AWOL. DeForest knows where you are, or at least that you’re with me. You have permission to be gone as long as we need to be. And as for where we are going, I thought we might head in the direction of the Gamma colony. See what we can find out.”
“Okay,” Carter said. She thought for a minute then turned to Kay. “Did you check the Tango for bugs or trackers?”
“I ran diagnostics.”
“Diagnostics didn’t pick up the last ones. Do you mind if I look?” she inquired.
Kay threw a worried look at her. “Are you sure you’re up for this?”
“Sure,” Carter said. She scooted under the console. “Comm link will be down for a minute,” she said.
“That’s nothing new,” Lazarus responded. Carter fell silent as she worked. Every few minutes Lazarus would peek under the console and check on Carter who was intently checking every crevice for extraneous parts.
Finally she emerged. “All clear,” she reported. She sat up slowly and rested her head on her hands until the room quit spinning.
“Please go lie down for a while,” Kay watched her. She engaged the autopilot and put a hand down to help Carter to her feet. “Come on.” She hoisted Carter up on her feet and placed her arm around her waist.
“I think I will. I’m a little tired,” Carter admitted. “Where should I lie down?”
“In my bunk,” said Kay. She led Carter into the larger of the two personal quarters and helped her into bed. Kay leaned over her and gave her a small kiss on the forehead. “Sleep well,” she told the younger woman whose eyes were already fluttering closed.
Carter snaked an arm around the back of Kay’s neck and pulled her down. “Not good enough,” she whispered, pressing her lips to Kay’s. Kay allowed herself to fall deeply into the sensations of the kiss. Her breath quickening, she pulled away. Carter groaned.
“You need sleep and I need to get us where we’re going. We’ll finish this conversation later,” she smiled sweetly at Carter.
Carter awoke hours later in the dark, her arm clinched tightly around Kay’s bare waist, her leg thrown over Kay’s. She felt surprisingly alert as if she had slept for hours. Running her hand up Kay’s body she cupped Kay’s breast, and felt her lover wake up. Kay turned over to face Carter and pulled her closer. Carter leaned her head in and kissed Kay lightly several times before deepening the kiss, then pulling back and moving down her throat. She ran her tongue between Kay’s breasts, then kissed each breast while running her hands down the length of Kay’s sides and up her thighs. “Tell me what you want,” she breathed into Kay’s ear.
“You,” Kay whispered. “I want you. I want it all.”
The next morning they were awakened by the comm link. “Space Station Zebra to Tango. Come in Tango.” Kay pried her eyes open feeling she hadn’t gotten nearly enough sleep, hopped up and trotted to the bridge.
“Zebra, this is Tango. Go ahead.”
“Lazarus, this is Joan Warren,” the executive officer’s tone was stilted. “A fighter has been taken without authorization from the station and John Lyra is missing. We have reason to believe he may be coming your way.”
“Coming after us or heading to the rim?” Kay asked.
“We’ve had information from a ship who spotted him on route to the Gamma colony. All we know is a general direction. I wanted to let you know,” Warren said.
“Thanks, Zebra. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“How’s Lt. Laughlin feeling?” Warren asked. “The captain wanted to know.”
“Tell the captain she’s much better. Thanks for asking, Joan,” Lazarus ragged her a little.
A small pause from the other end. “Glad to hear it. Keep in touch. Zebra out.”
Lazarus looked at Carter who had padded over and was listening to the conversation. They both laughed. Carter put her arm around Kay’s waist and pulled her close. Looking up into the eyes that could melt her, Carter said, “I need to hear everything. Especially how you and my XO are suddenly such good buddies.”
“Good buddies may be a bit of an overstatement, but I think we’ve cleared the air about a couple of things.” Kay filled Carter in on the conversation she had had with Joan Warren.
Carter was shocked by the admission that Joan had been duped into ruining Lazarus’s career. “Are you going to apply for reinstatement?” she asked Kay.
“I don’t think so,” Kay said wryly. “Too much water under the bridge since then.” Carter was looking at her seriously. “It’s been too long,” Kay said again.
“I think you should think about it, Major,” Carter took her hand. “Don’t dismiss the idea without talking to me about it anyway. If we’re going where I think we’re going, then it’s going to have an effect on my life too.”
Kay couldn’t speak for a moment. “I hadn’t really thought of it like that. You’re right. I guess a career decision is a partnership decision, not just mine.”
