Pathfinder: Part 6

Disclaimers: The usual legal babble; sexual situations, homosexual situations (maybe), violence, bad language. Big thanks to CaylD for her help on beta reading this. She helps make it a lot more readable. The more feedback we get, the faster we write:


"Commodore Guillermont, ETA on the Augusta."

The tall, slender man didn’t even glance up from his control panel as he sorted all the information flooding into the flag bridge.

"Captain Roth says they’ll be ready for the pulse in three minutes, Admiral."

Senior Admiral Erin Callejo bit back a curse. Three minutes would feel like an eternity. There were quite a few Admirals who would have screamed at the Captain of the Explorer ship until it happened. However, Erin didn’t believe it helped in situations like this. Unfortunately, though, it didn’t make sitting and waiting any easier.

What had begun as a routine search for the missing Search and Rescue ship Pegasus, had led the Fourth Coalition fleet to the neutral zone between the Coalition and the Republic. A Republic fleet had shown up at the same time searching for one of their missing ships, half of which had been found floating around in the middle of the border.

The Republic ships had then launched what appeared to be hostile missiles, but unfortunately, Captain Quaril and his battle squadron had opened fire before the objects had been positively identified as only sensor probes. The Coalition regrettably entered into an unwanted exchange of missiles with the Republic fleet. In the firefight that had resulted, it looked like the Coalition ships had demolished the Republic’s fleet of outdated, surplus Coalition ships.

Even Erin had thought that they had won until the heavy cruiser Ajax had blown apart. Then, she realized what had happened.

There were more Republic ships out there, cloaked and invisible to the Coalition fleet’s sensors.

I swear I’m going to make Quaril pay for dragging us into this.

The admiral had no doubt that reinforcements on both sides of the border were being mobilized, but right now she was too busy trying to keep her own Fleet alive to worry about what was happening elsewhere. She couldn’t fight what she couldn’t see; it was as simple as that.

The repeated attacks coming out of nowhere had forced her to draw the Fleet further back from the Republic border. She launched fighters to form a defensive globe around the entire flotilla in a, so far, futile attempt to try to locate the ships who were firing on them.

I don’t even know how many there are!

Gritting her teeth she sat still in her crash chair, waiting and praying.


The all too familiar call went up from the tactical officer at the same moment the incoming missiles appeared on the main holographic display. A full contingency of thirty-eight missiles raced through the fighters’ envelope.

Lieutenant Fernando Argez, the official liaison officer between the flag bridge and the flagship, Carrier Invincible, called out the Fleet’s reactions as the missiles raced in.

"CIC identifies thirty-eight hostiles."

Erin studied her own console, rapidly scanning through the projected heading of the missiles and then quickly, but calmly, gave orders.

"Order the Fleet to Defensive Pattern Two – One."

She realized it wouldn’t do much good, but it was better than just sitting there totally vulnerable. With the belated warning, there wasn’t enough time to rearrange the ships into the best protective pattern to counter the incoming salvos of missiles. They tried their best though. The fighters took out seven as the remaining missiles raced past them. Then, they entered the defensive weapons envelope of the Fleet. Counter missiles and lasers streaked through space, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with the wildly evading, enemy missiles.

ONI underestimated the Republic’s missile technology, again. They’re still behind us, but not by much.

Erin forced herself to remain analytical, to study the missiles as they streaked in. Another dozen lost their targets as jammers blinded the homicidal computers built into the missiles and then, decoys lured them away so they detonated harmlessly in space. Ten more blew apart as counter missiles slammed into them.

That still left nine missiles to find their target.

The light cruiser Pelentia didn’t have a chance. Her shield was no match for fury of the nine nuclear warheads that detonate within meters of her hull. One second, she was there, the next, she was an expanding ball of flame and wreckage taking all three hundred and eighty crewmembers to their graves.

Like claws, Erin’s hands gripped the arms of her crash chair.

We can’t keep losing ships like this. People are going to break without something concrete to fire back at.

"Any sign of escape pods?" she whispered, but her voice sounded loud in the deathly quiet flag bridge.

Guillermont’s voice sounded as stunned as her own. "No sign of any, Admiral."

Erin forced herself to loosen her grip on the chair arms.

"How long until the Augusta is ready with scan pulse, Commodore?"

He visibly shook off the shock."They report that they are ready to attempt the pulse now. Captain Roth warns again that this may blow out the Augusta’s primary sensor dish and disable their NOVA drive."

"Acknowledged. Tell him to proceed."

The Augusta was an Explorer class ship, the sister ship of the missing Pegasus. Its sensor package was second to none. Ever since they’d first encountered the cloaked Republic ships, her crew had been racing against time to find a way to detect them. They came up with a way to emit a NOVA pulse without the ship moving that should allow them to get a brief image of everything within a few million kilometers. It wouldn’t last long, but at least it would give Erin something to target and she would find out how many ships they were facing.

Energy crackled along the hull of the Augusta as her NOVA engines were engaged. The ships sails were not raised and she stayed stationary as the pulse was emitted through the ship’s sensor dish. It swept outwards from the ship, illuminating everything around it.

It showed the eight Republic cruisers that had continued to harass her ships operating beyond the sphere of fighters. The same moment they were exposed, the rest of the fleet, having been prepped for this very moment, opened fire on them. It revealed her own fleet’s position, clearly showing every single vessel and fighter that she had.

It also highlighted the ship that was broadside to the Augusta.

The Admiral’s eye widened in horror as she realized what she saw.

