CHAPTER 3 A
Their time away came to a close. Both had hoped for more time away from everyone, but the approaching storm ended that. They worked together to clean up the campsite and pack everything into the shuttle, as they prepared to return to Andromeda. Kacey put on the headset. She keyed the mike.
"Shamrock to Andromeda."
"Go ahead lass."
"We are about to lift off. Our ETA is ten minutes. Have the crews ready to do a tie down and prep on the two shuttles as soon as we arrive. The second shuttle is taking off now."
"I will tell your lads. Have a safe trip back."
Kacey rolled her eyes. "Will do dad." She released the mike. "We are only going a few kilometers. I get the feeling he does not trust my flying."
"You did back his speeder into a tree."
"I was fifteen at the time Talia. I have gotten a lot better than I was then. I wonder if that is why he does not want to go on any missions with me?"
"I think you should ask him." Natalia said. "Do you think we will get the chance to come back here before we leave the planet?"
"I would really like to do that, but everything depends on this storm. Strap in sweetheart." Kacey said, as she fastened her own harness. She pushed the thrusters and the shuttle lifted off the ground. The shuttle rose a short ways off the ground. Kacey pushed the throttles forward just a bit. The shuttle stopped rising and flew back towards Andromeda.
"I really enjoyed spending time with just the two of us. Don't get me wrong, I love your family and I love being a part of your family. But sometimes I get overwhelmed and just want to kidnap you for a couple days. Does that make me a bad or an ungrateful person?"
"Not in the least. They overwhelm me at times. I would love to just set the security lock and shut them all out. Unfortunately, Kate can over ride any security lock. Captain's privilege."
"She could walk in on us when..."
"No she promised she would not ever do that if we are home together."
"That is good to know."
"You did pack up those toys right?" Kacey asked.
"I did. They are buried in the bottom of my back pack." Natalia reached over and rubbed Kacey's bare leg.
"Wait. Where are my long pants?"
"Right behind you."
"Good. I would never hear the end of it if the guys were to see me in these shorts."
"Not to mention they would probably hurt themselves trying to get a better look. I really like you in those shorts and I would rather only I get to see you in them. They are so...ummm... short and revealing. But you can put your long pants on before you open the ramp to save the sensibilities of your Marines."
They approached Andromeda. Kacey did a safety pass to make sure the landing area was clear of all obstacles before she landed the shuttle. They touched down lightly. Kacey shut off the engine and removed the headset before she unhooked her harness. She turned to grab her long pants and slipped them on quickly. She saw Kate and her parents at the top of the ramp. Anya and the twins sat on the ramp. The girls waved. Kacey waved back. She rose and went to open the ramp. Natalia watched the girls jump up as soon as the ramp was fully opened.
"Incoming Kacey." Natalia shouted as the twins ran up the ramp.
"Aunt Kacey." They shouted together as they both jumped into Kacey's arms. She caught them easily.
"Mummy said you saw some animals. Were you scared? Were they big? Did you take pictures? Did you get bit?" They fired questions at Kacey.
"Girls, give your aunt a break." Anya stated as she came up the ramp. Kacey handed Erin to Natalia.
"Aunt Natty you got bit too. Was it an animal?" Erin asked.
"Mama said it was a hickey, remember Erin." Erica stated. "Aunt Kacey, what is a hickey?"
Kacey cleared her throat. "Kate" She called loudly.
"Do not be mad at Kate, She did not say anything to them. They were at the table when we talked to you yesterday." Anya said.
"Is that why she is hiding behind mom and dad?" Kacey asked. "Well rug rats, a hickey is something your mothers will have to explain to you when you are much, much older. How would you like to help us carry our stuff in?"
"Sure Aunt Kacey." She put Erica down and handed her a small bag. She handed Erin another small bag before she passed Natalia her back pack.
With everyone helping, they emptied the shuttle of all the personal items they brought with them. They left the shuttle and Kacey closed the ramp. The Marines converged on the two shuttles with tie down staps. Kacey went to help them and was turned down.
"We have this Colonel." Major Anderson told her.
"Thanks, Mike. Did everyone get back safely?"
"All ships are back, prepped and tied down."
