Kacey and Natalia continued to their quarters after they said good night to Kate and Anya. Inside their bedroom Natalia nestled in Kacey's strong arms. Natalia rested her head on Kacey's shoulder.
"Can I ask you something?""
"Of course. You can ask me any thing."
"You would never hide anything from me, would you?"
"I would never intentionally keep anything from us, unless it was meant to be a surprise."
"So how do you tell the twins apart?"
Kacey laughed. "You want me to get into trouble with Anya. I will not tell you, but I will give you a hint. Next time we are in their company look closely at their eyes."
"Do you really think Anya would, you know, spank Kate?"
"From the way she was talking the other day, it is very possible."
"Kate is the Captain?"
"Not inside their quarters. Anya rules that family. Remember those are the two twisted people who sent us those 'toys'. So I am not really sure I want to know what they get up to in their bedroom."
"What are we going to get them for their anniversary? "
"I have been working on a piece of music for them that I hope to finish before next month."
"That is from you. I was thinking more along the lines of something from us."
"You can name it? But we can always take a stroll through the shops to see what catches our eyes."
Natalia yawned. "That sounds like a plan. Is there anything in the regulations about taking someone along on the guard flights?"
"Can you take me with you? The only time I have ever flown with you was when you rescued me from Marcus Prime and you were injured."
"I would like that very much. Then you can see my world. When is your next day off?"
"In two days?" She yawned again.
"Not so much tired as really comfortable. I feel so safe and protected in your arms. It is like they were made just for me."
"They were, sweetheart. Now bed time for Star Navigators.." They both closed their eyes and let sleep take them away.
Kacey sat in her flight suit in the Hanger Office as she waited for Natalia. She pulled up the flight schedules and added Natalia's name to the roster. She closed the program and went to her shuttle where she began the pre flight inspection of the outside of the shuttle. Kacey lowered the ramp and went inside to do the flight checks. Throught the windshield she watched Natalia walk into the Hanger.
"Permission to come aboard, Colonel." She said from the ramp.
"Permission granted." Kacey stated. "Found a flight suit that almost fits."
"Don't the Marines know what a small is?" Natalia asked. "Major Anderson had to roll the sleeves up three times just so I could see my hands and he used tape to shorten the legs so that I did not trip."
"We know the size, but just do not have a lot of calls for it. I only have three pilots that are your size, so we do not carry many of them. If it is any consolation, Kate had a hard time finding one to fit her also. She finally had one made for her. Strap in Sweetheart." Kacey told her as she put the headphones on. "Radio check." She ordered. The Stingers assigned to go with them counted off. "Close air lock doors." She started the shuttle. "Lower atmosphere and open launch doors." She ordered as she taxied into position. As soon as the massive doors opened, Kacey pushed the throttles forward. "Hold onto your hat. Here we go."
The stingers followed Kacey's shuttle out of the Hanger. The ships finishing their shifts waited until the next shift was launched before they landed. The Hanger doors stayed open until the incoming ships had landed.
Kacey held position until all the scheduled ships had joined her. She grabbed a smoke stick and clamped it between her teeth. "Fan out and cover Andromeda on three sides. Look for anything that could present a problem." Kacey ordered.
"What is that?" Natalia asked as she pointed to the smoke stick.
"It is called a smoke stick. It is a tradition. Once a pilot hits open space we grab one. I can guarantee every pilot out here has one. It is a sort of good luck charm."
"What does it do?"
"I forget you were not born on Earth. Lets see if I can explain this. It's like a cigarette but without all the garbage that was in tobacco products. No smell, no ash and no tobacco related diseases. All tobacco products were banned on Earth years ago. This is the only form of smoking allowed."
"I can see the smoke, but I can not smell anything." Natalia stated.
"You are not supposed to. It basically for the person smoking it."
"So it serves no real purpose?"
"Well, it gives the smoker a little nicotine. Not a lot. But mostly it is a good luck charm."
"It is really beautiful out here. I feel like I could just reach out and touch the stars. It's peaceful."
Kacey flew towards the front of Andromeda so that Natalia could see what the big ship looked like in flight. "That is the Bridge. Wave to Kate, honey." Kacey said.
"Do you think she has the video lock on you?"
"Without a doubt. If you count down four decks and twelve windows over, you will see our quarters." Kacey told Natalia. She kept a close eye on all the meters and readouts from the scanners. A beeping from one scanner caught her attention.
"Shamrock to Andromeda."
"Go ahead Shamrock." Kate's voice responded.
"Andromeda be advised, my scanners are picking up on a fairly recent ion trail."
"Our scanners are showing the same. The trails are about twelve hours old. We are also picking up faint traces of propulsion signatures." Anya said.
"Five hundred thousand kilometers."
"So we may not be alone out here." Kacey stated.
"We have known that for a long time, Kacey." Kate said. "If those signatures belong to another race, we need to find out if they are friendly. Be careful out there."
"Will do Kate. We are going to go out a little ways to see what we can find."
"Not to far out, Kacey." Kate ordered.
"Yes Captain." Kacey faced the camera , smiled and mock saluted. "Make sure you get my good side Kate."
They watched Kacey's shuttle fly past them. "She can be such a brat sometimes." Kate said.
"Aye lass she can, but would ye have it any other way? Sometimes she can be just a big kid. Natalia brings that side of her out more."
The scene on the view screen changed from the outside of the shuttle to the inside. Kacey waved at Kate who rolled her eyes and shook her head.
They followed her progress for several minutes. "Shamrock to Andromeda."
"Go ahead, Shamrock."
"We are about a thousand kilometers out. Propulsion signatures are stronger. Also the ion trails are showing to be about five hours old. There is a nebula about two hundred thousand kilometers off starboard, that I would like to get a closer look at. Other than that it is quiet out here."
"I do not think going near that nebula is a good idea right now Kacey. Time to turn around and come back to Andromeda, Shamrock." Kate ordered.
"Will do, Andromeda. We are heading back. Do you think we will be able to get a closer look at that nebula?"
"Sensors show there is a lot of theta radiation in the nebula, Kate." Anya stated. "Far more that we are protected for."
"That will not happen, Kacey. Theta levels are too high."
"That is too bad. I wish we could have taken a closer look."
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Natalia said.
"Kacey, whose voice was that?" Kate demanded.
"Natalia's. You do not think I would pick up a strange woman out here do you? No aliens were out hitchhiking today. Check the flight roster Kate. I listed she was coming with me."
Kate pulled up the flight roster on her command computer. "There it is. Damn it."
"I take it that Kacey did not clear this with you, Katie."
"No she did not, Liam." Kate said. "I had no idea she was taking Natalia with her."
"What are you going to do Katie?"
"Looks like I need to have another talk with her. I will be in the Hanger. You have the Bridge, Liam." Kate said as she headed to the lift.
To be continued...
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