“Hmm. Partnership. I like the sound of that,” Carter smiled at her.
Several hours from the Gamma colony Lazarus told Carter to strap herself back in for the fallout from hyperspace. “How close are we?” Carter asked as she strapped in.
“Not as close as I would normally get before fallout, but we don’t know what to expect. As far as I know, no one has heard from Gamma colony since the Ultharian attack,” Lazarus responded grimly. “The whole planet could be gone.”
“Maybe just their communications array was taken out,” Carter said hopefully. “If they destroyed the whole planet, what was the purpose? The mining operation would be gone too.”
“Terror. That’s the purpose of an attack like that. It’s to frighten other more profitable or strategic places into surrendering without a fight,” Kay told her. “Besides, we aren’t sure where Lyra may be. I know he couldn’t have gotten here before us, if this is where he’s going, but he could have allies looking for us.” Looking for you, she thought. And promise or no promise, I will kill to protect you.
“Oh,” Carter said. “I never thought of allies. Do we have a plan?”
“I have a couple of ideas,” Kay reassured her. She leaned over the controls and the stars changed from streaks to dots as the Tango fell out of hyperspace. Carter tried to control her lurching stomach. Kay shot her a look as Carter involuntarily groaned. “You okay?”
“Going in and out of hyperspace has never been my idea of a good time,” Carter explained, the color slowly coming back into her face. She looked out the viewscreen. “Oh my god, we’re in an asteroid field.”
“Yep,” Kay laughed. “And you thought falling out of hyperspace was fun.” She keyed in a command. “We’ll head to the edge of it and hide out for a little while until we get a little more information.” Carter tried not to watch as asteroids streaked past the Tango trailing dust clouds. “Why don’t you raise the space station and see what the latest news is?” Kay thought the distraction might help Carter feel more secure. They were perfectly safe due to the Tango’s enhanced shields, computers, and warning systems, but the sight of asteroids shrieking at you could be a tad unnerving, she admitted.
“Good idea,” Carter immediately turned to the comm link and hailed Zebra.
Come in Tango. This is Zebra,” Annie Woo’s voice came back at her.
“Hi Annie. This is Carter.”
“Carter! Feeling better?”
“Much, thanks for asking. What’s the latest? Heard anything from Gamma?”
“We heard that a ship picked up an emergency blip but couldn’t reach an actual person. They weren’t equipped to land so they couldn’t do too much about it.”
“Has the Federation sent help?”
“They’ve been stingy because of the threat, but we heard that yes, they’ve finally sent a starship.”
“Big of ‘em. Heard anything else about the appropriated fighter?” Carter asked cautiously.
“Hang on a sec, Carter. The captain wants to talk to you.”
“Lt. Laughlin, glad to hear you’re feeling better,” said James DeForest.
“Thank you, Captain,” Carter unconsciously straightened up in her chair. “And I wanted to thank you, sir, for allowing me leave for a couple of days.”
“Not exactly leave, lieutenant. More like running for your life,” he responded grimly. “And it’s going to turn into a mission. Lazarus there too?”
“Yes, sir,” Lazarus said.
“He’s on his way there, Lazarus. And we have information that he’s meeting the Ultharians. We don’t know what their intent is, other than bad news for us. I have an idea. A risky idea, but I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you could do it.” He explained his idea to them. Carter watched Kay take it in and saw the glitter in her eyes at the idea of a confrontation. She sighed. Well, if she was going to be partners with a warrior, then she’d better learn to be a warrior herself.
DeForest signed off wishing them luck. “What do you think? Are you up for this?” Kay asked Carter.
“It’s a little scary, but yeah, I’m ready,” she told Kay. “I trust you. I know you can do this.”
“We can do it,” Kay corrected. “I’ll need your help.” She cast an appraising look at Carter. “Have you ever fired a gun in battle?”
Carter laughed nervously. “No.”
Kay shook her head. “I can do it if you don’t want to. It’s a big deal if you’ve never done it before.”
“Why don’t you teach me how and we’ll go from there,” Carter suggested, remembering her earlier resolve to become a warrior. Okay, maybe a warrior’s sidekick, she thought. She moved to the weapons station and sat watching the screen.