"Carry on Mike." Kacey said, as she followed her family up the ramp. She stopped long enough to hug her parents and Kate, before they all walked inside.
CHAPTER 3 B
The sky darkened, as they put away all the items they brought with them for their aborted trip. Their dirty clothes were put in the laundry chute for later cleaning. Their toys were placed in a dresser drawer. The food they had taken with them and not used were returned to the storage area or cooling unit.
Streaks of lightning lit up the sky as loud claps of thunder were heard through the thick hull of the ship. The wind picked up and soon could be seen bending the trees in the distance. Rocks and brush were picked up by the wind and tossed about. Many hitting the large ship.
Kacey watched the storm from the safety of their quarters. She stared out the window at the power of the storm. Natalia came out of their bedroom and slipped her arms around Kacey waist. "You had better shower Colonel. Everyone will be here in forty five minutes.
"What ever possessed me to agree to having everyone over tonight?
"Two reasons that are called Erin and Erica. They have you wrapped right around their little fingers. You, my love are one big softy when it comes to them." Natalia told her. "When the time comes you are going to be a great mom."
"Do you really think so?"
"I know so, Colonel."
"I do know one, no wait make that three things for certain, Mrs. O'Malley."
"Oh yeah? What are they?" Kacey turned in Natalia's arms.
"Number three is that when the time does come you, my dear with have to be in charge of the discipline in this family. I am an old softy when it comes to children."
"I have been watching Anya with their girls. I think I will ask her for advice and guidance. What is number two?"
"You are the most beautiful woman in the world."
"You are such a sweet talker. Flattery will get you every where. Number one is?"
"Number one is that I am so totally in love with you, sometimes I think my heart will burst because there is so much love in there for you."
"That is an incredibly beautiful thing to say. I love you with everything that I am and will forever."
Kacey kissed her. When they separated, Kacey asked, "remind me again why I agreed to a family night?"
Natalia slapped her on the butt. "Go shower Colonel."
"Yes ma'am." Kacey mock saluted her. Natalia laughed when she heard Kacey mumble, "Better make it a cold one."
Dinner was finished, the dishes cleared and cleaned. They sat around with after dinner drinks. Kate started the video the computer captured while they were away. The large screen flickered and showed the shuttle and camp site. It moved as the ramp opened showing Kacey and Natalia in their bathing suits with towels draped over their shoulders as they made their way to the lake.
Liam hid his eyes behinds his hands. "Lass you are both naked." He scolded Kacey.
"Dad we were covered." Kacey defended herself.
"Not by much. Those little scraps of cloth can not be considered bathing suits."
"You have seen me in a bathing suit my whole life dad."
"Aye lass I have, but back then there was a whole lot less of you to be seeing."
Kacey laughed at her father. "Better skip ahead before we embarrass dad more." She said. The scene moved forward to their campfire the first night. "You can look now dad. It is safe."
They listened to the discussion of music.
"So you like Classical music when you mmph?" Kate baited her sister.
Kacey looked at her. "I certainly do. What sort of music do you prefer when you, mmph?"
"That is enough you two." Patricia ordered. "There are little ears here."
"That's right Kate, behave." Kacey said. Natalia nudged her. "This is where those horse like animals came for a visit."
They watched Kacey cut up the apple and walk to the herd. Heard Kate's call and threat. Listened to their discussion turn to horses.
"Just think Kate, if I had stayed with the Mounted Honor guard, The Dressage Unit or the Symphony, I would have more uniforms hanging in my closet."
Kate shook her head. "I still do not understand why Marines have to have so damn many uniforms." We have our regular and dress uniforms. Not one for every function and time of day."
"You exaggerate Kate. We have our fatigues, regular dress, formal dress for day time, formal dress for night time. If you consider my flight suit and away mission duds, uniforms, then I have six. You have to admit I do look good in my formal uniform."
"I admit to nothing." Kate stated.
"Well I am not ashamed to admit it. I think you look very good in the formals." Natalia said.
"Even more out of it, Natalia?" Kate added, which caused Natalia to blush.
"Kate," Anya spoke up. "Behave yourself."
