Back | Next

Chapter 7

November 5, 2406 AD

27 Light-years from the Sol System

Saturday, 11:17 PM, Expeditionary Mission Standard Time

“You gonna work on that all night long, Commander?” First Sergeant Rondi Howser stood straddle of a pair of boots sticking out from underneath the strange-looking bot-built shuttle in engineering. She didn’t really care so much for the shuttle as she did for the man working on it. Although she had drawn support for the upcoming mission in the shuttle, the Marine just saw it as a means to get her wherever it was that she needed to be in order to kick ass.

“Amari! Where the hell’ve you been? I need you under here right now to help align the snap-back to sling-forward conduit projector on this thing,” the man underneath the spaceship shouted.

“I am NOT Petty Officer Engineering Technician First Class Sarala Amari!” Rondi said sourly.

“Huh? Rondi, that you? Hold on a minute,” came from underneath the shuttle. There were a couple of clanging noises and then an, “Oh, shit. Goddamit. Where the hell are you, Amari?”

The boots were attached to a set of red engineer’s coveralls that were in turn on the Madira’s chief engineer, who was lying on a hover creeper doing God knows what up underneath the thing. Rondi put her hands on her terrific hips, tapped her right toe against the deck plating, and raised an eyebrow as the creeper started to slide from underneath the ship.

“Firstly, I suspect PO1 Amari has sacked out, like most normal people. Secondly, what the hell, Joe?” Rondi said in her best hurt voice. “We were supposed to chow over two hours ago! I’ve been waiting and I’ll be damned if I’ll let you stand me up!”

The CHENG looked up at the sleek muscular Marine in her Universal Combat Uniform and Rondi was certain that he was thinking several things all at once. The first thing she hoped was that the fireproof fabric conformed around her Marine-hardened midsection and pushed up her more-than-ample breasts into a very nice supported position. The common description of the female UCU tops was that they always kept “things” at attention. The compression shirt had been designed to fit skintight as a lightly armored fireproof paper-thin layer. And it did. The shirt not only wicked away sweat and moisture, conformed to most environment color schemes, led repel, low-order shrapnel, resisted fire, and compressed the muscles, improving the wearer’s performance, but it did so in a way that made the person wearing it look damned good. And Rondi knew she looked damned good in them.

The other thing that Buckley had better be thinking was that he was fucking sorry for standing her up, and was in fear of getting a knot jerked in his ass.

“Uh, sorry about that, First Sergeant.” Joe stammered. “Somehow or other I promised the general I’d have this ship ready in two days, and that was a day and a half ago.”

“How does that affect me?”

Rondi knew damned well how it did. There were at least five generals on board the ship, but when somebody said “the general,” everybody knew they meant Alexander Moore. Everybody on board the ship also knew that when the general expected something from you that you’d better deliver it. Knowing all that didn’t mean she couldn’t have some fun with Buckley, though.

“Well, Marine, you want to crawl down under here and give me a hand, we could get to that chow sooner than later.” Joe smirked at Rondi. She could tell he was having a hard time looking her in the eye, so she knelt down beside him.

“Is that an order, Commander?” Rondi raised an eyebrow flirtatiously.

“Negative.” Joe paused for a long moment and then sighed. “I’m brain dead right now anyway. I really should stop for a bit. Maybe some chow and then a nap in my quarters.”

“Is that an invitation?” Rondi almost laughed. “I’ve heard more enticing ones.”

“You know it is, gorgeous, but I really do have to get this thing flying in perfect order.” Joe rubbed at the stubble on his chin. Rondi wondered just how long he’d been at it. “I really should finish calibrating that QMT grid panel while it’s apart. Just not a good time to stop.”

“How long will that take?”

“An hour at best. By then I’ll be starving and cross-eyed from lack of sleep.” Joe frowned a bit. Rondi could tell he was pushing himself too hard. Having only a skeleton crew in engineering must have had him doing several jobs all at once.

“Tell you what. You crawl back in there and fix the QMT thingy and I’ll go get us some dinner. Meet you in your quarters with it in an hour. Sound good?” Rondi put her hand on his shoulder and smiled warmly at Joe as she stood up.

“Great. An hour. That’s just enough time.” Joe leaned back on the hover creeper and slid back up under the shuttle. “That’s enough time to straighten out the wavefunction correlator with the pattern buffers in the . . .”

Rondi turned and walked toward the chow deck, doing her best not laugh out how big a geek the CHENG was. “Best one in the fleet,” she said to herself.

Dinner had gone well. Joe ate like he hadn’t eaten in two days. Come to think of it, he realized that he hadn’t. He then realized he hadn’t showered in as long either. He excused himself from Rondi to hit the shower. As one of the senior staff, Joe managed one of the quarters with its own shower, so there wasn’t too big a disruption to his date with Rondi.