Lazarus hesitated, wondering about Carter’s desire to learn to change spaceships into dust particles. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. “I’m not sure I want the responsibility of teaching you how to kill,” Kay told her softly.
Carter looked up at her. “Just teach me, Kay. Maybe I won’t have to actually do it, but if we get in a jam and I need to, it’s better that I know how.” Seeing Kay’s reluctance, she smiled encouragingly. “It’s okay, honey. I need to know what I’m getting into. Knowledge is a good thing.”
“All right. But if you want to stop, say so,” Kay agreed. “Let’s shoot some asteroids. They’re excellent targets, with about the same intelligence and dexterity as an Ultharian.” Carter laughed and took the weapons control. “There are two ways to shoot,” Kay explained, suddenly all business. “For a larger ship, you let the computer target weapons or shields or life support, depending on your goal. For the Ultharians, we’ll target engines.” She showed Carter how to program for those eventualities. “Fighting a smaller faster ship, like one of our fighters, you just shoot slightly ahead of where you think they’ll be. Any hit will take them out. That’s how we’ll shoot at the asteroids.”
Carter listened to Kay explain the finer points and tricks she used in battle. Knowing she was learning from someone that was considered a master, she paid close attention and was unafraid to ask questions. After a thorough lesson, Kay decided she was ready to shoot. “I’m going to teach you the antimatter torpedoes. We’ll save the particle beam for later.”
“Okay,” Carter was anxious to try her hand. With Kay’s guidance, she took aim and fired a torpedo. Kay laughed as the asteroid sailed by unharmed. “Missed it by a mile,” Carter was disappointed.
“You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, don’t you? Practice, practice, practice,” Kay smiled.
Carter grinned sheepishly. “Let me try again.”
“Sure. That’s what we’re here for.” A few wasted torpedoes later, Carter made a hit and a small asteroid disintegrated into dust. “Way to go!” Kay cheered her. Carter had a grin on her face that stretched from ear to ear. Kay leaned down and kissed her. “I knew you could do it,” she told her beaming lover. “I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks,” Carter said. “I had a good teacher.” Several hours later Carter was hitting more than she was missing. She had done severe damage to any asteroids foolish enough to wander into her path. She turned to Kay. “I’m starving. When did we eat last?”
“This morning,” Kay said. “I’ll go tear open a couple of S rations.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” Carter said. “You know what the S in S rations stands for, don’t you? I can do better than that.”
Kay smiled at the old joke that she had said herself not too long ago to someone she thought was a friend. “Okay, go ahead,” she told Carter. “I’ll get us set up to take a break.” Carter wandered off into the galley and soon Kay heard the clanking of kitchen tools she never used. Kay programmed the controls to move the Tango away from the asteroid field enough to place them out of any danger of proximity warnings, but close enough that they were still almost impossible to spot or scan. When she felt satisfied, she moved into the galley where Carter was putting food onto plates.
“Eat,” she said, placing the plates on the table. Kay sat down and began to eat.
“This is great,” she said after the first bite. “Where did you learn to cook?”
“I have many skills,” Carter told her.
“I know,” Kay purred. “But where did you learn to cook?”
Carter laughed. “My grandmother.”
“Lucky you,” Kay said. “I never knew any of my grandparents.”
“Yeah, I was lucky,” Carter said with a tinge of sadness in her voice.
Kay’s heart wrenched. “You miss her, huh?”
“A lot,” Carter admitted. “We were close. She died a few years ago.” Kay watched her in silence. “She got that Mars virus that caused a form of senility. She had been so sharp. It was really hard to watch. We ended up having to put her in a facility for victims of the virus. One day I went to see her and we were sitting in the common area. I was talking to her, trying to remind her of the old days before she got sick, but I don’t even know if she knew who I was anymore. She hadn’t spoken in months. And then she suddenly perks up and points at an old woman sitting across the room from us and calls out ‘Mama!’” Carter’s eyes welled up. “I was shocked. Her mother had been dead for years, of course. She got more and more upset calling out ‘Mama’ to the old woman who was oblivious to the whole situation. I had to get her back to her room and put her to bed where she cried herself to sleep. Then I went home and cried myself to sleep.” Carter smiled at Kay through her tears. “She died soon after that.”
Kay had taken Carter’s hand and now pulled her over to sit on her lap. “I’m sorry, baby. I know that must have been hard.” Kay was touched by Carter’s obvious love for her grandmother. “She was lucky to have had you, too.”
