A big thank you to Cayld, as always, for beta reading this for us. Comments and any constructive criticism are very welcome. We live on feedback, I kid you not, drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Without it we may just shrivel up and die. Okay, well that might have been a bit of an exaggeration.
Admiral Erin Callejo, formerly in charge of the Fourth Coalition Fleet, lay on her back staring up at the completely unremarkable ceiling of her guest quarters.
More like a plush prison cell she thought irritably as she pictured the two Marines on guard outside her door. She had been restricted to the guest quarters on Starbase 21 until her court martial. Letting out a sigh, she forced herself to stop dwelling on the upcoming farce of a trial that was supposed to find out what she did to cause the escalating war against the Republic.
Weíre still getting our butts kicked. And it's even worse with that incompetent fool in charge of operations. God, the only person worse that could have put out there would have been Custer!
To her disgust and fury, the Council had handed operations of Fourth Fleet over to now Senior Captain Quaril, the very imbecile who had started what everyone was now calling, the Pegasus incident. If Erin could have gotten anywhere near the idiot, she probably would have shot him. Instead, she'd been forced to stay in her guest quarters getting sporadic updates on the status of Fourth Fleet's repairs from Commander Guillermont. She shuddered to think about what would happen if he took Fourth Fleet out to fight the Republic.
He should be the one to be facing a court martial! But no, his family has a seat on the Coalition Council.
Things were not going well for the Coalition. The United Kingdom of New Russia, as the Republic demanded it be called, was making rapid strides. Its stealth technology had given it a decisive edge in every deep space battle that had occurred since the outbreak of hostilities. Thankfully, that technology was limited to only planetary assaults now, largely due to the data Erin had Commander Guillermont send to the other admirals. The sensor adjustments the Augusta made were on the edge of a SAR shipís capabilities, but they were entirely within those of a fully operational Starbase. Every Base within the Coalition was now using the sensor pulses the Augusta had devised to detect the stealth ships.
She was startled from her thoughts when a single admittance chime rang and the doors to her cabin unceremoniously slid open. The Marines on the other side, unlike her honor guard onboard the flagship, didnít bother to announce her visitor. Another reminder of her arrest she thought wryly. Swinging her feet up off the coach, she sat up, raising an eyebrow at the person that strode into her temporary accommodations.
Lieutenant Junior Grade, Jimena Alverez looked like she should still have a curfew and her mom doing her laundry. The Admiralty demanded that JAG give Erin a young, inexperienced lawyer, but JAG made sure she got the best one they had. In reality, the gangly brunette was one of the sharpest legal minds to graduate from law school in over 100 years.
"I assume you've been assigned as my council, Lieutenant?" The admiral's voice was laced with amusement as she got to her feet and wandered to the small kitchen area to fix herself a drink. She had a feeling she was going to need it.
The Lieutenant was used to that query. She crossed the room and put her stack of reading pads on the table. "Let's get down to business, Admiral. And I assume that you are pleading ënot guiltyí?"
Erin raised an eyebrow slightly at the brusque manor. Her opinion of the JAG officer rose a little. Ignoring the question, she poured herself a glass of wine, taking a long sip before she asked, "How old are you? Fourteen?"
"Twenty-five, ma'am. And I graduated top of my class from both University and Law school. Now, if we can get down to your defense. Could you please tell me, in your own words, what happened out there?"
Jimena sat down, started a recording device and poised a stylus over her writing pad, then met the Admiral's eyes dead on.
A faint quirk of Erinís lips passed for a grin as she took another sip of wine and wandered over to take a seat on the couch once again. "It all got fucked up." The grin reappeared for a split second. "That's what happened out there. Things got messy and now they need a scapegoat, which explains why I'm in here. I'm not so sure about you, though." There was every possibility that someone had managed to arrange for the JAG officer assigned to her case to eventually betray her.
"You haven't introduced yourself yet, Lieutenant." The Admiral reminded her, as she crossed her legs and leaned back against the couch.
"My name is Lieutenant Jimena Alverez, and I agree. Something does smell fishy. I know that I am the best thing JAG ever had, but not everyone shares my opinion." Jimena smiled, and looked even younger. "As a full Admiral, highly decorated, you rated at least a Captain. Why you have a JG, and I'm only that because I received a promotion for graduating Law school, is beyond me. So my theory is that someone wants you buried. So, we are not going to allow that to happen. Now, please. Tell me exactly what happened out there."
