Windstar: Sparky and I have been getting emails asking if we were ever going to finish Pathfinder. We are, I promise! It's just taking longer than we thought it would to write these final parts. Please let us know what you think or if you have any suggestions about the story so far, your emails keep us going:

A huge thank you to the special person who helped us with this part, you know who you are.

Part 12

"Ten minutes until exit from NOVA," Maria formally announced from the XO's station, her eyes fixed on the readouts on the console.

She sighed in relief. Despite all their worries, the new sail Sparky and her crew had jury-rigged worked throughout the journey. For three days they had prudently sailed slowly through NOVA to reach what Theodore and his scientists had been fairly certain was the edge of the alien's home space.

They'd put those three days to good use.

Endless combat drills had been carried out throughout the large Explorer class ship, refining the use of the newly added UKNR weapon systems.

The ship's sensor array had gathered every wayward alien transmission it could find which the science crew had then decoded and added to an ever-growing library. Although it increased their knowledge of the alien language tenfold, Maria just hoped it would be enough.

For the past three days she had been in a quasi truce with Captain Svetlana. There had been no more teary confessions in the Captain's quarters. The two of them ran simulations together, forcing the crews to react as a team. Maria turned her head slightly from the console so she could study the dark haired woman pacing on the bridge. Something she'd been doing more often lately she noticed.

'What would happen to them if...? No,' she corrected herself, 'when they got home? Was there a way to save both crews?' She straightened up and refocused on the console as she heard the Captain clear her throat.

"Very well," Svetlana said as she looked around at the assembled team. "Are we prepared with a recorded greeting?"

The small group of scientists gathered around the science station had a quick and vicious debate among themselves before Theodore forced a smile and ducked his head in a nod at her.

"We think so." Catching sight of Maria's frown he quickly added, "I mean, yes, Captain. Waving at the others to shut up he added, "We're ready."

"Then send it," ordered Svetlana.

With a simple typed command, Theodore activated the translation program. Pathfinder's transmitters began to send what he hoped fervently was the equivalent of 'Hello, I'm a friend. Please don't shoot' over and over again.

Double-checking his readouts he faced the Captain and announced, "Transmitting on all frequencies."

"Now, we wait for their response. Estimated time for our transmission to reach them?" Svetlana asked.

"Twenty minutes once we exit NOVA," Theodore answered immediately as he turned back to keep watch over the science station arrays.

From his station at the front of the bridge, Gorsky opened a channel to engineering. The pilot had been tracking Pathfinder's progress both in NOVA space and in the normal universe. "Stand by to exit NOVA on my mark."

Transitioning from NOVA back into normal space was every bit just as risky as entering NOVA and the tension level on the bridge raised another notch.

"So we should know one way or another within and hour then, " Svetlana calculated calmly. She sat back down in her chair. "Good, I hate waiting."

From the helmsman's station, Gorsky started to call out a countdown in Russian, his shoulders hunched as he gave the readouts his complete focus.

"Pyat, chitirie, tree, dva, aden." As he finished, Gorsky entered the command to shut down the NOVA drive.

Once again the universe around them exploded as Pathfinder ripped a hole back into normal space, her wings crackling with energy. This time though, Maria knew something went wrong. Besides feeling the stomach-churning nausea that always accompanied a NOVA shift, the ship bucked chaotically as Maria could hear Sparky scream "Power flux!" over the engineering channel.

Amber damage alerts flashed across her screen. The jury-rigged sail flexed under the re-entry strain, and then simply disintegrated into a thousand crystal shards, unbalancing Pathfinder's entrance. The large ship tumbled out of NOVA, entering real space in an uncontrolled spin.

"Thrusters are out! Normal drive not responding!" Gorsky yelled over the sudden cacophony of damage alarms.

"Sail number four is gone," Maria called from her own station, grunting as inertia tossed her against the harness holding her to her seat.

"Shit, the same god damn sail," cursed Svetlana. "Gorsky, can you get us under control?"

"I need thruster control," the pilot answered, hands dancing across the control panel as he tried to coax some sort of response from the damaged ship.

"The power flux tripped all the safety overrides... thrusters and the normal drives are out."Maria relayed the message from engineering, her own damage control board showing both Sparky and Flash's teams responding to the shutdown. "Sparky's working on it."

"Captain," Theodore called out from sensor control, "our re-entry course was significantly altered by the loss of the sail."

"Tell me something I don't know," Svetlana grounded out as she gripped the arms of her command chair.

"We are in danger of colliding with a moon," stated Theodore calmly.

Maria jerked her head up to stare at the holographic display in the front of the bridge, blinking as it reorganized itself with current sensor data. The bulk of a moon suddenly spanned the area in front of Pathfinder.

"Gorsky? Svetlana said quietly, "I need you to step up your efforts. Get whatever you need NOW," she ordered.

Pathfinder, like every other Coalition ship, was equipped with sets of emergency thrusters. They were primitive chemical propellants that could be lit by a simple electrical charge. Crude but effective, but unfortunately, once lit, they didn't stop until they ran out of fuel.

For a long minute Gorsky stared at his readouts, measuring Pathfinder's spin and the rate at which they were speeding toward the moon. Then the pilot ignited several emergency thrusters, slowly canceling the large ship's uncontrolled spin.

Another set burned to life, swinging the Explorer vessel into a low orbit around the rock of a moon.

"We've entered into a stable, low orbit," Theodore announced, grinning and giving a thumbs up to the sweating Gorsky.

Maria let out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding.

"Excellent as always, Mr. Gorsky," the Captain turned to the XO, "Status report?"

"Thrusters are coming online, normal space drive will be available in five minutes. Sail number four is completely gone, again. Sparky advises that she believes the other sails may have suffered some damage as we came out of NOVA as well. And..."

"Captain." Alyona cut Maria off, the weapons officer's voice sounded tight.

"Yes," Svetlana raised her eyebrow at the interruption.

"I have multiple contacts stationed in a geosynchronous orbit on the dark side of this moon. Preliminary sensor data indicates they are the same alien ships as those the Kursk destroyed."

"Stealth mode," snapped Svetlana. "All hands battle stations," she called out as Maria slammed her hand down on the General Quarters button. The high-pitched warble of the General Quarters klaxon began to sound throughout the ship.

"Stealth system engaged." Sparky announced. "You have thrusters again, and normal drive will be online in two minutes."

The bridge lighting dimmed, as the ship funneled power into the stealth system that had been salvaged from the Kursk. To all outside appearances, Pathfinder seemed to have simply disappeared.

"Theodore, have you stopped transmitting?" Svetlana glared at him. He made a few motions to his board and looked back at her guiltily. "Thank you," she growled.

The bridge crew watched as red icons began to appear on the holographic tactical display, denoting dozens of large alien ships in geo-synch orbit 'behind' the moon.

Suddenly, other icons, these in blue, began to appear across the space between the moon and the system's only inhabitable planet. Vectors and speeds began to appear for each of those icons as the sensors sorted out the approaching and hidden ships.

"Looks like we chose the wrong time to say hello," Maria muttered.

"Looks like. Now let's see if we can work our way out of this mess." Svetlana stood up and walked over to the holographic display. "Commander,"Svetlana said absently as she studied the tank, "I want you to suit up and go man the CIC bridge.".

"But...!"The auburn haired woman scowled but managed to keep back her biting retort. She slammed a fist on her quick release button and stalked toward the lift door almost running over the two on duty Marines who came to attention as she entered it.

The Captain ignored her departing XO's displeasure and concentrated on the scene unfolding in front to her. "Theodore, I want you and your group to go put on your suits. Bring back everyone else's. Romonov, slave his panel to yours until he comes back."She swung her chair around. "Kuzmin, talk to me."

The blonde shook her head in frustration at the limited tactical information. "There are two distinct alien ships. The first, labeled in red, are those behind the moon, and they are the same that opened fire on us and we subsequently destroyed with the Kursk. "There are fourteen of the larger ships, perhaps their equivalent to a carrier or a mothership, a lot of smaller fighters, too many to get a good count yet."

"And the ships heading toward us?" asked Svetlana with a glimmer of a plan starting in her head as she watched the Command Information Control update the holographic display in front of the bridge.

"The second, labeled in blue, are the same type of ship as the one that brought us here."Kuzmin checked her screen again. "I have ten on sensors right now. They appear to be forming into a group between the moon and the planet, probably because of our um, entrance fireworks," the Weapons officer grinned faintly.

The bridge lift doors opened with Theodore encased in his pressure suit and carrying enough for everyone else on the bridge. They matched the actions of the rest of Pathfinder crewmembers and raced to put on their protective suits and test weapon and damage control systems.

"Is our stealth working against their sensors?" asked Svetlana as she wiggled into her suit.

"No sign that they've spotted us," Alyona answered, finishing her own suiting up.

By this time, Maria had arrived several decks below the bridge in CIC, suited up and took over the main console. She scowled at Bear who was already there and curtly answered the Captain as well. "We're picking up what looks like a lot of scanner activity from the Blue group. The Red group is doing its best to look like a hole in space."

"So it's an ambush. And the bad guys are the ones trying to pull a fast one on the guys we're trying to make friends with." She grinned fiercely, "And I think I know how to make friends."

In CIC, Maria traded an uneasy glance with the sensor tech next to her. "Better warn Carl that he might be getting casualties soon," she told the crewman who nodded in agreement.

