Disclaimers: See part 1.
Thank you on the behalf of my coauthor and myself to everyone who wrote after part 2 went up. If you couldnt tell we, ok, I was having a bit of a low point there and wasnt sure if anyone was even reading Pathfinder. So in thanks to all of you for the feedback, we worked hard and got this done pretty quickly. Sparkys a little slow, so you have to give her time to get moving. Take care and everyone have a great weekend!
Constructive criticism and kind words are always appreciated at: email@example.com
This late in the gamma shift rotation, med bay was a quiet place. A fact that former Captain Maria Esposito Ramirez was very glad about as she slipped into one of the trauma bays wearing nothing but her black silk pajamas. The trip from her former quarters had been accomplished with only a few crewmembers seeing her.
Since even one person seeing her would have been enough to feed the rumor mill, she had no doubt that most of the ship would know about her little early morning sojourn by midway through the alpha shift.
I cant believe that bitch threw me out of my own quarters!
Still seething with anger she grabbed the first clothing she could find, muttering to herself in disgust, as she put on the SAR tech uniform. The baggy jumpsuit would have to do for now, she certainly wasnt going back to her old quarters to get her uniforms until she was certain Svetlana was somewhere else.
She covered her face in despair as she did her best to forget the entire incident.
Oh god, I woke up holding her.
Green eyes widened in sudden realization.
OH MY GOD, I groped her while she was sleeping, and she was naked!
Resisting the urge to weep, she leaned her head against the examining table, wondering if she could just sleep here for the remaining three hours she had left before the alpha shift started up. She even started to consider climbing up onto the examining table when an entirely too happy voice called out behind her.
"Skipper, youre up early."
Sighing even as she stood up straight and turned around to face the smiling man by the door.
"Carl, why are you so damn annoyingly happy in the mornings?"
"Years of residency."
Her eyes narrowed as she watched him snatch up an examining kit and move towards her.
"What are you doing?"
"I hear you were in here, back at the start of all this, terrorizing my nurses into giving you some pain meds. About time I get a look at that head wound of yours."
"Now wait a second "
"Oh no you dont, Skipper, Im chief medical officer here, not you. So just sit down and put up with it. Ive already got one officer here with a head injury that could have been avoided, Im not going to have two of you cluttering up my med bay."
Avoiding, barely, from sticking out her tongue at the wiry taller man, she surrendered to the inevitable and hoisted herself up onto the examining bed. She suffered the first few minutes of his poking and prodding in silence, but after that she just couldnt stand it anymore.
"Who else you have down here?"
Peering at the readouts from his last scan and enlarging an area, the black haired doctor shook his head.
"You mean besides half the crew with minor injuries? You have to stop pushing them so hard, were going to start seeing some major injuries pretty soon if this keeps up."
Slim shoulders shrugged.
"Ill pass that on to the new Captain."
It felt remarkably good saying that, being XO did have its advantages. Carl simply snorted at her words though, clearly not at all impressed with the new Captain or her abilities.
"Well who do you have down here also?"
"Oh right, here hold still for a minute."
He pressed a surprisingly cold instrument to her temple and concentrated once more on the readouts from it. Shed begun to think she was never going to get an answer from her old friend when he finally got around to answering her.
"One of the other crew, a Kuzmin something or other I think."
Trying not to move too much she watched him move around out of the corner of her eyes.
"Kuzmin? Thats the name of the Kursks weapons officer. She all right?"
"Yeah, shell be fine. Just some swelling that had to be taken care of after she passed out. It could have been stopped well before that of course, but I understand they lost their med bay in the Event."
Maria didnt have to ask what he meant by the Event, shed heard quite a few crewmembers whisper about it so far. It seemed as good a name for it as any.
"Sparky was here also."
"Sorry, is she okay?"
"Yes, now stop moving. She brought in that Kuzmin lady. Okay, now you can move, stubborn woman."
"How come your insults are rhyming this morning?"
Maria shrugged, trying to hide a sudden yawn.
"I didnt sleep much."
Carl raised an eyebrow.
"You will be happy to know you get a clean bill of health. Id recommend more sleep and food though. Why are you wearing one of Julias SAR uniforms?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Carl to mind his own business and that she had her own reasons when a familiar tall dark haired form swept past outside. Both of them craned their heads to see where the new Captain was headed, and both exchanged a glance as she entered one of the other examination rooms.
"That was fast."
"What do you mean?"
"I only just had Davie com her to tell her that her officer was down here a little while ago after I made Sparky leave to get some sleep."