"Isn't this where you say 'yes dear', Kate?" Kacey asked.
"Kacey, you need to behave also." Natalia stated.
With a straight face Kacey said, "Yes dear." The twinkle in her eye gave her away. Everyone laughed.
Kate pressed the remote and the video resumed. They could not hear what Natalia said, but watched as Kacey put water on the fire and help Natalia bring in their supplies. They laughed again when Kacey called and said "Good night Kate. Remember outside of the shuttle only." They heard Kate's laughter. The video fast forwarded to the big cat's visit and heard Kate's radio call.
"Why did the shock sticks not work?" Patricia asked.
Kacey clear her throat. "I got distracted and forgot to turn them on, mom."
"Ahh, I understand. Is that when the vampires bit you both?"
"Only me. Natalia got bit the next morning after I got razzed by those two over there." She pointed to Kate and Anya.
"Were you scared when those big cats were there?"
"No Erica I wasn't. I knew they could not get into the shuttle. If I had been outside, I would have been very scared."
"Those horses were nice." Erin added.
"They were, but they could have been very mean. Your mother was right. I took a chance that they were like the horses we have on Earth. They could have bitten or trampled me. It was a chance I should not have taken. You have to be really careful around strange animals?" Kacey told her nieces in a serious tone. She looked at Kate. "How was that? Did I sound all grown up just then?"
"Almost." Kate replied.
CHAPTER 3 C
The playback ended. "Is that all Aunt Kacey?" Erin asked.
"All that you need to see. The next day we went swimming again and just hung around in our bathing suits. We do not want Grandpa to have to cover his eyes again do we?"
Both girls shook their heads no.
"Hey, I seem to recall you saying you would play that song I liked." Natalia stated.
"Aye lass. Would ye play for us?"
"I did promise." Kacey said. She kissed the tip of Natalia's nose and got up. She went to the music machine and turned it so the notes would show up on the screen. She searched for the song Natalia wanted to hear. She also programmed several selections into the machine. Kacey picked up her violin, checked to see if it was in tune, before she picked up the bow and started the machine. The music sheet filled the video screen. She started to play. Kacey glanced at Natalia who smiled at her. Kacey winked back at her. They listened to the music. Anya put her arms around Kate and held her close. Liam did the same to Patricia. The twins sat on both sides of Natalia. She put her arms around them. Natalia caught Anya watching her with a knowing smile.
The storm continued to rage. Thunder, lightening and the wind could be seen heard and felt throughout the ship. A new sound reached the residents. Kacey looked out the window at the hail that fell around them. The ground was already covered with the ice pellets. As long as the hail remained small it would not do any damage to the smaller ships. If the hail became large, serious damage could ground those ships that were outside the hanger. They could not afford to have a single shuttle or Stinger damaged. They were in an uncharted area and had no way of knowing what lay ahead of them. There were limits to what they could repair.
Kacey thought. If there was a way to increase the out put of the shields, they would be better protected. Not just the smaller ships but Andromeda as well. The stronger shields would protect them not only from weapons, but from asteroids, space debris,or mother nature. But we would have to be able to turn the shields on and off remotely and not completely drain the batteries. It would need a power source that would replenish itself.
Kacey left the window and went to her computer. She pulled up the schematics for the Shuttles, then the Stingers and finally for Andromeda. She split the screen into three and lined them up side by side.
They had successfully improved their scanners, why couldn't they upgrade the shields. She found the information she was looking for. Kacey read and made notes on a pad. The shields on the Shuttles could handle a hit of one hundred kilometer per second. The Stingers seventy KPS and Andromeda one hundred fifty KPS without weakening. Kacey made several more notations. I wonder if that could be done.
Their world turned white overnight. Hail turned to snow as the storm continued. The weather on this world was strange. Just two days ago it was warm enough to go swimming, now snow was falling so thick, they could not see anything except the curtain of snow.
Natalia was like a child at Christmas. She had never seen snow. The last planets they had landed on were ice covered, but no snow fell. Kacey could only imagine what the girls were like. They had seen snow before, when they visited the Northern areas. They were born in Florida and lived almost next door to their grandparents who had lived and worked there for many years.