Carter wiped her eyes and returned to her seat. “Eat,”she said. “I’m sorry I brought all that up. I don’t know why…” Her voice trailed off, obviously embarrassed at her emotional display.
Kay reached for her hand. “You don’t ever have to be embarrassed to tell me anything,” she told Carter. “I love you. I would never think less of you or anyone for loving someone and letting it show.”
Carter managed to smile. “I love you too. Hey, show me the particle beam.”
“Okay,” said Kay, secretly relieved at the change in emotional temperature. “You sure you’re not too tired?”
“Nope. Or I won’t be as soon as I finish eating.” Carter picked up her fork.
“Great. Let’s do it.”
“Zebra to Tango. Come in Tango.”
“Zebra, this is Tango.” Kay Lazarus answered the incoming call. Carter watched her from the weapons controls.
“Lazarus, we’ve got confirmed reports of Ultharian warships nearing your area. I’m sending last known coordinates,” DeForest informed her. “Everything still a go?”
“Yes, sir,” A smile tweaked one corner of Kay’s mouth. “How’s everything there?”
“We’re good to go, Lazarus,” he replied. “Look after my crew member. And yourself.”
“Not a problem, Captain,” she signed off glancing at Carter. Carter grinned back. “The game is afoot,” Kay’s excitement level was contagious. Kay pulled up the coordinates for the three Ultharian warships. “Start scanning for their location. I’m going to get us out of here and see if we can find them.”
Carter began doing the job she had trained for, a little relieved to not be sitting at the weapons controls anymore. “Got them,” she told Kay, locking the warships in on the scanner.
“Sit tight,” Kay said. Carter felt her adrenaline rush as the Tango swung out of the asteroid field and streaked across the night sky. “We don’t have their firepower but we are more maneuverable and faster, although they wouldn’t know that to look at us.”
“They can scan us and find out pretty quick,” Carter said.
“But why would they? We’re going to tag along near them and be sure of where they’re headed before we do anything. As far as they know, we’re just a cargo ship minding our own business.”
“There they are,” Carter said looking at the screen. She adjusted the controls to lock in the Ultharian ships.
“Don’t scan their weapons or shields,” Kay said. “Let’s not draw any attention to ourselves.” The Tango fell in far behind the other ships. Kay looked over at Carter who was all business. “I was worried when we first started flying together that you would be a distraction to me, but I think I feel more focused than I ever have before. Having you on board the Tango has made me more aware of my surroundings than ever. Being around you makes me feel more… alive.”
Carter stared at her for a moment. “Thank you, sweetheart.” She knew from Kay’s expression that those words had not come easily. She also knew that Kay Lazarus was fiercely protective of her and that was probably what had made Kay’s focus and awareness even more sharp than it already was. She turned back to her job with a small smile. She was glad that her lover felt more alert than usual because she still found Kay Lazarus to be a big distraction. A huge distraction. She loved to watch the way she moved with her long legged grace. She loved the way her eyes could pin her to the bed. She loved the low rumble of her voice when she called her name. She loved the way her face looked when she wanted Carter so badly it was all she could think of. She loved…
Carter realized that this was at least the second time Kay had called her. “I’m sorry. What?”
“Whatcha thinking about? You had a really interesting look on your face,” Kay tried not very hard not to smirk.
Carter felt the heat on her cheeks. “I’ll tell you later.” She forced herself to focus back on the job at hand and to ignore Kay who was snickering at her.
The next few hours passed without incident, the Ultharians ignoring them altogether. Kay and Carter worked quietly and efficiently together. At some point, Carter disappeared into the galley and returned with two steaming bowls of food. Kay ate appreciatively and then got up and returned the bowls to the neat galley. She looked at the area with new eyes. Just having someone use it made it seem cleaner somehow and more like…home. She smiled at the satisfying feeling and moved back to her station, settling back into the rhythm of the ship. She glanced at Carter who looked tired.
“Do you need to lie down?” Kay asked.
“No, I’m fine,” Carter replied. “I probably need to exercise more than I need to lie down. Maybe I’ll walk around the ship for a minute.” She looked up as a motion caught her attention on the viewscreen. “Look out!”