"Shield generators powered and standing by," Sparky called from engineering as the damage from the exit from NOVA space had been hurriedly repaired. Since it was such a jury-rigged systems patch, the ship couldn't raise her shields while the stealth systems were engaged but they'd come online fast whenever they were needed.

"Gorsky, keep us in a geosynchronous orbit on the opposite side of the moon from the red aliens."

"Yes, Captain."

Now that thrusters and the main engines were back online that wasn't a problem and the pilot easily maneuvered the cloaked ship into a geosynchronous orbit.

"Theodore, can you come up with a short burst message that will warn the Blue aliens that the Red ones are hiding behind the moon?"

"Ah, hmm, I think so. Although, that's a lot more complicated than what we've been transmitting. Not sure, though." Theodore answered, frowning in thought.

"Well, work on it," snapped Svetlana, thoroughly annoyed at the lack of military discipline on her bridge in a combat situation.

"Oh, right." The scientist bent to his task, quickly trying to come up with a message that sounded close to what Svetlana requested.

"Kuzmin."She refocused on the Weapons Officer. "Study the passives and look for the Red alien's weakness."

"As we observed in our last encounter with them, neither aliens appear to have any missile systems,"the blonde reminded Svetlana, already calling up the passive sensor data to study. "Their beam weapons are at least as good as ours though, and even with our modifications to Pathfinder's shields, enough hits will punch through them."

"Then come up with scenarios to engage the Red aliens at optimum missile range," she ordered.

"Yes, Captain."

"Captain?" Maria called from her dedicated vid-cam link in CIC.

"Yes, Commander?" Svetlana looked down at her console.

Maria's tone was somber. "Sparky reports that at least two of the other NOVA sails have cracks in them and we won't be able to go to NOVA without a lot of repair work. She says it will take days and a lot of EV time." She met the Captain's eyes steadfastly with both of them understanding that there would be no fleeing into NOVA space for Pathfinder and her crew if things went bad.

Deep down, Svetlana knew that when the first sail blew. There would be no escaping this system for them, for good or bad. But now, the loss of additional sails drove that point home to her. Not letting anything show on her face, she replied to the diminutive officer, "Thank you, XO, but I do not expect us to need NOVA for a trip home." She gave a wry smile to Maria. "After all, we arrive here without it."

"Whatever happens, it's been an intriguing trip, Captain Montastyrskaya." The younger woman said the last name carefully, pronouncing it as perfectly as Bear had taught her.

Svetlana's face twitched. She knew the annoying woman could say her name. "Indeed it has, Commander. I must say, it has been an interesting journey, but one I am happy to have made with you. I hope..."

"I've got a message composed, it's going to probably sound shaky, but it should get your point across," Theodore interrupted from his station.

From the corner of her eye Maria saw Bear grinning at her from his own station in CIC.

"Is good thing." he said. "You two like each other. And though you might not want to admit it, you make a great team."

"Oh, shut up," she growled at him as she shut off the vid-cam link.

Svetlana grimaced. What on earth had possessed her...? She focused on the scientist as she regained her composure.

"Great, Theodore. Cue it up and be prepared to send it when I tell you. Kuzmin, does it look like the Blue aliens are on track for a big surprise from the Red aliens?"

"Da, Captain." Kuzmin answered, the Weapons Officer immediately wiping a grin off her face at the exchange between Captain and XO. "The Blue aliens do not appear to have any idea about the Red alien fleet. They are outnumbered as well."

"Then, I guess it's up to us to be the cavalry, right?"

"Captain, couldn't we just, well, let them fight it out and approach the winners?" Theodore asked. He was simply a curious scientist and he wasn't going to avoid asking questions just because someone besides Maria was called "Captain".

"We could, but since we want to ask the Blue aliens for a favor and the Red aliens have already fired on us, I think that this is the best approach."

He nodded, accepting the logical answer.

Down in CIC, Maria grinned as Svetlana actually answered the question instead of biting Theodore's head off for asking it in the first place. "Will wonders never cease," she muttered to herself.

"Normally, it is my job to play devil's advocate, but I am not the first officer anymore," Bear commented.

Maria flushed at the mild rebuke. "How am I suppose to know that? I've never served on a war ship before,"she said heatedly and turned back to her display.

"Two of the Blue aliens are moving towards us, probably a scouting party," Kuzmin announced from tactical as the sea urchin-like alien vessels began to head toward the moon. "They are beginning a sensor sweep of the area. Captain, if they continue on their present course, they will stumble on the Red alien fleet in under fifteen minutes."

"Theodore, do you have any drones?" Svetlana asked, wishing not for the first time that her Kursk had survived.

"Drones?" the scientist asked with a puzzled look on his face.

From CIC, Maria rolled her eyes and spoke up, "We have a full load of astrometric sensor probes."

Theodore blinked then nodded, obviously unhappy with volunteering his department's prized sensor probes for whatever mission the Captain had in mind. "Yes, we have twenty- four scientific sensor probes."

"But, ummm, they just transmit on..." the gangly scientist hesitated, clearly uncertain if the probes' purpose could be changed.

From her own dedicated channel, Sparky spoke up. "Sure they'll work, but it'll take a few minutes to reprogram them. The Chief engineer paused to issue a series of orders to one of her damage control parties. "They won't have that much of a range, but we can do it."

"Good," Svetlana was mildly surprised that the engineer would offer any suggestions to help. "Theodore, put your translation on the 'droid and send it out... straight at the blue fleet. When it hits missile range, have it start screaming its damn head off."

"Yes, Captain." Theodore turned to his fellow scientists to start the task.

"Captain?" Kuzmin spoke up from the tactical consol. "I believe we should use Pathfinder's anti-missile batteries as the anti-fighter weaponry since the aliens don't seem to possess missile technology."

While Pathfinder carried all of the anti-missile weaponry that her carrier hull had previously been armed with, she hadn't been offensively armed before. They had since placed the Kursk's weaponry onboard so now she had carried a good stock of defensive anti-missile batteries.

"Good idea, Kuzmin. Incorporate it into your weapons profile."

Time ticked by as the modifications to the sensor probe were made and then the probe was launched with a quiet command from Theodore.

Throughout it all, two Blue alien ships continued their search pattern, angling over the airless moon, and passing towards the opposite side without a sign of noticing the slowly moving Pathfinder.

Gorsky kept the ship moving slowly, not wanting to push the jury-rigged stealth system until they had begun to angle their way behind the Red alien fleet.

"We're showing increased activity in the Red fleet," Maria called from CIC as she watched more fighters appear on the detailed sensor scans. "They're beginning to move."

The Captain reflected on the information. Then she rapidly gave out the orders. "Kuzmin, wait until their concentration is completely focused on the Blue aliens, then fire. Do not concentrate your fire but spread it out. The first salvo will be a surprise, but I don't know how long we can last if we don't hurt them badly in the first wave of missiles. Sparky, get ready to drop the cloak and bring up the shields."

Along her nearly kilometer long broadside length, missile bays were prepped for action. The missile launchers salvaged from the Kursk were state of the art, and had carried over sixty of them, thirty on each side.

Kuzmin could fire thirty of them at once and Gorsky could help her by spinning the ship on its axis so that all sixty tubes could be brought to bear within seconds of each other. The endless training that both crews had been put through was about to be put to use.

"The two Blue alien ships are entering beam weapon range of the Red fleet." Maria announced from CIC as the Red aliens powered up completely, revealing their presence.

A second later, Theodore called out from his own station on the bridge, "the probe is transmitting!"

The holographic display showed the two lone Blue icons rapidly becoming swarmed by the superior number of Red icons as the remaining eight Blue icons began to speed back toward the moon.

"They are beginning to open fire, the Red fleet is beginning to out flank them. They won't last long," Kuzmin announced quickly, her fingers poised over the firing controls.

"Engage missile batteries. Sparky, bring up our shields," Svetlana calmly ordered.

"Disengaging stealth and raising shields," the Chief called from engineering.

Even as the carrier class shields sprang into being around the suddenly visible Pathfinder, the first barrage of missiles sped towards the rear of the Red alien formation.

"Missiles away," Kuzmin announced, as Gorsky spun the ship on its axis, presenting the second broadside to the enemy. Thirty more missiles erupted into space, their engines burning bright as they sped away from the former Explorer ship.

"Keep firing, Kuzmin, we need to keep them out of our energy range. I don't trust the shields to hold up," Svetlana called out.

Another and then another broadside joined them, speeding toward the enemy fleet which didn't seem to notice them until over a hundred and eighty missiles had streaked into space.

"We won't have the magazines to keep this up long, Captain," the weapons officer reminded her, even as another broadside launched.

Only as the missiles began their final approach did the Red alien fleet seem to recognize the danger, their fighters diverting away from the Blue alien ships toward the oncoming threat.

"Captain, I'm reading massive power fluctuations from one of the Blue ships..." Maria trailed off as the Blue alien ship disintegrated in a sudden brilliant explosion.

"Gorsky, evasion plan Gama," snapped Svetlana as fighters broke off the attack on the Blue ships and came streaking toward Pathfinder.

The remaining Blue ship lasted only moments longer until it too joined its companion in death, vomiting fire as it exploded. Then the first of Pathfinder's missiles began to hit home and someone in CIC let out a yell as the first thermonuclear fire began to rain through the alien fleet.

"Two Red alien ships have been destroyed, two others heavily damaged. They're getting better at handling our missiles, though." Kuzmin voice held a grudging admiration for how fast the Red aliens were adapting to the sudden attack.