Kacey did a double take when the computer showed the outside temperature to be fifty degrees. A nice balmy day if it was not for the snow falling, Fifty degrees and they were in the middle of a white out. She had seen white outs before and had been out on maneuvers during one. She had learned really fast, to respect those freak storms, where a person could lose their way a few feet from their door. Dangerous conditions on any world.
If the snow continued, the smaller ships would be buried and not be able to take off at all. Hell, they would be lucky if they could get the ramps opened on Andromeda. Kacey went back to the window and looked out at the world of white. Natalia joined her at the window and wrapped her arms around Kacey.
"When can we go outside?" She asked.
"Not for awhile yet. We are having a white out. Until it stops snowing, no one will be allowed to leave the ship. We will be lucky if the ramps opened. The only ways off might end up being the escape hatches or hanger doors." Kacey held Natalia close and kissed the top of her head.
"Did we hear anything from the doctor yet?" Natalia asked.
"No so far this morning. It may take her time to find the right donor or if they have what we want in the sperm banks."
"Did you tell your family?"
"No. Not until it is a done deal."
"Kacey, do you think we were being too specific in what we were looking for?"
"I do not. Sweetheart if the roles were reversed, I would have been just as specific. Anything happening with the temp and meter thingies you are watching?"
"Definite wobble this morning. By tomorrow everything will be lined up or the stars will be aligned with Mars and Venus doing something funky."
Kacey laughed. "You are precious, my love. Do you know that?"
"So you have told me before, but I will never get tired of hearing it."
"You do realize that five minutes after we leave sick bay or the hospital, Kate will know we were there." Kacey stated
"Captain's privilege?" Kacey nodded. "She will only know that we were there, not why, correct?" Kacey nodded again. Do you have to go to your office today?"
"Yes. But it should only be for about an hour. What are your plans for today?"
"I am getting together with your mother. She is going to show me how to make your favorite desert."
Kacey's eyes lit up. "Desert?"
Natalia laughed. "She told me that would be your reaction."
"What do you two talk about when you have your heads together in the kitchen?"
"Sorry Colonel, you do not have the security clearance for that information."
"Bet I could wheedle the information out of you."
"Is that a challenge, Colonel?"
"That is more than a challenge sweetheart." Kacey said and kissed her.
"Good try, but nope, no secrets are passing these lips." Natalia teased her. "Maybe you can think of other ways to try to bribe me with while I am with your mother."
"Aww sweetheart, I have only begun." Natalia laughed again.
" Maybe you can find out from Kate if Anya ever told her what the topics of conversations were."
"Thank you for that idea. I do want to talk to Kate about finding a way to increase the output of the shields on all the ships."
"That sounds like an ambitious project and should keep you both out of trouble. Do not forget, dinner at your mom's eighteen hundred hours." Natalia stated and kissed Kacey. "See you then." Natalia left their quarters.
CHAPTER 3 D
Kacey went to her office to work on her never ending reports. Her thoughts kept straying to their shields and how they could be strengthened. She made notes on her hand computer. She worked for an hour making notes. No time like the present, she said to herself. Kacey touched her communicator.
"What's up little sister?"
"Younger sister, Kate. Are you busy?"
"Just checking status reports."
"I would like to discuss an idea I have with you."
"Sure come to my Ready Room."
Kacey transferred all the data she had collected to her hand computer and left her office. Within minutes she stood outside the Ready Room. Rhea and Anya were the only ones still at their posts. Kacey knew that as long as the storm raged, Anya would would watch the monitors. Also as long as Kate was in her Ready Room, Rhea would not leave her post. Kacey nodded to them and rang the bell.
"Come in." Kate called out when she saw Kacey in the monitor. She poured her a coffee and placed it on the desk. "What is on your mind?"
"What exactly is wrong with our shields?"
"Nothing yet. But if there were a way to strengthen all the shields we would be better protected."
"That is very true. What do you have in mind?"
"Let me show you what I have found." Kacey said and booted up her computer. She found the information she saved and handed the computer to Kate before she walked around the desk. Kate read the material on the screen for several minutes. When she had finished, she looked up at Kacey.