She didn’t even have time to bark a command before the clandestine Republic ship in her formation, blew the Explorer ship Augusta apart. With the ship’s death, so died the sensor pulse and any chance of finding any more of the cloaked Republic ships.

Numbly, Erin gave the only order she could.

"Prepare to retreat."


"That bitch broke my nose!"

The chief medical officer grunted in frustration and once more shoved the irate chief engineer back down into her seat.

"Sit still or I won’t get this to align right."

"But she…"

"I said, ‘sit down’."

Sparky sat, grumbling as Carl van Reiss worked to accelerate the healing of her nose. The small, hand-held bone knitter he was using sped up the process considerably and his skill would make certain that her nose set straight. This wasn’t the first broken nose he’d treated since the two crews had merged. He was getting a lot of practice.

From her seat by Kuzmin, Maria watched as Carl finished his treatment. She knew that most of the crew had probably heard about the fight by now, especially since she and Kuzmin had half carried the still dazed Sparky down the ship’s corridors towards the Med Bay.

Carl had met them at the door, taken one look at the way the head weapons officer was swaying and given her a sedative. Only then did he lead Sparky to one of the triage rooms and begin working on her nose. Maria glanced over at the sleeping Kuzmin. Whatever Carl had given her had knocked the blond weapons officer out within minutes. Probably a good thing, considering she had looked like she was on the verge of a collapse.

"Carl, I need a minute alone with Sparky."

The doctor opened his mouth to object, saw the look on her face, and reconsidered. With a silent nod, he took his equipment and stepped outside. The doors hadn’t even slid closed behind him before Sparky started.

"That bitch broke my nose. She's a psycho!"

"You’re lucky that's all she did. I told you to stay out of it, Sparky."

"I was trying to defend Alyona!"

At that, Maria, glanced towards Kuzmin.

"On a first name basis, are we? Sparky, you probably made things worse."

"How can you say that? I was just trying to help inter-crew relations." Sparky smirked, and then winced as her expression agitated her sore nose.

Maria's expression darkened as she stared at her friend, who was making fun of the entire situation.

"Sparky, this isn't funny. I warned you to stop meddling!"

"Yeah, yeah. Who knew that the Russian bitch was crazy?" The engineer hopped off the table.

"Sit down." Maria's voice was quiet, her tone, serious. "We aren't done talking yet."

"Just let me check on Kuzmin," Sparky ignored the order from her friend and started walking towards the unconscious weapon's officer.

Maria's face reddened. Obviously, there was a failure to communicate here, something she never thought she'd have with her friend. "Engineer Beauchamp, you damn well better come back and sit down. Now. Unless you want to be relieved of your position?"

Sparky's face registered shock at the tone of Maria's voice and she quickly sat back on the table.

"Dammit, Sparky, if you were anyone else, I'd have you up on charges of neglecting your duties! We activated the NOVA drive without our chief engineer in Engineering, then I go down to find you goading the Captain… and she is the Captain until I tell you otherwise… into hitting you! Do you think this is all just so you can have a love life? I sacrificed my fucking position as CAPTAIN to get this crew home! You are not going to screw this up. Got it?"

Maria’s voice had risen until she was practically screaming when she finished her tirade.

"I've NEVER neglected my duties!" Sparky jumped up and got into Maria's face. "Since when have you cared who I've gotten involved with? I seem to recall some of YOUR recent escapades."

Maria winced, she'd expected something of the sort, but it still hurt to hear it. The smaller woman stood her ground, staring up at the Engineer’s face, framed by her spiked and rainbow-colored hair.

Maria's voice was ice cold when she replied.

"My indiscretions, as you so nicely put them, never placed this crew in danger. By now, the entire ship probably knows what happened between you and the Captain. You’re lucky we're not in the middle of an armed revolt right now! But since the well-being of this crew doesn't seem to enter into your mind right now, try this on for size."

Taking a breath her lips curled in something that would never be considered a friendly smile.

"You pull another stunt like that and I'll strip you of rank so fast you won't know what happened. You'll be scrubbing plasma vents until you wish you were dead, and even then I'll keep you going. Do I Make Myself Crystal Clear?" Maria hissed through clenched teeth. She was furious for more reasons than she wanted to think about right now.

"That's bullshit, Maria, and you know it," scoffed Sparky. "You don't have anyone else that can run this engineering crew and you know it." Sparky crossed her arms impertinently. "And is it my fault that Alyona got tired of being the Captain’s whore and came to me for comfort?"

Maria's face twitched in surprise at the outright defiance. Taking a step back, Maria spun and angrily strode towards the wall mounted com unit and slammed her fist down on the button. Davy answered her call. "Get Major Dononov down to Med Bay one. Tell her to bring some of her men."

Sparky looked at Maria incredulously. "What the fuck do you think you are doing?" she demanded.

Maria crossed her arms over her chest, clenching her fists to keep herself from punching Sparky. Part of this was her fault, she supposed, she'd let Sparky get away with practically murder in the past, but she couldn’t ignore her this time. Insubordination couldn't be tolerated, even if she was her best friend. Silently, she glared at the chief engineer while they waited for the Marine major to show up.

The door opened and Major Dononov stepped through. "Yes, Commander?" she inquired politely, taking in the scene with a raised eyebrow.

"Lieutenant Commander Beauchamp is to be restricted to her quarters except in the execution of her duties. She will be escorted from her quarters to Engineering when she is needed, and then back to her quarters. I believe Bear holds a degree in Engineering?"