A large group of fighters were targeting the incoming missiles, while a second group sped towards Pathfinder. The Red alien mother ships were also speeding up towards the human ship, determined to close the range until they could use their beam weapons.

"What are the remaining Blue ships doing?" ask Svetlana tightly as the alien ships sped towards her untested jury- rigged defenses.

"The Blue alien fleet will enter range in five minutes," Theodore said from his position, awkwardly shifting in his pressure suit.

"Glad to hear they are coming to the party," muttered Svetlana. "Sparky, Carl, you are about to get very busy," warned Svetlana as the first of the small alien ships began their attack runs.

Down in CIC Maria supervised the flow of information that was being fed to the bridge.

"Here they come." Bear muttered from his own station as the first wave of Red fighters swept down on the large human ship.

Defensive fire erupted from her anti-missile bays as pulse laser batteries opened up on the fighters. Some hit, but the small agile fighters were difficult to lock onto and many made it through the defensive fire to strike Pathfinder's shields.

"Shield's are holding so far," Maria informed the Captain, and winched as another hit shoved her against her harness. Warning lights were beginning to come to life across her panels. "I don't know how much longer Sparky can keep them that way however."

An alien fighter, its engines blown off by defensive fire from Pathfinder, suddenly rammed the human ship. The explosion caused lights to flicker for a moment throughout the ship and Maria shook her head to clear it from the sudden sideways heaving. "Shields are down to eighty five percent,"she reported to the bridge. "We've lost some thrusters and there are minor hull fractures, Flash is leading a damage control party to take care of it."

"Two more enemy motherships have been disabled and one more destroyed, Captain." Kuzmin smiled as her missiles wreaked devastation inside the Red alien fleet. The range was closing fast though and she just didn't have the missiles to completely stop them. "The rest are going to get through though."

Another wave of alien fighters flew towards the already hurting Pathfinder. Space burned as the ships anti-missile weapons targeted them, but a lot of the alien fighters made it.

The ship bucked in agony as hits broke through her shields and started blasting through the hull. Kuzmin lost several missile batteries, along with all of their crews, and one of the storage areas for the remaining Kursk missiles was also hit.

Several grazers imploded as the area around them became super hot, and created an explosive bubble. It was a calculated chance that was taken when Sparky and Kuzmin designed the modifications to Pathfinder, but most of the beam weapons survived to fire again upon the small enemy ships.

Theodore gripped his console as Gorsky put the large ship through evasive maneuvers its designers had never envisioned.

"The remaining seven Red mother ships are entering beam range," Kuzmin reported.

"Sensors are detecting power buildups on the enemy motherships." Maria's voice sounded strained even to her own ears as she silently urged the Blue fleet to move faster.

The world suddenly went crazy as the motherships's beam weapons hit Pathfinder. At this close range, the beams had already struck the ship by the time the sensors registered the attack.

The first beam went through an empty cargo hull. The second skittered off the edge of the hull, but apparently leaving no damage.

The third struck Marine country, but thankfully it didn't directly hit any of the Marines who were suited up in power and light armored suits. But unfortunately, the secondary explosion from the beam hitting the power conduits blew apart three Marines and injured six more. The Major snapped orders for the medics to take the injured to sick bay. She detailed the Marines that had helped the SARs repair EVA to report to Flash to do what they could.

The last beam did the most damage, punching through the heart of the ship, taking out many berthing and engineering compartments until it hit CIC.

"Captain," called Romonov, monitoring the damage reports. "We have lost contact with CIC."

The dedicated link to CIC showed only static as the shielded connection between it and the bridge were effortlessly cut.

Svetlana closed her eyes in pain, but then snapped them open with Kuzmin's next report.

The Weapons officer gasped out, wincing as an overloaded power conduit exploded, showering the bridge in sparks, "We've lost half the missile launchers on the port side, firing control is gone. Missile batteries and anti-fighter batteries are now on local control only."

Power levels fluctuated wildly across the large ship. Outside glowing wounds that bled atmosphere into space showed the extent of the grievous damage the ship had suffered. But then bit by bit, those wounds began to close over, and the leak of atmosphere slowed, then completely stopped.

"Captain," said Romonov hesitantly. He had taken over damage reports after CIC was lost. "I am reporting that we are regaining atmosphere in previously damage areas."

Sparky would have cursed to hear that report to the Captain, but the Chief engineer was too busy at the moment keeping the ship's fusion plant from exploding.

"Captain," Romonov said in Russian and caught Svetlana's eye. "Damage Control teams have not been assigned to those areas. Neither have SAR teams."

She acknowledged the information with a raised eyebrow but made no comment as a flurry of reports flooded the bridge.

Theodore managed to get his sensor array back online, wincing as he jostled what was probably a cracked rib, courtesy of the last shock Pathfinder had taken. "The enemy ships are beginning to recharge," he announced as he tried to clear up his sensor images.

"We can't take another round of hits,"Sparky yelled, bathed in the yellow of emergency lighting that illuminated the chaos in Engineering. "That last set took out our remaining shields."

"Captain!" Kuzmin yelped as one of the enemy Red ships blew apart, followed by another. "The Blue alien ships have just entered range and are attacking the Red alien ships."

"About time," muttered Svetlana in Russian. "Kuzmin, take care of those ships before they hit us again!"

"Da, Captain," the blonde answered as Gorsky wordlessly spun the ship to present her less damaged starboard broadside to the alien ships.

The Red aliens suddenly found themselves cornered between eight fresh Blue ships and Pathfinder's missile barrage.

They decided to try and blast their way out over Pathfinder. The beam weapons had apparently reset and Pathfinder was blasted three more times with those high powered beams. Men and women died as the deadly beams cut their way through Pathfinder's armored hull and found vulnerable spots. Power conduits exploded as circuits were overloaded. Carl's doctors, working overtime to save lives, were plunged into darkness as the main conduit to med bay was overloaded. Flash's SARs were luckier; they were all out in different spots around the ship helping and so didn't notice when the barracks and the suit morgue blew up as another beam sliced through the ship.

The last hit struck the bridge. Explosions erupted around Svetlana as her chair frame broke and sent her flying into Romonov's communications panel. Theodore's panel exploded, the shards decapitating the tech sitting next to him.

Kuzmin's board, which had already lost power, caught on fire, and the Weapons officer quickly grabbed an extinguisher and started putting the fire out.

"The remaining Red ships are fleeing." Theodore gagged as he tried to wipe blood off his helmet so he could see his readouts. Two red ships managed to force their way past Pathfinder's missiles and into empty space. The Blue fleet kept up the chase and continued after the invaders.

"Corspman to the bridge," Romonov ordered even as damage control team was dispatched to the command deck.

Kuzmin looked around. Svetlana was unconscious. Romonov had managed to shut the Captain's helmet before the loss of atmosphere caused her to suffocate.

"Theodore, what's the status of the Blue ships?" she asked, taking charge.

"They..." he wiped again at the blood smears on his helmet, trying to peer at the flickering readouts. "They're continuing to pursue the fleeing Red aliens. One of the Red ships is heavily damaged. I don't think they're going to make it out of the system."

"Bridge?" Sparky screamed over the static filled link. "Bridge? Can anyone hear me up there? I'm shutting down the fusion power plant. That last hit almost caused an overload!"

"Shut it down, Sparky, the Red ships are fleeing."

Despite her earlier anger at the blonde woman, the Chief engineer nearly wept in relief at hearing Kuzmin's voice. "Switching to back-up power." Almost instantly, emergency lighting sprang to life throughout Pathfinder as her chief engineer scrambled the main power plant.


One moment she'd been coordinating damage control parties, and then suddenly she'd been unconscious. Groggily, the Spaniard began to wake up, groaning in pain as something pressed hard into her side. Blearily, she opened her eyes and then nearly panicked as she realized she was wedged into place.

The only light was from the erratic flashes of short circuits and Maria screamed as one flash illuminated what was left of the helpless technician that had been sitting next to her.

A five foot shard of metal had impaled the man in the back, splitting him nearly in half.

Globes of blood, black in the flickering lighting, floated away from the man. That and the weightless feeling of her arms told Maria that artificial gravity had failed in the compartment.

"Bear?" she whispered, trying to crane her neck to see the large Russian. "Bear? Can you hear me? Anyone?"

Silence greeted Maria's question and she nearly panicked. Was the ship still under attack? Was she the last one alive? A few slow breaths and she focused on the darkened panel in front of her, forcing the panic away. Gingerly, she began to try to undo the harness.

Flash directed her teams to keep cutting. The Skipper was somewhere down this corridor and Flash was damned if she wasn't going to pull the Skipper out.

The tech started to fatigue, and Flash pushed him aside and started cutting herself. Years of practice and conditioning plus an uncanny eye for spatial relations, allowed Flash to make faster progress as she cut her way through to CIC. After what seemed forever to her, she had cleared her way through the mangled mess to the access panel that would allow her to enter the compartment.

Flash came up against the last object blocking her way into the room, a body. She pushed it out of the way with some difficulty. The interior of the room was lit by small fires, sparks, and some consol lights. The light on Flash's helmet cut through the room, illuminating blobs of blood floating in the air along with body parts.

"Skipper?" she called through her internal and external speakers. "Skipper, can you hear me?

Maria felt like screaming in relief as lights lit the decimated CIC compartment and she heard Flash's voice. "Check on Bear, I'm all right." She managed to raise an arm to wave, her back to the entrance to CIC.

