Destiny's Choice is an original work of fiction, a science fiction thriller of novel length with uber qualities. The plot is layered with romance, political intrigue, sex, and violence. At times the drama can be intense. Enjoy. Once completed I hope to find a publisher. I appreciate comments good and bad, especially if they are constructive.
Chapter 18: Missions
The dunes were empty, windswept, and gray. Overhead, gulls sailed on the currents and cried out to one another. The cries caught Kali's attention and she looked up as she made her way over the once familiar path. The marine layer was thick and sculpted like icing in various shades of grays, blue-gray, and white. Maggie would have loved this, she thought as she contemplated the reason for the journey. She blinked, refusing to accept that loss and loneliness were the reasons for the unshed tears pooling behind the U-V shades shielding her eyes. It was the wind. The biting chill of the coastal winds, maybe even a piece of sand or two, she thought as she drew a roll of tissue from her leather jacket pocket, peeled off an outer sheet, and dabbed at her nose. Yeah, she snickered at the argument. Why else would she have brought nearly half a box?
Battling the gravity that would prefer she amuse it with the grace of the region's nearly extinct albatross, she leaned back on her heels as she trotted down the dune's rounded, though steep, slope to the half-eroded beach. Sandy smooth granules caved into the depressions left by her deep footprints as she made her way to the surf. Half damp from the fog the grains coated her feet. The fine powder she stepped across quickly became more compact, then thinned where the tidal eddies had uncovered a carpet of smooth, surf polished stones. She treaded more carefully, here feet tender and unaccustomed to being bare on anything more rugged then the pseudo marble tile that covered the bathroom and kitchen floors of her assigned apartment on Parliamentary. I really need to get out more, she thought when a camouflaged agate met a sensitive pressure point just below the large toe of her right foot.
Before going any further, Kali set the boots she had been carrying down on the skeletal remains of an ancient sun bleached log. She knelt and rolled the cuffs of her ebony trousers up four turns, just enough so she could wade into the shallower wash.
"Ooh," she shivered as the tentacles of the artic-chilled Pacific stung her toes and made her foot go numb. "Wake me up," she smiled, speaking to the surf.
She sighed. The spray of surf sprinkled her face as her hair whipped across her face and back across her left shoulder. Should `a pulled it back, she thought as she pulled the errant strands back off her face with the tines that were her fingers. She held the temporarily clasped locks back and stared. The gulls' cries called out. The surf's rhythm was calm, in a way quiet.
"By all that is Jo'nai, I miss you."
A fallen wave, nothing more now than anemic foam, washed over her feet and ankles. She stepped back and sideways as the gravitational pull of the tide sucked the sand from beneath her heels.
"Maggie, I'm so tired of this shit. So much is going on at home. Somehow, I just ... Mags, Vzul, Maggie it's been five years and I ... I ... vzul! I want to crawl into your arms. I want ... It still hurts you know. Not as much, but ... I wish." She sniffed and wiped her nose.
Kali looked down and kicked at the foam swirling around her feet. She pulled a thin flute from her coat pocket. Placing the mouthpiece to her lips she blew a soft, but steady stream of air. Rich and earthy, the sweeping tones of the melody mingled with the waves and lifted to float, dip, soar, and glide with the gulls. Adding to the suite, slivers of sun coated the gray of the marine layer and flickered across the surf.
Kali sighed when she had finished. For quite a few minutes, her hand still on her instrument, she stared out across the water. "I still love you," she sniffed again, but this time she didn't fight the reservoir of tears. She let them flow.
Feeling chilled, Kali waded from the surf back to her boots and driftwood corpse. Leaving the boots where they were she sat; the trunk she used as a backrest. For the rest of the morning, she watched and listened to the gulls and surf. Several times she played her flute. But mostly, she remembered.
"Come." Hayley pulled back from her screen and watched as the door to her office slid open. "Sweetheart," she greeted as a smile and appreciative gaze greeted Christine. She looked exquisite, or so Hayley thought. She wore a sari of simulated leopard skin crepe that draped off her left shoulder. A scarf of the same material tied her long coffee hair off the same shoulder. There was a glint in her eyes and a mischievous glint to her eyes and face.
Hayley stood a rush of girlie giddiness brushing her cheeks with heat. "For me?"
"Only," Christine's normal business-like façade blushed as she presented a single burgundy red bud in a long neck cut-glassed vase.