That explains the com call in the quarters. I think Im just going to try to pretend that I never saw her breasts.
An errant memory floated through her brain and she felt herself blushing at it. Thankfully Carl was still looking out into the corridor.
"I just managed to send Sparky away so that my patient could get some rest. I suppose Ive kept her under observation long enough though."
Maria hopped down off the table, wondering exactly how long her chief engineer had been here.
"Hey, Carl, you still have Witworth down here?"
With a look of disgust, he nodded.
"Good, can you keep him for a while?"
He looked at her curiously.
"Im going to take his quarters."
Understanding flashed through her friends eyes and he nodded.
"Sure, I had to rebuild his entire knee cap, tendons and all. I can keep him a few more days. You sure you want to dump him out of his cabin though?"
With a smirk Maria headed for the door.
"Werent you just telling me I had to do something about him before this all started?"
He matched her step for step, not hard to do considering his legs were longer than hers.
"Yes, I did. You sure you want to antagonize him further though? You know what he could do when we get back "
Maria let her steps slow and took a hold of her friends arm, smiling at the concern in his voice.
"Ive already pushed him too far. Ill have to deal with the repercussions as they come. He cant use my family as blackmail out here, not until we get back. By then maybe Ill have figured out a way to get them free."
"Just be careful."
"I always am."
She headed for the corridor, intent on claiming her former XOs quarters by the time her shift was supposed to start. Now that she knew Svetlana was in the med bay shed even swing by her quarters and grab as much of her stuff as she could.
Stopping just shy of the door, she turned to look at Carl.
Once more she felt her face start to heat as she saw the clothing he was holding up. Dashing back to him she snatched them from him, even as she started to chuckle.
"Give me those!"
"Cute pajamas there, Skipper. I especially like the little stars and moons."
"Shut up Carl."
He was still chuckling as she tried her best to make a dignified exit. It would have been more dignified if she hadnt been wearing the bright orange SAR jumpsuit and clutching black silk pajamas of course, but she tried, so that counted for something, right?
Svetlana strode into the med bay room and looked around for her missing weapons officer. Damn it! I told her to report to medical first thing. I knew that head wound was bad. Locating the blonde woman sleeping further down the bay, the tall captain quietly made her way to Kuzmins side. She gently shook her weapons officers shoulder.
"Yona," Svetlana whispered.
"Go away, Sparky, the doctor said I can sleep now," murmured Kuzmin in English, without opening her eyes.
"Im not Sparky," replied the captain. "Who is Sparky? And why didnt you come to medical when I told you too?"
Kuzmin cracked her eyes opened and groaned. Just when she thought she could get some sleep. "Sparky is the one who stayed here and made sure I didnt go to sleep for a while. Doctors orders. I think shes the Chief Engineer."
"You still havent told me why you didnt come to medical as soon as you could. I told you to get that head wound looked at!" scolded Svetlana.
"Was that an order from the captain or the concerns of a lover, Svetla?" questioned Kuzmin. "I would like to know."
"Where is this coming from?" said a flustered Svetlana. "I thought we had long ago outlined the rules of our relationship?"
"Maybe," said Alyona slowly, "maybe I am no longer satisfied with the restrictions of our relationship and I want more?"
"What?" exclaimed the captain "You more than anyone else understand the world that I come from, that I live in. Do you really want to be exposed to all of that?" The tall woman stood up and started pacing around, her upset visible by the hand gestures as she continued to question Kuzmin. "I thought I explained to you the problems with getting involved. Im career Navy. How would we work out our postings without me exerting influence to keep you with me? You know I wont do that."
Kuzmin sighed. "Others seem to work out the problems. Why cant we?" She narrowed her eyes. "Is this about Tasha?" Noticing the flinch from Svetlana at the mention of that name. "You cant get over Tasha." It was a statement, not a question. She sighed as her dark haired lover refused to meet her eyes. "What happens if, someday, I meet someone who can give me what you can not?" Svetlana continued to study the floor at her feet and give a halfhearted shrug.
"If you find someone, even out here, that you feel can give you that, I will have no choice but to let you go." Stated the captain quietly. Svetlana turned and walk to the hatch. "I do love you. Im just afraid that I cannot give you all of my heart. Tasha took an important part of me with her. Come to my quarters tonight? Please Yona?" Slowly Kuzmin nodded, and the captain left, without noticing the tears in Kuzmins eyes.
