Jeren licked her lips and fussed with her clothing one last time before entering the wardroom. She hadn’t brought along anything fancy for the trip, now regretting her very practical nature that made her bring nothing but utilitarian clothing. She had chosen the best of the small selection then gave them a quick press with her travel iron. She placed her hand on the brass doorknob and entered the room.
One of the officers spotted her and he eagerly stood up and helped seating her at the table. She smiled her thanks and looked at everyone at the table. The other two scientists were Kenny McDonald and the zoologist, Franklin Patterson. Jeren’s blue eyes sought out the Captain but the woman was conversing with the Warrant Officer, Don Dunham.
The officer to her left struck up a conversation with her.
“Tell me, ma’am, what’s your specialty? I hope it’s a field I can pronounce.”
She smiled weakly at his jest. “I’m a geologist that specializes on volcanology.”
“Volcanoes? Like, spewing lava and death volcanology?”
Jeren chuckled. “You got it. I was in Guatemala when I was called away for this mission. I’m hoping to get a chance to take readings here and compare them to the one on our world.”
“Better you than me. Even the idea of being within a few miles of one gives me the willies. I’d hate to see one erupt anywhere near us.”
“Well, on our Earth, the closest active volcanoes east of the US were Guatemala and the West Indies. On this world, who knows?”
They chitchatted during the meal but Jeren kept stealing glances at the Captain. The woman never looked her way or made eye contact. It was like she was avoiding her completely. The geologist sighed lightly and felt disappointed.
The final course was served; a light sherbet in long stemmed crystal bowls. Jeren picked up her spoon and listened to the conversations around the table. The discussion between the Captain and her first officer caught her attention.
“No, thank you, ma’am. You’ve soundly beaten me every night this week. I know when someone has bested me in chess. Perhaps you could find another opponent?”
Jeren spoke up. “I was on the chess team in high school. Perhaps you and me could play sometime, Captain Harrison.” The geologist didn’t want to twist her arm and gave her the option of refusing. The woman’s chocolate brown eyes finally met hers and studied her for several seconds.
“I would be delighted. Shall we?” The officer asked, standing up. Jeren nodded, a bit shocked the Captain said yes. Captain Harrison bid her officers a good night and escorted Jeren from the room. They walked silently through the corridors until they arrived at the Captain’s quarters.
Jeren took in the décor of the small cabin. It held a bed and a desk but the room was paneled rather than painted white like her cabin had been. A small closet was against one wall and the room was tidy. Janice indicated the small table that was bolted to the floor. Its top was a wooden chessboard that was highly polished and the pieces were stored in small latched drawers on the player’s sides.
Jeren took the chair closest to the door and watched the Captain sit.
“You didn’t have to accept, Captain. I know I made you uneasy earlier.”
Janice resisted the urge to sigh and thought out what she wanted to say before she replied. “I know I didn’t, Ms. Nunez. But I wanted a chance to speak with you before anything harmful could be spread. We are here for several years and there will be times when my command will be difficult. My crew could even come to question my decisions if things go badly enough. But one thing that can bring a Captain’s god-like authority to a grinding halt is a scandal. The crew must both fear and respect their captain. After all, he or she holds the highest authority while at sea.”
“I understand that, Captain, I really do.”
The woman relaxed slightly, a tiny smile curling one corner of her mouth. “I see that you do. I’m also sure that you are aware of the attitudes about homosexuals in the military. There can be absolutely no talk of my possibly being a lesbian on this ship. If you wish to be open about your sexuality on board then tonight will be the last time you enter this cabin. However, if…”
“I keep it to myself and don’t go around patting fannies and winking at the women on the ship…”
“Then I would be happy to invite you often to my quarters to play chess, Ms. Nunez.”
“Even if I beat you?” Jeren asked with a challenging grin.
Janice’s eyebrow’s lifted in mock surprise at the gloating challenge. “We’ll see. White or black, Ms. Nunez?”
“Jeren, and I’ll take the white pieces.”
The geologist knew the offer of chess wasn’t a promise of anything further between them but neither did the Captain say it wasn’t possible. Encouraged, Jeren rubbed her hands together eagerly as they each looked over the board. She sent Janice a confident wink then made her first move. The Captain smiled, pleased by the unspoken challenge. Neither did she didn’t hesitate with her first move.
The game progressed smoothly, both women nearly equal in skill. It wasn’t until a brilliant move by Jeren that she managed to trap Janice’s king.
“Check…” Jeren’s eyes met Janice’s with a naughty gleam, “and mate.”
The Captain blew out her breath and acknowledged her defeat.
The voluptuous woman stood up and looked down at the captain. “I think my victory deserves a reward, don’t you?” Jeren wanted a kiss and was set to get one, come hell or high water.
Janice raised an eyebrow and stood up slowly. She didn’t break eye contact between them then replied with a husky voice. “And exactly what did you have in mind?”