The CHENG had been seeing the Marine for most of the expeditionary mission, and every time she went out on a job he felt his heart in his throat until he saw her come back. He couldn’t imagine how the general handled seeing his daughter go out on dangerous missions day in and day out. And on this last one she lost a hand and was cut up pretty badly. Joe had hard enough time watching Rondi go out and they were just, well, mostly having a lot of sex together. But Joe liked the Marine a lot. The kind of like that is beyond “boat cute”; it was the kind of like that makes you consider retiring and getting a house somewhere together—though they had never discussed it. Joe used the general as his rock. If Moore could send Dee out into the muck and still function, then he could watch as Rondi went out.

Joe turned his back to the falling water and let it wash away the stress and grime from keeping the ship together, repairing the shuttle, and a million other things. He looked up as the shower door slid open and Rondi slipped into the tight space with him. She reached her arms around his shoulders and kissed him softly. Joe stood back as far as he could get in the tiny shower and took in the view. The movement of Rondi’s arms resting on his shoulders and her slight wriggling movements as the water splashed against her body exaggerated the brilliant red, black, and blue cobra high-resolution laser-printed tattoo that curled around her left leg three times from the knee, up between her legs from behind and over her pubic area, across her rippled abdominal muscles, and around both breasts, with its mouth open and fangs showing on the left side of her midsection. The red and blue were nanofluorescent and retroreflective, causing them to glow brilliantly in the low lighting of the shower.

To Joe it was clear that she didn’t need the UCU top to keep her “at attention.” The muscular nature of her body and the firmness of her breasts did that all by themselves. Her arousal, unless the water was too cool for her, showed that she was as attentive as she could be.

Joe felt her hand grasp him, and he realized that the Marine wasn’t the only one standing at attention. He pulled her to him and kissed her.

“You are beautiful,” he whispered.

“Shut up,” Rondi replied as she worked him into her and wrapped her left leg around him.

Joe shut up.

Rondi lay on her side, looking across Joe out the small viewport to the outside of the ship. The stars were always breathtaking to her. Rondi was smart, but not smart enough to be a CHENG or a navigator or one of the bridge team. She knew that. She was smart in a different way. She understood tactics and weapons and she understood how to stay alive when shit got bad. She really understood her physical limitations and how to push them beyond what most people knew how to do. To her, it was amazing that a smart guy, a senior officer, like Buckley liked her the way he seemed to. The way she hoped he did. She knew he worried about her when she was on maneuvers, but at the same time Rondi knew that Buckley had nearly been killed in engineering during space battles as well. Engineering wasn’t really all that safe, what with all the radiation and high voltages and no telling what other things in there could kill you.

“Spacetime motivator equations, my ass.” Joe mumbled in his sleep. Rondi sighed slightly through her pursed lips as Joe continued. “The Ricci tensor doesn’t . . . no, sir . . . yes, sir . . . football?”

Rondi laughed out loud and then covered her mouth, hoping she didn’t wake him up. “I don’t know what you’re dreaming about but it sounds like a whopper.” Rondi looked at the clock on the nightstand. For whatever reason, she never could sleep before a mission, not even after sex.

Rondi leaned over and kissed Joe lightly on the head and then eased her naked body out from under the covers. She quietly made it into Joe’s bathroom and started pulling on her UCU, thinking to herself that she hadn’t had the heart to tell him that she was on the mission on the shuttle. She’d leave him a note through his AIC.

Rondi brushed her teeth and then spit the little disposable robot out into the sink and rinsed her mouth out. She half smiled at herself in the mirror, thinking that she didn’t look near as old or tired as she was feeling. The UCU sucked to her body as she tapped the membrane panel under the neckline to display bulkhead blue-gray, which was the standard uniform color for onboard a ship. She slapped the 1st AEM Recon patch onto her left shoulder then twisted her torso to pop her back and force the air bubbles out of the shirt. The patch and shirt fabrics meshed together and hardened into a seamless decoration. She then slapped her nametag atop her right breast with similar results, then decided she needed to pee before she donned her digicam pants. She had a few minutes before she really needed to be in the AEM corridor for mission prebrief. She hoped the toilet rinse cycle wasn’t loud enough to wake up Joe. Rondi pulled up her padded and armored pants and melded the fasteners. The pants quickly shimmered and then tracked the color scheme of the top and changed to the same blue-gray base colors. Marines always wore base color camo that matched their environment.

Rondi picked up her socks and boots and slid out the door before putting them on. She stood and ran her fingers through her close-cropped blond hair and then tucked her cover in her pocket.

“See ya later, Joe.” She kissed her hand and then touched his door.

“Quantum membrane panel adjustment!” Joe jumped straight up out of the bed and ran to the door and almost opened it before he was awake enough to realize he was naked. “Shit. I need some coffee.”

Joe, his AIC said into his mind. Good morning. You have a message from First Sergeant Rondi Howser.

Play it, he thought.

Back | Next