Blue lights flashed along the length of the corridor and the emergency klaxons were still going off as Svetlana watched the damage control team work. She watched calmly as the six man and woman team struggled to get the heavy repair section up into place over what was supposed to be a crack in the hull.
The auburn haired woman by her side silently held up the old-fashioned stopwatch for her to see the time that had ticked away.
"Eight minutes, not good enough. This entire deck could have depressurized by now if that was a real hull fracture."
Her new XO didnt answer, Maria didnt have to, whatever other differences they might have had they both understood what that would have meant. If the emergency pressure doors failed, something that was not unheard of after a ship took battle damage, a loss of pressure throughout the deck would kill anyone outside of a vac suit.
"They need more time to adjust to each "
Svetlana turned just enough so that she could stare down at the smaller woman, waiting for her to grind to a halt.
"We do not have the luxury of time."
Turning back to watch the last of the work, she ignored the furious woman by her side.
"Simulate a fire on deck two."
Svetlana could almost hear Maria grinding her teeth as the XO moved to the nearest com station and called the bridge. Bear was there, and Svetlana raised a mental eyebrow in surprise as the other woman not only didnt seem to mind talking to the large Republic man, but actually smiled at the end. She allowed none of that to show of course, and had turned back to watch the last of this damage control teams efforts.
"Simulated fire on deck two, Captain Montana-sky."
Blue eyes narrowed and once more she turned to regard the once more angry XO.
"If you cant pronounce my name, just say Captain. Something you want to say, XO?"
She placed just a little bit of stress on the titles, just enough to call attention to it. By the narrowing of green eyes she knew shed managed it.
"Youre pushing them too hard."
"Who, exactly, am I pushing too hard?"
"The entire Crew! Carl says hes had over two dozen injuries today alone. Thats only going to get worse."
The damage control party had finished their job and was leaning against the hull, panting and trying to catch their breaths. A few of them were casting curious looks towards the two women, and Svetlana glared at them until they found something else to look at.
"Walk with me, XO."
It wasnt a suggestion, and the smaller woman had to move to keep up as Svetlana headed down the corridor.
"You will never question me in front of the crew again, is that clear?"
She asked it in almost a conversational tone, but her words were as cold and hard as ice. When Maria only stared at her in surprise, the tall Captain stopped, making sure they were a good distance away from anyone else, and pinned the ex Captain with a glare.
"I said, is that clear?"
Maria licked suddenly dry lips.
If she thinks she can just bully me around, shes got another thing coming!
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell the Captain to go fuck herself and find another XO that her people would follow. Two things stopped her. The first and by far the most important was the fact that she knew the delicate alliance between the two crews would crumble if she did. The second was the cold fury in Svetlanas eyes.
There was just the hint of a pause.
Cold blue eyes held still angry green eyes for a moment longer, and then Svetlana nodded and continued on her path towards the nearest lift.
"Good. I know you dont like what happened, and I know you dont like me. I really dont care. If our two crews are going to work together we at least need to present the illusion of a unified front."
This time Marias answer was less hostile, and Svetlana liked to believe, more genuine.
"Good. Now how are we doing on the construction?"
Svetlana knew exactly how they were doing, but she wanted to see how well her new XO was keeping herself informed. Tapping the button for the lift, she turned to regard the smaller woman once more. Green eyes flashed at what she no doubt considered a challenge and Marias tone once more hardened.
Quite a temper on this one.
Svetlana could feel her lips trying to curl into a grin at the fierce look on her new XOs face, but she managed to keep her face impassive as the younger woman spoke.
"Weve gotten almost everything off of the Kursk that we can. Everything we couldnt use immediately weve stacked in the cargo holds. The machine shops are running three shifts a day, and Sparky thinks we should have the last of your missile launchers operational within two days. The energy weapons are a lot harder; their energy requirements keep blowing out our power conduits."
All of which Svetlana already knew, so she didnt say anything as they both stepped into the lift. Leaving the tired damage control team to gather their things together and head off to the next simulation.
"Sparky wants to build new power conduits."
That was one she hadnt heard yet though.
"Your thoughts on that?"
Maria looked shocked that shed been asked, and Svetlana quirked her lips in a quick grin.
"You are the executive officer."
Maria blinked as the lift continued to ascend towards the bridge.
"Ah, right. Well, wed have no problems with blown power conduits, but it would take a while to do it."
The doors to the bridge slid open and she stepped through. The Republic crewmembers stood up to attention, while the Coalition members nodded and went back to what they were doing.
"At ease, lets continue this in the conference room, Ms. Esposito Ramirez."
