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CHAPTER 16 A
Kacey closed the shuttle ramp and headed for her office to check the status reports she did not get to before her flight.
"Colonel O'Malley to the Bridge."
"So much for the reports." Kacey thought. "On my way."
Kacey stepped off the lift seconds later. She sent a quick wink to Natalia before she sat down.
"Anything to report?"
"Until I came across those propulsion signatures, just some very old comet trails."
"We are at the coordinates you sent. There are hundreds of propulsion signatures. Which one were you planning on following?"
"When I was out there, I only picked up on a half dozen tops."
"Could be a cross roads of sorts. The main travel area for who ever lives around here. Is it possible to put the new Star Charts on the vid screen?"
Kacey looked at the enlarged Star Chart. "Where are we in the scheme of things?" A small replica of Andromeda appeared. "These are the coordinates I sent you for the propulsion sigs?"
"Damn there are a lot of sigs aren't there? Why did my sensors only pick up a few?"
"Most of them are masked. Andromeda's sensor are much stronger and more sensitive. That is why we were able to see so many."
"We will have to boost the sensors on the shuttles and stingers."
"That is probably a good idea, Lass." Liam said. "Is it a big job?"
"More time consuming than big, dad."
"Seems to me that it would be time well spent."
"You are right. Recalibrating the systems will be a bitch." Kacey said. "I know what I will be doing for the next few days."
"That means you will not go out tomorrow?" Kate said. "Right?"
"Why would someone go to all the trouble to mask their propulsion signatures?" Kacey asked, ignoring Kate's question.
"Someone up to no good." Rhea offered.
"Or hiding their actual numbers." Natalia added.
"Draw an unsuspecting traveler into a trap?"
"Are you suggesting Space Pirates?" Kacey asked. "Isn't that a wild theory?"
"Andromeda would be a great prize."
"Plus we are an unknown entity."
"I had better get started on those sensor upgrades immediately." Kacey said and stood up to leave.
"Kacey wait." Kate said. "Commander you have the Bridge." Kate went into her Ready room followed by Kacey.
"Why is it when ever you pull me in here I feel like a kid being sent to the Principal's office?"
"Only you can answer that, Kacey. Have a seat." Kate poured her a coffee from the carafe on her desk, bfore she sat down. "Why do you enjoy being out there?"
"That is definitely not the question I expected you to ask me, Kate." Kacey stated and looked at the passing stars. "When I am out there, its me surrounded by billions of stars, in the vacuum of space, it grounds, no, it centers me. It is so quiet I can hear my thoughts. Most times I can find that peaceful spot where my restless spirit calms down. Don't get me wrong, Kate, I would not change most of my life here on Andromeda. I love Natalia and my life with her. I love being close to my family and enjoy my place and job here."
"What would you change?" Kate asked.
"What do you mean?"
"You said you would not change most of your life here. What part would you change? If there was a way to redo any part of your life, what part would you redo?"
"We both know the answer to that, Kate." Kacey stated. I would re do those last six hours we spent on the Hell planet and everything that happened immediately after. Before you yell at me about letting go of the guilt let me say this. There will always be a small part of me that will question my actions that day. What if I picked a different direction? What if I walked on your other side so that you did not bump into that nest? No amount of lectures will ever take that guilt away completely."
"You said most times you can find peace out there. Did you today?"
"No" She sighed. "I could not find that elusive peace."
"Why do you think that is?"
"Are you taking shrink lessons, Kate? What is with all the questions?"
"We are just talking, Kacey. Answer my question."
"I know what you want me to say, Kate."
"What is it you think I want you to say?"
"You want me to admit I was wrong. That I should be satisfied with knowing that mom loves me. But there are times when love just is not enough."
"Why not just tell her?"
"I knew you gave up way to easy this morning. Please drop it?"
"All right little sister. I will drop it for now, but I will bring it up at a later date." Kate said. "Tell me one thing. When we came in here, you said the question I asked is not the one you expected me to ask. What did you expect me to ask?"
"I expected you to ask me how close I came to ignoring your orders to return"
"How close did you get to crossing that line?"
"Close enough that I could see over the line. I thought about it Kate. I thought about it. Are you going to put me on report?"
"For what. Thinking about disobeying an order is not against any regulations that I know of. There is another question you ignored earlier. Will you be going out tomorrow?"
"I am not sure. It all depends on if I can boost the sensors and get the systems recalibrated before then. The whole fleet will have to be done. I will not know the answer to your question until tomorrow. That is the best I can tell you. Do me a favor, Kate."
"Depends on the favor."
"Don't throw me in the Brig or confine me to my quarters just to keep me from doing the job I was brought on board to do."
"You have your favor. It will cost you though. A price I have not yet decided on. Kacey you make sure you are God damn careful out there a report in every fifteen minutes."
"That I can do Kate."
"And you will have the video lock on you."
