Same Difference

Stein Willard © 2015

Disclaimer

The characters in the story are a product of my own imagination and hopefully have no resemblance to any living persons. But if it does it is entirely coincidental. Some of the places

Archiving : This work is copy written and should not be posted anywhere else without the writer's expressed permission.

Acknowledgement: Many thanks as always to my beta, Rose.

Feedback: Constructive criticism is greatly appreciated, so feel free to drop a line or two at steinwillard80@gmail.com or sent me a friend request on Facebook .

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Go to Part 1

 


Chapter 17

 

Flushed from her bath and with her damp hair hanging loose, Espert felt more like herself as she patted barefoot into the lounge. She made directly for the processor and keyed in another glass of berry wine. On second thought, she decided to study the selections for a light supper. She took a sip from the sweet, fruity wine. The hair in her nape bristled.

“Are all the crew members subjected to such close scrutiny or is it just me?”

When no answer was forthcoming, she turned slowly. Still, as a statue, Cilla stood at the door. Even from that distance, Espert could feel the force of Cilla's stare. She suddenly felt naked, even covered in her dressing gown.

“I can assure you that I have no intention of corrupting any of the crew, if it'll stop you from dropping by announced.” She took a long fortifying sip from her glass. She couldn't help herself. “If the need strikes, I have found that our Avian travel companions are more than willing to meet my needs.”

A deep growl filled the silence following her snide remark. There was sudden blur of movement and Espert squeaked when Cilla jerked to a stop a hairsbreadth from her. The glass slipped out of nerveless hands as she brought her hands up defensively. She felt the cool splash of liquid on her bare toes. The air around Cilla bristled with emotion, as the other woman glared down at her. She was so close that Espert could feel Cilla's breath on her face.

When Cilla finally spoke, her voice was thin with rage and her eyes glittered in her pale face. “When you signed on to this ship, you agreed to adhere to the rules and regulations assigned to govern the conduct of all crew members of Mercer .” She slowly leaned back from Espert as her eyes roved almost disdainfully over Espert's face. “I will write your indecent statement off as a result of over-imbibing.”

Maybe the wine was stronger that she initially thought, thus allowing her to throw caution to the wind, Espert felt her anger rise and bubble to the surface.

“It pains me to be the one to inform you, Adjutant, that it seems that quite a lot of your precious, incorruptible crew members have not received the memo on intergalactic fraternization.” She bit down hard on her lower lip. She absolutely hated telling on the others, but she was so tired of being singled out all the time. Being constantly vilified was becoming tedious.

The blue eyes flashed with something dangerous before Cilla took a careful step back. Her movements were jerky as if she was mentally forcing her body to go against its own will. Espert swallowed hard. Cilla probably wanted to strangle her again. A shudder coursed through her body. If Cilla were to do just that, there were no witnesses this time. It would be her word against the respected Adjutant's.

“Don't look at me like that.”

Espert stiffened. She wasn't aware that she was looking at the other woman in a particular way. “Like what?” She almost clasped her hand over her mouth. Where that ill-timed bravado came from she didn't know. She took a small step backwards when Cilla looked like she was about to lunge for her. Instead, the other woman's voice almost sounded sad when she spoke again.

“Like I would hurt you.” The blue eyes were dark now and the handsome face hard. “I won't hurt you…” Cilla looked away sharply. “…again…ever.” The last words were uttered in such a low tone, that Espert almost didn't catch them. When they finally registered, she could only stare at the powerful woman. Did she hear correctly? With Cilla's head turned away, Espert couldn't read her expression to confirm that she had indeed heard correctly. At that moment she wanted, no, needed to see Cilla's face. She took a step closer, but stop when the blonde head swung her way. An intense gaze fixed her to the spot. Their eyes held, searching, revealing. She didn't know when it happened; when something so aching familiar sizzled to life, captivated her, and called to her. It was only when Cilla took a step closer, that the spell was broken. With a soft gasp, Espert stumbled backward, her eyes wide in disbelief.

Her eyes slammed shut. It can't be! She must be dreaming. No, she was sure she was dreaming. Cilla was probably not even here. Her sex-starved brain probably conjured her up. When she opened her eyes, she squeaked in surprise. Cilla was real and at that very moment stood so close to Espert that she could feel the heat coming off the large body. She lifted her eyes slowly, scared to meet the icy blue eyes. When their eyes met again, Espert couldn't look away. It was there. The hunger. Exposed and plain to see. She didn't know how long they've been staring in each other's eyes, she only looked away when Cilla's face dissolved in a liquid haze.