Once more she grinned at the muttered "show off" from behind her. Once inside the conference room, and watching in fascination as the cute woman went straight to the small galley in the corner and made herself a cup of coffee and downed half of it while it was still steaming.
Shaking her head, Svetlana took a seat.
"How long would it take to build them?"
"Weeks if we have enough power conduit scavenged from the Kursk, months if we have to build our own."
The Captain leaned back in her chair, considering that.
"What other options do we have?"
"We augment the power conduits we already have."
"And the trouble with that plan, XO?"
Maria took a seat, as far away from Svetlana as she could, the Captain noticed.
"We couldnt fire all of the energy weapons at once. If we did, wed blow out all the power conduits again."
"Not much of a choice at all, XO. Tell the chief engineer to start building new conduits. Well use the ones we have for now, then switch over when shes ready."
The other woman nodded, draining the last of the coffee from her cup.
"If there isnt anything else, Captain, I have a meeting with your weapons officer."
Svetlana didnt miss the eye roll her XO made as she headed for the door, but she didnt call her on it.
This ones a regular little ishkra.
It had been a few days since Kuzmin had been released from the med bay, and Svetlana was glad her friend was doing better.
Maybe I can even get her to come to my quarters for dinner tonight.
Svetlana allowed herself to grin now that she was alone.
Or maybe more than just dinner.
The grin became a smile at that thought; it had been a while since shed been able to get Kuzmin to spend the night. Maybe tonight would be a good time for the two of them to enjoy themselves.
The door chimes made her school her features and get rid of that smile.
Davie hesitantly stuck his head inside and Svetlana had to wave him forward for the young ensign to come in.
"The daily reports."
She took the pad he offered and scanned it quickly.
"Thank you, Ensign."
"No problem, Maam."
When he didnt leave, she looked up at him questioningly.
"Was there something else, Ensign?"
"I was just wondering, Maam, are we still the Pegasus?"
"What do you mean, Davie?"
Nervously the young man shifted his weight.
"Well I mean, we arent an Explorer ship anymore, not really and we have new crew so shouldnt we have a new name?"
Svetlana stared at him in astonishment and the young ensign took the silence to mean hed over stepped his bounds.
"Sorry, Maam, Ill just get back to my post."
"No, no, its a good idea, Davie. In fact "
An idea started to take shape and this time Svetlana couldnt resist grinning even with a crewmember nearby.
This is going to drive Maria insane.
"In fact, why dont you spread the word that it is going to be a contest. Ill have a prize for the best name thats put forward. Make it by department even, and well come up with something for the winning department."
Davie nodded, and clearly one for the get going while the goings good school of thought, he left quickly.
Maria leaned against the railing in the observation lounge and stared out through the armored observation bubble. Usually she came here to think or just to stare out into the vastness of space. Tonight she was here because shed been too restless to get the sleep she needed and too worn out to be good company.
Instead of inflicting her mood on other people, shed come here to brood and stare down at the swirling gas giant they were orbiting. Bob, as the crew had taken to calling it, was actually pretty. Red and blue clouds swirling high in the upper ionosphere with a few really spectacular storms that were several times the diameter of most inhabited planets to round out the show.
Bob. I cant believe that everyones calling it Bob.
The laugh came out a bit more hysterical then shed meant it too and she took several deep breaths trying to get herself back under control.
What a week.
Everyone was working on too little sleep. There was simply too much to do and not enough hands to do it with. Tempers were short as a result and shed spent the day running from spot to spot onboard breaking up fights between the two different crews.
Thank god for Rozov.
Shed seen the NCO from the Kursk quite literally butting heads together to get people to settle disputes. Maria was distinctly aware of the fact that she would have been horrified a week ago at such a sight. Now she didnt care as long as things were settled, no one was injured too badly, and the job got done.
"Hey bitch, enjoying my quarters?"
The XO didnt have to turn around to know who had slunk up to stand behind her, the way her skin tried to crawl away in revulsion clued her in quite nicely.
"Get away from me, Witworth."
She dodged under his arm and backed away across the observation deck, glaring at the still slightly limping man.
"Oh, cant I hug a former Captain?"
"Id rather suck vacuum. Why dont you just go back to your own quarters?"
"Yeah well, funny thing about that, I was wondering what happened to all my stuff."
Maria couldnt help but grin.
"I spaced your stuff."
She dodged backwards just as he started to lunge at her.
"Skipper, is there a problem?"
Thank you god!