Cool, dark eyes studied the junior grade Lieutenant for several long seconds, measuring her. The Admiral decided to trust her gut on this one. She might look insanely young, but for now, until Commodore Guillermont got back from his little fact-finding mission, Jimena Alverez was the only help she was going to get.
"What do you know?"
"That the Pegasus disappeared while investigating an unknown distress call. That in the area the Pegasus was last seen, wreckage was found. While your forces were investigating the disappearance on our side of the DM Zone, Republican Forces attacked you. And, you got your ass kicked, which is why you are here."
The Admiral ran a hand through her salt and pepper hair, shaking her head at those words. "Amazing, they're already putting a spin on it."
With a sigh, she leaned forward and fixed her gaze intently on the young woman. "First off, and this isn't a very well known fact in the Coalition, but they call themselves the United Kingdom of New Russia. I've always said that you need to know your enemy in order to fight them, but apparently no one was listening. Second, we weren't attacked, we opened fire first."
Jimena sat there in stunned disbelief at the Admiral. "We... we... weÖ what?"
Erin smiled humorously, downing the last of her wine in one gulp.
"Sorry to break the news to you, kid. They had launched probes into the neutral zone, probably to find out why half of one of their new cruisers was floating around in it. Then, one of my lovely Captains, Quaril, you might know him since he's been put in charge of Fourth Fleet now? He opened fire before CIC had positively identified them as probes. We slaughtered the UKNR forces that we could see. Their new stealth cruisers, the ones Intel is calling Dark Rider Class, those are the ones that nearly wiped us out. Still eager to hear my side of it, Lieutenant?"
Jimena sat there for a minute and digested what the Admiral just told her. She looked up at Erin seriously. "I think I need to hear your side of the story more than ever, especially, if it can avert this impending war. And of course, Quaril needs to be stopped."
"You don't understand what's happening yet, do you? Quaril isn't acting alone, not anymore, anyway. He might have opened fire out of sheer idiocy, or maybe it was because he thought it would make him a line officer, I don't know. But that all changed the second we got here within easy communications range of the Coalition Council." She paused to see if the young Lieutenant was keeping up with her. "Captain Frederick Quaril's father is Gustavo Quaril, leader of the Freedom Party that holds a significant minority in the Council of Planets. They've been war mongering ever since the Second Insterstellar war."
Erin let the gangly brunette draw her own conclusions. "I filed a complete report, of course." She waved towards the computer consol with a grin. "Seems it and all the sensor readings from Fourth Fleet have become 'Classified'."
"So we have a few obstacles to overcome. I view it as a personal challenge. Jimena let a wicked grin creep over her face "So, the Fourth Fleet sensor readings have been classified. But perhaps, just perhaps, the UKNR's sensor readings have not."
For a second, Erin just stared at the JAG officer. "Are you out of your mind? For all intents and purposes we are at war with the UKNR. They aren't just going to send us sensor readings because we say ëpretty pleaseí."
"But if we can show them that by getting you off, it might break the power structure of the Warhawks of the Administration. The young woman said determinedly. "Besides, I think that they want to avoid war as much as we do. They still haven't pulled their Ambassadors yet."
"Their Ambassadors are on old Earth," Erin protested. "They don't have a reason to pull them. Neither side is going to try to attack Earth." That would have been suicide considering the military might of the World Federal Government that ruled Sol. She continued with another thought. "How exactly do you intend to get there and back by the time the trial takes place?"
"I don't need to. I can submit a request through a neutral third party by light com. We shouldn't go through official channels, anyway. That might give them a hint of what we are going to do." Jimena stood up and started pacing. "The truth must come out. The question is what are they going to do to suppress it?"
Erin was deadly serious as she answered. "Lieutenant, if this has gone as far up as I think it has, then they will do everything in their power to stop the truth from coming to light. Everything and anything, understood?" As much as she wanted to, Erin didnít trust the JAG officer enough to let her know about Guillermont's mission, not yet, at least. Right now, the less people who knew about it, the better. "You only get this one chance to back out while you still can."
"No, ma'am. I may not be on the front lines with a weapon, but I am still a sailor that signed up to serve the Coalition."
"Very well, then. Lieutenant Junior Grade Jimena Alverez, in answer to your earlier question, yes, I will be pleading ënot guiltyí."