"It's so beautiful."
"To commemorate our two-week anniversary."
Holding the rose to her nose Hayley inhaled. "I love roses."
"And I love you." Christine dipped her head claiming Hayley's mouth.
"I love you," Hayley murmured, entwining her free hand behind her lover's neck. Opening her mouth she drew in an exploring tongue and sucked, drawing in the nectar that had come to fuel her passion. "Ooh," she stumbled back.
Reaching quickly, Christine caught her. "Easy, Love."
"You just make me so dizzy. I've never ∑"
"Me neither." Christine removed the vase and set it on a nearby end table.
Opening her arms, Hayley pulled Christine in again. "I love you," she murmured.
"Always." And with that Christine lead her to the office couch, "I need you." A hand tugged at the silk blouse tucked into Hayley's navy blue slacks.
"I guess you need some lunch?" Hayley giggled as she let herself be lowered to her back. "Don't you worry about what people are saying˜that you're always coming back here to my office."
"Never. They probably think I'm one lucky cat."
"Teacher's pet?" Hayley raised her arms to allow Christine to remove her blouse and bra.
"Oh, yeah," Christine licked her lips. "I have a meeting at 1330."
"All business and no pleasure."
"No, Love. All pleasure," Christine growled.
As Christine slid the last of her clothing from her body and hands, fingers, and mouth took possession, Hayley gasped. "Oh, god. What you do to me."
"At ease, Captain."
Tanner relaxed his stance. His eyes shifted between the two generals before him. The first, the one who had given him his orders and sat behind his desk, was General Chowdery, Lunar Base's commandant. Like himself, General Arkel Chowdery was tall, a veritable mix of ancestries, though by his almond eyes, chocolate vanilla skin, and wiry black hair, he guessed his ethnicity could claim contributions from Africa, Asia, and maybe the Middle East or South Asia. Besides his arrival, this was only the second time Tanner had stood before his stern, almost emotionless commander and he wondered what was going on.
"This is General Althea Franklin."
Turner reached out a hand at the chair to his left and shook the hand of its occupant. "General Franklin," he inclined his head respectfully.
General Franklin was an older woman, in looks older than Chowdery, who Tanner guessed might be in his early fifties. She was short, wiry, with short frizzy ebony hair tinged with a gray frost. Crinkles radiated from her dark brown eyes. She wore the standard navy blue uniform of the officer corps˜blouse, trousers, socks. Her ankle crossed legs and demeanor were casual, neutral.
"Take a seat."
Tanner sat in the chair on Franklin's right.
"Let me get to the point, Captain." Franklin leaned forward as she took command of the meeting. She handed Tanner a data chip that she had concealed in her left hand. "These are your transfer orders."
"Transfer?" This was a first. Where? Why? His head swam. Back to Mars? Earth? What was he going to tell Carol? Their current situation was already more than difficult.
"The orders come from the Executive Office." Franklin continued to speak as he inserted the chip into his wrist com interface and read. "I'm sure you've heard of the troubles on Trinidia. The Governor General, at the behest of Trinidia's government, has decided to augment U.G.C. Defense Force's presence. We already have two squadrons at the base."
"Al-Fulani's and Daniels's"
"You're knowledgeable of Trinidian operations."
"Only some," Tanner conceded releasing a slow breath as the scan of the orders revealed Franklin had told the truth.
"It has been decided to establish a deep space training station on Trinidian. With your university training experience with the cadets on Mars, you have been tapped for the job. Of course you'll also be in command of the newly formed Trinidian Gamma Group."
"Seems like a tall order," Tanner let his eyes travel between the two generals.
"It will be." This time Chowdery spoke. "You'll be taking your current cadre and after a two year stint they'll be rotated out for a new squadron."
"And I'll teach?"
"Planetary support operations and distance escort."
"And work with Alpha and Delta squadrons in helping maintain the peace."
"Maintain the peace." Tanner bit his lip as he focused on Franklin.
"Protect U.G.C. interests and support President Tern's efforts to keep his people from falling into anarchy."
Tanner sighed and sat back in thoughtful quietude.
"Your thoughts, Captain." Franklin said her voice even and gravelly.
"Trinidia is so far away."
"That it is," her head nodded.
"Leaving Mars for this posting's been difficult enough. My fiancée," he stopped.
"How do you know about her?"