The three crewmen who stood at the entry to the observation deck were more than enough to get Witworth to back off, and Maria gladly made good on her escape. Not before he got in the last word though.
"Say hi to your parents for me."
Swallowing against the sudden knot of fear in her stomach she forced herself to thank the three crewmen and headed for the nearest lift. She didnt relax until the lift doors had closed behind her and then she had to scrub the tears from her cheeks.
"God DAMN him."
Closing her eyes she hugged herself and took a few deep breaths, Maria managed to get herself more or less under control by the time the lift came to a stop.
The small woman was halfway down the corridor when her steps slowed to a stop.
I should tell the Captain.
The thought had taken her by surprise, but now, the more she thought about it the more she knew she would have to. Her family would have to fend for themselves when they returned, but Witworth was a potential problem, and if there was one thing that Pathfinder didnt need more of, it was that.
Fine, she wants me to be her XO, shes going to have to deal with me showing up at strange hours with problems to bring to her attention.
Slowly, then with more composure and certainty, she turned around and headed back the way shed come. The Captains quarters were at the far end of the corridor, nearest to the bridge.
Maybe she can help me?
It would mean opening up to a stranger, but maybe it was time. Her steps slowed to a stop as indecision once more claimed her. Maria looked behind her, back the way shed come, then the way she was headed, truly torn as to which way was the best. If she kept going it would mean exposing not only something she considered a personal problem, but a threat to her family itself. It was a large leap to take with someone who she actively considered an enemy at even the best of times so far. Despite her best judgment shed started to move forward once more when suddenly the door to the Captains quarters slid open.
She just had time to back up around the corner before the two people framed in the doorway spotted her.
I should just leave.
The XO did nothing of the sort though; instead she edged back to the side of the corridor and peeked around. Green eyes widened as she watched Kuzmin and Svetlana, she couldnt understand a word they were saying, but the body language spoke volumes. The Captain was leaning towards the weapons officer, and Maria knew what lust looked like when she saw it.
Despite whatever the tall dark haired woman was saying, Kuzmin shook her head and started to back away. Pausing, she stepped forward again and gently reached up to kiss Svetlana. Maria could feel her face begin to burn as she watched what had begun as a simple peck on the lips evolve into an involved open-mouthed kiss. Abruptly Kuzmin backed fully out of the captains quarters, panting but shaking her head at the tall dark haired woman. With a wave the blonde turned and headed down the corridor away from the actually pouting Captain. All thoughts of approaching the dark haired woman gone, Maria slipped away, back towards her own quarters.
Shes sleeping with her weaponry officer, great, just great.
Maria refused to contemplate why that fact annoyed her so much.
Former executive officer Tom Witworth angrily stalked down the corridor back towards his new quarters. At least he was still a lieutenant commander and could order people around for now.
How dare that little bitch throw me out of my own quarters? Damn her! When we get back Im going to get father to make her family have a rather nasty accident.
Sneering at a group of crewmembers he passed, mostly Republic crew he noted, he entered his new living accommodations. They were much smaller than his last quarters, and once more he could feel the rage building. If hed only just had a few more minutes alone with that small little bitch he could have shown her the error of her ways.
He was so intent on his hate that he had stepped completely into the small room before he realized that there was someone already sitting in the lone chair.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Commander Witworth is it now?"
The other mans voice was quiet and measured as he studied Witworth intently.
"You know damn well Im not XO anymore, get out of here before I toss you in the brig."
"Oh really? You think our new Captain would allow that?"
Witworth kicked at the small end table, sending it flying.
"I think you should listen to my proposition first."
"Why should I listen to you, your not even an officer?"
"Because I work for Naval Intelligence and I hate our new captain as much as you hate the old one. Perhaps we could help one another?"
Witworth eyed the man warily, if he worked for Naval Intell gears spun behind the former XOs eyes and he grinned slowly, nastily.
"What did you have in mind?"
"Sparky, whats going on?"
The engineer wiped at her brow and glowered at the power read outs.
Maria slapped the chief engineer on the shoulder.
"I hear you were lurking around med bay a few days ago?"
"Heh, maybe, hand me that cable?"
Maria crawled a bit deeper into the access hatch and obligingly handed over the cable in question. Giving her friend a minute before prodding her again.
A flash of multicolored hair showed as Sparky shifted around.
"I dont know what youre talking about, Skipper. Why are you down here bothering me anyway?"
"There was a dispute over in the hydroponics bay so I straightened things out. Dont change the subject though, what were you doing?"