The shot caught them broadside as the fighter ship veered over the top of the Tango. “Strap in,” commanded Kay as she banked the ship away from the fighter. Carter scrambled for her seat and managed to fasten her harness. “Open a comm link,” Kay told her.
“Hello, Johnny,” Kay said calmly. “What took you so long?” Belying her calm attitude, her hands were quickly moving the controls to adjust the shields and ready the weapons array. A small dangerous smile had appeared on her face, intensified by the glittering in her icy eyes. She looked happy. And sexy. She was in her element with no doubts and no fear. Carter pushed her own fear aside and decided to trust Kay. To her surprise she felt an edge of excitement rise to the surface and she grinned in anticipation.
“I wanted you to have time to contemplate your death, Lazarus,” John Lyra’s voice came back over the link. “And your girlfriend’s too. It’s a shame you had to involve her. Now you’ll have her blood on your hands too.”
“Oh, she’s not going to die, Johnny,” Kay actually laughed at him. “You’re the one who’s made a mistake here.” She swung the Tango and fired a shot at his ship that he narrowly avoided. “In fact, it’s the biggest mistake of your life.” She fired the particle beam at his ship forcing him to back off and take evasive maneuvers.
“Kay, the Ultharians are turning about,” Carter informed her.
“You notice things just got worse?” John Lyra sneered. “The folks I work for aren’t too happy with you right now.”
Kay fired the particle beam again at the fighter ship keeping Lyra at bay. “Here we go. Hang on.” She shot off two more quick blasts at the fighter then turned about and threw the ship into hyperdrive. Carter fought her nausea for a moment before her equilibrium balanced. “Are they following us?” Kay asked Carter as soon as soon as she looked as if she could speak.
Carter forced her hands to work the controls. “Yep,” she said. “All of them.”
“Good,” Kay grimly said. “Open an encrypted link to Zebra. Tell them we’re on the way.” Carter did as she was asked, sending the agreed upon message to the deep space station.
“They’re gaining on us,” Carter said.
“I want them to. I want them overconfident,” Kay told her. “I won’t let them hurt us.”
“I know,” Carter said, the trust and confidence in her voice making Kay glance over at her in wonder. She wasn’t sure what she had done to earn this woman’s trust but she would do everything in her power to make sure it didn’t disappear. Carter caught her eye and smiled at her. Now is not the time, thought Kay. Don’t get distracted.
“Here we are,” Kay said. “This is going to be a rough fallout so prepare yourself.” Carter braced herself in her seat leaning forward slightly to help stabilize her stomach. The Tango screamed out of hyperdrive and Carter swallowed hard. The Tango was falling out fast and spinning about at the same time. Carter looked at the viewscreen and was relieved to see the space station with weapons at the ready, fighters in formation all around, and best of all, a Federation starship bristling with armor and weapons. The Tango backed into place alongside the rest of the contingent. “Afternoon boys,” Kay Lazarus failed to contain the glee in her voice.
“Nooo!” John Lyra’s voice came clearly through the comm link as his fighter and the Ultharian ships fell out of hyperdrive. As soon as the starship came into view, he knew he had been ambushed.
The battle was over quickly. The three Ultharian ships were quickly disabled and destroyed by the combination of the space station’s weapons and the overpowering size and force of the starship. Kay Lazarus took on John Lyra’s fighter herself after he refused an offer to surrender. His ship was disabled by the first shot that nicked it. Kay locked the particle beam on and repeated her offer to surrender. He responded by attempting to fire at her. She was on the verge of turning him and his crippled ship into space dust when she felt Carter watching her. She hesitated, then went on her link telling the fighter ships to capture him. They quickly disabled his weapons and subdued him. The fighters and their captured ship returned to the station. The starship continued on its mission to Gamma colony satisfied that the current Ultharian threat was contained.
Kay Lazarus’s eyes still glittered with the lust of battle as she turned to Carter Laughlin and grinned. “You did good.” Carter nodded, unfamiliar with the feeling that overwhelmed her. Kay however was not unfamiliar with it, and recognizing it in her lover she locked her icy blue eyes onto Carter’s green ones. “Take your clothes off,” she quietly insisted. Carter reached for her coverall and unsnapped it, kicking off her boots and pulling her coverall down. Her eyes never left Kay’s as she reached over and undid Kay’s clothes, pushing them down to the floor. Kay pulled her close, the fierceness of the passsion overwhelming the moment.