"Aye, aye, Skipper." Flash was so relieved she almost cried.


Showing weakness just wasn't in Flash's nature so she turned to signal the SARs behind her to proceed.

"There's no gravity in here, the field must be down. Be careful and start a grid search," she directed her team.

They found the big Russian easily. It looked like he had been trying to protect the Skipper.


She checked for a pulse and found one, but the gash in his head worried her. She gently dislodged him from the tangle of metal that had pinned him down and noticed that he had another bad gash on his inner thigh. She quickly slapped a patch on it.

The head of the ship's Search and Rescue team quickly started to cut the man free of his harness. The faster they had him back in an undamaged part of the ship, the better. The hull might be a miracle of engineering, but the ship had already bled a lot of atmosphere and the pressure in this section was dangerously low.

"We need to get him out ASAP," she ordered as she gently shoved the man toward the access panel and the waiting medics.

Once he was safely in the hands of the medics, Flash headed toward the trapped XO.

"Hold still, Skipper."She hefted a fusion cutting bar. "We'll have you out in a second."


"Goddamn fucking bitch!" muttered Sparky as she made her way to the bridge. She was on her fourth detour, trying to find a way that wasn't blocked by sparking conduits or collapsed struts. "I can't believe what that, that...puta did to my ship!"

Sparky was so mad she could chew battle steel. Just wait until she got her hands on that miserable excuse of a commanding officer.

A damage control party was already laboring to restore atmosphere to the command deck and had managed to get the life support system up and running just as the Chief engineer entered the bridge.

Sparky stood there in shock and stared. The damage was unbelievable. Emergency lighting intermittently illuminated a slash across part of the heavily armored bridge. A silvery alloy had hardened across the gash, forming a protective scar. The ruined consuls bore scorch marks, blood or both.

She noticed a med team picking up body parts and placing them in a bag. She looked around for the surviving crewmembers.

At the signal from the damage control team, Kuzmin cautiously opened her helmet, very glad to be able to see clearly again. Her visor had been covered in the blood of the person who had been sitting next to her. Only then did she notice Sparky. The Weapons officer was glad that the engineer hadn't been hurt during the battle. She met her lover's searching eyes from across the bridge.

Then Kuzmin remembered the reason the bridge currently had atmosphere again and her welcoming look died. "Sparky, join me in the Captain's ready room?"

Sparky's throat was still blocked from repressed emotion so she merely nodded. To see how close she came to losing Kuzmin had hit her hard.

The doors to the Captain's room refused to open until Kuzmin gave them a good solid kick. Then they, still grudgingly, slowly opened. Tossing her blood slicked helmet onto the couch, Kuzmin crossed suit-covered arms over her chest and stared accusingly at Sparky. "What is that stuff?" she demanded.

"What stuff?" Sparky couldn't take her eyes off the blood and what looked like brain matter on her lover's suit.

"The stuff that sealed over a hull breach right in front of my eyes! That stuff, Sparky," Kuzmin said, still on edge from the battle and seeing someone eviscerated right next to her.

Sparky clamped her jaw shut and shook her head. "Like you don't know?" she snarled, her fear being replaced by anger.

Kuzmin jerked to a surprised stop. "What?" she asked, cautiously, her gut clenching in fear.

"You broke into my files and downloaded the information," snarled Sparky. "Was this your idea or was it something your bitch lover cooked up?"

"You're the one who kept it secret! Svetlana had to find out what you were hiding. Especially since it was about her ship!" Kuzmin face was growing red with anger.

"Her ship?!!"sputtered Sparky. All of Sparky's pent up anger burst forth. "And was this before or after you seduced me?"

"I seduced you? HA! You mean before or after you got me to split up with Svetlana just to annoy her!" Kuzmin shouted back, stepping right up into Sparky's face.

"That's not true! She treated you like dirt! snorted Sparky. "I just pointed it out to you. You were the one who decided to 'thank' me," she said as she crossed her arms and turned her back on the blonde.

"Oh, no you don't." The Weapons officer grabbed Sparky's arm and forced the Chief engineer to look at her. "Excuse me? I decided to 'thank you'?"Kuzmin's voice was scathing. "Why you self absorbed, egotistical bitch! You're the one who told me you couldn't seem to stop touching me."

"Who came to MY quarters and pinned me to my couch? Who was it that Maria peeled off of me when she came to my quarters?"

"So, you're saying that you didn't want anything to do with me?" the small blonde asked incredulously with a dangerous glitter in her eyes.

Sparky had a brief flash of sanity and mumbled, "No" and her internal editor kicked in before she could add to the sentence.

"How nice," Kuzmin sneered. "So you liked being with me, but you just didn't trust me?"

"I trusted you until I caught you snooping. For some strange reason, that made me suspicious of all of yours, and your precious Captain's motives."

"Leave Svetlana out of this. This is about you and me, Sparky." She mentally shrugged, it could never be said that she wasn't a loyal officer. "You say you trusted me, but you just couldn't trust me with whatever the hell that was that sealed the hull?"

Sparky glared at her lover, arms crossed over her chest. "That wasn't mine to trust! Maria made us promise not to say anything to any of you. We swore an oath. It was fortunate that more of your engineering department didn't survive. We couldn't have hid it for much longer."

"How very lucky for you that half our crew died on the way here," Kuzmin agreed, her voice dripping scorn.

"Hey, I didn't know them." Sparky shrugged and tried to look disaffected.

Kuzmin choked in incoherent rage at the calloused remark. She'd lost good friends when the Kursk had been sliced in half. It was a good thing that there wasn't anything near her she could throw at Sparky.

"Fuck you, Sparky," she growled, hands clenched. "Fuck you and all your promises that we'd be together no matter what."

"Like you really cared what I said!" Sparky shot back. "You and Svetlana were just trying to control me. She furiously rubbed her watering eyes. Sparky was too hurt by her lover's accusations to realize how irrational she was getting. "You seduce me. She seduces Maria and the Marines keep everyone else in line! Wasn't that your grand plan?"

Kuzmin could only stare at her crying, ranting lover.


Sickbay was a taste of hell. Wounded men and women poured into the medical facilities. Carl and his team of doctors were quickly swamped. Screams of pain and sobbing filled the air while medical personnel worked quickly to save those they could. A triage station was set up and injured spilled out into the corridors.

Maria grimaced in pain as a SAR tech helped her hobble down the hallway. Flash would have come herself if Maria hadn't insisted for her to do her job and keep searching the ship for other trapped crewmembers. Although her leg was throbbing, the Spaniard managed a grim smile and nodded to those crewmembers that recognized her.

A look into one of the trauma bays made her tug the SAR tech to a stop. When he glanced at her in confusion she nodded toward a nearby viewing panel.

"Help me over there and then you can go back to helping Flash."

"Yes, Ma'am," he answered, helping the XO toward a seat next to the observation window.

She waved him away as soon as he did and then collapsed in the chair, her eyes never wandering from the action going on inside.

Carl and two of his staff members were performing surgery on the Captain. The still pale form was stretched out on the operating table hardly alive. She watched Carl sliced open her chest giving him a clear view of the dark haired woman's injured lungs. Dark blood leaked from the wound before one of the nurses suctioned it up.

The Chief medical officer snapped a command, grabbed the surgical instrument handed to him and began sealing off ruptured blood vessels. The surgery went on for over an hour before Carl sealed the incision in Svetlana's chest. Maria stayed for all of it.

She sighed as the final instruments were put away and a nurse was cleaning up the patient. She tiredly looked around her. The chaos in sickbay had decreased to an organized frenzy.

"How is she?" Maria asked as Carl exited the bay.

"She'll live," he answered, tossing his scrubs out and pulling on a new set as he scanned the file on the next patient waiting for him. "Some nasty internal bleeding, but we got that under control. A couple of broken ribs from the shock harness. We gave her fast heal for those and they should knit just fine. The concussion is a bit more serious. I'll have to keep her here for a while to make certain there's no brain damage."

Maria sucked in a breath at the words brain damage, but managed a strained smile at Carl's curious look.

"Don't worry, Skipper, these Russians are damned thick-headed. She'll be fine. Now, let's look at you."

"I'm fine. Can I go see her?" Maria started to get up but hissed in pain as she put weight on her leg.

"Right. You sound like you are fine. If you're really unhurt, why are you down here and not up on the bridge running things?" asked Carl with a raised eyebrow.

"My leg might hurt a little." she answered grudgingly. It was easier for her to admit that since Flash had told her that the Captain had been taken to sickbay.

"And who is exactly running the ship now? Carl asked as he waved over another medic.

"Kuzmin, I think. Flash said something about her being in charge until Romonov comes around. And how is Bear?"

"Meridith, check out the Skipper's leg." Carl said to the approaching medic. "I'd do it myself,"he said apologetically, "but I've got a patient who's being prepped for surgery. Bear took a beating, but he'll survive. Again. He better stop getting hurt though, his body can't take much more trauma without time to heal."

"Can I see her?" Maria asked, nodding toward the bay.

Carl sighed, "Fine, but after Meredith checks your leg out. Okay?"

Maria nodded.

"Doctor van Reiss! Stat!"

"See you later, Skipper," Carl called as he trotted toward one of the other surgical suites.

Meridith cut away Maria's pressure suit. The Spaniard tried not to whimper in pain as the medic gently scanned the wounded leg.