The Marine Major rocked back on her heels, the only indication of her startlement. "Yes, Commander," Dononov said neutrally. She turned to Sparky and used her arm to indicate the Engineer should precede her out the door. "If you please, Commander Beauchamp?"

With one last glare at the diminutive Spaniard, Sparky brushed by the Major without a word. The door opened to reveal two more Marines standing outside of the Med Bay door. With a nod from the Major, they took up flanking positions next to the irate engineer.

"A moment, Major," said Maria.

Major Dononov waited and let the doors close.

"How did you get here so fast?" asked the first officer.

The Major smiled a humorless smile. "Anytime there's a fight, I need to be there. Anytime that there is a fight between ranking officers, I need to be there immediately."

"And the reactions of the crew?" pressed Maria.

"Mixed. I’m sure my Marines will be making their presence known in the coming days."

She flinched at the assessment. Not the sort of message Maria wanted to inflict on the ship’s personnel, but if that’s what it took, well then, so be it. She stepped aside to let Carl get back inside the examining room to look after Kuzmin.

It’s already been a long day, but I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon.

She still had to face the Captain. Maria had every intention of stalking out of the Med Bay and tracking her down. But regardless of what had just occurred, the ship and her crew just had to be ready when they got to the source of the alien signals.

She stopped halfway to the blast doors, whirling around as a sudden thought hit her. "Major Dononov, have you ever played Zero G Hockey?"

The Major looked slightly confused, indicating the diminutive redhead had truly caught the Marine off guard with the non-sequitor.

"Da. Why?"

For the first time since the day had started, Maria smiled. "Good, I'll be seeing you soon then." A nod to the curious Carl, she left them both alone with the still unconscious Kuzmin. The wheels in her mind slowly turning as she considered a way to get the ships crew to bond.


Maria made a detour through the bridge to make sure that Theodore was keeping an eye on things. She'd managed to get away without the head scientist talking her ear off about all the new discoveries his section was making. Before pressing the admittance chime to what used to be her old quarters, she cleared her throat, squared her shoulders and prepared for battle.

"Come!" came a muffled voice through the door.

Not knowing what to expect, she took a small step through the doorway as the doors slid apart. Green eyes scanned the room for signs of occupants.

Bear seemed to be towering over Svetlana, who was seated on a chair in front of him. Maria wasn't sure what had been going on in the room before her admittance, as the man's fists were clenched and his face was bright red. The Captain was looking at the floor between her feet.

Maria made a snap decision. "Bear, I've just confined Sparky to her quarters except for when she is needed in Engineering. I understand you have an engineering background?"

The man turned and looked thoughtfully at the Spaniard. "Yes, I do."

"Can you take over the day to day operations until Sparky is released?"

The man gave a classic Gallic shrug. "Yes."

The captain looked up and started to say something but was cut off by her First Officer.


Bear frowned as he looked back at the captain, clearly torn as to whether he should stay or go. In the end, he nodded and left. He obviously wasn't getting through to Lana, maybe the little spitfire would, he thought.

Maria waited for the doors to the Captain's quarters to slide shut behind the tall man. Only then did she glance at the Captain. Her voice started low, almost conversational.

"Sparky’s nose was cleanly broken. Carl says if you had hit at more of an upward angle, you would have driven bone up into her brain."

Svetlana stood and walked over to her liquor cabinet. "Good thing she's too short for me to get that angle then, isn't it." the Captain replied bluntly.

Green eyes sparkled with anger, but Maria still kept her voice low.

"Carl set her nose. He also gave a sedative to Kuzmin."

The brunette froze for a second and then continued to fix herself a drink.

"Is she ok?" she asked casually.

"Carl is keeping her under observation for the night. She was still out of it when I left." Maria's voice became darker as she hissed. "What the hell do you think you were doing? You assaulted a senior officer!"

"She had poked her nose in my personal business!" roared Svetlana, throwing her glass against the far wall. "She stopped being an officer when she deliberately started causing friction between me and my lover. I warned her, and I assume, you warned her as well!"

Maria's lips curled back as she stalked towards the Captain.

"Oh please, you lost your temper and took it out on one of my officers! I don't know how you do things in the Republic, but do you know what would happen if you were in the Coalition? You'd be up for a court martial… at the very least!"

She took a breath and continued the attack. "Your actions might have just, single-handedly, wiped out whatever trust or goodwill has developed between our two crews!"

Svetlana snapped, "In the Republic, the situation would never have gotten to a point where violence would have been considered." But she couldn't look Maria in the eye as she spoke. She was well aware that if Misha had lived, this situation would have definitely happened.

"Your crew lacks the discipline to follow orders!" She belligerently shouted.

"My crew?" Maria's voice was derisive as she flung up her hands and pointed at the Captain. "My crew is not responsible for my engineer being beaten up. My crew is not responsible for the Weapons officer to be unconscious while we're heading into what is probably a hostile situation. You lost your temper. You could have handled the situation a dozen different ways!"

"How? How, in your infinite wisdom, do you see me NOT getting emotionally involved in the destruction of my relationship with Yona?" Svetlana was waving her arms around wildly while approaching the smaller woman.

"If you can't keep your temper under control and avoid hitting people whose only act was to ask you to leave someone alone, you have no business being the Captain of this ship." There, she'd said it. Until that very moment, Maria hadn't even been certain she'd wanted to say that.

The brunette ran her hands through her hair in frustration. "Are you not seeing the same situation that I am? Are we even talking about the same thing?" she looked wildly at Maria. "Or were you helping her? Giving her tips and inside information on how to hamstring me. Bear mentioned that you were asking about my relationship with her," Svetlana pointed an accusing finger at the other woman.