"Doctorial candidate in propulsion systems at the University of Mars. She's dissecting our hyperlight PSOL six engine. For the last three years, your second˜longer than that if we go back further. If my research is correct, you should have not made captain. Fraternizing with a cadet?"
Tanner squirmed. His gut tightened.
"We're engaged," he replied softly.
"Believe it or not, Captain, I understand matters of the heart. That's why my husband always transferred with me." Franklin patted his hand. "Just as Chowdery's wife does as well. In our profession," she cut herself short. She chuckled and shook her head. "What I'm trying to say is that past is past. Every report on file shows that you and your lieutenant are outstanding officers."
"Thank you." His voice was still soft.
"In fact a good second can often make life easier. Therefore, as soon as I leave here, I'll be meeting with Chang. We want to make sure that Mars command has time to find a suitable replacement."
"Do we have a choice?" he asked thinking of the connection between Carol and Hayley.
"No. No choice."
"I thought so." He nodded acceptance. "When do I tell my kids?"
"Orders have already been cut. They'll be in your in-tray."
"Any more questions?" Chowdery asked.
"Then you're dismissed."
Tanner stood. "Nice meeting you, General."
Franklin took his proffered hand. "I look forward to working with you, Captain."
He released the bony, but firm hand, and turned to Chowdery. "General." He saluted, making sure he also rotated to Franklin.
"One more thing, Captain." Franklin stopped him just as he was about to leave. "Speak to your group, but nothing to Chang until I have a chance to speak with her."
She's not going to like this, he thought. "Yes, ma'am." And he left.
"I don't like it!" The peach colored lips pouted.
"You know what it's like˜love and politics."
"You haven't even asked for a quick nap."
"Patience, Baby." A pair of strawberry tasting lips glanced about then pressed forward.
"I have so missed˜,"
"Me, too. Me, too. Now if you could set up this meeting."
"I guess it's Robert."
"He is your lover."
"He's boring," whined the peach lips.
"There's always James and McCord."
"And Wilhelmina, but you are just so fun. Maybe after," she raised the data chip.
"Sorry," a grin engulfed her boss's face. "I have plans."
"Who'd ever think Miss Prude would be so into it?"
"She loves me. Likes pleasing me." A hand cupped firm flesh.
"So do I," Peach reciprocated taking pleasure in the contact.
"Now, now, now," a strawberry painted nail wagged and pulled back
Peach grinned. "Well you started it."
"True," she extricated herself from the erotic touch. "Now I need to finish it."
"Quick kiss." Peach pouted.
"Teach Robert," she laughed and walked back through the door into her office.
"I can't go," stammered Carol.
"I don't think you understand. You don't have a choice."
Bitch! Carol scowled as she rose from her chair and paced. Orders. Damn orders! Dreams˜dash˜yeah, no choice. Orders. Tanner, too. That was good. "I'm in the process of writing my dissertation. My research, the simulations, they're all here."
"Lieutenant, I know I just approached this discussion on thruster reverse. I shouldn't have started with orders. Let me step back."
Carol crossed her arms and listened.
"Prior to meeting with you fiancé, I met with Governor General DeBow and his staff. As you know, human expansion and U.G.C. interests have grown greatly in the last several decades, especially in the last decade with the latest revolution in hyperlight PSOL engines. What had taken two decades to traverse fifty years ago, now takes 6 weeks. The propulsion community is predicting that will be reduced in half before the end of this decade."
"I know," Carol was not impressed.
"Be that may and in that light, the Executive Office˜and I admit I agree and welcome this new opportunity˜has decided to create a gate for long range exploration and colonization efforts. Working with the Trinidian government, DeBow has gained permission to use the Trinidian moons and several planetary sites for this endeavor. One piece of this project will be the creation of a long-range propulsion lab on one of the moons. That's why your name came up. You will be one of thirty engineers and scientists responsible for designing and overseeing the construction and testing of these new engines. You're on the top of my list. Everything I've seen and heard about you˜everyone says that the models you've created for your dissertation are pure genius. You made my list even before I learned about your fiancé. Then I saw your records showing your work with the cadet program here at the university. Perfect. What a team! I stopped to see your fiancé because he was closest. Now I'm here. I want you."
Carol slumped back into the chair, her posture straightening on contact. "Who else is on the team?" She listened as Franklin gave her the names. "Wow!" Her voice was but a mere sigh as she took in the information. "This is what I've always dreamed of."