"I am surprised you have not done it before, or every time I go out."
"What makes you think I don't?"
"I have a lot of work to do. Was there anything else you wanted to discuss?"
"No. Go back to work."
Kacey walked out of the Ready Room, whispered to Natalia who nodded, then entered the lift.
CHAPTER 16 B
"What you are asking for will draw a lot of power, Kacey." Mike stated.
"Can not be helped, Mike. We have to boost the sensors on every ship. Can it be done without compromising any necessary systems?"
"We could drop the scanner range for increased sensitivity."
"Would dropping the range from one point five million kilometers to one point twenty five million give us enough power?"
Major Anderson put the figures into a small hand held device. Within seconds he looked up with a smile.
"That would give us more than enough power and we will have plenty of reaction time."
"Do it." Kacey ordered.
"Do you know how much you sounded like the Captain just then?" Mike joked.
"Really? There are worse people I could sound like so I will take that as a compliment." Kacey stated. "Mike, start with my shuttle first then shuttle two. After that change over Alpha squadron. Then shuttles three, four and five with Beta squadron. Shuttles six and the Captain's shuttle with Gamma squadron. In that order."
"Give us an hour they you can start recalibrating."
"Good. That will give me a chance to go over the status reports before I send Kate an update."
Kacey left the Hanger Office and went to her own. She pulled up her status reports and worked on them. She then sent Kate an update on the sensor upgrades. Including the loss of range, that she knew Kate would not like. But to increase the sensitivity, they would have to sacrifice range until other fixes could be found.
The chime on the door caused her to look up at the door monitor. "Come in" She called out. Natalia came in carrying a covered container.
"Lunch." She said, as she placed the container on Kacey's desk. She leaned down and kissed her. "Eat Colonel."
"Thank you, sweetheart." Kacey uncovered the dish. "How did you manage to get just a sandwich? Mom always ignores my choices."
"It is all in the asking. I just asked her for something that you could eat while under the shuttle console, because you probably would not stop for lunch. She gave it to me." Natalia stated.
"I think that is because you are so damn cute and mom really likes you."
"I think it is more that she is trying to respect your choices as an adult."
"ARGH. You can be so damn infuriating, Colonel."
"I know that, but you still love me anyway, Talia."
"That I most certainly do." Natalia said. "will you be late tonight?"
"I am afraid I will, sweetheart." Kacey stated.
"Would you like me to bring dinner by, later?"
"That would be great. You will probably find me under one of the shuttle consoles or stingers recalibrating the systems. Just kick my foot because I won't be able to hear you."
"Okay. I need to get back on duty. I love you." Natalia said.
"Love you right back." Kacey said as she walked Natalia to the door.
Kacey finished her lunch. She picked up the meters and tools she would need and headed into the hanger.
Kacey laid on her back, half under the console as she recalibrated another system. She had been working steadily to get the systems synched up with the increased sensors. Each ship took twenty to thirty minutes to go through each system. Increasing the sensitivity took only a few minutes. Recalibrating each individual system was tedious at best, yet took all her concentration.
She continued to work until she felt the kick on her foot. She smiled at what that kick meant. Natalia had brought dinner. She would get a chance to see her beloved's face.
"Give me one minute, sexy." She said. Kacey finished synching the systems and pushed out from under the console to see Kate.
"So you think I am sexy." Kate said with a smile.
"I was expecting Natalia. I'm sorry , Kate."
"What so I am not sexy?"
"I am sure Anya finds you very sexy. Is Natalia all right?"
"She is fine. Your dinner will be here shortly." Kate stated. "How are the upgrades coming along?"
"Upgrades are almost done. Synching takes the longest. About half of Alpha squadron have been synched up including my shuttle and shuttle two."
"So that means you will be going out tomorrow?"
"Kate if we are heading into a dangerous area, I want to have as many fighters as possible outside if we have any battles. We can not launch if the shields are up."
"I know. Are you the only one who can synch up the systems?"
"No thank God or less than half that number would be completed."
"I do not like the idea of sacrificing sensor range."
"Well it was either that or from life support, weapons or communications. it is only a quarter million kilometers. That still gives us plenty of reaction time. Plus with the increased shield strength, we will be good."
"All right, BUT, from today on, whenever a ship is out there, shields are to be up at all times. No exceptions, Kacey."
"Already ahead of you there, Kate. All the pilots have been told."
"Do you have any ships still out there?"
"No. The entire fleet is in."
"Dinner delivery for Colonel Beautiful." Natalia states as she walked into the shuttle. "Kate, I didn't know you were still here?"
"Relax, Natalia. Kacey called me sexy ten minutes ago."
"I am sure Anya finds you very sexy." Natalia stated.
"That is what I told her. I love you Kate, but sexy? No,that would be way to weird."
"Before I leave, I have just one order for you little sister. Do not work all night."