With sudden anger, Maria shook her fist back at her and snarled, "I have done nothing but attempt to ensure that this ship and BOTH crews make it home. How dare you accuse me of trying to sabotage you!"

Not that the thought hadn't entered her mind, but it still stung to be vocally accused of it. More so because she'd been sure she'd done the right thing when she'd supported the Captain in front of the crewmembers.

"Get your act together, Captain." The title was scornful. "Or have you forgotten that you're responsible for getting all of us all home now?"

The verbal slap pulled Svetlana up short. "You are right. I am responsible to get both crews home." She glared balefully at the smaller woman and growled, "But all bets are off once we get there."

She stalked over to her desk, sat down behind it and looked at her First Officer.

"Do you have any suggestions on damage control?" she asked through clenched teeth. " I must say, I liked the first thing you did by locking up that freak of an engineer."

Maria had pushed the Captain as far as she dared and knew it wouldn't get her anywhere to keep going. So, she ignored Svetlana's petty name calling and answered the question at face value, "The Chief Engineer was restricted to quarters for disobeying the orders of a superior officer."

Maria's glance was hard as she met the Captain's blue eyes. "I believe that we need something to get the crew to forget all about today, and bond a bit, before we reach the alien signals."

"And how do you suggest we do this little bonding thing?"

The Spaniard considered answering that they should toss a certain hot-tempered captain out of an air lock. Instead, she forced away her annoyance and once more answered the question reasonably.

"Zero G Hockey. Two teams, randomly chosen members from both crews who can play."

Svetlana looked at her blankly. "Excuse me. Could you repeat that? I thought you said hockey."

Maria arched an eyebrow and curled her lips. "I did. What, you aren't big on team sports? I think it would do wonders for crew morale."

"No, it's not that." Svetlana smirked. "I just didn't think you 'politically correct' pansies appreciated a good competitive game, much less played it."

"Politically correct pansies?" Maria hissed. She grounded her teeth together and spat, "I'll see you in the rink, Captain."


As always, the news spread fast.

While the NOVA drive was engaged, there wasn’t much to occupy the crew. Only engineering was fully staffed, the rest of the sections were mostly running on a skeleton crew. NOVA drive usually gave people the chance to relax and prepare for what they would be facing once the ship emerged again into normal space.

However, all it was doing now was giving the two crews ample opportunity to get into trouble.

During the short time she spent giving the Captain a piece of her mind, three separate fights had broken out. By the time Maria arrived back in her new quarters, two more had erupted.

Major Dononov was true to her word, though; the Republic Marine and her people seemed to be everywhere at once.

One of the smaller shuttle bays had been turned into a makeshift brig.

At this rate, we’re going to need more places to stick everyone.

There was already a list of names waiting on her computer of hopeful volunteers for the Zero G hockey game. She was happy to see that some of them were Republican crewmembers. None of whom she knew well enough, but she’d ask Major Dononov to decide if they were good enough to play.

It wasn’t even halfway through a normal shipboard day and yet, so much had already happened that the XO suddenly worried if her idea was a good one. Perhaps she should have just let the two sides cool off until they reached the source of the alien signals. Then they would be forced to work together.

Maria groaned and shook her head as she peeled off her uniform, leaving a trail of clothing behind her. She’d figure it out after a good, hot shower.

She would have killed for the chance of a bath, but was still grateful for the shower. The mildly scalding water felt incredibly good as it pounded down on her back. Leaning her head against the side of the shower stall, Maria closed her eyes and wondered how she’d gotten into this mess in the first place.

Madness and despair lay that way she determined and she forced herself to think about something else as she grabbed a handful of soap gel.

What the hell happened between Sparky and me?

Working up a lather with the soap, Maria began washing herself wildly, almost as if she were trying to wash away the memory of the incident with her best friend and chief engineer.

We’ve never argued like that!

Frowning, she started to rinse off. That had been the worst fight the two of them had ever gotten into. They had never gotten so angry at one another before. Even after the incident with Helena when Sparky had been upset that Maria might have put her career in jeopardy over a brief, but intensive, fling. There had been a bit of yelling, but nothing like the angry exchange that had just occurred.

I didn’t confine her to her quarters back then, that’s for sure.

She should have stayed away from Kuzmin, though. Why did she just have to keep pushing it with the Captain?

She paused suddenly, green eyes widening, as several thoughts hit at once.

Maria didn’t like either of them.


I am not jealous of either Sparky or Kuzmin.

That is NOT the reason I came down so hard on Sparky.

Nope. No way.

Firmly ignoring any and all thoughts about Sparky, Kuzmin and especially the Captain, Maria dried herself off, pulled on clean clothes and settled down to draw up the teams.


Near the aft of Pathfinder was a long rectangular room where the SAR teams were trained in zero gravity maneuvers. It had other uses as well, such as Zero G Hockey. Two 6x6 foot nets had been installed at either side of the room. The four metallic sides would soon become the game’s playing field. The gravity would be turned off when the game started. Each player would use mag boots for clamping onto the walls; a button in their gloves would allow the competitors to switch off the boots in order to jump to surrounding walls.

Cameras had been wired into place so the entire ships crew could watch the coming game.

Julia LeClare, the head of the ship’s SAR contingent, had been waiting patiently for Maria to arrive at the converted shuttle bay. Maria had been held up by the reports of four new fights and had been stopped repeatedly in the corridors by crewmembers asking if they could be on the hockey team.