"Fractured in two places," the impossibly young intern said. She then proceeded to give her a dose of quick heal to start the bones knitting along and an analgesic for the pain. "You'll have to wear a brace for at least two days. Try not to walk on it too much. If you feel faint or have any sort of blurred vision come back immediately."

Maria nodded her understanding and watched as Meridith explained how to put on the leg brace.

Finally she escaped into the trauma room where Svetlana was lying. Pulling a chair over she sat down on it and simply watched the still pale woman.

After awhile, the weary auburn haired woman stirred. She reached over to the nearby com unit and called up the bridge.

"Theodore?" She blinked in surprise as the head scientist's face appeared on the screen. "Isn't Kuzmin in command?" God help them if Theodore was the ranking officer on the bridge right now.

"Um, she's having a, uh, discussion with Sparky about the um, well, the self-healing hull." He winced as raised voices were heard behind him.

"How can I help you, Skipper?"

So much for that secret, Maria thought. "What's our status?"

Theodore perked up. "We are communicating with the aliens!" he responded excitedly. "They now no longer consider us hostile, and I'm sure relations will improve rapidly as we explain why we are in their home system."

"Just make sure they don't try to blow us up, and don't promise anything until Svetlana or I are back on the bridge," Maria ordered. "Anything else?"

Theadore looked chagrined. "Um, what do you mean by promises?" he asked slowly.

"Oh no." Maria sighed. "What did you tell them?"

"Well, I'm not sure exactly...," stalled Theodore. "But I'm sure I can continue to clarify it with more time."

"Theodore...," Maria growled. "What did you tell them?" she demanded, her tone dangerously low.

"Well, I'm not sure if I promised them that we would aid them against the other aliens. Or, if I promised them we are not allied with the other aliens," explained Theodore.

Maria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Yes, you had better clarify that."I must be spending too much time around Svetlana, I'm starting to sound like her, she thought.

"Yes, Skipper!"

To his enthusiastic answer, she managed a tired smile. "Good, tell Kuzmin I'm in sickbay and I'll come to the bridge if anything happens. Romonov should be able to relieve her as soon as Carl lets him go."

"Aye, aye, Skipper." Theodore signed off.

Flicking off the com Maria leaned back in the chair. Her leg wasn't hurting as much since Meridith had given her something for the pain.

Her eyelids felt heavy. She'd just rest here for a few minutes. Just a bit and then she'd get moving. Maria fell asleep in the relatively quiet bay, slumped next to Svetlana's still form.


The sound of beeps pierced the darkness. Svetlana followed the sound until she could feel the rest of her body.

It hurt.

A lot.

She struggled to open her eyes, but they seemed glued shut. Her mouth was too dry for her to make more than a croaking sound.

She felt someone moving around on her left side and then a straw was placed in her mouth. She sucked and tasted ambrosia. Her mouth felt much better. After a couple of tries, Svetlana asked in Russian, "What's happening to my ship?"

Maria blinked down at her sleepily. Svedlana had awakened her from her unplanned nap. Whatever Meridith had given her had been more than a simple pain reliever.

"What about the ship?" she asked, holding the glass steady for the taller woman to drink from. Maria hazarded a guess that was what Svetlana had mumbled in Russian. Between the Chief and Bear, she'd been trying to learn Russian, but it was a difficult language and she'd only managed to learn a few basic words.

Svetlana could hear someone talking to her, but couldn't figure out what they were saying. She force her eyes open but all she could see were light or dark blurs. The last thing she remembered was the approaching alien ships. She felt a little panicked and tried to sit up.

"Shhh, it's okay." Maria quickly set aside the glass and touched Svetlana's shoulder, trying to reassure her. "The ship is fine. We're okay."

Svetlana heard the voice, but what it was saying was still garbled. She struck out weakly at the hand and tried to move away from the voice.

"Hey, you're safe." Maria whispered letting her fingers stroke and tangle with Svetlana's. Gently she clasped the wounded woman's hand. "You did it. We're still in one piece." Mostly, anyway.

Trying to calm the agitated woman, she moved closer to the bay table, brushing her fingers through the dark hair and humming a tune her mother used to hum to her as a child.

Only after the Russian woman's breathing had evened out and Maria was certain she'd fallen asleep did the XO straighten up in her chair.

A quick check of the chronometer showed she'd only been asleep for a less than a half hour. Enough was enough, though. She couldn't put off her duty any longer. She should have been on the bridge as soon as Meridith had fixed her up.

Gazing down at the sleeping woman she smiled and before she could think better of it leaned down and kissed the other woman's brow. "Get better," she whispered, then limped out of sickbay and headed for the bridge.

Carl and his people had worked miracles in the short time she'd been in sickbay. The corridors outside were clear of injured, although she noticed the operating suites were still all occupied.

The lifts were still out of service, and by the time Maria had climbed to the bridge, her leg was aching again.

She nodded to the on-duty Marine's salute and smiled as she spotted Theodore hunched over his console.

The Spaniard was just about to ask where Kuzmin was when she heard the yelling from the Captain's ready room. The doors hadn't closed all the way and only opened grudgingly as she approached them.

Everyone on the bridge seemed to be studiously ignoring the activity from the ready room.

"What are you two..., ah!" Maria ducked to the side, barely avoiding being hit by a computer pad that had been thrown from the other side of the room at Sparky. The pad slammed into the door, shattering.

"Ok, what the FUCK is going on here?" roared Maria over the pounding in her head and the aching of her right leg.

The sound of the shards from the pad's display tinkling to the ground was the only thing heard in the suddenly quiet room.

"Have you two lost your minds?" the XO demanded, staring at Sparky and Kuzmin in disbelief.

"I'd like to know what possessed you to hide critical information from us!" shouted Kuzmin, her face a bright red.

"What?" Maria frowned, and then groaned in understanding as she realized what had happened. The hull must have worked as expected and sealed itself. Yes, it would have been impossible to miss that.

Limping over to the Captain's chair she sat down heavily, stretching out the leg that was in the brace. She was at the end of her patience and too worn out to deal with more in-fighting.

"Sit down." When neither of the angry women moved, she narrowed her eyes and took a deep breath. "SIT DOWN, I said!" she yelled.

Sparky slumped down in one of the chairs facing the desk. She knew Maria was pissed. Not only could she tell by the expression on her face, but the Skipper never raised her voice in anger.

Kuzmin slowly sat down. She could hardly wait to hear the redhead's explanation

Maria looked from one face to the other, knowing there must be more she hadn't heard about but she needed to deal with this issue now.

"Did you know that the Coalition considers anyone passing classified information to the Republic a traitor?" she stated matter-of-factly.

"That's the death penalty if you're convicted, you know." She continued on conversationally, "and then of course, there's what happens to your family, your friends." The XO grinned darkly at the stunned Russian.

"If you're lucky, they don't just disappear. If they're lucky, all they have to look forwards to is a lifetime of constant scrutiny by every intelligence agency in the Coalition. And, they can forget about getting a good job. Anything in government is barred to you, from entering the Navy to even Search and Rescue."

"But don't you think we are a little beyond that here?" Kuzmin waved her hand around. "Or did you agree with your Engineer that trading in Svetlana would save all of your skins? And maybe you were going to throw in our stealth system?"

Maria blinked in surprise and raised an eyebrow questioningly at Sparky.

"I don't know what Sparky said, but no, I didn't think trading in Svetlana would save our skins. And, just for the record, that was never my intention." Maria met Kuzmin's glare evenly.

She paused and then decided to tell the Weapons officer everything. She was tired of hiding things. It just wasn't her nature. "We were going to try to get all of you into the lifepods when we got back and send out a distress signal for your own Navy to find you."

"And how do you know it will be your Navy that discovers Pathfinder first? After all," Kuzmin said as she raised an eyebrow," considering who our Captain is, don't you think our government will be just as anxious to find us?"

"I honestly don't know who's going to find us first, Kuzmin." Maria answered.

Make no mistake though. I will not sacrifice anyone... you, Sparky, Theodore, or Svetlana. We were trying to come up with a plan that would save both crews. I already know that I'm in trouble when I get back. I want to try and save my officers' careers if I can, and of course, the rest of the crew's."

Maria glanced towards the ruined data pad on the floor. "Was the self healing hull was the only reason you two were fighting?"

"No," muttered Sparky, "I found Mata Hari here going through my files a few days ago. "And,"she added, "don't you think you should maybe wonder how they knew we were going to trade the bitch for our lives?"

"No one is trading anyone, Sparky," Maria said, sending her friend a warning look before cocking an eyebrow at Kuzmin. "You hacked into Sparky's computer files?"

"Svetlana asked me to try and find what you were hiding after having that, um, spirited discussion with you." The blonde woman shrugged. "I think it stemmed from trying to find out why the Admiral was trying to blow us up."

Sparky brought her hand down sharply on the desk. "That bitch bugged us!"

"Sparky!" Maria said sharply, "the next time you refer to the Captain as a bitch, I'll strip you of your rank myself, got it?"

Sparky glared at Maria, but knew better than to push her.

The XO leaned back in her chair, wincing as she jostled her leg a bit, and sighed. "What am I supposed to do with you two?" She scrubbed her face with her hands as she tried to think. "Okay. Anything else either of you want to tell me?"

Both sat in sullen silence.

"Fine."She had more pressing matters to deal with. "What's our situation?"

"The aliens that didn't fire on us originally are attempting to communicate with us," answered Kuzmin.