Trickles of sweat ran down between her shoulder blades and Maria forced herself to ignore the small bead that had just traced a path down her neck. Things were just getting worse. "Are you certain, Theodore?"
The senior scientist nodded grimly, returning his attention to his precious sensors. "We're being dragged into a region of extreme gravity eddies. If we don't stabilize soon we're going to be ripped apart."
Maria tried not to think about the three dead SAR techs. "How long do we have?" The scientist quickly typed in a set of commands, sighing at the computer displayed the results. "Twenty minutes, maybe twenty-five."
The XO opened a channel to the head of the SAR techs who was laboring to get the ship underway again. "Flash, we've got twenty-five minutes to get that mast and sail up or we're all dead."
"I can't do it, Captain. We need more manpower."
In the background Maria could hear someone swearing over Juliaís com channel as the SAR techs struggled to replace the mast. "I can't spare you anybody from Engineering, Flash. Things just went to hell down there. Three power conduits exploded after that last grav wave hit."
Casualty reports were still coming in from Engineering and the Damage Control Center deck. Maria hoped Sparky was all right. The last report sheíd gotten from Bear had been a terse message indicating the extent of the damage and that the Damage Control teams were working on it.
"Commander?" Maria didn't recognize whom the voice was coming from. "Some of our Marines are trained to assist in situations like this. And I know the Major brought over some hard suits." Maria turned and stared in shock at Gorsky. This was the first time she had ever heard the man speak.
Giving him a swift smile, she keyed the channel with Flash once more. "Flash, I'm sending you out some Marines. They've got hard suits so they should be able to help."
There was stunned silence from the com. "Um, okay. I guess it couldn't hurt at this point."
Closing the channel, Maria nodded towards the helmsman. "Thank you for the suggestion, Gorsky." She probably should have used his rank, but she frankly couldn't care less about the United Kingdom of Russia's rank structure.
With that problem solved, she brusquely asked, "Anyone know if the Captain is going to be joining us today?"
"Um, I thought the Captain was in sickbay?" Kuzmin looked confused at Maria's tone of voice.
Maria glanced at the weapons officer, the smile she'd given Gorsky fading from her face as her eyes hardened. The weapons officer and Sparky were still in the doghouse as far as she was concerned. "Carl treated and cleared her for duty."
As if summoned by the Spaniards words the lift doors opened and admitted the wayward Captain. The two Marines stationed to the bridge snapped to attention. "Commander, report!" she barked and quickly moved to stand over Maria, waiting for her to evacuate the command chair.
"Attention on deck." called Kuzmin as she and Gorsky snapped to attention, joining the marines.
"At ease." Svetlana waved them off. "Now Commander, what the hell is going on?"
If Maria's response to Kuzmin had been cool, her response to the Captain was frigid. Easing her way out of the command chair slowly, she purposefully avoided coming to any sort of attention. None of the other Coalition officers on the bridge did anything other than nod in response to the Captain's entrance.
"What's going on is that I need a group of your Marines to suit up in their hard suits and go out to help Flash get the mast and sail up before we're crushed to death." Turning her back on the Captain, she took the XO's station.
Svetlana smiled dangerously. "Fine, make it so, Commander". She sat down in her chair. "Damage control, report."
It wasn't Bear that appeared on screen but instead, Sparky, and judging by the look on the Chief Engineerís face as she spotted Svetlana on the com screen, she wished she hadnít answered the call. "We've blown half the power relays to the normal space drives. Energy weapons forward of Section Seven are down. Inertial compensators and life support are still going, but we're having trouble maintaining the power grid."
"What are your suggestions?"
Sparky blinked in surprise at the direct question and glanced over her shoulder towards where Bear was helping to fix an overload. "We need to get out of NOVA as soon as possible. Right now, I need to divert energy from all the weapons to shore up structural integrity fields."
Maria glanced up from her task of ordering Marines to help Flash to see how Svetlana would react.
"Fine. As soon as we have the mast back up, I'm sure that dropping into normal space will not be a problem. Divert the power from the weapons as needed."
"Aye, aye, umm, Captain." Sparky frowned, hoping that the bitch from hell hadn't noticed her slight hesitation. Quickly, she killed the connection and hurried back to help the rest of her engineering teams as they struggled to keep full power up to vital parts of the ship.
Svetlana turned to Maria, noticing the scrutiny of the smaller woman. "Commander? I don't hear you sending my Marines to help your SAR team."