She was pleasantly encouraged by the interest and truly hoped this idea would work in diffusing some of the tension aboard the ship.

"Hey, Skipper."

Maria rolled her eyes. "I’m not the skipper anymore, Julia."

The well-built, dark-haired woman shrugged, grinning at her.

"Whatever you say, Skipper."

Maria snorted and handed Julia one of the two data pads she was carrying. "Here's our team." The stocky woman scanned the list quickly, blinking in surprise at some of the names.

"What is this?" Julia asked in confusion. The list of names she held was not the team she was used to playing with.

Maria shrugged. "Mixed teams, Julia."

The senior SAR Tech rolled her eyes, muttering under her breath. She loved to play Zero G Hockey. Julia was built to be a center. The endless hours of practicing to rescue people trapped inside of starships had given the head of the SAR team a sturdy, strong frame. She also moved in zero gravity as if she was dancing. She didn’t like the idea of changing her teammates. They had molded into quite a formidable team. But, unfortunately, this was Maria’s call, and she realized there was no way that the XO was going to have a Coalition and Republic team play against each other.

The XO also loved to play Zero G Hockey. She was a goalie and good at it, too. She might not be as elegant as Julia in zero gravity, but she had the quick reflexes needed for tending goal.

The two didn't have to wait long for the other players to show up. Maria had asked Davie to round up the crewmembers that she and Dononov had agreed upon. There would be two teams of twelve people each; but only six people per team would be in the rink at any one time.

Svetlana came sauntering in last, taking a position opposite of Maria, pointedly indicating that she was on the opposite team no matter what the first officer had set up. The Captain was twirling her Zero G stick absently in her hands as she sized up the other players.

Julia glared at her and then went about silently handing out mag boots and Zero G sticks to anyone who didn't have their own. The long sticks had a net at one end for catching the ball that had replaced the ancient Earth ice hockey puck.

"Major Dononov," Maria nodded in thanks to the Major, "Has helped me choose two teams for the hockey match this afternoon. Each team will have an hour to practice before the match starts. Bear, who's still down in Engineering right now, is going to be the Referee." There were a few looks from the Coalition crewmembers at that, but no one voiced a complaint.

Svetlana merely raised her eyebrow and remained silent.

Maria called out the members of the two teams. They were evenly split between Coalition and Republic crewmembers, with Julia leading one of the teams as a center, and Svedlana as the opposite center. Julia’s team would wear white padding, while the Captain’s team had on black.

There was some grumbling from the Republican crewmembers that had to play opposite of their Captain, but both teams quickly settled down for a quick practice on their side of the arena.

The hour flew by. Unfortunately, days, not hours were needed for the two teams to truly play well with each other. As it was, they barely learn each other’s names by the time practice was over. Maria, lightly sweating from the padding the goalies wore, smiled. It had been a while since she'd had a chance to perform this intensely. The last time she actually played was when her team challenged the crew of the Augusta. They had won, of course. Despite the stressful start of this day, she was looking forward to this match-up.

By the time the practice hour was up, both crews were eagerly gathered around monitors throughout the ship. Those lucky enough to get spots in the observation area equipped with full-sized screens were eagerly awaiting the start of the game.

Doing a little hop to settle her padding, Maria grinned at her two defensemen. She didn't know either of them personally. Both were from the Republic crew, but they seemed to move well enough. Tapping her large stick to her glove, she got in position as she watched Bear float out towards the center of the court, ball in hand.

As referee, Bear had a bright red suit with little jets attached that let him move and hover with ease all over the court.

Still grinning, Maria brought down the clear shield over her eyes and face. Everyone was slowly settling down. The two defensemen on each team were spread out, with one on the "roof" and one on the "floor". The three forwards were crouched on the walls, ready to spring for the ball in the face-off.

Bear looked at both goalies, and at their signal, he threw the ball up and blew his whistle. Svetlana and Julia streaked after the ball. The Captain's longer reach allowed her to get to the ball before the SAR leader, and she quickly flicked it to Davie. He seemed very surprised to find himself with the ball, and quickly divested himself of it before the white clad bodies buried him.

Maria grimaced as Davie still went flying into a wall, body-checked by, to her surprise, a Coalition crewmember.

Ouch, that’s going to leave a mark. I hope he survives this game.

Julia was yelling and trying to spring off a wall to snatch the poor pass. "Grosky! Get it!"

The Republic pilot had a bad angle though, and the ball continued to sail thru the air towards the Chief Medical Officer who promptly snagged it.

Svetlana wound up with the ball after the quick pass from Carl. She bounced off a wall with a flip and fired the ball straight at Maria.

The XO grunted as she flung herself upward in response. The Captain had a wicked throw and the ball hit her mitt hard. She wasn't able to get her glove up and around to catch the ball, so it went ricocheting away towards one of her defensemen who grabbed it with his net.

In observation booth, a small desk had been set up with two crewmembers huddled behind it, microphones held tightly in their hands. Ensign Paula Blanco was a tall, willowy blonde from the Coalition crew. Her sportscasting counterpart from the Republic crew was the short, stocky dark-haired Lieutenant Ekaterina Slovonova.

Ensign Blanco excitedly clutched her microphone, leaning closer to the box window to see better as she called the game.

"Grosky scoops up the pass from defense, and he's looking for an opening. Here comes Julia… she's intent on getting a shot on goal. The pass is good… and there she goes… "Flash" is on her way!"

"The teams seem to working together better now," commented the Lieutenant. "They only found out who their teammates were an hour before the match."