She let the tears fall shamelessly. Her heart breaking inside her.

“Doctor?” The concern in Cilla's voice was distinctive. When she reached for Espert, Espert flung herself away. She felt the corner of the table cut into her side, but the pain in her heart outweighed the pain in her side. “Espert.”

Her name had never sounded so beautiful. She lifted a wet face to look at an obviously anxious Cilla. She held up her hand when it seemed as if the other woman were about to bridge the space between the two of them.

“You need to leave.” She sank down to the floor, still holding a shaking hand out to keep Cilla at bay. “I can't have you hate me more that you already do. It…it will kill me.”

She lowered her head, pressing her face against her knees. She had dreamt about this moment. But that was exactly what it was; a dream. There was no way that Cilla could ever want her and still be who she was. She was Borquois. In fact, Cilla was more Borquois than all the Borquois she knew, together.

Silence reigned for a while, a very long while, before she heard the doors to her quarters open and close. Alone, with her pain, she allowed a sob to escape her lips.

oOo

The hallway was quiet, deserted at this hour. Moving slowly, like an injured animal, Cilla made her way to her quarters. Like an automaton, she hailed the lift and stood silently, like a marble statue for the car to deposit her on management floor. Just as she step off the lift, she was hailed.

“Come in, adjutant Cilla.”

“Adjutant Cilla here. Continue Officer Knewn.”

“The Director has been logged off duty for the evening. Our long range scanners have picked up an armada bearing Hencron signature, 20 000 km away coming towards us. Contact estimated in 5 hours.”

Everything else fled from her mind, as she settled into her Adjutant persona. “I'll be on the bridge in two minutes.”

She stepped back onto the lift, relieved that she didn't have to spend the night alone in her quarters. She touched her earpiece. “Director Yonne.” Yonne always leaves her earpiece on for emergencies.

“Yes.” Yonne's voice sounded croaky over the speaker.

“We have an armada coming towards us. They're still 20 000 kilometers out, but gaining.”

There was short silence. “Give me a few minutes. Go to a yellow alert and inform our travel companions immediately. I'll be with you soon, but I first need to make a stop somewhere.”

“Aye, Director.”

They're in for a long night. It seemed everything she came into close proximity of Espert, the universe conspires against the Mercer. She hoped it didn't mean more than it was.

oOo

“Milord, we picked up the ion trails of more than two vessels on a course for Monolith.”

Concalle stiffened. He turned away slowly from where he'd been staring out of the window of his day room. “Monolith?”

“Monolith is about a week's travel at warp 8 from here, milord. I would be a good guess to assume that that is where they are heading.”

A chill chased down Concalle's spine. Monolith . Where it all began and ended for him. He had vowed never to set foot on that wretched planet again. And now his only chance at rising above that blubbering oaf was leading him back there. For a nano-second he considered turning around and go the complete opposite way. But only for a nano-second. Weighing up his options, he found himself not to like the odds much, but that it could be worthwhile. It would seem that the aliens were not aware of them yet. He could use that to creep up on them. He was a master tactician. He would find a way to incept them before they made it to Monolith.

“Ask all the other captains to join me in my day room,” he barked at the officer. He had five ships and he was going to use that to his advantage. If he wanted to rule the quadrant, there were a lot sacrifices to make.

oOo

The door slid open almost immediately. “You shouldn't be here,” came to the terse greeting of sorts.

Yonne brushed passed Noor and entered her cabin. She blinked at seeing the state the room was in. The couches had been overturned. Shards of porcelain littered the floor amidst puddles of red liquid. Red liquid. Yonne quickly turned to Noor. The other woman looked agitated by Yonne's presence as was evident at the severe frown she directed at Yonne.

“Are you injured?”

Noor's frown deepened further, if it was even possible. With somewhat jerky movements, she stepped away from the door, her gaze deeply intense as she watched Yonne. “Is that why you came to my quarters at this hour? To enquire about my state of health?” She snorted. “You could've saved yourself the trouble by asking the doctor to fill you in.”

Yonne keen sense of hearing picked up on the pace of Noor's heartbeat, realizing that the woman was becoming more agitated by the second. Yonne, herself, were starting to feel the impact of the pheromones. There was that slight prickle in her nether region. Her heart rate was marginally elevated. She was struggling to keep her eyes off Noor, too. The image of the woman prowling the length of the living room with her catlike gaits and wild flowing coppery locks, were sparking flashes tiny sparks of heat in the pit of her stomach. The verdant gaze met and held hers. Yonne clenched her jaw. In her present state, Noor, it seems, was susceptible to any reaction people had around her.