"Can not make any promises, Kate."
"Who was it that said, tired pilots make mistakes?"
"I did." Kacey admitted. "What is your point?"
"That pertains to Colonels also. If you do not get at least six hours of sleep tonight, you will not be going out tomorrow. Have I made myself clear on that point?"
"Relax Kate. I had only planned on working for another hour or two. This is delicate work and takes a steady hand as well as an alert mind."
"See that you do that. Natalia I am putting you in charge of Colonel stubborn here. If she has not returned to your quarters by twenty one hundred hours, I want you to notify me."
"I will not let you down, Captain." Natalia stated.
Kate laughed. They could hear her laughter echo off the Hanger walls. Kacey wiped her hands on the wet cloth Natalia handed her and sat down to eat dinner.
"Did you mean what you told Kate?"
"I did. Getting these systems synched up is very delicate work.
Kacey let her self into their quarters. Natalia met her with a brandy.
"Thank you sweetheart." She kissed Natalia and took a drink from her glass. "That tastes almost as good as you do."
"You are such a sweet talker. Hit the shower, Colonel. You look as it you have been rolling around on the floor."
"I have been. Give me ten minutes to shower and change. Are we expecting any company tonight?"
"Nope. You can put your comfortable clothes on. I will let Kate know you kept your word." Kacey smiled and went to shower. Natalia hit the private call button. "Kate?"
"I wanted to let you know that Kacey kept her word and has quit work for tonight."
"Excellent. Thank you."
Natalia waited for Kacey to come out of the shower. She put out snacks, made herself a cup of tea and refilled Kacey's glass. She picked up her computer and was reading the latest questionable how to guide Kate had sent them.
Kacey stood in the door way and watched. "What has you so engrossed?"
Natalia blushed. "I did not see you standing there."
"That was evident. So what is so interesting?" Kacey joined her on the couch and pick up her glass.
"The latest how to guide from your very twisted sister. Where does she find this stuff?"
"They probably have a whole library full of this, but I really do not want to know. What is this one?"
"See for yourself." Natalia passed the computer to Kacey.
Kacey read for several minutes. "Is she kidding me? Some of that sounds wrong."
"I don't know. You seemed to have enjoyed those spheres when we went off by ourselves."
"Kacey blushed. You're right, I did. But this is..."
"It certainly is. Did I show you the one Anya sent me?"
"Noooo." She drew out the word. "Tell me, when did she send it? Why is my dear sweet sister in law sending you how to guides? And why haven't you told me about this before?"
"Lets see. When, was the day after you and Kate came clean to you parents. Why, maybe she figured you might need it. Why I haven't told you before is that I forgot about it."
"Show me Talia."
Natalia brought up another file and passed the computer back to Kacey.
Kacey read the title. "The Art of Spanking. She has got to be kidding. I would never raise my hand to you ever."
"What makes you think you would be in the driver's seat. Anya did send it to me."
Kacey laughed. "Honey do you really think you would be able to pull that off?"
"Is that a challenge, Colonel?"
"That is in no way a challenge, sweetheart." Kacey said. "Besides, I have not done anything wrong lately."
"You are right. But I will be watching you Colonel. I could probably recruit a few spies to help me."
CHAPTER 16 C
Kacey stood in her flight suit, in front of her pilots as she gave them their instructions.
"Keep working on getting the systems synched up. When we return we will pick up where you left off. Once you have cleared Andromeda, all shields will be kept at maximum. No exceptions. Stay within visual range of at least one other ship. Stingers one through six, you will be with me. The rest stay around Andromeda. Get your preflight done, we launch in twenty minutes. Dismissed."
Kacey went to her office and picked up the rest of the gear she would need. She spoke into her communicator. "Colonel O'Malley to Bridge."
"Go ahead, Kacey."
"We are getting ready for the next wave to go out. I will let you know how the upgraded sensors work."
"Be careful out there Kacey. Remember what I told you."
"Yes Kate. I remember. See you in four hours."
"Correction Kacey. You will be on video lock and will see you sooner than that so behave yourself out there."
Kacey laughed as she headed for her shuttle. She did her preflight external exam before she went inside. Once her preflight check was completed, she got into the safety harness and put on her headset. She started her shuttle.
"All craft radio check." She ordered. The stingers counted off. Kacey heard the video camera turn on. She smiled and waved before she blew a kiss to Kate. "Make sure your weapons are charged. We don't know what is out there. Close air lock doors." She ordered and taxied into position.
The Bridge crew watched Kacey on the view screen. Kate rolled her eyes at Kacey's action.
"Lower atmosphere." Kacey said and they heard the air being sucked out of the launch area. "Open launch doors." Kacey looked up at the camera and saluted Kate just before she shot out of the Hanger. They watched as she held position until the stingers left the Hanger. "Shields at maximum." She said as she grabbed a smoke stick. Stinger one stay on my starboard side, two on my port. Three through six spread out behind me. Seven through twelve fan out around Andromeda. Keep your eyes open. Andromeda how many masked signatures are you picking up?"