Having already completed the task, Maria bared her teeth in a snarl as she turned back to her console.
I canít believe I helped you when you were sick. God!
From his station, having ignored the little drama behind him, Theodore called out. "Twenty minutes and counting."
"Twenty minutes until what, um, whatever your name is?" asked Svetlana.
Maria jerked in her seat, half turning to glare at the tall woman.
Theodore didn't seem to mind though, answering absently. "Until the gravity waves become powerful enough to shred the ship."
The Captain paled. "Commander, what is the status of your SAR team?"
Maria forced her jaw to unclench as she answered. "Perhaps you didn't listen to me earlier? I told you. They are working on it as fast as they can. Three of them just died, so they're a little undermanned right now. Hopefully, your Marines will be helping them in another five minutes."
Svetlana ground her teeth. A retort was dying to get out. She could feel a little vein throbbing in her temple, and by the expression on Kuzmin's face, it confirmed that her anger was visible to all who cared to look. "Very well, Commander. Stay on top of the situation." she finally growled.
Maria turned back to her own control panel, eyes dark with anger.
I hope the bitch has a stroke and dies. The next time she goes missing, I sure as hell am not going to go search for her.
With her bright yellow SAR suit, Julia LeClare was hard to miss. From her position near the hastily assembled coupling, she struggled to get the mast up into position. No more major grav waves had swept over the ship since the one that had killed three of her team members, but smaller ones were playing merry hell with the repairs. Even as they managed to get the end of the mast near the coupling, another minor wave whipsawed the end about, sending two SAR members flying apart.
"Jesus! Andrew, Jacobs! You two all right? Goddamn it! Get a hold of it before it breaks loose!"
Five figures in unfamiliar suits came tromping over the skin of the ship. Two went after the wayward SAR members, while the remaining three joined the struggle at the bottom of the mast. The newcomers had military grade hard suits; the exoskeletons were reinforced to prevent being compromised and extra 'muscles' were added to the suit to help in toting around weapons, ammo, and the weight of the suits themselves.
Flash heaved on the mast end, glad to have the help no matter who they were. ëThank Godí! as she acknowledged the Marines. Since the Marines werenít on their com link, she motioned them over to her and pointed to the mast.
"Letís get this bitch into position!"
Shoving against the end of the mast, she struggled once more to try and seat it into the coupling. The mast might have weighed nothing but it still had mass and combined with the frequent, small gravity waves, inertia was causing them unending problems.
The Marinesí extra muscle was the little bit of difference that got the coupling in place as a tiny grave wav hit again. When the crystalline structure snapped into place, Flash's techs quickly set about fastening it down while the Marines held it steady. The two SAR members that had been thrown aside with the previous wave gave a thumbs-up to their saviors and hurry back to their assigned tasks.
Her shoulder braced against the end of the mast to keep it from shifting, Flash studied the hard-suited Marine that was helping her and then nodded her thanks.
Andrew finished the coupling and the last of the jury-rigged power couplings were connected.
"That's it. Letís get the sail up. Move it, people!"
Bravo team grabbed the hastily readied gossamer thin sail. Clumsily, they threaded it into the mast, forcing themselves to move slowly even as the minutes sped by. Then, finally, the NOVA sail slid up the mast, spreading outwards from the hull of the ship for a hundred meters. Like a peacock showing his feathers, the sail spread open, immediately glowing with energy. It was, Julia thought, stunning. The beauty of it was forever locked into her memory.
The sail continued to collect energy from the surrounding space. Slowly, but surely, Pathfinder began to claw its way away from the dangerous grav waves. Within minutes, the ship would have collected enough energy to be able to exit NOVA space and more permanent repairs could be undertaken.
"That's all! Everyone inside!" she commed her crew and motioned to the Marines, then turned back for one last glance at the sparkling grid. Finally, she began to make her way with the rest of them back towards the airlocks.
They hurriedly made their way back to the hatch and started cycling through the airlock. Flash was the last to enter and quickly contacted the bridge. "Flash here. Sail is up. Everyone is accounted for and we are good to go."
Reaching upwards, she patted the shoulder of the large Marine next to her, nodded her thanks to the others. Despite their success, they were all quiet as they removed their suits. Three of their own had paid the ultimate price in fixing the mast.