Sparky cursed as something showered sparks all over the conduit below.
"Damn it, stupid cloaking device. Do you know how much power this thing draws?"
Rolling her eyes the smaller auburn haired woman leaned back against the access hatch.
"Stop trying to change the subject. What were you doing?"
"If you must know, you nosy person you, I was helping a damsel in distress."
Laughing, Maria watched as the coil of cabling by her feet slowly played out as the chief engineer used it. Thinking back on the unexpected sight shed stumbled on last night, the laughter died away and she leaned back into the access hatch.
"Sparky, I hope you dont have a thing for this Kuzmin."
The cable stopped moving, and a dozen feet below a multicolored head poked up from behind part of the Nova drive itself.
"What if I did?"
"Because shes with the Captain."
Maria had to chuckle at the expression on her friends face.
"What? Shes with the ice queen? No way, not my sweet princess!"
"Believe it, Sparky, so no making googly eyes at the weapons officer," she said dryly as the auburn haired woman leaned back against the hatch cover once more.
"She just hasnt had time to get to know me."
Maria groaned and let her head fall back against the wall. She knew that tone; it was pointless trying to argue her friend out of anything when she was being this stubborn.
"Do me a favor? Dont make a pass at Kuzmin while Svetlanas around, ok?"
Sparky chuckled and finished connecting the cable. It only took her a few seconds to gather her things, then the chief engineer started climbing up towards the hatch.
"Svetlana? Are we on a first name basis now?"
"God no, Bear told me her first name."
"Oh he did, and why did her former XO do that for you, Miss XO?"
Maria rolled her eyes and stood, helping her friend with the tool kits.
"Because he was trying to teach me how to say her name."
"You mean you werent joking when you mispronounced it?"
Maria sighed once more as Sparky laughed.
"Yuck it up, you multicolored freak."
"Dont mind if I do, Maria. Oh come on, I know you kind of suck at learning languages but how hard can it be?"
"You dont want to know."
Still chuckling at her friend, the taller chief engineer began packing away the tool kits in central engineering.
"I warned you, Sparky, just be careful ok?"
Maria laughed, already heading down the corridor towards the nearest lift. Ignoring the startled look a few nearby crewmembers gave her at that, she nodded.
"Ive got other people to terrorize, see you later."
"You are going to run out of ways to mispronounce my last name, Miss Ramirez."
The smaller woman shrugged, matching the Captains longer strides.
"I have a good imagination."
The taller woman chose to ignore that and kept on moving down the hallway.
"Did you have any particular reason for searching me out, XO?"
Why cant I have Bear as my XO anymore? Marias starting to get annoying, how hard is it to pronounce my last name?
Wordlessly Maria held out the message pad for Svetlana to take. The dark haired Captain stopped at the side of the corridor, letting crewmembers stream past them as she read the brief message on the screen of the small device. Raven eyebrows rose slightly at the words on the screen and she handed it back to the curiously amused smaller woman.
"Something amusing, Miss Ramirez?"
"I just find it funny that your precious cloak, which none of my officers have even gotten to look at yet, is about to cause a power conduit to explode."
Keeping her face schooled, Svetlana started walking once more, she wasnt about to give the smaller woman the satisfaction of seeing how annoyed she was today.
"How long ago did you get that message?"
Matching her move, the XO followed her down the corridor.
"Davie just got it to me and was going to page you. I told him Id find you myself."
Svetlana glanced at the woman besides her, narrowing her eyes at how pleased Maria seemed.
Shes getting entirely too much pleasure from telling me that my ships prized possession is going to cause a power conduit to explode.
"The chief engineer is waiting for us?"
"So says the message. Im betting Sparky has a few ideas about how we can get around this problem so it wont happen again."
Now shes making sure to point out how good her officers are. I notice she doesnt say anything about her former XO, Witworth.
"Any way we can avoid having the conduit explode?"
Maria waited for the lift to arrive and for them to step in before answering that one.
"No, I took a look at the readings. Its one of the auxiliary drive conduits. Wed have to vent drive plasma to get rid of the feedback thats building up in it. It looks like Sparkys got her people trying to siphon off as much of the drive plasma into the back up containment systems as possible, but the conduits going to blow before she gets it all."
The Captain crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the lift doors.
"Youre telling me that we are going to lose drive plasma one way or the other, Maria?"
The smaller woman rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, nodding.
"Easier to repair the conduit than replace all the drive plasma. The sections already evacuated."
"How long do we have?"