"We are showing fifty seven." Anya stated.
"Not bad, my sensors are showing fifty two that are only three hours old."
"We have the same time frame."
"There is still room for improvement, but the sensor upgrades are working well."
"If you have to sacrifice more range, then the sensors you have now will have to do." Kate stated.
"Gotcha Kate. We are going to follow these trails. I have back up."
"All right Kacey. Be careful out there."
"Roger Kate." Kacey said. "Ladies and gentlemen, lets go snooping."
Kacey pushed the throttle forward and they watched her fly off.
"Katie, what does she have in her hand?" Liam asked.
Kate cleared her throat. "She calls it her good luck charm, but it's a smoke stick."
"Ye knew about them?"
"All her pilots use them." Kate said and continued quickly at Liam's look. "Yes, I knew"
"I thought she gave them up years ago."
"In her defense, she only uses them when she flies, because they all consider them a good luck charm."
"Tis no reason or excuse, Katie."
"Shamrock to Andromeda."
"Go ahead Shamrock."
"We are stilling following the masked sigs. We are now picking up seventy."
"What are your coordinates?"
"Already sent them. We are about three thousand kilometers out."
"Pushing the speed for a reason?"
"Just checking how the sensors react at higher speeds. We will check back in fifteen minutes. Shamrock out."
"If she has gone three thousand kilometers in less than fifteen minutes, she will be more than twenty four thousand kilometers away at the halfway point."
"That is farther away then she has been before."
"She seems to go longer distances each time. The question is why?"
"Kacey is trying to find the peace that has been eluding her the last few times out." Natalia stated.
"That is exactly what she is doing." Kate agreed.
"How about you lasses explain it to me then." Liam stated.
"Kacey told me the reason she enjoys flying so much is that when she is out alone, it is very quiet. She can almost hear her own thoughts and sometimes her restless spirit is at peace. Then there are times when she just can not find that peace."
"That day I went out with her, it was incredible to see that peace soothe her. The only way I can think to describe it, is she becomes one with the universe around her for a short time."
"I wonder if she was a Flower Child in another life?" Lieutenant Minor asked.
"Flower child, laddie?" Liam asked.
"For the most part, they were a peaceful generation. They first made an appearance back in the nineteen sixties. They followed the beatniks of the fifties. They could be found on street corners handing out flowers. Believed in free love. Were against the war in Viet Nam. That time soon became to be known as the birth of the sexual revolution. They would zone out on drugs to become one with the Earth."
"Kacey does not use drugs." Liam stated adamantly.
"No, but she finds peace in other ways like flying and music." Kate stated.
"Shamrock to Andromeda."
"Go ahead Kacey."
"We are seeing more and more masked sigs."
"What are your coordinates?"
"Already sent the coordinates, Kate. It is still quiet out here. There is a large gas cloud off my port side about twenty thousand kilometers from me. Sensors are not picking up any radiation."
"Do not go anywhere near it until our sensors can check it out Kacey."
"Relax Kate, I am not going anywhere near it. We are still following the masked sigs. Can only do one thing at a time."
"Kate, those coordinates put her almost ten thousand kilometers out."
"Still pushing the speed, Kacey?"
"Yeah. The trails we are following are about an hour old. Looks like we may be getting close to their base. The number of masked sigs is over one hundred."
"Do not go any further." Kate ordered.
"Kate, this could just be a trade route."
"That is possible, but it could also be a trap. You only have a few stingers with you. Turn around and head back."
"Really hate to give up when we are this close." Kacey argued.
"We are not giving up, but what chance do six ships have against God only know how many unknowns. Turn around and head back, now." Kate ordered again.
They could hear Kacey's sigh of frustration. "Roger. Returning to Andromeda. All ships turn around and return. Shamrock out."
They watched Kacey turn her shuttle around and lowered her speed. The stingers followed her lead.
The stars slowed around her. She let her mind wander. The sensors were quiet. Her mind went into overdrive trying to find the peace that eluded her. She stared out at the passing stars.
The shot that hit her back shield caught her by surprise. The sensors were still quiet. "Where the Hell did that shot come from?" She said out loud. Another shot hit her shields. She looked at the Stingers around her.
"All ships report in." She ordered.
"We are taking hits, Colonel. Shields are holding. We are unable to see where the shots are coming from."
"Head back to Andromeda best possible speed." She said. "Shamrock to Andromeda. We are under attack. Can not see our attackers. Sensors are not picking them up. I repeat. We are under attack. Unable to see our attackers."
Another shot hit the shuttle and knocked out the engine. "May Day, May Day, May Day. My engines are out. Shuttle dead in space."
To be continued...
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