It was clearly sabotage. No doubt about it. The small woman flung her helmet aside; no longer able to keep her emotions contained and screamed, "When I find out who did this, they're dead!"
The Marines unsuited with the SAR crew. Flash blinked in surprise when the large-suited Marine that held the mast with her turned out to be a woman not much bigger than herself. The Marine nodded and said something in Russian. Flash cocked her head in confusion. One of the other Marines spoke up. "Taitiana wished to buy the crew a round, in remembrance of shipmates lost."
Flash nodded somberly. "Tell Tatiana that I would be honored to join her."
It took five minutes for the sail to collect enough energy to allow Pathfinder to force her way between universes and exit NOVA space. The familiar queasy sensation of transition was very welcome by all the crew as they emerged into normal space. The tension on the bridge didn't let up until Theodore looked up from his sensors, wiping a sleeve across a sweaty brow.
"We're clear. We're still several light days away from the Alien signal, and there are no nearby hazards."
"We are at all stop." Gorsky called out formally from his place at the helm.
Maria allowed herself a sigh of relief. Coming out of NOVA before you expected could lead to nasty problems such as emerging right next to a sun or in an asteroid belt.
"Engineering reports they have stabilized the energy conduits and are beginning repairs on all damaged systems. Sparky doesnít want to use the stealth drive until sheís had a chance to check it over for any other little surprises." Maria reported after glancing at her display.
That should keep her occupied for a while. No time for hanky-panky with that Russian.
"Commander Exposito, how about you brief me on exactly how we came to be in this situation while I was incapacitated. In my briefing room?"
The XO swiveled her chair to glance at the Captain, her jaw clenched to keep from saying what she wanted to.
Yes, how about we talk about what a bitch you are?
"Of course, Captain." she managed to grind out, with a slight emphasis on the taller womanís rank. She stood up and stalked angrily towards the conference room. The other bridge officers, Coalition and UKNR member alike, glanced at each other with a bit of apprehension.
Maria offered her science officer a small smile as she passed him on the way. He watched her worriedly and opened his mouth to say something, but she shook her head minutely. Closing his mouth, he gave her a thumbs-up. Grinning to herself, she entered into the conference room and swiftly moved around the table so that she'd at least have that between her and Svetlana.
Svetlana watched her first officer march off the bridge. "Commander Kuzmin, you have the Com." She was about to follow Maria when Alyona touched her arm.
"Maybe you should ease up on her," the blonde suggested softly in Russian to the Captain.
Svetlana grounded her teeth, looked pointedly at the reddish spots below Alyona's left ear and on her neck. "You gave up all rights to suggest anything to me," the brunette spat out vehemently. "Now if you'll excuse me..." she looked pointedly down at the blonde's hand on her arm. Kuzmin dropped her hand as if burned, shocked to see the Captain's eyes cold and forbidding as they glared at her from under dark eyebrows.
" Now, do your duty." The Captain wheeled around and moved towards the Conference room, determined to take her spirited First Officer to task.
Maria folded her arms over her chest, glaring at the doors. She was still standing like that when Svetlana entered. The Spaniard forced herself not to move as the tall dark haired woman strode in, seeming to fill the room with her presence.
"Want to yell at me some more in private?"
Might as well get my shot in first.
The Captain sat down calmly at the table and studied her first officer. Only the slight tightening of her jaw and the fury radiating from her cobalt blue eyes gave her away.
"No, actually, I want to hear your report first so I'm sure to hit all of the points in one, detailed ass-chewing. I'm angry and my head hurts. I'm not sure if I can keep it all in Basic, but Iíll try. I don't want you to miss a single word."
The stress, anger, fear, and hopelessness that had been building ever since they'd been sent across the Galaxy boiled up inside of Maria. She'd struggled to keep everything in check before, but this was too much. There were limits to what she could handle and sheíd just reached hers.
"You want my full report?" Maria's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Okay, here's my full report. I went looking for you. For some reason, I had the idea Iíd better have the Captain on the Bridge since we just lost a sail in the middle of NOVA! I thought you were still drunk or something, but no, I found you comatose on the floor of my former Cabin. Someone had tried to kill you."
Taking a breath, she threw up her hands in exasperation. "So, I called that pleasant Major of yours and our Chief Medical Officer. Who saved your life, by the way. Then, while that was happening, I got Julia moving on the sail repairs and locked down every sensitive area in the ship using your Marines. Thatís my report. You can take it and shove it up your ass right, right next to the rod thatís already there!"