It was obvious Paula didn't think such little details were important as she kept right on talking through Ekaterina’s color commentary. "Julia passes to Romonov…. he's blocked by Carl, of all people! Romonov passes to Grosky…Grosky to Julia… she shoots! Ahhh!!!!.. Dononov comes out of nowhere to block the shot! Darn. Looks like the Major’s a pretty good goalie." The Ensign didn’t bother to hide her disappointment with that assessment.

Slovonova fervently defended her shipmates. "Major Dononov was the All Kingdom goalie her Junior and Senior year at the Academy. She and Captain Monterterskiya led the Academy team to two undefeated seasons."

The Ensign cast a glance sideways at the Lieutenant. It wasn't quite a sneer, but it was close to it. "Julia and Maria led the ship's team to the SAR Championship against the team from the Augusta only a few weeks ago." She was so intent praising her former captain that she failed to notice the current Captain receiving the ball again and making a charge down the rink.

"Looks like Commander Espisto is going to get to show off some of her goal tending skills here because Captain Montaterskya is on a fast break while the White team’s defenders are out of position to help her," shot back the lieutenant.

Paula took a gulp of air, eyes wide as she watched the charge down the rink. The entire ship’s crew held it's breath as it became apparent to them that neither of the White defenders were going to catch up with the Black team’s charge. Despite herself, Paula found herself calling it. "Here they come… Captain Montaterskya passes to Lieutenant Beaudrie… who passes it back to her as they approach the goal…. The Captain shoots!"

Down in the rink, the tall woman whipped her stick around, sending the ball hurtling directly towards the net. It was a perfect throw, and Svetlana smiled as she watched it barrel towards the goal.

Let’s see you catch this, you little Spaniard.

The smaller woman positioned herself between the ball and the goal, never breaking eye contact with the bright, blue blur streaking towards her. The power behind the shot was incredible.

The ball smashed into Maria's glove, nearly ripping it from the goalie's hand.

"She stopped it! Oh my God! She stopped it!" screamed a shocked Ekaterina.

Paula jumped up and cheered, "She caught it! The Skipper caught it! Paula actually hugged the Lieutenant next to her as she excitedly relayed the scene below her.

"Pile up at the goal! Looks like the entire White team is jumping their goalie! I think, yes… the Captain even just congratulated her! Bear's out on the field and it’s going to be a face off. You can bet the Black team’s not going to underestimate the Skipper again."

Down on the rink, a stunned Maria was shaking her hand, trying to get feeling back into it.

Holy crap! That hurt like hell. I can’t feel my entire right hand!

Forcing herself not to grimace, she did her best to accept the congratulations from her teammates. To her surprise, even the Captain joined in the sudden rush of people tackling her in excitement.

Svetlana grinned at the Spaniard as they untangled themselves. "I've only seen Dononova come close to stopping a shot like that before. I'm impressed!" She slapped the shocked redhead on the back and pushed off to take her position for the face-off.

Discreetly, Maria shook her hand, wincing, as feeling started to return to it.

That’s right, you bitch. I can take you.

Svetlana smirked as she lined up for the face off with Julia. She’d seen the look on her XO’s face after she’d managed to catch her rocketed ball.

Not too bad for a Coalition pansy, but just you wait, Spaniard. The game’s just started.

Bear chuckled as he took the ball from the grimacing goalie and positioned himself for the face-off. Flexing her hand, Maria settled back down in goal. She wasn’t about to quit now. Blowing his whistle, Bear tossed the ball upwards.

Paula eagerly watched the action in the rink. "Here they go… Julia is trying to break free so she can get a shot off at Dononov. They're making their way towards the black team goal... wait a second, seems we've got something going on in the center of the rink. Two crewmembers just shoved each other… Bear's calling a foul!"

All over the rink, gloves were coming off and both teams were making their way to the battling players. Svetlana and Julia made it to the combatants first and managed to pry them away from each other before the rest of the team members arrived to the middle of the court. Seeing their teammates getting ready to clear the bench, both centers looked at each other and then yelled at their respective teams to stay on the bench.

Trying not to add to the confusion of the fight by joining her teammates, Maria hopped up and down in front of her net still flexing her sore hand.

Up in the booth, Paula kept on with her commentary. "I think there was a high stick, and it looks like… wow, ok… well the Captain is sticking up for Alverez."

The Coalition crewmember from the Black team still was being sent off to the penalty box, but everyone noticed that the Republic Captain was arguing with Bear on his behalf.

"The Captain would always stand up for a teammate on a questionable call." Slovonova sniffed, and then continued, "We now have a power play situation for the White team."

Ensign Blanco took up the commentary. "Bear's ready for the face off. Here goes the ball, and, wow, the Captain's got it! She snatched it right out of the air above Julia. The head of the White team didn’t like that!"

The Lieutenant interrupted with her own commentary.

"Well, her not liking it seems to have just made her that much more determined to strip the ball from the Captain. The two are bumping each other all over the place. I’m surprised Bear hasn’t called a foul. The Captain passes the ball off just as the SAR Tech body checks her into the corner."

Paula’s eyes brightened as Davie got the pass. "Davie's got the ball…and here comes the wall of white! Romonov and Grosky are on him… ouch… that's going to leave a mark. They just nailed him to the ceiling. The ball got loose… Grosky snagged it! … the Pilot is streaking towards the goal, dodging players as he goes."