"And?" Maria asked softly, eyes narrowed when Kuzmin stopped talking. "You were in charge of the ship for the last few hours, I assume there is more to report than something I already knew about?"

Kuzmin flushed and straightened up in her seat. "The hull integrity is back to almost 100%,"she said as she looked accusingly at Sparky. "It is way ahead of schedule. And the casualty reports are still coming in, but the loss of life seems to be very light considering how much damage the ship took." Her face returned to its original color. "Our weapons systems are a different matter. But maybe you should hear it from the Chief engineer."

Taking that as her cue, Sparky continued Kuzmin's report. "The port side is a mess. The last few attacks ripped it up pretty good. We've just about lost all the weapons installations there. It's a little better on the starboard, but not much. Last I saw, we're also down to a half dozen warheads. The power conduits, as I feared, started to blow out from over heating. None of the lasers are working right now, but I think we can have a few up and running in the next day."

"So we won't be fighting any time soon."Maria summed up. "What about other ship systems?"she asked Kuzmin.

         "Environmental is not in good shape either, but we are lucky that the greenhouse works as a back up for the system. Right now because the recyclers are down, we're dumping all of our wastes into space. I don't see them being back up anytime soon either," she replied.

"Recommendations?"the XO asked.

"Normally, I would say that we need to go back to base for repairs, but seeing how that's not going to happen, we will have to muddle through on our own. I have no idea what the repair capabilities are on this ship, but most of the things we need to repair are going to have to be fabricated. Our best bet is to concentrate on making friends with the aliens so they can either send us home or help in repairing us," she concluded.

"I'd like to focus the repairs on the environmental systems since we aren't under attack and we don't have many missiles left anyway,"Sparky said, rubbing a hand through multicolored hair. "We can make nearly anything in the machine shops, but it's going to take time."

Maria nodded. "Very well then, you both have better things to do than stay here and fight. Ask Theodore to come in when he can, please."

"I know I can find something else to do than be in here with her," muttered Kuzmin.

"Both of you are officers, so act like it."Maria snapped, glaring at the two of them. "Dismissed."

After they'd left, Maria grumbled, "Oh god, now I sound like Svetlana. Now I just need to be pissed off all the time."

At the discreet cough by the jammed door, Maria sighed and raised her head. "Yes?"

"I need to tell you my findings on the investigation" said the Major.

"Sure, this a super time,"Maria answered sarcastically. She immediately regretted it and held up a hand. "Sorry. It's been a rough day. Take a seat?"

The Major sat down. "I know that normally I report to the Captain, but she is incapacitated. So now you are in command."

Maria nodded. "Odd, isn't it? The one and only thing I wanted when we first started out, and now I'd give most anything to hand command back over to her."Maria stretched out her leg and winced a bit as she did so. "What did you find out, Major?"

"The Admiral was not who he seemed, and I believe there is one more mole left on board. My concern is now that this is the time they can strike most effectively."

Maria closed her eyes and in an effort not to scream slowly counted down from ten. They'd been through so much and now to have another mole on board?

"Why do you think there is another one?"the Spaniard asked after she was reasonably certain she wouldn't curse.

"Because in his files, he referenced another agent. One that didn't have access to the nuke, but one that was in a position to kill your old XO." She paused at Maria's raised eyebrow. "We determined early on that the Admiral was not one of the suspects in Witworth's death, but he still was instrumental in helping him plan against you."

"Fantastic,"she said without emotion.

"Yes, that's why I needed to talk to you. How well do you trust your Chief Medical officer?"

That did get a reaction. Maria sat up, ignoring the twinge of pain as she shifted the injured leg. "Now wait a second. If you're accusing Carl of being an agent, think again. He might be a bit pushy, but he's a damn good CMO and he's been a good friend. I trust him completely."Maria glared at the Russian major daring her to contradict her.

The Major nodded. "That was my impression of him as well, but I believe that it is someone on his staff. Someone who has access to the Captain and Bear in their weakened states. Posting Marines inside sickbay will not endear me to the staff, but I am at a loss for what else to do."

"We move her somewhere safe then."That was the easy answer, although Maria wasn't too certain what safe was at the moment. "Carl knows his staff better than anyone, I realize you two don't get along, but he should be able to help you."

"I am afraid that I have alienated him in my search to find the truth." The Major seemed almost regretful about that.

"Carl doesn't like being accused of murder," Maria answered absently, while trying to figure out how to deal with this newest problem.

"Bear should be up and about soon so he should be out of immediate danger. The question is what to do with the Captain? We could move her back to her cabin and make a rotation schedule of officers to sit with her that aren't under suspicion?"

"That would be the best if the doctor authorizes her move." The Major frowned. "She may have to be kept sedated to make sure she stays in bed, however."

Maria rolled her eyes. She didn't want to picture the fuss that she was positive a recovering Svetlana was going to throw when she couldn't get out of bed. "I assume you're keeping a close eye on all your suspects?"

The Major looked indignantly at her.

The Spaniard absently wondered when exactly her life had descended into this morass of confusion. She was pretty sure she could track most of it back to that fateful day they had received the alien distress signal.

"Very well. Keep your Marines posted at the ship's most sensitive areas. I'll tell Carl about the arrangement to move the Captain to her cabin."

"Very good, Commander." The Major brought her heels together smartly and gave Maria a little nod.

Who winced at the thoroughly military salute. "Thank you, Major."

Maria sighed as she watched the Major leave. She was starting to get a little nervous about leaving Theodore by himself out on the bridge for so long. Who knew what the scientist was going to promise the aliens? She wearily got up and limped to the door.


         It took a while before Maria felt comfortable with leaving the bridge level. But she knew Kuzmin was more than capable of riding herd on Theodore and keeping him and his scientists from promising things they couldn't deliver.

During the past few hours, the chief scientist had managed to set up a more or less rudimentary system of communication with the surrounding aliens. But, it needed to get better before they could get the aliens to send them back where they belonged.

"If it's even possible,"she wondered.

The XO shoved those thoughts aside and went in search of her chief medical officer. It was time to fill him in on her decision.

"What do you mean you'd like to move the Captain?" thundered Carl to Maria.

He took it about as well as she expected him to.

"There is no way I'm going to stick her in her quarters where I can't monitor her progress."

"Carl, she'll be safer in her quarters." Maria watched through the observation window as a nurse checked on the injured Captain. A Marine was standing on duty nearby.

"Safer? Safer from who? From me?"

The man was turning purple from anger. Maria had heard the expression before, but this was the first time she had ever seen it.

"I would think you would trust me enough to perform my duty in my medical facility regardless of any personal feelings I might have against them," he bit out coldly.

"Carl." Her tone was sharp enough to stop the doctor before he really got going on a rant. "I do trust you." she barely managed to avoid saying 'you idiot'. She was too tired for this crap. "But someone's already been killed in sickbay. The Major thinks we have another mole on our hands, someone who was working with the Admiral."

"I trust my staff!"

"Be quiet," she hissed, glancing behind her toward the other medical personnel. "I trust them also, Carl. But they aren't the only ones who can come in here. You know she isn't completely safe in this set up."

"She is perfectly safe with those," he waved a hand toward one of the guards, "brutes in here," he snapped.

"Listen, Carl. You're a good friend but you are really pushing it right now. I want the Captain moved to her quarters now. We'll set up a rotation schedule for officers to watch her. We'll move whatever medical equipment you want there, but it's going to happen." The Spaniard didn't have the energy or patience to deal with this in her normally diplomatic manner.

"Fine," he said through gritted teeth. "But I am formally logging a complaint about this."

She actually smiled at that thought. "I'm sure that won't be the only black mark on my record."

Carl's mouth quirked at the corners, but he still scowled at her.

"How's she doing?" Maria decided to turn the conversation to something a little less confrontational.

"Better," he admitted grudgingly.

"Has she woken up?"

"A few times, but she wasn't quite with us...never stopped speaking in Russian."

Maria nodded and ran her fingers through her hair, stifling a yawn. "Let me know when she's settled. I'll set up a rotation schedule. You'll be on it, of course." She wanted to make certain he understood that she trusted him.

"Fine," he huffed, just to let her know that he was still angry.


What a difference 48 hours can make, Maria reflected as she headed for the Captain's quarters. Repairs on the ship were well underway and everything that they could fix without going into dry dock would soon be completed. The quiet hunt continued for the remaining saboteur, but she trusted the Major to ferret the co-conspirator soon enough.

The Spaniard tilted her head back and yawned, wincing as something in her back popped. Now, it was her turn to watch the Captain. Hopefully it would be a quiet, uneventful shift.

Nodding to the two Marines stationed outside her old quarters, she touched the admittance chime and waited for the doors to open.

"Come," a slightly groggy voice from inside called. Maria went through the doors and found the Captain sitting up on the side of the bed contemplating her toes or trying to stand up. It was hard to tell.

"Are you my new babysitter?" grumped Svetlana.

Maria sighed, so much for a peaceful shift.

The XO opened her mouth to ask where Romonov was since it was the Communications officer's turn with the Captain. She closed it when she saw the Russian emerging from the other room.

. "My turn now, Romonov. I think Kuzmin was looking to talk with you when you have a chance." she smiled to the other man as she passed him.

"Good luck," he muttered as he passed. "Have a good night, Captain," he said in a normal tone before he hurried out the hatch.

Her eyes widened at his warning. "This,"Maria thought, "is going to be even worse than I expected."