“Concalle is a couple days behind us, but is gaining.” She watched as Noor's face pulled into a distasteful sneer. “You were vague about where you were leading us. You said something about the ‘enemy of your enemy; being your friend.'” Yonne smiled gently. “I hate to bother you with this now, but we need all the help we can get at this moment.”

Noor stopped her pacing. For an instant the frown left her face, replaced by alarm. It was gone just as quickly, but its appearance left a cold clench around Yonne's heart.

“We're going to Monolith. Concalle has a lot of enemies there.” Noor turned away. “My father is from Monolith. He'll be able to lead you there.” She walked to the bedroom, leaving Yonne alone in the wrecked living room space. With a deep sight and a long look around her, she left the quarters and made her way to the bridge.

When she stepped onto the bridge she was surprised to find the irate image of Queen Asmara on the view screen. Yonne threw a questioning look at Cilla. “I followed your orders, Director, and informed the Queen about the Concalle's advance on our position.” Cilla's calm words didn't seen as at all to have been the cause for the Queen's obvious distress.

“Your Highness, I though it prudent to inform you promptly. I understand the hour is late and ….”

Queen Asmara shook her head quickly. “It has nothing to do with the lateness of the hour, but with timing.”

“I don't understand, Your Highness.”

“We'll need to discuss this in person, Director Yonne. Are you available now?”

“I'll beam over immediately.”

Ten minutes later, Yonne found herself in the opulent living room space of the Queen. She had been over to the Royal flagship once before, and then, she had only gotten as far as the Queen's official boardroom. A quick glance of the room, showed that the area was lived in. It was decorated with love and attention. There were landscape painting on the wall and few portable holo-pics on the cabinets. She was immediately drawn to them. There were a lot of pictures of the Queen and her Consort. Some candid moments of them in beautiful intimate settings. They were holding hands in the one; even kissing tenderly in the other. There was one specific one that made Yonne swallow hard. It was take in some sort of a garden. The Queen was wrapped in her Consort's arms, both of them looking down at the copper headed child cradled in the Queen's arms. The look of love on both parents' faces were so raw and beautiful. The child on the other hand, looked at her parents with infinite trust and happiness.

“She was only two years old, but already a handful.” Yonne spun around to find the Queen, dressed in an elaborate dressing gown, standing behind her. “She got worse as she grew older.” Queen Asmara gestured to the couch. “I won't keep you long, Director.”

Yonne quickly took a seat, looking at the Queen expectantly. She knew instinctively that was she was about to hear would change her life significantly.

“Before we happened…” The Queen shrugged. “…caught up with you, Noor was leading you to Monolith.”

“She told me earlier tonight that Concalle has enemies there.”

Queen Asmara shook her head. “Concalle was born on Monolith. He was banned from returning almost a decade ago. But that is not why I called you here. I called you here to tell you that we can't go to Monolith.”

“Why not? Your husband is from Monolith.”

“That doesn't mean anything right now. Relations between Monolith and Avion are strained. My Consort's been trying to smoothen dealings for the past six months, but to no avail. We've dishonored a pact.”

It all suddenly made sense to Yonne. “Noor was to mate with a Monolith.”

Surprise flickered in the Queen's green eyes. “You know about that?” When Yonne nodded, she continued. “Not any Monolith, but the ruler of Monolith's only heir. In her current state, he could mate with her by force and there is nothing we could do to stop him. As her betrothed, it is his right.”

 

Chapter 18

 

Cilla heard the lift door slid open behind her. She slowly sat up from where she was lying on the bio-bed. She was exhausted. When Yonne returned from her meeting with Queen Asmara, she was in quite a state. To the others the Director had probably only looked stressed, but to Cilla, who has known Yonne for decades, it was obvious that the Yonne was seething. Whatever the Queen had said, had upset Yonne so much that the other woman had ordered them to do an inventory of their weapons. Cilla was tasked with a full review of their battle training programs. The most baffling, was when she plotted a new course and ordered their pilot to increase their speed to Warp 12. It was as if she was suddenly very eager to reach Monolith. For what reason, she could only speculate, considering the tasks she had them perform throughout the night and half of the morning hours. If there was going to be action soon, she wanted in on it. She knew that is she skipped the last check-up, she could easily be kept from active duty for another week as a form of punishment.