"Wham! The Master Chief just smashed him right into the wall! What a defender! He flipped Grosky upside down and just stripped the ball from him. Rozov passes the ball forward to Davie again while he moves up to support the forwards during this power play!" Slovonova was pounding on her co-commentator in excitement as she called out the latest developments.

That hurt. Paula winced and rubbed her shoulder, eyeing the Lieutenant warily. She continued to describe the action. "Davie's got the ball and he passes it quickly back to the Captain. The Black team is doing a great job of using the clock during this penalty. Time's almost up, and ‘Flash’ hasn't had a shot on goal yet."

" ‘Flash’ hasn't been able to hold on to the ball for more than 30 seconds, you mean, Ensign." corrected Slovonova. "The Captain is working her way up towards the goal, waiting for her remaining forwards to get in position."

"The White team’s defense is hellishly effective though, Lieutenant." Paula shot right back. " The black team is on the move! They're rushing to the net… Both defenders are on the Captain, and she has to pass it… Ah! Intercepted! …The pass is to ‘Flash’! … and she's off! Look at her go! … it's a break away! The black team’s penalty is over, and they're going to be up to full strength, but will it matter? Look at those moves!" Paula chortled.

"It appears like the Chief is going to...YES!! We have another steal!" The Lieutenant was pounding on Blanco again in her excitement. "And ‘Flash’ is shaking her head trying to figure out what just happened and why she went careening into the floor. Alverez passes off to Blake as he exits the penalty box and the race towards the White goal is on! … Oh!! Another blocked shot."

The first period continued with both teams trading the ball, neither one managing to score. All of the players needed the ten-minute break between the periods. The rest of the ship took the time to place a few more bets. Throughout the ship, crewmembers were clustered around monitors watching the game intently. Bets were freely being given and taken between both crews. Some of the tension was starting to ease. At the very least, no fights had broken out since the game started.

It wasn't until the second period, when both teams were starting to feel the strain of the previous twenty minutes of play that the first goal was made.

Paula was standing up now, craning her neck to watch the action better and almost screaming as she called the charge that led to the first goal.

"‘Flash’ is going…oh, wow…flipping sideways… she's making another charge… She sees the Master Chief coming this time and makes a pass to Gorsky. The Pilot is perfectly positioned… he shoots… he SCORES! The White team scores!"

Cheering erupted throughout the ship and more or less good-natured teasing, as Bear declared the goal.

With a triumphant grin to her co-commentator, Paula sat back down as the game got back underway. "The Black team has the face off… the Captain's grabbed the ball once more."

Lieutenant Slovonova was quietly watching the drama in the arena unfold.

Paula was enjoying her momentary advantage and went right on calling the game. "The Captain’s going down the rink… ohhh… she just leapt right over the defense. Davie's coming up alongside her… he’s keeping even with the leader of the Black team. The Skipper is getting ready for the rush. Here comes the shot... Wait! No! The Captain passed it to Davie…" The Ensign stared down at the rink incredulously as Davie takes the shot. "He SCORES! Black team scores!"

Down on the rink, Maria was still glaring at the Captain, trying to figure out what the hell just happened. She'd been ready for Lana, but then all of the sudden Davie had the ball … she couldn't believe she'd let him score.

Son of a bitch. Davie! Where the hell… she passed the ball to Davie? Oh my god. I can’t believe I just let Davie score.

Maria shook her fist at the triumphant look on the Captain’s face, but she couldn’t resist joining the others in congratulating Davie on his very first goal in Zero G Hockey. There were quite a few comments about the young ensign no longer being a virgin. Which, predictably, caused him to turn red. Maria’s eyes narrowed as she watched the Captain walk away. She wasn’t going to let the black-haired Republic officer get away with any more moves like that.

Svetlana wiped beads of sweat away from her eyes and grinned at the still stunned-looking Davie. Patting him on his shoulder as she passed, she hopped down from the wall to make her way towards the bench, well aware of the look she was getting from Maria as she did.

Told you the game wasn’t over yet.

"And what a display of team leadership that was, Ensign. Setting up the goalie for that shot! Amazing! The White goalie is still shaking her head, wondering where that came from!" crowed Slovonova.

The other half of the ship’s crew was going insane, cheering as the Black team tied the game up. Paula sat down heavily, shaking her head. "Well, the game’s not over yet, Lieutenant."

" It appears the Black team is going to switch the teams now!" added Slovonova. " And so is the White team… there goes the first team to the bench. They're switching in the second line to give the first line players a chance to rest."

Paula was still shaking her head about the goal made by the Black team.

The Ensign glanced at the Lieutenant. "This has been a good game so far. Here comes Bear to begin the face-off. White team has it… the second line captain is making a charge for the goal."

There was a penalty almost immediately. This time the White team had to send one of their defensemen to the penalty box. It could have been a disadvantage, except that one of the Black team’s forwards high sticked the remaining White defenseman and was given a penalty. So neither side had an advantage.

From their positions on the bench, both the first line White and Black team members watched the action on the rink attentively. Bottles of water were tossed from player to player, along with towels for drying off. Maria squirted water onto her face after a good drink, trying to cool down some. The padding they wore wasn’t very thick, but it was still hot to wear.

"Hey Skipper, these guys aren’t too bad."

That earned ‘Flash’ a few derisive comments from the Republic crewmembers on the White team. But most were given light-heartedly enough and for the first time, Maria let herself believe that the game might actually help the ease the tension between the two crews.

"I told you they played Zero G Hockey, ‘Flash’. Not my fault you thought they didn’t play it well."

Julia grinned as Maria used her nickname, shook her head, and leaned forward on the bench to watch the game.