“Turn around,” Kay’s smoky voice told her. Carter shuddered and complied, allowing Kay to push her gently toward the console. Kay’s weight on her as she lightly bit her back and kissed her neck found Carter leaning over the console. Kay’s leg between her own pushed her legs apart and Carter was surprised that the groan she heard was coming from her. Kay’s skillful hands reached around and cupped Carter’s breasts tweaking them enough to make her breathing rapid and erratic. Kay pressed her thigh against Carter’s spread legs, causing Carter to push back shamelessly against her.
“Oh please, Kay” Carter moaned. She reached to her breast and took Kay’s hand, pushing it down toward her open legs.
“Please, what? Tell me what you want, baby,” Kay teased her, her voice a curious mixture of laughter and desire.
“Touch me. Go inside me,” Carter insisted, her breathing rapid, pressing herself hard against Kay’s thigh again. Kay let go of Carter and dropped to her knees behind her. Her hand slipped in the soft folds that willingly parted. She found the spot she was looking for and began a slow circular motion that left Carter melting down onto Kay’s hand. Kay moved her other hand up and slid it into Carter, feeling her turn from silk to corduroy. “Oh yes, oh by god yes,” Carter babbled as Kay moved her hands, knowing instinctively what Carter wanted and giving it to her. She nipped her lightly on the thigh as Carter finally arched back in release, staying inside of her lover until the aftershocks quieted.
Carter turned to Kay, still on her knees, and pushed her back on the floor of the Tango. Her eyes narrowed with desire, Carter reached down and pushed Kay’s legs apart. Her eyes raking down her body, she whispered, “By the gods, you’re a beautiful woman.” She bent forward and kissed Kay, her fingers splaying out over Kay’s breasts. She ran her hands down Kay’s sides and back up the inside of her thighs. Kay reached up and ran her hand through the back of Carter’s blond hair grabbing it lightly and pulling her down to kiss her. The lust of battle and sex combined like their tongues, fighting for dominance. Carter pulled away first, pinning Kay down with the desire in her eyes. She moved her mouth down to Kay’s breasts, tugging at them making them stand at attention. Kay suddenly felt as if her heart would actually beat through the wall of her chest. The intensity of her feelings for this woman was so unexpected that it almost frightened her. Carter sensed the shift in her lover and looked inquiringly into her face.
“I’m okay,” Kay assured her. Carter watched for a moment to be sure then continued her journey down her lover’s body. She nipped lightly at the convex of Kay’s body causing her to arch and moan. Kay spread her legs further and allowed Carter access to her most private parts. Carter breathed in the damp musk that belonged to Kay and moaned. Spreading her with her fingers, she reached her tongue in and found the hard spot she sought. Kay lifted up her hips and pressed against Carter’s mouth, her hands reaching behind her head looking for something to grab hold of. Finding the pedestal of the chair she clamped onto it with both hands as she arched into Carter who had slid her fingers into Kay. She rocked hard against Carter and felt as if the top of her head was flying off with the sensations her lover was causing. When she felt the release of her body from the delicious tension that had built, Kay cried out Carter’s name. Trying to catch her breath, she clamped down on Carter’s hand when she tried to withdraw. “Not yet,” she pleaded. Happy to oblige, Carter stayed where she was until Kay’s breathing and heartbeat had returned to normal. She stroked her lover’s belly and legs, memorizing the creases and shape of her lover’s body. Finally Kay allowed her to move back up to her shoulder where Carter lay her head.
They lay in silence, both emotionally overwhelmed by the intensity of the past few hours. Carter lay in her usual position, her arm wrapped around Kay’s waist, her leg thrown over Kay’s. Finally she lifted her head and looked at Kay. “I’m cold. And hungry. I need to move,” she said reluctantly. Kay smiled at her, the look of love in her eyes as blatent as anything Carter had known. Carter pulled her as close as she could. “I love you so much,” she whispered.
“I love you too, Carter. From the moment I saw you,” Kay whispered back. Their eyes locked onto each other and they both knew that there was a bond between them that was unlike anything either of them had even hoped for before. Reluctantly Kay let go and stood, then helped Carter to her feet.
The comm link chimed and a voice asked, “Everything all right out there, Tango?”
Looking into her lover’s eyes, Kay responded, “Yes. Everything is perfect.”
Continued in Starbird