Maria shrugged, motioning vaguely towards the ceiling of the lift.
"Thomas was running calculations, but he couldnt narrow it down very much. Weve got at least an hour though, probably a little more before it goes."
The lift slowed to a stop and once more Svetlana led the way down the corridor. They were in the belly of the ship now and they both fell silent as they passed through the hydroponics sections. The Captain was amused to see Maria looked a bit worried, obviously scanning around for the old man shed introduced on the first hurried tour of the ship.
They made it into the lower decks of the engineering section without encountering the admiral though, and Maria relaxed as they passed the first of the ships machine shops. Here members of both the Kursk and the Pegasus labored to fashion every piece of equipment that couldnt be salvaged from the Kursk. Work here proceeded around the clock, day in and day out, and would continue to do so until the ship was ready to go. Further back the corridor became more and more deserted, until they passed into the area that had been evacuated. Heavy blast doors sealed the entire section and Svetlana had to punch in a newly memorized security code to open them and allow herself and the XO further back into the bowels of the ships Nova drive.
"I dont see what is so important about me checking out this power relay. I know its going to blow, you know its going to blow, hell, even Carl knows its going to blow. Why do I have to check it?" complained Sparky to a sympathetic Kuzmin. "Theres not much we can do except time when its going to go and contain it. Why did Worthless send us down here to check it one more time?"
Sparky stopped her one-sided conversation when she noticed another door to the room open and Maria and the Captain step through. In a split second, it all made sense. As Sparky cried out and jumped for the door, the blast doors on both sides of the room slammed shut, trapping the four of them inside the room with a bad power relay.
"Shit, shit, shit, shit SHIT!" screamed Sparky. "I should have known he was going to do this. I should have questioned it, I should have told him to kiss my ass, but no-o; I was sure he was too stupid to come up with something like this." As Sparky was dancing around berating herself, the other 3 inhabitants of the room were trying unsuccessfully to open one of the two sets of doors into the room.
"Will you stop that and come help us open these doors!" snapped Svetlana.
Maria had stopped trying to open the door and was listening to her engineers babbling. "Who sent you down here, Sparky?" she asked, fearing the truth.
"Witworth," the engineer ground out.
The XOs face paled and she sank to the deck. "This is the room with the main line thats going to blow, isnt it?"
Sparky nodded and sat down next to her friend. The two Republic officers noticed that their efforts were not being reciprocated by the Coalition officers and stopped to listen to the conversation.
"Can you get us out?" Maria asked her friend.
"If I was on the other side of the door, yes. No problem. On this side," and here the engineers face looked bleak, "No. Were trapped."
"Did you tell anyone you were coming down here?" questioned Svetlana.
Sparky looked at her new captain. "Yeah, I told Alyona," and she jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the blushing weapons officer. "She asked to come with me. I guess she likes me." Sparky wiggled her eyebrows at Svetlana, knowing that it would piss the Captain off to know that the engineer was making time with Kuzmin. I dont care if Alyona is sleeping with the Captain. Its just cause she hadnt met me yet.
"Alyona, huh?" muttered Svetlana darkly, glaring at her first officer who didnt even try to hide her grin.
"I was concerned that the backlash from the relay would damage the cloak, Captain," explained Kuzmin. "I wanted to see how the Pegasus engineers were isolating this circuit." Kuzmin looked up at Svetlana from where she was studying the deck near her feet. "Witworth said they were encountering a problem with the isolation circuitry. That is why we came down to investigate."
"We will discuss this later," snapped Svetlana in Russian. "Why does that person," and she waved her hand at Sparky, "feel the need to address you by your first name? How cozy are you?" the captain seethed.
"Uh oh," muttered Maria to the engineer as the two Republic officers continued to exchange words in Russian, "looks like someones in trouble." She grabbed Sparkys arm as the engineer made a move as if to stand up to interfere between the two lovers. "I think youve done quite enough for now, Spike." The engineer settled back down beside the XO. Sparky knew Maria was serious when she used the hated first name.
"How long until they blow the relay?" questioned Maria as the exchange between the two Russians started to heat up.
Sparky shrugged. "I had my people monitoring the situations. Once the power fluxes hit a certain set point, I told them to call me and wed decide from there?"
"And what happens if they cant get a hold of you?"
"They have instructions to safely detonate it if I was indisposed. Although I was hoping to be indisposed with Commander Kuzmin, I hadnt really planned on you and the unpronounceable one to be in the equation as well." The engineer waggled her eyebrows.