"How do you propose we increase the shield strength? Where would you take that energy from?"
"We could start with the forest area. Right now it get ten to twelve hours of simulated sunlight a day. That takes a tremendous amount of energy. If we were to cut that sunlight down to five or six hours a day, we could convert that energy to boost our shield strength. The trees would still get the sunlight needed and would still grow, but at a slower rate. We could also take some of the energy generated from the garbage converters. Most of that was used to power those systems that generate the sunlight. We could divert that energy into the shield matrix."
"That sounds like a very good plan. Especially now we do not know what we are flying into or what we will find."
"We can have a joint effort with your mechanical engineers and mine. They should be able to come up with something. Some sort of converter or relay to put the energy into the shield."
"Whatever made you think of this?"
"Not being able to sleep listening to the hail hit last night and being worried about the smaller ships."
"You too?" Kate asked. You have the go ahead for this plan, Kacey."
"Thanks, Kate." Kacey emptied her cup and poured herself another.
"Something else on your mind?" Kate asked.
"Yeah there is. Kate when mom and Anya had their heads together in the kitchen, did Anya ever tell you what they talked about?"
"No. I have asked her many times, but most times all I would get was a smile. A few times she went so far as to suggest that I learn to cook. You?"
"Natalia told me this morning that I do not have the security clearance for that sort of information."
The hand computer beeped for an incoming message. Kate looked down and read the two word message before Kacey snatched it away.
"What does 'Specifications found' mean?"
"Kate I am going to ask you to trust me and not ask questions. Please?"
"You have to allow me one question." Kacey sighed and nodded. "Are either you or Natalia sick?"
"We are not sick, Kate." Kacey looked directly at Kate. "That I can guarantee ."
"Then that is good enough for me." Kate said.
"Are the girls excited about the snow?" Kacey changed the subject.
"Excited is not a strong enough word for what they were this morning when the woke up and saw the snow. They were completely out of control. Anya actually had to raise her voice to get them to calm down."
"Natalia too. This is the first time she has ever seen snow. She can not wait to get out in it."
CHAPTER 3 E
"Have you ever been in a white out?" Kate asked.
"Twice. One of those times I was outside with my squad on winter maneuvers in Maine. We had the whole mix, thunder, lightning and snow so thick and heavy we could not see a foot in front of us. Have you?"
"Until now? No. Inside watching it is scary enough. I can not imagine being out in one. How did you manage?"
"We huddled together in tents and waited it out. Luckily it only lasted an hour, but we still had to dig through two feet of snow to get to our vehicles."
"Compared to what you went through in the Marines, my career has been child's play."
"I do not believe that for a single minute, Kate. You have knowledge and skills I never learned in the Marines." Kacey argued.
"Lets just agree that we both have areas we are better suited for."
"All right." Kacey agreed.
"Kate can I ask you a question without you jumping to conclusions?"
"Of course. You can ask me anything, but I can not guarantee that I won't jump to conclusions."
"Good enough I guess. When you and Anya were talking about having children, what made you decide on a multiple birth instead of two singles?"
"You ask a question like that yet you do not want me to jump to conclusions? Is that what Specifications Found, means?"
"I knew I should not have ask you?"
"I am very glad you did. But to answer your question, we decided on a multiple birth for a few reasons. The main one was that I only wanted Anya to have to go through pregnancy and labor once. We had planned on two children from the start and we wanted them close together. If it ended up that only one egg was fertilized, I would be the one carrying the next child. There are eight years between us and Anya is an only child, we did not want that much space between our children. We wanted them to grow up together. If you are Natalia are at the talking stage, I will not say anthing until you give me the okay."
"We are past the talking stage, Kate and have entered the information gathering phase. Well it is more than that."
"So when do you go?" Kate asked.
"Your word Kate."
"You have my word."
"Tomorrow or the day after, whenever, as Natalia put it this morning, the stars align with Mars and Venus and do something funky." Kacey told her. "How many time did you and Anya have to go through... umm..."
"The word is insemination. Three times before she became pregnant. Don't get your hopes up that it will work on the first try. The normal is two to three tries."
"The doctor has told us that already. We are prepared, I think."
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