Svetlana's legendary temper finally snapped its chains. She smacked the table as she stood up and towered over Maria. "It is not my crew that is trying to kill officers! It is not my crew that is sabotaging this ship! It is not my crew that murdered one of our own officers to cover up a murder attempt on four other officers! Your crew is undisciplined and dangerous! You are lucky that we got sucked along in the hell with you. I doubt you and your crew would have survived that attack without us!" Svetlana roared.
"Survived?" Maria screamed as she slammed her own palm down on the tabletop. "First off, nothing says it was one of my crew that tried to kill you. I have no doubt that a few of your own crewmembers donít like you, either. We would have been better off without you! At least then, I wouldn't be losing my best friend!" she blurted out without thinking. Maria abruptly closed her mouth, appalled at what she had just said.
Svetlana looked confused. "Best friend? Best friend? We have been sabotaged, there have been two attempts on my life, one on yours, and your former first officer is dead, and all you are concerned about is that hallucinagenic nightmare of a friend of yours?"
"Sparky is the best engineer you'll ever meet. Bear and her are probably the only reason we're still alive right now. She's all I have left since you've taken my ship away from me!" Maria snarled, her own temper flying high as they yelled at one another.
"She could build a NOVA drive out of tinfoil and paperclips and that still wouldn't make her a real human being. What kind of slime would break up our relationship of 10 years just for her jollies? No, your engineer, regardless of her qualifications, is a waste of human skin!" Svetlana could feel a throbbing vein in her forehead.
"Really? Must not have been that great a relationship to start with if my ëworthlessí Engineer could break it up so fast. You sure you and Kuzmin were still together?" Maria wasn't going to let this, this, bitch, talk about Sparky like that.
Svetlana's hands, which were pressed flat against the table in front of her, curled into fists. She could feel herself shaking in anger, the urge to strike the smaller woman almost overcoming her. Maria's face was right in front of her own, almost sharing the same breath. "You know nothing of which you are talking about." In her anger, the Russian accent, always so slight to be almost undetectable, made her words almost undecipherable.
The auburn haired woman was startled to see how close their faces had gotten, but she was on a roll and retorted hotly. "Really? You don't think I know when a relationship is falling apart? Come off it! Stop blaming Sparky for your problems. Youíre the only one to blame. And you can stop being such a bitch towards me while youíre at it. I've done nothing but support you as Captain, and all I get in return is you screaming at me!"
Swetlana fumed. "Funny how our 'relationship' was just fine until we came aboard this ship! In fact, a lot of things are wrong now that we are on this ship. And if you thinking you are supporting me, I would hate to see you actually trying to undermine my authority!"
Maria had a snappy retort lined up about the Captainís prior relationship. It was a good one; at least she was pretty sure it was. Unfortunately things got really complicated right as she opened her mouth to say it. She wasn't sure who started it. All she knew was one moment they were yelling at one another and the next they were kissing. Her lips were warm and moist and Maria groaned, as she tasted Svetlana. A strong hand had slipped around behind her neck and was pulling her closer and she went willingly, lips meeting with bruising intensity.
Svetlana was not sure when she lost control. A few seconds ago, she could have cheerfully shoved the woman out the airlock, now a rebellious hand was cradling the Spaniardís head and deepening the kiss. Suddenly, her eyes popped open. She was kissing Commander Maria Vazquez Exposito of the Coalition! She wrenched her lips away from that wonderful sensation and found herself pressed against the far bulkhead, looking at her first officer in shock. "What just happened?" she asked as Maria's confused eyes met hers.
My knees are wobbly. This is so bad, so very, very bad.
"Ah, we... that is... ummm... we..." Maria trailed off, staring at Svetlana in bewilderment.
"This never happened." blurted out the captain. She straightened up and rearranged her uniform. While trying to look unflustered, she declared, "As far as I'm concerned, this was a 'kiss you or kill you' response on both our parts."
Maria stared at her in astonishment, then straightened up as well, the confusion banished by a sudden rush of anger. "You know what? Fuck you!" she yelled as she stormed out of the conference room. She'd had enough of Captain Svetlana Nickolayevna Montastyrskaya.
Still reeling from the intensity of the kiss, Svetlana slumped back against the wall as the door closed, "Well, that went well," she muttered, lightly fingering her lips.
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