"I can imagine."
"Right now it's just so far away. My mother˜,"
"Housing is available for extended family members."
"Next year's teaching schedule˜the University Officer's Training Program."
"You'll be involved in design, training officers and warrant techs about the engines, and working part-time with your fiancé as an instructor until the facilities are built. We expect the research facilities to be planetary-side, inside the base. Testing and Long Range Station facilities will be built on the second moon and become part of a small shipyard station. You'll be teaching about the engines to the pilots who fly them. I know I should be asking, but you are one of the corps best engineers, and to be honest, I really don't want you involved in training. I want you expanding propulsion capacity and working to build the next generation and after that the next generation of hyperlight engines. I know the orders are cut and dry, but I'm asking you. This is what you have been working towards all your life. The chance is now. Grab it.
"And Tanner's received his orders."
"Packing as we speak."
"He's scheduled to leave tomorrow 0700. You six weeks. I wanted to give you time to wrap up what you have going on here, help segue your replacement. File a TR-90-XS with my VR clerk and we'll make sure that you lose none of your work in the storage and transfer. Feel better?"
"I guess so." Carol let out a stream of air. Her insides were all aflutter, electric, and tingly all at once. "I feel this rush. New possibilities˜opportunities˜as you said, making my dream come true."
"Good. I have a flight waiting to take me back to Tranquility and Parliamentary and another round of meetings. Need to start punching the thrusters and get started on moving this project forward." The general stood.
Carol stood. "Sounds like great fun."
"That it does," Franklin smiled. She stuck out a hand. "I look forward to working with you lieutenant."
"Me, too." Carol shook farewell.
Franklin turned and went to the door. As she looked back over her should, Carol saluted. With a nod, Franklin left the little office she had commandeered for her meeting. Sighing, Carol slumped boneless into the chair. Again she released a long breath. She closed her eyes and rolled her head back. With the crackle of bone, the tension of the last half hour pinged and popped. She yawned and scrubbed at her face and eyes with her eyes. "Oh, shit!"
"Hi, buddy." Carol forced a grin.
"Carol." A grin brought out the natural glow to Hayley's face. Hayley took a seat in front of her vid.
"You look so beautiful." Hayley blushed and looked down. "I guess the romance is still going on?" Carol wagged her brows and leered.
"I'm so in love."
"I'm glad." Carol blinked. "Sweetheart," she swallowed and looked away in anxious contemplation.
"What is it?" Hayley's perch straightened and she moved closer to the edge of her couch. Concern colored her look.
"I've got some news."
"Bad news?" Hayley said with an edge.
"I think it's good˜I think. Well, more than think. This is going to be wonderful for Tanner and me. It's everything I've ever dreamed. Everything I've worked so hard for. Tanner's excited, too."
"I hate doing this. I'm not good at this."
"Hey, Carol. It's me."
"I know." Tears leaked from Carol's soft eyes.
"You know my dream?"
"Yeah, to design and work on long range propulsion engines. Be an engineer on a long range˜," Hayley stopped. Looking up, Carol was melting.
"It's everything I've ever wanted." She tried to grin.
"Defense Force assigned you to a deep space mission."
"No, not quite. Not quite."
"But you're leaving?" A lump settled in Hayley's chest.
"Tanner and I are being transferred to Trinidia."
"Trinidia." The lump hardened and pressed against her heart.
"Yeah, it's a new project." Carol quickly explained her new assignment.
"It's so perfect for you." Hayley dabbed an eye.
"And I'll have Tanner, and a place for Mom if she wants to follow. But you. You. Besides Mom, you're my family."
"Always." Tears pooled. "Honey, I'm so happy for you," Hayley choked back the terrifying sense of loss.
"I know, babe. I know."
"One day I," she said with a sniff, "I'll win a dozen prizes praising the wonderful accomplishments made by Dr. Carol Chang, Engineer Extraordinaire! By god, I'm going to miss you." Hayley pinched the tears threatening to spill.
"Me, too. Me, too, but I don't leave for another six weeks." Hayley felt her spirits lift as Carol spoke. "With Tanner gone, maybe I can make a couple trips."
"Me, too. Maybe Christine'll give me some time." "Spend as much time together as we can."
"No more quick little jaunts from Trinidia."
And with that said, together on the open line they sobbed.
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