She turned and smiled brightly at the scowling Captain. "I even brought bedtime stories with me." The auburn haired woman decided on a preemptive attack before the taller woman could say anything. She held up pads detailing the progress of repairs and attempts to communicate.

"And here, this is from Theodore. It's the latest progress they've made in communicating with the aliens. He thinks they finally understand where we came from and how we got here."

Svetlana refrained from snatching the pads from her XO. The worse part of her injury was being kept out of the loop while important things were happening to her ship.

"He's not messing up First Contact, is he?" she questioned as she scanned his pad.

"You mean other than promising them missile technology?" Maria quipped, as she made herself comfortable on what had once been her favorite chair.

Svetlana sat straight up in bed. "He what?!" She started to get up. "I'll wring his neck!"

The XO struggled not to crack a smile and ignored the bubble of laughter welling up as she saw look of pure aggravation on the dark-haired woman's face. "Don't worry, we straightened it out, they will get only our older plans."

The Captain stared at her XO in shock. "You are joking with me," she stated after closely looking at the smaller woman's composed face.

Despite herself, Maria felt her lips curling upward. She quickly hid it by answering, "I would never dare joke with the mighty Captain Montesterskya." She intoned, "It's not proper military protocol."

Svetlana's eyes opened wide. "What did you call me?" she asked sharply.

Maria froze at the other woman's tone. "Umm... 'mighty Captain'?" she answered weakly.

"Nooooo,' the brunette dangerously drawled. "You correctly pronounced my last name."

"I did no such thing!" the smaller woman said, her eyes narrowing.

With a grin tugging at her lips, Svetlana nodded at the petite woman in front of her.

The XO crossed her arms over her chest, trying her best to glower at Lana. "I don't even know what your last name is. Therefore, I can't possibly have pronounced it correctly. I mean, it has some ungodly amount of letters and a bucket full of 'y's in it. It's impossible to pronounce."

A little voice in her mind started screaming for her to shut up before she said any more stupid things. Too many days without more than catnaps, too much constant stress had the words emerging before she could censor them.

"What is that quaint phrase?" The Captain appeared lost in thought. She snapped her fingers. "Oh yes. You are "busted"big time, Commander. You do know how to say my name correctly. This makes me wonder if maybe you aren't as antagonistic towards me as you would have everyone believe." The Captain sat back and folded her hands over her stomach as she looked smugly at her fiery XO.

Her superior expression was more than Maria could handle. She lost control and exploded, "I don't know what you're talking about! Obviously you were hit in the head harder than diagnosed. You were speaking only Russian for two days, you know. Maybe something else got rattled."

However, it was very possible that the fact she couldn't meet the other woman's cool blue eyes was undermining her attempts at being outraged by the current conversation.

"The lady doth protest too much" was all the Russian said.

"Shakespeare,"Maria whispered as the memory of Paul slipped back to her.

"Da,"Svetlana gloated. "I'm pleased that you are aware of ancient text."

"My navigator, he use to..."her words trailed off. "The first attack, he..."she paused, hoping not to have to explain anything to this arrogant woman. Daring a glance, she saw the Russian still casually leaning back on the bed with her hands folded on her stomach. The cocky look was still plastered on her face.

"Are you going to read that report or not?"she demanded, her anger returning in full force.

"Say my name,"Svetlana demanded in a cool, even tone.

"Mooseandsquirrel,"the Spaniard snarled her green eyes narrowing at the smirking Captain.

"You've said it correctly before,"Svetlana challenged. "Just before the attack, you said it. So, this is twice you've said it."She grinned at the furious woman. "Again, you are so busted."

"I don't recall that."Maria protested as she stood up, unable to keep her gaze from drifting to Lana's soft full lips. 'No, not going to happen!' She fought against the warm tingling creeping through her body. "I do recall you saying something about you being happy that we made this voyage together,"she said pointedly.

"I did not,"Svetlana growled.

"You see? You did hit your head harder than we thought."Maria exclaimed hotly. But she was still unable to look away from the Russian's full lips.

"Why must you be so stubborn?"Svetlana demanded, growing tired of the Spaniard's persistently willful manner.

"Me? I'm stubborn? You arrogant, pig-headed... pain in the ass!"Maria sputtered, her hands tightening into fists as she hovered over the Captain. She had no idea that she had moved closer to her until she found herself face to face with Lana.

"Pig-headed?"Svetlana hissed, her fingers suddenly clasping the back of Maria's head and drawing her closer. "I'm pig-headed? This coming from you? Say my name, Commander,"she growled out.

"Whatever you say, Captain Meringue,"Maria wearily quipped.

She was exhausted. It had been a very long two days. She was tired of trying to hold it together, tired of keeping the crew in line, or worrying about her parents and the fate of the Pathfinder. But mostly, she was tired of fighting against what she was about to do. Her hands reached out, clasped the Captain's broad shoulders, and drew her closer. Svetlana sweet breath tickled her face. Enough is enough and this was the last straw. She closed her eyes, inhaled the intoxicating scent of Lana's body and whispered, "Montastyrskaya."

Svetlana was stunned this stubborn, fiery, petite woman actually had said her name right. Suddenly, she felt her heart pounding and she was leaning toward the woman. Her XO wasn't the only one who was giving in. "Yes,"she whispered knowing that she was accepting the Commander's unspoken offer. Their lips met just like the first time. Neither of them was aware of who initiated the kiss. Svetlana didn't care. Her body had been on fire from the moment the smaller woman had entered her quarters. 'Perhaps even longer than that,' she thought as her body tingled from the feel of Maria's tongue tracing her lips parting them begging for entrance.

Svetlana eagerly parted her lips; her senses reeled as the redhead's tongue probed the deep recesses of her mouth. She pulled Maria closer, enjoying the feel of the smaller woman's body against her. She was lost in the intensity of Maria's searing kiss when she found herself gasping for air. She broke away from the fire of Maria's kiss and panted laboriously.

"What?"Maria asked breathlessly, "your ribs?"She panicked, suddenly fearful that she had somehow injured Svetlana further. She immediately pulled away only to have her movements halted by the stronger woman's hands tightening around her.

"No,"Svetlana laughed, and ran her fingers through Maria's silky hair. "I was waiting for someone to come barging in."

"That does seem to be a habit with us,"Maria coyly responded, her breath hitching slightly when a pair of fiery blue eyes captured her gaze. She licked her lips, still feeling the burn from Svetlana's kiss. "Good thing you are under protective custody,"she added curling her lips into a smile while lowering the white silk sheets just a little lower.

"Protective custody?"Svetlana raised an eyebrow. "And just what are you protecting me from Commander Maria Elena Exposito Ramirez?"

"Now that is just showing off,"Maria scolded the grinning brunette as she ran her fingers along the cool silk sheets that had once been her own. She inhaled sharply when her touch drifted and accidentally brushed against the edge of Svetlana's pajama top. Her fingers burned from the heat radiating from the taller woman's body. 'Fire and ice,' she thought. The radical extremes mirrored Svetlana's complex personality.

Svetlana looked steadily at the smaller woman hands but still couldn't control her reaction to her touch. "We shouldn't be doing this, Maria,"she expelled in a ragged breath.

"Once again, Lana,"Maria murmured, "you've left me with no choice."Her walls finally crumbled. The only thing that mattered was the deep-seeded yearning to kiss this woman senseless.

Svetlana couldn't argue with her XO's logic. It was too late to turn back anyway. This time she couldn't walk away and pretend that nothing had happened. Even if she could work up the strength to stop what was happening, where could she go?

'Such a delightful quandary. Locked in my quarters with the most beautiful woman on board ship,' she thought as she allowed Maria to capture her in a smoldering kiss. 'She kisses me like no other.' She growled frustrated by the thick jumpsuit that was resisting her attempts to explore her XO's body.

"Something bothering you?"Maria teased with a cocky smirk as she looked down at the frustrated brunette. "Hmm?"she egged on Svetlana.

"Naked,"Svetlana commanded.

"Is that an order?"Maria taunted, balancing her body with one arm while her free hand caressed the soft material of Svetlana's pajama top.

"You are evil,"Svetlana sputtered, inhaling sharply when Maria's wandering hand brushed against her breast. "Truly evil."

"Really?"Maria purred.

Svetlana watched Maria's eyes darkened with desire. A deep groan rumbled in the back of her throat as Maria reached down and tore open her top. The buttons flew out in all directions as Maria's hands instantly gravitated to Svetlana's newly exposed flesh.

"Naked."She pleaded, her body quaking from the feel of Maria's hands caressing her. Svetlana's hips jerked forward as Maria's nimble fingers captured her nipples. The auburn-haired woman pinched and teased the buds to become erect.

It was a sweet torture for Svetlana. Her nipples ached and her pajama bottoms were soaked with her passion. She thrust her hips upward, grinding against Maria's trim body in a desperate effort to give her body the release it needed. "Stop teasing me woman!"she shouted.

Slightly puzzled, Maria started to ask her what she wanted when Svetlana's hungry mouth and probing tongue cut her question off. Maria released a feral moan, giving into the savage kiss. She yelped with pleasure as she felt Svetlana's teeth nip at her bottom lip.

One look into Svetlana's wild, hungry eyes and Maria put her body back into motion. She rocked her hips against Svetlana's body in a demanding rhythm. She licked an errant drop of blood from her lips as she tried to keep her hands locked firmly on the Russian's breasts. She wasn't ready to give up the pleasure of fondling the woman's body just yet.