Maria laughed at her engineers antics. "I think you are playing with fire," she sing songed to her friend.
"Like you can talk," replied Sparky in the same manner.
With one last spat of angry words towards Kuzmin, who then spun away from Svetlana and crossed her arms, the Republic captain stomped over to where the two Coalition officers were lounging against the wall, enjoying the show.
"How about you explain the reason your," Svetlana stressed the word, "executive officer felt the need to lock us all in here?"
Maria shrugged, "He doesnt like me. You shot his knee off and Sparky is the only one who can safely get us out of here. I think Kuzmin was an accident if it makes you feel better," she offered.
Svetlana ground her teeth in an effort to resist the temptation of picking up the smaller woman and shaking her until the Spaniard started making sense. If she did that, she might damage what few brain cells the XO was using. "Ok. I noticed some tension between you and Witworth was it?" at a nod from Sparky, "Yes, Witworth, when I first came on board. Would you care to elaborate on why he felt the urge to risk my crews wrath to kill us?"
Maria barked out a laugh, "I doubt he thought far enough a head to consider the consequences of his actions. Hes kind of an instant gratification guy," she replied bitterly.
"Aint that the truth," muttered Sparky. "But on a bright note, if we get out of here, you will space him, right?"
"Only if you tell me what his problem with you is?" pressed Svetlana.
Maria looked at the floor. "We just dont have a compatible command style."
"Oh get off it!" exploded Sparky. "Why are you protecting him? He cant hurt your parents out here." Marias head shot up and she looked at her engineer in shock. "Thats right, your parents. You thought that we wouldnt find out?" She shook her head. "Why do you thing hes been safe from shipboard accidents? If we hadnt known that he was using your parents against you, dont you think he would have died within 20 minutes of stepping onto this ship?" Sparky slumped against the wall. "Dont you know that this crew would do anything for you?" She looked at Maria with tears in her eyes, "even let a fucking Republican come in and take over this ship if you ask us too?"
Maria sat there in shock as she absorbed what her friend just reveled to her. They knew! They all knew and thats the only reason hes still alive.
Svetlana crouched down in front of her acquired engineer and gently turned her head to face the captain. "What did this piece of shit do to your captain?" she asked again, quietly.
Sparky sniffled. "He tried to rape her. If Carl and I hadnt walked in " her voice trailed off. "His parents rigged the court martial, and he got put right back on this ship. And her parents," she looked over at Maria who refused to meet anyones eyes. "Her parents well being is dependent on the whims of his family. They control the colony her family lives on."
Svetlanas awareness of the world around her dimmed until all she could hear was her own heartbeat. She swiftly stood up and strode over to a bulkhead and started beating on the wall. The pain and anger the story awoke in her forced out all reason until the blackness had been worked through.
Kuzmin carefully worked her way around the screaming and cursing captain to sit next to her new friend Sparky. "She has a how you say? Hot button? When it comes to rape and abuse of power."
The two Coalition officers just sat there stunned at the display being put on in front of them by Svetlanas rage.
"What happened?" questioned Sparky finally.
Kuzmin began to explain in a hesitating voice. "We went to school together, da? She is cousin to the ruler, so she has much influence though she never uses it. Her friend, who was there because she was smart, was from a poor? Yes, poor family. One day, Tasha, she caught the eye of one of the older students, from an influential family. Only Tasha, she doesnt like Mikhail, so she ignores him. Mikhail, he is used to getting his own way, so he takes what he wants. Svetla, she finds Tasha on the floor of their room, after." Kuzmin looks down at her hands as Svetlana continued to rage against the wall. "She called me in and together we convinced her to press charges. His family got him off, too. Then they arranged accidents for Tashas family. Bad accidents, da?" Sparky and Maria nod in understanding. " And Tasha, she feels guilty so she " and here Kuzmin was too choked up to continue. "Svetla found her then too, and she went and found Mikhail, and she beat him to death." The two Coalition officers gasped in horror. "Since her family was more powerful than his, she got away with it. From that day, I have never seen her use her family name or power, though she has had ample opportunity to do so."
The three of them sat there in silence, watching the Republic captain wear herself out against the wall.
Damn, she put dents in the wall! was Sparkys thoughts.
She will have to see the doctor and have her hands fixed again, Kuzmin worried.
Marias thoughts were different than the others. Shes mad because someone hurt me. Even if it was something that set off her own ghosts; still, shes concerned about me, and someone hurting me. The XO said back and mulled over those thoughts.
To be continued.