“I'm here for my last checkup,” she mumbled as she held out her hand. It was only when the medic stepped closer, that Cilla's nostrils were assaulted by a familiar scent. Her head jerked up to meet Espert's calm gaze. She had purposefully chose this hour to visit the medical bay, to avoid Espert.

Their eyes held for a moment, before Espert reached for Cilla's hand. Cilla bit down hard to steel herself for the spark, she knew would chase through her body at Espert's touch. In silence, Espert inspected the hand. After a few minutes, each of them agonizing slow to Cilla, she gently dropped Cilla's hand.

“The bones have all set well. I will prescribe an exercise routine to strengthen the muscles after the past four weeks of restricted movement.” Espert turned away to retrieve her palm reader and Cilla couldn't help but allow her eyes to travel down the small shoulders until it settled on the rounded derriere of the doctor. She reluctantly pulled her gaze away when Espert turned back to her, still typing on her palm reader. All the while Cilla kept her gaze averted, knowing that she would be staring if she didn't look away.

I can't have you hate me more than you already do. Cilla's heart constricted. If only Espert knew how Cilla had been fighting against herself not to cave in. All the classic symptoms were present. Distance . Denial . Surrender . She had kept Espert at a distance since the first time she saw her seated in the boardroom of the Mercer , waiting for her orientation. When ignoring and distance didn't alleviate the issue, she had stepped up her efforts to alienate the woman from her. If she couldn't get herself to keep away from the woman, she was going to do everything in her power to get Espert to alienate herself from Cilla. Who would've thought that having the woman ignoring her, could spur Cilla into wanting to be with her more.

Espert finished typing and held the palm reader out to Cilla. “Everything you need is on there. A diet plan, to speed up recovery and a gentle exercise regime to strengthen the muscles and your grip.”

Cilla nodded her thanks and rose, towering over Espert. She reached for the palm reader just as her ear piece cracked. The unexpected sound in the tense silence, made her drop the device. She bent quickly to retrieve it, only to find that Espert had the same idea. Their heads collided painfully, the impact leaving Espert sprawled on the floor.

All thoughts of the palm reader fled Cilla's mind as she reached out and lifted Espert in her arms. Her intention was to put the doctor on the bio-bed, but finding the woman's warm body pressed against her chest, made it difficult for her to let go. She stood, confused, her eyes wide as they looked down into Espert's own wide gaze.

“Adjutant Cilla, come in.” The sound of Yonne's crisp tone, snapped her out of her stupor. She felt her face heating up as she carefully laid Espert down on the bio-bed.

“Adjutant Cilla, Director. Please continue.”

“I need to see you and the doctor in my quarters immediately.”

Cilla blinked at that. Yonne rarely ordered her crew members around. Stranger, even is that she wanted to see both Cilla and Espert. The last time Yonne had made a mention of the two of them, Cilla was confined to her quarters. She turned to Espert, who also heard the order, to find her looking alarmed.

“We're on our way, Director.”

oOo

Yonne drained her ale just as the door chime sounded. She rose, surprised that after three mugs of ale that she wasn't feeling the effects.

“Come.” The door slid open admitting the doctor and Cilla. Her eyebrow lifted slightly. Her last recollection of the two was that they were not on good terms. Now, standing together in her living room, they both looked slightly guilty, but there was also a vague sense of camaraderie between the two. Yonne decided to leave it there. She had her own problems without taking on other people's problems too. She waved in the direction of the couch.

“Thank you for coming.” They acknowledge her gratitude with a curt nod. “With the new course the Queen's Consort had sent over, we should reach Monolith in three days. We are running from one enemy, into the arms of another potential enemy.”

“Why would we assume that the Monoliths might be potential enemies, Director? We've never had any contact with them. What could we have done to offend them?”

Yonne inhaled deeply. “We have Noor.” She saw how the pieces fell into place for Espert as the doctor's eyes widened. “She was…is betrothed to the heir of the Monolith Royal House. When she escaped from the convoy escorting her to Monolith, she reneged on the pact and now Avion is finding itself on the brink of a war with them.”

Cilla shrugged. “Isn't it simple? We hand her over to them; save Avion and get rid of Concalle.” Both Yonne and Espert glared at her. “What?”

“She ran away because she didn't want to be mated to that man,” Espert snapped. “She doesn't love him.”

“What does love have to do with this?”

Yonne gaped at Cilla. Was the woman being purposely obtuse or did she simply not get it? Before she could respond to that, the petite doctor surged to her feet.

“Everything! It has everything to do with love!” The woman's eyes were blazing fire and her chest was heaving with emotion. “She's in love with someone else.”