“This.” Jeren grabbed the lapels of the Captain’s dress blues and tugged her closer before claiming her kiss.
Janice stiffened for a second then slid her hand around the geologist’s waist to press their hips close. Both women kept the embrace and kiss to a simmering level, neither groping or deepening the kiss to the point they would lose control. Jeren pulled her mouth away reluctantly but kept her hands on the Captain’s shoulders.
“Well, that was a very nice reward if I must say so myself. I look forward to a rematch.” She stepped away in spite of her desire not to. “Until then, Captain Harrison.”
Janice didn’t invite her to use her first name, not yet, but soon. She wished Jeren a good night and closed the hatch behind her.
The next morning Mason noted the relaxed look on his commander’s face.
“Sleep well, Captain Harrison?”
“Yes, thank you for asking.”
“And was Ms. Nunez a capable player?”
Janice bit her tongue when her quirky humor wanted to reply and said with some light humor, “She tromped me.”
“Oh? I guess she failed to mention that she was actually good at chess. I half thought she was would try to get into your good graces by allowing you to win.”
Janice crossed her arms and faced her first officer. “Why?”
He grinned and shrugged. “Because, she’s on the detail for scrubbing decks this week. Making nice with the Captain might be helpful when you are being assigned grunge work.” Mason saw the disturbed expression on the Captain’s face and apologized.
“I didn’t mean it as bad as it sounded. She seems like a nice young woman and I’m sure she just wanted to make a friend.”
“I was hoping for that too. There are few people onboard for me to socialize with on a personal level, Commander Hume. Being a ship’s captain means a lot of hours spent alone. The scientists on board don’t have to follow any military codes. They are free to spend time with me without anyone screaming about favoritism.” Janice instantly felt angry with herself for speaking so openly with the commander. They barely knew one another yet here she was dumping her problems on him.
He felt just as uncomfortable. His commanding officer could have taken it as an insult. No one liked being told they were undesirable as a friend and he had almost implied that. Mason promised himself to watch what he said in the future.
“Marla Fletcher and you seem to get along well. I think she’ll be a good liaison between our groups.”
“She’s a nice woman--almost too nice. When they put her in charge I don’t think they realized some of the researchers were such a handful,” Janice commented.
“I think Kyle Waterford was sent off with us to get him out of someone’s hair,” he teased, making Janice snort in laughter.
She covered her face to hide her amusement and nodded. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all. I’m sure I’ll fantasize about leaving him on a deserted island at least once during this mission. Oh dear, that was naughty of me. I shouldn’t have said that aloud.”
“I don’t know. I think the Chief would volunteer to do the deed for you if you asked. He was pretty steamed at him the other day.”
“I know. I wonder if a copy of the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People placed in his cabin would even be read—or that he’d get the hint. Probably not. Well, whining about one of our passengers won’t get the fields plowed and the hogs slopped. I’ll see you at lunchtime, Commander Hume.”
The ship made its first anchorage at Biscayne Bay in Southern Florida. It was home to four distinct ecosystems to study. The location would also be able to provide fresh water and food.
Captain Harrison sat in the wardroom with her senior staff and two of the scientists, Marla Fletcher and Kenny McDonald.
“I don’t see how you could suggest we spend an entire month here, Marla. We only have two years to study the entire world!”
The researcher smiled and crossed her hands in front of her. “Captain Harrison, we could easily spend the entire time here in just this one location and never learn all we’d want to. But we do need to take numerous samples and some of them will take a while to gather. Besides, this would be a good opportunity for your crew to have shore leave before moving further south. There’s a small area suitable for camping as long as precautions are taken.”
“This is the part I worry about—wild animals,” Janice sighed.
Kenny corrected her, “More like snakes, Captain. Oh, there are a few animals to be careful of like the panther, but it’s the snakes to worry about the most. On our world there are six types of poisonous snakes in Florida. Your ship’s doctor informed me that he had a supply of anti-venom on hand. As long as everyone stayed close and traveled in pairs or groups they would be fine.”
Janice leaned back and looked slightly upwards, a posture her crew was beginning to understand was her method of thinking. They learned to keep quiet and allow her to go over everything in her mind without interfering. A minute later she issued her orders.
“I want all the department heads to bring Commander Hume a copy of the work and leave schedules for the next month. I want two camps set up. One for the researchers and one for shore leave. I want them set up far apart enough that the scientists won’t be disturbed by anyone in the other camp. I want guard details set up for the science camp in case of animals and fires lit at all times. Also, let it be known that I will not tolerate anyone showing up for duty with hangovers after their time ashore.”
She turned to Marla. “I think your group should also take a little time for leave as well. We’ll have several trips between the ship and shore each day to bring back samples and transport supplies. Work out a schedule for your people that everyone can live with and turn it in to Commander Hume.”
She looked at everyone and asked if there were anything else. When no one spoke up she dismissed everyone. It would be an interesting stopover.
Continued in Part 4
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