The White team’s captain was obviously trying to come up with a new game plan when suddenly the Black team managed to score from the center area with a wild shot that nicked a White player as the ball barely bounced inside the net right between the goalie’s legs.

Maria was on her feet with the rest of the first line players on the bench, yelling as the goal was made. "Come on! My grandmother could have caught that one!" someone hooted. Both teams argued good-naturedly over who should get the credit for the goal.

The period ended shortly afterwards and the first team players started back out onto the rink. The score was 2 –1 in favor of the Black team. Maria shifted her padding and concentrated on the action, vowing she wouldn’t let the Black team score again. Her hair was plastered to her skull with sweat and she, as well as everyone else, was feeling the physical drain from the previous periods as the final one started.

The last period turned into a war of attrition. Both sides kept slamming into the other, trying to power by the defense and get a goal. Maria managed to block two more of the Captain's shots, her hand aching from the force Lana put behind each of the blasts.

Julia did her best for the White team, but every time she broke away, she ran into a barrier that was called Rozov.

Svetlana shared a grin with the Master Chief as she lined up for yet another face off. He didn’t have the speed to be a good center, but he ruled the defense. He’d been nailing the White team’s captain into the walls every chance he got, and Julia had to be feeling each and every one of those punishing hits.

Let’s see how you pansies live up to a little pain.

In the booth, Paula was jumping up and down in her seat trying to will the White team to score. "Julia almost made one again, folks, but once more, Rozov was there. I think we should start calling the Master Chief "The Enforcer"."

Ekaterina looked blankly at Paula. "No, he's the Master Chief." Emphasizing the words ‘Master’ and ‘Chief’ as if that should explain anything and everything.

The Ensign stared at the Lieutenant, laughed and went back to commenting on the game, but not before saying. "You're a strange one, Lieutenant… not a bad one, but you are strange."

The Lieutenant shrugged. In the Academy, the Midshipmen were taught that Master Chiefs were Gods, put on Earth to instruct officers. Obviously, that lesson was not taught in the Coalition and that could be why they were so weak. The only other people that were remotely close to the realm of Master Chiefs, were First Sergeants. Even Captains treaded lightly when dealing with Master Chiefs.

Maria tried to wipe the sweat off her face as she kept an eye on the battle for the ball that was happening in the center of the court. She hadn't let in a single shot during the final period, but unfortunately, the White team hadn't managed to score either. Her eyes flicked towards the digital read out in the middle of the ceiling, then back to the action. It had been a brutal game, both sides giving as good as they got. Everyone had huge black and blue splotches and assorted bruises. A few players had remained on the bench with slightly more serious injuries. It was the sort of punishing, physical, bone bruising confrontation that gave Zero G Hockey its well-deserved reputation.

The buzzer sounded just as Julia got the ball and was about to make one more attempt at getting around Rozov.

"BLACK TEAM WINS! BLACK TEAM WINS!'' screamed Slovonova, pummeling her co-commentator in her excitement. "In one of the closest matches this commentator has ever witnessed, the Black Team, Captained by Svetlana Montasterskya has won the match!"

They could almost hear the groans from the rest of the ship as bets were swiftly collected from those that had the misfortune to bet against the Black team.

Down on the rink, Maria wearily gave Julia a hug, laughing at the disgruntled expression on her friend’s face. "Come on, we did good. Let's go congratulate the winners. Davie looks like he's going to explode."

Julia sighed, but did smile as she got a good look at the ensign who was hugging everyone near him and yelling like a fool.

With a time honored tradition, both teams shook hands to officially end the game. Maria grinned and gave Davie a hug as she shook his hand. Master Chief Rozov got a genuine smile from her, in acknowledgement of his skills.

It was only as she got to the end of the line that her smile faltered slightly. Stiffening her spine, she shook Svetlana's hand, then meeting the other woman’s eyes as she spoke. "I do have good ideas on occasion, Captain Malkavian."

"And this was one of them. Good job, Commander." Not even rising to the bait of the XO’s rather deliberate mispronunciation of her last name, the Captain winked and walked off to share in the celebration with her teammates.

Leaving Maria, her eyes flashing, to watch the tall Captain stride away until Julia dragged her away to attend one of the impromptu after game parties. But only after they passed through sickbay to treat an injury. Maria’s hand was starting to hurt… a lot. It had been throbbing ever since she stopped Svetlana’s first shot.

Arrogant bitch. One of these days you and I are going to have a reckoning.

For now though, she intended on making certain everyone was having a good time. But not too good a time, considering that in a little bit over a day, they would be arriving at the source of the alien signals.

I better have another talk with Sparky soon.


In her quarters, the Chief Engineer watched the game on her console. With a disgusted sigh, she turned off the screen at the end and flopped down onto her bed.

She couldn’t believe that she’d been grounded from a Zero G Hockey match!

If she was truthful with herself, Sparky could understand why Maria had done it. Sorta.

I still don’t understand why we got into such a big fight, though. We never fight! Now all of a sudden, she crawls down my throat. Not that I didn’t deserve it, but I’ve done worse in the past and she didn’t get all prissy about it.

Feeling sorry for herself, she rolled over onto her back and stared up at the ceiling of her quarters. The admittance chime startled her out of her unhappy thoughts. Getting up slowly, she went to the door, opening it to reveal a tall blonde shyly standing on the other side.

Wow, my day just got a whole lot better.

Standing aside, Sparky let Kuzmin enter her quarters. She might have been restricted to her quarters, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t receive visitors.


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