“She is?” Yonne snapped. Her hands curled into fists. “Who?”

Espert swung wide eyes at Yonne. “She didn't say.”

If she'd been angry when Queen Asmara told her about Noor betrothed and his right to her, she was boiling with rage at the idea of someone out there being Noor's heart's desire. Someone who could touch her whenever they want. She slammed her eyes shut, hoping to get the image of large hands roaming over Noor's milk white skin out of her mind. When, after a few moments, she opened them again, her mind's been made up.

“It doesn't really matter anyway,” she bit out. Both Espert and Cilla blinked at her in confusion. “If Noor was to meet her betrothed in her current state, he has the right to take her and she won't be able to stop him. No one will be able to stop him.”

“Then why are we going to Monolith, if that's what going to happen, Director?” Espert's eyes were swimming in tears. “Are we going to deliver her to such a fate?”

“No.”

Cilla leaned forward. “No, we are not delivering her to such a fate…or … no, we're not going to Monolith anymore.”

Yonne pushed her hands through her hair. “We are going to Monolith. We don't have a choice. We're outnumbered by Concalle, even though our technology is more advanced than his.”

“Then why did we prepare out weapons array and fleet, if we're not going to make a stand against Concalle,” Cilla asked carefully. Her eyes were pensive as she looked at Yonne, making Yonne realize that Cilla probably already knew the answer to the question.

She included Espert in her gaze when she spoke again. “I'm going to war with Monolith, because I'm claiming Noor. And you two are going to help me.”

oOo

Espert felt like she'd just fell into a deep dark hole. The sound was sucked from the room, leaving a high pitched ringing behind. In her silent world, she looked from Cilla to Yonne. Cilla, like herself, seemed to be utterly stunned. It was evident from her sagging jaw and blinking. Yonne on the other hand, looked calm as she watched them.

Over the decades, there had been a number of Borquois who had defected to the Basque side of the planet. Freedom of will and excitement ranked top of their motivations for fleeing the rigid, bleak rule of Borquois' society.

Never had it been recorded that anyone close to Yonne's stature had defected. Nor, were there any reasons to ever expect a powerful and respected Director to do so. Espert swallowed hard. She was witnessing history unfolding, first hand.

But most importantly, she found herself in a position to help her friend escape a loveless union and instead find an opportunity with the person she loved passionately. Noor didn't have to express her love for Yonne, not to Espert. It was there in her voice when she spoke the Director's name. It filled her eyes when she was in close proximity of the Borquois leader. It was there when she thought she would have to leave Yonne behind one day.

Espert cleared her voice, drawing the Director's full attention.

“What can I do to help?”

oOo

Cilla looked around her helplessly. Beside Espert and Yonne, there were no one else to help her make sense of this. She was going to have to ask hard questions to make sense of this situation. She slowly rose.

“As your friend, I need to ask you if you've thought this through, Yonne.” Silently, she pleaded that this would not be the one thing that would destroy their friendship. But she had to be sure. Yonne was a well-respected and powerful. If she was going to throw away all that for…she didn't even know what to call it…then Cilla want to be certain that she had supported her best friend in making a decision she could live with for the rest of her life. She watched Yonne closely as the other woman took her time to form a response.

“I thought about it, but I can't say I'm certain that this is a good idea.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Espert take a hasty step closer to Yonne. “If you want to make this work, Director, I would suggest you keep comments like that to yourself. I'm almost sure that Noor wouldn't appreciate being relegated to an experiment of some sort.”

Yonne shrugged. “I'm not going to start a union based on lies.” She looked at Cilla. “I know you're only looking out for me, my friend. Don't ask me how, but I feel that this is what I should do.”

“You do realize what you're giving up for this,” Cilla added lamely. She wasn't getting the answers she needed, but at least she was getting the truth. Yonne nodded curtly. “In that case, what do you want me to do?”

For a moment a look of discomfiture flash over Yonne's face. She inhaled deeply before she fixed her gaze on Espert.

“I need you to help me prepare myself.”

Not sure what it meant, Cilla frowned at Yonne. When Yonne refused to meet her eyes, Cilla shifted her gaze to Espert. The other woman was staring back at Yonne, the color in her cheeks high. Frustrated, Cilla threw up her hands. It would seem the earlier knock to her head had left her a bit dim-witted, for Espert seem to have grasped the meaning of the confusing request quite quickly.

“Would anyone care to fill me on what you're talking about? Prepare you for what?”

This time Yonne fixed her with a level gaze. “I have to copulate with Noor before we reached Monolith.”

To be continued...

 

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