Svetlana managed to keep Maria's wandering hands still just long enough to grasp the fastener on Maria's jumpsuit. In one fluid motion, she snapped the pesky zipper down and began tugging the ugly uniform off Maria's shoulders. She paused only when Maria's hands captured her face and began kissing her again.

Svetlana managed to pull her XO's jumpsuit down to her waist before succumbing to Maria's kisses. The tattered remains of Svetlana's top went flying across the room before their bodies once again gravitated together. Maria's top and bra quickly joined the rags that had been the Captain's pajamas.

Tongues battled for control as they groped bare flesh until Svetlana slipped her hands beneath Maria's thighs. In one swift movement, she flipped the unsuspecting woman onto her back. "Much better,"she gloated as she hovered over the stunned woman.

"For now,"the XO countered as she tugged on the drawstring that held Svetlana's pajama bottoms in place. Maria sighed appreciatively as the pants fell to the floor and she dragged her blunt nails along the curve of Svetlana's bare body.

Svetlana trembled as Maria continued teasing her flesh. Her skin prickled beneath Maria's touch. Now even short words eluded her. 'With only a few kisses she's turned me into a blathering idiot'.

Maria looked imploringly at Lana, her jumpsuit hindering her movements. She was about to ask the dark-haired woman to either shift over or help her remove the last remnants of her clothing when Svetlana lowered her head. She cried out in delight as Lana's mouth latched onto one of her breasts. She wrapped her fingers in Lana's hair, pressed her breast harder against the eager mouth and wiggled beneath Lana's long firm body.

All thoughts of her errant clothing flew out the window at the feel of Svetlana's tongue flickering against her erect nipple and Svetlana's wetness pressing against her thigh. She tried to speak again but the time for words had passed. The only sounds she could utter were demanding groans and needy gasps as their bodies fused together.

The Captain was lost as well, sucking Maria's nipple and her hands caressing every inch of the smaller woman's body. Her own body was reeling from the feel of Maria's body thrusting against her own. Svetlana suckled the rose color bud harder while her hips fell into a steady rhythm with Maria's body. She traced the swell of Maria's breast with her tongue licking the sweat from the XO's body as she blazed a determined trail towards Maria's other breast.

She captured the harden nipple between her lips while her long fingers ensnared its twin. She moaned when she felt the XO's fingers burrowing into her flesh. Kissing her way down her Maria's body, she winced slightly as she rose to her knees. Her body was reminding her that she was still healing. She gave Maria a reassuring smile. Then she took one of Maria's boots, placed it on her thigh and quickly began to unlace it. Svetlana made quick work of disposing the boots, socks and the rest her unbuttoned jumpsuit.

"You like?"Maria shyly inquired.

"Beautiful,"Svetlana whispered as she drank in every inch her and then greedily took another tour of the soft curves of Maria's body. Everything about the smaller woman was sheer perfection. Her firm round breasts, her taut abs, and the mix of well-defined muscles with supple curvature were, in Svetlana's opinion, a work of art.

Unable to keep her desires at bay, she began to caress Maria's thighs, invoking a soft moan from her XO. Her lips soon followed her fingers as she licked and kissed her way downward. She nestled her long frame between Maria's thighs and dipped her head.

Svetlana's body hummed with raw desire as she continued worshiping Maria's inner thigh. Soft auburn curls brushed against her cheek. The musky aroma of Maria's passion beckoned her. Turning her, Svetlana cupped the compact cheeks and drew them closer. She blew a warm breath against Maria's damp curls and drank in the smaller woman scent before parting her with her tongue.

Svetlana licked her lips, savoring the taste. It would never be enough, she silently vowed. She massaged Maria's firm flesh then again drew the wetness to her and swept her tongue along the soft folds. She murmured with pleasure as Maria's body pressed harder against her touch.

"Lana,"Maria cried out as Svetlana slowly stroked her with her tongue.

Hearing her cry out her name spurred Lana on. She captured Maria's engorged nub between her lips and began suckling it. She fought to hold her thrashing XO steady as she desperately drank in every drop of Maria's passion. She needed more. Maria needed more. Svetlana deftly maneuvered one of her hands closer.

She pressed two fingers against the wet opening. Maria's thrusting body urgently imploring her to take her. Svetlana suckled Maria harder as her fingers slipped inside of the smaller woman. Instantly the walls tightened against her touch.

"More,"Maria pleaded with a strangled cry.

Svetlana eagerly slipped another digit deeper inside as her fingers and mouth quickly fell into a satisfying rhythm.

Maria thrashed about, clutching at soft silk and skin until her thoughts completely disappeared.

With her vision blurred, she lay there, amazed at how quickly Svetlana could send her spiraling into a black hole. Her last cognizant memories were encompassing, exploding stars. Her vision slowly came into focus. She studied the bland pattern of the ceiling as she tried to calm her rapidly beating heart. She blew out a contented sigh and glanced down her still quivering body.

Maria smiled upon discovering Svetlana's head resting on her thigh. She ran her fingers through the Captain long, dark hair, amused by the over confident grin plastered on Lana's face. Svetlana met her gaze, her eyes darkened with desire as she attempted to hold Maria with her stare.

"Keep grinning, hot stuff,"Maria wryly cautioned her new lover and wiggled her finger as she beckoned the Russian to come closer.

Svetlana sighed happily, caressing Maria's body as she made her assent and hovered above her.

"Are you sure your ribs are okay?"Maria questioned with concern.

"Yes,"Svetlana answered clearly confused by the inquiry.

"Good,"Maria gloated and in one swift move, flipped the Captain onto her back.

The air escaped from Svetlana's lungs. She was stunned that the little spitfire had turned the tables on her so quickly and had her lying on her back with her hands pinned above her head. She was about to protest against her vulnerable position when Maria cut off her words with a smoldering kiss.

Both women were struggling for air as the fiery kiss finally ebbed. Maria lowered her body and rolled her hips slowly, needing to feel Svetlana against her. She could feel their bodies vibrating with the same intense heat as they rocked gently against one another. "Do you like the sheets?"Maria whispered hotly in Lana's ear.

"Yes,"Svetlana managed to choke out.

"Have you found anything else of mine?"she growled, rocking her body harder against her lover while maintaining her grasp on the Captain's wrists. Maria struggled to keep control and not become lost by the demanding rocking of their bodies.

"No,"Svetlana sputtered out, thrusting her hips harder, moaning with pleasure as Maria matched her frantic rhythm. Her concentration, diverted when the redhead raised her free hand above her and slammed the wall, disappeared when a small hatch opened just above her. Blue eyes widened and the Russian's jaw dropped when Maria produced a small silver cylinder from nook.

"It gets lonely in space,"the XO explained as she pushed the hatch shut and clicked the cylinder on.

"It can be,"Svetlana panted as Maria ran the vibrating toy down along the curve of her body.

Maria inwardly flinched for a moment as she remembered that Lana hadn't been all that lonely since she had Yona to keep her company for the past decade. She brushed the invasive thought aside when she heard a deep moan escape from Lana. 'She isn't with Yona tonight. Tonight, she is mine,' she silently boasted and slipped the toy between their over-heated bodies.

Maria felt Svetlana squirming helplessly beneath her as she pushed the toy lower, each riding the humming vibrator. Svetlana struggled to free her hands, needing to touch her but Maria held her firmly and nudged Lana's thighs further apart, gliding the toy in closer. 'Tonight you're mine,' echoed repeatedly in her mind as she rode against the slender cylinder and her lover.

Nipples brushed against one another, the intensity of their movements turning frantic. Svetlana rambled incoherently and her eyes glazed over when Maria moved the cylinder even further down. Svetlana's legs wrapped around Maria as the XO easily glided the toy inside of her. Maria pumped furiously trying to keep pace with her lover's gyrating body. Svetlana's cries grew louder and more demanding, which encouraged Maria to pleasure her harder. "Maria,"Svetlana screamed out, her body shuddering as the smaller woman took her into a new dimension.

Maria released her hold on Svetlana's wrists, turned the toy off and watched with delight as Lana continued to shudder beneath her. Svetlana's body began to calm as Maria when finally slipped the toy from her.

Maria cast the cylinder aside, nestled her body between Svetlana's trembling thighs, and buried her face in Lana's overflowing wetness. Slowly stroking her lover, she drank in her essence. She licked and suckled until she once again heard her name echoing throughout the room.

Maria snuggled beside the shaking woman who was once again mumbling incoherently. "I hope that's a compliment,"she quipped, lightly caressing her lover's stomach.

"D.. da,"Svetlana stammered in disbelief. She looked at Maria and groaned. "Oh, now look who's grinning."

"Can't help it,"Maria responded brightly, fully aware that she was now sporting a very smug look on her face.

"Hmm."Svetlana eyed Maria speculatively.

She carefully reached up to guide the smaller woman closer, kissing her tenderly, not fully understanding how they went from a heated argument to making love. They exchanged more kisses. Svetlana guided her ardent lover onto her side and snuggled behind her. She wrapped her arms around Maria's body and began caressing her. She pressed her wetness against the smaller woman's firm behind and parted her thighs with her knee. She rocked and fondled her gently, enjoying the feel of her lover's passion painting her skin. Slowly she caressed Maria until they reached the pinnacle together.

Her heart still beating wildly, Svetlana held Maria until her breathing finally fell into a steady rhythm. She kissed her sleeping lover's shoulder and then joined her into an exhausted slumber.


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